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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:

Fundraising:

Leadership/Management:

Entrepreneurship/Startups:

Strategy/Innovation:

Operations/Get Shit Done:

Statistics/Forecasting:

Writing/Storytelling:

Product/Design/User Experience:

Psychology/Influence:

Outreach/Marketing/Advocacy:

How to learn things faster: 

Personal Development:

Recruiting/Hiring:

Negotiating:

Business Biographies:

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:


Fundraising:

Operations/Get Shit Done:

Leadership/Management: 

Statistics/Forecasting:

Entrepreneurship/Startups:

Strategy/Innovation:

Writing/Storytelling:

Product:

Psychology/Persuasion/Influence:

Outreach/Marketing:

How to learn things faster: 

Personal Development:

Networking:

Business Biographies:


Reminder that you can listen to LessWrong and EA Forum posts like this on your podcast player using the Nonlinear Library.

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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.

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

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

EA is too insular and needs to learn from other fields

Definitely!

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

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:

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. 

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.)

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.

Personal Development
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)

 

Reminder that you can listen to LessWrong and EA Forum posts like this on your podcast player using the Nonlinear Library.

Love the podcast, comes in very handy in keeping up with developments on the forum. kudos to the team.

This is the post that I was planning to write! Good job beating me to it. I've picked up some new recommendations today.

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.