Smart business owners learn about their industry every day, and about best business practices as often as they can. The smartest business owners, meanwhile, realize that some of these lessons can come from unexpected sources. Here are 10 books that weren't originally written with business in mind, but are chock-full of classic lessons for entrepreneurs.
Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell's books hit the big time about five years back, but are still as interesting and relevant as ever. Outliers discusses exactly what traits, habits and coincidences make people and organizations outstanding.
Drive, Daniel Pink
Knowing what motivates you and your team is key to getting business done. In Drive, Pink explores the research and application of why people do what they do.
The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi
One of the best-known Eastern military classics, this book is about self-mastery, awareness without sentiment, and the importance of understanding the fundamental nature of tasks and conflicts. Some versions printed in the 1980s were specifically targeted at the boardroom, and featured a samurai wielding a briefcase.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Jon Meacham
Smarter people than myself have said that real business lessons come from biographies—not from business manuals. Jefferson's life is a study in balancing personal ethics with the reality of politics, and of getting what you need done while convincing those who helped you to remember that they owe you a favor.
The Elements of Style, Strunk & White
Read any book of advice for writers, and you'll probably see a mention of how important this go-to book on syntax and writing style is to that craft. Since half of business is communication, getting a better grasp on what this book explains is a winning decision.
Your Survival Instinct is Killing You, Marc Schoen
The human condition means surviving the modern world in bodies still primed for the savanna of our ancient ancestors. That's not a new idea, yet Schoen's approach is fresh and empowering. It's not just a laundry list of ways our body tricks us into making bad decisions. It's a guide, complete with actionable techniques, to retrain yourself to overcome those evolutionary handicaps.
Mindset, Carol Dweck
You master your business by mastering yourself, and your team masters its tasks by doing the same thing. Mindset explores the meta-thinking that gets in the way of empowerment and productivity, then offers alternative frames of mind that work better.
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Basic success skills apply to personal life, relationships and businesses. A quick review of any of Aesop's stories reveals a moral you might have forgotten in the day-to-day grind of entrepreneurship. Whether it's about sticking to a task until it's done, like the tortoise, or saving for emergencies, like that ant, these quick tales will remind you to invest some energy into important habits.
Zombie Economics, Lisa Desjardins & Rick Emerson
Zombie Economics is a guide to personal finance written with the metaphor of a zombie apocalypse. (Yes, there's another book by the same name, which is also excellent, written by John Quiggen.) It talks about the importance of savings by comparing it to stockpiling food and supplies, and the importance of investing energy in things that can help by comparing it to shooting a recently infected ally in the head. It's only a short leap from personal finance to business operations, and the living dead make it a fun read.
The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh
Really, any book by Thich Nhat Hanh could fill this space. His many titles are about the same thing: balancing the demands of real life with ethical and spiritual needs. Power has essays that are most directly applicable to the business world.
Summer homework: Read at least one of these books. (You get bonus points for doing it via audiobook so you can multitask while at the gym or running errands.) When you're done, post a 100-word review about how you applied what you read.
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Jason has contributed over 2,000 blog and magazine articles to local, regional and national publications. He speaks regularly at writing and business conferences.