My two favorite books about management, ever

by on May 7, 2017 at 12:27 am in Books, Economics, Education, History, Music, Uncategorized | Permalink

They are:

Johnny Rogan, The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited, The Sequel, get the full-length edition, not the much shorter 1980 volume.

Chris Twomey, XTC: Chalkhills and Children.

…in addition to the very recent Dreaming the Beatles, which I just reviewed.

NB: These are music books and I am not even recommending them to most of you.  These books only make sense if you already know a good deal about the careers of the artists involved.

Here is my advice on how to find excellent management books and management advice: pick some areas you know fairly well, be it music, sports, military campaigns, a scientific discovery, the making of a historic plane flight, or whatever.  Read a very detailed book about that.  Think through the lessons of that book(s).  Unfortunately, books about corporations so often filter their management information through homilies, hidden agendas, NDAs, ego boosts, paybacks, and other forms of…bullshit.  Music and sports books won’t, as they are too concerned with other kinds of stupid filters.  But you will get the lowdown on management for the most part.

There are some special reasons why I find the Byrds and XTC fruitful areas for reading for management advice, above and beyond my knowledge of the history and the musical content.  Neither group was massively profitable in a sustained manner, though they had their successes.  The two histories contain both triumphs and some major mistakes.  The main creators worked very consistently at their music for decades, and were not afraid to take chances or to operate with a long time horizon.  Nor did they destroy themselves, even though they were fatally flawed as creators.  Both histories are also studies in small group dynamics, including their eventual collapse; the Byrds are more a story of changing personnel and its costs.  Both histories embody tales of retreat and also return, and an ongoing evolution of styles and media.  Both stories have (relatively) happy endings, but only for those who kept at work rather than partook in indulgences.  Those features may or may not apply to your own personal circumstances, choose your management books accordingly, but I those kinds of stories more interesting than say books about the Rolling Stones.

If you can find books such as these, they are among the most valuable you will read.  Yet it is very hard to find them through recommendations, given the idiosyncratic nature of the content and its relevance.  Of course that is precisely why they have such high marginal value.

1 Charlie May 7, 2017 at 12:36 am

Did not expect to find chalkhills and children referenced on MR. but yeah, you’re probably right that it says a lot about management. And about growing up.

2 Lurker May 7, 2017 at 5:55 pm

Neither did I! Discovered XTC back in the 80’s. Post-punk for those with a few brain cells between their ears. I would be interested in buying this book, but Amazon shows used paperback priced very highly. Must have been a small publishing run…

3 Anon Guy May 7, 2017 at 1:27 am

Still nary a mention of the management book of our time, Art of the Deal. We need a book review Tyler!

4 Rich Berger May 7, 2017 at 6:08 am

Yeah, I don’t know why TC keeps avoiding it. Want a recommendation? The guy became President in spite of a being 1. a total amateur,, 2. vastly outspent, 3. having almost all the media against him, 4. opposed by the entire Democrat party and 5. opposed by most of the Republican Party. That’s the mother of all self recommendations!

BYW, it is a surprisingly interesting book and will provide you with valuable insights into Trump’s MO. And you’ll be the only one in your group to have read it. That’s also status enhancing!

5 The Engineer May 7, 2017 at 8:20 am

And you don’t even need to read it. Just listen to the Johnny Depp/ Ron Howard spoken word rendition. Johnny Depp with a terrible New York accent, pretending to be The Donald. It’s great!

6 Rich Berger May 7, 2017 at 9:07 am

I don’t think the professor likes audiobooks – too slow. I guess you could speed em up, but then they all sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks and as you know, it’s hard to get a Straussian reading when you are listening to those cute little rodents.

7 msgkings May 7, 2017 at 10:59 pm

I don’t think Cowen will read it until Trump does.

8 Zeitgeisty May 7, 2017 at 5:28 am

Xtc managed to be successful even though Andy partridge suffered from stage fright and slurred lyrics as a consequence

9 Li Zhi May 7, 2017 at 5:31 am

Off topic, but I’m hearing good things about Sapolsky’s Behave. 800 pages, and may be a lot of stuff already internalized. My copy is on order.

10 rayward May 7, 2017 at 7:04 am

Oh, my, the Byrds, turn, turn turn, the Ecclesiastes of pop music. Here are the lyrics from the Byrds’ most popular song:

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time…

11 rayward May 7, 2017 at 7:28 am

Maybe I’m just seeing the image of Jesus in my mashed potatoes, but one might see a connection between this song and the Austrian economics Cowen prefers. There is a season, turn, turn, turn.

12 Mike K May 7, 2017 at 9:30 am

Similarly, I’ve thought maybe being in a band would be good experience towards being a good manager in an office. I am in a band but i can’t say i have managed anyone in my day job so I’m not sure how true this thought is. I do note that you can’t really command your bandmates to do stuff, and they can’t really command you. That seems vaguely true of management in the companies i have worked for too. They of course can fire you but seem reluctant to do so. They have to persuade you to do things generally in a different way than threatening the ax.

That said I have been in a bands where there is no main leader, that tried to operate as a kind of democracy I guess, and nothing really materialized. We didn’t really finish songs or gig. On the other hand, the bands that did finish songs and gig, there was either a single leader or a rotating leader–someone who wrote a song would be the leader for that song, so to speak. That rotating leader approach didn’t work too bad, though it didn’t work out too well for the Romans when they tried it against Hannibal 😉

Not that I was in any bands that had any modicum of success, other than that they were fun to be in and gigged and kept going for a while.

I’d be curious to see Tyler’s review of ‘Hunting Accidents’, the book about Guided by Voices, written by Jim Greer, who was in GBV for a spell. GBV’s methods seem quite different than a lot of other bands. They seem to focus on tremendous quantity over quality, but the quality itself is often quite high IMO. Also somewhat as a counter to Tyler’s not unreasonable view, Robert Pollard has a reputation (perhaps it’s more persona than anything, but i tend to doubt it) of being a big drinker and yet quite productive and successful in some sense.

13 Glenn Mercer May 7, 2017 at 9:31 am

I agree with TC’s suggestion to look for management lessons where one would not expect them, since books “about” management generally sanitize the past, clean up the characters, and draw only the lessons the author wishes to present. A book about the Byrds would have no such axe to grind. I would broaden the suggestion to include books about companies in crisis… but not by insiders (“here is how I saved the day”) but by outsiders, who only want to tell a compelling story. Leaving the reader to draw the conclusions.
Smartest Guys in the Room about Enron for example, and I am sure the new book Jack Ewing book about VW’s Dieselgate will have lessons to learn also.

14 ant1900 May 7, 2017 at 10:23 am

The amount of talent that passed through the Byrds is incredible, with Clarence White and Gene Clark being the two best.

15 carlospln May 7, 2017 at 8:44 pm

+ 1 on Clarence White.

I saw them in ’71 and they [&, especially him] were awesome [check out his string bender playing on “Chestnut Mare”, from the ‘Untitled’ record]

Interesting fact: The Birds went from a studio band [‘Wrecking Crew’] on their 1st record, to requiring 87 takes for ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ on their 2nd, to becoming one of the crack performing rock groups 5 years later.

16 ant1900 May 8, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Yes, White invented the b-bender device to get that signature sound. In particular the solo at the end of Truck Stop Girl is pure b-bender. His playing on Chestnut Mare is sublime. Tragically White was killed by a drunk driver in his absolute prime.

17 msgkings May 7, 2017 at 11:02 pm

I’ve always been partial to Gram Parsons

18 dave schutz May 7, 2017 at 10:35 am

Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed by Rich and Janos. Tyler Cowen, I think this has everything you are looking for!

19 Melmoth May 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm

I read a book about the WW2 fall of Singapore recently, the dysfunctions and failures of the British were enlightening from a management/ organisational perspective.

20 Ryan Reynolds May 7, 2017 at 7:34 pm

“NB: These are music books and I am not even recommending them to most of you. These books only make sense if you already know a good deal about the careers of the artists involved.”\

That begs the question, what are the best management books to read if I know nothing about the Byrds or XTC? I’m completely sold on the proposition that most management books are bullshit, and the task here is to find ‘accidental’ management books – so what should I read then, short of skim reading thousands of books on random subjects until I strike gold?

21 carlospln May 7, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Gold?

This one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Halo_Effect_(business_book)

“Phil Rosenzweig is a professor @ IMD in Lausanne; PhD from Wharton Business School; 6 yrs on faculty of HBS”

22 jls May 8, 2017 at 2:39 pm

The Only Rule is it Has to Work, https://www.amazon.com/Only-Rule-Has-Work-Experiment/dp/1627795642, a book about two stat geeks who were put in charge of a minor league baseball team, fits this rule despite being a sports book. It provides insight into management topics like communication, getting buy-in from skeptical employees, why data doesn’t persuade, understanding employee incentives, etc.

23 Adam Jones May 8, 2017 at 3:54 pm

John Wooden’s They Call Me Coach is one of the great management books ever. It is, ostensibly, about basketball.

24 Ricky Tylor May 8, 2017 at 4:12 pm

I really like reading these things, I believe we all should try to learn something over this because then we will always be able to perform well and able to achieve greater results too. It is a lot easier through broker like OctaFX since they are awesome by all means having tidy spreads, smooth trading platform like cTrader. I really enjoy it all with no worries over anything since there are no worries with slippage, re quote or any such things.

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