The world of business is always changing. One thing stays the same, though: the need to learn from successful entrepreneurs in order to make a success of whatever venture you’re undertaking.
This is where a bit of background reading is essential – both in terms of what the great and the good of business have done right, but also, crucially, what they’ve done wrong.
With this in mind, here’s our pick of a few of the best business books to help you kick-start your career, whether it’s as a start-up founder or working in high finance...
Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of a Creative Mind; Biz Stone
Not many businesses have achieved the sort of virality as that of Twitter. Consider the numbers: having only launched back in 2006, it now clocks up an amazing 500 million tweets a day or, to put it another way, 6,000 tweets a second. It’s revolutionised the way we communicate online.
So when one of its co-founder says something, it’s worth listening – particularly when the way he says it is as funny and good-natured as in Things a Little Bird Told Me. A couple of key takeaways from this likeable businessman’s story are a) that being passionate about what you do is absolutely critical to the success of a venture and b) you should never shy away from risk-taking.
Business Adventures; John Brooks
This is an odd one. What is a 43-year-old book, which for many years was out of print, doing on a list of best business books in 2014? A collection of writing in the New Yorker from finance journalist John Brooks, it covers everything from the founding and growth of Xerox to Ford’s Edsel flop and any number of other financial scandals in expert detail.
Frankly, if it’s good enough to make Bill Gates’s bedtime reading list – and the Microsoft founder referred to it as the ‘best business book I’ve ever read’ – then it’s more than good enough for us.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration; Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
This New York Times bestseller is essentially another ‘celebrity biography’ from the world of business. The thoughts of pioneering Pixar president Ed Catmull on management, leadership, group dynamics and creativity, it’s a seriously inspiring read that’s full of revealing insights into Pixar’s corporate culture. To quote from the book: “Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.” Amen.
It’s also packed with cool little snippets about the decision-making that went on behind the scenes of some all-time classic movies. (Who knew that Toy Story was originally supposed to be a musical?)
BIG DATA: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think; Viktor Mayer-Schonberger
Anyone who’s worked in or is studying marketing will be all-too familiar with the term ‘Big Data’ and the central importance, in both concept and practice, it’s taking in our professional and personal lives.
These days, in competitive business terms, having the data and knowing what to do with it is increasingly the difference between storming success and outright failure. The books runs through the commercial and philosophical questions that this development has thrown up, as well as some notable failures to capitalise on these opportunities.
Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World; Liaquat Ahamed
Lords of Finance is not new, having been published back in 2009. It’s also debatable the extent to which it’s truly a ‘business book’ as opposed to a book about global banking. Regardless, it recounts in fascinating detail a time when bankers brought the world to its knees – the build-up to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed it.
Start Your Business in 7 Days; James Caan
Another oldie. These start-up tips from Dragons’ Den star James are well worth careful consideration, though, if you don’t want to be, in his words, one of the: “90% of new businesses fail, because their founders failed to ask themselves the simplest of questions.”
The key to the book is that it’s not preachy or arrogant. Caan asks you to accept that failure is a central part of being an entrepreneur and that failing quickly (rather than dragging it out), learning from your experiences and channelling them into the next fruitful start-up are the keys to success.