A good book can be life changing.
The right book at the right time can permanently change the way you see the world. It can inspire you, challenge you, puzzle you, or just generally delight you.
Having read a lot of business-related books, I am often asked for recommendations. This page is a continuously updated collection of the 5-Star books that have influenced my work, with a brief description of what you can expect. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Ego is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday
My favourite book of 2016. Ryan packs so much wisdom into quite a small book, with each principle demonstrated with captivating historical examples.
Ryan argues that our egos derail our noblest plans, and he makes a compelling case.
I suspect this is one of the rare business books that will stand true for the next 50 years. It will make you a much more effective leader, and is a pleasure to read.
Widgets – Rod Wagner
Rod cuts through the traditional HR fluff and bureaucracy, and replaces it with insightful, common sense approaches to the challenges of every workplace. The book focuses on treating people like people instead of assets or resources, and it’s hard to fault Rod’s thinking. A great book for those who are currently scaling up their organisation.
Universal Principles of Design – William Lidwell et al.
One of the most captivating, fascinating books I’ve read. This is a book that explains the subtle forces that shape our decisions and our lives. It will change how you think, and will give you some good ideas about how to improve your business, your house and your communications. This would make a great coffee table book, easy to pick up and hard to put down.
Crazy is a Compliment – Linda Rottenberg
This was a delight to read: a whole stack of stories about startups and entrepreneurs across the world.
Some are famous, some aren’t, both are great. Genuine implementable wisdom, and a book you’ll actually finish – an excellent combination. Perfect for the social entrepreneur.
Extreme Ownership – Jocko Willink & Leif Babin
A book that hits you between the eyes. Jocko and Leif are former Navy SEALS who now teach leadership practices across the world – and they’re great storytellers. If you only want to read part of it, read the first 1/3rd of the book, the concept of “absolute ownership” is remarkable and will change how you think about your work.
The Ideal Team Player – Patrick Lencioni
Patrick’s new book is centred on the three attributes that make someone great to work with (Spoilers; you need to be Humble, Hungry and Socially Smart). Told as one of his famous fables, he demonstrates the power of each attribute, and what happens when one is missing. A practical, memorable lesson, his words have stuck with me all year.
All Marketers Are Liars – Seth Godin
Seth Godin an exceptional business writer, and is generally held as an authority when it comes to modern marketing.
I’d highly recommend this book as the place to get started with Seth, it’s engaging, practical and will leave you ready to make changes to how you work. Seth argues that customers are more interested in stories than products, so that’s where the bulk of our attention should be focused; not on what we tell customers, but what customers tell themselves about our enterprise.
Contagious – Jonah Berger
Jonah Berger’s work is designed to be a practical guide to crafting better stories. This book contains some of the best case studies and examples I’ve come across, and would be a great book to pair with Seth Godin’s work. This book will help improve your branding and storytelling, leading to more customers who will rave about you.
The Art Of The Start 2.0 – Guy Kawasaki
Guy Kawasaki is a genius; it takes enormous talent to make the complex feel simple and obvious. Guy has built a practical guide for entrepreneurs, focusing on areas everyone grapples with; bootstrapping, pitching, evangelizing, etc.
I can’t stress enough just how useful this book is, it will save you making mistakes and gives you the best chance of success.
Zero to One – Peter Thiel
I first picked this up after hearing Peter on a podcast; he was captivating. Clearly one of the sharpest minds in the tech/startup community, this book outlines what it takes to create a world leading company; both the philosophies and the realities.
More importantly, you get to see what and how a genius thinks about the current market, and read some great stories about the early days of setting up PayPal and Facebook.
Mastery – Robert Greene
Similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, Mastery is focused on what it takes to be the best. The whole book is based on historical cases, a diverse group of talents who worked their way to the top. Robert then distills the common factors that made them great; attitudes, work styles, habits and a new take on what it means to be an apprentice. Highly recommended for anyone between ages 20 and 26, or for people who want to become experts in their fields.
Growth Hacker Marketing – Ryan Holiday
This is not an online marketing textbook, which would be out of date within six months. Instead, Ryan teaches the importance of measuring your marketing, and using the results to shape how you run your business. I’ve found myself recommending this to many entrepreneurs, especially those who are selling online or believe that social media will bring them new customers.
Keating – Kerry O’Brien
I heard Jordan Shanks recount a Paul Keating story (about the time Keating “freestyled” a new policy during Parliament) and I was immediately intrigued.
I knew nothing about Keating going in, and learning about what he did for our country left me stunned. I’d now rate him up there Churchill and Obama, a bold visionary leader.
I also started with a dislike for Kerry O’Brien, but his interview style is so engaging, and the way he calls Keating out throughout the book is excellent.
Highly, highly recommend for Australians between 21 and 30, especially if you’ve have a slight interest in politics and development.
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
It’s rare that a book keeps me up until 1:30am on a weeknight, but Shoe Dog was so entertaining and gripping. A raw, funny, honest autobiography from the creator of Nike, a brand I used to disdain but now love. Contender for the best business biography ever written, a joy to read. This would be a great present for entrepreneurs, runners or sneakerheads.
The War of Art/Do The Work – Steven Pressfield
I loved The War of Art and its sequel, and highly recommend them as a set. The first half of The War of Art is one of the most profound books on the creative process I’ve encountered, and Do The Work is an inspirational guide for how a professional gets things done. Steven Pressfield is brutal, honest and encouraging, and his books are ideal for creatives, writers and entrepreneurs.
Predatory Thinking – Dave Trott
Dave Trott has, in my opinion, the most hypnotic and enjoyable writing style out there. Normally that doesn’t stand out to me, but this is different. Dave is an expert on marketing, strategy and creativity, and knows how to tell a story. This book is a mix of personal anecdotes and historic examples of clever thinking. It isn’t a how-to-do type of book, more how-to-see-the-world.
One Plus One Equals Three – Dave Trott
Essentially an extension of Predatory Thinking, which is all I could have hoped for. The only book I’ve ever deliberately bought on the day of it’s release, and powered through it in 24 hours. Dave has created another collection of stories, some funny, some stirring, some abstract, all of them riveting. Good books should make you more interested in the world and inspire you to keep reading. This isn’t for everyone, but it works for me.
Leap First – Seth Godin
This is only available as an Audiobook; it’s a two hour recording of Seth talking to a room of creative entrepreneurs about work and the need to go out and create something. Seth’s earlier work is about “how-to…”, but recently he’s focused on “why-to…”. This isn’t for the bankers, bureaucrats or consultants; instead it’s for the designers, the creators, the students and the social entrepreneurs. Great for a long drive or a long walk.
Drive – Dan Pink
Dan looks at what makes us work, and what keeps people motivated. The book looks at extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation, that is, things that push you from the outside (cash, promotions, being told to do something) versus being driven by something inside you (wanting to make a change or solve a problem). You can probably guess which one wins, and the book puts forward a compelling, science-backed case. A controversial and intelligent book.
The 4 Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss is naughty. Convinced that the way we work is stupid, he wrote this book about how to cheat the system, and give yourself more time and more freedom. I don’t know that I’d recommend implementing everything he suggests, but there is some absolute gold, and it will shift your thinking. Tim’s attitude about how to structure your time, using the 80/20 principle, creating passive income, not being a slave to email, taking career breaks etc is both useful and intriguing. No matter what you think at the end, you’ll be glad that you read it.
Essentialism – Dave McKeown
This book is centred on the idea that by doing less of the things that aren’t important, we can really nail our top priority. Dave proposes that we should say no to the majority of offers, in order to say yes to the best. This is hard to execute, so the book is split between the why and the how, and gives useful suggestions for becoming an essentialist in all parts of your life.
The Advantage – Patrick Lencioni
Patrick is my favourite management writer, because he perfectly walks the line of wanting to increase performance whilst also increasing everyone’s happiness. Most of his work is written as business fables; a hypothetical organisation going through a tough time, who eventually implement a better system. This book is different, it’s a collection of all the lessons from the other books, whilst still being enjoyable to read. Patrick argues that the most important thing a business can have is organizational health; a good culture that allows everyone to communicate well and get things done. He makes a good case for it, with many practical systems you can steal for your own company. Think of it this way, have you ever heard someone suggest making your team culture more hostile and passive-aggressive? Me neither. Read this book.
The Tao of Warren Buffett – Mary Buffett and David Clark
Warren Buffett is one of the sharpest investors in history, because of his common sense approach. If you’re not familiar with his famous expressions or philosophies, this is the place to start. The book is laid out with a quote from Warren at the top of each page, then a paragraph of interpretation and analysis from Mary and David. This isn’t a how-to, it’s a collection of insights from someone who’s worth listening to, written in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Purple Cow – Seth Godin
Seth’s most famous work suggests that entrepreneurs spend their time and energy on creating a remarkable product, rather than trying to spin and promote something mundane. Make something distinct, something worth talking about, and people will do the work for you. More importantly, can you afford to create something that isn’t remarkable?
Business Model Generation – Alexander Osterwalder
The book that launched the Business Model Canvas, I’ve given away over 100 of these so far. You know full well that you need to read it, so stop putting it off. Not a good one to read cover-to-cover, you’re better off flicking through it for inspiration as you work on your own canvases.
Value Proposition Design – Alexander Osterwalder
It turns out that the hardest part of Business Modelling is creating great Value Propositions. Osterwalder and his team created a new tool, the Value Proposition Canvas, to make the design process and testing process as easy and straightforward as possible. A visually beautiful book that’s also practical, it forces you to prove to yourself that customers actually want what you’re selling. Hard to argue with that.
Gear Up! – Lena Ramfelt, Jonas Kjellberg & Tom Kosnik
Similar to startup books like Business Model Generation, Gear Up covers the elements that every entrepreneur needs to understand when building something new. Focused more on execution rather than the model, it’s a useful and practical guide.
Hegarty on Creativity – John Hegarty
John is one of advertising’s most respected figures, and shares his insights on the creative process. This is an enjoyable read, a combination of hard truths and practical advice.
Damn Good Advice (For People With Talent) – George Lois
I had never heard of George Lois before I bought the book, but I’d certainly seen his work. George is abrasive, cranky and driven, but is also a creative genius. The backstory behind his most famous campaigns are fascinating; turns out he was the inspiration for the show Mad Men, and launched Tommy Hilfiger’s career. Highly recommend for Gen Y or anyone interested in branding.
Getting Naked – Patrick Lencioni
My favourite book on consulting. Patrick is a captivating business writer, this being one of his famous fables; a fictional case study that makes some memorable points. This book taught me that consulting is about being vulnerable with your clients as you walk the journey alongside them, rather than building walls and puffing out your chest.
Steal Like An Artist – Austin Kleon
Austin’s philosophy on sampling, stealing and reinvention is brilliant. I love this book, it’s layout, attitude and content. It’s short, cheap and easy to read, and will change the way you think about your work.
Show Your Work! – Austin Kleon
Following on from Steal Like An Artist, Austin explains the benefits of documenting your progress in your career. He puts forward a good case, a combination of the why and the how. The book that made me create this blog.
How To Be Interesting – Jessica Hagy
A book for the millennials, Jessica uses a tonne of hand-drawn graphs and Venn diagrams to inspire and guide your thoughts. This is about how to think about your work, and will change your perspective on challenges and opportunities. Think of it as a book on how to have a cool career.
The E-Myth Revisited – Michael Gerber
This is a great one for those who are just starting to get into business books. Michael has written a classic on how to design, start and manage a business, and how to think about growth. He argues that there are three roles in any business; the Technician, the Manager and the Entrepreneur. Knowing the differences between them can make your life a lot easier, it certainly comes up a lot in Social Enterprise.
Scrum: The Art Of Doing Twice The Work In Half The Time – Jeff Sutherland
Jeff is the pioneer behind Agile Methodology, a new-ish approach to project management that’s proving to be seriously effective. A good book for those who are testing out business ideas or building a prototype.
The Personal MBA – Josh Kaufman
The perfect business book to read on the train. Josh has collected stacks of vital business terms and scenarios, and explains each of them simply and memorably. Great for those who have never studied business, but still find themselves working in/on one.