The pick of 2014’s management books

FT management editor Andrew Hill picks some of his favourite titles of 2014

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Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao, Random House, RRP£14.99/Crown, RRP$26

Working out how to expand successfully — or at all — is one of the greatest challenges for a business. Sutton and Rao lay out the lessons on how to avoid bureaucracy without succumbing to unstructured chaos. The most important insight is that expansion is not a big bang but a “ground war” that “requires grinding it out, and pressing each person, team, group, division or organisation to make one small change after another”. This is, for the most part, a plainspoken guide with advice that is valid not only for ambitious start-ups but also for established companies.

Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace, Bantam, RRP£20/Random House, RRP$28

The Pixar president’s account of how he learnt to manage unruly creatives and applied those lessons to Disney’s animators after a merger has humour and candour that much “CEO-lit” lacks. How Catmull and Pixar deal with the failures that pockmark the route to box-office glory is as interesting as how they build on success. His template may prove useful to any manager of “knowledge workers”, even if your team consists of editors or consultants, rather than cartoonists. A deserved finalist for the FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year.

Driving Honda: Inside the World’s Most Innovative Car Company, by Jeffrey Rothfeder, Portfolio, RRP£25/$27.95

Love of individualism, a flat hierarchy and a strategy that involves building ideas and innovation from local insights sound like the characteristics of a start-up. But Rothfeder says Honda has always had them. His book, while sometimes over-kind, makes a strong case for considering Honda, rather than Toyota, as the best model of management for the 21st century. Rothfeder goes back to Honda’s roots in pre-war Japan, when Soichiro Honda, a gifted engineer, was scratching around for scrap to build his machines. His unselfish partnership with salesman Takeo Fujisawa became one of the pillars of the group’s success.

Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information, by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen, Harper, RRP£18.99/$27.99

Simonson and Rosen deftly unravel the challenge of appealing to — and retaining — customers in an age of transparency, user reviews and information exchange. Hotel chains, carmakers and consumer electronics groups, they argue, must abandon the idea of a monogamous relationship with customers. Instead, “open marriage” is the norm, as customers decide between options on their merits. Such a trend blunts traditional marketing tools. The authors offer alternative weapons, but the book’s real value is as an invitation to re-examine the marketing status quo.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz, Harper, RRP£18.99/$29.99

Horowitz’s book, drawn from his experience as an entrepreneur and, in partnership with Marc Andreessen, as a venture capitalist, is a sort of practical companion to Sutton and Rao’s Scaling Up Excellence (above). Whereas the latter offers lessons about avoiding the pitfalls of growth, Horowitz describes what it is like to fall straight into them, pointing out, for instance, how sloppiness, money-burning and time-wasting plague companies as they get larger. You could call it a cautionary tale, but even in the worst of times, for true entrepreneurs “there is always a move”.

The Frugal Innovator: Creating Change on a Shoestring Budget, by Charles Leadbeater, Palgrave Macmillan, RRP£16.99/$27

Building on other authors’ works such as Jugaad Innovation and The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Leadbeater’s book is notable mainly for examples of how necessity can breed invention in places as unpromising as Brazil’s favelas. His disparagement of big-company innovation gets wearisome, but this is still mainly a positive book about the potential of “convivial technology” — which opens up possibilities for its users rather than constraining them — and “radicant organisations”, which “put down roots, draw in and create the resources to sustain themselves as they grow”.

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