If you’re a founder, if you’re a CEO, or if you’re an investor, or really anybody else interested in understanding and addressing important recurring issues in business then this may be the perfect reading list for you. But for now, let’s dive into the list.
Beginning with “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. Well, this book is primarily geared towards startups, it’s an essential read because it really helps to define the difference between a startup and an established business, and how they operate very differently, and why if you’re in one, as opposed to the other, you need to think about what you’re focused on very differently. So this is an absolute must-read whether you’re building a startup, or whether you’re in a larger organization and you wanna operate your team more like a startup. The book popularized the idea of the minimum viable product also referred to as MVP, and it also popularized the entire lean approach to operating a startup.
But let’s move on to “Hacking Growth” by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. This book explains the importance of building a culture of continuous experimentation. So rather than just launching a product, and then eventually creating a second version of that product at some point in the future, this book is about building cross-functional growth teams that are always on the lookout for opportunities to iterate or improve the product in small, simple ways. So the book covers some very powerful tactics when it comes to iterating around acquiring customers, activating customers, retaining customers, and monetizing customers. So, this is a very popular strategy today in business, but one that’s very, very important. You wanna build a culture where you’re always looking for opportunities to make small but meaningful changes to your products and your services.
Next on the list is “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen. This book explains why great businesses often fail in the face of disruptive innovation. Now it’s not for reasons you might suspect, including bureaucracy, arrogance, poor planning, short term investments, or any of the common issues we associate with large established businesses suddenly falling apart. Instead, this book is really focused on why really well run businesses, great successful businesses often respond poorly to innovative new technology, and what these businesses can do differently to avoid the fate of being overrun by an innovative startup. So whether you are in a startup that’s looking to disrupt an established business, or if you’re in an established business and you’re looking to avoid being disrupted, I highly recommend that you check out this book. One of the most influential books of all time in the business category, so just an absolute must-read.
Next on the list is “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek. Today, more than ever, it’s very important that you have an underlying reason why you are in business. You wanna have a clear purpose that goes beyond simply making more money, or dominating your product category. And one of the reasons why this is so important is because many of the most talented people today that are coming up from the next generation is far more driven by purpose and having an impact in the world than simply earning more money, or gaining some new title, or some of the things that have been more important to employees in the past. And in addition to this, customers out there are far more selective in terms of the businesses that they interact with, and they’re far more loyal to businesses that have a clear underlying purpose, especially one that they personally align with. So for these reasons, and many more, having a clear purpose in your business allows you to attract great talent, it allows you to attract and keep loyal customers, and just personally, for anybody in the business including yourself, it’s more inspiring and motivating to work on something when you know there’s an underlying purpose behind it that goes beyond simply making money. So just an absolute must-read if you wanna get clear on the purpose behind your organization.
Next on the list is “Crossing The Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore. This book is about how to market and sell disruptive products, the kinds of products that require that users change their behavior in some meaningful way in order to adopt them. Now, the reason why this book is so important even though it focuses on marketing and sales and that sort of thing, which might be kind of considered outside of the scope of this list, is because this book explains the different kinds of customers that you’re almost certainly going to come into contact with if you’re in business for any amount of time. So for example, among several different groups, I’m going to tackle two of them here for you. Number one, early adopters, a relatively small portion of the overall market, these kinds of customers, value new things, they like trying new things, they’re open to trying new things, and in fact, they embrace trying new things. On the other end of the spectrum, or at least further down the spectrum, you have pragmatist mainstream customers. These customers do not wanna try new things, they don’t like change for change’s sake, they want proven solutions. They wanna buy the kinds of products and services that other people like them have already bought, have already tried, and have already accepted as kind of the standard in their marketplace. So very different values. And this group is much, much larger in terms of the overall pool of customers that you can sell to. And so one of the things that this book explains is how to cross the chasm from early adopters to pragmatist mainstream customers and others like them, so that you can earn far more with your business. But the main takeaway that I would suggest from a book like this is simply understanding the different kinds of people that you’re almost certainly going to sell to overtime so that you can understand how they value things differently, what you need to focus on if you wanna please that kind of customer, and ultimately, why you wanna move more towards pragmatist mainstream customers if you wanna have longterm success with a lot more revenue and a lot more profit.
Let’s move on to “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. This is one of my all-time favorite business books, it explains the power of positioning. And the idea here is you wanna create an association between your product category, whatever category you’re in, whatever market you’re in, and your specific brand, so that whenever somebody thinks of that category, they automatically think of your brand. So for example, if I mentioned a category like fast food, you almost certainly think of a brand like McDonald’s or if I mentioned streaming television, you might think of Netflix, if I mentioned search engines, you might think of Google. And the power behind this concept is if you can be the brand to establish this connection in the minds of your target audience, every single time they think of the category, they naturally think of your brand. You effectively live rent-free in their minds, you don’t have to spend as much on advertising or promotion because whenever they think of that issue, or that problem, or that category, or whatever it is that you’re aiming to resolve, they immediately think of your brand and are far more likely to engage that brand when it comes to conducting in further business. So a very, very powerful concept and this book explains a few different tactics and strategies for how you can achieve this status in your product category, among several other very powerful ideas but that was one of my favorite takeaways from the book, and one that I think you’ll absolutely love.
Next on the list is “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. This is a very popular book that explains how to escape the bloody red ocean of competition. A very common trap that businesses find themselves in is a head-to-head rivalry where they’re effectively chasing the same customers with a very similar product, with comparable features. So heavily commoditized, and it tends to be all about price. They might take turns making a slightly better product, and then the other brand will come up and do a slightly better product, but effectively they’re selling the same thing to the same customers, and it becomes all about the price. This book includes tools and frameworks that can help you create a blue ocean of uncontested market space, so you can effectively make the competition irrelevant. You’re not worried about what they’re doing, you’re creating unique value for your own target audience, and not only are those customers more satisfied, but you’re able to generate better revenues, better margins, better profits because you have a differentiated strategy.
Next up, we have “The Language of Trust” by Michael Maslansky. Prospects and customers today are more skeptical than ever before. They’ve experienced being let down by major brands, big businesses, institutions, in some cases, their own government, and so they’re far less trusting than they would have been historically in the past. And so as a result of this, it’s no longer enough as a business, as a brand, as a leader, to simply do the right thing. Because even if you set out to do the right thing, highly skeptical people are going to assume an ulterior motive. They’re going to assume you’re just trying to distract them, or you’re just trying to promote your brand, or you’re just trying to misdirect them in some way to avoid some underlying motive. And so it’s no longer enough just to do the right thing, we need to learn how to communicate in the right way to cut through the skepticism. So this book is all about how to communicate with people on their own terms, and how to build trust with your customers, with your prospects, with a larger audience, so you can preempt some of the big issues that a lot of big businesses today face when they have like a social media firestorm or something like that. And that’s kind of the goal here. We need to build trust with people, not only doing the right thing but communicating in the right way so all of that can be much more effective. An absolute must-read in my opinion.
Next on the list is “Friction” by Roger Dooley. It’s very helpful to look at your entire business through the lens of friction. And what I mean by friction is you wanna identify anything that’s causing confusion, uncertainty, maybe introducing extra steps that are required to complete something. This can be related to your customers and the entire customer journey, everything from buying your product, receiving your product, using your product, maybe even recommending it to family and friends. You wanna look for points of friction, anything at all that makes it difficult for them to take a desired action, or to move forward in the customer journey, and you wanna find ways to streamline that process, to make it easier for them. And likewise, you wanna apply the same lens to your own internal business operations, making life easier for your employees, for your team, for your managers, you wanna look for any opportunity at all where you can eliminate uncertainty, reduce confusion, anything like that, eliminate steps, you just wanna make life easier for both your customers and your team. Because one of the number one reasons why highly valued members of the team ultimately leave an organization is because of burnout that is often caused by these kinds of points of friction, where tasks are unnecessarily complex, or unnecessarily repetitive, and if you can streamline these processes they can focus more on what they love to do, and creating more value for your customers.
Next on the list is “Measure What Matters” by John Doerr. This book explains a very simple way to establish and communicate the goals of a business. And not just the higher-level goals for the entire organization, but you can take those goals and break them down into the OKRs for the entire organization. So OKR stands for objective and key results. And when everybody in the organization has very clearly defined OKRs, it makes it really easy for everybody to see what’s happening and how those individual contributions move the entire business forward. This leads to accountability, transparency, much better collaboration, because if you can see what somebody else is working on, perhaps they’re falling behind, you can see if they’re falling behind, well, you can jump in and make a contribution if it’s an area in which you can help. So just an incredibly powerful way to have a larger organization feel like a smaller, simpler team. So this scales incredibly well from smaller teams all the way up to much larger organizations. One of the better examples in the book would be Google, they used this approach in order to collaborate much more effectively.