The folks at Medium asked me to write a longer piece on the three best business books of 2019. If you missed it, you can read it here.
What’s interesting is that I did a Google search on “business books 2019” and found this:
I agree, Google 🙂
If you’ve been trying to excel at something and have been burning the midnight oil to hit the 10,000-hour mark, Range might make you reconsider your approach. In domains where patterns repeat and feedback is both rapid and accurate, what author David Epstein calls “kind” learning environments, you can develop useful intuition through deep and narrow practice to solve problems that have clear boundaries and stated goals, much like Tiger Woods does in golf or Garry Kasparov did in chess. Specialists rein in the worlds of medicine and sports.
The trouble is that many of the areas where we work and encounter challenges don’t look like a game of golf or chess. Patterns vary. Feedback is delayed. Successful outcomes can be hard to detect. In these more uncertain, unfamiliar scenarios, what Epstein calls “wicked” learning environments, a deep and narrow approach does not get us the best results.
There are implications for how we teach, how we approach our careers, and who we hire to staff our teams. Just consider this: Nobel laureates are 22 times(!) as likely than their non-Nobel-winning peers to participate in the arts as an amateur actor, dancer, magician, or other type of performer.
As Epstein says, “Facing kind problems, narrow specialization can be remarkably efficient. The problem is that we often expect the hyperspecialist, because of their expertise in a narrow area, to magically be able to extend their skills to wicked problems. The results can be disastrous.”
I know I am making a big promise in the headline, but stay with me on this one. There are several reasons these three books can help narrow down your “I’m behind on my 2019 reading” list.
In this post, I’ll share some good sources I use every year to help with choose what I read, tell you why these books are good selections and give you a few reasons to pick up each one.
I mentioned in a post earlier this week that we are in the heart of the “Best of” Season. Everyone is posting their favorite things of the year. I love it. You get to see what is important to people. With these curated lists, you can see if there are themes that arose out of the past year.
In the world of business books, there are a handful of outlets that I watch each year to see what they are recommending when the year closes. Let me share each of them and tell you why you should pay attention.
First, Porchlight Books (the fine folks formerly known as 800-CEO-READ) are in the 13th year of the Business Book Awards. Some of you know that I spent several years working there and starting the Awards program is one of the things I am most proud of. Last week, they announced their longlist with forty books across eight categories. In December, they’ll announce their category winners and at their New York City gala in January, they’ll crown their Business Book of the Year.
Going on even longer has been the Strategy + Business Best Business Books feature, now in its nineteenth year. The publication from PwC and its partners keeps seven categories, selecting three books for each category and choosing one title in each as their TopShelf pick. The category winners are generally curated by industry experts, as seen in their choices of Bethany McLean, James Surowiecki, and Sally Hegesen to serve this year.
Given the headliners, many consider The Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award to be the most prestigious. The judging has a nice Trans-Atlantic feel with the awards ceremony alternating locations between New York City and London. The visibility also comes from the £30,000 in prize money given to the winner. Their format is to start with a 16 title longlist announced in August, the six title shortlist shared in September, and the winner celebrated in December.
Amazon has a comprehensive set of year-end selections. These are picked by a set of editors at the company. They choose 20 books across a range of what they call “business and leadership books”. Their list is always good balancing bestsellers and practical problem solving. Already this year, they named Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac as their business and leadership book of the year.
In the world of small business, I want to mention the list that comes from Leigh Buchanan at Inc. Magazine. She covers business books for the magazine and she often write articles that look ahead to upcoming book seasons, or as she did earlier this month, she wrote an eleven title Must-Read list for entrepreneurs in 2019.
The final list is from Bookpal, a West Coast best book retailer. They have the newest awards program, The Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Awards, which they started in 2017. There are five categories from their OWL awards that fit into the world of business books and on their longlist, they nominate five books for each category.
Each of the lists above have different flavors. FT McKinsey is global and conglomerate. Strategy + Business is corporate and smart. Amazon plays it straight to the core of the business book category. Inc. Magazine leans toward small business. And Porchlight digs deep into their indie bookstore roots. Bookpal highlights books across the breadth of categories they sell.
The lists also have things in common. They are created by people who care about the business book category. They are journalists, booksellers, academics and business leaders who all believe they have a stake in helping readers find the best titles.
Personally, I always find myself drawn to the spaces between. With the common interests and divergent preferences, I always want to know where the business book lists intersect. A good book is a good book. And if multiple groups see that, there is something worth paying attention to. Looking at the intersections between those lists was particularly interesting this year.
Using the longlist from each group, the six groups recommend a total of 102 books. The majority of those books, 80 titles or 78% of titles, only appear once across the five lists. That represents the wonderful variety in both what these entities believe is a book that will appeal to a business audience and what represented a good book among what was published in 2019.
There were 19 books that appeared twice on those five lists. I am not sure I have pattern or conclusion I can draw from those. Porchlight nominated twice as many (or more) books and they are the common partner in 13 of the 19 titles that were selected twice. When you look at the other half of those pairs, they are evenly spread among the other five lists. The categories of those 13 books are also spread across general business, economics, current events and narratives. I believe this set of books shares the same effect of judges’ preference, as can be seen in the single titles.
This is where it gets interesting.
There were no books that were appeared on three of the lists.
There were no books that were picked by four lists.
And there were no books that were chosen by all six lists.
That leaves us with only three titles that were chosen by five lists. That’s where I want to focus the rest of the attention.
[If you’d like to see all the titles and some of the analysis, I have put all the data in a Google Sheet that you can find by clicking on this link.]
Let’s start with the books:
As I said, these were chosen by four different arbiters of business books. The last bit of analysis that I’ll share is that each book was chosen by a different combination of those five players. So, there was no voting block of perspective that led to these three titles.
I’ll admit there is randomness and probably pattern bias in trying to focus on these three titles. I am not going to try to justify these picks with any statistics or additional analysis. Let’s just say that the bubbling up of these three books is convenient.
It’s handy that there are only three books with such overwhelming support. Anyone can get these three titles and be through them between now and the end of the year. If that sounds hard, go read my essay on How To Read A [Business] Book.
Another convenience is this small group of books touches on the three things we should always be working to improve. First, we always need to put some focus on ourselves and Range provides an interesting thesis for how we should position ourselves in today’s world. Next, we always need to be working on how we work with others. Nine Lies pushes hard on some commonly held wisdom and turns it on its head. Finally, I don’t know anyone who isn’t touched by change and doesn’t need a way to bring new ideas and approaches into the world. Loonshots addresses that.
After I saw the broad agreement on these three titles, I decided to dig into each of them again. I’ll be posting reviews on each one of them between now and the end of the year. I hope maybe you’ll read along. When I share more about these books, I’d love to hear what you thought of them and how they helped you.
Update (11/26/19): I added the longlist selections from Bookpal’s OWL awards to the year-end lists for this article. They also chose the three common titles are well.
Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
By Derek Thompson
Penguin Press, 2017
A staff writer for The Atlantic, Thompson pulls together a slew of fascinating stories and anecdotes to try and explain what makes things popular. The trick with a book like this is there is no singular way that phenomenon reaches critical mass. So, in that way, the overview approach to the material works well, as it does in magazine articles. The downside is that the variety dilutes the utility of a strong throughline or highly actionable advice. If you read it like you are going to move through lots of material and that will find nuggets to inform your worldview, you’ll be satisfied when you’re done.
Today marks my first day at an old job.
After five years away, I am returning full-time to Astronaut Projects, my publishing studio based in Portland, Oregon.
IT Revolution has been a great home. I have so much gratitude for Gene, Margueritte, and the whole team for my time at ITRev.
The Phoenix Project started as a novel for technology leaders that we launched as a self-published book on Amazon in 2013. With each indicator of success, we iterated. We first released the title as a hardcover and an ebook, followed that with a paperback edition and then an audiobook. We followed that with The DevOps Handbook and titles by other authors in the technology community. In my time there, we sold over 500,000 copies of our books.
Many things, big and small, kept pointing me to focus back on my own business.
So, here I am, on my first day back as excited as ever. With new beginnings, you never know where they will lead, but I do know my future is with authors, books and readers.
If you are thinking about publishing a book, I can probably help. Let’s talk.
I am excited to announce that a new updated edition of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time is available for the new year.
Jack and I lengthened several reviews. There are new sidebars about decision-making, visual thinking and the year that changed business book. Most importantly, The 100 Best is cost less than ever to purchase. The new paperback edition is $16 (or less on Amazon). The fully updated ebook edition is $9.99 and available for the Kindle, Nook, iBook, and Kobo.
The biggest question you probably have is if we have changed any of our selections and the answer is no. We still stand by the original 100 books we chose, but it has been five years since we made those selections. Thousands of business books have been published in that time and many are good titles that are worthy of your attention.
To fill the gap since our initial selection, we have a created a new ebook called 5-4-3.
We looked at the last five years, picked four books from each year, and choose three things to tell you about each book. Each book has a short description for those who haven’t bought the book, a suggested starting point if you own the book, and a highlight outside the book for those who are already fans.
5-4-3 is free and available at Scribd.com. We hope you’ll leave a comment there and share the ebook with others who might enjoy it.
P.S. I am also in Day Three of posting The 100 Best in 100 characters on Twitter. Check out my Twitter feed to follow along.
Since its inception in 2005, the books chosen for the Financial Times Goldman Sachs Business Book of Year award have largely reflected the perspectives of the sponsoring organizations. The selections of The World Is Flat and China Shakes the World in 2005 and 2006 respectively nodded to the continuing effects of globalization and the need for greater understanding. The winners of the last four years show multiple perspectives on the economic collapse and the continuing effects in the books The Last Tycoons, When Markets Collide, Lords of Finance, and Fault Lines.
2011 marks an unexpected change for the competition. The judging panel this year chose Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of The Way To Fight Global Poverty by MIT professors Abhijit Banerjee and Ester Duflo. The book, published by PublicAffairs, looks at the ever present tension around the methods that should be used to provide food, healthcare, and education for the more than 1 billion people around the world who live on less than one dollar day. On one side, aid organizations and governmental bodies most often advocate giving aid to help elevate these pressing problems. On the other side, a growing number of groups have pushed for market based solutions.
Banerjee and Duflo walk a wonderful middle line that dispenses with rhetoric and instead collects data directly from the people affected. Through randomized control trials, experiments are conducted to test the real impact actions have on the choices of individuals and families in these regions. Over and over, the conclusions show balanced approach of both aid and commerce work best.
Poor Economics is a great read for anyone who continues to be fascinated by the research being done into decision-making. The book illuminates how difficult it is to predict customer behavior in any market. In Kenya, the purchase of malaria nets are highly dependent on price, free being the most successful price point. Families offered a second opportunity to buy a net are more likely to buy one if they received the first one at a low price. Friends and neighbors also will buy nets after seeing their friends using a free one. The trouble is that providing malaria nets at very low prices only increases slightly the chance that the next generation will adopt them.
For those who question whether Poor Economics is a business book, they merely need to look at the price elasticity of malaria nets, the power of sampling, and the ever difficult challenge of demonstrating value to customers, even when it is a matter of life and death.
In this interview, I talk with Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method and the co-author of The Method Method: 7 Obessesions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-up Turn An Industry Upside Down.
Method has done what few companies are able to do–establish a premium brand at the top of a well-established consumer products category. In their case, it was soap. Eric says method was established in the wake of two major trends: lifestyle in the home and sustainability and they merely looked for the right opportunity to take advantage of those trends.
The book is a corporate memoir, a celebration of the company’s first ten years. We don’t often get this view into a company or worse, the telling of the story is delayed so long that the anecdotes have atrophied with age and lost their meaning.
The interview lasts 21 minutes.
My two sons have been asking me all summer how they might earn some money. I didn’t have any really good ideas from them (they are 8 and 5) until my wife decide to move into her office into mine.
We suddenly needed more floorspace; floorspace covered in piles of books. A quick trip to IKEA for two bookcases got us part of the way there, but there was still too many books to move in her desk.
So, I got serious about what books I needed to hang to and the rest were transported to the garage by my young helpers.
With over 250 books now available, my sons are holding a Summer Business Booke Sale.
For $12, you will get the following:
This is a great deal. For the cost of a discounted paperback, my young entrepreneurs will pack and ship three great business books to your doorstep.
You can do the math and figure out that the two boys are not going to get rich from this scheme. I hope you’ll think of the business booke sale as an their online summer lemonade stand.
If you would like to get your own Summer Business Booke Box, you click on the PayPal link below:
Thanks for your consideration!
Zach, Ethan, (and Alexa)
James cites is criteria for inclusion as:
You see them on corporate shelves everywhere and they’re cited at meetings, conferences and seminars, but when you dig a little deeper, and think about their contents, you’re forced to wonder WTF the fuss is all about.
His list is made up of:
I know this is another run at creating link bait and I still can’t let it go. His choices and his reasoning are just weak.
First, he goes after the two biggest of business fables of all time. Both are simple tales designed to deliver a simple message. I used to berate these books and now appreciate them in the spectrum of what is published. THEY HELP PEOPLE. Accept them for what they are and just moved on.
Atlas Shrugged is a binary book. Either you like it or you don’t, but everyone should read it. Including it on a list like this does a disservice to the book and pushes people away from it.
The three books make appearances in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time with 7 Habits making the list of 100. You read The Art of War to understand strategy in a big way. The Wealth of Nations is too long for most to be able to spend time with it, but what we should remember is that it was originally published in 1776 and contrary to what James says, it still serves as a foundational book in the study of economics.
Winning is the only one I get close to agreeing with James on. This book was infinitely better than Straight From the Gut, but as a GE alum, Welch’s rewriting of history around his views of work life balance at the conglomerate didn’t sit well with me.
Let me offer a solution to such ill-conceived list making.
I just opened up the What to Read section of my website. There are two sections. The first is a Best of The Year section. The second section is 25 Great Business Books. The Best of List will update occasionally and the Top 25 list will get updated every two weeks or so with a book that is worth your time. There are RSS feeds for both sections so you can get the updates as they happen. You can also leave your comments on the book as they are posted.
This is my small part in trying to improve the conversation around business books.
I know I am suppose to write this post before the year end, but with travel and children I ran out of time.
So, in no particular order here is what has happened and what rises above the rest when I think of 2008:
I had all sorts of trouble getting into Austin on Friday, so the only thing I could do was make the Blogher meetup.
Last night, I hung out with John Moore of Brand Autopsy. We talking blogging and business books. You might have seen allusions to his upcoming book Tribal Knowledge and I am sure see his many reviews.
After dinner, he took me to some great spots. Whichwich is a really interesting sandwich place. John wanted to make sure I saw this place. You can read his post on why he thinks they are so cool. I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusions. My only addition would be that this is designed to scale.
Our next stop was BookPeople. It is an outstanding independent bookstore here in Austin. I really enjoyed the experience. The story of store owner Steve Bercu and his campaign to Keep Austin Weird is a great story. It has been told a number of places, most recently in Starting From Scratch. Bercu managed to expose and rally the community here against a $2 million economic package that was being given to a developer. The development included a Borders bookstore. You can read Bercu’s letter to the editor at Publisher’s Weekly. It might scare you to know that we stood in the business book section for about an hour talking about titles.
We then walked over to Amy’s Ice Cream. This is another Austin original. Each store has it’s own culture and the employees are themselves. Each person behind the counter was wearing a different hat and all of them were spending time with customers. There was a line out the down and employees didn’t start hurrying people through. Notice that the last thing I am telling you about is the product—the ice cream was good. Again, I will give you another book reference if you are interested in finding out more. You can check out Donna Fenn’s Alpha Dogs.
The last stop was Gingerman. It has a great atmosphere and an amazing selection of beers.
Thanks John for hosting!
I remember hearing about Rollyo when it first launched and I couldn’t think of a way it could be useful. Walt Mossenberg reviewed it this week in WSJ and it got me thinking again.
At 800ceoread, we are always looking for good material on business books. If you do a general search, you get a couple of good hits, but I know we are missing alot of good things. So, I decided to create a Rollyo search to see if I could do better.
In my searchroll, I have all the major business publications, some good business blogs and the 800ceoread family of sites.
The short answer is that I think there is something to limiting the number of sites that are searched. I looked up “alpha dogs”, a new book from Donna Fenn. Check out the google results and the rollyo results. The Rollyo results are so much more relevant, such as finding the Inc. video interview with Fenn.
Others of you out there might similar needs, so I thought I would point you to this cool tool.