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10 Books That Changed The Way I Think About Business


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I start and end every day with reading.

While I love to read novels, memoirs, historical fiction, and The New York Times, I’ve learned so much from reading business books.

To me, here’s what makes a business book great:

  • After you finish the book, you walk away with a new approach to work. Maybe you even notice yourself doing things a little differently.
  • It’s well written, with strong storytelling. Great writing is something I savor that makes learning from the author fun.
  • I find myself recommending the book. (To the point of writing posts like this one so you’ll read it, too!)

Here are 10 books that changed the way I think about business:

1. ‘Bad Blood’ by John Carreyrou

In case you’ve been living under a rock, “Bad Blood” tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her blood-testing startup, Theranos.

Holmes set the tech world on fire, graced the front of many major publications, and grew Theranos, a company she founded after dropping out of Stanford at 19, to a $9 billion valuation. But as we now know, the supposedly revolutionary blood-testing technology was a fraud.

What’s most shocking to me is how 800 Theranos employees lived this false reality for so long before whistleblowers emerged (much later than one might think). “Bad Blood” is a mesmerizing cautionary tale.

2. ‘Brotopia’ by Emily Chang

I’ve always been drawn to Chang’s work. She’s sharp, poised, articulate, and present. Plus she has a wonderful way of drawing colorful commentary out of her interviewees.

This book is about how tech came to be such a male-dominated industry. It touches on not only why women were excluded from the tech boom, but also how that has negatively affected the quality of our products. She offers actionable advice and solutions as to how we can go about fixing this problem as a society.

3. ‘Contagious’ by Jonah Berger

In this one, Berger, a professor at UPenn and expert in viral marketing and social influence, explores and discusses how social trends go viral. As a clean beauty startup co-founder, I found it especially interesting and insightful to read about how word-of-mouth influence can launch a product into the stratosphere.  

4. ‘Death by Meeting’ by Patrick Lencioni

A former colleague at Eventbrite, Micha Hershman, recommended this one. He ran the most efficient meeting I’ve ever seen, so when he recommended a book about meetings, I didn’t think twice before picking it up.

If you find yourself spending—or wasting—too much time in meetings, this book is for you. It’s a parable about a CEO who is on the brink of being fired for running lackluster meetings. Feeling the pressure, he and his assistant set out to discover what exactly creates an engaging, productive meeting. And he finds out, as you ride shotgun.

5. ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport

This one saved my life when I was sitting in the airport waiting for a delayed flight. I read the entire book during the extended layover—I just couldn’t put it down.

The key concept here is understanding the difference between deep and shallow work. You know, surface-level stuff like email and answering phone calls versus deeply creative, impactful work, like building a brand strategy.

Because of constant digital distractions, we’ve become much less adept at getting into the flow state where we accomplish deep work. Anyone interested in learning how to block out distractions and recapture this ability should check out this book.

6. ‘The Effective Executive’ by Peter Drucker

This one was written in 1966. So I have my issues with it (few if any mentions of women being at the top of the list). But it’s a classic.

One particular idea from this book has stuck with me. The line goes something like, “The effective executive does one thing at a time.” And the author explores how to choose what matters most, how to best spend your time, and how those ideas relate to productivity.

7. ‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ By Ben Horowitz

This book is insanely well-written and very funny, but very serious at the same time. It has many moments of lightness to balance out the weight of big concepts.

I love this one because it reinforces my belief that anything worth doing is difficult. In business, there are patterns. And we can learn from others’ failures. But there is no recipe for success.

Every leader has to conquer their own “hard things.”

8. ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight

This is a true story about a young Phil Knight who turned a passion project into a successful business—and eventually, a mega retail brand (Nike). I couldn’t leave this one off the list, especially because NakedPoppy is my own passion project-turned-business.

What I love about Knight’s story is how he simply wouldn’t accept failure as an option. Every day, he fought seemingly unsolvable problems with everything he had.

9. ‘Shortcut Your Startup’ by Courtney Reum and Carter Reum

The authors are two guys who created a wine and spirits startup before becoming venture capitalists. It’s packed with dense-but-great entrepreneurial advice, based on the tough lessons they learned themselves. I recommend it to any startup founder.

10. ‘Thrive’ by Arianna Huffington

Today, everyone’s talking about the need for work-life balance, rest, and recharging. But in 2014, when this book was published, Huffington was among the first to call out the link between wellness and success—an idea that was ahead of its time. Why not live a full and happy life while working hard, after all?

Co-founder/CEO at NakedPoppy, a clean beauty startup. Former CMO/VP Marketing at OpenTable, Amazon, Upwork, Eventbrite. Follow Jaleh on Medium:

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