5 Alternative Business Books To Read in 2021
Have you read The 4-Hour Workweek, The Hard Thing About Hard Things and every other over-referenced business book? Looking for a perspective different from everyone else? You’ve come to the right place.
Here are five books that offer key learnings for any entrepreneur. They may not be obvious picks, and some of them definitely wouldn't be found in the business section of Barnes & Noble, but all offer valuable takeaways and insight.
Why do biscuits taste worse, and sell poorly, when they are described as low-fat on the packaging, even if they perform the same as the full-fat equivalent in blind taste tests? How is it that the only real competitor to the Pepsi and Coca Cola soft drink hegemony in the last 30 years is Red Bull—a drink that’s more expensive, comes in a smaller quantity and tastes objectionably horrible? Sometimes, there are no rational explanations. It’s times like these, writes Rory Sutherland, that we must turn to the seemingly irrational. Sutherland, the vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Group, is the co-founder of a behavioural science practice within the agency that tries to find the answers to the questions that behavioural economics and market research—the traditional crutches executives rely on to make decisions—can’t answer.
Sutherland’s team spot “unseen opportunities in consumer behaviour”—often small, contextual changes that have a huge effect on the decisions we make. How moving the location of a button on an e-commerce site brought in an extra US$30 million a year in one company, or adding a few lines to a call centre script tripled sales in another are just two of the case studies Sutherland cites. Packed with personality and wit as well as insight, Alchemy is ideal for anyone who, as the book’s subtitle states, is looking for “the surprising power of ideas that don’t make sense”.
Best for Anyone building a B2C product.
Quote this “Metrics, and especially averages, encourage you to focus on the middle of a market, but innovation happens at the extremes.”
Alongside gender and racial equality, the right to privacy is shaping up to become one of the most important civil rights battles of this century. For tech entrepreneurs, who will almost always have others’ data in their possession, it’s an issue on which they can't afford to be ignorant. And to know what we’re up against, you need to peek behind enemy lines.
Christopher Wylie is the data scientist who “made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool” while at Cambridge Analytica. After blowing the whistle on the company’s illegal activities, and all the subsequent congressional and parliamentary inquiries, Wylie wrote a tell-all book that reveals how easy it is for companies to abuse data—and its potential global consequences.
It’s a pacy read, but not necessarily full of actionable takeaways throughout. The book’s epilogue, though, On Regulation: A Note To Legislators, contains common-sense guidelines for both governments and tech companies on the best path forward.
Best for Anyone running a tech company.
Quote this “For thousands of years, dominant economic models had focused on the extraction of natural resources and the conversion of these raw materials into commodities. Cotton was spun into fabric. Iron ore was smelted into steel. Forests were cut into timber. But with the advent of the Internet, it became possible to create commodities out of our lives—our behaviour, our attention, our identity.”
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The Girl With Seven Names
The Girl With Seven Names is the story of North Korean defector Hyeonseo Lee, who escaped The Hermit Kingdom and later guided her family out of the country through China and Laos.
Lee’s compelling, first-hand account of her struggles is a masterclass in mental resilience. After finding herself stranded on the China side of the North Korea border, Lee, who was 17 at the time, had to build a life for herself from scratch, all the while hiding in plain sight.
Lee’s story of struggle, sacrifice and determination to overcome the terrifying, sometimes life-threatening challenges she faced to help her family escape is what we all need to read in these darkest of times. The tale has the potential to inspire anyone to achieve their own seemingly insurmountable tasks and build the mental resilience necessary to succeed.
Best for Those looking for inspiration.
Quote this “I had to be discreet, be cautious about what I said and did, and be very wary of others. Already I was acquiring the mask that the adults wore from long practice.”
We Should All Be Feminists
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Because we should. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay, adapted from her Ted Talk of the same name, which has been viewed more than 10 million times, argues that feminism should be embraced by all.
Feminism isn’t a woman’s issue, argues Adichie, it’s on all of us. “We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently,” she writes.
Debunking the false belief held by some, that feminism is a threat to men, Adichie encourages men and women to openly talk about sexuality, success and our roles in society. The essay seeks to dispel common myths about feminism and presents straightforward, logical solutions for the best path forward for all of us, making it essential reading for any leader determined to build an equitable, inclusive team.
Best for Literally everyone.
Quote this “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.”
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How Google Works
Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg
Okay, so this pick isn’t that alternative, but it’s full of insight on how one of the world’s biggest companies was built in under 20 years. I was put onto this book by Gen.T honouree Manu Ignitius, who said “Google has grown from a startup to what it is now, where it influences all of our lives in ways that we can’t even imagine or comprehend. Some of the principles that helped make that transformation happen are explained in the book, and it provides lots of good points for you to reflect on as you move forward in your company.”
Co-written by Google's ex-CEO Eric Schmidt and former senior vice president of products Jonathan Rosenberg, the book is a methodical run through of how to build a world-beating company. From office culture (“believe your own slogans”) to decision-making (“beware of the HiPPO—the highest paid person’s opinion”) and even anecdotal stories such as Jeff Bezos’ “two-pizza rule”, the book lifts the lid on how the most successful Silicon Valley companies operate.
Best for Anyone building an early-stage startup.
Quote this “One of the biggest reasons for our success, though, is that the plan we delivered to the board that day in 2003 wasn’t much of a plan at all.”
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