6 “Old” Business Books that Don’t Belong in the Pulp Mill (Xmas Special)


Business Books make great gifts for partners, clients and acquaintances you’re not familiar enough with to know their personal interests. (Plus, if you order early, you can make yourself smarter before you give them away – just refrain from earmarking them.)

But why always give the latest ones that everybody has gotten the message of already from reading the abstract or the back cover? I have tried to unearth from my library the five ones that I keep coming back to the most – and ended up with six:

  1. The Cluetrain Manifesto (2000)
  2. Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy (1998)
  3. The Book of Gossage (1995)
  4. James Webb Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas (1960)
  5. Jane Fulton Suri + IDEO, thoughtless acts? (2005)
  6. 37signals, Getting Real (2006)

On the way, I had to painfully leave aside classics like “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen, “Built to Last” by Collins and Porras, and all those energizing Tom Peters tomes. The thing with classics is that this is how we call books that help understand the history of a discipline. For all non-historians, however, we’re looking for advice and inspiration here and now. But from time to time it just happens that a book written some years ago reads like it was written for this very moment. Here are six of this species of books. Most title links go to Amazon. As you know, if you buy them through this link, you earn me a little kickback which I can re-invest in my library.

The Cluetrain Manifesto. The 10th Anniversary Edition

I was just about to re-read my first edition when I stumbled upon this 10th anniversary edition. All the amendments just enrich but don’t basically change the big message: MARKETS ARE CONVERSATIONS. This insight and the long tail of all the implications it has make it my most important business book of the millenium, so far. As long as we haven’t incorporated this truth in the way we all do business, we’re not allowed to stop reading it.

It triggered my “digital initiation” back in 1999/2000 and its thoughts and opinions have been so close to me all the time, I have a nickname for it: the trueclaim manifesto. Why? It puts an end to marketing’s “expedient exaggerations” – sorry, Cary Grant. Read it and see for yourself.

New Rules for the New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies for a Connected World

The only other Must Read, next to the Cluetrain Manifesto, when we want to understand how the internet is changing the way of business. The “network economy”, as Kelly coined it, is a different economy in every way, from its metrics and health indicators over organisations, pricing, marketing and the rules of competition.

What, a ten years old book about the internet? Don’t worry. What the co-founder of Wired and leading philosopher of the man-machine society wrote 11 years back, was so far ahead and yet spot on at the time that it reads absolutely fresh today, only that mere mortals like us can now understand how right this guy is.

The Book of Gossage

Everybody has read David Ogilvy’s confessions but nobody seems to even have heard of the most profound advertising man of all time and one of the funniest, too. Gossage thought up the “Pink Air” campaign for Fina gas stations in 1966, showing the way far ahead of his time for branding indiscriminate commodities, and introduced the world to Marshall McLuhan.

Gossage used to disappear in his closet in a San Francisco firehouse-turned-creative-chickenshack with every new brief for days or weeks to emerge one day with a piece of copy. That one piece of copy, sometimes with an odd scribble, was the presentation. It worked for him.

Very obviously Howard didn’t know how to build a multi-million advertising conglomerate, otherwise we would remember him like Ogilvy, and read his books. Also he didn’t think highly enough of advertising, calling it “a multi-billion dollar hammer hitting a thirty-nine cent thumtack”. He thought highly of people and called advertising to them “not a right but a privilege” that should be executed with the utmost respect. This man had intuitively absorbed the “Cluetrain Manifesto” long before it was written. Want another quote? How about this: “People don’t read ads. People read what interests them. And sometimes it’s an ad.”

What Gossage knew was how to make his friends famous, like McLuhan, and among his friends happened to be his clients.

A Technique for Producing Ideas (Advertising Age Classics Library)

This is the shortest book in my business library and one of the most valuable and practical. With only 62 pages, generously spaced and in shirtpocket format, you can easily read it in less than an hour. That’s good because you’ll read it twice the first time. And you can easily spend the rest of your lifetime to practice it in perfection.

This is a book about creativity. It describes a method for getting ideas. The method is neither failsafe nor particularly easy to use. But it’s true and it works. This is the labour of creativity, and there’s no shortcut or fast track.

Because what’s striking about this 50 years old instruction is how well it matches what modern psychology knows about the secrets of creativity. Here’s the method in Young’s summary:

“This, then, is the whole process or method by which ideas are produced: First, the gathering of aw materials — both the materials of your immediate problem and the materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge. Second, the working over of these materials in your mind. Third, the incubating stage, where you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis. Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea — the “Eureka! I have it!” stage. And fifth, the final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.”

If this doesn’t sound particularly inspiring to you, a profession in which you don’t have to produce ideas to make a living is no shame.

Thoughtless Acts?: Observations on Intuitive Design

This little handy tome was originally “written” for the creatives of design firm IDEO as a school of seeing. And I put “written” in quotes because the book doesn’t actually contain much words except: the title; a little instruction inside the front cover; chapter names prompting what to look for; a short afterword about IDEO’s methods; and credits at the end.

The reason why it’s on my list is that it’s actually a book, and the only one I know, and a brilliant one, too … about ‘insights’. One of the heavyweight buzzwords in business today.

The meat of the book is photographs of situations in which people use their environment in unexpected ways. They’re artless snapshots and yet, every picture tells a story once you have learned not just to look but to see.

IDEO’s designers are looking for surprising new ideas for the design of everyday things. But everybody who frequently hears himself use the “i” word will benefit from learning to see. Behind looking at a focus group, product clinic, usage & attitude interview – or worse, just looking in the report, business summary – wait inspiring learnings and ideas for you to see. If you want.

37signals, Getting Real (2006)

This book appears not so much out of time but out of place for most of my readers. A descriptive title would say something like “project management in software development” and nobody would even touch it. But that would be a mistake.

Just like Seth Godin says “Every once in a while, a book comes out of left field …” I spare you the marketing blabber part of the sentence. You get the point by now. Could it be relevant? For me? A book about running software projects? YES!

You can find out for yourself. The book is available online and only online here. You will find you can order a personalized (how nice) PDF for download, a paperback print, or read it online for free. I suggest you do a little experiment:

Start reading from Chapter 2, and replace every occurence of the word “software” with the name of your own business or discipline. Try the same at any point later in the book. By now, you’ll be ready to buy at least the PDF and put it on your kindle or iPhone. A few weeks later, you’ll either have a heavily earmarked print-out lying around on your desk or have ordered the paperback.

Because what you’ll find out is that this way of managing projects applies to almost everything these days. We live and work in the “beta” economy. Nobody has the time anymore to pursue perfection and bring out a product after ten years of development and testing. Not even automotive. Not even Boeing and Airbus. Lauch the best product you can make in the shortest possible time, launch it and let the customer help you make it better.

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One comment

  1. Love the list.

    I would have swapped Innovator’s Solution for possibly Suri.

    You might also like our list of classics – http://100bestbiz.com/more-on-the-100-best/

    FYI – 37 Signals has a book coming out from Crown in the Spring called Rework – http://www.amazon.com/Rework-Jason-Fried/dp/0307463745/

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