My Top 10 (Mainly Online) Business Books of The Year
Looking for a good read? Or maybe a good Christmas present? I spent a lot of this year reading business books. These were mainly, but not exclusively, web related. My aim has been to learn, particularly through case studies, what is involved in turning Calcatraz from an interesting side-project into a proper business.
I’ve read many books, some good and some a waste of time. If you’re looking for a great book, here is my pick of the very best (predominantly web-related) business books of the year:
1. The Lean Startup - Eric Ries introduces the lean startup methodology, a way to bring to web businesses the massive success companies manufacturing companies such as Toyota have had with lean manufacturing. Ries covers achieving competitive advantage through rapid product iterations and the use of ‘validated learning’. I consider this a must-read for anyone running a web-business. I’m already working to implement, and starting to benefit from, the many techniques it covers.
2. Evil Plans - Cartoonist Hugh MacLeod’s book is a brilliantly easy read. While not an in-depth how-to book, it is simply packed full of motivation. I challenge anyone to read it and not be inspired to start blogging, cartooning or ‘doing something you love’.
3. Unlikely Destinations: The Lonely Planet Story - I struck gold with this one while trawling through a stack of (incomprehensible to me) Vietnamese books at a book stand in Ho Chi Minh airport. It is the story of how Tony and Maureen Wheeler started the Lonely Planet travel book behemoth, almost by accident while trying to fund their round-the-world travels. Part travel diary, part business book, it makes for great reading.
4. Making it All Work - In this follow-up to his wildly successful book, Getting Things Done, David Allen expands on and generalises on the principles of his work/life management system. Definitely worth a read for anyone trying to implement their own GTD system.
5. Great Ikea! - While the furniture giant may now be in the ‘cashing in’ phase of the business life-cycle, Elen Lewis’ book documents how the company rose to dominate the world of flat-pack goods by focusing tirelessly on delivering brilliantly designed products at the lowest prices possible.
6. Delivering Happiness - In delivering happiness, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh tells of his path to Zappos and how this lead to the online shoe retailer focusing explicitly on the happiness of its customers, employees and partners as a business goal more important than profit. By prioritising happiness in this way, Zappos was rapidly able to transform itself into a billion-dollar organisation with aims much higher than just selling shoes.
7. The Art of Learning - Not strictly a business book, but highly relevant none the less. The Art of Learning documents Josh Waitzkin’s life as a childhood chess prodigy and subsequent reinvention as world champion in the combat form of Tai chi chuan. With the tagline ‘an inner journey to optimal performance’, Josh delivers a lucid description of the techniques he uses to achieve mastery in both highly competitive and complex disciplines. The lessons have clear applications to the world of business.
8. Rework - Written by the guys at 37signals (responsible for a number of highly successful web applications such as basecamp), this book is a collection of unconventional tips for building web-businesses. With tips such as ‘underdo the competition’ and ‘welcome obscurity’, it is full of insight into building better web applications with less stress and less overheads.
9. The Facebook Effect - This is the inside story into the phenomenon that is Facebook (what, never heard of it?). From the early beginnings to managing a company with hundreds of millions of users, the book covers it all in depth. If you’ve seen the ‘social network’ movie, I’ll just say this – the book is better.
10. Founders at Work - In founders at work, Jessica Livingstone (co-founder of startup incubator Y-combinator) brings an impressive collection of interviews with founders of some of the biggest and most successful companies and products around: Apple, Yahoo!, Gmail, Hotmail, Research in Motion, Craigslist, del.icio.us and many more. The interviews discuss the early days of these startup ventures, what they did, and ultimately how they managed to achieve success with the odds stacked against them.
If you are at all interested in running a business, particularly a web-based one, I highly recommend taking a look at whichever of these caught your eye. They won’t disappoint.