My personal library will be the coolest room in my house someday.
I’m talking about beautiful wooden shelves from floor to ceiling, chairs that hold books in the sides, trap doors, secret compartments, mood lighting. Everything. And maybe even a robot or something that grabs the books for me.
Time to come clean: I’m a bookworm.
I love the feel of books, the smell of books, and the concept of books in general. And I’m particularly fond of reading books focused on business.
It’s amazing to think that I can learn someone’s full life of lessons packed into a couple hundred pages. There are so many fantastic business books, but here’s the challenge.
The challenge with business books is that they’re believable.
Here’s what I mean.
There’s something about a book that makes it believable, especially when its purpose is to give advice. One of the reasons we tend to love business books is because we finish the book thinking we have secret knowledge.
That was true for me, at least.
I can read blogs, listen to podcasts, or watch interviews on the exact same topic, but I won’t believe those mediums as much as I believe a book.
Because books are so believable, it’s very difficult to figure out which book is giving the best advice.
Imagine a situation in which your five best friends are giving you advice. What happens when each gives you different advice?
We can’t—and shouldn’t—follow all advice, but it happens with business books.
And if we’re following everything, then aren’t we following nothing? So then we feel lost. When I would feel lost after reading so many books, I had such an odd response: I’d try to find one more book that would solve the problem.
Of course, that’s an endless cycle.
Distinguishing among business books.
I fit business books into four self-made, very rudimentary categories.
There are biographies/autobiographies, case studies, technical advice, and theoretical advice.
Biographies/autobiographies are stories of someone’s life. They’re fascinating because it gives a holistic perspective on their life, whether it’s their own perspective or a third-party’s perspective. Like with any perspective, one biography might paint a very different picture than another.
When you think hard about it, two different views are the core of gaining true perspective.
Case studies will pick apart particular companies or situations. These are interesting because the books illuminate the details of peoples’ actions. Human behavior is fascinating, especially in hindsight.
Books that give technical advice will break down fairly non-controversial processes in business. For example, I’d pick up a book like this if I need help with Microsoft Excel, or navigating taxes, or figuring out how to learn a code language.
Finally, there are business books that give theoretical advice.
These are books that can be the most entertaining to read, but the least helpful in the long run. Theoretical advice comes from personal, often subjective experiences about business. The authors aren’t always qualified to give advice, and editors will come out with catchy titles that make incredible claims.
Don’t misunderstand me. Theoretical books can be fantastic. I absolutely love reading work by Seth Godin and others in the space. But all of it is taken with a grain of salt.
Maybe two grains of salt.
Here’s my personal approach to picking business books.
Before anything, I want to give full disclosure: I’m not suggesting that you approach books the same way I do! This is my approach, and it is always evolving.
For technical advice I most often Google it, hop on YouTube, or dive into Lynda.com. Honestly, I get bored reading full books about technical stuff!
But for books, I pick them with one thing in mind: gaining perspective.
So I tend to read biographies, autobiographies, and case studies. My approach is to learn about others’ approaches. Something I keep in mind is that nearly every book has a bias, because every author has a bias. The bias isn’t always obvious, but I understand that it’s there.
One of the more fascinating things for me is to learn about their personal lives. Not every massively successful business person has had an equally successful personal life.
Then there’s their approach to business.
Something incredibly interesting to me is that few of the business greats actually followed the business advice we’re force-fed today. And so many of them didn’t listen to advice.
Take that for what it’s worth.
The last 6 business books I’ve read, what I’m reading now, and what’s up next.
If you’re interested in what my approach looks like in real life, take a peek.
Last 6 business books I’ve read:
- Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World by David J. Kent
- The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don’t by Nate Silver
- Eat People: And Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs by Andy Kessler
- The Red Market by Scott Carney
- The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles
- Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid by Daniel Isenberg
What I’m reading now:
- The Map and the Territory by Alan Greenspan
- More Than a Season: Building A Championship Culture by Dayton Moore
What’s up next:
- The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
What are you reading next?
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Photo: Flickr/Richard Phillip Rücker