There have been many posts written about the best business books, the best books for entrepreneurs, and the best self improvement books. But in my own experience, some of my greatest insights have come from books outside of the business world.
To name just a few examples, here are 4 books that have been surprisingly helpful to me as an entrepreneur:
1. The Signals Are Talking – Amy Webb
In business, especially when you are just starting out, you often have to make decisions even when you have very little data available. “The Signals Are Talking,” by Amy Webb, helps you make sense of small amounts of data and predicts trends based on what the author calls weak signals.
A weak signal is data that is not based on big data and statistics. Instead, it is based on observations of human behavior that could signal a coming change. For example, a unique corner store that suddenly becomes more popular or a niche website that has been gaining increased activity are both weak signals that could signal the very beginnings of a new trend developing.
Many of the greatest entrepreneurs found success by building something that satisfied a small but fast growing market. Amazon and Uber are both great examples. At the time they started, online book sales and ride sharing were very small markets. What other people didn’t realize was that while those markets may have been small, they were growing fast. Although it is not strictly aimed at business people, “The Signals Are Talking” shows you how to spot the weak signals that can tell you where a new market might be forming.
2. The Glass Cage – Nicholas Carr
Do you use a mapping app on your phone? If so, you might want to reconsider, and this book explains why. “The Glass Cage,” by Nicholas Carr, describes how technology is having a negative impact on our skills. For example, research has shown that the use of mapping apps reduces your spatial awareness and map reading skills.
In a more dramatic example, the author also describes a trend in plane crashes over the last few decades. Overall, plane crashes have gradually become less common, thanks to advances in autopilot and other tools. But those same tools can be hazardous when they fail because pilots have ceded control of the aircraft to technology, reducing their own skills as pilots. As a result, the cause of plane crashes have shifted away from safety and equipment malfunctions, and pilot error is now the leading cause of plane crashes.
This fascinating book describes the double-edged sword of technology that is around us every day, and it has changed how I work as a business owner. In light of what I learned from this book, I have gone back to doing a lot of my creative work with pen and paper, and I’m happy that I did. By learning which technology to embrace and what to avoid, I’ve become more creative and more productive in my business and in my life.
3. Who Gets What And Why? – Alvin E. Roth
Typically, selling a product is a simple matter of building something great and getting it in front of the right people at the right price. This is what economists call a commodity market. But there are some products and services that do not fit that pattern, and those products fall into a category called matching markets.
A matching market is one in which the customer not only has to choose the product, but the product is also selective about the customers. College admissions are a great example. In the college admissions market, it is not enough for a student to decide on a particular school, the school must also decide to accept the student. This is a matching market in action. Some other examples of two-sided markets are online dating, organ transplants, and job searching.
Matching markets are important for any business person to understand because they can create an uphill battle for those trying to enter an industry that is shaped by such a market. I personally have rejected product ideas I’ve had because I realized I would be working against the friction of a matching market.
If you want to learn about matching markets, the best book is “Who Gets What And Why?” by Alvin E. Roth, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for his pioneering work on this very topic.
4. Hagakure – Yamamato Tsunetomo
I first read this book in college, lent my copy to a friend, never got it back, then forgot about it. Years later, I rediscovered this incredible book. “Hagakure”– also known as The Book of the Samurai— was written by Yamamato Tsunetomo in the years from 1709 to 1716. Tsunetomo was a scribe and retainer to a samurai named Nabeshima Mitsushige. This book is a collection of thoughts and observations made by Tsunetomo over the course of those years.
Written during a time period when samurai fighting was illegal, this book covers a vast range of topics including adapting to change, confronting fear, risk taking, and the value of lifelong learning. Another common topic in the book is the importance of finding a higher purpose and casting aside selfishness in pursuit of that cause.
As entrepreneurs, these are all skills that we must be striving to improve upon. This 300 year old book is full of timeless lessons on those and other topics we must master to succeed in our pursuit of success.