36 Best Business Books that Influenced Microsoft Leaders


36 Best Business Books that Inlfuenced Microsoft Leaders

“Business is a game, played for fantastic stakes, and you’re in competition with experts. If you want to win, you have to learn to be a master of the game.” — Sidney Sheldon

Business books can change your game in work and in life.

There are more great business books coming out every year than I can read in a lifetime.

The Best Business Books that Change How You Think, Feel, or Act

One of the ways I filter for great business books is, I ask the most effective people I know, which business books had a significant impact on how they think, feel, or act.  I like to find the special business books that really make a difference, not just in theory, but in practice.

Recently, I reached out to several Microsoft leaders, past and present, and up and down the ranks.  The beauty of Microsoft is the extremely high concentration of smart people and  I like to leverage the collective brain.

What 3 Business Books Changed Your Life?

In this case, I posed a simple question to find out which business books actually made a difference in the lives of these Softies:

“What are the top 3 books that changed your life in terms of business effectiveness?”

I ended up with a really eclectic set ranging from parenting guides to changing the world.

The top three business books that showed up multiple times were:

  1. Blue Ocean Strategy, by by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
  2. Good to Great, by Jim Collins
  3. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick M. Lencioni

This actually didn’t surprise me.  I’ve been using Blue Ocean at work on a regular basis and Good to Great was a core part of the culture of the Microsoft patterns & practices team.

36 Best Business Books that Changed the Lives of Microsoft Leaders

Here are 36 best business books that influenced the Microsoft leaders that I reached out to:

  1. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum
  2. Authentic Leadership, by Bill George
  3. Blue Ocean Strategy, by by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
  4. Built to Last, by Jim Collins, Jerry I. Porras
  5. Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck
  6. Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott
  7. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham
  8. Fortune’s Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street, by William Poundstone
  9. Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  10. Good to Great, by Jim Collins
  11. How To Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
  12. Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance, by Thomas F. Gilbert
  13. Jack: Straight from the Gut, by Jack Welch
  14. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, by Martin Linsky and Ronald A. Heifetz
  15. Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box, by Arbinger Institute
  16. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  17. Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar and Grace Frick (Translator)
  18. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis
  19. Pasteurs Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation, by Donald E. Stokes
  20. Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
  21. The Soul Of A New Machine, by Tracy Kidder
  22. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer
  23. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
  24. The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard, M.D. Johnson Spencer, and Constance Johnson
  25. The Art of Happiness, by Dalai Lama
  26. The Art of Innovation, by Thomas Kelley and Jonathan Littman
  27. The Art of Leadership, by George Manning and Kent Curtis
  28. The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything, by Guy Kawasaki
  29. Art of War, by Sun Tzu
  30. The Crisis of Global Capitalism: Open Society Endangered, by George Soros
  31. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick M. Lencioni
  32. The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton M. Christensen
  33. Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright
  34. Unleashing the Idea Virus, by Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell
  35. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
  36. Winning with People, by John C. Maxwell

Time is the ultimate test.

Many of these books have proven to be some of the best business books on the planet, time and again.

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  1. Hey JD,

    Love the list! Lots of the books are on my bookshelf too =).

    Of course there is a big difference between:

    1) Just being on my bookshelf
    2) Reading the book
    3) Actually applying what I read in the book

    I’m trying to do as much as I can of #3, but in the past many of the books were in category 2…or languished in category 1 😉

    Been meaning to read Moneyball for a while – I saw it recommended a few times and that sort of statistical analysis fascinates me, but right now that is in category 4: languishing on my todo list, not even purchased 😉

  2. impressive collection.
    Good to have a list for my reading reference.
    “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything ” seems to be next for me to read

  3. Hi JD,
    since I am a theme gal, I love the list because even though I haven’t read a lot of these books, I can feel the positive energies.
    so thank you for that..
    the lines that caught my eye right off were there:
    All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
    ~Kindergarten was my best school year and I remember a lot about it actually,.. and find it to be the most true to who we are. We have not been conditioned to think a certain way yet and so the heart reigns supreme! and diversity is beautifully present!
    The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living
    ~I think it takes about what feels like 10 journey years of a life to really find true happiness and hold it dearly and share that gift with others 😉 and the same is true of love.
    Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization
    ~I love the idea of having a tribe to support, encourage, inspire and come home to and to bring that to a leadership level is awesome! What a great starting point for an organization!

    just my perspective on this lovely post!
    I also love books which tell more stories from the heart then theory. I am adding more stories for this reason to the manuscript I am working on and I find that it is also more fun to write! 😉


  4. Awesome list JD, thanks! I like the idea of leveraging the collective brain to come up with books worth reading.

  5. J.D.,
    thanks for sharing this super cool list with us.
    Gosh, I need a clone if I want to read, learn and do stuff which I have in my head in the pipeline;-)
    Have a super cool rest of the day, zzzzz time in Slovakia

  6. @ Eduard

    I find the best leaders at all levels are continuous learners. The one’s that think they “made it, now enjoy the ride” stagnate and whither.

    @ Sid

    Thank you.

    I’ll share a way in an upcoming post on how to rip through books fast AND apply them. It’s not stuff we get taught in school.

    @ Alik

    … and The Starfish and the Spider will dovetail nicely off that.

    @ Sanjeev

    It’s great brain-wrinkling material.

    @ Positively Present

    I was surprised that I hadn’t even heard of a few of these books. I thought it would just be confirmation of all the ones I already know.

    @ Jenn

    Flashing back, in kindergarten I remember launching crusades, making epic adventures, and wanting to make the world a better place … on top of greasy kid stuff, like eating paste and finger painting.

    Sticky stories are a great way to share insight … just like quotable quotes.

    @ Lana

    One of my previous managers lead our team by focusing on “build the brain” and harnessing collective wisdom.

    @ Ivana

    If you find a way to clone, promise me you’ll share the secret.

    @ vered

    I know what you mean. I find that there’s a lot of business books that don’t deserve to be read and yet it’s crowded at the top.

  7. Hi JD .. thanks for the listing .. and great they’re in alphabetical order!! Brilliant of you to let us have these titles – and I appreciate you passing on the information .. I’ll print out the page now – some I’ve got .. but most I definitely haven’t read .. so will add to my list (or library borrowing) .. thanks so much .. Hilary

  8. Thanks for the list – I’ve read less than half of these, so I guess Amazon will make some extra money soon :-)

    I’ve got a challenge for you; As Microsoft is a software company, I would like you to ask *the same people*

    “What are the top 3 books that changed your life in terms of learning how to create great software ?”

    I *hope* that they also read software-related (not necessarily programming-related) books as well, and it would be *very* interesting to hear their favorites (maybe one of your books ?)

  9. @ Hilary

    Hey, I want everybody to have a chance to change their lot in life, and sometimes it’s just knowing what books or know-how other people draw from. It’s still one of our best ways to share wisdom unless you get to talk to folks directly or have the experiences yourself.

    @ Andrea

    Thank you!

    @ Atle

    I have exactly the list you’re looking for on my Shaping Software Blog: My Favorite Software Books

    * It includes the favorites of my fellow Softies (and more)
    * It includes my favorites
    * It summarizes why it’s useful
    * It’s incredibly thorough

  10. #1,#23 and #24 have been read and re-read on my list. I have read several others over the years but they did not have a lasting impact. A couple were hard for me to understand and integrate. Now I have more reading ahead – this is always great in my book!

    I have always wanted to work on a team, but have always remained solo…

    Thank you for a great list…get out my Kindle and download…which one first…hmmm?

  11. @ Patricia

    Kindergarten really taught us a lot and 7 Habits is one of my favorites when it comes to fundamentals.

    I think you’ll enjoy the range and the insights. I hand picked the folks that I asked for their top 3 books so it’s really a unique set.

  12. Out of all these books, and there are so many of them that I like, Jack straight from the gut might be my favorite. I listened to it on CD during my commute and loved it. Such a visionary thinker in a large company. This is a rare occurrence.

    We need to cultivate people like Jack instead of trying to stifle them. The only way good businesses will stay on top is if they are willing to take risks.

  13. I’ve only heard of about 6 of those.

    Blue Ocean is a new one too, I am very intrigued, of course. Very evocative of things like hope, freedom, adventure and choosing one’s own destiny. I shall look for that one today!

    Thanks, J.D.!

  14. @ Karl

    I’ve heard nothing but good things about Jack and it sounds like he would be great to listen to.

    Risks are the key. If we take risks, we can fail, but we can learn and respond. If we don’t take risks, we simply decline over time.

    @ Jannie

    Blue Ocean is definitely a game changer. If nothing else, it can help you get clarity on your current strategy and at least see whether a different approach might be easier and more effective.

    @ Nadia

    When I’m not reading fiction, I do enjoy insightful business books, too. This list has a bunch I hadn’t seen before, so I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons.

  15. Great list. 13 down, 23 to go.

    A few that I think are missing in this list are:
    – What got you here won’t get your there (Marshall Goldsmith)
    – Take Back your Life (Sally McGhee) or Getting Thing Done (David Allen)
    – How to stop worrying and start living (Dale Carnegie)
    – Blink and the Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell)
    – Power Presentations, In the line of Fire and The Power Presenter (Jerry Weissman)

    All of them target additional key aspects of being successful at Microsoft. Respectively: growing as a professional, getting efficient, managing stress and tough situations, being able to use earned (through experience) gut feel for decision making, finding the key levers in reaching scaled impact and finally being able to communicate clearly and convincingly your audience (internal or external).

  16. Nice list of business books to read, but applying them is hardest. Especially if you find yourself not in the ideal position to do what the author’s talking about.

  17. […] 36 Best Business Books that Influenced Microsoft Leaders – The beauty of Microsoft is the extremely high concentration of smart people and  I like to leverage the collective brain  I posed the following question to several Microsoft leaders, past and present, and up and down the ranks, ““What are the top 3 books that changed your life in terms of business effectiveness?”  This is the answer I got. […]

  18. The list is yet powerful, thanks…….. what ‘new books’ have you added to the list since 2010?

  19. @ Joe — I keep the other book lists updated. This is a special snapshot in time. That said, some of the game changing books I know folks have been reading include Linchpin and Business Model Canvas.

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