Another year, another blizzard of business books. Which ones should you read? To pick the best business books of the year for the entrepreneur, we turned to editor at large Leigh Buchanan, who writes Inc.'s monthly "Skimmer's Guide" book review; editor at large Bo Burlingham, the author of Small Giants; columnist Joel Spolsky, who is CEO and cofounder of Fog Creek Software in New York City; Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh; and Jack Covert, founder of 800CEORead.com, an influential blog that tracks new releases. Here are their top choices for 2009.
One of the most accessible books on strategy to come along in some time, Getting to Plan B shatters the myth that great businesses emerge from their creators’ brains full-formed and explains the sometimes messy, almost always ingenious methods by which entrepreneurs arrive at workable models. The book is full of entertaining anecdotes about company builders who made poor choices or assumptions—but then pulled off a neat save and went on to success. Plus: The authors have included a practical framework to help entrepreneurs avoid such mistakes in the first place. Recommended by Leigh Buchanan.
We all have heard about social media, and likely have dabbled in it ourselves. Trust Agents reveals and commends the technological importance of these tools, while also interweaving lessons about the importance of human relationships to business, and how best to build them—even when your primary means of communication runs through a computer screen. Recommended by Jack Covert.
Gladwell examines the formula for success in life and how large a role culture plays in shaping a person's destiny, and his findings will surprise you. A highly successful person is not innately superior to others, he argues. Instead, people who rise to the top, whether in business or in hockey, benefit from a series of subtle and almost invisible advantages. Also: They practice. A lot. Recommended by Tony Hsieh.
Written by a seasoned early-stage investor, Early Exits is a must-read for any entrepreneur who has wrestled with the dilemma of taking outside funding. Peters makes the case that marching toward an exit is a good thing, and not nearly as impossible as it may seem. A surprising number of business owners are cashing out after only two-to-five years and for between $5 million and $30 million, he asserts—making this period, for all its turbulence, a golden era for entrepreneurs. (An e-book format is available on the author's website, BasilPeters.com.) Recommended by Bo Burlingham.
In the rush to move manufacturing to China to save costs, few U.S. companies have come to terms with just how much they are giving up in the process. Midler, who worked as a middleman between American product companies and the factories in China that produce their goods, lets us follow him as he takes various executives from the West—a soap and shampoo manufacturer, a paper recycler, and even a diamond merchant—to meet Chinese partners. The dirty little secret is not so much the way factories treat their workers, Midler argues, but rather all the subtle ways that manufacturers will cut corners, sacrificing basic expectations of quality in a bid to boost margins. Read this book and you’ll be ready to ask a lot of smart questions on your next trip to Shenzhen. Recommended by Joel Spolsky.
Good things can happen, even in bad economies. In fact, they often do. Gutsche uses 150 case studies—presented in an appealing, magazine-like format—to demonstrate how smart entrepreneurs have figured out ways to profit from economic uncertainty. “Innovation is not about market timing,” he reminds readers. “It’s about creating something that fulfills an unmet need.” Recommended by Jack Covert.
Delivered with Collins’ trademark passion and clarity, How the Mighty Fall is a critical reminder to business leaders that decisions aimed at spectacular growth may sow the seeds of an organization’s destruction. The author deconstructs the overarching leadership flaws (hubris, denial of risk, etc.) that doom companies—including some lessons learned the hard way by companies he had previously exalted in Good to Great. Read this book along with last year’s excellent Billion-Dollar Lessons by Paul B. Carroll and Chunka Mui and you will be an ace at diagnosing the warning signs of corporate decline. Recommended by Leigh Buchanan, Bo Burlingham, and Tony Hsieh.
In an age of smartphones, apps, and ergonomic keyboards, Crawford offers this interesting commentary on work, on getting your hands dirty, and on finding fulfillment in the process. Recommended by Jack Covert.
Forget the “scientific” approaches to hiring those consultants tried to sell you on. This engaging book advocates for those unclassifiable, ingenious and creative folks whose promise may not be easily quantifiable. But clever people add the most value, and so business leaders should do what it takes to shape the culture around their needs and expectations, the authors argue persuasively. Solve the problem of attracting and managing clever people, and other challenges—productive collaboration and sustained innovation, among them—get a lot easier. Recommended by Leigh Buchanan.
If you're stuck in a job that you're not passionate about, this powerful little book will inspire you to pursue your true calling in life. Better yet, it clearly lays out the process of how you can turn your excitement about an idea or a hobby into activity that will drive it forward into a viable business. Recommended by Jack Covert and Tony Hsieh.
Is there a company out there with better anecdotes drawn from its own operations than IDEO? (OK, possibly Disney’s Imagineers, but that’s it.) Brown, the storied design firm's CEO, makes the case that design is about more than aesthetics: A good designer must also consider how people interact with products, with other people, and with their surroundings. That thesis leads to the coolest kinds of corporate anthropology—and much of it in services, an area that is sorely neglected by most innovation guides. Recommended by Leigh Buchanan.
If you start a business, you are, on some level, a creative person. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying too hard to come up with a new idea. Murray, a former entrepreneur and Intuit executive, lays out some simple steps that you can take to make sure your organization is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to adapt other folks’ ideas in order to create your next breakthrough offering. Recommended by Jack Covert.
Add to Bernie Maddoff’s other sins the fact that he’s not that colorful. You can’t say that about Ivar Kreuger, a Swedish financier who in the early part of last century wheeled-and-dealed his way into a virtual monopoly on global match production; and from there into a financial empire that (spoiler alert!) ultimately imploded. In The Match King, author Frank Partnoy deftly untangles the machinations of Kreuger’s hugely audacious scheme while bringing to life one of business’s more provocative villains. (Among other tidbits: Kreuger kept a fake phone in his office on which he pretended to receive calls from Stalin and Mussolini to impress visitors. He also threw parties at which he hired movie actors to impersonate foreign ambassadors.) Recommended by Leigh Buchanan.
Don't let the goofy title fool you. This is probably the best book on customer service to be published in a long time. And since customer service is the new marketing, I Love You More Than My Dog is an essential read for entrepreneurs—and for anyone in your company who is responsible for keeping clients satisfied. Recommended by Jack Covert and Tony Hsieh.