What Are Some of the Best Books on Entrepreneurship?

If you’re like me, whenever it’s time to solve a new problem you’ll reach for a book. One such problem is “how do I become a successful entrepreneur”. But which book to reach for? There are so many, each vying for attention.

What not to read

If you browse through a couple of lists you’ll see people recommending titles like Zero To One, which starts with:

Zero to One is about how to build companies that create new things. (…) But while I have noticed many patterns, and I relate them here, this book offers no formula for success. (…) every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative.

Or The Lean Startup that says:

A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

You’ll read them and feel good about yourself. You’ve gained so much insightful knowledge. You’re learning!

But after a couple of those you’ll realise you’re learning the wrong things. You might as well read a history book or a biography. Does it matter that now you know how people “created new things” under “extreme uncentainty” if your goal is to run a steady business and you’re yet to make your first sale?

Before deciding on a book it’s good to check the reviews on Goodreads, a community of bookworms. There is an effectively infinite list of titles to choose from, but in our lifetime we can read maybe a thousand. The difficulty is not finding ones worth reading but rather discerning which ones to avoid.

Avoid books by famous entrepreneurs. Many successful bloggers hire content writers to write guest posts for them. They do it to grow their brand and boost their SEO. Successful entrepreneurs do the same, but with books. A lot of them are not for you to benefit from, they’re to make a powerful person feel even more powerful.

Always consider how a book will affect your actions. If it won’t then it’s just entertainment.

The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.

Herbert Spencer

Books that influence action

Running a business requires acquiring a set of different skills. It’s books about developing those skills that have the most value. Here is a list, grouped by the skill they teach.

Productivity

The biggest obstacle in running your business is you. It’s you who has to do the work. The boring, uncomfortable, difficult work.

These books teach how to get shit done.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

We evolved in an environment where dying of old age was unheard of. Most of our ancerstors either perished trying to find food or starved to death from their failure to do so. The ones who burned fewer calories got to survive, leading our brains to develop very efficient mechanisms of reducing their energy requirements. Can we work around these mechanism in an age of abundance?

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

A guide for professionals explaining how to thrive in an economy where one must quickly master hard things and consistently produce at an elite level. If this book won’t boost your productivity, nothing else will.

The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

It took humanity a while to notice the harmful effects of cocaine. And it took us a while to realise the effect news and social media has on us too. Luckily, we’re beginning to grow an immune system. This book is the vaccine.

Succeeding with this strategy requires that you abandon the belief that not having your phone is a crisis.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The author skillfully identifies, analyses, and shows how to fight off different types of procrastination.

It’s a guide for writers but it works for entrepreneurs as well.

We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

Marketing

At first I believed that the most important part of business is the idea. Then I thought that if you make a good product customers will come. After acquiring some experience I can say that ideas are worthless and you have to push your product hard if you want anyone to even look at it.

These books teach what marketing is, why it’s the toughest part, and how to do it right.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Everybody wants to feel appreciated. Everybody wants to feel understood. To succeed you have to give others a feeling of importance. This book explains how.

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

This Is Marketing by Seth Godin

Every day we see more ads than trees. They don’t work on us anymore. So what does?

Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem. It’s a chance to change the culture for the better. Marketing involves very little in the way of shouting, hustling, or coercion. It’s a chance to serve, instead.

Product design

If you solve a particularly hard problem you can get away with a crappy product. If you’re big enough to sign multi-year corporate contracts you won’t need to care about quality either. But the rest of us need to rely on word of mouth recommendations, and for that we need to stand out in a sea of competitors.

These books show how.

Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

For a product to be considered great it has to help the user do great things. Enable your users to do great things and they’ll recommend your product. This book shows you how to teach.

By far the best book I’ve read in 2020. And as a side effect it improved the way I practice the Tango.

Make people better at something they want to be better at.

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

We visit more websites each day than we can count. Don’t make it difficult for the user to visit yours, do the thinking for them.

We’re thinking “great literature” (or at least “product brochure”), while the user’s reality is much closer to “billboard going by at 60 miles an hour.”

The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

How to find new product ideas, and why it’s not by asking “would you buy this product?”

Talk about their life instead of your idea.

Writing

Ready to start your blog? Learn how to write first.

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Writing is tough, but this book will teach you 20% of the skills you need to achieve 80% results. See also my notes.

His was the seemingly effortless style - achieved, I knew, with great effort.

How (and when) to read books

Goodreads runs a yearly reading challenge. In 2019 4 million people have pledged to read an average of 64 books. The reason it’s a challenge is that, well, it’s challenging. Books, especially non-fiction, take time to complete. They need to be studied, understood, and assimilated into your everyday life.

The influence a book will have on you depends on your life experience and your current situation. Don’t rush the process. It’s not meant to be rushed. If you feel you wish for a book to be over then it’s a sign that it’s not worth finishing. If you feel you have to force yourself through something that everybody else loved, then perhaps you’re at a stage in life where that particular book has little value. You will only be enthusiastic reading about marketing when you have a product that needs to be marketed.

That’s also why you should take Goodreads ratings with a grain of salt. The first book about productivity that you’ll read will be mind blowing. The tenth will be boring. If someone is bashing a book that your friend recommended then perhaps he already knew the subject well.

And how do you make time for books? I use Google Play Books and read a few pages on my phone or tablet every time I have a few minutes to spare. This allowed me to finish roughly 30 books in 2019. Given my goal of 24 books per year and an average size of 300 pages per book I only need to cover 20 pages per day. The app is mobile friendly and it’s easy to take notes with.

Summary

Don’t substitute practical guides with entertainment. Unless you want to.

Resources

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