The right books at the right time change you.
They make you think—or stop thinking and start feeling. They take you places you didn’t know were on your itinerary.
There is no over-estimating the power of a perfectly-timed read.
So here are my Top 10 all-time business-ey books—each hit me over the head at exactly the right time and my hope is they may do the same for you.
1. “The War of Art | Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield
I had to put this one at the top, even though my list isn’t in preferential order. Pressfield is simply brilliant at outing all of the ridiculous excuses that keep us from creating. He describes his own battles with his creative demons and it makes you want to be your own warrior. While I normally read everything in kindle form these days, I bought the print version and keep it nearby. Just glancing at the cover gives me courage to do what matters most.
2. “Flawless Consulting” by Peter Block
I have to say this book didn’t grab me at first. A lot of it seemed like blindingly obvious common sense if you’d been consulting even for just a few years. But when I started teaching the skills in the book, I realized that what felt intuitive for me came hard to many technical experts. It doesn’t hurt that the author—whom I met briefly in the 90’s—is a man of true grace, committed to making the world a better place. Read it if you’re transitioning to consulting or want to learn consultative skills inside an organization.
3.“Managing The Professional Service Firm” by David Maister.
This is a classic, but it is NOT light reading. I devoured it as I was exiting a well-run global giant to create my first business. It didn’t matter that I had ten years of hard-core consulting and leading practices under my belt—most of the content of his book was rarely discussed openly. Read it even if your biggest aspiration is a solo firm. He sets out all of the issues you are likely to encounter over a lifetime of running a successful professional firm.
4. “The Trusted Advisor” by David Maister, Charles Green and Robert Galford
I read this book soon after selling my first business to Arthur Andersen. There I was in a giant firm, trying to coach highly technical tax folks on the core skills of building business relationships. The book was—and remains—the pivotal tome on earning the trust and confidence of clients. I was positively giddy when I finally met Charlie Green in New York and am thrilled to now call him friend.
5. “Callings | Finding and Following an Authentic Life” by Gregg Levoy
I’m pretty sure you won’t find Levoy’s book on any Top 10 business book lists, but it should be. He explores the idea of identifying and following that which you are called to do. His prose is both practical and lyrical and it changed my life when I read it. It’s absolutely for you if you’re trying to figure out what to do with your life, your career and your business.
6. “Soloing | Realizing Your Life’s Ambition” by Harriet Rubin
This book is perfect if you’re trying to get up the courage to leave a safe, secure job for your own gig. Rubin captures the angst she experienced leaving publishing and her description of the highs of soloing are heady indeed. But she also gets the important universal stuff right—like doing work that matters.
7. “Selling The Invisible | A Field Guide to Modern Marketing” by Harry Beckwith
Beckwith doesn’t write prototypical business books, which is probably why I enjoy his observations and stories so much. He writes in snippets—perfect for when you just have a few minutes and need a quick hit of inspiration. He taught me that it’s OK to be different—and that telling stories is powerful. A favorite? Pricing: A Lesson From Picasso. Priceless.
8. “A Whole New Mind | Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future” by Dan Pink
Dan Pink is another personal hero, starting with his “Free Agent Nation”. But it was this book that first gave me a glimpse into a right-brained future, a place where my ilk would most assuredly have a spot. I give it to young artists who’ve been criticized for not being logical or straight-laced enough. How liberating to see you are not alone.
9. “Zag | The #1 Strategy Of High-Performance Brands” by Marty Neumeier
“When everybody zigs, zag”. Call it obvious, but knowing when and how to zag is an art form. Neumeier shows you how to do it and his questions and exercises strike just the right note for anyone looking for a roadmap. His strong and weak business names list is spot-on for anyone struggling with naming their baby.
Brené Brown explores some pretty touchy territory with her work on shame and vulnerability. She speaks movingly—and personally—on how we can better connect with our selves, our family and friends, colleagues and, ultimately, clients. Grab the book and watch any of her extended interviews for a master’s course on courage.
Yep, that’s ten, but I have to add a bonus read, because just thinking about it makes me smile:
11. “Nigella Bites” by Nigella Lawson
OK—so this is a cookbook, but it changed my feelings profoundly. I read this one around 2002—not long after she started appearing on American TV. She was the first beautiful, smart and accomplished woman I encountered who also embraced the joys of cooking for family and friends. It’s like she gave professional women permission to embrace our smarts and our creative talents, wherever they might take us.
These are the books that have been my companions in my quest to continually enhance my work, my business and my life.
Now, won’t you share yours?