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22 must-read books on the topic of business that have made a difference in the way I work.

16 Jul, 2020 Ryan Anderson Uncategorized

Over the years, I’ve read a lot of business books (or books related to business).

The books have ranged from business biographies to books about how to achieve business success. And I’ve really enjoyed most of them. But there were several that rose to the top of the heap, so I thought I’d create a list of some of my favorites. It was hard to narrow these down to this short list, too. There were several authors that I could have easily just said “Every book they’ve ever written is great!” And I would have been right. In those cases, I narrowed it down to the one that I liked the best from their mix. Also, the list could have been much longer so I was selective on the ones I enjoyed the most. “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and anything by Simon Sinek or Robert Kiyosaki could easily be on this list but they seemed expected, so I only mention them here without a proper place on the list (ah, editing).

I’m always looking for suggestions on great books to read so I enjoy lists like this. Hopefully you do, too. And I know these kinds of lists are completely subjective so if you think I missed one, that’s great. I’d love to hear what are some of your favorites. Here’s the list in no particular order.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration — by Ed Catmull

This is an excellent book about the history of Pixar. It tells the story of how the company was founded, how their animated movies are created and how Steve Jobs came to have the majority share in the company. Along the way, it gives excellent advice on creating a great company culture, tackling hard issues head-on and how to push past “good” and find the truly great ideas.


Steve Jobs — By Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson has a knack for delving deep into his research as he writes his biographies. He has written about the lives of many incredibly gifted and talented people including Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger. So it was fitting that Walter would write about the life of Steve Jobs—which he started while Steve was still alive.

It tells the complete story from Steve’s childhood to his last days. It spends a considerable amount of time on his professional career. And the book pulls no punches. It’s not a book deifying Steve but rather tells the good, bad and ugly in equal doses. By the end you realize how driven to succeed Steve was and it makes you wonder what kind of company Apple would have been without Steve calling the shots. He was both a visionary leader and ruthless manager.

The Tipping Point — by Malcolm Gladwell

Anything that Malcolm Gladwell writes is great. He can make even the most mundane subjects come alive. I could have easily put every one of his books on this list. My favorite three are “The Tipping Point”, “Blink” and “Outliers”. But ultimately I chose “The Tipping Point”.

This is one of those books that everyone in business seems to have read at one time or another—and for good reason. The book is great! It talks about ideas, behaviors and messages that percolate in society until—given the right circumstances—they spread like a wildfire or a virus. Gladwell has gathered extensive research to support his points and weaves them into his thought-provoking conclusions.

The More of Less — by Joshua Becker

This is a book about getting rid of all the clutter in your life. After cleaning out his garage, Becker realized he had accumulated a lot of stuff that he didn’t use or need. So he created a system for organizing, throwing out and minimizing his possessions. I liked this one much better than “Spark Joy”, by Marie Kondo. I thought Marie’s rigid focus on folding techniques and holding an item in your hand and asking yourself if it “sparked joy” was a little much—for me at least.

I classified this as a business book because the techniques have helped me get to the important things in my job—minimizing the unneeded tasks and maximizing the things that really make a difference on a daily basis.

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility — by Patty McCord

Patty McCord was the Chief Talent Officer at Netflix when this book was conceived. She created a “culture deck” at Netflix that became legendary. The deck discussed radical honesty in the workplace and how to motivate employees with challenging work rather than perks and bonus plans. She took the norms and management expectations of a workplace and turned them on their heads. And in the process redefined what a high-performance company can be. This book highlights her creation of the deck and the success she saw at Netflix with the implementation of it. I loved the way this book challenged several of my notions of what a good workplace should run like.

Drive — by Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink is another author that has written several great books on the topic of business and any one of them could end up on a “great books about business” list. I chose “Drive” because his theory about professional and personal motivation was fascinating. He talks about high performance being directly related to a deep human need to direct your own life. He breaks it down even further by suggesting that the three elements for true motivation are:

1. Autonomy: The desire to direct your own life.

2. Mastery: The urge to get better at something that matters.

3. Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

He gives several real-world examples and talks about the science behind his thinking. And I loved that creativity was a major focus of the book, as well.

Good To Great — by Jim Collins

I love the title of this book. It indicates that something that’s “good” is basically the enemy of something that could be “great.” Jim Collins and his team of researchers spent years researching what could make “good” companies become “great.” If that sounds a bit boring, it’s not. In fact, this book is considered one of the most successful business books ever printed—selling over 4 million copies and counting. Collins defines “greatness” as a company that achieves financial performance several multiples better than the market average, over a sustained period. The research of elite Fortune 500 companies and the findings are extremely engaging and motivating. And the takeaways from the study are unexpected at times. Throughout the book, topics ranging from business growth, best management styles and recommended company business practices are discussed in detail. Collins has several other books that could be on this list but in my opinion, this is his best.

Spark — by John J. Ratey

John J. Ratey is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and his research and extensive case studies show an overwhelming correlation between physical exercise and improved cognitive abilities. His studies show that aerobic exercise actually remodels our brains for peak performance. Essentially, he found that by simply going for a morning run, you can improve the probability for success in most areas of your life, including but not limited to, business.

The Power Of Habit — by Charles Duhigg

I loved this book. It made a subject that could, on the surface, seem pretty boring come to life and seem amazingly interesting. It discusses the science and biology of how habits are created and how we can use that knowledge to change our behaviors for the better. It uses several examples and delves deep into the science of habit formation. It’s hard to make a subject like this interesting and yet, the book was a page-turner.

The Ride Of a Lifetime — by Robert Iger

Robert Iger was—until recently—the CEO of Disney. This is his business memoir. It tells the story of his career while at Disney and the path that led him there. It showcases his management style, leadership values and ideas as he recreated Disney over his 15 years at the helm. It discusses everything from his professional relationship with Steve Jobs, to purchasing Marvel, Star Wars/Lucasfilms and 21st Century Fox. He was willing to make big bets and take risks that paid off in a huge way. But beyond the success were his leadership values. He believed in and taught the principles of optimism, fairness, decisiveness, courage and most importantly, that fear of failure kills creativity.

Dare To Lead — by Brené Brown

Brené Brown is a very prolific writer of business books. And everything she’s written is great. I could have chosen any of her books to be on this list (Melinda Gates says that “Daring Greatly”, is her favorite book from Brené’s collection). The reason I chose “Dare to Lead” for this list is because it’s essentially a playbook for developing great leadership in companies. She stresses that great leadership is all about bringing out the best in everyone you manage. And her conclusions are not just her opinions. Everything is based on research conducted with great leaders, change makers and culture shifters. A quote that sums up the book nicely—”A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for recognizing the potential in people and ideas, and has the courage to develop that potential.” She shows that even though that definition seems simple, it’s difficult to find leaders who do it well.

Deep Work — by Cal Newport

This book offers ideas on how to focus at work and minimize distractions. It shows that cultivating a deep work ethic will produce amazing benefits. He includes a suggested training program that consists of a series of four rules—that when put into effect, will transform your work habits to be as productive as possible. The takeaway is that you often don’t need to work harder or longer to see results. The results come when work is done in a more targeted and focused way.

Essentialism — by Greg McKeown

This book offers recommendations to anyone feeling completely overwhelmed at work, yet still feels unproductive. It gives advice—based in research—on managing time, being more productive and becoming more disciplined. McKeown shows that working on what’s most essential and eliminating everything that’s distracting can produce amazing results. Take away the things that don’t matter so you can spend more quality time on the things that do.

The Four Tendencies — by Gretchen Rubin

“The Four Tendencies” explores the subject of human nature by analyzing how we react to the expectations that are placed on us. It shows that we may react to an expectation in a completely different way than how someone else may react to the very same expectation. To help us realize why we react the way we do—and help us work with others that react differently—Rubin created a system that categorizes individuals into four different “tendencies” or groups. The groups are: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Our tendencies shape our behavior so understanding how we work (and how others work) allow us to be more efficient and make better decisions.

Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise — by Anders Ericsson & Robert Pool

I first heard about the main topic of this book by reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell called, “Outliers”. In “Outliers”, Gladwell discusses a research study carried out by Anders Ericsson (the author of “Peak”). The study found that to become an expert at something or master an activity, one would need to dedicate at least 10,000 hours of practice to that activity. Gladwell really simplified the finer points of the study so I picked up Peak to dive a little deeper. In Peak, I discovered that it wasn’t enough to just “practice” something but the practice needed to be a dedicated and deliberate type of practice. Ericsson calls it “deliberate practice.” He suggests that by doing this type of deliberate practice, you can master almost anything. His research shows that people who we consider to be extremely talented weren’t born with innate abilities—they practiced—a lot!

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance — by Angela Duckworth

The funny thing about reading a lot of business books is that you start to hear statistics and quotes attributed to other business books. And there is one book that seems to be quoted more than most. That book is “Grit”, by American psychologist and professor, Angela Duckworth. In fact, it would be hard to read another book about succeeding in business without hearing at least one excerpt from “Grit”. And for good reason. “Grit” talks about how hard you need to push yourself to be successful and achieve your business and personal goals. Duckworth suggests that the secret to success isn’t talent but a focussed persistence called “grit.” She also offers a formula rooted in being “gritty” that focuses on six key factors—hope, effort, precision, passion, ritual and prioritization. The book is really motivating and offers several insights on how to achieve much more than what natural talents will allow.

Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide To Creating Great Ads — by Luke Sullivan

This book is considered by many to be the creative advertising “bible” in the ad industry. It has inspired a generation of creatives—copywriters, art directors, designers and creative directors. It was written by award-winning copywriter, Luke Sullivan. He uses humor and biting common sense to give advice on maneuvering a path to creating better work in agencies and design firms. I’ve read it multiple times and find new relevant advice with each reading.

Shoe Dog — by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is the story of Nike and how they went from a small, unassuming company called Blue Ribbon Sports to the multi-billion dollar giant they are today. Nike was built on sheer willpower and a determination to make it work no matter what hurdles were thrown in the way. This book can go toe-to-toe with any great suspense novel. Even though I knew the outcome was going to lead to one of the most successful companies in the world, there were still several times I thought “how in the world will they keep from going out of business or filing for bankruptcy?” It was an amazingly suspenseful and engaging story from start to finish.

Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products — by Leander Kahney

By now you’ve probably realized there are an inordinate amount of books that are in some way related to Apple on this list. I make no point in trying to hide my interest in Apple. I think they’re a fascinating company with great products. And most of those products had something to do with the guy featured in this book—Jony Ive. Ive was the product designer/Chief Design Officer for Apple for nearly 30 years. He had his fingerprints on the design of nearly every product you can think of that bears the Apple name from the iPhone to the iMac and everything in between. The book talks about his incredible talent as an industrial designer and, most impressively, how humble he was (and is) considering all that he’s done in his career. It also discusses his principles and practices that led him to become the designer of our generation. He was even knighted for his “services to design and enterprise.”

The author, Leander Kahney, has also written books about other notable Apple leaders including Tim Cook and Steve Jobs. Each of those professional biographies are equally interesting (even if you’re not an avid Apple fan).

On Writing — by Stephen King

OK. So this one may not necessarily be classified as a “business” book. And I realize when you see the name, Stephen King, it usually conjures thoughts of horror movies and novels, but this one is completely different than his usual genre. The reason I have it on the list is because good writing practices are essential to business. And I loved hearing writing recommendations from a master writer. King goes into detail about his writing process and breaks it down into fine detail. He even goes as far as to say that if you use adverbs that end in “ly” you’re just being lazy.

That Will Never Work — by Marc Randolph

This is a book about the history of Netflix. It’s written from the perspective of the first CEO of the company, Marc Randolph. Earlier in this list I talked about the book by Patty McCord called “Powerful”. Marc and Patty worked together to not only create one of the most successful companies in the world but to also revolutionize the culture of that company. This book reads like “Shoe Dog” (in which I also mentioned earlier in this list) in that it was a precarious start to the founding of Netflix and at many times it felt like the company could go out of business at any moment. It was suspenseful and Marc tells the story in such a way that you’re rooting for him the whole time. It was also really interesting to find out the details of how Reed Hastings took over the CEO reins after Marc.

Made To Stick — by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Chip and Dan Heath have written several books but this was the one that left the biggest impression on me. I probably resonated with this one because my job requires brainstorming sessions to come up with new ideas all the time. So it was interesting to read theories on why some ideas get traction and others just spin their wheels. What makes the difference between a great (or sticky) idea and an “OK” idea? “Made to Stick” tries to answer that question and does so in a surprisingly humorous way.

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