The Best Business Books
What are the best business books to increase productivity?
I have a strong personal interest in this question. As I wrote in my book Done: How to finish your projects when traditional ways don’t work, I had a serious problem finishing things – at one point I had over 25 half-written books sitting on my computer.
I’ve also read a lot of business books – over 450 in the past ten years. I did this partly because I love to read and also because I was running a book summary service called Book Rapper.
The books that follow are some of the best business books for productivity – they’re the ones that I used to write my own books and also the ones that I chose to RAP over at Book Rapper. Many others didn’t make the cut.
1 Heidi Grant Halvorson – Succeed
There are a lot of people out there talking about goal setting. But the big problem – as Heidi Grant Halvorson points out – is that we often we fail to achieve our goals because we adopt strategies that are flawed for the goal we’ve chosen.
Typically, we have a default goal achievement strategy. This works in certain circumstances and fails in others.
To achieve your goals, you need to define it and design it in a way that matches what you want to accomplish. What and How need to reflect each other. It’s how you frame your goal that matters.
In my book Done, I’ve devoted an entire chapter to Inner Goals as derived from Heidi (and Dan Pink’s) book.
Read this book if you’ve struggled to achieve your goals in the past. It will likely show why this has happened and what to do instead.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: Victory – How to Fulfil Your Goals.?
2 Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan – The Three Laws of Performance
What’s the most powerful technology ever invented? It might not be what you think.
Human beings create things through language; therefore, Conversational Technologies are possibly the most powerful technology ever invented.
They are the platform for everything that has ever been and ever will be created. That’s a big call! And, they’re now available to you to create your inspiring and compelling future in this great book.
Now, it’s your turn to make a big call! This book is about creating a breakthrough in your performance. Are you up for that? Really?
To do this you have to change how your current situation is occurring to you. Change the context you are operating from and this will allow you to transform your performance. Even better, complete your past and invent a stunning new future to leap into.
This book was the key to me creating Project Done – it was through the exercises in this book that I went from not completing my projects to leading others to complete their projects.
In my book Done, the chapter Don’t Fix Your Problems is based on this book.
Read this book if you want a dramatic leap forward in your performance.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: Frog Power – How to take giant leaps in your performance.
3 Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habits
Around 40% of our decisions are not decisions at all. They’re the reflex action of our habits in play. Our habits help and hinder us. They save us from thinking and they make us un-thinking. Science is now unlocking their keys making it easier to create better ones.
This book was one of the first to drive the habits revolution into the mainstream – and it’s still one of the best.
It breaks down the process into a simple three-part formula: cue, routine and reward. This lets you create new habits and banish others.
Plus, it presents the view that organisations and communities have habits too.
In my book Done, The Power of Habits is a key resource in the chapter You Have to Change.
Read this book if you know your bad habits are holding you back and you want to automate your success.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: Automatic Success : How to Create Winning Habits.
4 Donald Sull and Kathleen M Eisenhardt – Simple Rules
The demand to be always on and the rise of global inter-connections make the world more complex than ever. And, technological change makes it buzz and fizz faster and faster.
This makes planning in traditional ways obsolete – for example, writing a big fat heavy business plan.
Trying to work things out often no longer works. Further, our solutions to complex problems are often even more complex.
The answer is to simplify and simple rules of thumbs are the new gold standard for planning. They allow you to stay on track in line with your strategy but also let you respond to whatever challenge shows its ugly face so you can also be adaptive and innovative.
This book was a revelation for me. I had been trained as an architect where we designed every single nut and bolt before the builder constructed our masterpiece. This no longer works. Now I spend less time planning and more time on track with my tasks.
In my book Done, the entire chapter Rules Rule was derived from Sull and Eisenhardt’s book.
Read this book if you want to simplify your life and business by creating some rules for strategy, decision making and bounding into action.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: Rules Rule – Simplify your strategy for success in complex times.
5 Roger Martin – The Design of Business
How do you create long-term value in an organisation?
It’s no longer enough to simply stick to your knitting and keep doing what you’ve been doing over the past decade. Instead we need to create new value and that new value will be created through releasing the knowledge within your organisation. In The Design of Business Roger Martin shows us how.
He proposes Design Thinking as the new competitive advantage. It’s the balance between the drive for short-term efficiency through analysis and the exploration of new opportunities through creative and intuition based innovations. To fail to employ both modes of thinking and doing puts your organization at long-term risk.
Martin’s description of the seven reasons we need projects is one of the foundations of Project Done – we need to translate our ideas into practical projects.
Read this book if you want to take your business to a whole new level and employ the number one competitive advantage: design thinking. It’s a guide to building your innovation culture.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: Design Advantage – The Secret to Creating Long-Term Value.
6 Jeff Sutherland – Scrum
This could be the ultimate business book to increase productivity. Sutherland’s title says it all: Do twice the work in half the time. It’s the holy grail of productivity. And it’s not an idle claim – he has the experience and results to show the Scrum process works.
As one of the co-founders of Scrum, Sutherland points to some serious issues in the way we traditionally design our work. He suggests we keep trying to push the envelope of a flawed model and this only results in delays, stress and failure. We need to revolutionize the way we work. Scrum is the answer.
The traditional way of working in both group and personal projects relies on starting at one end and working through until you get to the other. It can be slow, it can be boring and it can be very easy to go off track.
In contrast, Scrum aims for short, fast sprints that produce immediate value to your clients – it’s more engaging work that produces better results. Plus, it’s a more flexible approach that allows you to respond to changes in client and customers needs.
Sutherland’s book was crucial to the chapter Ship Smaller Sooner in my book Done.
Read this book if you want to do twice the work in half the time. It is possible. And if you’re working in teams on things that matter this might just become the best time of your life.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: Great Work – Do things that matter and get twice as much done in half the time.
7 Caroline Adams Miller – Getting Grit
What’s the most important thing you need to get big things done? It might be grit. Other strategies are helpful and if grit is not part of your repertoire you’re going to struggle. And it’s not all blood, sweat and tears. The Positive Psychology movement have updated and refined it. The prescription now includes being happy, humble and patient.
Grit is the ability to stick at things to produce long-term results. Traditionally, you either had it or you didn’t. Now, scientific research is showing us how to grow it to give us a better chance at fulfilling our big goals. And surprisingly, you need to be happy to be gritty and gritty to be happy.
Read this highly practical book if you want to tackle something big and hard. What’s your dream? It all starts with that. Get in touch with what you really want and then start working to bring that to life. It might not always be fun and it will be a highly satisfying journey if you stick at it. Use this book as your travelling companion.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: True Grit – How to Stick at Things for Longer.
8 Daniel Pink – Drive
One of the most basic things you’ll need to increase productivity is motivation – without it you’ll just have a dream or a good intention.
In Drive, Daniel Pink suggests the way we go about this has to change.
The old carrot and stick system of reward and punishment that has fuelled business for the past few hundred years needs an upgrade – for both managers and workers.
It’s time to redesign work practices to match what science knows about motivation and how business is practiced.
It’s time to redesign work practices to match what science knows about motivation and how business is practiced.
Instead, loosen the reins, inspire long-term learning and pursue profit as a means to purpose. The Motivated Organization is here!
This desire for motivation is the core platform for my book Done and the Project Done Program. For me, simply writing and completing tasks didn’t motivate me – it did the opposite. That’s why the sub-title of my book is: How to finish your projects when traditional ways don’t work. Pink’s book gave me strong clues as to what I need to do instead.
Read this book if you want to motivate yourself and others – or perhaps your entire organisation – to get more done.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: The Motivated Organization.
9 Eric Ries – The Lean Startup
Don’t let the title fool you – you don’t have to be starting a new business to gain value from this classic business book. It’s for anyone starting up a new project.
In particular, it’s THE guide for running any project where the result or working environment is uncertain, unpredictable or unknown. In other words, any innovation and product creation project.
Innovation is the opposite of business as usual. And, the usual ways we manage and account for success are about getting known tasks completed. This doesn’t work when it comes to creating the new, unique and different.
The Lean Startup marries the scientist and the entrepreneur to create a reliable process for creating new products and new businesses. Rather than guessing what your customers want build your Minimum Viable Product (MVP), measure its impact and learn the next step. Repeat, repeat and repeat until you have sustainable success.
In my book Done, we share the MVP process as part of the chapter on Ship Smaller Sooner.
Read this book if you want to create something new – a new product or a new organization. Get your creative projects done!
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: Pioneer – How to create and manage innovation.
10 Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader
At first glance you might think this is a mistake. What’s a book on leadership doing on a list of best business books to increase productivity and get more done?
I didn’t get it at first either. But when I did the lights truly shone brightly: to create anything new we need to lead the way.
As Bennis suggests, leadership starts at the point you say to yourself or others: ‘I want this to happen.’ (Even if you only say this to yourself you still need self-leadership.)
Most leadership courses and books fail to produce leaders because they focus on the wrong things. They treat leadership as if it’s a thing to do, a means to an end. Instead, leadership is a side effect, a by-product of a way of being. In particular, leadership occurs as a result of being fully expressed as a human being in the pursuit of something worthwhile.
To become a leader it all starts with knowing yourself. Who are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? And these are also the starting points for being more productive and getting things done.
For me, this connection between leading and finishing things was the spark that had me start Project Done, which lead to me writing my books Done and Weekly Done. It’s also the pivotal reference for the chapter in Done called The Access Point.
Read this book if you want to step up and take on a new challenge – even more so if you want to engage others in your projects.
The Book Rapper version of this book is called: Becoming You – The key to becoming a leader.
Summary: Best Productivity Books
This is my list of the best business books to increase productivity. They may appear to be a mixed bunch and not specific as a system for getting more done. They’re not tactical. They don’t say ‘do this’. Instead, they are highly strategic and each one has deep implications for our work. For instance:
- Scrum, The Design of Business and The Lean Startup challenge how we design our work;
- The Three Laws of Performance and Simple Rules provide strong alternatives to traditional planning;
- Drive, Succeed, The Power of Habits and Getting Grit all question our usual thinking around motivation, persistence and goal-setting; and
- On Becoming a Leader presents leadership as an essential quality to express yourself, increase productivity and make things happen.
What are your best business books to increase productivity? Add a comment below.
If you want to speed read all of my choices for best business books to increase productivity you might like to buy the Book Rapper Get More Done Bundle. It’s effectively a 12-month DIY productivity course that includes a visual book summary of each of these books plus more – 16 in total. Plus a full copy of my book Done. Get more done here.