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Jun 10

Good Books For Entrepreneurs?

Posted by: George Mulhern        

During the Boise Idavation event a couple of weeks ago, someone asked Brad Feld to recommend a good book for entrepreneurs.  His answer was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig.   Definitely a good read.  I first read it over 35 years ago while in high school, and have read it several times since.   (Hmmm… may be some insights here as to why the Japanese so successfully embraced and implemented the Total Quality Control principles.)

It got me thinking about some of the best business books that I have read.  As I thought about it, I realized that I have rarely (if ever) read a business book cover to cover.  Most seem to be based on one or two key insights, followed by dozens of examples and pages and pages elaborating on the same point.  Don’t get me wrong. There are business books that really taught me something (even though I didn’t read them cover to cover). For example, I really liked the Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.  Conversely, there were some very popular business books that I thought were somewhat bogus.  For example, I thought Crossing the Chasm was over rated (sorry Geoffrey, just my opinion).

One of the most interesting and engaging books about business that I have read, is not about business, at all.   The book is called The Beak of the Finch, by Jonathan Weiner.  It chronicles the work of Dr.’s Peter and Rosemary Grant as they study evolution through the Finches on the Galapagos islands.  To me, it reads like a book on business basics. A few quick examples:

  • Natural selection - evolution doesn’t happen in periodic, large jumps. Species are in a constant state of “jitter” and respond quickly to their changing environmental conditions.  Those that respond to environmental changes - survive.
  • Principle of divergence - species can evolve out of each others way in the competition for food. If there is no way to diverge to another niche, then one species drives the other to extinction. A process of competitive differentiation.
  • The adaptive peak - species develop characteristics that work toward maximum fitness for their environment.  If they move to a new and very different environment they won’t be well suited for it.  If the environment is too different, they will die.
  • You get the idea……


This book, I read cover to cover.  I am always looking for opportunities to learn.  It is especially fun when the learning comes in unexpected ways or from unexpected places.  What are you reading?  Where have you found sources of new insight that have helped you in building your business?



9 Responses to “Good Books For Entrepreneurs?”

  1. avatar Mark Solon says:

    One of my favorites (as you know partner) is Mavericks at Work - It shows how companies in every industry can come at it from a different approach to win.

  2. avatar Andrew Piron says:

    there is a book out now called Sway by the Bronfman brothers….I encourage everyone to read it. It sort of fits in the Gladwell zone, but different…it speaks to "the irresistible pull of irrational behavior." Very good stuff.

  3. avatar MattCope says:

    I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the best book for entrepreneurs is Atlas Shrugged.

    Put politics and philosophy aside for a second.

    The book, if nothing else, demonstrates the private and public value of entrepreneurs - those who create something new where there was nothing before.

    The drive and passion that follow from that realization are at least as important as anything you could learn from a case study.

  4. Mark,
    First of all, Hi! While "The Toilers of the Sea" by Victor Hugo is not a business book at all, I found that it reminded me of Tac as I read it. There are some wonderful passages in it that Tac blogged about on Tech Boise last year, and over all it has some great themes of starting a successful business, working hard, things going wrong because sometimes they do, and working your tail off when you have to…yes sometimes that involves fighting giant squids that want to eat you.
    As you can tell I don't read real business books :)

  5. avatar winkjones says:

    I second the comment on atlas shrugged. I read this in my early 20s and started my first business a few months later.

    Also, Talib Nassim's 'Fooled by Randomness' is fantastic. Also not really a 'business book' per se, he wrote this a few years before 'The Black Swan' and it has much of the same message, but focuses more on statistical theory and the nature of information and knowledge. The big takeaway for me and application to business was that we need to question everything, especially when it's being spouted from the so-called experts. It also impacted my outlook on economics, making a case for strongly distrusting economists - they base their models and predictions on faulty, ideal-world assumptions, setting up the very Black Swans they're trying to predict and prevent. I think having an understanding of the nature of knowledge and information can make us that much more effective in creating value as entrepreneurs and investors.

    • George Mulhern says:

      I am also a big fan of Atlas Shrugged. In fact I keep a copy of John Galt’s speech on my laptop. I also thought the Black Swan was really interesting and am always trying to check for confirmation bias now, so I will have to check out Fooled by Randomness.

  6. Hi There! After reading many, many business and leadership books and articles I am back to re-reading the classics. My two favorites are "How To Win Friends & Influence People" by Dale Carnegie, and "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill. These focus entrepreneurs and leaders on the "Being, Doing and Having" of entrepreneurship and business. They get to the source of building successful businesses! Thanks for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Cheerio!

  7. Becky says:

    "The Beak of the Finch" looks like something I would really enjoy- I can't wait to check it out. I have been on a role lately, to read more personal progress books. I am making it a goal to improve my own personal business goals. I just finished reading Jack Bergstrand's latest book "Reinvent Your Enterprise" and would highly recommend it.

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