Looking for the best business books? These 13 books will inspire, educate and completely blow your mind.
I never took a business class while at college. The closest I came was running a typing service for other students…$1.50/page which was perfect for beer money.
These were back in the days where most people wrote the rough draft in long hand (that means with your fingers, for my younger readers) and then typed a final copy on a Mac in the computer lab.
I would type out a lot of business papers, and I’m sure I picked up something through osmosis. However, when I started my own business I always felt like a complete fraud for never having taken any business classes, so I started a diet of business books.
Now, I’m sure there are plenty of good business books on finance, or managing resources, or human resources.
These aren’t those books.
I’m a marketing guy, and I tend to be fascinated by anything tied to psychology–why we do what we do–so my choices tend to lean that way. Regardless, these thirteen books will open your mind and make you think of your business in a brand new way.
Pick them up at your favorite local book store or follow my Amazon affiliate links, but definitely pick them up.
1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini
In the book, Cialdini examines what he calls the six “weapons of influence;” the triggers that people or brands can use to have an undue influence over us. These weapons include reciprocity, commitment & community, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.
I’ve used many of the stories in my own presentations over the years, and folded some of the tactics into my marketing here, at flyte, and for our clients.
These tactics can be used for good or evil, but since only good people read this blog, I feel safe in recommending it.
2. Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin
Seth Godin has written plenty of great business books, but Permission Marketing has always been my personal favorite.
I remember distinctly listening to the audio version of the book as I was mowing the lawn one day.
There was some analogy about going into a bar, interrupting conversations and asking strangers to marry you, and how this was similar to the way a lot of brands were going about their marketing.
I had already been practicing some permission marketing at this point, especially around email marketing, but never had a name for it.
This idea of asking permission to market to people has guided me ever since.
3. Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition by Michael Stelzner
Oh, how I wish I had a copy of Launch back in 1997 when I started flyte.
Launch is all about how to launch your business, using Stelzner’s own Social Media Examiner as a case study, along with other examples.
He shows you exactly how you can use different types of content to attract your ideal customers to you, how to leverage the power of other people to further market your business, and the different types of “fuel” you’ll need to quickly grow your own business.
I actually met Mike for the first time just as he was launching Social Media Examiner, and he handed me a business card. “Great,” I thought, “just what the world needs: another social media blog.” 😉
No matter how crowded the marketplace, you can “propel your business beyond the competition” by following this blueprint.
4. Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation by Sally Hogshead
As soon as I finished listening to Fascinate I immediately cued it up again.
Maybe it was Sally Hogshead’s sexy voice, but most likely it was because there were so many–dare I say it–fascinating ideas in the book that I couldn’t take them all in at once.
In the book, Hogshead identifies seven triggers for fascination…how the world sees us and how we can use these seven triggers to fascinate those around us.
These triggers can be used by people or by brands.
In the book these triggers are lust, power, mystique, vice, prestige, alarm and trust. Recently, I saw Hogshead present and she’s now updated the list a bit, replacing passion for lust and rebellion for vice.
Like Cialdini’s Influence, this book will give you insight into how to be more persuasive when dealing with your ideal customers.
5. To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Daniel Pink
I was originally going to go with Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which I feel is a more interesting book, but because so I hear so many people say, “you’re a born salesman,” or “I could never sell, I just don’t have it in me,” I feel To Sell is a better choice.
The reason I didn’t immediately love To Sell is because the first chunk of the book is all about how we’re all salespeople, whether we’re in sales, or human resources, or customer service or parenting, or whatever.
Except, it’s not “duh” for a lot of people. Most people don’t realize they’re in sales even when their business card doesn’t sale sales.
The book really took off for me when Pink starts looking at modern sales, where “buyer beware” has turned into “seller beware,” because consumers often have more information than sales people about the true price of a car, or the competition, or what’s available online.
He also gives great insight into how to better serve our customers, and therefore become better–and more successful–sales people.
6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
The Power of Habit is all about how we create habits, change habits, and set up reward patterns.
Duhigg shares a number of stories of how people form habits, but also how companies have sold more products by creating rewarding habits in their customers.
The story of how Pepsodent got Americans to brush their teeth (with Pepsodent, ‘natch) by identifying a cue and creating a reward (that familiar tingle you get after brushing) is especially interesting, as is the story of how Fabreze became one of the most successful brands after struggling at first.
Whether you’re looking to improve your own habits, or instill habits in your customers that can lead to more sales and success for both you and them, Habit is a good read.
7. The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise? by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith
One on of the first pages of The Impact Equation you’ll see the phrase, “Ceci n’est pas une social media book,” referencing the famous painting by Magritte.
While it’s not a social networking book, anyone who’s interested in social networking should pick it up. Or anyone who’s interested in increasing their reach and impact.
In the book, Brogan & Smith talk break down their impact equation:
Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E)
The letters stand for Contrast, Reach, Exposure, Articulation, Trust, and Echo. Throughout the book they give examples of how different people and businesses, from tour guides to the Dollar Shave Club, have used the equation to fit their own needs and business strengths.
Perfect for people who want to stop just making noise and start making a difference.
8. EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey
Living under a rock, I had never heard of Dave Ramsey before downloading EntreLeadership from Audible.
There are plenty of books on leadership, but so many of them seem to be geared towards Fortune 500 companies.
If you have read a lot of other leadership tomes, you may feel that there’s not a lot of new stuff here, and perhaps there’s not.
Regardless, this book made me realize that so much of a company’s culture is based on the character of the leader.
9. Platform: Get Noticed In a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt
So much of social media success these days is about being able to reach your ideal customers, and Platform shows you how.
In this book, Hyatt shows you step-by-step how to build your own platform. Although I think of myself as an experienced blogger, I found myself taking furious notes while reading Platform.
If you’ve been wondering why you need a blog (or podcast or YouTube channel,) this book makes a good argument of why you do, and provides a blueprint for getting there.
My only concern is that a lot of the ideas here may be too fleeting; unless there are regular updates to the book it may feel as outdated as Friendster in no time at all.
A great read for anyone who wants to quickly establish a platform for their business or cause.
10. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip & Dan Heath
Filled with great, memorable, demonstrative stories, I loved Switch so much that after listening to it, I picked up a hardcover version. (Yes, I listen to a lot of audio books.)
This is a great book for when you want to change someone’s mind or motivate someone when you really don’t have any control over them.
Read: your ideal customers.
There’s a metaphor that runs through the book that helps explain how to motivate others to change. The Rider, (our rational side,) the Elephant, (our emotional or instinctive side,) and the Path (the environment or road to change.)
To increase your chances of inspiring these changes, you need to work on all three channels. Like all my favorite books, Switch is filled with interesting research and great stories.
11. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock
Your Brain at Work was a fascinating look at how our brain works, and why it sometimes doesn’t work as well as it should.
Using a metaphor of your brain as a theater, Rock explains why you can only keep so many thoughts in your head at once, and why making choices can tire you out and diminish your decision making choices for the rest of the day.
(Not sure if I read this here or somewhere else, but apparently Obama only has a couple of types of suits so he doesn’t waste his limited decision making power on what to wear. No evidence if this is actually true.)
Each chapter starts with a snippet from a day in the life of a family that goes poorly because of the way their minds work. After the chapter is completed, the story is retold, this time with a more successful outcome based on what you read in the chapter.
This book is great in terms of understanding our own behavior, our co-workers’ behavior, and the behavior of our customers and clients.
12. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
I had first heard of Mindset because it was often referenced by other business books that I enjoyed, including several on this list.
The idea behind the book is that we either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
People who have a fixed mindset might get a bad grade on a test or not land a sale, and feel that they just don’t have an aptitude for it.
A person with a growth mindset might receive the same piece of bad news and try and find new ways to study for the test or try a new approach at making the sale.
While I did feel that the book could have been a lot shorter (too many redundant examples), I immediately started seeing some fixed mindset behaviors in my own life and started putting some of the lessons I learned into action, both as an entrepreneur and as a dad.
13. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
If you’ve never read How to Win Friends, do yourself a favor and make this the first book you pick up. For the longest time I had a prejudice against this book. From the title alone it just seemed tacky and out of touch with modern times.
When I finally did break down and read it, the opening story didn’t help. Set at a dinner party shortly after WWI (if memory serves), it felt dated. But, I stuck with it and I’m glad I did.
There’s a reason this is a classic. It’s not dated, it’s a classic. Yes, some of the language may seem archaic, and a lot of it is common sense, but I dare you to read it and not have dozens of a-ha! moments.
Whether you’re a leader, a manager, a customer service rep, a parent, a member of the clergy, How to Win Friends will help you understand, inspire and influence the people around you in a profound and positive manner.
What Did I Leave Off?
I know I had some of my own favorites that I left on the cutting room floor. I’m sure you’re saying, “how could you forget…” or “only an idiot wouldn’t include…”
Well, add to this list! Leave your favorite business book in the comments below and share why you think it should have made this list.
Can’t wait to add some more great books to my bedside table. 🙂