Top 11 business books for the thinking business person
There’s no shortage of business books espousing the latest in business theory from leadership to collaboration. The books and the principles that drive them go in and out of fashion with the regularly of the fashion’s hemlines.
But within the jabberwacky of “how to” business books, there are some perennials; books that withstand the test of time to remain pivotal in shaping how we stumble and bumble along in the messy path of business creation and growth.
Imagine this pillow talk scene with my spouse of 30 years as I contemplate starting a venture a few years back. "Honey” I say sweetly. “I have never done a startup but I really think I have a way to create a new type social marketing platform. I know - let me quit my well-paying job, take a six figure chunk out of our very reduced retirement saving and take a chance. And if I am wrong - dont worry honey - while I dont have another 20 years to make it right - It'll be one hellava ride"
The reality of how startup life really happens is wonderfully shared in this telling and heartfelt book. I may not be the typical startup CEO - but the truth is no one's "typical"... This book is a soul guide for any startup CEO.
2) The experience economy by Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore
This book presented itself just I was concepting the idea behind engageSimply. I was trying to understand how to create the capability for Judy Consumer to create a trusted web of her own making. It was lonely thinking because “trust”” as online concept seemed missing from the public conversation.
Drawing on the principles of theater, this book outlines in great scholarship detail how a carefully designed, fully integrated user experience driven company can create higher value and brand loyalty. It succeeds in helping understand that great businesses on founding on creating more immersive user experience that touch us at our very soul.
Its lessons profoundly affected how we developed our platform and more importantly the very essence of the Eden experience. We remain grateful for the insight and vision of this wonderful at just the right moment.
3) The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
It is really astonishing how this little book was prescient in understanding the principles of viral and social marketing years ago whilst Mark Zuckerberg was a gangly teenager getting more socially awkward with every passing day.
The book explores “…that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.”
Importantly, it reveals the mechanisms for how to achieve the critical mass necessary to allow an idea to go from the fringe to mainstream. The book’s brilliance is amplified by the constant reminder that this was pre-Facebook or Twitter. Remarkable.
4) The Purple Cow by Seth Godin
I read this book in a particularly unhappy period in my otherwise very happy work experience. I was working for a tech company that focused on document management. A colleague from the product management gave me this “simple little” book.
I use phrase as the highest form of praise one can bestow in that it never wandered from its central premise – be brilliant for one, albeit smaller audience than to be mediocre for a larger market. I won’t reveal what’s a purple cow got to do with it – you’ll have to discover that for yourself.
5) Crossing the Chasm (3rd edition) by Geoffrey A. Moore
This book was pivotal when it first came out in 1991 in explaining the principles of innovation adoption curves starting with “early adopters” as it made its way through the masses.
Newly updated in 2014, this edition deepens its initial insight around adoption curves to focus on the chaotic yet high stakes involved with technology marketing. Geoffrey Moore creates a roadmap for how new markets develop using high tech as a metaphor for all sorts of businesses and conditions.
Best quote: " In fact, feature for feature, the less successful product is often arguably superior."
This book is most commonly associated with how to design great user experiences on web. It explains the principles around that result in great user experiences. Yet, with a bit of imagination, it can be read as a metaphor for sound business design beyond digital experiences.
Even if you never, ever intend to design a web site, it is quick read that is sure to inspire you in many aspects of whatever you do to earn your keep.
7) The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
The barriers to starting a company get lower every day as sost of technology services and outsourced development can allow most anyone to start a company.
The real trick, it seems, is in the getting it going after you’ve gotten it of the ground. This is where Eric Ries’ book is invaluable as it is a guide to allocate your resources as efficiently as possible to make you last as long as possible – a survivalist guide to surviving the startup process.
Why? Because every day a venture stays afloat increases the odds for ultimate success and Reis focuses on this very clear imperative.
He created the concept of a “minimal viable product” – an accelerated proof of concept which, thereafter, is controlled iteration as part of a continual improvement process.
8) Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky.
I confess a deep and unapologetic admiration for Shirky. He is one of those thinkers that continues to reveal insights by linking dots heretofore unlinked. This book is not for the timid as Shirky is more academic (his essay on “The Collapse of Complex Business Models” IS AMPLE PROOF)
But few others than Shirky can tackle the task of creating a cogent vision for the chaotic, frenzied whir of activity that characterizes our evolving real time connectivity and social technologies. In the creative destruction, old models are being swept away with new forms of tech-enabled social commerce and interaction. From crowdsourcing to co-collaboration - this book dives deep into technology and social media with a satisfying result of a comprehension emerging from the chaos.
"Group action gives human society its particular character, and anything that changes the way groups get things done will affect society as a whole...”
Power to the people.
9) The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White
This time-tested little gem was introduced to me by then boyfriend in college. I never considered myself a particularly good writer and I figured I could use all the help I could get. It proved its worth time and again.
Originally written in 1918 it was updated in 1935. In 1959 an expanded and modernized edition was made by E. B. White. This third edition has become the standard text of the book, with further revisions made in 1972, 1979 and 1999. It covered the basics – the stuff I knew I should know but somehow didn’t.
It is, so to speak, a grammatical security blanket for those of us who needs some extra reassurance and I am grateful for those 14 pithy pages of rules. After that, there useful explanation of principles of composition, commonly misused words (my favorite section), and overall advice on what effective writing. It won’t make the task of writing easier but it will be a comfort to you as you write your way to greatness.
10) Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant Hardcover by W. Chan and Renee Mauborgne
This book was what the CEO of a security asked me to read before I started there in 2005. It was written to help businesses think differently about competition by strategically understanding the usual futility of competing in a “bloody ocean.” The book analyzes the long span of history concluding that lasting success comes from creating 'blue oceans': untapped new market spaces ripe from growth.”
This is my favorite quote and sets the stage for the learning to be gleaned: “Stop benchmarking the competition. The more you benchmark your competitors, the more you tend to look like them....”
11) The checklist manifesto By Atul Gawande
A recent add to the list via a recommendation from Gary Belsky, this gem has a near cult following because it is a physician’s understanding of how to reduce complexity into manageable bits with more predictable results than just “winging it.” This simplistic summary belies the power of the book to overcome the fumes of complexity. The book is compelling precisely because it was conceived from a doctor where the complexity and the stakes couldn’t be higher. It gives new meaning to the term “It isn’t brain surgery.”