Business books are the worst. They are badly written, have cheesy subtitles, and are jam-packed with empty inspirational sayings. At the same time, when you find the right book, there’s no better way to learn exactly what you need to know at exactly the right time. Fortunately, as in every genre (nu-metal, modern country), there are a few gems in the midst of the junk. You just need to dig deeper. The following five business books caused me to question my assumptions about the category. They helped me. And maybe they’ll help you.
Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland — It was Sunday morning and I was doing my favorite thing in the whole wide world—drinking coffee and reading the New York Times. It had been a rough week. Pure chaos and nothing accomplished. It sucked. To distract myself, I randomly checked out an interview with the neo-soul singer Janelle Monae. In the midst of talking about all of her influences, she mentioned a book that was her touchstone for launching and running a successful record label. The book was Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. I immediately trashed my plan to avoid thinking about work, downloaded the audiobook, and spent the rest of the day listening to it. By Monday morning, we had a new operating manual for our business, and we’ve never had a worthless week again.
Profit First: Transform Your Business From a Cash-Easting Monster to a Money-Making Machine by Mike Michalowicz — When I started my company, I figured that as long as I was attracting more and more clients, I’d get richer and richer. What a dope! More clients mean more staff, more contractors, more technology, more office space, and so on. And more costs money. In Profit First, I found another way of doing things. The book starts out by debunking the holy accounting equation (Income – Expenses = Profit) and offers a bold replacement. Michalowicz’s deceptively simple idea is that business owners must start taking profit out of their business and setting it aside before doing anything else. Then they need to use their creativity to run their companies on what’s left over. This insight, along with the author’s tactics for making it happen, allowed me to actually use my business for the reason I started it in the first place—to make a decent living.
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang —The emotion I’m most comfortable with is guilt (Thanks mom!). In the early days of my business, when I would wake up with a start at 3 am with a line of drool connecting my lower lip to my keyboard, I would beat myself up. How could I nap after a mere seventeen hours of work when there were kids in Cupertino forgoing sleep for five days at a stretch? It’s a good thing I came across this book before ending up in a hospital ward with total organ failure. Pang makes a compelling case that most of the stories about business builders who work 365 days straight on 3 hours of sleep each night are image-building myths. His book shows why quality rest is the ideal fuel for creative and commercial productivity and provides a recipe for how to use it to up your chances of achieving your most audacious goals.
The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success by Albert-László Barabási – When I first heard about this book, I figured there was no way I was ever going to read it. The last thing the world needs, I thought, was another book that claims to give you the secret to success. But then I heard a podcast interview with the author, and it occurred to me there might be something more to it than what the title suggests. There most certainly was. The Formula makes the case that talent and hard work are the least important factors in success. Instead, the most successful people are those who are best at managing perception and building powerful networks of influential people who advocate on their behalf. It’s a fascinating recipe and one that anyone can follow.
The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World by Frans Johansson — It used to be that when I was writing short stories or playing guitar or filling up notebooks with sketches of my ultra-violent immersive theater extravaganza, I would feel guilty (see, there it is again). I somehow felt that by spending time on these kinds of activities, I was taking attention away from my business’s core money-making functions. After reading The Click Moment, I never felt this way again. Johansson shows that despite our efforts to control fate through planning and strategy, success is ultimately random. The best thing you can do is to put as many ideas out into the world as often as possible, observe closely, and then throw your weight behind those that get the most traction. The ideas in the Click Moment are now infused into everything we do at the agency I run, which means we’re not only better at what we do but have a lot more fun doing it.