13 Business Books That Will Blow Your Mind

Having never taken a business class in college I find that I read and listen to a lot of business books to round out my education. The books usually aren't "How to Manage Your Cash Flow" but rather get me to rethink the way I run my business, which--despite no business classes or diploma--continues to be in business 13 plus years after I started it.

In that time, here are 13 of the books that had the biggest impact on how I run my business (in no particular order):

  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink: If you supervise anyone in your business, this book is a must read. It shows that what science knows about motivation, business isn't putting into practice. In fact, many of the incentives we create can actually de-motivate our employees. If you create an incentive program that provides financial rewards for work that your employees already enjoy, expect the results to be negative. You've just destroyed their internal motivation. Also important (and well documented within the book) is that internally motivated people succeed more often than externally motivated people; they last longer and do better work. Think about that when you're hiring your next employee.
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip & Dan Heath: This is an essential read for anyone not in a managerial position. In fact, this is a book that targets people who can't force others to change their way. With an easy-to-understand and implement model of the rider, the elephant and the path, the Heath brothers do it again by showing us how to motivate people who can't be forced into action. There are great examples in the book from the world of commerce and non-profit work. If you have to deal with clients (and who doesn't), this book shows you how you can influence them to behave in a desired way if you engage the "rider" (intellect), the "elephant" (id or emotion), and make the "path" as clear and easy to follow as possible.
  • Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith: There are plenty of social media books that are out-of-date before they even hit Amazon or your local book store, but Brogan & Smith avoid this trap by talking more about strategy than specific platforms...something that will continue to provide value as long as people are doing business with people, no matter what the medium is.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie: Talk about timeless, there are few books that have the shelf-life (no pun intended) of Dale Carnegie's classic. I mean, with all the recent talk about the importance of influence, I'm surprised this book isn't quoted from more often. For years I avoided this book, thinking it was out-of-date and held little insight into the modern world. However, it's the only book on this list I've read and listened to the audiobook (twice.) There's not a business person in the world who wouldn't be more successful by picking up How to Win Friends and Influence People.
  • Permission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin: This book literally changed my life and the way I do business. I didn't really know who Seth Godin was (although I recognized his bald head) when I downloaded this book off Audible, but I still remember when I fired it up for the first time on my iPod as I mowed the lawn that day. My neighbors must have thought I was crazy with the number of times I slapped my forehead in a moment that was a mash up of "of course," "how obvious", and "why didn't I realize that before." It's driven the way we market our own company and how we help other companies reach their audience.
  • Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presenting Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds: This is the book that I've read most recently, and I'm glad I did. I can't remember which of the many business books I read referenced/recommended this book...I believe it was mentioned a couple of times. I received it while I was in the middle of giving the same presentation in a series of marketing lectures over 5 days. I promised myself I wouldn't look at it until the series was over, because I was afraid it would cause me to change my presentation. Boy, was I right. I broke my own rule and ended up working in the hotel room until past 2 in the morning revamping my presentation as much as I could, and getting up a 6 the next morning to practice the new version. For anyone who has to present any information before a group and has been using PowerPoint or Keynote as a crutch, grab a copy of this book.
  • Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner: Okay, I'm cheating: these are two books. However, if you've read them, they're both basically the same: they pull in different examples to show how people respond to incentives, but not always in the way we expect. These books work well with anything written by Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink or Chip & Dan Heath. However, as I read them, I was constantly making notes on what our company was offering to prospects and even current clients in the way of incentives (planned or otherwise), and whether they were having the intended results. I think the books are eye-opening in terms of forcing us to take a closer look at how our offerings affect our customers, vendors and employees.
  • The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman: This book had been given to me by a customer of mine and it sat on my shelf for over a year. It looked boring. It looked like it was geared towards big business. I don't know what made me give in and take the plunge, but after the first chapter I was hooked. Friedman's guide in India offers to do his taxes. Friedman gently rebuffs the man, explaining that he's happy with his accountant back in the states. The guide says, "oh, then chances are I'm already doing your taxes." Once you realizes that U.S. tax returns can be outsourced the world really does become flat. I finished the book that week.
  • Crush It! Why NOW is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk: Vaynerchuk is a force of nature, and that comes through in this quick read book. Part inspirational, part autobiographical, you can see how in this new era there's nothing holding you back from success except hard work and leveraging the tools that are at our disposal. Vaynerchuk shows you how to brand yourself no matter where your passion lies: how to create great content, how to distribute that content, and how to succeed. If you're still struggling with how all this social media "stuff" can help you out, this is the book to pick up.
  • The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss: According to Ferriss, some of the themes in his book came from reading the World is Flat. There's an excellent chapter on outsourcing, including a funny bit about a journalist who outsourced his love life (emails and flowers to the wife and such) to India, only to find out they did a better job of managing his relationships than he did. On a more serious note, although I never expect to be working just 4 hours a week, (what would I do with my time), there are great insights in how to fire bad clients, remove mind-numbing drudgery from your day, and free up your time for more creative work and/or play. Even if you only take a fraction of Ferriss's advice (which is how I played it), you'll find yourself in a better place.
  • Shogun by James Claville: I read once that in a survey of CEO's favorite business books only one book was mentioned twice: this one. It's a great read and it does show how leaders can influence/manipulate people to achieve goals.
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: In this very influential and even more controversial book, Rand paints a dystopian alternate universe of a world where government regulation has crippled the country and the world. I wouldn't be exaggerating to say this book rewired my brain in college. Unfortunately, the epic story in this huge tome is somewhat hampered by mediocre writing skills and characters who could only be generously described as two-dimensional.
  • The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up by Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham: I wanted to have at least one book that was dedicated to small business and the entrepreneurial spirit. This last book was in a close race with Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham. However, The Knack has some priceless stories and advice that can't be overlooked. It's a collection of advice and anecdotes on how to start, grow and possibly sell a business by someone who's been there (and a co-author who helps write his columns.) A lot of these stories have been told before in Brodsky's column for Inc. magazine, but if you haven't read them all, this book does a great job of curating them and putting them together in an order that would help any small business owner grow their business.

The beauty of this list is that I get to leave off a whole bunch of mind-blowing business books that you can't believe didn't make the list. I'd love to hear what I forgot for my next trip to Amazon, Audible, or my local library. Please feel free to start all suggestions with "I can't believe you left off..."

Rich Brooks can be followed, engaged, and argued with on Twitter.

[image flickr user eyermonkey]

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33 Comments

  • Chandan Aribam

    Great list though I would love to add Peter Church's book Added Value-the life stories of Indian business leaders. Amazing insight on some truly inspirational people. The book is an excellent primer for anyone seeking to do business.
    http://www.amazon.com/Added-Va...

  • Brian Morgan

    Well thought out. There are books here I've not read, but I will. While not claiming to be on any list, may I blow my own trumpet? My book, The Richest Man in Persia, was released last week on Amazon. It's a sequel or follow-up to one of the greatest of all inspirational books, The Richest Man in Babylon. The guts of my book is in the Codes of Riches and the Seven Business Secrets of the Masters. It's written in a similar parable style, which I think you might enjoy and find useful.

  • Magnus Lucis

    Excellent list Rich, I will be heading to the bookstore to pick a couple of these up.  By any chance, have you ever hear of "Getting Things Done"?  I would be interested to know your thoughts if you have.  Business Consulting can be a diverse and challenging field, the tools on our belt consist of a combination of experience and knowledge.  I'll be following your blog, keep it up.

  • Jon P

    An earlier book by Dan and Chip Heath, called Made To Stick was one of my favorite business books of the decade. Other mentions: Inbound Marketing by Haligman and Shah; Zag by Marty Neumeier; In Search of the Obvious by Jack Trout and Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

  • Kevin Walsh

    Rich,
    Thank you for taking the time to post this collection of books. I am a marketing student going into my senior year at Rutgers University and I had been looking for recommendations on a reading list to pursue this summer. Hopefully in checking out some of these suggested reads it will improve my knowledge in the various aspects of business. Hopefully in doing so, I can discover some tips or information used to help increase my overall personal brand to be more marketable to potential employers. Thanks for your help!

  • Renee

    A great collection of books. Depending on where you are with your mindset "Think and Grow Rich" is a good one as well ...

  • Jean Ogilvie

    Hi Rich, can't believe you missed John Scherer's "Five Questions That Change Everything: Life Lessons at Work" published last year. It's burnin' up leadership workshops in Canada, U.S. and Europe!! Thanks for list, loved it. J.

  • pramitsingh

    Interesting guide, Rich. We need more such lists of interesting business books to read, something different from the usual. I liked the Success Manual (http://thesuccessmanual.bighow...), which contains to-the-point summaries from 100+ greatest business and self-help books. It covers 130 most important topics in business and self-help - including productivity tips, marketing and sales tips and much more.

  • therichbrooks

    I definitely enjoyed the E-Myth, and for some people it will change the way they run their business. Maybe I'll create a longer list soon!

  • Sarah Arrow

    I am glad the e-myth isn't on the list, I have read it and yes it is an interesting read but it didn't have the same impact on my businesses as 'The Knack', 'Shogun' or 'How to win friends and influence people' which is still referenced and used a lot in business today.

    We're all different - you're never going to please us all ;)

  • Thom Scott

    I just read an advanced reader copy of "Defy Gravity" by Rebel Brown. It is AMAZING! Not only does it give time-tested strategies for overcoming the status quo in our businesses, it also gives the actual tactics that help us achieve consistently high-velocity growth! This is DEFINITELY a new business classic that should be on this list!

  • Mel Blitzer

    Another must read is the Management Myth by Matthew Stewart which will give you some clues about how much BS is to be found in business books.

  • Matt Beesler

    I'd like to nominate Cunningly Clever Selling. It's the best book on selling I've read. Every business owner needs to know sales and this book gives you street smart knowledge.

  • therichbrooks

    Peter, it's funny: I loved the audio book version of Covey's book (listened to it a couple of times), but never could get through the print version. I found the mix of narration and live presentations much more engaging in the audio book than the charts and hard numbers of the printed version. I appreciate the feedback, though.