I try to read at least 2-3 new books per month and recommend this to any entrepreneur or executive as one of the best ways to continually improve and learn from others. It is getting harder to find new ideas, as most books are old ideas repackaged under another name but that is because I have 35 years doing this now. Many people stop learning after leaving school, or after the first few years of working. Exceptional people constantly learn their entire lives, and constantly improve their own value. I always say if you are not on a learning curve get a new job! Everything else will come if you constantly work to increase your personal value. 

I estimate that I have read over 1,000 books of nonfiction, mostly on business and related topics, and can recommend this small subset wholeheartedly as some of the best business books available. Not that I will agree with everything in them, but that I think the author has real experience and is right on the money with most theories and recommendations. IMHO there are far too many books written by people who have not literally “Been there. Done that.”, but just studied this area. Making that jump is difficult. Would you go into a sword fight after reading a book on it? Would you read a book written by someone who read lots of other books? So you need to be careful to fill you mind with practical, proven experience, not the theories of acedemics or others who have not accomplished what you want to do. Writing a book positions someone as an authority, but it does not necessarily make them an expert. And they could, for instance, be an expert in startups and giving advice in that context that could be deadly for someone in a larger company.

Just be careful to understand the author’s background and how it might bias them towards either the small or large company sides of the business world. Few Authors have experience in all stages of company development, and these are usually the best.  Few books will either apply to both startup and larger companies well, or even specify, so you must always be thinking about the context they are speaking from in terms of the stages of companies the author has worked with.  If this is coming from academic study, real-world experience or consulting (on the outside looking in) this also matters enormously.  Remember a great piece of advice for a large company can be poisonous for a smaller company.

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Great books on starting companies are few and far between. These are some the best I have found and the information in them is generally timeless:

  1. Entrepreneur America – Rob Ryan – EXCELLENT! A MUST READ!
  2. Innovation and Entrepreneurship – By Peter Drucker – A Classic
  3. High Tech Start Up – By John L. Nesheim
  4. High Stakes, No Prisoners – By Charles Ferguson – Although a bit of sour grapes, from a first time entrepreneur who was inexperienced and naive when he started.  This book shows the worst case scenario for a founder when dealing with venture capitalists and CEOs who can be less than forthright, and focused purely on their own personal gain, as opposed to working in the best interests of the company and its team.

  5. A necessary, and now classic, read if you are in the technology market: Crossing The Chasm � Jeff Moore. A classic which originally came out about 1990.

  6. Eboys: The First Inside Account of Venture Capitalists at Work – by Randall E. Stross – Also available as an audio book at www.Audible.com
  7. Rockerfeller Habits – By Vern Harnish

Read all of the above, BEFORE starting any company, right after reading all my ebooks  :). These will save you years of aggravation and learning curve.

Here Are Many Other Good Books on Business, Management and Market Positioning:

  1. Competitive Advantage – Michael Porter – One of the best books on understanding competitive positioning – A Must read!
  2. From Good To Great – Jim Collins and team – An academic study of companies that became great and how what they have in common. Excellent book on defining your business.
  3. Balanced Scorecard – Robert S. Kaplan, David P. Norton – A system for evaluating medium to larger companies and balancing resources and priorities.
  4. Value Leadership – Peter Cohan. Good concepts and structure for thinking about your company.
  5. Principal Centered Leadership – Steven R. Covey
  6. Discipline of Market Leaders – Michael Treachy & Fred Wiersema
  7. No Excuses Management – T.J. Rodgers – Most useful in a “rising tide” situation.
  8. Sam Walton – The Inside Story of America’s Richest Man – Vance H. Trimble
  9. The Art of War – Sun-Tzu – All about intelligence, competitive intelligence, misinformation and stealth. Critical stuff for all companies, but especially early-stage companies that are fragile and susceptible to competitive response from larger established companies. (Download a free copy by clicking here)
  10. Customers.com – Patricia Seybold
  11. The Popcorn Report – Faith Popcorn
  12. Value Migration – Adrian J. Slywotzky
  13. Jack Welch and Leadership – Jack Welch – Virtually all of this is large company stuff, but Jack’s philosophies of managing people, setting up the right motivation systems and focusing on results and market share are timeless and generic across all company types. Jack has many good books, but lots of redundancy across them. Pick a couple and you will have picked his brain.

  14. Differentiate Or Die – Jack Trout – Jack has several good books. I just heard the executive summary of his latest on strategy which is a great “back to basics” treatment of strategy from an expert on marketing.
  15. United We Brand – Great for figuring out you brand. And yes you need one, brands are not just for the big guys any more.
  16. Purple Cow – Excellent book on trends that are changing the way businesses are built, moving from mass marketing to niche marketing and differentiation.

For many, many years I also have gotten executive summaries of books on tape which can be listened to in the car, exercising or whatever.  This can add another two to four books per month very easily during your commute, or 24 to 48 books per year, to your knowledge and idea base. It seems to me that typically these summaries contain 90% of the valuable ideas and points of any book anyway, as most books are very redundant, saying some things two, three and even, frustratingly, four different ways. If a book is particularly complex or relevant to you then you can read the entire book, but getting most of the value in a 45 minute audio summary is a fantastic way to constantly learn and a terrific value in money and time!

Other Books on Specific Disciplines and Topics I Really Like:

  1. Visionary Selling – A classic.
  2. Strategic Selling – Miller-Heiman – These folks have a great selling course which I highly recommend for sales professionals and all managers too. It puts great structure and thought around the sales process and can be customized to specific situations easily and get management and sales on the same page in terms of measuring results, discussing a pipeline.
  3. Selling The Invisible – Excellent and required reading about the psychology of pricing, sales and image. I saw Harry Beckwith speak at the national speakers association and he is a master of product and service presentation to protect margins.
  4. Selling to VITO – Very Important Top Officer
  5. Brian Tracy has lots of good audio tapes on many topics like selling that are a good investment too. These include Million Dollar Habits and The Psychology of Achievement.
  6. Getting Things Done – David Allen
  7. The Art of The Deal – Donald Trump
  8. On investing and building wealth I really like Robert Kayosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad series. Both a book and tape set on the mindset and thinking necessary to accumulate real wealth and have money work for you, instead of you working for money.
  9. On personal philosophy “The Power of Now” is a tremendous book that help you focus on what you can change and make happen and be more effective by controlling fears that hold you back from your full potential.

  10. STARTUP.COM -The Video – A great “case study” movie about the startup process and what NOT to do that shows many of the reasons companies fail and the results of a deteriorating environment or situation. Though it is lacking much data and has no “post mortem” it is a very useful case study to review with your business/executive coach or mentor. If someone can provide experienced commentary on what is going on, and their many mistakes as the movie develops this can be an invaluable case study. Someday I would like to hold a seminar an play this stopping after each scene to list all the mistakes they made. This would be highly educational for new entrepreneurs.

Bob Norton has been a CEO since 1989, grown two startups to over $100 million and trained and/or coached over 1,000 CEOs in 35 countries. He is also the creator of AirTight Management, The CEO Boot Camp and a thought leader in entrepreneurship and scaling expert. See http://www.AirTightGrowth.com