10 Best Books For Back To School Business Reading

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It’s back-to-school week… what are you planning on learning this year?

The other morning, I watched the pitter-patter of feet drag their way back to school. The brand-new schoolbags scratched by the pavement, the half-tied shoelaces, and the general sluggish malaise can be best summed up in three words every child despises: "Back to school." Many professionals give off that same sluggish malaise every Monday morning as they wrestle their way through rush-hour traffic to make it to the office while daydreaming about the chance to go back in time and spend the day at school, learning, kicking the empty drinking boxes around the schoolyard – and, lest we forget, the two-month summer break.

Most people leave university with a degree and do not look back.

Some pick up a non-fiction business book here and there, but most would rather spend their free time away from the office in front of the television watching 30 Rock or surfing the Web for LOLcats. Beyond heading down to your favorite bookstore, it has never been easier to read and learn from some of the great business books out there. Amazon just released its latest version of the Kindle, the iPad is amazing for books, but (as I am learning) nothing beats having multiple iPhone apps that allow you to download and read books on both the iPhone and the iPad (I’m currently running the Kindle, iBooks and Kobo apps.)

In the spirit of everybody heading back to school this week (and, yes, we’re talking about you, too!), here are 10 recently released business books to get you back in learning mode (in alphabetical order):

  1. Brains on Fire – Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movements by Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church and Spike Jones (Wiley). If you don’t follow Spike Jones on Twitter (@spikejones), you should. Brains on Fire looks at word-of-mouth marketing in the social media generation. This clearly written (and fun) book breaks through the clutter of mass media and helps businesses understand the value of one consumer and how he or she can tell your story for you.
  2. Business Model Generation – A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur and more (Wiley). This features perhaps one of the most beautiful layouts for a business book. With more than 35 contributors, this is more of a roadmap than a textbook that looks at how business models are created, and how to free your organization from linear and traditional thinking.
  3. Extra Lives – Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell (Pantheon). You’re going to think very differently of your kids if all they do all day long is play xBox. After reading this book, you may wind up joining them. It turns out some our greatest leaders in the future may well be the hardcore gamers of today.
  4. The Future Arrived Yesterday – The Rise of the Protean Corporation and What it Means for You by Michael Malone (Crown Business). The virtualization of the corporation is a reality. In other words, you may not be working from a cubicle for much longer, as wireless technology and more portable computing devices flood the marketplace. What does this mean for business? Read this book and find out, because, trust me, you don’t want to be the last person standing without a chair in this very real game of musical chairs.
  5. Macrowikinomics – Rebooting Business and the World by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Portfolio). Even though this book is slated to come out only next month, the buzz is high for the follow-up to the best-selling Wikinomics. In Macrowikinomics, Tapscott and Williams look at the new business models and social innovations from companies that are leveraging our new digital tools, channels and platforms to make the world a more prosperous and sustainable place.
  6. Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead – What Every Business Can Learn From the Most Iconic Band in History by David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan (Wiley). While it may not be a great idea to drink the green Kool-Aid at the corporate picnic, it turns out there are many lessons businesses can learn from how the legendary rock band built its audience, changed its business model and turned people from reasonable human beings into diehard Deadheads.
  7. MicroMarketing – Get Big Results by Thinking and Acting Small by Greg Verdino (McGraw-Hill). Marketing seems to be about "the big idea" (just watch an episode of Mad Men), but maybe the real winners are the companies who think small. Verdino is on to something with his first book, which looks at the many little things that take a great brand from here to there.
  8. Open Leadership – How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li (Jossey-Bass). Li’s first book, Groundswell, put hard data against the power of online social networks and social media. In her second book, she looks at what it takes for a corporation to maintain control of the brand (both internally and externally) by leveraging social technologies to open up and transform the organization from within.
  9. The Referral Engine – Teaching Your Business to Market Itself by John Jantsch (Portfolio). Jantsch is the champion of small businesses. His first book (named after his successful blog and podcast, Duct Tape Marketing) helped companies enjoy a champagne marketing experience on a beer budget. In his latest, he helps us understand that importance of referrals and word of mouth as the primary business driver before mass media advertising and PR.
  10. The Upside of Irrationality – The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely (HarperCollins). If you ever wondered why large bonuses make CEOs less productive or why revenge is so important to us as human beings, then Ariely’s second foray into behavioral economics is the perfect fare. The author of Predictably Irrational is back with another thought-provoking book that includes humor and insights that will make you the highlight of the next networking event you attend.

Don’t forget what Mark Twain said: "I’ve never let my schooling interfere with my education."

Which recently released books are on your back-to-school reading list? Please share with the rest of the class…

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:


  1. Hey Mitch, I’m in the middle of reading (listening to, actually) your book, Six Pixels of Separation. My next book is one you recommend in SPoS, The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. I checked though, and it doesn’t appear to be available as an audiobook in Canada. I might have to buy an old-fashioned paper copy. Ugh.

  2. Loved Seth Godin’s Linchpin. Currently reading Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Plan to read next Chic & Dan Heath’s Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. So many good reads out there, hard to narrow down and prioritize.

  3. Many thanks for reading (err… listening to my book), Jason. I was just informed that the paperback version of Six Pixels of Separation will be coming out in North America on October 12th – very exciting.
    If you like The World Is Flat, you should also check out Jeff Rubin’s Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller.

  4. I have an audio conversation with John Jantsch about his new book, The Referral Engine. The Podcast will be out in the coming weeks as a Six Pixels of Separation Podcast. Stay tuned for that one πŸ™‚

  5. Great list Mitch! Thanks. I already have Dan Ariely’s Upside of Irrationality on my bookshelf.
    I may be a little behind on my reading but the next two are Daniel Pink’s Drive and Gary Vaynerchuck’s Crush It!

  6. Who is Gary Vaynerchuk? I never heard of him…. just kidding πŸ˜‰ Crush it!
    I have read both books and you will not be disappointed. I’m a huge fan of Dan Pink as well (and he was even kind enough to write a blurb for the Six Pixels of Separation book – for which I am eternally grateful).

  7. Hi Mitch – last year for me it was Six Pixels of Separation.
    This year a great new book is “The Shallows – What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”, by Nicholas Carr.
    Great historical review of intellectual technologies, from the alphabet to the Internet. He follows with an examination of how each innovation has changed the way society and individual people think.
    With Interruption Technologies and brain study in the news this year, Carr’s book is exceedingly relevant.

  8. Honestly Mitch? I just got your book in the mail yesterday…can’t put it down! Love your top ten and will be picking up most of them!

  9. Thanks for sharing your list – both 6 Pixels and Crush it! are my start-up guides this year for my business.
    As a self confessed read-aholic (4-6 books a week /biz books mainly), this week I’m reading your excellent recommendation (I’m sure it was you!) Trust Agents (Brogan/Smith) so don’t forget that one & The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs (Gallo) – would not have bought based on the cover but its the best read on presentations since PresentationZen and Slidology (completely different focus/approach) all brilliant…can’t wait for Duartes new one by the way, any day now too.
    A couple to add from this years pile of books as I look around my office: SonicBoom – Globalisation at Mach Speed (Easterbrook), Responsible Organisation How the Next Generation of Businesses will Win (Hollender), How Pleasure Works – The New Science of Why We Like What We Like (Bloom), Start-Up Nation – Innovation Lessons from Isreal (Senor & singer) … Fascinate is also great Triggers for Persuasion & Captivation (Hogshead)…and looking forward to your recommendation Macrowikinomics…so glad I read your blog to notice that’s on its way. OK one more – Upstarts – all about capitalising on gen Y (Fenn).
    I’m sure these have passed across your desk or the odd one made it to your reading list already!

  10. It looks like you read almost as much as I do πŸ™‚
    Many thanks for the kind words about Six Pixels of Separation. I really appreciate it.
    You have a killer reading list, so enjoy… a lot of those authors I consider friends and so, you’re amongst great company.

  11. Hi Mitch,
    Thanks for the great list. I’m still catching up on all the other books that you recommend along the way. My stack is starting to look pretty daunting. GEEZ! πŸ˜‰
    Apologies in advance for recommending a ‘back-to-school’ book with so many dangling prepositions and other stylistic quirks that would make an English teacher’s hair stand on end. l Just finished Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Fascinating and easy read. Hsieh recounts the extraordinary story of Zappos and espouses his belief that focusing on company culture should be the #1 priority for businesses and that the they should apply research from the science of happiness to running their business. Some real paradigm shifters here.
    I know I’m late to the party but I’m now reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and will move on to Drive.
    Finally, although not a business book, another book in my stack that I’m looking forward to reading is The Third Teacher – 79 Ways You Can Use Design to Transform Teaching and Learning. Its a collaborative effort from OWP/P Architects + VS Furniture + Bruce Mau Design. As you’d expect, it’s a beautifully designed book but more importantly it provide innovative, sometime obvious ideas and examples from around the world for transforming our schools and how our children learn, something I’ve become increasingly interested in since my now 6-year-old started school.

  12. i recently made a career shift and am now in mba school majoring in marketing. i love reading lists like this. i wish more professors would try out some of these readings along with some of the books recommended by the other comments. these kinds of readings are so engaging that i gladly take them on amidst the piles of case studies i have to devour each day.

  13. I actually had Delivering Happiness on this list but removed it because it was the core content of my newspaper column when it was first published. I feared the editors would remove it because of that. It is such a wonderful book. Tony and I share the same publisher and editor, so it holds an even more special place in my heart.

  14. Thanks for that list, Mitch. Since you asked, here are a few more that I constantly and wholeheartedly recommend:
    “Sway”, by the Brafman brothers, a complementary discussion and application of behavioral economics to Arielys work.
    “ZAG” by Marty Neumeier, a lesson on how to make your brand stand out and cut through all the marketing noise out there.
    “Theres a Customer Born Every Minute” by Joe Vitale. This one tears apart the marketing lessons from one if the most innovative and successful businessmen of the the last 125 years, P.T.Barnum.
    You’ve probably read these ones, too. If not, they’re all great. You should.

  15. Do you mean Zig Ziglar, Mitch?
    If so, I do find him easy to listen to, but in more of a feel good, Dr.Oz, Mister Rogers, Tony Robbins kind of way.
    Kind of like the grandpa who likes to teach you life lessons.
    As far as insights into marketing, not so much, but maybe I haven’t heard enough from him, either.

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