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The books listed here are all books I have gotten great value from. They have either enabled me to accomplish more in my life, or given me important ways of approaching problem solving, management, business, and life. The books are listed by topic. Books which fall into more than one topic are listed under each topic.
Business plan writing
Foundational life skills
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
This is the book that introduced the concept of marketing positioning. It approaches brand building and marketing dominance in a powerful way. Ries and Trout look at the psychology behind product recognition, and lay out some simple principles for building strong, enduring brands.
This book is good for marketers, and probably even better for non-marketers. Its very readable, makes a ton of sense, and sure matches what Ive noticed about the world. I am not at all sure that traditional marketing curriculae make senses or correspond much to the real world. Many, many Internet companies need this book badly. Some of the multi-million dollar brand-building efforts out there are … scary, to say the least.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand
Book about branding and how to build strong brands. Speaking of branding, the title is clearly building on the successful 22 Laws of Marketing by Ries and Trout.
This book was written after Ries and Trout ended their collaboration. It lays out succint principles about brand building and marketing in an updated format from the early Ries & Trout books. The book is in late-20th-century checklist/sound byte format. Great for traveling, when you want something you can read when you have 5 minutes free at a time.
New Venture Creation
An excellent book which will walk you rigorously through the steps you need to turn an idea into a real business plan. The 1995 edition is a workbook which gives you the questions to ask to find out if your idea is a true business opportunity. If you do, indeed, have a business opportunity, the book then steps you through the creation of all major sections of a business plan.
The Venture Cafe: Secrets, Strategise, and Stories from America’s High-Tech Entrepreneurs
Teresa Esser brings an engaging, funny perspective on entrepreneurship from the men and woman of Bostons entrepreneurial community who are (and sometimes arent) building great companies.
Gladwell presents many of the ways in which people do and dont make excellent snap decisions.
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
Some conversations just arent easy to have. Whether its because you let someone down, or they let you down, or the news is unpleasant or whatever… This book lays out a framework for having the conversation and is packed with specific tips for helping things go smoothly.
For all people managers and anyone who ends up having to mediate difficult situations, this book is a must-read. Its written in clear, concise English, and has great content that I havent seen presented elsewhere.
Frogs into Princes
Frogs into Princes presents many of the underlying concepts in neuro-linguistic programming. The sections most useful to businesspeople: establishing rapport and understanding and using communication styles.
Hardball for Women: Winning at the Game of Business
Pat Heim lays out the rules of politics step-by-step. This book is aimed mainly at women and concentrates on how men and women are brought up differently, and those differences come out later as political behaviors in organizatons. In fact, the book is pretty good for anyone who doesnt quite get the rules by instinct. Dr. Heim is a bit wordy in places, but the content is worth the read.
How the Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work
Ever complained? Ever wanted to do something but just werent doing it? Kegan and Laskow guide you through a process of changing the language you use to think about issues to uncover the unconscious assumptions that drive (and override!) your behavior. The techniques work, and work well! Ive used them with clients and with my own issues, and very quickly have developed an understanding of the beliefs and assumptions Im making about the world that are holding me back.
While the book is great at helping you uncover your Big Assumptions, it falls down a bit at telling you what to do with them. The authors message seems to be, understand and appreciate your mental dynamics and eventually breakthrough insight will be achieved. For better or worse, Im action-oriented once mental dynamics are uncovered, and would have liked more guidance on how to address my Big Assumptions.
(Thats why Im a fan of cognitive psychology and neuro-linguistic programming. Both are pretty good at helping you change, once youve found your core beliefs.)
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
Dr. Seligman discusses the phenomena of optimism and pessimism, and how one can explicitly adopt each attitude where its most needed. The book includes detailed discussions of the business, health, creativity and productivity effects of optimism and pessimism. The reading can get a bit dry at times; Seligman sometimes gives more background than needed about the politics of the scientific world, but the results are worth it. This book presented a (scientifically-validated) framework for understanding how to shape your attitude and what effects you can expect.
For business leaders, understanding optimism and pessimism is not academic. Too much pessimism and people wont perform well, persistance will lag, and things grind to a halt. Too much optimism and a brick wall just might be headed your way at 1,000 miles per hour [Seligman says there is considerable evidence that pessimits, despite all their problems, are more accurate judges of reality than optimists]. Youll need to master both to be able to motivate your workforce, keep them going through tough times, yet do so in a way thats responsible and real.
Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques of Milton H. Erickson
The appendices that form the second half of this book present the best summary Ive ever seen of using language for artful communication. The book itself concentrates on presenting a model of how Milton H. Erickson, widely considered one of the best medical hypnotists in history, used language to help people make powerful changes.
Decision Traps: Ten Barriers to Brilliant Decision-Making and How to Overcome Them
Two experts in business management show how to avoid the ten common pitfalls that trap decision makers. The book is based on research into social and coginitive psychology and managerial decision making. The authors do a superb job of translating the results into practical how-to information that you can use immediately to improve your decision making.
This book is a wonderful companion to Influence by Robert Cialdini.
First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
A real research-based book on superb management techniques! The Gallup organization looked at 80,000 managers across 400 organizations and did extensive statistical research to figure out what the truly high performing managers did differently from the merely good managers. The results are often counter-intuitive, and this book presents them all.
One of the most intriguing notions in the book is that peoples behavior patterns dont fundamentally change, and the best managers find ways to fit employee behaviors to jobs, rather than trying to develop weak areas. This result is explored in depth in the sequel, Now, Discover Your Strengths. Check out this book. I learned a lot from it, and given that its actually based on extensive, statistically sound research, its advice is likely to produce results.
One warning: the book is dry in places. It was clearly written by statisticians, not by great business writers. So skim the boring parts. The gems are well worth it.
How We Know What Isn’t So
Gilovich explores a number of ways in which humans reason incorrectly and reach faulty (though often emotionally-satisfying) conclusions. He draws examples from phenomena where people develop strong belief systems unsupported (and often contradicted) by data: ESP, UFO sightings, winning the lottery, etc.
This book, along with Influence by Cialdini and Decision Traps by Russo & Schoemaker make a great trilogy for anyone interested in understanding how were miswired.
This book outlines social psychology phenomena which are responsible for all kinds of irrational behavior. This book is a must-read for marketers, to learn compliance tactics that will manipulate the masses into mindlessly buying their combination electric toothbrush / toenail clippers.
For managers and leaders, this book gives important insight into the origins of motivation, and how you and those around you might be influenced by the marketplace, the media, and your competition.
For everyone, Cialdini points out several ways in which our mental shortcuts interferes with our ability to make good decisions.
This book is a good companion to Decision traps.
Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions
The best book Ive ever read on rigorous decision making. As much as I like to believe I make decisions based on data, I dont. I gather lots of data and then ignore it all and rely on my gut.
Hammond, Keeney, and Raiffa outline a structured process for making decisions that can help reduce uncertainty and increase the likelihood that youll make better decisions under uncertainty with incomplete data. Like anything else, you have to practice to get good at their technique. But once youve learned how to make a high quality decision, many of the techniques begin to become second nature.
Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions
The Answer to How is Yes
This half-philosophical, half-practical book does a superb job at presenting a challenging, engaging perspective on how to create community and openness in (workplace) groups. Block gives specific questions that can be used in bringing a group together and transforming a conversation into one of responsibility and accountability.
The Brainsmart Leader
Tony Buzan has written several books bringing recent discoveries in brain science to practical application. His various books concentrate on speed reading, increasing comprehension,
Yes or No: The Guide to Better Decisions
This book lays out a simple framework for making effective decisions. The real power of this book is that it addresses the emotional side of decision making as well as the rational side. Whether you make decisions based on your head or your heart, this book will help you learn to use the other. Written by the co-author of the One Minute Manager, Yes or No is a quick read.
My recommendation is to start with Yes or No and use Johnsons framework for a while. Then read Decision Traps to learn how to avoid common mistakes your brain makes. Then finish up with Smart Choices: A Guide to Better Decisions, which will give you very high-powered research-validated techniques for beating a decision to death.
This book is the finest research-based discussion of what makes people happy that Ive yet to come across. Seligman quickly moves past the fairly trite (does money even correlate with happiness at all?) into an examination of what makes for truly happy people.
Surprisingly, I was reading this almost as a business book. Happy people make for great culture and environments, which make it easier to attract and retain good people. And it turns out one of the keys to happiness is having the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way using your best and highest skills. This is a nice complement to Now, Discover Your Strengths, which was purely a business book, and it shows that creating an environment where poeple can play to their strengths is not only good business, but also good for everyone as human beings.
Every chapter of the book has an associated online inventory you can take at Seligmans web site, so it become more than just an examination of what makes happinessits a self-reflective exercise as well.
Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play
In this book, Mark Forster lays out reasons why the standard time management systems all fail. He debunks quadrant 2 planning (important-but-not-urgent), prioritization, do-it-now, touch-everything-once, etc. What he presents instead is a system based on understanding why we resist things we know we have to do, and how we can start doing them while making sure that the urgent and the important all get handled.
Marks system is rather unusual, and Ive found it a bit challenging to retrain myself, but every time I use it, I get more done in 2-3 hours than I would typically get done in 2-3 days.
Combine this with Getting Things Done by David Allen, and you have the best time management / inbox management combination Ive found.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
David Allens book is the best book Ive ever read on dealing with the overwhelming barrage of incoming email, voice mail, faxes, etc. He lays out a system for dealing with everything in your life and keeping your inbox, desk, and mailbox clear and empty. While I found the book a bit convoluted at times, Ive been using his system for two years now and it works like a charm. Even when I fall off the wagon occasionally, I can get my life back in order in a couple of hours with this book.
The one failing is that he gives very poor guidance for how to decide how to use your time. The book covers inbox management, but not moment-by-moment action steps. For that, check out Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play by Mark Forster, which deals beautifully with the moment-by-moment.
The Power of Full Engagement
Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr review how your energy level actually drives productivity. They present research showing that managing energy is more important than managing time in becoming productive. Of course, if you follow their advice, youll become much more productive… and will promptly find all that newly acquired free time filled with even more demands from daily life. But hey, at least youll experience a period of great productivity.
Your Best Year Yet: Ten Questions for Making the Next Twelve Months Your Most Successful Ever
They say that having written goals greatly increases your chances of achieving them. This book isnt about far-reaching goals; its about making the next year of your life the best year youve ever had. Ms. Ditzler leads you through a structured goal setting process designed to help you clarify what you want, and set out a path to get there.
Forty Five Effective Ways for Hiring Smart!
Who to hire is one of the most important decisions facing managers and entrepreneurs. Yet few know how to do it or do it well. A professional psychologist, Pierre Mornell takes a different tack to hiring altogether: he gives tips for designing behavioral tests for candidates, which give you indications of how someone will actually act on the job.
Personally, when I hire people, I do only a so-so job. I tend to be influenced far too much by whether I like the person, and not nearly enough by whether they can/will do the job. This book gave me a whole set of tools to use to make the decision a bit more rigorous.
Changing Belief Systems with NLP
A rather dry book that nevertheless presents several techniques for changing belief systems. The book presents material and then illustrates the material with transcripts from workshops. The emphasis is very much on teachnig therapists to assist others in changing beliefs, but Ive found that with a bit of flexibility, you can use the techniques to change your own belief systems as well.
Don’t Shoot the Dog
This volume is a fascinating introduction to the psychological principles underlying training and behavior shaping. Pryor is an animal trainer, and it turns out that many of the underlying attitudes and theories of animal behavior also apply to humans. Such principles as positive reinforcement, spending time building the trainer/learner relationship, and shaping behavior incrementally are all tools that can be used to build high performing human organizations. For anyone whose job includes motivating people or building culture, this book will provide an excellent set of tools.
Leader As Coach: Strategies for Coaching & Developing Others
This book present leadership skills framed as the ability to coach employees into their best possible performance. A companion to Development First, this book is about how to help others through the professional development process.
Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence
Are you driven/stressed/confused about money? I am. And as much as I enjoy having money, I cant say my relationship to it is especially healthy.
Reading this book helped, a lot. Its more than a book to read. The authors lay out a program for figuring out exactly how to maintain your current standard of living, and save enough so you can know the specific date at which youll retire with no drop in your standard of living.
Not only has the program been helpful, but the attitudes and beliefs about money that the authors pointed out to me helped me untangle some of my own hang-ups about making the Big Bucks (at which time I quit my high paying job and went to pursue my dreams instead…much less lucrative, but infinitely more rewarding!)
Development First: Strategies for Self-Development
This book helps you put together a plan and tactics for developing in your professional life. It is quite short, but packed with plain-English prescriptions for how to break self-development into small enough chunks that you can actually find time to do it. I use this book with many of my coaching clients.
Now, Discover Your Strengths
This book is a sequel to the excellent First, Break All the Rules. It delves much more deeply into the principle that youll build much more solid organizations by developing strengths rather than concentrating on shoring up weaknesses.
Buckingham and Clifton used Gallups research of over a million people to identify 34 core strengths that you might have. Strengths arent skills. Strengths are rooted in talents developed early in life. Talents are behaviors so innate that they come effortlessly and enjoyably. You can ultimately go much farther with your natural talents than with skills you learn. The neat thing about talents is that theyre automatic and they feel good to use. So designing a life based on maximizing your talents is likely to be a lot more fun than trying to learn skills that dont grab your interest.
The book really doesnt stand on its own. You must take the web-based StrengthsFinder assessment to identify your strengths, and then read the latter part of the book with your strengths in mind. But be warned: you can take the assessment just once for each copy of the book you buy, and you cant buy additional licenses without buying the book. (Perhaps the best way to think of this is as a one-time $22 skills assessment with a free book thrown in.)
The assessment was useful to me. Everything it told me, I already knew. In fact, it pointed out characteristics so pervasive in my life that everyone around me will be equally unsurprised. And therein lies the power: it gave me names for strengths that I take so much for granted that I would never have identified them as strengths. And furthermore, it let me know that those are strengths that others may not share. Not until reading this book did I consider that my ability to focus and my achievement-based motivation might be talents others may not share.
Now as for using than information… the book was weak. Very weak. Each skill gets one page of description, and one page of how to manage someone with this skill. Theres little to help you appreciate the richness of the model or apply the knowledge in any deep way.
That said, however, find yourself a friend strong in ideation to brainstorm uses for the material, an activator to put the ideas into motion, and a good focus person to carry the ideas out.
In short, the assessment gets five stars and the book gets two stars. The self-knowledge was useful, as was the overarching concept, Youll go farthest by building your strengths rather than shoring up weaknesses. Otherwise, the assessment gave me good information that its now up to me to use.
This book is required reading at several top business schools, and for good reason. Goldratt lays out an approach for thinking about your businesss operations in terms of operational constraints and measures. He shows why traditional cost accounting skews your ability to manage well, and how many organizational problems come from a misunderstanding of how a well-balanced system operates. If youre an operational manager, read this! If youre not an operational manager, please, please, please read this!
In Bottom-Up Marketing, Reis and Trout address the need for marketing to be driven as much by tactics as by strategy. They make the case that marketing strategy is intrinsically linked to an understanding of how tactics drive behavior.
Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers
What a great book. Moore asks why so many companies suddenly stall just when they seem to be taking off. He lays out stages of adoption for high tech products, and notes that as a product makes its way into the mass market, the markets buying behavior radically shifts. Companies who fail to make the shift as well… will fail.
Moores experience is in high tech marketing, but I suspect his concepts apply across the board.
Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It
This isnt as good as the other Ries and Trout books. Focus is too wordy (not focused enough?), and relies a bit more on simply telling stories. The logic is a bit harder to verify. That said, the basic point of the book is that Focus is good in many areas of running a business.
It took me a year of struggling against my deep desire to preserve all options and keep myself as broad as possible, but I adopted a focus attitude towards my own business. Within three months, the business was doing better than Id ever dreamt. Many of the results were directly traceable to the newfound focus in the business. Now, Ive found that the more I focus, the more, bigger opportunities arise. Yes, I have to say No to some things, but at the end of the day, the focus strategy has created bigger and better opportunities, faster, than anything Ive done before.
This companion to Positioning presents how a marketer can think about competition. Once again, Ries and Trout manage to present sophisticated concepts clearly and simply. For example, the book opens with a concise discussin of The Law of Force. They show that superior numbers will win on a battlefield, even in the face of higher hit rates by the smaller force. A simple concept, yet often overlooked.
Youll probably hear people say that Marketing Warfare is outdated, and the New Economy changes all that, yada, yada, yada. Ignore those people. While specific prescriptions may be outdated, the underlying approach to thinking about the nature of competition is right-on.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk
Al Ries and Jack Trout, marketing strategy consultants, lay out some of the principles of marketingincluding the Law of the Mind and the Law of Hypewith many, many examples of what has and hasnt worked in the international marketplace.
How to Become a Rainmaker
A very easy-to-read book giving lots of guidelinens for becoming a high-performing salesperson. This wont be the only book on sales youll ever need, but its short chapters make it good reading when you have a few minutes here and there. I picked up a few good ideas and mindset shifts that could be immediately applied to sales efforts.
Brandenburger and Nalebuffs book does a marvelous job making a new brand of corporate strategy accessible: strategy based on game theory. They examine various tactics used in business, such as the well match lowest price strategies, and reveal how those strategies can change the industry structure in such a way as to result in the unexpected effect of higher prices. The authors also give rigorous definitions of competitors and complementors, which broadened my thinking about competition and cooperation considerably.[This is my all-time favorite book on strategy.]