I’m often asked for business book recommendations. While I love many of the more traditional business books, I’ve actually found reading other genres to be more helpful than your typical Difficult Conversations, 7 Habits of Effective People, or even Shoe Dog, the newest worthy member of the canon.
Below is a brief list of books that have helped me along the way and hopefully will help you too.
On Bullshit: Harry Frankfurt
This is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s actually just a paper published as a tiny book that can be read in an hour. But don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t a serious read by the glib name or short length. Princeton philosophy professor Frankfort tries in earnest to define what precisely bullshit is and to explain why it’s so dangerous. He argues that bullshitting is much worse than lying, because at least a liar’s statements have regard for the truth (even if they are the opposite of it), whereas the bullshitter has no regard for the truth whatsoever.
Fooled by Randomness: Nassim Taleb
A seminal read for anyone who takes risk for a living or is considering doing so. This book has provided me with a way to look at data and information in a clearheaded way, and called attention to the traps we humans are inherently prone to fall into. But most importantly it helps make sense of and potentially harness the most underappreciated force in business: luck.
But What if We’re Wrong?: Chuck Klosterman
I’m deeply wary of what I don’t know. In this book, Klosterman looks at the present as if it were history. In doing so he shows us the inherent cognitive dissonance of holding the views of the present as fact while being able to see clearly that we’ve been wrong about just nearly everything we’ve ever thought. This book is a good reminder of our fallibility and is an entertaining read too.
The Black Swan: Nassim Taleb
The only author to make my list twice, in the follow up to Fooled by Randomness, Taleb helps us understand a particular kind of risk - the black swan event. A black swan is an event, positive or negative, that is deemed improbable yet causes massive consequences. Black swan events are characterized by their magnitude and inherent unpredictability and it’s in everyone’s interest to be prepared for events that we know will happen but that we fundamentally cannot predict, like market crashes or extreme weather events. We don’t know when they’ll happen, but we can be certain of their inevitability.
Complexity: M. Mitchell Waldrop
Complexity is an emerging interdisciplinary science helping us to understand everything from physics, to how birds fly in formation, to the moment life arose. Written along the narrative of creating the Santa Fe Institute, Complexity is an immensely readable, yet fairly technical, tour through some of the most exciting ideas of the late 20th century that can be applied to any complex system like your business or market.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Ben Horowitz
Horowitz has a knack for telling it like it is. As he explains, the hard thing about hard things is simply that they are hard. There are no easy answers, but you still have to make decisions under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This autobiographical work provides insight into how one ought to manage the truly difficult three-dimensional chess of building a company.
Thinking, Fast and Slow: Daniel Kahneman
Although Michael Lewis has now thrust Kahneman and his longtime research partner and friend, Amos Tversky, into the popular consciousness, this is Kahneman’s own summary of their groundbreaking research into cognitive biases and the relationship between what he refers to as the two systems of the brain. One is for thinking fast - e.g. the automatic response to recognizing threats (like a menacing predator) so as not to get removed from the gene pool. The other is for thinking slow - e.g. completing your calculus homework. The interplay of these two systems operating in environments very different from the ones our brains evolved in creates all sorts of opportunities for cognitive biases to produce suboptimal decisions. By understanding these two systems and our own biases, you can avoid certain pitfalls and ultimately make much better decisions.
Nudge: Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
This book is the result of a collaboration between behavior economist, Thaler, and law professor, Cass Sunstein. It’s an extended policy argument for libertarian paternalism - the idea that choice architecture itself can have profound effects on policy-oriented objectives. From the placement of healthier foods in cafeteria lines to encouraging 401K participation on a national level, the book provides insights about how we create environments that optimize outcomes in any realm.
Predictable Revenue: Aaron Ross
Unfortunately business schools don’t teach what is arguably the single most important skill in business: sales. If you sell anything, read this book. Full of practical advice to improve and smooth revenue while building world class, scalable sales ops and keeping your team aligned and motivated, this book is an absolute must read.
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman: Yvon Chouinard:
My admiration for the company Chouinard has built runs deep, as does my collection of their products and apparel. I believe the company’s firm grasp on its core values is the reason for Patagonia’s continued success. In this awesome read with photos that make it coffee table worthy, we get a glimpse into the ‘why’ behind a company, founded by a bunch of climbing bums, that has been at the forefront of company culture for nearly half a century. If you are trying to build a company from a deep sense or purpose there is much you can learn from Chouinard’s own story.
Look out for more recommendations from the team coming soon!