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11 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read in 2015

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Last week, I wrote about starting fires.

I believe that a great idea is a spark…

And that a spark can turn into a great fire that can change our lives, as long as we bring the resources and hustle necessary to make that happen.

How then do we expose ourselves to great ideas? 

The short answer:

Books.

Books are the perfect harbinger for ideas:

  1. Books give writers the space to explore and analyze an idea in depth (much more so then the modern mediums of blogging, podcasting, or youtube, for example)
  2. Books are compact enough to hold, carry, and share easily with others (and this ease of sharing is increased exponentially through digital books and ereaders)
  3. Books require focused attention from the reader, making the understanding of the idea being spread much more likely (no adds will popup in a book…and hopefully the author has the good taste to not add too many links in the text)

On that note, I want to share a few books with you that have personally sparked positive change in my own life.

These books are specifically related to business, entrepreneurship, and / or startups in some way, shape, or form, but I think many of the lessons from these books extend far beyond that subject matter.

My hope is that if even one of these books creates a spark for you like they have for me, the world (or at least the people who matter) will be a lot better off.

Enjoy.

1. Poke the Box by Seth Godin

The book that started it all for me.

I read Poke the Box in 2011 when it was first released. It was figuratively the poke (or better yet: kick) I needed to stop talking about all the ideas I had and start bringing them to life.

This little book prompted me to start Tommorkes.com, In The Trenches, Insurgent Publishing, more recently Publishers’ Empire, and continues to push me to do bigger, scarier things.

You won’t find anything “how-to” in this book – instead you’ll find about 96 pages of cajoling, prodding, and poking with one call to action:

Start. Today, not tomorrow.

Also, the design of the book, from the cover, to the shape, size, and weight of the book is something special. It’s such an easy book to pick up, read, and share, making it truly timeless (it’s also one of my biggest motivators for becoming a publisher in the first place, so I owe a lot to this book).

Poke the Box on Amazon.

2. The 7 Day Startup by Dan Norris

I’m biased here – I had the opportunity to work with Dan to launch this book (his first) to market.

That said, I loved this book from the first read through – it challenged me to reevaluate the business I was building, specifically how I was building it. Was I taking calculated and measurable action rapidly, or hiding behind research, study, and other things that don’t actually allow us to validate our work?

The book itself has been a bestseller since launch, sitting next to the biggest names in business / startup nonfiction, including Peter Thiel’s Zero to One (another book that made this list) and Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. The fact that the book stands next to these giants speaks for itself.

At a fluff-free 150 pages, you can read it this evening and be launching your business tomorrow.

The 7 Day Startup on Amazon.

3. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen

If you’re looking for a nuts-and-bolts approach to business without losing site of the 10,000 foot, strategic vision of it all, check out The Innovator’s Dilemma.

This is the first book I read that hammered home the idea that every product or service is actually a “job to be done.”

In other words:

  • Why should someone hire your product or service?
  • What job does it do for them in their life that other products and services aren’t able to do?
  • As a potential customer, why shouldn’t I ignore you?

Answer these questions and you have your killer app.

Trust me when I say: these questions will change everything about how you approach, build, and sell your product or service.

The Innovator’s Dilemma on Amazon.

4. The Art of Work by Jeff Goins

Jeff Goins, author of Wrecked and The In-Between, is getting ready to launch his latest book: The Art of Work.

Full-disclosure: because I’m working with Jeff on his new book launch I got early access to the book itself. After reading it in one sitting, I can say this: The Art of Work is an essential book for every artist, writer, and entrepreneur – and at times, it’s a tearjerker (although I was born without tear glands, so I definitely didn’t cry).

Jeff has an uncanny ability to approach a subject analytically yet passionately, never losing focus of the big picture (the “why”). In The Art of Work, Jeff gives us a framework for approaching our life’s work – what we were meant to do – and does so with enough tough love to get us moving.

Life is too short to do what doesn’t matter, to waste your time on things that don’t amount to much. What we all want is to know our time on earth has meant something.” – Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

While The Art of Work won’t be officially released until mid March, Jeff is doing something really cool: he’s giving away free copies of his book (you just have to pick up the shipping and handling).

So if you’re looking for a powerful, easy read (that won’t be so easy to forget), grab it while it’s hot:

The Art of Work – FREE here*

*limited time only

5. Running Lean by Ash Maurya

This book taught me to how to turn a great idea into an actionable business model, one that reduces waste (of time and money), uncertainty (the framework will help you figure out what you don’t know), and fear (because your sole focus becomes validation).

I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Running Lean has dramatically improved my understanding of the functions and processes behind a startup and has led directly to the success of the many projects I’ve launched in the past year (and helped avoid bigger failures of the ones that didn’t quite pan out).

This should be required reading for freshmen in high school, along with a corresponding four year track that teaches students how businesses operate, how startups work, and practical, hands-on experimentation to test out the theory in real life.

Sorry for that aside. I just think this book is incredible. I’ll get off my high horse now.

Running Lean on Amazon.

6. Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

Really, this should be four separate recommendations, Nassim Taleb’s full incerto:

  1. Fooled by Randomness
  2. Black Swan
  3. Antifragile
  4. Bed of Prucrustus

In Taleb’s own words, this 4-volume incerto is:

an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision making when we don’t understand the world, expressed in the form of a personal essay with autobiographical sections, stories, parables, and philosophical, historical, and scientific discussions in nonoverlapping volumes that can be accessed in any order.” – Nassim Taleb

Antifragile and Nassim Taleb’s corresponding incerto are some of the most valuable books I’ve ever read in my life. A combination of timeless philosophy, astute mathematics and statistics, and enjoyably opinionated reflection on the modern world, Taleb doesn’t pull punches nor does he sell out to industry leaders, many who he unabashedly calls our for being frauds.

A must read if you’re starting a new venture as it will help you build an antifragile business (a concept and term you’ll grow to love as you explore Taleb’s Antifragile).

Antifragile on Amazon.

7. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Not a business book but certainly more than a book exclusively for writers, The War of Art is a rallying cry for great work.

Steven Pressfield is the author of so many bestsellers it’s hard to keep track (including my favorite book of all time: Gates of Fire). This book is the culmination of a lifetime of creative work, in the trenches, day after day, struggling to get noticed and sell even a single manuscript (coming close to suicide at least once in the process).

The War of Art is a tough, brutal, uncompromising book.

Yet at its core, The War of Art is hopeful.

It teaches us that we can conquer our inner creative enemy, that we don’t have to throw in the towel when things get tough, that there’s always a solution if we’re eager and disciplined enough to find (or create) it.

Any entrepreneur intending to do something bold in this life, read this book first.

The War of Art on Amazon.

8. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

Like many of the books on this list, I wish Crossing the Chasm had been mandatory reading in high school. Not because it’s easy – quite the opposite.

It’s hard, but it’s necessary.

It’s hard to understand what makes a great product, how to grow a company beyond early adopters, and what moves an economy at its most fundamental level (believe it or not, there’s more to it than supply and demand curves) – hard but necessary if you want to create a business that makes an impact.

If you’re interested in how successful companies must evolve to move from early adopters to early majority, I highly recommend Crossing the Chasm.

Crossing the Chasm on Amazon.

9. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki

Assets put money in your pocket. Liabilities take money out of your pocket.

This simple phrase was enough to change the trajectory of my life, peaking my interested in real estate investing, stock investing, options trading, and eventually business, publishing, and teaching.

A short read and for some it will be painfully simplistic, but still highly recommend as a basis for what makes good investing (and good business).

Rich Dad, Poor Dad on Amazon.

10. Frogs into Princes by Richard Bandler and John Grinder

I’m reaching a bit with this book, but found it important enough to share.

Frogs into Princes is not a business book. In fact, it’s hard to call it a book at all. It’s actually a transcription from a seminar conducted by two psychiatrists and, to my knowledge, is the foundation of what has evolved into Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

From the outside, Frogs into Princes is a book on psychology, but at its core, it teaches us how people respond to triggers. In other words, what makes someone tick – or take action.

For those creative enough, these ideas can be extrapolated into the business world, helping us create products and services – and the marketing and sales copy around the product or service – that make people want to take action (buy our stuff).

Not for easy reading, but highly recommended.

Frogs into Princes on Amazon.

11. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Zero to One is one of the best books on startups I’ve ever read.

Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, takes on startups, innovation, and what it takes to create the future.

Unlike Running Lean, which provides a practical framework for creating a startup, Zero to One is more conceptual in nature, challenging preconceived notions of startups, or rather: what it takes to create a truly important startup.

Important startups are companies with products or services that move the needle from zero to one.

While The 7 Day Startup challenges us to take action today and launch something fast (which I love), Zero to One challenges us to think big and act even bigger – the perfect compliment to fast action, in my opinion.

The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.” – Peter Thiel, Zero to One

Zero to One on Amazon.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn:

What books are you reading this year?

Better yet, what books do you recommend the rest of us read this year?

Share below in the comments.

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29 comments

  • WOWZA – you clearly know how to choose your books, Tom! But thank you for not only listing your best of the best, but also explaining WHY they are on top of your FAVORITE bestsellers!

    This helps your audience understand which book befits them at the moment – so thank you! #HUGS

    Kitto

  • Great article Tom. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and recommendations.

    I just finished Taleb’s “Black Swan” and absolutely loved it so I will definitely be checking out his other work. Not familiar with quite a number of the other titles / authors you’ve mentioned, so you’ve given me plenty of ideas to add to my reading list.

    Cheers!

  • Tom,
    Great list.
    “Rich Dad” did the same for me. And of course, Pressfield.

    I would add “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason and “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday to life-changing books.

    Life-changing ideas in each, though incredibly simple:
    “A part of everything I earn is mine to keep,” from “Babylon.” This simple idea- pay yourself first, will dramatically change your thoughts on saving, investing, and wealth.

    “Believe in the goal more than the obstacle,” from Holiday. Enough said.

    Can’t wait for Jeff’s new one.

    Thanks for what you’re doing.

    God bless,

    Lee

    • Lee thanks so much. I absolutely loved the richest man in Babylon and in fact that statement has stuck with me too. Pay yourself first. I definitely should have added that to the list (and such a short easy read).

      And I really enjoyed Ryan Holidays book…really can’t go wrong referencing stoicism.

  • Tom!

    I love how little overlap there is on this list from other “best books for entrepreneurs” lists i’ve seen.

    I read the lecture notes a few years ago that Zero To One is based off of and it blew my mind. I love how contrarian and unique Peter Thiel’s views are. Really makes you think differently.

    Also… The War Of Art. Read, Rinse, Repeat monthly.

    • Yeah it’s great isn’t it…it definitely made me wonder whether I’m actually doing something worthwhile / big enough….if not yet, hopefully soon.

  • Great list. Loved them all. 2 classics to add:
    1) Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
    2) How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

  • Hey Tom,

    This is a great list. I’ve ordered a copy of The Art of Work as well.

    Thanks for sharing some of these titles, Running Lean and War of Art are two of my favourite titles for startups.

    Cheers

  • Looking forward to checking these out, especially Running Lean and Antifragile — have now heard multiple recommendations for those so they must be good!

    Just finished Essentialism and The ONE Thing. Trying to find my FOCUS this year. Sounds like 2015 is treating you well so far Tom. Let’s catch up soon!

    Nick

    • Nick, for sure man. And I loved Essentialism and The ONE Thing… I’m also working on focusing now that I’ve gotten traction in a few areas. Yes, let’s definitely catch up soon!

  • Great list Tom!
    I would add Essentialism by Greg McKeown to the list. Although not directly related to business, it’s teaching apply to daily tasks and how to choose which tasks to do.

    • Alex, great suggestion – and you’re not the only one. I read the book and enjoyed it…the first few chapters especially were incredible. I may need to reread it again every month just to stay on track 🙂

  • Hey Tom
    Thank you!
    I was eagerly checking your list to see if “The War of Art” Stephen Pressfield was there, and it was! My favourite book that I have recommended to anyone and everyone that wants to do something and is frustrated because they do not!
    I’m a painter and about to launch my professional career!
    (I will send details when ready so you can check it out if you like!)
    And now I have ordered “The Art of Work” today, and will also make my way through your list!
    So Tom, many many thanks for sharing!
    All the best
    Melissa

  • The One Thing has had the single biggest impact on me of any book in the last three years.

    Love your list, I’m going to get Crossing the Chasm next.

  • Very nice list. I have read a lot of them and they would definitely make my list too but you have included some new ones for me so I’m excited to check them out in the coming months. Top of my list at the moment would be Way of the Junglepreneur by David Fasanya.
    http://junglepreneur.com/
    One of the most inspiring and useful resources for the modern entrepreneur in this rapidly changing business climate. I was especially impressed with how current and relevant this book is. I believe it could make a truly life changing read for the young aspiring entrepreneur. I thought it was a really easy read too with practical tips and advice throughout.

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