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So, as a part of the skills I try to develop in my everyday work, I am a manager. I enjoy it tremendously, and am lucky enough to have a team that is simply amazing to work with. But that doesn’t mean that I get to be lazy about it. So I am trying to read management literature. Or I tried. Oh, man. That was a huge mistake. So — I think for the right audience, these books are probably amazing tools and simply wonderful reading, but for me they were more like having Bulgarian substitute coffee poured in my eyes whilst being beaten over the head with a rotten salmon. You get the idea. I quickly realized that I simply needed to read other books as if were they management books, and that worked just fine. The list I have compiled may be helpful for someone else, or not, I really don’t know. But here goes.

  1. Administrative Behaviour by Herbert Simon. This is probably the closest to a management book that I came. And this is a brilliant, brilliant tome. It contains much about management that is simply common sense, but tried, tested and in a language that only a Nobel laureate in economy that happened to invent cognitive science on the side, kill economic man and dabble in artificial intelligence could muster. Simply brilliant.
  2. Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle. Know what happiness is? Have any idea of what motivates you? How should people behave to be virtuous and why do they do this? No idea? That could prove to be a problem in management. Because it turns out managing is about those people in your company (yes, them!) to a large degree. A robust model of man is a good thing to have, and Aristotle spent quite some time developing that work for you. As a plus you don’t get the contempt for everyone that saturates Plato’s writings (everyone not a philosopher, that is).
  3. Philosophical investigations by Wittgenstein. So, what does a manager do? One thing a manager does is handles concepts (and, yes, people, but we dealt with them already). Concepts are tricky things. So intensely tricky that they require a bit of analysis from time to time. You should be able to do that. There is no better guide to picking a part the grammar of a concept than Wittgenstein. And he is eminently readable too. As a bonus you get a lifetime worth of therapy from philosophical problems, and just may find your way out of the fly bottle.
  4. The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltazar Gracian. Nietzsche referred to Gracian as the greatest author of aphorisms ever. That should be reason enough, alone, to read him. But the mix of cynicism, pure wisdom, smiling misantrophy and daring truths is a boon for anyone who wants to be challenged, take advice or merely enjoy the voice of a long gone student of mankind that saw further and deeper than most. The blessing of an aphorism writer that you often disagree with is rare. And how dull to read a book full of aphorisms that makes you nod and say ”just so!”. <snickering>Oh, that would be management literature, that is right…</snickering>
  5. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. The manifold nature of reality, memory and of life is a good place to start your inquiries into anything. Borges is an amazing guide and an underestimated writer (even if you take that into account, recursively). For anyone in tech I would add the Cyberiad, by Stanislaw Lem. They serve the same purpose. They challenge assumptions and they build new theories of the world. Practicing that is no mean task, and you can find much worse company than Borges or Lem to do it with. But doing it, in any art form (you may prefer to listen to Scriabin or simply to enjoy paintings of, well, I wouldn’t know, I am sorely in need of more examples of artists that challenge assumptions in visual arts (I always default to Escher and Magritte)), is an important practice for anyone that wants to grow, I firmly believe.

So, I am not far gone on the path of management, but I am intent to travel further, learn more and develop, so please add your own recommendations in the comments, or simply email me — thanks for the help! And if I have unfairly missed any traditional super books on management, well, I can change my mind. Right? Who knows, you may have found something in being slapped with rotten salmon that I did not. If so — out with it!

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  1. Stefan G skriver:

    Great list. I would of course add Serres, The Parasite, which describes how everyone is a part of a never ending chain of parasites, depending on each other, parasiting from each other. But it is probably too weird for most people…

    1. nicklas skriver:

      Yes, read that. Did not really like it. I get it, kind of, but need more time with that book, I guess.

  2. Magnus skriver:

    First off, I’d suggest buying ”Seven Habits of Highly Successful
    People”, and NOT read it. Burn it, it’s a great symbolic gesture.

    That is how Linus start of his essay on kernel management, it is a fun piece to read that sums things up a bit.

    In the light of above, i think you could add The Cathedral and the Basaar to your list, and why not also The Republic by Plato to get the big picture about the motivations that drive some people up the ladder. What types are you surrounded by?

  3. Stefan skriver:

    Oh yes take your time with The Parasite, Serres. It is worth the time.
    Another fun expression is the ”My life as an amoeba”, which is a popular way of explanations.

    Best of all I would put some energy into the Chinese literature. There is a lot to
    learn and I can give you a list of 40 titles to study. This era is totally hidden from our culture in the West.

    Another is ”Development of democracy, does it exist?” written by an African author. It looks at the definition of democracy. Westerns work as envangelists for Christian so called democracy and do not realise that it is based on very thin fundamentals.

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