Five Great Business Books You Might Not Find in the Business Section


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If you could read one business book a day, it would take 602 years to read every one that Barnes & Noble offers in that category. There are over 220,000 titles.

With so much to read, and so little time, I rely on social media to learn what other people read, and I’ve made many excellent discoveries. I admire people who can plow through one strategy book after another, unimpeded by infinite permutations of sentences that combine consultant-isms like productivity, implementation, system, and enablement.

Here’s an excerpt from one I’m reading now, The New Age of Innovation, by C. K. Prahalad and M. S. Krishnan:

“The more detailed (granular) our understanding of the activities that constitute a business process and more explicit the logical linkages among those activities, the better.”

To find something drier, you’ll need to travel to Chile’s Atacama Desert. So before reading The New Age of Innovation, have a water bottle by your side—and make sure it’s full. Actually, it’s an excellent read, if you don’t mind that the words process, strategy, capabilities, and value comprise about half of the book.

But, if you’re like me, and want business insight without slavish devotion to the titles on The New York Times Bestselling Business Books list, try these top five recommendations from my recent non-fiction reading:

1. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, by Jacqueline Novogratz. Not everyone who envisions saving people around the world from debilitating poverty wears Birkenstock shoes and listens to the Grateful Dead. As a successful venture capitalist, Novogratz has succeeded in tackling the greatest challenges for ending social and economic injustice by profitably empowering people who are disenfranchised by their local society and governments. Among the greatest business lessons she offers are how to learn and rebound from failure, and how to solve seemingly intractable problems through framing them with the right questions.

2. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, and What It Says about Us, by Tom Vanderbilt. No matter where you are in the world, traffic congestion has its roots in society and culture, and is not just caused by the idiot driving in front of you. This well-researched book exposes many amazing, head-slapping paradoxes, including the lethality of feeling safe in one’s own vehicle. Consistent with the insights from Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, Vanderbilt shares similar counter-intuitive quirks in human behavior: “Something as simple as a couch dumped in a roadside ditch can send minor shudders of curiosity through the traffic flow.”

3. Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam, by Pope Brock. The true story of John Brinkley, who in the early 1920’s, used pseudo-science, worthless potions and transplantation of goat testicles ostensibly to restore virility in impotent men. Truth is stranger than fiction, and in recounting a plot he didn’t invent, Brock is a masterful storyteller. Brinkley was as innovative as he was unrepentantly deceitful, and he pioneered new uses of radio and other media to promote his quack products. His killer skill was the ability to ruthlessly exploit human vulnerability for personal profit. Scary to think he almost became governor of Kansas, and he probably would not have been stopped had it not been for the tireless effort of Dr. Morris Fishbein of the American Medical Association.

4. The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves, by W. Brian Arthur. Imagine that a college professor assigns you this topic, you write a book that doesn’t contain a single picture, flowchart or diagram, you give it a dull title, and it’s hit! A page turner! The crowd goes wild! It’s immediately clear that Arthur has not only spent a lot of time thinking about his topic, he’s brilliant in how he presents it. If you sell technology, or just work with it every day, I can’t think of a more important book to read right now. Among Arthur’s insights: 1) technologies inherit capabilities from the technologies that preceded them, 2) components of technology are themselves systems, and 3) all technologies harness and use at least one physical phenomenon.

5. Wired for War: the Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, by P. W. Singer. Singer weaves science fiction into Wired for War, and shares how the development of robots, drones, and other “unmanned” technologies has been influenced from visions of great writers from Asimov to Heinlein. But don’t expect to be wowed by a technology wonk. Singer discusses difficult ethical issues, and asks questions about the very definition of armed conflict, the ethics of removing human decision making in war, and what it means when a man working from a cubicle in Nevada can launch a remote missile on a target in Afghanistan, and then coach his daughter’s soccer team one hour later. He worries about what happens when a general makes battlefield decisions based on what he sees on a computer screen, while ignoring what he cannot. Was it Sun Tzu who said “fighting a war is similar to Sales2.0?”

Try these out. If you want to read books that enable you to strategically systematize and implement productive frameworks, processes, and methodologies that will empower your organization with capabilities and resources that deliver value to your customers and stakeholders, you won’t be disappointed!

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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