A Decade’s Worth of Business Books

By Chris Wendel

It’s the beginning of a new decade; time to both reflect and look ahead. It’s also been close to 10 years since I began reviewing business-related books for the TCBN.  It was recently suggested by local SCORE mentor Ed Ketterer that I put together a top 10 list of my favorite books that I have reviewed. Diverse in nature, they span subjects from leadership to biographical to behavioral science to business history. Here they are, in no particular order:

“Small Giants” by Bo Burlingham profiles 14 stellar companies that chose “to be great rather than big.” Each demonstrates a dedication to sustained success that customers, competitors and outside observers are drawn to. The intriguing part is the divergent paths these businesses took to be dominant while remaining true to their employees and values.

“Boss Life” by Paul Downs is a true departure from most business books that dwell on entrepreneurial success while glossing over the mistakes, toil and troubles that occur along the way. Downs admits that his custom conference table business was almost left for dead several times during his career. His long trip back to solvency is a realistic portrayal of how difficult running one’s own business actually is.

“Hatching Twitter” by Nick Bilton chronicles the crazy startup days of Twitter. We learn that bad relationships festered within a company that the public views as successful and that people were willing to invest in a company that produced zero income for many years. “Hatching Twitter” gives an entertaining inside view of a Silicon Valley startup, proving again that truth is stranger than fiction.

“If I Had a Buffalo” by Marilyn Fitzgerald explains how some well intentioned service clubs and private donors can be mismatched with the actual needs of the community and the people they intend to serve. A longtime Traverse City resident, Fitzgerald addresses the essentials of humanitarian aid learned through her years of education, overseas volunteer work and micro finance experience.

“Boring Meetings Suck” by Jon Petz attacks common assumptions about the meeting game with a no-nonsense approach and easy to adapt techniques. Think of any awkward meeting situation and this book has it covered, from organizing a meeting, to public speaking, to running a conference. “Boring Meetings Suck” is highly recommended for examining the way your own organization treats – and wastes – time with meetings.

“Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport provides a succinct set of guidelines for working and living in an age of distractions. An improved version of his previous bestseller “Deep Work,” “Digital Minimalism” serves as both a reset and permanent lifestyle change emphasizing demanding activity over passive online consumption.

“Janesville” by Amy Goldstein was written over a good part of three years, profiling employees, families and local leaders impacted by the closing of a General Motors car assembly facility in Janesville, Wisconsin. For those of us who may have blocked out the details of the economic collapse of 2008-10, “Janesville” is a reminder of the widespread effects a plant closing has on a community.

“Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown follows up her earlier writing and speaking with this bestselling book that focuses more on leadership. Brown points out that our courage and vulnerability go together. Leaders who cannot confront their own weaknesses are incapable of understanding the team members they work with. Her message is a powerful remedy to the subpar leadership skills prevalent today.

“When” by Daniel Pink challenges the emphasis on why certain things happen, instead of examining the timing of when they occur. Useful for managing personal and work-based scenarios, Pink’s entertaining writing style breaks down the essentials of powerful beginnings in our day, life events, projects and careers before discussing how middle troughs typically appear in our efforts, and offering advice to stay on track for overemphasized (but changeable) endings.

“The Coming Jobs War” by James Clifton, reviewed in 2012, is fascinating to reexamine today. Clifton illustrated how solving most of our social and economic ills requires an approach that is far different from the one classic economics solution so tightly held onto by politicians and policy makers. His dire warning paraphrased: Jobs are now the currency for economic might, and if we as a country simply maintain the status quo, then we are in deep trouble.

Chris Wendel is a business advisor with Northern Initiatives, a community development financial institution based in Marquette, Michigan. Northern Initiatives provides money and know-how to businesses throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at cwendel@northerninitiatives.org.