Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” He was right. Here are some books and other resources that have helped the founders of SBABG as we’ve fought (and continue to fight) the same battles you are fighting; we’ve included a little commentary about each book or resource, something we’ve learned. Please share your favorite resources in the comments below.
We’ve divided the books/resources into three sections – Business, Activism, and Economics / Finance / Politics. We’ve linked the books at Amazon.com if you want to learn more. If you click on one, then buy it, we get paid a portion of the sale. We’re not trying to sell you books, but since you’re here, if you click and buy, we get a kickback, which we’ll re-invest in marketing SBABG to others. Full disclosure. So here goes.
A must own for any small-business person. Koch Industries started as a small business and is now the second-largest privately owned company in the United States. The Chairman, Charles Koch, runs the company based on free-market principles – a system they’ve developed over many years of trial and error which they call “Market Based Management” – and they credit their success to adhering to the system through good times and bad. Bottom line, you do not want to be competing with Koch in any industry, because they will outclass you, and they don’t need – or want – government favors to do it.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
This book contains principles you can apply to influence any person in any situation (for better or worse). We are all “hard-wired” to respond certain ways to certain techniques. When we’re treated well, we respond. This book shows you how to effect change in your life and in any organization you belong to. It also will help you protect yourself from people who wield this techniques (politicians! dishonest salespeople!) in manipulative ways – you will immediately be able to recognize when others are employing them to take advantage of you.
Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson
Just read it. It will blow your mind. Despite the similar titles, this book is very different from the book by Cialdini. This book is the blueprint for how to bring about lasting change. It actually walks you step-by-step through the process to develop your own change program ( in business, in your community, etc.), and helps you understand best practices and avoid pitfalls, whereas Cialdini’s book helps you understand human psychology. Our #1 read this year. It’s the reason SBABG.org exists!
The Breakthrough Imperative: How the Best Managers Get Outstanding Results by Mark Gottfredson
Learn what competitive dangers await every business, and how you can prepare and overcome these dangers.
Value Investing: From Graham to Buffett and Beyond by Bruce Greenwald
Business people need to understand the value of the assets and businesses they own, work with, and purchase. This book teaches business valuation better than any of the formal textbooks we have read on the subject, and does so in a radically more simple way by applying timeless techniques first established by Benjamin Graham, who was Warren Buffett’s mentor (and we all know how that worked out for Buffett.)
Written by the same author as the book above, this changed the way we approached building a business. Many business people learn Porter’s Five Competitive Forces and derive strategy from analysis of such; this book simplifies Porter’s work (in my opinion) and is more useful to small-businesses looking to grow.
Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business by Mark Robichaux
John Malone was a brilliant man, building a bleeding-edge business on the frontiers of America, outfoxing the governmental forces-that-be every step of the way. A great story of risk, opportunity, and what can happen when a person chooses to see the world differently than everyone else and stick with that vision. Particularly fascinating are the chapters that discuss the acquisition strategies, employment of debt, accelerated depreciation strategies, and wars with banks and bankers that couldn’t seem to see the value Malone was building right before their eyes (and so distrusted and fought him every step of the way). If you’ve ever spent a sleepless night because you’re warding off creditors while you’re building a businesses, know you’re in good company – Malone spent more than a decade fighting with them and he turned out OK!
The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth by Fred Reichheld
Contains an immediate, practical strategy that you can use in your business today to make sure that your customers are not only happy with you, but turn into promoters for your business. One of SBABG’s favorite sayings is “By Small and Simple Things Great Things Come to Pass.” In this book, you’ll learn one of those small and simple things you can do to make great things come to pass in your business.
Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by The Arbinger Group
We are our own worst enemies. We seem to have a pathological ability to take relationships of conflict and make them worse through never-ending battles with others that leave them and us worse off. Some companies get paralyzed by infighting and contention. This book teaches you how to “get out of the box” and bring an environment to the workplace that is both peaceful and productive.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
It’s the little things that make all the difference in our lives, and in our businesses. It is awareness of, and attention to, these things that will often determine whether we experience success or failure. This book explains how to identify those little things that make a big different. (Also, see the below note on the book Ubiquity). Again, by small and simple things great things come to pass. Don’t think that big results need come from big effort. Big results come from the right effort at the right time.
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
If you want an edge, you can’t play the game the same way as others. To play the game differently, measure things differently. This page-turning story shows how Billy Beane, the general manager of the A’s, used his relatively paltry $41M payroll and unique measuring system to identify overlooked players and assemble teams that routinely beat other teams that employed $100M+ in payroll and bought up the “obvious” talent. Small businesses everywhere can learn from this story and use it’s principles to slay the Goliaths they go up against each day.
Activism (making change happen and combating injustice)
Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky
Helps give one a sort of Occam’s razor for non-violent activism. One expression of Occam’s Razor is “When deciding between two models which make equivalent predictions, choose the simpler one.” To adapt this for activist work, one might say, “If there are two way to bring about change, always choose the least violent one.” (Actually, in fairness to Kurlansky, he would probably counsel to always use non-violence [not just the “least amount of violence”] when attempting to bring about change.)
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky
We find many of Alinsky’s personal beliefs to be extremely unpalatable. But Alinsky does provide a framework for helping Activists understand their opposition and form a strategy to overcome. He shows how a small group of people can take their limited resources and bring about a revolution. These aren’t new ideas. The patriot Sam Adams said, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” Alinsky tells of one way it can be done.
A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict by Peter Ackerman
Ackerman traces a history of revolutions that have been carried out through non-violent opposition. Non-violence works, and here’s a book of perfect case-studies that prove it.
Secrets of Libertarian Persuasion by Michael Cloud
Cloud helps you teach others about free-market and liberty ideas. He helps you expose fallacious beleifs others have in a non-threatening and friendly way. If you have a desire to be able to explain the benefits of free markets and limited government, this is your book.
This book helps explain how seemingly complex systems can appear to be very stable, yet once they reach a critical state change can happen blindingly fast, and these systems exhibit uncannily similar characteristics. This book is similar to The Tipping Point, but whereas The Tipping Point is focused on rapid, mimetic social changes, Ubiquity primarily focuses on how critical state is reached in the physical world. Prediction is difficult, events hard to determine, but based on probabilities, and the attempted quantification of uncertainties (which of all the straws actually breaks the camels back, which of all the fault-line perturbations causes the earthquake) critical state helps us understand two things, one of which is unnerving, the other not. First, there are a lot of unpredictable potentialities that could occur and they’re completely beyond our control or ability to predict. Second, small changes and forces can yield big effects and get big results. Every small business (or activists) hopes to achieve big results.
The Girard Reader by Rene Girard
This book is not for everyone. It’s a difficult read in places. It spells out a philosophy of non-violence. Basically, a part of the philosophy reduces to the idea that by refusing to fight fire-with-fire, by returning good for evil, you expose the violence in others, reveal it in them and to them, and thereby stop violent cycles, have peace in your own life, and persuade others to adopt a non-violent lifestyle.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
This one gets a repeat! One way to influence people is through repetition . . . hence, we’re following Cialdini’s advice. This book is THAT important!
Influencer: The Power to Change Anything by Kerry Patterson
Again, this one gets a repeat. Mentioned this before, but in case you skipped over it, SBABG.org was started because we read this book.
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.
Be a Happy Warrior. People aren’t inspired by grumps. Lots of studies about what makes people unhappy or happy find that our brains constantly trick us into making decision we think will make us happy but have the adverse effect. The cure to this “blindness” is provided in this fantastic book. Look at people who are happy, who have died happy, and do what they were doing when they were your age. Hint: It’s kind of commonsensical – work hard at something you love, stay married through good times and bad, don’t do drugs and all that. All that stuff that sounds great but is actually “hard” at times and which your brains sometimes tries to tell you won’t make you happy. Happiness is not pleasure seeking. And pleasure seeking does not equate to happiness, especially long term. You will have a happy life if you stick to the principles of living that lead to long-term happiness, and that’s the surprise. Doing the stuff your brain often tell you wouldn’t make you happy, does. Life right, by happy, and make a difference in the world.
Economics / Finance / Politics
The most important economics book we’ve read. Not written for economists, but for the lay person. After reading this book, you will understand why government consistently fails to obtain the objectives it sets out to obtain.
Why the crisis happened, why government was responsible (by aiding, abetting, and rewarding bad behavior) and why the bailouts won’t work. Concludes with common sense changes that could be made; but the sense is too common and too much too straightforward to ever hope the politicians would embrace it.
Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One by Thomas Sowell
Another book that doesn’t require prior knowledge of economics to understand. In fact, if you don’t have an economics background, start with this book. Written for the lay person, you’ll never see the world the same way. He’s a great writer. We got this book from the greatest small business consultant, ever.
The Income Tax: Root of All Evil by Frank Chodorov (this is a direct link to the full text online for free; in html and .pdf forms)
How’s that for a provocative title?! It’s a provocative book and gives much food for thought.
This is not a book, it’s a website. It’s the best economic resource (ever!) and saves you a lot of money getting educated for free during times like these when getting a return on every penny counts. Find TONS of free ebooks, collections such as The Bailout Reader, podcasts and videos, etc.
Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
We thought this was was better (and shorter) than the more-hyped, and later-published book by Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. A great meditation on risk, chance and probabilistic thinking.
For a New Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard (here’s the entire book of For A New Liberty free in PDF form)
One of us read this one when he was 18 yrs old and it set him on a liberty-loving path for life. Rothbard makes a compelling case that the excesses of freedom will always be preferable to the excesses of despotism and tyranny. When people are free to make decisions, sure, they’ll make “bad” ones, yet they should be free to experience the consequences of such (rather than be bailed out). This is how knowledge accrues to individuals and markets. However, when people are not free, but rather are controlled by others in their “best interests” there is always much misery. The world is not perfect, and it is not perfectible, but it is at its worst when a despot or despotic group of people lives at the expense of another by coercive force and threat of violence.
Weekly Market Comment by John Hussman
This is a must read for us each Monday. Professor Hussman runs one of the best-performing mutual funds over the last decade. He’s a wise man who freely shares his knowledge and educates others. He also has some great education articles that explain his approach. Check out his primer on economics for some mind-blowing learning.
The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul
Ron Paul has never voted for a tax increase, and has promised he never will. In the US Congress there is no better friend to small business owners and employees, although, this guy isn’t doing so shabby himself. Also check out some of this other books A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship and End the Fed.
A history of how the government – particularly the federal government – got its hand so deep into your pocket. In order to undo the stranglehold of Big Government we first have to understand how things got to be the way they are.
This is a long blog post about the Federal Reserve that even the most “economically illiterate” person will be able to understand.
How about you?
What resources and books do you recommend?
Please share them in the comments below.