Posted by Williams Helde Staff

Favorite business books


Over the course of my professional career, I have read what ultimately amounts to a tiny fraction of the ever growing number of business books out there. That being said, I’ve read more than a few. Many of these books seem to repeat the same things over and over. Many spend a lot of ink (or electrons) articulating the importance of a topic without really offering any practical advice on how to do it. And then there are those books that you read and realize that it will change the way you operate.

I can’t put these in any particular order because different days call for different skills, but I want to share what my three favorite business books are; none are about business. 

Buy-In: Saving Your Good Ideas from Getting Shot Down – John P. Kotter

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If any of these three books are to be classified as business books, this would be the closest to it. The book discusses how often the ideas that win aren’t the best ideas but the least hated ideas. One naysayer in a group meeting can derail the entire proposal if you let them, even if everyone else is on board.

Buy-In can really be separated into two sections. The first section tells a story of a small town who’s seeking approval to purchase computers for their library. They present their case to the townspeople who mount various oppositions. Kotter, through this story, walks through many of these “buy-in methods” via this example story. In the second half of the book, Kotter breaks down objections into 24 buckets, including death-by-delay (keep pushing discussion until the topic disappears), confusion (creating confusion with an overwhelming amount of data or irrelevant questions), fear-mongering (criticizing and creates irrational anxiety about the idea), character assassination, financial concerns, resource concerns, and more. He then shares tactical responses to counteract these attacks, down to actual phrases that can be used.

There are very few books I’ve ever read that have left me with such useful, practical information. I was able to put these methods into action almost immediately after reading the book, and in my experiences, they generally work. I keep this book at my desk for reference and consistently, per the books recommendation, prepare for all objections I can come up with before a big pitch meeting (whether internal, to a client, to a prospective client, or to external parties). While this can take up valuable time, it’s well worth prioritizing. The book is a quick read and too useful not to read.

The Definitive Book of Body Language – Barbara & Allan Pease

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The Definitive Book Of Body Language can help empower you in many different aspects of your life, including your professional life. Different studies provide varying statistics about body language – 50%, 80%, 25%, 65%. Regardless of the number, it isn’t difficult to fathom that a large percentage of communication is non-verbal, whether it be the tone of one’s voice, the position of their arms, or what seat they choose in a room.

Not only do the Pease’s translate a large number of body language signals, but they explain the suspected evolutionary origin of many of them, as well as address how to best use the knowledge given varying situations. Another book that provides immediately applicable advice, The Definitive Book of Body Language will not only make you a better listener and a better communicator, but it will allow you to change the dynamics of a room completely if you so choose. Have a coworker who likes to hijack meetings while a shy coworker keeps brilliant ideas to themselves? This book will teach you how to balance out the power in the room without saying a word.

Discover how to gain or give control with a handshake, identify when you’re being lied to, how to interpret signals from objects, like someone flipping a pen or stroking a glass, and how to make someone more open to an idea simply by getting them to open their arms. When I tell people about this book, they often think I’m selling them some voodoo. It’s really not. A lot of it seems really obvious once you understand it. But the impact you can make with small changes can be very empowering. So if you’re thinking, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” than I challenge you to do so. I think you will be amazed.

My one warning: this book has the capacity to mess with your mind a bit. You will become intensely conscious of your body movements and of those who are around you. In some regards, it might be analogous to hearing for the first time (probably not quite that intense, but you get the idea). The noise can be overwhelming and you might find yourself overanalyzing every twitch someone makes. But eventually you are able to internalize these signals and translate and use them with little thought.

The Game – Neil Strauss

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The third (but perhaps my favorite) book on this list is The Game by Neil Strauss. This book is a firsthand account of Strauss’ journey learning to pick-up women. Now a few things. When I tell people I’m a fan of this book, they typically make a lot of unfair assumptions. For starters, this book is a narrative, not a manual on how to seduce women. Second, Strauss is a long time notable author (and one of my favorites. I also highly recommend his book Emergency). This book was recommended to me by a female friend who is a high-powered attorney in Boston. I have shared this book with many friends and co-workers, male and female. So long story short, you need to read this book with an open mind and read it in its entirety if you’re going to do so. That being said, some of the content is at least PG-13. If you’re ok with all of this, you’ll have some good laughs, moments of reflection, moments of sadness, and you’ll learn a whole lot about people.

Because in the end, Strauss isn’t learning about picking up women as much as he is learning about human motivations and behaviors. This book will teach you a lot of different things about yourself and about other people, but for the point of keeping this post light and fun, I’ll break down a few of the “pick-up” lessons Strauss learns and you can decide if there are any business applications.

  • Start with yourself: This doesn’t mean turn yourself into what you think someone else wants you to be. It means be the best version of you that you can be. Until you’ve got your own ducks in a row, relationships will be difficult to forge.
  • Practice: It may sound crazy, but Strauss advocates practicing conversations before approaching women. Steer the conversation with questions. Anticipate responses. Have simple statements prepared that can help transition the conversation elsewhere should you hit a dead end. And it’s always better to make a graceful exit early than to overstay your welcome. An early exit leaves the possibility for a later conversation. Once you’re the creepy awkward guy, your chances are gone. Not unlike Kotter’s lesson in Buy-In, it seems a little crazy to enter a meeting without having prepared statements for possible objections.
  • Demonstrate Higher Value (or DHV as Strauss calls it). Essentially, act like you belong there. We’ve all seen (or been) 😉 the guy standing outside some girls window with a boom box and a mix tape. There’s a very fine line between bold and romantic vs. restraining order. In business, as in courtship, act like you belong there. Be confident. Don’t be desperate. Expect the level of respect that you deserve. Don’t sacrifice service for arrogance, but relationships are a two-way street. Sometimes it’s our jobs to shut our mouths and take out the trash. Other times, if we’re not the ones to ask the hard questions to a client or colleague, who’s going to?
  • Get buy in from the group. If you’ve ever been having a fun conversation with someone new only to be exiled by their friend’s moments later, you’ll understand this one. Strauss talks about how you must be respectful and get buy-in from the entire group. In business, it’s incredibly important to gain the confidence of the entire team, not just your direct contact. Everyone has their own issues to deal with. If you’re working with an internal design team, perhaps they’re worried about you taking their jobs, so they push back. Or a team member feels left out of the conversations. One person can quickly kill a great deal for irrational (yet very human) ideas. Recognize all parties impacted by each decision and make sure that everyone is on board.
  • Be genuine, be yourself, and have fun. Strauss says that if your objective is to go out and “pick-up” someone, and you don’t accomplish that, your night is a failure. If your objective is to go out and have fun, you don’t “pick-up” anyone, but you still had a fun evening, than your night out was still a success. While any college house has likely seen its share of one night stands, truthfully, relationships take time to build. If your expectation is to meet a new peer and close a $20 million project on the spot, than you’re setting yourself up for a lot of bad sales meeting. Be genuine, be yourself, have fun, and build relationships around commonalities. And realize that not every two people are meant to be together. If and when the time is right for you to work together, than awesome. If not, well than you’ve still had fun and developed some new relationships. What an awesome concession.

There’s much more to be learned from these books, but you’ll have to explore them yourself to learn. Feel free to share your feedback or your favorites below!

p.s., Some of my other favorites include The Power of Habit, Brain Rules, and Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior.

Williams Helde Staff
About the Author

Williams Helde Staff

Seattle-based Williams Helde helps build active, healthy brands through marketing communications, PR, advertising and design.