I often get asked by technical founders what business / marketing / strategy books they should read. While there are many excellent relatively new books (e.g., The Lean Startup), the primary purpose of this post is to list a set of classic business books that most (older) business people have read — and that I think every budding entrepreneur should read as part of their basic business education.
- Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. The classic on technology strategy.
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy. It’s getting a bit dated at this point, but still well worth the read. The media have changed, but the core ideas remain the same.
- Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout. They, well, wrote the book on positioning. Very focused on the mind of the customer.
- The Marketing Imagination by Theodore Levitt. Fairly academic but core to understanding marketing theory.
- Public Relations by Edward Bernays. Another classic which studies PR in both history and application. (I’m told Autonomy’s Mike Lynch swore by Bernays and Propoganda.)
- The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. A newer book than many of the above, but an instant classic on the theory of disruptive innovation.
- Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson. Oldie but goodie reinforcing the important idea that marketing doesn’t have to be expensive.
- Blue Ocean Strategy by Renee Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. Again, a newer book than many of those on the list, but still an instant classic in my mind. I particularly like their strategic levers analysis as shown in, e.g., the Cirque du Soleil case study.
- Solution Selling by Michael Bosworth. There as almost as many books on sales as there are salespeople. I’ve read dozens and this, while superseded by Bosworth himself, remains the classic in my mind.
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu. The oldest book on the list by a few thousand years, so you want to find a version that is adapted to business. While I like military-business analogies, On War remains on my to-read list.
Note that I have deliberately omitted Good to Great for three reasons: (1) the case studies have largely under-performed undermining the book’s core thesis, (2) the book has generally been discredited, and (3) in my experience it is the most abused business book I have seen in terms of misapplication. Despite reasons 1 and 2, it nevertheless remains a top-seller; so much for rationality in business.
As a supplement, here are some newer books of which I’m a big fan:
- The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the weaknesses of business books and the business press.
- Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday. A simply amazing book by a self-confessed media manipulator and how he worked the top blogs.
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Quickly becoming a new classic, on the art of iterative innovative (and frugal) strategy.
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Amazing book by a psychologist who won the Nobel prize in economics on human rationality and irrationality.
And finally, here are some near classics that didn’t quite make my top ten list.
- The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. A great book on groups and their functions and dysfunctions.
- First Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham. How to be a great manager in often unconventional ways.
- Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. Godin is an amazing speaker and thinker, but I have trouble identifying his one classic; he’s written too many books so it’s hard to find one to recommend. This is my best shot.
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni has also written numerous strong books on leadership, teamwork, and organizational dynamics, but I think this was his best.