We’ve Changed The Books We’re Reading

The books we read for business are not really about business anymore.

Consider these titles:

  • The One Minute Manager
  • In Search of Excellence
  • MegaTrends
  • Positioning
  • Guerilla Marketing
  • Influence
  • The Goal
  • Competitive Advantage
  • The E-Myth
  • Out of the Crisis
  • Leading Change

All these books represent the class of business books that were published in the 1980’s. The first three titles on the list were all published in 1982 and kicked off a new trend of accessible mainstream business books. Forty years later, we are still impacted by their insights into small business, marketing, strategy, operations and change management. The mental models these books created exist now in job titles, commonly used vocabulary and a host of other thoughts about how we think the business world works.

Now consider this list:

  • StrengthsFinders 2.0
  • Stumbling on Happiness
  • Made To Stick
  • Four Hour Work Week
  • Start With Why
  • Gifts of Imperfection
  • Lean Startup
  • Quiet
  • Lean In
  • The One Thing
  • The Power of Habit
  • Extreme Ownership
  • Grit

These are the high impact books of the last ten years. These books represent a pool of advice wholly different from their late 20th century predecessors. They center around the individual with emphasis on meaning, power, motivation, and self-awareness.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson might be the prototypical book for this shifted emphasis. The book was published in 2010 and it advocated for a new set of work practices. The book questioned everything the 20th century organizational business book extolled.  The value of growth, planning, work ethic, and meetings are all reframed. Good is the enemy of great says Jim Collins; good is good enough says these authors. “Hire managers of one,” they say.

For me, the popularity of these books is based in work, in the general sense of the word—”an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.” We have more responsibility than ever for our own output and our own success. Our slash careers having us freelancing, moonlighting, organizing, or leading in formal and informal settings.

For the last several years, readers have told me they choose books that can have an impact across multiple aspects of their lives. They are trying to be more efficient with that time. The advice of productivity experts supports a spiritual practice. Deep research from social work informs their creativity and parenting. Entrepreneurship impacts corporate R&D and community crowdfunding. These books give us an opportunity to be more effective in areas of our life inside and outside of the office.

There will always be books about business, but observing this shift in the books we read tells us how work has changed and the growing desire we all have to improve the work we do.

One thought on “We’ve Changed The Books We’re Reading

  1. Love your insight here – that shift from enterprise-level leadership to personal impact and meaning really is noticeable. But only once you notice it. I guess this has implications for executives and entrepreneurs who might want to write their own book. Are you seeing that with your clients?

    I’d be interested to know where you think the next 10-20 years of business books will take us? And how do we as business authors help people get ready for that future?

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