Anyone who writes business books is asked the same question: “What is your favorite business book?” (Other than the one you have written.) It seems that hundreds of business books are written each week so it is increasingly hard to discern the good ones from the bad ones. Some are CEO vanity books, some are two ideas that stretch out to three hundred pages. As an author, I’m constantly asked the question about the best ones, and I always surprise people with my answer. To me, the three best business books are not specific to authors. They are not specific to a discipline. They are not specific to a particular school of thought or methodology.
I would wager that if I surveyed executives regarding their three favorite business books they would be able to easily name the title, author and maybe even when the books were published. I would wager also that the executives could place the books into one of three categories. And it is those three categories that make for the best books we remember and refer to. There is no magic but neither is there empirical evidence. My idea of the three best business books ever written is not what you might expect, but here it is: With a few of my favorites noted.
- The book that saved your career. You know the one, you needed an answer quickly for the boss or the Board or the Wall Street analyst and there was that one book that had just the right answer at just the right time. The book may have included the ratio that you needed or the diagram that you needed and the book had it – no modification required. The book made you look good. See Good to Great by Jim Collins
- The book that is a constant reference. This is the book that might have lots of dog eared pages from constant use. It reminds you of the difference between a Gantt Chart and a Venn diagram and Harvey Balls. It’s the book that shows you once again how to create a Cap Table or what Black-Scholes came up with a while back. This book might tell you how to do a tough performance review. And you know right where to look in this book for help. See Management – Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices by Peter Drucker
- The book that provides comfort. It’s the book that tells you that you are doing the right thing. This is the book that might include chapters on ethics and how to be a good boss. It might be a book with advice about changing careers or work/life balance. This book will likely tell you that much about success in business is as much art as it is science. It is the book that you glance at near the end of the day for reassurance. See The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner
You know the good business books from the ones you might buy and never open. Business books don’t need to be complicated, just helpful.