Ten Books that Stand the Test of Time

Time Do you you do this?

I regularly pass on to other people many of my business and marketing books — mostly bought, some received as courtesy copies from publishers and authors.

While I still prefer to read the physical souvenir of someone's work, in print, I don't have to hang on to all of them forever.

My philosophy is that knowledge needs to flow through networks to become really valuable overall. I don't give my copies of everything away. If I really like a book and I want to hold onto it, I buy more copies for others.

There are two kinds of books I hold onto:

  1. those with a personal and special dedication from the author
  2. those where I wrote furiously in the margins

Writing a book is hard work. Writing a book that teaches you something different, that literally rewires your operating system through the ideas/actions
of the authors. Ideas and actions that are now built into you in the way you think and behav
e [thank you, Peter]… those are keepers.

I thought it would be fun to share ten books that jumped out at me from my bookshelf as standing the test of time — still as useful today as when they were published. These books taught me something different in a way that rewired the way I operate in business.

In no particular order:

The Tipping Point The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference (Amazon affiliate link) by Malcolm Gladwell.

Conceptually, you probably already knew that there are people who are really good at connecting others, you met them at networking events and saw them climb the company ladder (they were the nice ones, BTW). You also probably knew about go-to people — those who have useful information at their fingertips – and sales people.

However, in the book Gladwell distills the stories and salient points about connectors, mavens, and salesmen in a way that made me aware of those characteristics and smart at identifying them and utilizing that knowledge in business . 

A_whole_new_mind A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (Amazon affiliate link) by Dan Pink.

Dan is a friend, a super smart, fun, and interesting writer and researcher. He's responsible for turning me on demographics and free agents. It was a thrill when he published this book. First off because we organized at event at the Charter School for Architecture and Design here in Philadelphia, which he features in the book and for the students/benefactors of which Dan bought the balance of unsold books that night.

Secondly because Dan helped a pragmatic business culture like that prevalent in the US, to learn about the business relevance and importance of design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning.

Tharp The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life (Amazon affiliate link) by Twyla Tharp. 

This is anything but a soft book. What is your idea of mastery? At what moment do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp? When you work, do you love the process or the result? Tharp asks many excellent questions like those to help you exercise your filters and thinking, and she adds stories that teach for good measure.

I think I've now read this book three times — and I constantly refer back to it and to my notes in the margins. When you're in a rut, you have to question everything except your ability to get out of it. This book has helped me figure out creative solutions, which are essential in a world that is changing more rapidly than we'd like.

Cce_front470_1 Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force (Amazon affiliate link) by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba. 

It's amazing how many companies are still grappling with this concept in 2010. Ben and Jackie literally wrote the prelude for so many of the social activities we're implementing today. We had the fortune of hosting Ben at a Fast Company network event back when the book came out. 

Customer evangelism works, business is about people. Understanding the love (listening), giving to receive, spreading the word, bringing customers together, going from sampling to evangelism, and creating a cause — these are all very relevant, still. I recommended this book to many a company over the years. I hope they bought copies for their management teams. 

One Billion Customers One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China (Amazon affiliate link) by James McGregor.

I'm a big believer in understanding the whole economic ecosystem in which a business operates. This book was a tremendous asset and eye opener for me. We all know that there are rules, and then there's reality in every country where you do business. I was made in Italy, and worked with Japanese companies for several years.

This book is probably not for the small or mid sized business owner, as the author deals at a high level with large scale transactions. However, it is excellent in helping you understand the Chinese business persona. That's its biggest value to you.

Experience-economy The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage (Amazon affiliate link) by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore.

The principles that companies should charge for the value they add and that designing for the middle sacrifices that value. In other words, the intangibles are far more important than the tangibles in the
competitive world because, obviously, you can replicate the

The authors style is packed with information, so much so that sometimes it is a bit dense to read. However, they were the first to talk about work as stage and experience development. Both concepts have changed the way we look at any business today.

Longtail The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More (Amazon affiliate link) by Chris Anderson. 

We're obsessed with lists — both for wanting the top items and to be  recommended on one or more. In the digital medium, the tail of available items is longer than we realize, it's now within reach economically, and all those niches, when aggregated, can make up a significant market.

Anderson makes a compelling argument illustrating it with examples. What parts of this new reality are important to your business? What's in your inventory, how do you move/distribute/price it? Can you enroll the market to help you pull what you have? If you haven't read this book, you're missing out.

Wal-Mart EffectThe Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works–and How It's Transforming the American Economy (Amazon affiliate link) by Charles Fishman.

If you think this book doesn't apply to your business, you might want to reconsider. You'll realize that shopping is important, and that Wal-Mart shapes where we shop, the products we buy, and the prices we pay — regardless of whether we shop at those store or not.

Fishman's research for the book will teach you about operational choices, which in turn influence packaging, presentation, economies and the countries in which those products are sourced. Ever the experienced storyteller, Fishman was a guest at one of the Fast Company network best attended events. 

Get There Early Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present (Amazon affiliate link) by Bob Johansen.

This is a book about using foresight to inform strategy and innovation. If you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a business problem that needs solving, buy this book. Today we're surrounded by dilemmas — problems that cannot be solved and won't go away.

Without practical ways to make sense out of complexity when problem solving is not enough, leaders will continue to fail. Think this is just an issue for CEOs and CMOs? Think again. Accounting has become a risky profession.

Developing a sense of timing and situational awareness grounded in vision, understanding, clarity, and agility is the skill for today and tomorrow. And mapping of data- and story-driven potential outcomes is a very important tool for holding complexity in your mind.

Blue-ocean-strategy-book-coverBlue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant (Amazon affiliate link) by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne.

Would you rather optimize your current offerings in very competitive landscape? Have you ever seen those analyst quadrants and reports showing crowded industries/offerings? Would you rather be incrementally better at what all those others do, or would you choose to take a step back and redefine the space you're in? I know which one you're picking.

You want to create a blue ocean — a new value curve. That means you'll need to make some changes in your offering. This book will help you think through which factors you should reduce, which you should eliminate entirely, which you should raise above industry standards, and which you should create net new.


These are just ten off my shelf that I still refer back to on a regular basis. What other business and strategy books from the last 10 years have stood the test of time? And by that, I mean have rewired the way you think about business and given you information and results?

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0 responses to “Ten Books that Stand the Test of Time”

  1. Valeria,
    Great list – the best thing for me is that I’ve only read three – so I have lots of books to add to my list.
    Three that I would add, all leadership related:
    Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done – Larry Bossidy
    The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done – Peter Drucker
    The Daily Drucker – Peter Drucker
    A daily journal with nuggets of advice from Peter Drucker. Read it almost every day.

  2. Great list Valeria — and gives a ton on insight into where your focus is! As someone who reads at least 2 business books a week — for the past 21 years – it is tough to get the list down to just ten – but here are a few that have truly changed the way I think:
    1.I agree with you, “Blue Ocean Strategy” is a classic. It is both a simply idea and a very complex process wrapped up together. It totally changed the way I look at differentiation.
    2.In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters – actually just about anything by Tom Peters. It is not that his stuff is so shockingly new and different – but that he put GREAT ideas right in your face and screams at you “DO THIS!!!!!”
    3.“One from Many: Visa and the Rise of the Chaordic Organization” by Dee Hock – this is a masterpiece of business philosophy – I have re-read it several times and am now digging into Dee’s other book: “Birth of the Chaordic Age” – also spectacular.
    4.“Good to Great” by Jim Collins – sort of obligatory – but still had many excellent points and has become so widely read and applied that it is hard to have a conversation about business without someone trotting out G2G.
    5.“Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matter Most” by Stone et al. – because this is simply not a skill most of us are taught – and it is one we need desperately!! I also found a lot of value from “Crucial Confrontations: Tools for talking about broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior.” If you ever come into contact with other human beings there is a good chance that at some point you will find yourself in a difficult situation or crucial confrontation – and these two books give you the real tools to handle them with calm confidence and success.
    6.“The Definitive Drucker: Challenges For Tomorrow’s Executives — Final Advice From the Father of Modern Management” by Elizabeth Edersheim. If you’re in business, reading Drucker is mandatory! This is the most respectful and accessible book I have read about the man AND his key ideas. You hear what Drucker said in his own words, while getting a real admiration (almost affection) for Drucker the person.
    7.“The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner – one of the best researched and focused books I have ever read about the fundamental characteristic of the kind of leaders that people truly want to follow.
    I could add another 20 or 50 (they are on my web site at: http://www.awesomelysimple.com) but here are a few that I would count among the best I have ever read – because they deeply informed they way I think about and practice my personal business philosophy. Hope you found those helpful – John Spence
    PS – Valeria, I would LOVE to see a list of the WORST business books you’ve ever read too!!!

  3. I still like to think that ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’ and its 95 theses have held up pretty well, standing the test of time.

  4. Thank you for sharing your top ten book list.
    I would add:
    “The One Minute Manager” by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.
    This book will show you how three simple “secrets” can make a major impact in your bottom line by focusing in both people and results.
    A must read.

  5. Anything by Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired magazine, but especially New Rules for the New Economy (don’t let the 1999 publishing date worry you, this book is terrific). Also, Out of Control — The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World. This is a great summer read, don’t let the title scare you off it’s very accessible, on my re-read list this summer.

  6. There are so many great books (including all those mentioned already) I’d love a post on ultimately what to leave out/what kinds of books you feel aren’t worth your time, within the realm of marketing etc.
    So many books, so little time.

  7. Great list, however “stand the test of time”? Weren’t most of these published within the last 10 years?
    I still think that “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is the best book to span the decades – and has even more practical implementation with the experience economy that we are in today.
    Also would add the book “Love is the Killer App” by Tim Sanders on to this list as it really discussed the meaning of business 2.0 before the uptick of social media etc.

  8. @Jeremy – Drucker is a classic. I wrestled on whether to include leadership books, I have so many, and ultimately decided to weigh in with more practical/applicable for marketing and social media. Good call on your selections.
    @John – wow, love the detail about why you recommend the books you list, thank you! I’m particularly intrigued by Dee Hock’s books, I’m making a note of both titles for the next time I hit order on my shopping cart. As for the list of worst books… that’s a bit tricky, isn’t it? There’s an audience for any book, for example these are the books that stand the test of time for me. Will need to think about that as I normally don’t buy/read bad books 🙂
    @RaynaNyc – I have a whole post, actually more than one, dedicated to that book. Good suggestion.
    @Bruno – I was wrestling with adding leadership book and decided to keep them out this time around.
    @Jim – I concur on Kevin Kelly. I’m an avid reader of Techium and love how he presents complex concepts simply.
    @Patrick – what to leave out depends on what you’re looking for a little, doesn’t it? Also, I read many books over the years that I didn’t have immediate application for and yet were super useful in expanding my horizons later.
    @Matt – did I mention this was my post? Of course the list is my take 😉 Given that many of these books talk about marketing, trends, and business practices, which are usually the topics I cover on this blog, it’s easy to see how they’d age more quickly given how much social media and the empowered consumer have accelerated the pace of change. Thank you for adding to everyone’s list.

  9. Matt — I am on your team — “How to Win Friends and Influence People” truly a masterpiece and must read — and his “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” is superb too. “Love is the Killer App” I don’t know how I missed listing that one (Sorry Tim!) — it is absolutely one of my Favorites of all time — I have given away 20+ copies(KNL) –and I guess we’d have to throw in “Think and Grow Rich” by Naploeon Hill if we want to talk about books that have stood the test of time! I am loving this conversation Valeria — so fun to see what others find interesting and valuable — I am tweeting it like crazy — hope we can get a ton of people to comment.

  10. Wow. 🙂 This one made me stop for a moment. And go downstairs, armed with a pad (of paper) and a pen. I discovered, erm, 2, 3?, books of the suggested topic on our shelves. 🙂
    “Crowdsourcing”, by Jeff Howe and “Once you’re lucky, twice you’re good” by Sarah Lacy. Both are good, but I’m not entirely sure why they’re on the shelves. I’m not sure if it’s relevant but “Digital Barbarism”, Mark Helprin, is a firm favorite. He’s a virtuoso of the language! It’s such a delight to read his work. Actually, I’m fairly sure this tome is more than relevant; Mr Helprin discusses perception, intellectual property (and the rights of the creator of that IP), and how we might go about addressing all of that while we’re at the start of the digital era. (And we are at the very beginning.)
    One book I can recommend is Jason Fried’s and David Heinemeier Hansson’s (of 37 Signals) “Rework”. Good advice, down to earth and capable of being read over a lingering cup of coffee. 🙂
    A few years ago, we decided to reduce the number of books we had. (We were overrun.) So only those books we would read time and again, and appreciate or have appreciated for years, remain on the shelves. If it was a “read once and give/toss it”, it was given. The result is a not a lot of business books! (Although, yet again, I’m trying to figure out why our “general” (politics/essays/history) section is alphabetical, and then half way along – restarts at “B”, again. I’m sure there was a decent reason when we put the books on the shelves.)
    I must admit to being of mixed opinion re The Cluetrain Manifesto. It’s not the only book I’ve read that confuses whimsy with reality, but it’s certainly the only one to make career of it. (I have to disagree with John; How to win friends, etc, is pure whimsy.) If The Cluetrain Manifesto were more adventurous, it might aspire to be the anti-Howl. (It reminds me of Zen & the Art, etc, but not in a good, supportive, way. Like it’s trying too hard. I think of it as a vaguely useful book, mostly because the ideas it pushes are inconsistent with themselves. To be honest, I much prefer reading Mr Ginsberg. Although I’m not sure it could be said he provided decent business advice. 🙂
    Carolyn Ann
    (The two books I take on my frequent motorcycle camping trips are “Angle of Repose”, Wallace Stegner, and Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire”.)

  11. Great list! I’ve read some and now can’t wait to read the others. My area of work is in Leadership Development and my favorites based on your criteria of where I “wrote furiously in the margins” include: Primal Leadership by Dan Goleman, The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan, The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, and Performance Consulting by Robinson.

  12. @John – with summer starting, I thought of the days when I would read ten per week. Those were great times. Glad this got you going. Reading is such a wonderfully focusing activity.
    @Dan – I saw recently someone talk about the term “free agent” and thought they must not know you talked about that extensively in your first book. Thank you for giving us so much to think about.
    @Carolyn Ann – now it’s me with a pen and paper. Look at all your suggestions! I admit that nobody replaces Rilke, Dante, and many of the great poets when it comes to reflecting on life and connection. As you guessed, this was the other kind of list, more on the business side of things.
    @L. McAbee – I’m familiar with Goleman and Charan. I’ll need to take a look at the other recommendations you made. Thank you.
    @Marco – haven’t gotten around to reading that, yet.

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