RICH KARLGAARD // INNOVATION RULES
BUSINESS BOOKS mostly bore us. Too many skip the basics of readable writing: a gripping plot, characters you love or hate, narrative momentum. They often reek of bull—polished academic bull or vainglorious, CEO-memoir bull. They fail to do the one thing Hemingway said was essential: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Sports books do much better, as a rule. I’ve found some of the most inspiring books on business are actually, ﬁrst and foremost, sports books. Here are seven great ones that will get your business juices ﬂowing. They Call Me Coach—by John Wooden with Jack Tobin (McGrawHill Education, $18). The great UCLA basketball coach wrote several books. Many more were written about him. The Wooden success formula in all of them is dirt simple: preparation, hard work and integrity. But what do these mean in practice? How do you keep players motivated when you’re saying the same thing each day? How do you handle a star (Bill Walton, for example) who bucks the system? It’s the details about the hard questions that make Wooden’s book an all-timer. The Score Takes Care of Itself—by Bill Walsh (Portfolio, $17). When Steve Forbes hired me in 1992 to start a futurist magazine called Forbes ASAP, I recruited Bill Walsh, the retired 49ers coach, to write a column. I would visit Walsh, and he’d tell stories. How he hit upon the idea of his West Coast offense. Why he drafted Joe Montana after every other NFL team had passed on him. How every winning organization has what Walsh called a “standard of excellence” and how you establish that on day one. When to crack down and when to keep it light. Walsh’s book brings all of these lessons together. The Boys in the Boat—by Daniel Brown (Penguin Books, $17). If you’re a fan of the late Bud Greenspan’s Olympics documentaries, you already know that a U.S. eight-oar crew team won the gold medal at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics. Author Brown’s enduring bestseller tells the rest of the story. The U.S. team came from the University of Washington, a rowing backwater. The team members weren’t from the usual prep schools; they were Depression kids. One was kicked out of his house at age 10 because there was too little food. Against all odds, the poor boys grew into men. And the men learned to row as one. Seabiscuit—by Laura Hillenbrand (Ballantine Books, $17). Of Hillenbrand’s two inspirational bestsellers—Seabiscuit and Unbroken—I found Seabiscuit to be the better business story. For one, horse racing was at its popular peak in the 1930s, as big as baseball and boxing. For two, Seabiscuit was the most unlikely of champion horses. He was small and RICH KARLGAARD IS EDITOR-AT-LARGE / GLOBAL FUTURIST AT FORBES. HIS LATEST BOOK, TEAM GENIUS: THE NEW SCIENCE OF HIGH-PERFORMING ORGANIZATIONS, CAME OUT IN 2015. FOR HIS PAST COLUMNS AND BLOGS VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT WWW.FORBES.COM/KARLGAARD.
knobby-kneed and made a poor ﬁrst impression, much like the undernourished Depression masses who cheered him. The horse’s owners got him for a bargain. And Seabiscuit had a foil—the equestrian world’s princely incumbent—in War Admiral. The duel of horses in a world that has largely forgotten about horse racing resonates today. The story is eternally appealing: The undercapitalized nobody startup taking on a big incumbent. Shoe Dog—by Phil Knight (Scribner, $29). The founder of Nike recounts the years from 1962, when 25-year-old Knight began importing Japanese running shoes called Onitsuka Tigers (today known as ASICs), until 1980, when Nike went public. At every step Nike is on a knife’s edge of good news and bad, of doubling revenue rates yet near-fatal cash shortages. Knight’s memoir rings true throughout, with implausible characters, such as an emotionally needy shoe designer and an overweight and unﬁt executive, who sneaked bottles of vodka into his luggage. Knight is also candid about his own shortcomings. Moneyball—by Michael Lewis (W.W. Norton & Co., $15.95). No other writer of our generation bestrides the worlds of sports and high ﬁnance like Michael Lewis. His story on how the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane used deep stats and analytics to create a winner on the cheap is well known. And widely practiced. Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, described Trump’s thinly ﬁnanced campaign and its little-known reliance on data analytics as Moneyball tactics. Into Thin Air—by Jon Krakauer (Anchor, $16). Earlier this year I had a chance to meet Beck Weathers, the Texas pathologist who was left for dead in the ice during the 1996 attempt to climb Mount Everest. Weathers gave the most inspiring speech I’ve heard at a business event. (I, unfortunately, had to follow him with my own speech.) Into Thin Air will likewise inspire you with courage—and frighten you with its stories of bad judgment. As goes peak scaling, so goes business: It’s all about preparation, hard work, focus and will. But, most of all, good judgment. F DECEMBER 30, 2016 FORBES | 34
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BEST SPORTS BOOKS FOR BUSINESS
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