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BFS Capital Blog

The 11 Best Business Books of 2015

January 20, 2016

It’s really too bad you don’t get free pizzas for reading anymore.

There’s no chart up in the breakroom where you get a slice for every book you finish. Just a work schedule and maybe, if you’re lucky, some M&M’s. Maybe if there was a tangible prize for reading more books, you’d make time to do it. But between the million other things you need to make time for when running a small business, somehow reading a good book often gets pushed to the back.

It’s unfortunate, really. Because there is a big reward to reading business books, and that is becoming a better business owner. Here are 11 of the best business books of 2015 that either profile business successes, or will get you thinking about new ways to run your company in 2016.

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
by Richard Thaler; 432 pages, $27.99

Thaler, an economist at the University of Chicago, leads off the best of 2015’s business books with a theme that’s become common among business novelists: Economics isn’t about formulas, it’s about people. His argument, essentially, is that people do not behave rationally, so the traditional market assumption that supply and demand work towards equilibrium is severely flawed. And while the world of Behavioral Economics has become quite the rage in recent years, this book may explain it best.

Elon Musk
By Ashlee Vance; 400 pages, $15.99

Only two biographies make our list of the best business books of the year. And given all the rockets we’ve seen in space and Teslas we’ve seen on the road, the cooperative unauthorized biography of the Tesla/SpaceX CEO definitely needs to be among them. Though it should surprise absolutely nobody that Musk was a nerdy kid who got pushed down stairs and beaten into the hospital, and now is a 100-hour-a-week workaholic. But what may surprise some is the portrait Vance – a reporter for Bloomberg Business Week who interviewed Musk extensively for the project – paints of a man who seems to be more motivated by ideas and changing the world than by money. Though by the looks of it, the cash-filled side effects don’t seem to bother him.

Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family
By Anne-Marie Slaughter; 352 pages, $28

After leaving her job as Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department because of the strain it put on her family, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article for The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” That article spread out to 352 pages here, where Slaughter makes the case that it’s the workplace and American attitudes towards mothers in the workplace that need to change, and not the women themselves. The book finishes with a list of changes she believes would make the difference, and allow women to raise children without having to sacrifice high-prestige careers.

Phishing for Phools:  The Economics of Manipulation and Deception
By. George A. Akelof and Robert J. Shiller; 288 pages, $24.95

Anybody who’s ever taken an intro to sales class knows the importance of convincing someone they need something they didn’t know they know they needed. Like a 58-inch television, or 4-bedroom house for two people. These Nobel laureate economists again discuss behavioral economics, and show how “Phishermen” – companies who market a product people don’t need – prey on “Phools”, consumers who can be manipulated either by facts or emotion. The interesting part of the discussion is not that firms do this manipulation – if you’re reading this on an iPad you are evidence of that already – but that they’re not the bad guys for doing it. Because firms who don’t phish fall far behind, so the deception is necessary for survival.

Leadership BS
By Jeffrey Pfeffer; 272 pages, $29.99

It’s frustrating to think about the world – or at least watch a season of “House of Cards” – without the frustrating realization that the lying bad guys often win. And while Stanford business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer stops short of preaching the gospel of Frank Underwood, he does dismantle the common wisdom that honesty and integrity make for great leaders. Pfeffer argues that lies and manipulation are necessary to motivate and get needed results out of people, and the more we demand truth from our leaders, the more we will be disappointed with them. Results, he argues, should be the true measure of a good leader, not whether said leader was scrupulous in getting them.

Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!
By Nicholas Carlson; 357 pages, $30

Unlike the other biography on this list, this book about the youngest woman ever to head a Fortune 500 company was not at all authorized. That’s pretty clear as soon as we read about Mayer mistaking Yahoo!’s general counsel for the IT guy, and the thinly-veiled suggestion that she might have Asperger’s Syndrome. Those standouts aside, this is a fascinating inside look at how Mayer tried (and continues to try) to make Yahoo! relevant again after its meteoric rise and fall, and what a female CEO faces, especially when she’s younger than the managers she oversees.

Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters
By Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry; 320 pages, $26

Despite all the clichés you hear on TV about Tom Brady and Stephen Curry, nobody performs “better” under pressure. Some just handle it better. Weisinger and Pawliw-Fry discuss the factors that make us crack when times are hardest, issues like “pressure distortions” where we use specific thought patterns to modify our thinking. Or “magnification” where we make things a much bigger deal than they really are. The psychologist (Weisinger) and the performance coach (Pawliw-Fry) take their shared experience and offer 22 methods of handling pressure that you will definitely be able to use.

Work Rules! Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live And Lead
By Laszlo Bock; 416 pages, $30

You’ve never read a list of “Best Companies to Work For” that didn’t include Google, right? So, theoretically, shouldn’t we all be looking to Google to see how to make our offices better workplaces? That’s the thought behind this book by Google’s Head of People Operations. And since we can’t all have mini-golf courses on the roof, Bock starts each chapter with a question about HR practices, then demonstrates how other companies do it wrong. Then, as a service to the reader, explains the Google philosophy on how to do it right. Even if you don’t run a run a multi-billion dollar company, much of his advice is applicable to small businesses.

The Road to Character
By David Brooks; 320 pages, $28

The world – or at least America’s – current obsession with personal branding isn’t anything groundbreaking. But as people strive to make themselves great through defining themselves, this New York Times columnist looks back at some of the great achievers in history and shows that true legends are those who strive to better others, and not just elevate themselves. This sort of altruism isn’t groundbreaking either, but Brooks does it with far more relevant contemporary examples – like Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath – and even goes so far as to show some of the great positives that have come from the culture of “me.”

The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society
By Charles Handy; 240 pages, $26.95

Despite being 83 years old, legendary British management thinker Charles Handy understands the millennial economy. While the youngest generation of workers is maligned for perpetual career changes, Handy argues over these 16 essays that to avoid complete failure we must always diversify our careers. That is, create a “second curve” to what we do, beginning that second career while we are still on the ascent of our first. “Work is what we do, not where we go,” he says. A philosophy that fits in perfectly with the mobile, multi-career lifestyle many younger people embrace.

The Misfit Economy
By Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips; 248 pages, $26

Nobody’s saying that the dregs of society should be our heroes … except maybe Raiders fans. But in this book, Clay and Phillips take a look at how criminal economies and organizations operate, and what mainstream business can learn from them. The concept is nothing new – everyone from mob bosses to big time hackers have written business books. But this one examines those economies as a whole, and shows, again, that honesty is not always the best policy.

We’re all busy but it’s important to find the time to read a good book every now and then. We hope that our list of the 11 best business books of 2015 will help inspire and motivate you to continue to grow personally and professionally.