Seven amazing business books: Part 1

A little over two years ago, Steve Jobs famously said “the fact is that people don’t read anymore” in remarks he made critiquing what he believed to be the flawed, digital book business model of the Amazon Kindle.

That may be true, but it doesn’t make the power of the ideas that we consume from the content of a “book” (be it a bound set of printed paper, eInk on a Kindle, or an audio recording narrated to you by the author) any less transformative.  So, with that little bit of personal inspiration, I felt the need to write this post.  With a little more room in the header, I would better entitle it “Seven amazing business books you’ve probably never read.”  You will see why in a moment.

I’ve read many, many books over these past 50 years. Over the past 30, since entering the working world, I’ve read, skimmed, or tossed pretty much every one of the major business books du jour, along with hundreds of others, ranging from Soundview book summary to freebie, author-signed copy at conferences.

In recent years, with the Google-ization of all information, plus a really darn fine community library just up the road from my home, I’ve found myself thinning down my personal library of bookcases full of these business books accumulated over time. (Thank you Half Price Books!)

But, in the process, I’ve culled down to a single bookcase what is my essential personal reference library, including what are, in my opinion, some of the truly undiscovered jewels of business writing. Without further adieu, let me share seven of the most amazing books that I’m betting you’ve probably never read, starting with the first two today and going in the order of most recent to oldest.

Persuasive Technology, by BJ Fogg (Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2003) – This modest, unassuming soft cover book, by a Stanford professor, is one of the absolute best references for how human cognition works in relation to (and is influenced by) technology. But, with our increasingly digital society, I would expand the reach of this book to more than technology and say that its relevance is to how one wields persuasion in business, in general.

For example, his section on the attributes making a website more credible or less credible to users is a must read. But, I have found myself going back repeatedly to Professor Fogg’s research and findings on the subjects of credibility, trust, expertise, and different modalities of persuasion, to apply them to other areas of conducting business, beyond technology. I highly recommend it.

The Drucker Self-Assessment Tool: Participant Workbook, by Peter F. Drucker (Jossey-Bass, 1999) – Alfred Sloan may have invented the principles of 20th century management in his work at GM, as we came to learn it, but Peter Drucker literally “wrote the book” on modern management, by codifying those principles.

However, as great a thinker, writer and teacher on business as Drucker was, I have found his Self-Assessment Tool for non-profit organizations (NPO) to be required reading for any NPO manager, board member, or funding providers. In typical Drucker style, it is simple, logical, and unwaveringly precise in its objective, towards making modern NPOs stronger in every way through critical inspection of mission and data-based, public scrutiny of results.

More amazing, never read books to come in the next post.  In the meantime, tell me about your favorites.

Adventures in E-reading

I’ll admit it: I’m a PC user…as in a Pragmatic Computer-user. I’m also a PEA, as in Post-Early Adopter. Meaning, I’m rarely the first one out of the gate on the newest gizmo. For example, you’ll never find me standing in the line at Best Buy at 3am waiting for the doors to open for Day 1 sales of the newest gadget.

However, I do love my tech and, thus, my PEAbrain frequently compels me to try the new software or purchase a copy of that newest gadget anywhere from a week to six months later.

Amazon's KindleAnd, so, it was with interest when I read a recent article in the New York Times about Best Buy and Verizon Jump[ing] Into E-Reader Fray.” In particular, two early quotes in the article leaped out at me:

“By all accounts, e-readers are set to have a breakout year. Slightly more than one million of them were sold globally in 2008, according to the market research firm iSuppli. The firm predicts that 5.2 million will be sold this year, more than half of them in North America, driven by the popularity and promotion of the Kindle, which is available only through Amazon’s Web site.”

…and…

One challenge for the entire digital reading market is the price of these new devices. A recent report from Forrester Research suggests most consumers will buy a digital reading device only when they cost less than $100.

No kidding!

However, I’d add a few personal observations from having purchased (and returned) the Kindle DX. The response time is slow (screen refresh, navigation, etc.), the plain black & white display is dreary, the lack of graphics is sad, and the built-in browser is horribly difficult to use.

Sure, all of the cool things you’ve heard or read about the Kindle are there as well: e-ink technology provides a really read-able display in just about any lighting situation (full sun outdoors to low lighting indoors), the wireless download of reading material is cool (although you have to take care not to accidentally purchase a book you didn’t intend to order…I did and it was impossible to get a refund), and the Kindle form factor is super-sleek.

Unfortunately, after 30 days, the coolest thing my family and I were unanimous about regarding our DX was the lovely, intricate drawings of various great classics authors that the display left on the screen when it was in sleep state. In fact, we got a little wire picture/plate holder and set our Kindle in it when it wasn’t being used – which was most of the time – so it could add a little artistic accent to our breakfast table.

But, for the several hundred dollar price, I could get a lot of Kodak e-picture frames!

All that said, I remain an Amazon fan and customer and, true to their word, the return process of the Kindle DX was mostly effortless, with the purchase price credited in full. Thank you, Amazon.

For my money (meaning “free” download), the Kindle reader app on my iPhone does the job just fine with the little bit of content I purchased while I had the DX. (Plus, I can read the books in sepia tone if I want!)

So, take it from this PEAbrained, PC user, if you have been thinking about it, but haven’t yet purchased a Kindle or a comparable book reader, think really hard about how much you would use it versus all of the other alternative forms of reading you have that are either free (like books from your public library) or more convenient, like using your smart phone, laptop, or that new Net book you may have just bought.

Speaking of which, next time I’ll share my Net book experience. Meanwhile, let me hear from you E-book users!