Some have suggested EA is too insular and needs to learn from other fields. In this vein, I think there are important mental models from the for-profit world that are underutilized by non-profits.
After all, business can be thought of as the study of how to accomplish goals as an organization - how to get things done in the real world. EA needs the right mix of theory and real world execution. If you replace the word “profit” with “impact”, you’ll find a large percentage of lessons can be cross-applied.
Eight months ago, I challenged myself to read a book a day for a year. I've been posting daily summaries on social media and had enough EAs reach out to me for book recs that, inspired by Michael Aird and Anna Riedl, I thought it might be worth sharing my all-time favorites here.
Below are the best ~50 out of the ~500 books I read in the past few years. I’m an entrepreneur so they’re mostly business-related. Bold = extra-recommended.
If you’d like any more specific recommendations feel free to leave a comment and I can try to be helpful.
Also - I’m hosting an unofficial entrepreneur meetup at EAG Bay Area. Message me on SwapCard for details or think it might be high impact to connect :)
The best ~50 books:
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
- The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
- The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
- Running Lean
- The Founder's Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
- The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company
- The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you
- Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It...and Why the Rest Don't
Operations/Get Shit Done:
- The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
- The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win
- Making Work Visible: Exposing Time Theft to Optimize Work & Flow
- How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business
- Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
- Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
- Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence
- The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know
- The Cold Start Problem: How to Start and Scale Network Effects
- The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback
- SPIN Selling (unfortunate acronym)
- The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- 80/20 Sales and Marketing: The Definitive Guide to Working Less and Making More
- Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth
How to learn things faster:
- Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career
- Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
- The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills
- The Confident Mind: A Battle-Tested Guide to Unshakable Performance
- The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness
- Atomic Habits
- Who: The A Method for Hiring
- Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World
- Negotiation Genius
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
- Secrets of Power Negotiating: Inside Secrets from a Master Negotiator
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
- Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
- Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice
- Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
If you’re not a book person, here are the best articles to read before launching a startup.
For more, here are 100 books that just missed the cut:
- Mastering the VC Game: A Venture Capital Insider Reveals How to Get from Start-up to IPO on Your Terms
- The Art of Startup Fundraising: Pitching Investors, Negotiating the Deal, and Everything Else Entrepreneurs Need to Know
- Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups—Timeless Advice from an Angel Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000
Operations/Get Shit Done:
- Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
- Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time
- The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
- Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business
- High Output Management
- First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently
- Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Money, Health, and the Environment
- Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions
- How to Lie with Statistics
- Make: learn to build profitable startups the indie way
- Super Founders: What Data Reveals About Billion-Dollar Startups
- The 4-Hour Workweek
- Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster
- Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup
- High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups From 10 to 10,000 People
- From Impossible to Inevitable: How SaaS and Other Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue
- The Minimalist Entrepreneur: How Great Founders Do More with Less
- The Lean Marketplace: A Practical Guide to Building a Successful Online Marketplace Business
- Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want
- Zero to IPO: Over $1 Trillion of Actionable Advice from the World's Most Successful Entrepreneurs
- The Startup Playbook: Founder-to-Founder Advice From Two Startup Veterans
- The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
- Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy
- The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
- The Innovator's Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth
- Levers: The Framework for Building Repeatability into Your Business
- Wild Problems: A Guide to the Decisions That Define Us
- Innovation Tournaments: Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities
- The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase
- The Addiction Formula (written about music, but you can cross-apply the ideas to writing)
- Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t: Why That Is And What You Can Do About It
- UX for Lean Startups: Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design
- Lean UX
- Product-Led Growth: How to Build a Product That Sells Itself
- Continuous Discovery Habits: Discover Products that Create Customer Value and Business Value
- Product-Led SEO: The Why Behind Building Your Organic Growth Strategy
- User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product
- UX Strategy: Product Strategy Techniques for Devising Innovative Digital Solutions
- Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal
- Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing
- The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation
- Exactly What to Say: The Magic Words for Influence and Impact
- Sell More Faster: The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups
- Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind
- Hacking Growth: How Today's Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success
- Content Machine: Use Content Marketing to Build a 7-figure Business With Zero Advertising
- Dotcom Secrets: The Underground Playbook for Growing Your Company Online with Sales Funnels
How to learn things faster:
- Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
- The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer
- Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else
- Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
- Hell Yeah or No: what’s worth doing
- Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial
- The 48 Laws of Power
- Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
- How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius
- Never Eat Alone, and Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time
- The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters
- How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships
- How to Win Friends & Influence People
- Power Play: Tesla, Elon Musk, and the Bet of the Century
- Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making
- The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution That Swept Virtual Reality
- Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco
- Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork
- How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It (Mark Cuban)
- Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
- Amp It Up: Leading for Hypergrowth by Raising Expectations, Increasing Urgency, and Elevating Intensity
- The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time
- Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal
- No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram
- Steve Jobs
- Why Startups Fail: A New Roadmap for Entrepreneurial Success
- Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX
- The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company
Reminder that you can listen to LessWrong and EA Forum posts like this on your podcast player using the Nonlinear Library.
Drew -- thanks very much for sharing this list. I agree that anybody trying to get stuff done within or through an organization or subculture can benefit from reading good business books.
I would offer the caveat that a lot of business books have an odd mix of strengths and weaknesses, which seem endemic to the genre. (I'm generalizing here, as an interested observer who read a couple of hundred books on management, marketing, and advertising when I was writing my stuff on the psychology of runaway consumerism and economic signaling.)
On the upside, good business books tend to be short, clearly written, engaging, motivating, and unpretentious -- they're intended to be read on airplanes by busy, ambitious middle managers.
On the downside, many business books offer strongly worded advice based on no empirical data, or second-hand outdated psychology studies, or cherrypicked pop statistics about particular products, ads, or markets. (You would not believe how many billion-dollar ad campaigns are based on obsolete psychology theories and flashy findings that have failed to replicate.) So, these books are often worth reading, but the empirical claims need to be taken with some degree of skepticism!
As a follow-up post, it might be helpful for you to focus on a couple of your key categories and add a couple of sentences for each book about your most memorable/useful/actionable takeaways.
Echoing this, I've also found that many business books are simply variations of "here is what worked for me in this specific situation, which I am now proselytizing as a general rule." I do wish that there were more business books that were explanations of business research, or popularizing of academic papers.
For organizational psychology I have found the works of Adam Grant to be quite good at explaining the research
Thanks for sharing
Well put! I used to pitch EA as the "business approach to charity", but that view has fallen out of favour with the rise of the philosophers
Thanks for writing this up! The Forum could always use more lists and recommendations. Upvoted.
I might be reading too much into this, but I found it confusing:
I wouldn't expect people in EA to systematically neglect good business advice (at least, not to any greater degree than other entrepreneurs and charity founders do).
The "insular" critique mostly applies to areas where people in EA tend to favor sources that share their philosophical foundations and speak directly to their concerns. For example, they might care more about utilitarian philosophy than deontology, or more about development economics than anthropology, because those fields typically assume a commitment to measuring/maximizing impact.
By contrast, business writing already tends to be focused on measurement and maximization, so it fits the profile of "stuff I'd expect people in EA to like".
To the extent that business books aren't discussed much in EA, I think that's largely a consequence of many Forum users being either researchers, students, or non-managerial staff at large orgs (e.g. software engineers), such that they don't have much incentive to seek out this material. (I think that the most common books we rate on Goodreads reflect this.)
This doesn't take away from the utility of a list like this, of course!
But I feel like I hear a lot of offhand remarks that imply people in EA don't care about anything that isn't obviously linked to our particular nerdy interests, and that hasn't been my experience. The managers and entrepreneurs I know in the movement are often well-read in the kinds of material presented here, and mostly seek to run their projects based on standard best practices from the for-profit world. (With a few minor quirks — more transparency, less hierarchy, more friendliness.)
I'm so pleased to people referring to my post. :) Thanks!
Great list Drew. Big Thanks for sharing this.
I have read some books in the list but there are many others I haven't read so I consider this a goldmine and I have since bookmarked the post.
I also do have a few suggestions to add. Highly recommended.
Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes--But Some Do
Operations/Get Shit Done
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (This one is a bit wordy especially if you don't like stories so much, but lots of useful information lies within)
Bonus for those who like fiction (this one is fiction and not exactly related to business but ranks very high on my "list of books to read before you die" and I believe its a series everyone should try and read):
The Three Body Problem (Trilogy)
Love the podcast, comes in very handy in keeping up with developments on the forum. kudos to the team.
Did you consider Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gross’s Talent for the Recruiting/Hiring category?
I haven't! Do you recommend it?
Just read it and liked it a lot! Added to the recruiting/hiring category.
This is the post that I was planning to write! Good job beating me to it. I've picked up some new recommendations today.