Oldies but goodies: books on business that never go out of style

Want to know the secret to attracting customers?

  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Remember that a person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Smile.

Ok. So maybe this isn’t exactly earth-shattering advice. And it’s hardly a “secret”. But these tips are foundational to the book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. And they must work…because 81 years after it was published, the book is still flying off bookshelves.

Well, maybe not exactly flying off, or at least not anymore, but How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. And in 2011, Time Magazine named it number 19 on its list of most influential books.

Many of the world’s most successful business leaders gained much of their knowledge decades ago (think Henry Ford, John Rockefeller or Walt Disney), but what they learned still applies in today’s world. Likewise, some of today’s greatest business leaders, like Google’s Larry Page and Starbuck’s Howard Schultz, have also been guided by advice from days gone by.

Wisdom, expertise and good advice never go out of style, so if you’re looking for an interesting business read this summer, you might want to try a classic that still stands the test of time. Here are a few suggestions:

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (1937). The author studied a number of people who had amassed large personal fortunes, then developed 13 steps to achieving success. Hill wrote that nearly anything could be possible through “desire, faith and persistence”. And he should know, by 2015, Think and Grow Rich had sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

Business Adventures by John Brooks (1959). Subtitled “12 Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street”, Business Adventures profiles big companies that made some huge mistakes – and went on to recover and succeed in the long run. Warren Buffet actually lent this book to Bill Gates, so it’s probably worth a read.

The E-Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About it by Michael Gerber (1986). The E-Myth talks about the evolution most businesses follow when they start up and, because many business owners are more “technician” than “entrepreneur”, they fail. More than 30 years later, the book is still relevant, acknowledging that knowing how to run a business is as important as knowing your business.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Powerful by Dr. Stephen Covey (1989). Selling more than 25 million books, Dr. Covey’s book is both a business book and a personal self-help book. It promotes “character” rather than “personality” with a focus on goal-setting, listening and creating sustainable practices.

Built to Last — Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins (1994) This book was the result of a six-year research project that examined successful companies to find out what made for an “enduring business”. Built to Last lists 18 companies it identifies as visionary – including 3M, Boeing and American Express – and writes about the characteristics that make them successful.

And of course…

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936) The book is not only about making people like you, but it also provides sound (though basic) advice on leading people to change, including:

  • Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  • Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  • Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  • Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.

Again, no revelations here, but it’s time tested and a good reminder that positivity begets results.

Or as Carnegie put it, “A drop of honey can catch more flies than a gallon of gall.”

Words to live by.



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