Best business books
An MBA friend recently entered the workforce and asked me to recommend some good business books to read. He is fortunate because his job puts him in situations where he spends extended periods of time with executives. He figured that reading any books would help him with his new career, and consequently wasn’t asking for anything in particular. At first, I was stumped. His request was so broad I didn’t know which direction to point him. I didn’t think I could effectively pick a book that would meet his natural curiosity and capture his interest. With this in mind, I took a different direction on his request.
I explained that I didn’t really know what he was looking for but I had an idea that would hopefully solve his request. My thought was to provide a list of books that would enable him to hold interesting conversations with CEOs and other MBAs. Some are “must-read” but there should be a few that will give you a different way to think about “best business books”. With this in mind, I put together the following list of books that I believe will give him talking points so he can hold conversations with his executive-level customers:
Book recommendation approach
Instead of learning about spreadsheets, how to operate a business, or biography’s on business leaders, my thought was to recommend books he could share a common language with when talking with colleagues, mentors, and execs in the business world. Most of his peer MBA’s and equivalents will have read the following books and when you say “10,000 hours”, SMART Goals, or “bottom 10 percent”, they will know exactly what you mean. Reading the following books will also show your manager and VP’s that you are pushing yourself to learn and have a better attitude than your colleagues.
One great practice that our CEO has implemented is promoting business books within the company. If he has read a good business book, he will talk about it at our weekly all-company meeting and offer to buy it for anyone in the company that is interested. With books directly relevant to what we are working on, we have made the books required reading for the entire management staff and optional for any individual contributors. This way, everyone is familiar with the lexicon when we are referring to specific examples listed in the books.
Of course, we offer the business books in any format you are interested in, whether this is Kindle, Hardback, CD, etc. Who wouldn’t want to read what the CEO of their company is currently reading? Asking for the opinion of your CEO on a business book is always a great icebreaker and a way to show you are pushing yourself.
So with this mentality in mind, I put together a shortlist of books that most execs and MBAs (aka decision-makers) will be familiar with. Again, this isn’t a list of the top business books to read. This isn’t a list of specific learnings and isn’t a complete list by any stretch of the imagination. My hope is that by being familiar with these you will be able to ask interesting questions of the execs and decision-makers in your world. Don’t we all want to ask interesting questions about the senior people in our lives? I know I missed a number of classics, so please add them to the list in the comments below. (I am not on an affiliate program with Amazon or being paid to review these books. These really are books I recommend to friends.
I just finished reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, a well-respected CEO turned VC. This book was written by a CEO, about CEO experiences and the intended audience was other CEO’s. Along the way, it gained a cult following within the business and startup community. Being a CEO is hard and Horowitz goes into the trials and tribulations about his job as a CEO and insight into his “never give up” attitude which gets him through. This book delivers real-life lessons everyone can learn from.
Millionaire Next Door: The book I wish Mrs. HRNasty would read. The difference in day-to-day habits that you wouldn’t suspect between millionaires and those living paycheck to paycheck. Why do millionaires drive 10-year-old cars? This book takes a groundbreaking look at the wealthy and reveals that many millionaires live quietly among non-millionaires. You won’t find any “lifestyles of the rich and famous” profiles in this book; just ordinary folks who rolled up their sleeves worked and saved hard. How the everyday person can become a millionaire. I am confident most managers would prefer to hire this mentality.
I am a Gladwell fanboy so anything from Malcolm Gladwell would be very high on the list. Outliers would be one of the first books I recommend, and if you haven’t already read this, I am confident you will find it a fascinating read. Gladwell proposes a very sound theory for “what makes high achievers different”. I find everything by Gladwell entertaining and thought-provoking.
How to Win Friends and Influence People: Every successful salesperson and CEO has read this book. I have preached throughout the blog that despite your crappy manager, your career is your own responsibility. This book is a great first step to understanding how you can take the initiative in personal and professional relationships and control your destiny.
Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. As Ferrazzi discovered early in life, what distinguishes highly successful people from everyone else is the way they use the power of relationships. Ferrazzi lays out the specific steps needed to reach out to connect with colleagues, friends, and associates. This is the networkers bible.
Jack Welch and the GE way: Although some may feel this is dated, your VP probably read this classic. Jack Welch took GE to greatness. In one of the biggest and most traditional Fortune companies, Welch was picked to lead GE. He was a proponent of cutting the bottom 10% every year and GE has one of the most talent-rich management benches in the world.
The No Asshole Rule: Working in HR, and I want to spread this word as much as possible. Not so much so that assholes are not hired, but just as much so that assholes (and they know who they are) frickin change their ass hole ways. I don’t care how smart you are, assholes will be dinosaurs.
The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. With so many third-world countries becoming industrial, your phone calls to your phone carrier are now going overseas. Even your doctor’s reports on your check-up are being written overseas. This explains how competition isn’t just local but global for every industry and why more jobs are going overseas. The message for me as an HR pro-am and someone collecting a paycheck was that as employees, we need to be thinking about how we can improve our individual productivity if we want to save our jobs.
Because I am a superfan, I have to include anything by Brad Feld. Brad is a well-respected VC and started his career as a software developer. He isn’t your traditional banking VC. Most of his books are broken up into chapters that can be read independently of each other. I especially like “Do More Faster”. This is a book that interviews a number of start-up CEOs and interviews them for lessons learned the hard way.
Books on perfection (and food)
One of my all-time favorite books is “The Soul of a Chef”, written by Michael Ruhlman as he observes the rigorous 3-day Certified Master Chef exam of the Culinary Institute of America. In this book, he shares his observations working under Chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. For myself, this book goes into “What causes chefs to strive for absolute perfection”? What does it really take to achieve high levels of accomplishment?
Jiro Dreams of Sushi, available in book and video format is a fascinating view into one man’s quest to be “perfect” with his craft. I recommended the book/video to our executive team and everyone found it fascinating. So much so that it was agreed that if any of us makes it big, we take each other to Japan and order sushi from Jiro. After 50 years, Jiro, the sushi chef featured in the book doesn’t feel he has mastered his craft of preparing sushi despite a 6-month reservation wait and a $500.00 price tag on a meal at his restaurant. If you work for a perfectionist, this is a must-read/watch.
Business books for networking
Habits of highly effective people by Steven R Covey. Nothing more need be said about this one. If you haven’t heard of this one, I can’t help you.
How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie is required reading in schools and businesses alike. If you are wondering how you can strengthen your leadership skills, this is a great place to start. Standard reading for most High Performer programs at Fortune companies.
Classic business books
The thought process behind this list is that these books are 100 to 500 years old. These are “da real classics”. If an idea has survived this long, there has got to be something to it. New ideas come and go every day. Everybody has an opinion and a theory including myself. I have philosophies around interviewing, and hopefully, they will be surviving in the next decade. Read the classics first as a baseline and read what your CEO and execs have read.
48 laws of Power by Robert Green was a New York Times bestseller, although this book was published in the year 2000, it is based on the analysis of the powerful spanning a period of 3000 years. This book draws on the philosophies of Machiavelli and Sun Tzu to Kissenger and PT Barnum.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532) was originally written as an instruction guide for governing Princes in the 1500s this is probably one of the most famous books on politics. Anytime you work with a group of 3 or more, there will be politics.
Art of War by Sun Tzu written in the 5th century BC is a classic and no list of business books would be complete without it. This is a military treatise written by a high-ranking military general, strategist, and tactician. 13 chapters each devoted to one aspect of warfare. Recommended reading for all US military Intelligence personnel and required reading for all CIA officers. Many business books have been written applying lessons from this book to corporate strategy for competitive business situations.
Book on Teamwork
Because I grew up in the shadow of the University of Washington and this book is making a comeback, I am also including “The Boys in the Boat“, which I think is being made into a movie. This is the true story of the 1932 UW rowing team that went to the Olympics. You don’t have to be into rowing to get this feel-good story about underdogs building a winning team. I have read this one multiple times.
I know that there are a lot of other great business books out there. Please take a moment to share your must-read in the comments below and recommend your favorites.
See you at the after-party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky, and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.
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