(By Jason Brick)
“In the movie and in the book by Winston Groom, the title character has a wildly interesting and successful life simply by being in the right place at the right time. None of his success is intentional … it’s just a matter of being open to opportunity when it appears. Imagine what you could do if you internalized that lesson and pursued opportunity with intentionality and purpose.“
Most entrepreneurs have a stack of nonfiction books they’ve been meaning to get to—books that promise to teach you how to better market your products, manage your employees, grow your business. But like everyone trying to run a small business, you probably don’t have a lot of time to dig into that stack.
While I’d like to help you out, instead I’m going to add seven titles to your must-read list—seven non-fiction books that happen to be chock full of business lessons you can put to use immediately. If you can find some time, why not shake things up a bit and read one of these entertaining fiction books? Your business will thank you.
1. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
This work of historical fiction by Michael Lewis is about Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland As, and how he uses number theory and player statistics to steer his team into a winning position. I’ve always been a firm believer in using statistics to drive success. This novel—and the movie made from it—demonstrate the concept with a very engaging storyline.
2. Going Postal
This Terry Pratchett novel is the story of career criminal Moist von Lipwig, who is given the option of repairing a country’s disintegrating postal system or being summarily executed. Going Postal has a lot to say about bureaucratic inefficiency, waste and taking personal responsibility for a team’s success. As a bonus, because it’s by Pratchett, it’s also hilarious. (Making Money and Raising Steam follow Moist’s adventures into other industries.)
3. The Deadline
It’s a novel. About project management. (Yes, you read that right.) This “novel about project management,” as the cover tagline reads, by author Tom DeMarco investigates different approaches to team size, goal setting and project scope. Despite it’s dry subject matter, it somehow remains a powerful thriller.
4. Forrest Gump
In the movie and in the book by Winston Groom, the title character has a wildly interesting and successful life simply by being in the right place at the right time. None of his success is intentional … it’s just a matter of being open to opportunity when it appears. Imagine what you could do if you internalized that lesson and pursued opportunity with intentionality and purpose.
If you came of age any time before 1990, you probably know the basic idea of this bestseller by James Clavell (which was also turned into a popular TV miniseries): It’s the story of western merchants discovering and becoming immersed in feudal Japanese society. Protagonist John Blackthorne navigates the deadly politics of that era in a way that simultaneously prepares you for the nuances of corporate politics and reminds you that, really, you don’t have it so bad.
6. Avogadro Corp.: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears
This is the story of how a company (that’s not-Google, the author is quick to point out) accidentally created the first artificial intelligence and the world-changing consequences of that creation. For business leaders, the real treasure is in the incidental descriptions of how the Avogadro Corp. treats its employees. If you have knowledge workers in your business, take some notes from this novel by William Hertling, and steal an idea or three.
7. Hornblower: Beat to Quarters
I read this book by C.S. Forester for the first time when I was 13, and it remains the best book about leadership that I’ve read to date. The main character, Horatio Hornblower, is a captain in the British Navy during the tall ships era. He leads successfully mostly out of a morbid fear of screwing up, as well as of the consequences of those mistakes should they happen. His internal monologue during the action sequences is a balm for all of us out there who—despite our successes—feel like we’re just one bad move away from being exposed as frauds.