I love business books, but to be honest, I didn’t want to write this post. What I really wanted to do is get on with all the strategic projects that need completing to ensure we’re on track with our messaging and SEO goals. This post seemed almost a bit indulgent. But then I realized why I read these books. Throughout my career, reading has helped me acquire skills, build strategies, and deliver success to our clients. Reading is considered by many to be the #1 secret to business success, and I would wholeheartedly agree.
Warren Buffett estimates he spends 80% of his day reading and thinking. “I just sit in my office and read all day,” he says. (And I don’t think he’s reading trashy-romance novels, either.) I also felt a sense of gratitude to the authors I include on this list. These books are both old and new, but I feel like all of them will stand the test of time. Before we jump to the list, you’re probably wondering: Read? Who has time to read? Let’s start with my simple strategy.
Every day, 15 minutes a day, then write it down
This past year, I read 10 business books. It would have been more, but one was rather meaty, to say the least. Where did I find the time? It all started with this beautiful little journaling book my wife had given me for Christmas a few years back. It’s a book called One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book, and it’s premise is simple: Just write down one profound line a day. Journaling at that pace sounded like a good idea. But that would have required introspection and serious thought about my life and behavior. I’m not sure I could pull that off 365 days a year (and perhaps it’s best that my behavior isn’t documented).
What I could do, however, was tap into the insights of others. So I decided to create a process for my business reading. Every day, for fifteen minutes a day, I committed to reading a business book and writing down one profound insight. It hasn’t been entirely easy. But as December 31 approaches, I’m proud to announce that over 360 insights from the past year have been transcribed. And I’ve learned quite a bit in the process. Believe me, if I can do it, so can you. Okay, on to the book list!
My fave business books from the past year
Some of the books on my list are new. Some have been around for a long, long time. Some are popular, some obscure. They all contain nuggets of wisdom that have influenced my marketing strategy. Here’s the list (in no particular order):
- Live in a Better Way – the Dalai Lama
- The Six Secrets of Change – Michael Fullan
- Hit Makers – Derek Thompson
- Everybody Writes – Ann Handley
- Uncertainty – Jonathan Fields
- The Marketing Rebellion – Mark Schaefer
- Business Adventures – John Brooks
- The Big Data Driven Business – Russell Glass, Sean Callahan
- The Content Trap – Bharat Anand
- This is Marketing – Seth Godin
Live in a Better Way: Reflections on Truth, Love and Happiness – the Dalai Lama
“Since all things are interdependent, independent identities or entities don’t exist. When we investigate the ultimate nature of everything, we find it is the absence of independent existence. This is what we mean by ‘empty.’” I consider a book by the Dalai Lama to be about marketing? And what the heck does that statement above mean? From a marketing perspective, the quote is both true and as relevant in today’s digital age as ever. “All things are interdependent,” the Dalai Lama states. Yet many organizations today create content that just talks about themselves. The Dalai Lama would classify this as living an “independent existence.” That will get you nowhere. You need to connect with others: Collaborate, reach out, make contact, open yourself up. Your goal should be the “absence of independent existence,” which is what Buddhists would describe as “empty.” A big concept, but hang onto it. You’ll see how it plays out in real-world marketing strategy later on my list.
The Six Secrets of Change – Michael Fullan
“Consistency and innovation can and must go together, and you achieve them through organized learning in context. Learning is the work.” A friend of mine once said to me, “A book finds you.” This one did. I discovered this neglected gem on a public library shelf in the business section. Written by Michael Fullan, a business professor in Canada, this management book is loaded with brilliant management strategies and frameworks. The big takeaway was the need to balance what actually works with the alluring chase for innovation — something that’s especially challenging in today’s world of rapidly-evolving technology.
Hit Makers: How to Succeed in an Age of Distraction – Derek Thompson
“The most important element in a global cascade isn’t magically viral elements or mystical influence. Rather it is about finding a group of people who are easily influenced.” Thompson gives examples of “hit makers” in business and beyond, each of which started out focusing on a small group of the “easily influenced.” From this core, they added fans and followers who transformed them into “hit makers.” We’ve seen this approach play out in business as well as politics. Hit Makers shows you how starting small can yield big results.
“Too often business writers sacrifice clarity on the altar of sounding professional.” Writers love reading books about writing, and Ann Handley’s book is one of the best. (My all-time favorite is On Writing by Stephen King — thanks for that one, Mom!) At Winbound, we continuously emphasize clarity in our content writing. Clarity not only trumps style, it transcends style. When you write with clarity, the writer vanishes and the message comes center stage. And isn’t that truly the goal? Thanks to Ann Handley for that all-important sentence, and for all your contributions to content marketing!
Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance – Jonathan Fields
“The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas and creations.” Boy, if I had a nickel for every brilliant phrase like this that appears in Jonathan Fields’s book. I wrote about this book in more depth in this LinkedIn article, and I feel it’s truly a required read for everyone in marketing. In business. In life! Why? Because we’re all plagued with uncertainty. Fields’s book won’t help you conquer it, but he’ll share insights on how to recognize it and cope with it. As Theodore Roosevelt said, you want to move beyond “the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat — and lay claim to genius.”
The Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins – Mark Schaefer
“Marketing success can’t be simply measured by financial gain anymore. It has to be measured by your customer’s financial gain.” Mark Schaefer warns that we are in the midst of a “marketing rebellion,” in which customers will no longer be advertised to, shouted at, and bamboozled as in the past. They’ve had enough of it, and thanks to today’s digital age, they’re calling the shots. His book implores you to view the world through the eyes of your customer, and reshape your content to serve them and make their lives better. The idea above — that your customer’s metrics matter more than your own — may be the most valuable advice on analytics you can find.
No quotes with this one. I picked out Business Adventures because luminaries such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates describe it as one of the greatest business books of all time. And it is, but perhaps not in the conventional sense. The book was written by journalist John Brooks back in 1959, and it lacks the pithy, pull-quote laden prose of the some of the books I’ve already cited. No, it’s not breezy; it’s more like a gale-force wind, loaded with power and depth. Brooks digs deep into some of the most consequential financial events of his time. Read it and you’ll learn everything from how selling a stock short works (in the context of an amazing tale about Piggly Wiggly, no less) to the profound impact of devaluing currency. You’ll also improve your vocabulary. I didn’t pull quotes from this book as much as words I had to look up for clear definitions: paean, gadfly, cynosure. This book is a long mountain to climb and my longest read of the year, but it was worth the trek.
The Big Data-Driven Business – Russell Glass and Sean Callahan
“No matter how much you can measure, it takes people to determine the best use of data and to find the truth.” Truly the surprise read of the year for me, primarily because the only reason I picked it up in the first place is because I know Sean Callahan. Sean is an unassuming guy that I met while I lived in Chicago at a networking event. He’s the Senior Manager of Content Marketing at LinkedIn, and he co-authored this book with Russell Glass, the head of B2B Marketing Products for LinkedIn. It’s rare that you read a business book that’s an outright page-turner — especially one on analytics — but this one answers the call. The authors somehow wrestle a sprawling concept like big data into something we right-brained marketers can handle and actually implement. Check out my post on small data metrics for a deeper dive.
The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change – Bharat Anand
“Being able to recognize, leverage and manage connections separates companies that succeed from those that fail.” Written by Bharat Anand, a business professor at Harvard, The Content Trap delves into the true essence of what makes content marketing work: connections. We do a lot of collaborating with our content, and I network like crazy, but Anand’s book really explained why these connections are so critical — especially in today’s increasingly-isolated digital world.
“When you’re market-driven, you think a lot about the hopes and dreams of your customers and their friends. You listen to their frustrations and invest in changing the culture. Being market-driven lasts.” It’s noteworthy that my year of reading should start out with a bald, bespectacled philosopher and end with one. The Dalai Lama’s message of inter-connectedness that I read in the beginning of the year was echoed by Godin in December. It has to do with companies shedding their ego and recreating themselves to help their customers. What is their issue? What is their problem? How can you help? The idea is no longer about who we are as a company. It’s who our customers need us to be.
The end of this year’s reading road is just the beginning
I will leave you with one quote that I feel sums up the year, and the journey we marketers all share.
I have to admit, the first time I read it, I wasn’t sure what it meant. But the explanation is simple. There are not two options — success or failure. They are actually one and the same. The only distinction is that the road to success is much longer. If you have some suggestions on books I should read for next year, leave them in the comment box!