7 must-read classic business books

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Business is always changing, but the foundations of great entrepreneurship never do. These classic business books are a must-read for every founder.

Summer vacation. For most founders of early-stage and fast-growth companies those two words together are about as foreign as snow in August. Still, summer does tend to slow down the pace somewhat.

So whether you are one of the lucky ones who's managed to negotiate a few days on the beach or you simply find yourself on a plane without Wi-Fi while traveling for work, there's no better time than the summer to catch up on some good old-fashioned reading.

Rather than fill your reading pipeline with the near endless supply of books detailing current trends and theories of modern business, why not reach back into the past for some inspiration from the classics?

These books may not mention a digital-centric marketing plan or espouse the benefits of lean methodology, but there's a reason they've survived decades: they're loaded with bedrock business advice that all entrepreneurs should have in their back pocket.

These seven books have shaped business, innovation and strategy for decades. Countless founders have based their processes, growth roadmaps and marketing strategies on them. They've stood the test of time, and are worth a read.

1. The E Myth

A business book that's turned into a business empire. If you have your MBA, chances are this was required reading at some point. In the E Myth, Michael Gerber uncovers the myths and assumptions around starting and growing a business. He details the evolution most businesses journey through from entrepreneurial infancy to the growing pains and finally to maturity. He does this all through the portrayal of the three personalities every business owner experiences: The Entrepreneur, Technician, and Manager. This iconic book is worth a read especially if you are in the early stages of growth.

2. The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

Independence. Interdependence. Continuous improvements. Sounds a lot like making assumptions, testing with your audience and pivoting, doesn't it? The genius of this classic is that the principles outlined within it can be applied to business and life beyond it as well. Setting goals, taking it one step at a time, honing your listening skills to understand people and creating sustainable practices are all crucial components to not just a successful life, but a happy one.

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie's 1936 masterpiece is a salesperson's bible and the first entrepreneurial book that lays the core truth right out there: in business, it's important to be liked. Critics have argued over the years that this book essentially is a guide to manipulation, but think of Carnegie's guiding principles in terms of getting to know your audience: Show respect for other's opinions, see things from a different point of view, encourage others to talk about themselves. These are the fundamentals of audience persona development that will shape your path in getting to market. The book has been updated several times, including the most recent version for the digital age.

4. Business Adventures

If Warren Buffet and Bill Gates share the same favorite business book, it should probably go right to the top of every entrepreneur's reading list. Author John Brooks was a New York journalist who compiled his long-form business profiles into this book, which is lean on advice tidbits and heavy on cautionary tales from huge corporations like Ford, General Electric and Xerox. It may mess with your mind (in the best way) to read about Ford ignoring consumer feedback or Xerox refusing to pivot into becoming an advanced technology player - and then think about how those companies recovered in the decades since.

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Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, $12.22

How Not to be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg, $7.88

The Vital Question by Nick Lane, $18.91

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Noah Yuval Harari, $18.51

The Power to Compete by Ryoichi Mikitani and Hiroshi Mikitani, $22.18


5. Purple Cow

Okay, so this one isn't quite covered in dust yet. But Seth Godin's simply effective ideas on branding will be relevant for as long as there's clutter in the marketplace. Purple Cow is novella-sized and doesn't require a notebook to remember its most salient points, most of which are: be unique, take risks and oh, don't forget to be unique. Hopefully you've already thought about your brand messaging in a non-traditional way, but if you haven't, here's a good place to get the creative juices flowing.

6. Good to Great

In his book, "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't," author Jim Collins outlines how companies can transition from being average to great. The book explores companies that have achieved greatness and zeroes in on the factors that got them there. What are these factors? You'll have to read it to find out, but let's just say it's about getting the right people on the bus, realizing and tapping into core competencies, and discipline.

7. Atlas Shrugged

Innovators facing enormous opposition from behemoths of the status quo: the story of Rearden Steel, or Uber? No matter how you feel about Ayn Rand's philosophies, there's a lesson on the power of creativity and achievement to be learned from the story. Basically, you can't stop the train of innovation.

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Trust your instincts; your most valuable assets will "hatch" over time.

Daenerys held on to her dragon eggs and felt connected to them long before they even hatched--and right after her husband's death, the dragons were born and became her most valuable asset.

Not every investment you make or asset you own will turn over a profit or drive success right away. If your gut is telling you something is worth holding on to and fostering, it probably is.

In due time, the right investments will begin to show return.

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View disorder in the market and your challenges as an opportunity to excel your business forward. 

"Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is." -Peter Baelish

Accept the challenges that come your way and figure out how you can grow from them.

A misstep doesn't always mean a failure, so don't trap yourself into thinking that it does.

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Be cordial to everyone, even those you feel may not be able to help propel you forward

"The occasional kindness will spare you all sorts of trouble down the road." -Cersei Lannister

Ironically coming from the resident Queen of everything not-so-nice (understatement of the century), this lesson is one of the oldest in the book but still one of the most pertinent.

Treating people with kindness will take you further than arrogance will. It pays in business to treat the person you think can help you the least with just as much respect as you would the person who could help you the most.

The business world is a ever-changing, and you never know where a connection could pay off down the line.

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Draw on personal experiences to create your business model and core values.

After her brother sold her into marriage, Daenerys knew that supporting or allowing slavery was something she was adamantly against and would not allow it. She decides to sail to another city to free the Unsullied (slave warriors). 

Though it wasn't in her original "business" plan, Daenerys wanted to make sure she was engaging in affairs that were important to her and that she could relate to.

Your company values and goals should reflect things that you care about directly, even if that means (sometimes literally) adjusting your sails to go a different direction.

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Choose your battles wisely.

"A good king knows when to save his strength and when to destroy his enemies." -Cersei Lannister

You won't get along with everyone, and you'll definitley have competitors within the industry. 

You have to decide early on what's worth fighting and getting angry about and what you should let go. Either way, it pays to use both as fuel to improve your business.

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Never underestimate yourself and the influence you can have.

"Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow." -Varys

Your title has nothing to do with how much power or influence you actually have. You can be a CEO, but if you're not well-received or liked, your employees are less likely to listen to and respect you.

What wins you "power" is how much respect you earn from the people around you.

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Always pay your debts.

"A Lannister always pays their debts." 

Okay, you had to know this one was coming.

While this line is perhaps one of the most well-known from the show, it's the deeper meaning behind the lines that teaches a lesson (aside from simply encouraging business owners to literally pay off their debts, which also is sound advice).

Don't go through business and entrepreneurship asking for favors and taking advantage of people. 

When you owe something to anyone or any company, whether it's literal funding or an under-the-table favor, you eventually will have to pay it back.

Don't ask for something unless you're prepared and equipped to return back what you're asking for.

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