“You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”
– Charlie Jones
I have no formal business credentials nor have I taken a single class on business in my life. My business education has been a combination of my own experiences and the books I’ve read.
I am continually amazed by, and grateful for, all the authors who have written books and shared so much of their experience and research.
This article is my attempt to enumerate the books that have been repeatedly useful to me as an entrepreneur and business person and the ones I have recommended or gifted most to others.
Some are not explicitly business books, yet have been helpful to me and other entrepreneurs and business people I know.
This set is clearly biased by my own experience and surely incomplete. I hope to continue to revise it every few years as I read and learn more.
My Best Entrepreneur Book Recommendations
“Accounting is the art of using limited data to come as close as possible to an accurate description of how well a company is performing.”
Were you also a humanities major with no accounting background? Accounting is one of the few subjects I wish I had actually taken in college and while I’m sure there’s plenty of textbooks you could pick-up, this book made me go from staring at P&Ls like they were in Russian to being able to read a business prospectus.
I know many entrepreneurs who operate 7-figure businesses and have cited this book as their most valuable resource for gaining the basic financial intelligence to run a business.
By Carlota Perez
Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital presents a new model for innovation and investment cycles.
Perez suggests we’ve gone through three major techno-economic paradigms since the rise of capitalism:
The Industrial Revolution, beginning in 1771
The Age of Steam and Railways, beginning in 1829
The Age of Steel, Electricity and Heavy Engineering, beginning in 1875
Each lasted around a century (with some overlap from the previous paradigm) and had two major phases: installation and deployment.
This book is academic, but critically important reading for anyone interested in startups and funding cycles.
This book gave me a framework to think about what the Internet and related technologies are doing to markets, society, and business.
It changed the way I think about innovation, entrepreneurship and investment more than any other book I’ve read.
“The rich buy assets. The poor only have expenses. The middle class buy liabilities they think are assets.”
I didn’t grow up in a family of entrepreneurs and money wasn’t something my family talked about.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad was one of the first books I read that made me start to see how much mindset affects wealth and how little I understood about money and how it actually works.
The relationship we have with money in our heads profoundly impacts how much of it we have in the real world and Kiyosaki explains the key difference between how the poor, middle, class and rich think about money, assets and liabilities.
“Slowlane millionaires are cheap with money. Fastlane millionaires are cheap with time.”
Don’t be turned off by the title, M.J. Demarco has written a brilliant book using the sidewalk, slow lane, and fast lane to illustrate the different mindsets, habits and goals of the poor, the middle class, and the rich.
Having successfully exited from his company, MJ wrote a book sans marketing or politically correct considerations. His willingness to offend is part of what makes the book so valuable.
He lays bare the implicit promises and math behind much of the dogma the middle class is raised with – count pennies, save for retirement and reveals what the true path to wealth looks like.
The Germans have a superb word for the (secret) pleasure humans obtain from the misfortunes of others. It is schadenfreude—from schaden meaning “harm” (from which we get the word “shadow”), and freude meaning “joy.” Those of you who are definitely going to be rich will recognize it often enough in the faces and body language of idiots around you. It is the price you must learn to pay for any attempt to raise yourself in the world. And I suspect that was as true ten thousand years ago as it is today.
The Straight, no B.S. story on how publishing magnate Felix Dennis built his hundreds of millions in wealth. Dennis lays out exactly the path he followed to get rich and the tradeoffs he made to get there.
Nuggets of wisdom on negotiation, maintaining equity at all cost, and the importance of execution over ideas are scattered throughout.
No touchy, feely. Plenty of deep insight from a four decade long career spent amassing a fortune.
By Noah Yuval Harari
“How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.”
In Sapiens, Harari traces the whole of human history, beginning 100,000 years ago, when at least six human species inhabited the earth.
Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens.
The first quarter of the book, where he recounts early human history, is where Harari, a historian by training, really shines. He takes humankind of its pedestal and shows it as just another species struggling, often times ruthlessly, for existence.
But just as important is his concept of myths, a term he uses to encapsulate religion, capitalism, and other forms of modern belief.
Myths, say Harari, are the tool Homo sapiens have developed that have allowed them to organize beyond immediate family bonds, the primary feat that sets us apart from other species.
It’s also the mechanism that lets humans market products and manage businesses. What is Apple or Google without their respective myths?
“Often the best way to develop workers—when you are sure they have character and think they have ability—is to take them to a deep place, throw them in and make them sink or swim.”
Epic. Rockefeller was one of the greatest titans of the Industrial age and Chernow is a masterful storyteller. Chernow captures Rockefeller’s risk-taking and relentless focus, best evidenced by his decision to double down on the oil part of his businesses when the only known oil reserves were in a small town in Pennsylvania. It was that profoundly risky and unclear decision that obviously led to his enormous wealth.
Chernow also captures how dichotomous Rockefeller’s nature was. He had a trait which I’ve seen across many extremely wealthy people that can be described, at times, as almost bipolar.
He could be ruthless in his business practices, buying out partners in emotional moments and expanding holdings when competitors had a bad run of luck. Simultaneously, he was incredibly generous and forgiving in his charitable work, giving away much of his fortune in his lifetime.
“The Pujo hearings had one immediate consequence that seemed to threaten Morgan power. In December 1913, President Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act, providing the government with a central bank and freeing it of reliance on the House of Morgan in emergencies; the new Federal Reserve System was a hybrid institution, with private regional reserve banks and a public Federal Reserve Board in Washington. Yet the House of Morgan moved so artfully to form an alliance with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that for the next twenty years it would actually gain power from the new financial system.”
A final epic from Chernow. The House of Morgan chronicles the rise of the Morgan banking dynasty from 1850 until the late 20th century and in doing so, gives a gonzo look at the rise of modern finance and the modern corporation.
What does it take to amass that much power? At what point do businesses become political and how much separation is there between capital and governments? What was the role of capital and banks and how has it changed over the last two hundred years?
Chernow confronts all these questions and also dives into the Morgan men themselves and how the personalities of each adapted to the needs of their respective ages. Similar to Rockefeller, the Morgans, particularly J.P., seemed manic and bipolar at times. J.P. Morgan was as notorious for his bursts of negotiating prowess, securing hundreds of millions of profits in minutes as he was for months spent in Europe on holiday.
“If the end doesn’t justify the means, what does?”
Robert Moses was the master builder of New York. If you’ve ever set foot in a major city, he’s affected your life.
He built more infrastructure than any individual in modern history. To name a few of his works, he built Shea Stadium, Lincoln Center, Jones Beach, the United Nations headquarters in New York, the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and the Triborough Bridge.
There is not a section of New York City he did not touch. In order to accomplish the feat, Moses had to amass a huge amount of power in a city where there’s more than a few people trying to seize the reigns of control.
Moses succeeded through a ruthless competence and vice-like grip on the media.
Caro’s biography of Moses, a Pulitzer Prize winner, paints an honest picture of how to amass power in public or private business, and what it truly costs you.
By Tim Wu
“It is an underacknowledged truism that, just as you are what you eat, how and what you think depends on what information you are exposed to.”
When this book was originally published in 2010, in the age of a more open Internet, it was a warning not to forget that every major information industry, from the telephone to radio to television, has begun with a dream of an open, decentralizing force. Yet each one has eventually been taken captive by some ruthless monopoly or cartel, often colluding with the government.
Looking back at it today, it’s an accurate prediction of how the Internet has played out. The open Internet developed into a few walled gardens, which have radically changed the way humans consume information.
This book lives up to its big subtitle, “The Rise and Fall of Information Empires.” Essential reading for anyone working in media.
“That one can truly manage other people is by no means adequately proven. But one can always manage one’s self. Indeed, executives who do not manage themselves for effectiveness cannot possibly expect to manage their associates and subordinates. Management is largely by example.”
Drucker is credibly the father of the modern corporation and yet seems to be infrequently read by many modern founders and CEO. Much of what we take for granted today about management and business was pioneered by Drucker’s thinking and writing.
He was consistently progressive throughout his career, pressing corporations not just for higher profits, but a higher use of it’s people. The Effective Executive is a timeless classic on true leadership.
“Rhythm— Does the organization have an effective rhythm of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings to maintain alignment and drive accountability? Are the meetings well run and useful? Titan also confirmed that there is only one underlying strategy— what can be called the “x” factor— which must be discovered, defined, and acted upon to create significant value and ultimately significant valuations within a business: The “x” factor: identify the chokepoint in your business model and industry and then gain control of that chokepoint.”
More meetings, not less? Yes. A one page planning document? Yes. Many organizational activities like daily meetings which have brought in vogue by movements like the Lean Startup I originally found in the Rockefeller Habits.
Harnish has a unique perspective from his position as the head of an executive coaching and planning organization, having seen thousands of companies succeed and fail and he distills down the common lessons for companies struggling with growing pains.
I haven’t yet had the chance to read it, but have heard good things about his follow-up Scaling Up.
“I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
A killer starter manual for managing people. Carnegie distills the core, fundamental management practices into simple stories and examples that make them easy to grasp and implement with a team of two, twenty or two hundred.
Carnegie’s book excels because it reduces the complexities of management into essential fundamentals and gives useful heuristics based on his examples like
“How would Lincoln handle this problem if he had it?”
by Venkatesh Rao
“For Nietzsche, God was dead and only the flesh was real. There was only the indifferent Great Bureaucrat of the material universe, Chancellor Entropy, apathetically offering humans a form to fill out, with just one simple check-box choice: “death or booga booga?” The Clueless disdainfully ignore the reams of fine print, and proudly check: death. After trying, and failing to understand the fine print, the Losers cautiously check: booga booga. Finally, the Sociopath frowns doubtfully at the form, and asks: “Can I speak with your supervisor?” “Certainly,” says the Great Bureaucrat. “There’s some additional paperwork for that I am afraid. Just fill these out, and take them over there. Godot will be right with you.”
If you finish Carnegie thinking “this feels overly simplistic”, Venkat is the next stop. In The Gervais Principle, Venkatesh Rao sorts participants in modern corporations into three tiers: sociopaths, clueless and losers and gives a far more nuanced articulation of how modern organizations work and how to both navigate and lead them.
In the follow up, Be Slightly Evil, he advocates the way to work within the corporations is to, well, be slightly evil.
“One of my favorite sayings about entrepreneurship is: If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, “This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.” Since I had never wanted to be a businessman, I needed a few good reasons to be one. One thing I did not want to change, even if we got serious: Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time. We needed to be surrounded by friends who could dress whatever way they wanted, even be barefoot. We all needed to have flextime to surf the waves when they were good, or ski the powder after a big snowstorm, or stay home and take care of a sick child. We needed to blur that distinction between work and play and family.”
Chouinard’s emphasis on a more integrated corporation seems to be among the first modern lifestyle brand and this is his manifesto.
Focus and values first are the story of Chouinard and his company, Patagonia. The book chronicles Chouinard’s seemingly unlikely creation of one of the biggest outdoor apparel brands in the world all the while taking plenty of time off for surf trips and mountaineering.
It was striking the degree to which company decisions were driven by values, like everyone should have time to surf. Another manual for building a post-modern corporation.
“The good-to-great companies did not focus principally on what to do to become great; they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop doing.”
In almost every discipline, there is a what-got-you-here-won’t-get-you-there phenomenon. What it takes to go from zero to good is an entirely different skillset and mindset than what it takes to go from good to great.
Collins looks at stories of companies that have made the latter transition and what the skillsets involved in that transition are.
Collins particular skill is in showing the patterns that emerge from different companies and articulating them clearly and concisely.
Focus, humility, and people-centricity come up throughout the book.
“Your job isn’t just building the best solution, but owning the entire business model and making all the pieces fit.”
Building on the work of Eric Reis, Ash Maurya lays down the fundamental principles of how technology has reshaped the rules for building and scaling a business and then gives templates and step-by-step guides for turning those principles into results.
Though written after Eric Reis’s more popular Lean Startup, I thought Ash Maurya’s treatment was more helpful for implementing in a software startup. For around six months, I was going through this book at night planning what to work on the following day.
By Peter Drucker
“Entrepreneurship is “risky” mainly because so few of the so-called entrepreneurs know what they are doing.”
The typical explanation of how innovation and entrepreneurship happens that gets disseminated in the media is something like:
Wunderkind develops breakthrough technology in parents’ basement
By contrast, Drucker’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship presents entrepreneurship as a purposeful and systematic discipline with methodologies that anyone can study and replicate.
I found myself repeatedly shouting “Yes!” while reading this, as Drucker took phenomena I’ve observed over and over and placed them in a coherent framework.
Though he talks mainly about large corporations, almost all the strategies he discusses I have seen used in small businesses and startups.
Edit: I would also add Andy Grove’s High Output Management to this list.
Marketing and Persuasion
“The only purpose of advertising is to make sales. It is profitable or unprofitable according to its actual sales. It is not for general effect. It is not to keep your name before the people. It is not primarily to aid your other salesmen. Treat it like a salesman. Force it to justify itself. Compare it to other salesman. Figure its cost and result.”
One of the classics cited by copywriters around the world. Much of modern, direct response marketing has been built on the back of the principles Hopkins outlined in 1918 in Scientific Advertising,
Reading Hopkins, I started to see what aspects of marketing were timeless as opposed to timely and re-focus myself on fundamentals instead of more transient tactics.
Above all? Empathy with the prospect.
“The money is where the enthusiasm is. Please remember this! Remember it also, when, in the future, you need to hire someone. Always look for the most enthusiastic person, not necessarily the most qualified.”
Another classic cited by many copywriters as a must read.
Halbert is considered by many, the father of modern copywriting and many of the best direct response copywriters have gone through his entire archives.
In the Boron Letters, a series of letters written by Gary Halbert to his son during a stint in prison, Halbert distills down the most valuable lessons he’s learned on life, marketing, and health to pass on to the next generation.
“Selling to the right person is more important than all the sales methods, copywriting techniques, and negotiation tactics in the world. Because the wrong person doesn’t have the money. Or the wrong person doesn’t care. The wrong person won’t be persuaded by anything.”
One of the most impactful books on my thinking in 2014, Perry Marshall’s 80/20 sales and marketing is a book about the fundamental properties of the 80/20 principles and power law distributions that packs a 1-2 punch for as a primer on sales and online marketing and advertising.
While most people think in terms of linear results, this book shows that the people who achieve truly remarkable results in their businesses are ones that ask, how can we 10x? not how can we double?
“You and I exist in an extraordinarily complicated stimulus environment, easily the most rapidly moving and complex that has ever existed on this planet. To deal with it, we need shortcuts. We can’t be expected to recognize and analyze all the aspects in each person, event, and situation we encounter in even one day.”
Influence distills down the fundamental psychology of persuasion into six core principles that appear across industries and channels.
Based on human nature rather than transient tactics, Cialdini taps into timeless principles.
From sales to marketing to networking to business development, all of business and distribution expansion is built around the six core principles Cialdini has explored.
By Eugene Schwartz
“Let’s get to the heart of the matter. The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy. Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exists in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product. This is the copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire — but to channel and direct it.”
Originally published in the early 20th century, this is the most recommended and respected book on copywriting ever written.
Eugene Schwartz was one of the best ad men of the 20th century, and the insights he had about mass desire, state of awareness, and market sophistication are timeless.
Though it’s ostensibly a copywriting book, the real genius of the book is it’s insights into consumer psychology and how markets behave.
Note: The book usually sells for $200 on Amazon, but you can get a copy from the library or search around for other sources online.
By Jack Trout and Al Ries
“Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.
…The only reality you can be sure about is in your own perceptions. If the universe exists, it exists inside your own mind and the minds of others.”
Jack Trout and Al Ries coined the term “positioning,” which has become so commonly used in marketing and business that it’s hard to imagine a world before it was widely accepted.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing is Trout and Ries’ best book. It’s also the best thing I’ve read on marketing strategy and branding.
It offer a compendium of twenty-two innovative rules for using superior positioning and branding to succeed in competitive markets.
Mindset & Strategy
“It is said that all great things are achieved by great effort. Although I believe that is true, it is not necessarily true that all great effort leads to greatness. A very wise person once told me, “When it comes to overcoming obstacles, there are three kinds of people. The first kind sees most obstacles as insurmountable and walks away. The second kind sees an obstacle and says, I can overcome it, and starts to dig under, climb over, or blast through it. The third type of person, before deciding to overcome the obstacle, tries to find a viewpoint where what is on the other side of the obstacle can be seen. Then, only if the reward is worth the effort, does he attempt to overcome the obstacle.”
I was obsessed with this book perhaps because I played competitive tennis for half a decade or perhaps because like many other books on this list, the title is deceptive – it has very little do with tennis.
Gallwey points out that peak performance is achieved largely through counter intuitive means. Tennis players thinking about exactly how to swing the racket or move the other player around the court are rarely good players.
The best operate from an entirely different mindset, allowing themselves to operate at peak performance seemingly without thinking.
Gallwey uses tennis as an analogy for how to translate peak performance into other domains.
“That which we persist in doing becomes easier—not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” By centering our lives on correct principles and creating a balanced focus between doing and increasing our ability to do, we become empowered in the task of creating effective, useful, and peaceful lives… for ourselves, and for our posterity.”
Perhaps the most fundamental self-improvement or personal development book on the market today and with reason.
Covey explains and gives readers a strategy for implementing the most important principles he saw across decades of working with individuals to become more effective.
Reminders and emphasis to focus on the important, non-urgent tasks, remember to sharpen the saw and the difference between effectiveness and efficiency have stuck with me since I read it a decade ago.
“The business version of our contrarian question is: what valuable company is nobody building? This question is harder than it looks, because your company could create a lot of value without becoming very valuable itself. Creating value is not enough— you also need to capture some of the value you create.”
One of the world’s leading venture capitalists and co-founder of Paypal, Thiel’s perspective on the future and technology is difficult to match.
Thiel gave a series of talks to a class at Stanford which were turned into Zero to One.
The book is a repository of counter-intuitive truths about the promise of the internet age for entrepreneurs, the role of monopolies in advancing society, and the questions successful startup founders must ask themselves before beginning.
“I believe that you can probably get what you want out of life if you can suspend your ego and take a no-excuses approach to achieving your goals with open-mindedness, determination, and courage, especially if you rely on the help of people who are strong in areas that you are weak.”
Probably the most re-read book on my list, I review it at least once a year and often more. Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater, the most profitable hedge fund in history. In this manifesto, originally written as a company document, he lays down the principles by which he has been able to predictably and consistently achieve success in the most hyper-competitive of industries. Clocking in at just over a hundred page, the density of wisdom is so high you can easily spend two hours to get through 20 pages.
“A finite game is played for the of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”
Dense, philosophical and bordering on philosophy, Finite and Infinite Games gets at a central distinction in how we approach life. Most people approach life like a baseball player trying to win the game for his team (finite) instead of the way a father approaches playing catch with his son (infinite). The former can is won by concluding play with more runs, the latter can be won only by being able to keep playing catch.
By Clayton Christensen
“The reason is that good management itself was the root cause. Managers played the game the way it was supposed to be played. The very decision-making and resource-allocation processes that are key to the success of established companies are the very processes that reject disruptive technologies: listening carefully to customers; tracking competitors’ actions carefully; and investing resources to design and build higher-performance, higher-quality products that will yield greater profit. These are the reasons why great firms stumbled or failed when confronted with disruptive technological change.”
When a large incumbent stumbles and is overtaken by a startup, the typical response is to blame managers for getting lazy and complacent: a little less time on the golf course and more time in the office might have prevented this, or so the thinking goes.
Christenson shows that, in fact, the companies who are disrupted are often the ones whose management is doing exactly what everyone expects: listening to their customers and working to improve margins.
Christenson distinguishes between sustaining innovation and radical innovation, showing that it takes a completely different approach to do one than it does the other.
Though originally intended as a guidebook to managers to prevent disruption, it has instead become a handbook for startup entrepreneurs.
“By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.”
As we confront a modern world with ever more activity, distraction and opportunity, a renewed focus on a stoic thinking offers ways to enjoy the benefits while minimizing the downsides.
Irvine’s treatment of Stoicism is extremely accessible and practical for putting into use tomorrow in making better decisions and better managing your own psychology.
“You spent two weeks negotiating your new Infiniti with the dealership and got $ 10,000 off? That’s great. Does your life have a purpose? Are you contributing anything useful to this world, or just shuffling papers, banging on a keyboard, and coming home to a drunken existence on the weekends?”
Not frequently categorized as a philosophy book, Ferriss’s pioneering concept was not his clever outsourcing or automation tactics, but his redefinition of currency.
Is $400,000 a year worth 80 hour work weeks, no time to travel and a bankrupt emotional life?
Ferriss redefined income into money, time and mobility and in doing so changed the way ambition could be expressed for a generation.
“Men do not suffer anyone to seize their estates, and they rush to stones and arms if there is even the slightest dispute about the limit of their lands, yet they allow others to trespass upon their life—nay, they themselves even lead in those who will eventually possess it. No one is to be found who is willing to distribute his money, yet among how many does each one of us distribute his life! In guarding their fortune men are often closefisted, yet, when it comes to the matter of wasting time, in the case of the one thing in which it is right to be miserly, they show themselves most prodigal.”
Perhaps the most densely highlighted book I’ve ever read (though The War of Art comes close), Seneca’s essays are a tragically hilarious reminder that time, the only truly scarce resources, is the one we find ourselves most prone to squander.
He goes on to offer practical, timeless wisdom on how to better spend our time and maintain focus on what truly matters in life.
“Around here I would say that if our predictions have been a little better than other people’s, it’s because we’ve tried to make fewer of them.”
An essential primer on timeless mental models, Seeking Wisdom is the result of Bevlin’s own quest for wisdom and he distills down the principles he discovered from some of history’s wisest individuals.
Bevlin digs into the writings of some of histories wisest individuals from Charles Darwin to billionaire Charlie Munger and extracts the principles they all share.
Most significantly, the book emphasizes the and makes the clear the value of wisdom over knowledge and the difference between the two.
“Most people lose their talent at puberty. I lost mine in my early twenties. I began to think of children not as immature adults, but of adults as atrophied children. But when I said this to educationalists, they became angry.”
Impro, cleverly disguised as a book about how to teach improv, is one of the most insightful books into human nature I’ve read.hi
Johnstone’s journey as a student cum teach of improvisational comedy reveals much about how modernity has affected us and how much we stand to gain by a return to more childish modes of thinking.
The chapters on mask work and how simply chaning physical appearance can dramatically affect the way we interact with the world are terrific.
By Alan Watts
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”
Alan Watts was an interpreter of Eastern thinking for Western audiences in the 60s and 70s. His work bridges the gap between how I was raised to see the world and other possible interpretations suggested by Eastern philosophy better than anyone else I’ve found.
He branded himself a “spiritual entertainer” and that seems about right. He can talk about meaningful philosophical and spiritual in a light and entertaining way.
When I’ve had a bad week, I often just throw on this audiobook and take a long walk. It’s the best cure I’ve found so far.
Note: This is audiobook only.
Productivity and Prioritization
“Thinking in a concentrated manner to define desired outcomes is something few people feel they have to do. But in truth, outcome thinking is one of the most effective means available for making wishes reality.”
When people tell me “I feel disorganized,” the first place I send them is to Allen. His “GTD” system is the basis for most modern productivity systems, my own included.
Allen’s fundamental contribution is that your mind is not a storage device, it is meant for creative and innovative thought and you should build a system to support that.
As we’re bombarded by more and more emails, texts and stimuli, Allen outlines a system to manage that and focus on, well, getting things done.
“Why should you care about the 80/20 Principle? Whether you realize it or not, the principle applies to your life, to your social world and to the place where you work. Understanding the 80/20 Principle gives you great insight into what is really happening in the world around you.”
You could probably trace a dozen bestsellers (including The Four Hour Work Week) back to the 80/20 principle from Koch.
Koch shows the appearance of the 80/20 principle across dozens of domains, cementing it’s existence as a natural law.
A delightfully simple articulation of a tremendously important concept, Koch reveals how a focus on the 80/20 principle propelled him through a career as a management consultant and into an almost unmatchable track record as an investor.
He also reveals the benefits differentiating between the vital few and the trivial many has had on his personal life, from relationships to health.
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Another 130 page business book about a concept that can be summed up in 1 sentence? Yes. Another one. I hated to love this book. But, love it I did.
About 70% into the book I made a note that, “this book just drills. It’s attacking one point in space from every possible angle. the one thing of the books is it to teach people the ONE Thing.”
In a world with an ever increasing number of options and distractions, the scarcity is attention and focus and the ones that will reap the rewards are the ones that acknowledge and build their lives not around novelty and breadth, but meaning and depth.
The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal
“The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not. It is our most precious resource. The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become. The more we blame others or external circumstances, the more negative and compromised our energy is likely to be.”
The Power of Full Engagement is an acknowledgement that most people’s conception of productivity (doing more) is wrong, that the real question is how to prioritize and manage our energy.
Loehr points to the essential importance of renewal and energy management in achieving this highest levels of performance and gives frameworks and systems for better managing energy to achieve higher levels of performance in less time.
“Value innovation is the cornerstone of blue ocean strategy. We call it value innovation because instead of focusing on beating the competition, you focus on making the competition irrelevant by creating a leap in value for buyers and your company, thereby opening up new and uncontested market space.”
Blue Ocean Strategy is in some ways a predecessor to Lean Startup in that it emphasized products be created at the nexus of value and innovation. Too many entrepreneurs are enamored innovation without creating market value, building a product nobody wants, or extracting value from the market without innovating.
Both are poor long term strategies, and Blue Ocean Strategies outlines a process for innovating in a way that creates value for the market, blue oceans – highly profitable, uncontested market space.
“This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.”
Taleb’s most significant work, this book was novel in a way few other books I’ve read have been. A section of it forms the thesis for a chapter of The End of Jobs.
The book is a critical analysis of modernity written as we live in modernity.
Antifragile builds on The Black Swan, that the most impactful events are unpredictable, by explaining that in a world or life where the future is unpredictable, the best we can do is to make ourselves, our careers, and our businesses robust to volatility or antifragile – benefiting from volatility.
Prediction is for the naive. Robustness and Antifragility are all that remain.
“Pursuing the perfect world for everyone is a waste of time and an excuse for not doing the hard work of making the world better for many.”
Cleverly written as a handbook for dictators, the book outlines some of the fundamental mechanisms of power. While Wood uses examples of the government, it’s just as true for organizations.
The two big take aways I got are covered first in the quote above – that idealism is just as useless as endless pessimism, it makes nothing better.
The second is that justice and fairness in a group or society has nothing to do with the sense of justice and fairness in it’s leaders, but rather the degree to which power is systematically distributed.
Are democracies more just than dictatorships because democratic leaders are enlightened and unable to take power or because the system has distributed power enough that one individual doesn’t hold all the power?
“If you want to be useful, you can always start now, with only 1 percent of what you have in your grand vision. It’ll be a humble prototype version of your grand vision, but you’ll be in the game. You’ll be ahead of the rest, because you actually started, while others are waiting for the finish line to magically appear at the starting line.”
Sivers’ reputation as a business philosopher is well earned. His book is filled with these little nuggets of wisdom about business, life and intersection of the two learned from running his company, CD Baby.
It’s one of those books you can keep re-reading and each time you realize something else profoundly true about it based on your intermittent life experience.
“It seems likely that the Internet will do for the corporation what the Guttenberg press did for the church. That is, it will break up structures we had always assumed were permanent: it will render temporal what we assumed was timeless.”
The last time I re-read this book, I picked up my phone to text Ron “your book makes me want to run through a wall.” It greatly inspired me in the writing of The End of Jobs.
The Fourth Economy chronicles the last 700 years of Western history placing it in a framework that places us at the transition point from the Third Economy (The Knowledge Economy) to the Fourth Economy (The Entrepreneurial Economy).
The broader implication being that power is distributing. From Popes, to Kings, To Bankers, to CEOs, to Entrepreneurs, we are poised at the precipice of the largest democratization of power in human history.
Sounds fun 🙂
“Be wary of friends—they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.”
Greene’s best work, The 48 Laws of Power explores the nature of power through 48 laws exemplified using historical vignettes.
While Greene perhaps goes too far in his proclamations of how power functions and over simplifies in some places, the book is more than worth reading if simply for it’s barefaced, amoral look at what it requires to gain, keep and lose power.
“the truth about entrepreneurship: that the freedom it gives you is usually the freedom to work twice as long and twice as hard as you ever did, even if you thought you were working too much for someone else.”
Masterson, the pen name of Mark Ford of Agora publishing, is legit. This book lays out how he built a succession of $100 million dollar companies over the course of his
After spending months trying to come up with an algorithm for product development, Masterson’s
key insight for me was don’t rely too much on data, for businesses under $10 million, the best decisions are usually made by the founder’s gut instinct.
By Seth Godin
“Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt”
Packed with motivational phrases like “If You’re Not Going to Get to #1, You Might as Well Quit Now,” The Dip is a book that is trying to convince you to quit.
Every new project (or job, or company) starts out fun… then gets really hard, and not much fun at all. That period is what Godin calls “The Dip.”
The question is, should you quit or persevere? While the standard advice is to put your head down and press on, Godin argues that the people we consider winners are also quitters. The difference is that they quit the right projects, at the right times.
I re-read this book anytime I find myself in the dip on a project. I frequently recommend it to clients or friends when they start to think about quitting a project.
Meaning and Motivation
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
This book is one of my most re-read books. Often called the Third Vienesse School of Psychotherapy, Frankl discards Freud’s Will to Pleasure and Nietzche’s Will to Power, insisting that it is instead a Will to Meaning that fundamentally drives man.
Calling on his experience in the Nazi concentration camps, Frankl saw that the difference between death and survival in the most abject of conditions, devoid of pleasure or any hope of power, was a clinging to the belief that one’s life can have meaning beyond oneself.
Drawing on his experience in the camps and his work as a therapist, he gives a prescription for how we can better align our lives with a fundamental sense of meaning.
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
This one goes on my list of books that makes me want to run through a wall. Pressfield articulates a concept he calls the Resistance a force that anyone who has ever endeavored to change their life has felt.
The fear of the blank screen and blinking cursor. It is what holds us back from doing our best work.
Instead of offering solutions to escape it, Pressfield calls on the muse and insists that The Resistance must be confronted, that we must wake up each morning and fight the war of art and that the act of fighting is victory.
Don’t read it at night, you won’t be able to sleep.
“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed.”
Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can.
The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it’s a job.
Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.
I call the process of doing your art ‘the work.’ It’s possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that’s how you become a linchpin.
The job is not the work.”
The Industrial age is over. That jobs and following orders is no longer a real option. We must instead become linchpins, create,connect and ship our work.
After I finished it, I sat down and wrote an impassioned email to two college friends. They both quit their corporate jobs in the next 12 months, so there would appear to be something there.
Linchpin was a book I heavily referenced and revisited in writing The End of Jobs, and is a must read for understanding the shifting nature of work.
“Think for a moment about the great artists of the last hundred years and how they worked—people like Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jackson Pollock. Unlike for the rest of us, Motivation 2.0 was never their operating system. Nobody told them: You must paint this sort of picture. You must begin painting precisely at eight-thirty A.M. You must paint with the people we select to work with you. And you must paint this way. The very idea is ludicrous. But you know what? It’s ludicrous for you, too. Whether you’re fixing sinks, ringing up groceries, selling cars, or writing a lesson plan, you and I need autonomy just as deeply as a great painter.”
Drive was a big influence on me and plays a big role in The End of Jobs. Pink distills motivation into two systems – Motivation 1.0 and Motivation 2.0.
Motivation 1.0 is the system that powered the industrial revolution, a system based on carrots and sticks, incentives and punishment.
What Pink uncovers and explains is that the motivation and drive to do entrepreneurial work is categorically different. Traditional financial incentives fall short and instead Pink offers a way to create the autonomy, purpose and growth which drive entrepreneurs to do great work.
“Building a sales machine is not going to be about doing 4,000 things; it’s going to be about doing 12 things 4,000 times each.”
A killer for building sales organizations and teams. Holmes book shows how he is able to take seemingly commodity-like businesses and successfully scale them through building a sales and marketing machine.
Holmes relentless “pig-headed discipline and determination” shows the impact that a focus on sales fundamentals can achieve.
His book inspired me to dress up like a bartender at a trade show (to great effect).
“The key is not to outthink your competitors, because doing so is unlikely and overwhelmingly tiring. The key is to have no competitors because you have defined your own playing field and written your own rules (taken the sharp right). The specialty chemical firm did this, avoiding the suffering of myriad organizations in similar straits that have vainly tried to play by others’ rules. I did it, made a fortune, and emerged to write this book because I determined how I would play the game. However, the idea itself isn’t mine. It’s practiced by the most successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs in the world.”
Weiss is rightly regarded as one of the foremost experts on consulting and selling consulting services. While some of the details may be slightly out of date, there’s no better fundamental handbook for the aspiring or early-stage consultant.
I read this book when I got into consulting and it was essential for helping me understand how to position myself, write a proposal and understand that 80% of consulting revenue will come from repeat engagements.
“The solution lies in better needs development, not in objection handling. Particularly if you are getting price objections, cut down on the use of features and, instead, concentrate on asking Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff questions.”
Whereas The Ultimate Sales Machine is effective for building sales organizations, SPIN Selling is the essential guide to developing individual sales scripts.
Based on an extensive research project, the book breaks sales down into a defined process that lays to rest common, and mistaken, notions about sales.
Many new salespeople overemphasize the importance of trying to be persuasive with an individual prospect instead of having a defined process to identify the best prospects for their product or service and make the sale.
The book teaches how to sell through better understanding prospect needs and educating them on how your solutions solves it instead of cheesy used car salesman.
Everytime I start a new sales campaign, I review the book and build out my script based on the questions.
“My overall life role is as a project engineer: that is, someone who accepts a problem, designs a mechanical solution, and then makes that solution work in the real world. I’m a project engineer in every aspect of my life including the personal roles of father, son, brother, husband, and friend.”
Sam Carpenter put in words something I’ve always found true – systems liberate. Much to the chagrin of many creatives and entrepreneurs, it is in fact the development of defined processes and systems which enable freedom, creativity and profits.
Must-read for anyone who feels “stuck” in their business and unable to get out of day-to-day operations.
Sam explains how he used systems to for increase profits, the quality of his team all while decreasing his time investment in the business.
“… your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs— and becomes automatic— it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable, the thing, as James wrote, that bears a“us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
Aristotle said that “You are what you repeatedly do.”
Duhigg gives an instruction manual for how to change our habits, what we repeatedly do, and in so doing change ourselves.
We make almost all our decisions on autopilot, following in the same footsteps as we did the day before. Once we realized how to unearth those habits and consciously redirect them, we eventually become autopilots headed towards doing things we want to do and find meaningful.
By Eli Goldratt
“So this is the goal: To make money by increasing net profit, while simultaneously increasing return on investment, and simultaneously increasing cash flow.”
Originally published in 1984, The Goal is a business parable classic that has helped generations of managers and business leaders understand how to structure and prioritize their businesses.
In The Goal, Goldratt lays out his Theory of Constraints, showing that at any given time, a business or department has a single bottleneck that is holding back all its operations.
While the inclination for many leaders is to focus on improving ALL the aspects of the business, it’s a laser focus on solving problems at the bottleneck that leads to growth and results.
Goldratt shows his methodology for systematically identifying and removing bottlenecks in a business.
Wondering How I Read So Much?
I use a super simple system to read around 60 books a year. I explain it in this article: 8 Ways to Read 60 Books a Year
Add to My Anti-Library?
The most valuable library is the anti-Library, all those books you haven’t read yet. If you have a book you think I’d enjoy reading, please send me recommendations at email@example.com.
To see what I’m reading now, connect with me on GoodReads.
Last Updated on February 16, 2020 by Taylor Pearson