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Got time on your hands? Shelter-in-place orders and social distancing rules have shuttered businesses and forced tens of millions to stay home. While some are working from home, many business have not yet fully adapted to the “new normal” entirely. As a result, many business owners, leaders and professionals feel like racehorses trapped in stalls, waiting for the gate to open. To many workers, this forced seclusion feels like torture. So much to do… and so little ability to get it done.
Ah, but there are some very useful things to do with this time. At the top of the list is learning. In fact, learning is something every person in business should be doing all the time, even when things are hopping. But, it is even more valuable now for the millions who are “on hold” waiting for business to resume. Instead of being unproductive, this can actually be a time of great intellectual growth and ingenuity. Learning leads to innovations that can change the world for the better. And most learning starts with reading.
Indeed, some of our greatest leaders were voracious readers. U.S. President Harry Truman said that “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” And U.S. President John Adams asked “How can any man judge unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading?” Likewise, U.S. President Barack Obama said “Reading is important. If you know how to read, then the whole world opens up to you.” And U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, known for being a consummate reader, said “My best friend is a person who gives me a book I have not yet read.”
It is not just political leaders who are big readers, but also many business leaders as well. Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world and possibly the greatest investor of all time, said that reading 500 pages a day was the key to his success. Not a key; the key. He equated the accumulation of knowledge with the accumulation of money. “Knowledge works like compound interest. It builds up.” And, when asked how he learned to build rockets, billionaire and SpaceX founder Elon Musk responded “I read books.” As for business mogul Mark Cuban, he said his success was predicated on reading. “I would continuously search for new ideas. I read every book and magazine I could. Heck, at $3 for a magazine, $20 a book, one good idea that led to a customer or solution paid for itself many times over,” he explained. And, Microsoft founder Bill Gates reads a book a week. I’d say that’s a pretty strong endorsement for the power and value of reading. Through reading, minds are opened – and when coupled with creativity and imagination – growth happens, problems are solved and solutions emerge. And from that, business thrives.
So What Are You Reading?
Given the wealth of resources available online, every spare minute of this shelter-in-place period can be spent learning and honing skills. With so many book publishers now offering free delivery for books purchased online, obtaining the right books to read has never been easier or faster even while in quarantine. And, for those who are enduring economic hardship and can’t afford to spend a lot of money on new books, resellers offer them at a fraction of the cost. If even that is too much to spend, learning can happen at zero expense. Libraries have a multitude of materials available for free digital checkout. And those who want to combine fitness and learning, there are even “books on tape” that can be listened to during a walk or time on a treadmill.
For those who aren’t into reading and haven’t really read a lot of business books, here are a baker’s dozen must-read titles that everyone in business should read.
Business Books with Timeless Appeal
- The Art of War by Sun Tzu (3rd Century BCE) – This might seem more like a book for military leaders than business leaders, and certainly militaristic thinking can lead to bizarre business behavior that goes contrary to increasingly collaborative workplaces. But, Sun Tzu’s masterpiece really isn’t about war, per se. It’s more about how to think strategically about complex issues, and how to adapt those strategies to real life situations, such as the war being fought against a biological enemy. It’s exactly the kind of advice every businessperson needs right now.
- The Prince by Machiavelli (1532) – Written for unelected political leaders not business titans, Machiavelli’s advice says, “The end justifies the means”, which is the basis for modern corporate ethics. Even if it is not necessarily the best advice to follow, it is important to understand the view that executives can only “do the right thing” when the right thing makes financial sense.
- The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776) – Smith provides the basis for popular economic thought that says that business should be allowed to function without interference or government involved, a concept that persists even in the age of technology. And, for those who think they already know that Smith was a proponent of the “invisible hand” of economics, many don’t know that he also frequently warned against monopolies.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936) – Written at a time when IQ was seen as the only measure of intelligence, Carnegie rightly gauged that lasting happiness and success comes from relationships, not ideas or facts. This basic concept is now commonplace among business leaders who now value EQ above IQ in both hiring and promoting.
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (1937) – One of the most famous success books of all time, Hill’s premise is that riches begin with a state of mind. To get rich, a person must first change his mind and become money conscious. He must literally THINK himself rich. The term riches by the way could mean any form of wealth like money, happiness, healthy relationships, business success, etc. He offers How-To for thinking rich by controlling one’s mind and thoughts in order to become rich.
- The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham (1949) – Considered one of the greatest books on investing, Graham explains his investing principles. Dubbed value investing, Graham explains with incredible clarity the need to analyze for the long term, protect from losses, and not to go for crazy profits. He advises never trust Mr. Market, which can be very irrational in the short and medium term, and stick to a strict formula for all investments. This is a book everyone should read. Period.
- The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino (1968) – This classic sales book was written when people thought of salesmen as slick, fast-talking con-men. Even though that stereotype persists, thanks in part to Og Mandino’s book, salespeople now see themselves as essentially moral people striving to make the world better, fulfill needs and make others happy.
- Business Adventures by John Brooks (1969) – Reputed to be Warren Buffet’s favorite business book (according to Bill Gates), this book gives detailed accounts of iconic companies that were defined by a particular moment of fame or notoriety. Both noteworthy and riveting, these business stories help the reader to understand the intricacies of corporate life; lessons as relevant now as then.
- The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard (1982) – A leader among books on management, Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson set out simple rules for common-sense management. The success of this booklet spawned the management consulting industry. This is just a must-read for every manager.
- Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson (1984) – In the 1950s and 60s, marketing and advertising implied a big money investment. But Levinson’s book explained how unconventional efforts can often create better results at a lower cost. His ideas range from logical to irreverent, such as tattooing the company’s corporate logo on one’s forehead. Levinson had this insight 30+ years before social networking and smartphone apps became an integral part of business. Given the heightened use of technology to connect, this book should take on a whole new meaning.
- Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne (2004) In their book, Kim and Mauborgne challenge entrepreneurs to adopt a blue ocean strategy, which is about creating and capturing uncontested market space, thereby making the competition irrelevant. It is based on the view that market boundaries and industry structure are not a given and can be reconstructed by the actions and beliefs of industry players. For those fearful because of the global crisis, this book should help readers look at the current business landscape in a whole new way.
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek (2009) – This book started as a TED Talk called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” In that 18 ½ minute long viral TED talk, he called on business leaders to “Start With Why.” To Sinek, “why” isn’t just a word, it’s a powerful concept. In his book, Sinek demonstrates why organizations guided by this concept will succeed more often than those that don’t. For entrepreneurs, small business owners, leaders, execs and solopreneurs, this book should help focus your actions in a post-Covid-19 world.
- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World, and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling (2018) – Published just two years ago, Factfulness is a book by Swedish statistician Hans Rosling, along with his son Ola Rosling and daughter-in-law Anna Rosling. These number-crunching authors suggest that most people wrongly believe the state of the world as being poorer, less healthy, and more dangerous than it actually is. The book attributes this not to random chance but misinformation and explains ten instincts that prevent people from seeing real progress in the world. Bill Gates highlighted the book as one of his suggested books worth reading in 2018, calling it “One of the most important books I’ve ever read ― an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.” Given the state of the world, this book should cheer you up.
Great Modern Business Books
PS – For a bonus book, read “Grit” by Dr. Angela Duckworth, a personal favorite. In it, she explains why grit is the most important skill for success and how to increase one’s grit.
Quotes of the Week
“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” Napoleon Bonaparte
© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.