Top 5 Books for Entrepreneurs
Most entrepreneurs that I know are readers and the ones who aren’t learn in different ways, the common denominator for virtually all business owners is that we have to continuously learn new things. The economy changes, technology evolves, markets shift…there’s always something new to learn.
When I think back on my own entrepreneurial journey I know that a large portion of my success is owed to the books that I have read.
So, today I want to talk about 5 books that have made an impact on my life as an entrepreneur. I have been a reader for as long as I can remember. I used to drive my friends crazy because I would hole up in my room and read for hours and hours at a time. Don’t get me wrong, I would go out and play football and hit up the parks and the swamp land around my house, but I was never bored because even if there wasn’t anything going on, I always had books to keep company.
In my early years it was mostly fiction, John Grisham being a favorite of mine, but as I got older into high school and college I started diving into non-fiction more often. Business books, biographies, autobiographies, you name it and I read it. So, it’s a bit of a chore to pick just 5 books that have made a difference in my life, but I think I have narrowed down a little bit.
This isn’t a “best of” type list, but it’s a list of books that have most positively impacted my life personally. Your list could be different and I am sure it is, but if you are looking for some good reads and haven’t read any of these then I would highly suggest you grab a copy and get to reading. Each of these books has changed the course of my entrepreneurial journey in its own right.
Ok, here’s the list in no particular order…
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
When I was in college 20 years ago I would visit my local bookstore between classes and this was one of the books I pulled off the shelf and read in one sitting, skipping a few classes to get all the way through it.
Since then I have re-read this book dozens of times, kind of going back to it over and over again like an old friend that always gives you good conversation. I particularly like going back to it when my life starts getting a little chaotic and I start to feel overwhelmed a little bit. I think getting back to my roots as a young entrepreneur has a calming effect on me or something.
Anyway, if you are a business owner and haven’t read Think Grow Rich I would be stunned and recommend you read it as soon as you can get your hands on a copy. The basic premise is that Napoleon Hill was charged by Andrew Carnegie to go out and interview dozens of successful people and see if he could find common threads that they all shared. He ended up with about a dozen or so of these “Laws of Success” as he called them and when taken together, could help you create a successful life both in business and your personal life.
The title of the book is a little misleading and has been criticized by opponents of the book as being too trite or elementary. A more accurate title would have probably been, How to Think and Grow Rich, since the main premise is that your thoughts eventually become things but not without action.
I think those who dismiss this book are missing that key point. It isn’t just your thoughts that create things, it’s what you do with those thoughts. To be sure, every tangible thing in life begins with a thought, but it’s action that makes it manifest.
My hunch is that they chose the title they did, because it’s easier to sell something by saying, “All you have to do is think about this stuff and you’ll get rich” rather than saying, “All this stuff will come about if you have the right thoughts and work your ass off”…that book probably won’t sell as many copies. But if you ask 100 successful business people to list their favorite business books then Think and Grow Rich are going to be on the list of 99 of the 100. It’s that impactful.
Action! Nothing Happens Until Something Moves by Robert Ringer
Now, speaking of acting on your thoughts, the next book to make my list is Robert Ringer’s Action! Nothing Happens Until Something Moves. While you’ve probably heard of Think and Grow Rich you may not have heard of Robert Ringer or his books…which kinda proves my point about it being easier to sell a book about just thinking about success instead of going out and making success happen, but that’s what Robert Ringer’s book is all about.
I heard of Robert Ringer through Dan Kennedy who mentioned that Ringer was one of his mentors and a guy he turned to for advice. Knowing that I wanted to see what he was all about and I wasn’t disappointed. While Hill’s work was all about “secrets” and “magic formulas” Ringer’s work was straight pragmatism. He is a no-nonsense kind of character and tells it like it is. A lot of people don’t like that, but I find refreshing. I don’t need you to sell me on your ideas…I just need you to tell me how to implement them and this is exactly what he delivers.
One of the main takeaways I got from this book is that motivation doesn’t have to precede action. In other words, we sometimes feel like we can’t do something until we have the motivation to do it. Conventional wisdom says, motivation breeds action.
Ringer’s advice for success is to do things even when you aren’t motivated because action breeds motivation. If you don’t want to get up and go to the gym but you do it anyway, then usually you’re glad you made the effort and it motivates to do it again the next morning. The more you act, the more motivation you have. You just have to give yourself permission to act without being motivated to do so.
War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Of the five books on this list, number 3 here is probably my favorite and that is War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield is a little bit of an enigma…I first ran across him when I read a novel he wrote called The Legend of Bagger Vance. You may have seen the movie with Matt Damon and Will Smith. Will Smith played a mystical golf caddy and Matt Damon was an amateur golfer that could have gone pro, but he went to the war instead yada yada. It was a good book, but his non-fiction work is really worth the read if you are looking for a swift kick in the ass.
I happened to read this book when I was at a very low point in my life and my career and it relit the entrepreneurial fire under me that had been steadily going out. He talks about how we all have to face what he calls Resistance in our lives and to defeat it we must first recognize it and how it manifests itself in our every day lives. It can become doubt or procrastination or manifest itself in drugs or sex or trivial pursuits. Anything to keep us from doing the work we have been called to do. Social media is a good example of a diversionary tactic that Resistance uses to distract us and so is following the constant news cycles.
All of these things combine forces to keep us from moving our lives forward and doing our work. When I read that book I was able to see all the different ways that Resistance was keeping me down. Just by being aware of it made it easier to refocus and identify it when it came along again.
This is a book that I read probably once a year or so, just to keep reminding myself that I have important things to do with my life. If you want a real kick in the pants to get back to work or if you find it hard to get motivated then read this book and your passion will come right back with a vengeance.
The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
The fourth book on my list is another one that I read pretty early in my career and made a real impact not just on me, but also on people that I mentor or who ask me for advice. I speak to groups of college aged kids 3-5 times a year and when some of them reach out to me to talk about starting their own business I always refer them to this book.
The fact is, most people are not cut out for the entrepreneurial lifestyle. It takes a special type of aptitude to be successful. If you crave order and stability and solutions that are black and white, then starting a company is not for you. We live most of our lives in the gray. We thrive or at least tolerate some level of chaos in our business lives. I personally love chaos. It gets me going. It fires me up. Not a lot of people enjoy that kind of stress, but I have adapted to it I guess.
Anyway, Gerber’s initial point in this book is that there is an entrepreneurial myth or what he calls the e-myth and that myth is that just because you are good at a particular skill doesn’t mean that you’ll be a successful business owner.
He says that there are three types of people inside each of us: the Technician, the Manager, and the Entrepreneur.
The technician is the person who does the actual work. The manager is the one who brings order to the operation and the entrepreneur is the dreamer and the person with the vision for the future.
If you are 85% technician, 10% manager, and 5% entrepreneur then you are most likely going to fail as a business owner. It’s that 5% that gets you into trouble. It says to you, “The business owner of this place is an idiot. You could do this so much better. It’s easy.” And it’s not easy. There are so many variables involved in running a business and it’s really like an iceberg to the outside world…they only see what is going on at the surface and have no idea about what is going on behind the scenes. And that behind the scenes is where success or failure is had.
The rest of the book is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs bring a measure of order to their company by installing systems across the board. Systems for operations, finance, marketing, sales, distribution, and on and on. These systems are what help the chaotic entrepreneur bring some stability to the life of the business.
It is a really great read and I highly recommend it.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
This last book was another one I read around the time I read War of Art. I was in a lonely, dark place in my life and questioning everything. The purpose of what I was doing, and even the purpose of life.
I felt like I was living this trite existence that had no meaning at all. I was depressed and frankly, I was scared. I didn’t know how to get out of the funk I was in. Then I picked up a copy of Man’s Search for Meaning and it all sort of crystallized from there.
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian Jew who was captured by the Nazis in World War II. He was placed in a holding camp and there’s some discrepancy about how long he was actually there, but the main premise of the book is that assigning meaning to our lives is primarily a choice. We are all going to face adversity in our life and it is how we face that adversity that is going to define us.
It’s safe to say that none of us are probably going to face conditions of an internment camp and that our problems - as real and as painful as they may be right now - aren’t going to torture or kill us. We will make it through these challenges eventually and finding meaning in those trials is what builds our character. It can be hard to do and the weight we carry as providers can be heavy. The temptation to put it down strong. But you owe it to yourself to keep that yoke in place and bear that cross you have hoisted on your shoulders. This is the stuff that Life is made of. You can do this and you will do this.
Each of these books have made an indelible impression on my life. Not just an impression, but they have literally altered the course of my existence. I owe each of these authors a debt of gratitude for the impact they have each made in my life. If there are any on this list that you haven’t read, go grab a copy and change your life too.