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The 2012 Influential Business Book Shortlist

The books on your shelf say something about you. That’s why most of us have books that we put on our shelves over the past year which we haven’t quite had a chance to read yet – but still display as a declaration of what we believe. As an author, I usually make it fully through at least 30 books a year (2-3 a month) and skim another 25-30 that are sent to me for review or that I purchase myself. Some are great – and some aren’t. But time is too short to devote attention to anything but the best books. So here is my shortlist of the top 15 most influential marketing books released in 2012 (in random order) that you should add to your bookshelf, give to colleagues, and plan to learn from in the new year.

1. The Click Moment – Frans Johansson

How important is luck to your success? This is not a question most of us often like to think about – because luck seems like the most uncontrollable and random thing ever. But what if you could take specific steps to improve your luck, and make randomness work in your favor? This is the intriguing premise that Johansson begins this book with. It doesn’t hurt that he is one of the most gifted authors you will read, whose first book (The Medici Effect) was one of my favourite books. In his second literary effort, his big thinking and easy to digest lessons won’t disappoint. This is one of the few books that I preordered the second it was available on Amazon – and one of the first I added to the shortlist for these awards as soon as I read the first chapter.

2. Lead With A Story – Paul Smith

For years P&G has been one of the leading global brands to succeed in marketing multiple products by telling stories around them. We often equate that with great commercials or lots of marketing research. In this brilliant and underappreciated book, longtime P&G marketing leader Paul Smith takes you inside the culture and decision making at P&G. Filled with rare insights and “you had to be there” style stories, this book lives up to its promise of using storytelling to deliver powerful lessons. Sure, storytelling is a popular theme for books right now … but this one offers a different take on the power of storytelling not from an academic point of view, but from the lens of a brand storyteller that has been studying and using storytelling to help sell millions of dollars worth of products. You won’t often get this deep of a look inside the brain of a marketing leader – and that alone makes Lead With A Story a must read for 2012.

3. To Sell Is Human – Dan Pink

Last year I probably sold more than a dozen thermostats. I wasn’t on commission, and they were not my client … but as a happy user of two new Nest thermostats – I often talked about the product to friends and family. It is beautifully designed and easy to install – with every step neatly outlined. The Nest thermostat is easy to love. According to Dan Pink, the fact that I can’t help talking about this thermostat is actually the most human of all behaviours – and is the central premise of his wonderful new book – To Sell Is Human. He immediately acknowledges that hearing each of us is actually in sales may come as an unflattering or insulting categorization. Yet Pink takes you on a journey from used car lots to the meeting rooms at to make the point that we are in a continual state of influencing, or being influenced. This “non sales selling” is fundamental to every situation – from getting into college to leading employees. Pink uses wide-ranging research to make connections between improving care from radiologists to increasing safe driving from bus drivers in Kenya – creating a roadmap for how any of us can improve our own ability to influence others. Throughout the book are useful exercises, case studies and practical tools. Ultimately what makes this book stand out is the same thing that gets me talking about my favourite thermostat … they both happen to offer the rare beautiful idea wrapped neatly together with everything you actually need to realize its potential.

4. Trust Me, I’m Lying – Ryan Holiday

The simple and powerful idea that easily makes this book worth the money you spend on it is how masterfully the author dissects and explains how ideas and publicity go viral today. You may cringe at some of the techniques he uses to manipulate blogs and “unbiased” media institutions … but ultimately this book is the equivalent of sitting down and spending a few hours in conversation with one of the most inventive PR strategists of our time. Just learning one quarter of the skills he employs on a daily basis can help you invaluably in generating more attention for your business or idea.

5. Why I Left Goldman Sachs – Greg Smith

I am not usually a fan of tell-all autobiographies, but this one needs to make your reading list because of how the author’s story takes you behind the destructive power that arrogance and poor incentives can have on a corporate culture. Through Smith’s story, any business can learn how Goldman Sach’s went from a client oriented culture to one that put profits ahead of everything else … and how to avoid heading towards a similar fate.

6. The Charisma Myth – Olivia Fox Cabane

One metric I have for rating a book is how much I really want to meet the author after reading it. On that simple criteria, this was one of my favourite books of 2012. In The Charisma Myth, Cabane attempts to prove her very simply premise … that charisma can be a learned skill. Filled with stories and useful tips, the book is the closest you can get to having a personal leadership coach helping you to build your interpersonal skills in a way that can inspire the people around you. The writing style is easy and approachable, just as I imagine Cabane to be one day when I finally happen to cross paths at an event or conference and manage to meet her.

7. Wait – Frank Partnoy

Ok, I have to admit I have a bias towards liking this book because it matches up with what I have long used as a personal philosophy of life. In a world where “real time” is often used interchangeably as a buzzword to describe a necessity for faster and faster “gut” reactions, the central message of this book is not only timely – but also somewhat counterintuitive. Wait offers much needed research and proof that sometimes the only way to make better decisions is to actually slow down the decision making process by taking more time to consider alternatives. Sometimes this deliberate delay can be in milliseconds – like when a tennis player sizes up a serve before choosing their racket angle to return. Other times the delay can be far longer. Regardless of the timeframe, in an era romanced by the allure of real time everything … Wait proves that sometimes the science and art of delay may become the ultimate secret to improve your decision making.

8. 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People – Susan Weinschenk

The easiest mistake to make when you are producing a presentation is to focus too much on the content and not enough on who you are actually presenting to. In this handy reference, Weinschenk introduces lots of ideas to help remind you about what is really important when it comes to creating and delivering a killer presentation … really understanding your audience.

9. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty – Dan Ariely

You might be tempted to think about cheating and dishonesty as a character trait. Some people are liars, cheaters or even criminals, and some aren’t. After reading this book, you’ll never see the world that way again. The nice thing about reading anything from Dan Ariely is that you can picture exactly how he approaches the world because of how expertly he brings you into his thinking process. Research experiments are inspired by overhearing jokes. Letters from former students spark new tangents to explore around his central question: why do any of us cheat? Perhaps predictably, this book doesn’t really uncover a silver bullet to curb cheating. There is no one magical ethics contract that everyone can sign which will remove the impulses that drive cheating. But it seems that’s not really the point. As Ariely notes in multiple situations, the motivations for cheating can be complex – and so curbing cheating really takes the ability to recognize what the root causes are in the first place. As you read every new story and research study presented in this book, the answer to the most fundamental question suddenly becomes clear. The best way to truly reduce cheating and dishonesty is to become a student of the social systems within which we each work and live in. In other words, the real secret is building your ability to see the world around you with the same curiosity as Ariely himself.

10. Culturematic – Grant McCracken

Ever wonder how the strangest things become viral phenomena – and inspire hundreds of copycat productions? The latest book from renowned anthropologist Grant McCracken collects more than a dozen cultural trends and then looks as their evolution to introduce the concept of a “culturematic” – a little machine for making culture. Whether you are introducing a new product or service, or trying to share an idea widely, this book will help you understand the forces that help ideas to become cultural landmarks. Lots of people try to explain the success of ideas that go viral – but hardly any of them has the combined track record and smarts of McCracken to produce quite so credible of a guidebook on how to do it.

11. Makers – Chris Anderson

We sadly live in a time when the term “big idea” is thrown around to describe a lot of things. A new app allowing you to mashup two photos you took with your mobile phone is described as a big idea. A flat screen TV that is 2 centimeters thinner than the previous flat screen is described the same way. The problem is even more pronounced when it comes to “big idea” books. Yet one of the few authors who actually manages to live up to the promise of having real big ideas is Chris Anderson. The Long Tail was a big idea. Free was as well. When someone has a track record of spotting a culture defining trend and writing about it long before anyone else, it’s worth paying attention to what they see next. In his latest book, Anderson shares a vision for what is already happening as digital ideas move into the real world through technology like 3D printing. It is a new industrial revolution that is poised to change almost every industry – and this book gives you a front row seat to read the insights from the trend’s first real biographer. The result is a book that will one day leave the realm of business or even marketing books and be considered by our next generations to be a part of our history.

12. The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg

When I pick up a book written by an investigative journalist, I make several assumptions. I assume that there will be a wealth of exclusive first person interviews. I assume that the story will unfold in layers. And that there will not be an inherent bias. This first book from veteran NY Times reporter Charles Duhigg doesn’t disappoint. He approaches his subject of habit formation with a thirst for knowledge that makes for the best types of long form journalism. His collected research and the story he tells paint a life changing picture of exactly how anyone can become masters of their own habits … and work to change them for the better. It’s clear why this was one of the best selling books of all 2012 – and its meticulous research, story arc and relevance for anyone who is a student of human behaviour make it a necessary read.

13. The Power of Unpopular – Erika Napoletano

You often hear that you can’t please everyone – but how often do you actually see that described as the ultimate competitive advantage? In this great irreverent book, Napoletano argues that every great brand throughout history has managed to have haters. In fact, it’s the haters that might just add purpose – because the only way you know if you have a real point of view on the world is if you have people who disagree with you completely. The chapter on embracing your critics (but ignoring the assholes) alone is worth the cost of the entire book, and the rest offers similar observations of wisdom that only come from someone who has seen failure, learned from it, and finds a continual way to share it with humor and insight.

14. Make Your Idea Matter – Bernadette Jiwa

The title of this short and powerful book hits on what may be the biggest frustration from anyone working in a larger organization who isn’t necessarily the boss. For anyone faced with the soul-crushing task of having to defend and sell ideas to bosses or upper management, Jiwa’s book will help. And if you happen to be a manager or small business owner, finding a way to encourage more of your employees to share their best ideas may not only help retain your best and brightest people, but also might lead to your next competitive advantage in your industry.

15. Quiet – Susan Cain

It is not often that a nonfiction book can spark an entire cultural phenomenon, but that’s exactly what Susan Cain’s rare book encouraging introverts to embrace their personality has done. The combination of her powerful TedTalk with this beautifully written book has given everyone who has ever wanted to retreat into their quieter side the encouragement to do it. This book not only transforms the way introverts see their own place in the world … it effectively argues that we ALL need to find a greater appreciation for the introverts among us – because the world needs them to prosper now more than ever.

About the 2012 Influential Marketing Book Awards

The 2012 Influential Marketing Book Awards are a curated list of the best business books from the past year by best selling author of Likeonomicsand marketing consultant Rohit Bhargava. The 15 finalists are selected from hundreds of marketing and business books that are released every year based on five key criteria:

  1. Impact – How much of a difference in the world and in your life can the idea of the book make?
  2. Originality – How unique is the idea and its delivery – and how unlikely are you to find the big idea elsewhere?
  3. Readability – Is the quality of the writing good enough so the idea is delivered in an impactful way?
  4. Usefulness – How practical is the book in taking the idea and offering real ways to use it?
  5. Shareability – Is the book important enough to share with others in conversation or as a gift?
Did I miss your favourite book from the past year?  Share it with me and leave it in a comment!

* This year, Likeonomics was also named to the shortlist for the 800CEORead 2012 Best Marketing/Sales Book Awards – but including it on my own list would be pretty bad form and overly egotistical … even for a business book author. 😉

6 thoughts on “The 2012 Influential Business Book Shortlist”

  1. Dearest Rohit, what a magnificent list. I COMPLETELY agree with many of your picks, but most of all the pick for The Power of UN-Popular by Erika Napoletano. That book LIBERATED me this year. And I am better for it. Richer for it, to come!

  2. I would love to read most of these and am happy to see two books I already have (Habit and Wait). Even better than reading these? Discussing them. Anyone game for that let me know (wyatt at littleguywebdesigns dot com). Discussing brings out ideas and perspectives that are fun to learn from.


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In addition to Non-Obvious Thinking, Rohit is the author of 10 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.

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