I’m not a person who is naturally inclined to hyperbole, so it’s a bold claim to say that there are business books that have changed my life. It’s a true one though. Some of these are great books, others are good books that I happened to read at a pivotal time, but each of them changed the course of my work life in some way. 

I have read scores of business and personal development books over the years. Most probably weren’t worth the time invested getting from front cover to back. There are others I thought were very good, or very useful. Even a few that were both, but the five I have listed below delivered more: Shaping my career and changing the way I worked. 

The One Minute Manager

Kenneth Blanchard & Spencer Johnson

The One Minute Manager is the first “management book” that I read. I was a young overachiever in the hotel sector who, like many junior managers, had never been given any training in how to manage people. In a bid to ward off the imposter syndrome of managing older and more experienced teams I took myself back to college for some formalised learning. 

The One Minute Manager was on the reading list for my course and immediately jumped out as being a lot shorter than the rest of the list. Much to the annoyance of my fellow students, I grabbed The One Minute Manager off the shelf and left the weightier looking tomes for them.

The principles of the book are simple and based around three “secrets”: One-minute goals, one-minute praisings and one-minute reprimands. I embraced those principles consciously for a while and I suspect the results from that helped give me confidence in managing people in less simplistic ways. 

It’s probably close to thirty years since I read this book, and I probably haven’t given those “secrets” thought for at least twenty-five of those. I think that some of the underlying philosophy of “deal quickly and move on” has stuck with me though and still shapes the way I lead today.

Recommended for: Those starting to manage teams for the first time

Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

Don’t Make Me Think

Steve Krug

If you ever read this book you will instantly find yourself wishing that more people do the same. Don’t Make Me Think cuts to the absolute core of what usability and design are. It encourages us to think of usability as a courtesy to our readers and build websites and applications that are more effective by being easier to understand. 

I first read Don’t Make Me Think in the era of Flash Preloaders when website developers were forcing users to sit through a minute of loading bars before they could even access their monstrosity of a website. The lessons from this short book shaped how I approached website design and development for at least a decade, helped my team gain a reputation for building “websites that work”. Those lessons continue to shape my approach to my work in less obvious ways today. 

Don’t Make Me Think should be compulsory reading for anyone who publishes anything on the web.

Recommended for: Anyone who builds or owns a website or app

Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

Start With Why

Simon Sinek

Start With Why is by far the best-known book on this list and barely needs any introduction. For those living in a Sinek proof cave for the last 20+ years, it deals with finding and using your company’s sense of purpose as a more inspiring approach than focusing on what you do.

When I first read Starts With Why I found it interesting, but not particularly useful for me at the time. I enjoyed it, but soon forgot about it and forgot the name Simon Sinek. The idea behind it clearly left an impression somewhere in my subconscious mind though. Years later, when we were trying to pivot the company into ad monetisation, it came back into my mind and I read it again. 

I don’t often read a book a second time, but it proved useful in this case. I was struggling with the idea of moving into ad monetisation as our core business. The opportunity made sense, but who wants to be the guy that throws ads in users faces? Re-reading Starts With Why helped me realise what it was about that work that I found interesting and rewarding: Not displaying ads, but supporting a free and open internet full of independent publishers. 

Recommended for: Any business leader who somehow hasn’t read this yet

Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

Getting Things Done

David Allen

I came across Getting Thing Done at a point in my career where I was constantly struggling with the number of things I needed to be doing every day. The business was growing, we were trying to do too many different things, I was still stuck painfully in the centre of every business decision and I also had a young family making much more meaningful demands on my time. Like many people in similar situations, I was spending so much of my mental energy on either working out what I needed to do or dealing with things that got forgotten, that I wasn’t getting anything done. 

I bought Getting Things Done to read on a much needed holiday with the family. I struggled with holidays back then, finding it difficult to leave work behind and be present with the family. Travelling with a pile of work-related reading helped me deal with the lack of WiFi and the guilt of taking time off work. Whilst that isn’t an approach I would recommend today, it turned out to be fortuitous for me. Having the time to quietly read and digest Getting Things Done turned out to be a great investment for me as this book has probably had more impact on my life than any other I have read.

Getting Things Done describes a whole personal productivity system, that is frankly way too hardcore for me. However, the core concepts make sense and are easily applied. I have ended up with my own system based loosely on what is described in the book. I’ll probably write more about that on another day, but in essence, my version is three things: 1) Recording everything I need to do as soon as I think of it (for me that means the Todoist app). 2) Checking those lists as part of my regular day, and 3) Clearing/recognising those lists weekly. That’s slightly simplified, but wow, what a difference. Even the simple benefit of never worrying about forgetting important things has so much value. 

Recommended for: Anyone who is too busy to get everything done

Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

The E-Myth Revisited

Michael E Gerber

Don’t be put off by the uninspiring cover and truly terrible title of this book; it is a book full of valuable lessons for anyone running or thinking of starting a business. After years of people telling me to “Work on your business, not in it”, this is the book that turned that trite throw away into something useful. 

At the centre of E-myth is the idea that businesses should be built on systems and processes that are stronger than the individuals who create them. Many small businesses struggle to grow as their founders face difficulties adapting to their changing needs. The E-Myth helps us avoid those pitfalls.

The lessons of the book are recapped through a conversation with a mythical client called Sarah. I have to confess that I didn’t enjoy this mechanic much and found some of those sections difficult to stomach. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent book that I have gifted to several people over the years as their businesses reached that difficult transition time. 

I wish I had read The E-Myth Revisited a lot sooner than I had. The lessons are simple, but easily overlooked and had I implemented them sooner I am certain I would have hit my own business goals sooner. 

Recommended for: Anyone starting in business or trying to grow their small business

Buy it on Amazon.co.uk

A few other business books of note

That’s my five. There are others I could have mentioned, but I wanted to keep the list short and limited only to those that have made a tangible positive impact on my business life. I could like scores of books that I definitely wouldn’t recommend spending time on, but I shan’t. Instead, I’ll quickly mention a couple of others that almost made the list.

In no particular order:

  • Nudge – Richard H Thaler & Cass R Sunstein
    The book about “making better choices easier” that became the favourite of politicians around the world. Buy on Amazon
  • Turn the Ship Around! – L. David Marquet and Stephen R Covey
    Almost a better-written version of The E-Myth Revisited. Buy on Amazon
  • Zag – Marty Eumeier
    The power of being different. Probably influenced me more than I am giving it credit for. Buy on Amazon
  • Squash and a Squeeze – Julia Donaldson
    The seminal text on having perspective on our own lives. I have undoubtedly read this more than any other on the list. Buy on Amazon

Over to you

I’d love to hear any thoughts from anyone who has read any of the above, and likewise recommendations for what I should read next. It is so difficult to find good business books that I would love to hear other people’s recommendations.