In which we learn what questions the authors still have about business and what books have influenced them.
"Why [can] saints and jerks ... both succeed in business? I think authenticity is the answer. If you're a jerk, be clear about it. Don't pretend to be otherwise. Be authentic. Losers in business tend to talk one way, and act another way."
We now come to my favorite part of every Thinker in Residence, where we ask authors about their favorite books, and which ones that have influenced them the most. I really like learning about the authors recent work in the first part of our Q&A, but as a reader I'm always fascinated by what writers themselves have read and loved—Karlgaard and Malone especially. And, once again, I've found my reading list expanded.
800-CEO-READ: What is the one unanswered question about business you are most interested in answering?
Rich Karlgaard: Why saints and jerks can both succeed in business. I think authenticity is the answer. If you're a jerk, be clear about it. Don't pretend to be otherwise. Be authentic. Losers in business tend to talk one way, and act another way.
Michael S. Malone: For me, it is always been the question of how do you maximize human liberty, the opportunity to express one's own unique gifts, and find fulfillment in one's career while still being part of a larger organization (i.e. a corporation or other institution) that produces something great and is a source of personal and group pride.
I think in this new world of freelance work, virtual and protean corporations, and global marketplaces, the opportunity to achieve this dream is greater than ever. We just need to find and mark out the path.
8cr: What book has influenced your worldview and work the most?
RK: The Four Minute Mile, by Roger Bannister. It was the autobiography of a runner who set out to accomplish, in the early 1950s, what was thought impossible at the time. Bannister was an Oxford man and medical student and brilliant writer. I read his book while in high school and have read it many times since.
MM: Among business books? Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras. Probably because I live in Silicon Valley, where company lifespans are typically measured in months, I'm endlessly curious about what it takes to survive for decades, even centuries.
Non-business? The Face of Battle by John Keegan because I'm always interested in the individual as his or her interaction with larger cultural forces. And I wouldn't be the first person to see parallels between business and war... especially in Silicon Valley.
8cr: What is the book you wish you had written (or admire the most) and why?
RK: So many to admire: For essays and commentary, anything by George Orwell and H.L. Mencken. For business book writers, anything by Peter Drucker and Tom Peters. For literary novels, Saul Bellow. For thriller novels, you can't beat Frederick Forsyth's Day of The Jackal.
MM: Being (at least part time) a novelist these days, I'm very interested in fiction that actually looks honestly at the way most people live their lives: at jobs within corporations. Not surprisingly, because modern novelists tend to be creative writing professors at small, mid-Western liberal arts colleges, there aren't a lot of novels that tackle this subject.
That's why I'm a huge fan of Point of No Return by John P. Marquand (1949). Marquand is unfortunately almost forgotten, sadly, because this is probably the best novel about American business ever written. I'd saw my arm off to write a novel this great.
8cr: What book are you reading right now?
RK: Just finished, and loved Daniel Brown's Boys In The Boat, and Matthew Parker's Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica.
MM: On vacation in Oregon at the moment, so reading a lot of books:
- Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell. The first non-fiction book by the superb historical novelist. Timed for the bicentennial of the decisive battle.
- Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth. The third book of the Call the Midwife series. Moving and surprisingly gritty.
- The Master by Colm Toibin. Novelistic treatment of the later years of Henry James. Brilliant writing and psychological analysis.
- Men of War by Alexander Rose. An American Face of Battle looking at the life of the average soldier at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg and Iwo Jima.
I'm also working on novel #3 of the Silicon Valley Quartet. The first two were named Learning Curve and Cost of Goods Sold (it just came out). Keeping with the title motif, this new one is entitled Signal to Noise.
"Point of No Return by John P. Marquand (1949) ...
is unfortunately almost forgotten, sadly, because this is probably the best novel about American business ever written. I'd saw my arm off to write a novel this great."
—Michael S. Malone