The Five Business Books That Shaped 2011

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Read. Read. Read.

Blog posts are great. So are Twitter, online newspapers and magazines and the occasional Podcast, but if you really want to deep-dive into a topic and spend more than a grazing moment with it, you have to read a well-written book about the topic that interests you. A few years back, I set a personal goal of reading one book per week. It hasn’t been easy, but by doing most of my reading on my iPhone loaded with both the Amazon Kindle app and iBooks, it has become much more feasible. This year, I failed miserably. As of this week, I’ve clocked in 33 books (and yes, I realize that "failing miserably" is probably a bad choice of words considering that the average person in North America reads between one and three books a year… if that). I’m also a bit of a business book geek, so in the spirit of the Holidays Season, year-end lists and "top 10 of 2011" linkbait posts, the world seems primed for…

The 5 Business Books That Shaped 2011:

  1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster – October 2011). I can’t remember the last time a biography on a business leader got this much attention. Much of the press you will read about the Steve Jobs‘ biography leans towards his personal disposition (which wasn’t the kindest). If you have yet to read this fascinating biography, my recommendation is to do it with a notebook nearby and read it from the perspective of, "what can my business learn from Steve’s way of thinking?" A lot of the words used to either describe Jobs or his direct statements are not only inspirational if you’re interested in business, but it allows you to see how one of the biggest companies in the world wasn’t looking at case studies and market research in an attempt to grow a viable business. This should put a damper on those who only push forward based on "best practices." 
  2. Poke The Box by Seth Godin (The Domino Project – March 2011). This short and easy-to-read manifesto was Godin’s first release on his own publishing imprint that he launched (and recently disbanded) along with Amazon. Godin has a way of inspiring new business thinking with real stories and books that are both fun to read and super-smart. Poke The Box doesn’t disappoint (and, at $5, you can’t go wrong). Having business ideas are great, but it’s about starting and doing stuff where the rubber meets the road. That’s what Godin wants you to do: poke, poke, poke.
  3. Great By Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen (HarperBusiness – October 2011). During the last recession, our company (Twist Image) was very lucky. We not only maintained our business that year, but we grew it by nearly fifty-percent. My business partners and I would like to think that it’s because we’re much smarter than our competitors, while some might say that we were lucky. Nearly ten years after Collins’ breakthrough book, Good To Great, he’s back with another fascinating question: "Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?" With nine years of research to back up the answer to this question, you may be surprised to find out what it takes to thrive and sustain in our current economic throes.
  4. The Lean Startup by Eric Reis (Crown Business – September 2011). Sadly most businesses start with an idea and stick with it until the bitter end. For some, the bitter end means the Fortune 500 list but for most it means either bankruptcy or some very disappointed investors. We live in a new era of entrepreneurship and business ideas can be tested and marketed for success like never before. Ries has been preaching the value of what he has called, the lean startup, and it has become all the rage this year. Much like Malcolm Gladwell‘s The Tipping Point became a saying that every business exec used in 2002, this year every person looking to start a business has been talking about it being a "lean startup" or how they’ve managed to "pivot" (another big concept in The Lean Startup). 
  5. End Malaria edited by Michael Bungay Stanier (The Domino Project – September 2011). Full disclosure, I was one of the many people who contributed to this collaborative effort. Had I known how amazing the final product was going to be, I probably would have put much more effort into my piece. Usually books that are a culmination of many authors offering a small snippet of content wind up coming out dry, disjointed and unsatisfying for the reader. I found myself constantly going back to the notes I took while reading the End Malaria book and the great contributions from people like Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Chris Brogan, Charlene Li, Jeff Jarvis, Gary Vaynerchuk, Sir Ken Robinson and more. The fact that all of the money raised went to buy malaria nets to save the lives of children in countries less fortunate than ours, made it that much more powerful.

What are you business book picks for 2011?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post called, Media Hacker. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


  1. I think The Flinch by Julien Smith is important. It’s about the kind of safety you have to be willing to abandon to be creative and entrepreneurial. (But really, does Seth need to own practically the entire list?)
    I thought that The Education of Millionaires, which is an incredibly provocative book, may predict a backlash against a few hundred year trend of college and now grad school for a class of people, many of whom can no longer afford to invest hundreds of thousands in hopes of a “job.” Hence the importance of The Lean Startup.

  2. I really enjoyed Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields. I didn’t originally read it for business pleasure but it ended up having a huge impact on my business. If you haven’t check it out, it’s a must read!

  3. Although it seems like Seth owns the list, I would argue “We are all Weird” deserves to be in the conversation as well.
    And while on the subject of Seth, change a few words in your title to “How 2011 Changed Business Books” and you could have another equally compelling article.

  4. Good exercise to go back and remember what I go through this year. Here’s my list in order (’cause that’s what I do).
    Writers Manifesto
    The Flinch
    We are all weird
    Do the work
    Practically Radical
    Thanks, primarily, to the Domino Project. I also go through a couple of older books (pre 2011) which helped shape some interesting ideas on how I work, namely; Sinek’s – Start with Why & Pink’s – A whole new mind.

  5. Mine are:
    1. Start with Why – Simon Sinek
    2. Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
    3. Brand Sense – Martin Lindstrom
    4. Made to Stick – Heath Brothers
    5. Do You Matter? – Brunner & Emery

  6. Couldn’t agree more with the list of books! I’m currently reading “Take the Lead” by Betsy Myers and I can barely put it down. I also loved Patrick Lencioni’s “Getting Naked” and “Made to Stick” by Chip & Dan Heath.

  7. “Screw Business as Usual” by Richard Branson is a beauty and presents a very strong message to business to be socially responsible. Yes, it makes many references to the good works of many of the Virgin businesses but in doing so provides constructive examples of how a business can flourish whilst doing good. Branson provides many non-Virgin examples of this as well.
    Very inspirational and should be a standard text for all first year business/entrepreneur students.

  8. I have taken SO much from ‘ Being the Boss: the 3 Imperatives for becoming a Great Leader’ … the best book on the topic that I can recall reading.

  9. I read Business Stripped Bare this year. I liked it a lot, but I got the feeling from the writing and the flow that Branson didn’t write it. It felt more like it was a transcription of interviews with him, some ghost writer telling some stories and Branson (or some of his team members) filling in the blank. Not sure whether I’m right or wrong, but it’s just a hunch I felt while reading it.

  10. I too have been “Domino Project’ed”. Here’s my list by alphabetical order by author last name:
    Poke The Box by Seth Godin
    In The Plex by Steven Levy
    Do The Work by Steven Pressfield
    Newsjacking by David Meerman Scott
    The Flinch by Julien Smith
    End Malaria (various authors, learned of it from your blog post from earlier this year and purchased it immediately — great compilation of essays)
    Interesting how 3 out of my 6 selections are Kindle Format. Hmmmm ….

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