Book Lists

8 Popular Business Books Published in 2014 Summarized in One Paragraph

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Dozens of excellent non-fiction books were published in the first half of 2014. To save you some time, we picked eight of the best releases and distilled each into one paragraph. The books cover a variety of topics. Creativity Inc. and Things a Little Bird Told Me discuss innovation; Left Brain, Right Stuff and Think Like a Freak explore tips to improve judgment and decision making; and in Social Physics, the director of the Human Dynamics Lab at MIT, Alex Pentland, writes about “idea flow.”

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

1The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

Here's how you build and run a start-up, as recommended by Ben Horowitz, the co-founder and general partner of the venture capitalist firm Andreesseen Horowitz. First, prepare for failure--it's inevitable. Building a viable product is hard, and things won't go as planned. Second, take care of your employees. Train them. Invest in them. Give them responsibility. Third, managing a business is, in part, managing your instincts and emotions. Be mindful.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

2Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace

Creativity is a constant tug of war between originality and appeal, novelty and sales. Ed Catmull writes about how Pixar flourished during the 1990s while Disney floundered. At Disney, “The pressure to create—and quickly!—became the order of the day.” Pixar cherished the creative process. Early mock-ups of Pixar films are “ugly babies”—awkward, inconsistent, and incomplete drafts desperate for nurturing. They required time, patience and thousands of edits. “Making the process better, easier, and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on—but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.”

Money: The Unauthorized Biography

3Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin

Economic historians argue that money emerged as an alternative to barter. We traded fish or corn or tools (any perishable or non-perishable good of value), but it was an inefficient system. Money became a stable commodity—a medium of exchange—that lubricated the markets. For Martin, this view is deeply flawed because it is a history that only relies on what survived. Coinage, in other words, is not essential to a monetary system. “It is the underlying mechanism of credit accounts and clearing that is the essence of money,” Martin writes. Currency is ephemeral and cosmetic; it is not itself money but a representation of credit.

Left Brain, Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning Decisions

4Left Brain, Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning Decisions by Phil Rosenzweig

Rosenzweig distinguishes between overprecision (the tendency to "believe that our estimates or projections are more accurate than they turn out to be”), overestimation (a "belief that I can do something better, or maybe faster, than I really can") and overplacement (the "belief we are better than others"). “When we can influence outcomes, then overestimation – holding a self-belief that is somewhat exaggerated – can often help us achieve higher performance. Believing you can run a bit faster than you’ve ever gone before can help you do better.”

Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion

5Invisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion by David Zweig

We live in an era driven by celebrity and ego; everyone wants not just attention but admiration and praise. And yet, the better ‘Invisibles’ do their jobs, the less you consciously notice their contributions. Zweig identifies three traits that all Invisibles embody: Ambivalence Toward Recognition, Meticulousness, Savoring of Responsibility.

Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind

6Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind by Biz Stone

A history of Twitter from one of its co-founders sprinkled with a few insights on the creative process, leadership and management. Here’s one: “As a company, instead of talking about how great our technology was, we simply started celebrating that amazing things people were doing with it. It was an odd reversal."

Think Like a Freak

7Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

The third installment from team Levitt-Dubner. This edition is the most actionable and prescriptive. If you want to “think like a freak,” you’ve got to know how to use incentives to your advantage.

Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science

8Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science by Alex Pentland

Network researchers debate the importance of these two components—the strength of connections and the diversity of connections. Pentland, on the other hand, argues for the importance of what he terms “idea flow,” the propagation of behaviors and beliefs through a social network—such as a business. The implication is that a business has a “collective intelligence” that is not the sum of individual IQs but of the structure of its internal social networks.

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