Best Business Books Of 2011

To help you find the perfect gift, Matt May has selected his "favorite 15" business books of 2011.
December 02, 2011

By the end of 2011, I'll have reviewed over 50 books here, in the weekly "Guru Review." But by now, most books have already hit the shelves in time for the holiday business-gift-giving season. To help you find the perfect gift book for the business person in your life, I've selected my "favorite 15" business books of 2011. You can't go wrong with any of these, because they all do three things well: inform, inspire and instruct. I've listed them here based on the order in which they were reviewed.

   Practically Radical by William Taylor. "In an era of hyper-competition and nonstop dislocation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special. Today, the most successful organizations don’t just out-compete their rivals. They redefine the terms of competition by embracing one-of-a-kind ideas in a world filled with me-too thinking."

   Tell to Win by Peter Guber. "Today everyone, whether they know it or not, is in the emotional transportation business. More and more, success is won by creating compelling stories that have the power to move partners, shareholders, customers and employees to action. Simply put, if you can't tell it, you can't sell it. And if you can't sell it, you won't win."

   Evil Plans by Hugh MacLeod. “Everybody needs an evil plan. Everybody needs that crazy, out-there idea that allows them to actually start doing something they love, doing something that matters. Everybody needs an evil plan that gets them the hell out of the rat race, away from lousy bosses, away from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate. Life is short.”

   Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki. "Enchantment is the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization or idea. The outcome of enchantment is voluntary and long-lasting support that is mutually beneficial. The greater your goals, the more you'll need to change people's hearts, minds, and actions. If you need to enchant people, you're doing something meaningful. If you're doing something meaningful, you need enchantment."

   The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk. "The power of social media will force business leaders to start thinking like small-town shop owners: allowing the personality, heart and soul of the people who run all levels of the business to show, having authentic conversations and demonstrating real caring. Only the companies that can figure out how to mind their manners in a very old-fashioned way—and do it authentically—are going to have a prayer of competing."

   Reinventing The Wheel by Chris Zane. "If you can shift your thinking away from merely selling and into building trust instead, even if it costs you a few bucks in profit, you'll begin to see opportunities you never imagined once you understand what it means to 'wow' that customer by giving them more than they expected."

   The Third Screen by Chuck Martin. "The third screen—the mobile device—changes the rules entirely by creating a completely 'untethered consumer,' free from the constraints of traditional broadcast or online communication, who can search on the move and share information with other customers in real time. This new breed of customer is in charge—they are plugged in, always on, and completely in control in a way that changes the fundamental assumptions of marketing and customer service."

   Little Bets by Peter Sims. "When trying to navigate amid uncertainty, create something new, or solve open-ended problems, experimenting by making little bets—concrete and low-risk ideas that get iterated and refined over time through constant trial-and-error approach to gradually reach breakthroughs—provides the best way to discover the right direction and reach extraordinary, lasting success."

   The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. "The secret to unleashing the creative potential of people is to enable them to experience a great inner work life, and the single most powerful influence on that inner work life is progress in meaningful work. It starts with giving people something meaningful to accomplish. It requires giving clear goals, autonomy, help and resources—what people need to make real progress in their daily work. And it depends on showing respect for ideas and the people who create them."

   The Big Enough Company by Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams. "One size does not fit all. Or even many. Despite the freedom that striking out on your own promises, most of the accepted wisdom on how to build a startup business urges business owners to grow fast, be more profitable, and imitate other successful startups. And while these techniques may work for some, they fail to consider the astounding variety of values and motivations that individuals have for starting a business."

   Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields. "If you kill the butterflies in your stomach, you'll kill the dream. Most people back away when they get that nervous, uncomfortable feeling. But that feeling signals you're doing something that matters to you. Embrace the feeling. Lean into the discomfort. Try to understand what the feeling is telling you. Train yourself in the alchemy of fear."

   Best Practices Are Stupid by Stephen Shapiro. "Innovation is not about new products, new processes, new services or even new business models. It is about adaptability. When the pace of change outside of your organization is faster than the pace of change within, you will be out of business. That's why adopting best practices willy-nilly is stupid. You'll always be slower. But if you learn to ask the right questions, in the right way, of the right people, you'll accelerate your innovation efforts."

   The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg. "Your real education in how to run a business starts the day you leave school. I spent two years meeting and interviewing college dropouts who went on to become millionaires and even billionaires. My discovery? They didn't have the one thing society said they needed to have in order to become successful: a college degree. What they did have was street smarts."

   Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. "At a time when the United States is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build creative digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness, imagination and sustained innovation. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology, so he built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering."

   The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. "Too many startups begin with an idea for a product that they think people want. They then spend months, sometimes years, perfecting that product without ever showing the product, even in a very rudimentary form, to the prospective customer. When they fail to reach broad uptake from customers, it is often because they never spoke to prospective customers and determined whether or not the product was interesting. When customers ultimately communicate, through their indifference, that they don't care about the idea, the startup fails."

 See the complete list of the business books reviewed in this year's "Guru Review."