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Top 10 Inspirational Business Books

These classic books have helped millions discover and achieve their dreams.
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A while back, I posted the Top 10 Motivational Books of All Time. Today, I'm posting books that are inspirational rather than motivational.  Here's the difference: motivational books get you up and running; inspirational books help you know where you want to go.

Note: I've specifically avoided books that serve as scripture for the great religions, like the Bible and the Koran. I've also not included any "How I Achieved Greatness" books by CEO authors, which I (frankly) find annoying rather than inspirational.

The list below consists of books that have, IMHO, historically had a broad appeal throughout the business world:

10. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

In this book, Susan Jeffers shows you how to stop being afraid of, well, being afraid. Instead, you can use your fear to your advantage--an ability that has never been more important in a world where "job security" is a disappearing dream. When the world is changing at light speed, it's normal to be afraid, but you must still make decisions and take action, despite your fear. All it takes is courage.

Best quote: "By reeducating the mind, you can accept fear as simply a fact of life rather than a barrier to success."

9. The Alchemist

The best way to learn something profound is usually through a story. In this sometimes sentimental novel, Brazilian author Paul Coelho illuminates the pathway through which a young boy, through the help of mentor, finds his role in life and the meaning to the work he must do. The lesson is that you must follow your dreams but also that there truly are others who can and will help you on your way, even as your dreams change as you grow.

Best quote: "When you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."

8. The Element

There's more to success than having a dream and getting motivated to achieve it. You must also have talent, and put yourself into an environment that fosters and develops that talent. Much of the battle, according to Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica, is discovering the latent talents that you possess as an individual. These talents are the signpost that lead to your own, individual, personal success.

Best quote: "We are all born with extraordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sensory awareness. For the most part, we use only a fraction of these powers, and some not at all.

7. Magic of Thinking Big

Most people have little goals that provide little inspiration. By contrast, it's always the people who think big who end up accomplishing the most. In this classic, David Schwartz counsels readers to dream big--financially, personally, and in every other way--and then take the practical steps necessary to turn those big dreams into an even bigger reality.

Best quote: "Success doesn't demand a price. Every step forward pays a dividend."

6. The Last Lecture

If you vanished tomorrow, what would be your legacy? It was a poignant question for professor Randy Pautsch, since it was asked of him right after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His "last lecture" on achieving childhood dreams is one of the most-widely viewed videos on YouTube, but I prefer the book version, because reading gives you the time to truly ponder the incredibly important points that Pautsch makes.

Best quote: "My uniqueness, I realized, came in the specifics of all the dreams--from incredibly meaningful to decidedly quirky--that define my forty-six years of life. Sitting there, I knew that despite the cancer, I truly believed I was a lucky man because I had lived out these dreams."

5. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

This book is what you might call "reverse inspiration." It explains why the uninspiring and stress-inspiring elements of your life aren't important and can safely be, if not ignored, at least handled without much effort. By laying out a way to deal with the trivialities of life, Richard Carlson has probably set more inspiration free than any author who's addressed the subject matter directly.

Best quote: "When you learn the habit of responding to life with more ease, problems that seemed 'insurmoutable' will begin to seem more manageable."

4. The Secret

Rhonda Byrne believes that "like attracts like" and that therefore the results that you get in life are simply a reflection of the quality of your thinking. If you have positive thoughts, wonderful things happen, but negative thought propel your life down the metaphorical toilet. To be honest, this particular book is a trifle "new age" for my taste, but so many people suggested it to me, I felt that I had to include it.

Best quote: "The truth is that the universe has been answering you all of your life, but you cannot receive the answers unless you are awake."

3. The Power of Full Engagement

Sport metaphors are common in business (e.g. "let's hit a home run, people") but this book is something different: a method to manage your energy rather than your time. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz take the most recent methods of successful sports coaching and explain how you can "train" to be more successful by learning how to get into the zone where every decision tends to be the right one.

Best quote: "The performance demands that most people face in their everyday work environments dwarf those of any professional athletes we have ever trained."

2. As a Man Thinketh

My first mentor gave me a portable copy of this book not long after I set out to be an independent writer. He was concerned that, after years of corporate life, I might have "absorbed" the sense of helplessness that comes from being a cog in a huge machine. In this book, James Allen forces you to confront the beliefs and thoughts that are either making you miserable or happy.

Best quote: "As the plant springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of man springs from the hidden seeds of thought, and could not have appeared without them."

1. Your favorite here.

Since inspiration is, by its nature, highly personal, the No. 1 inspirational book is always the book that really inspired YOU. If I haven't included your favorite in this list, leave a comment with the title and, if you've got time, why you found that book so inspirational.

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Last updated: May 29, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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