30 Years of Business Books in 7 Minutes or Fewer

glasses on top of a pile of books

A year passes. Daylight savings time takes us by surprise yet again. Another tree falls in the forest. And a couple dozen more business books hit the shelves.

Some of those books really are as revolutionary as they sound (recently, we’ve loved Holacracy and Reinventing Organizations). But at Blinkist, now that we’ve read (literal!) hundreds of them, here’s one thing we know for sure: the stories that enfold them might change, but the same primary lessons pop up time and time again. It’s kind of comforting, actually—when all the experts agree, you’d best get on board!

Today, discover 7 essential lessons from the world’s most popular business books turned into key ideas you can really use—an infusion of super nutrients recommended by the world’s greatest thought leaders. Here are the biggest lessons in the world of business books, made small.


1. Find your why

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (Harper Business Essentials)In Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras sleuth out why visionary companies like Disney and Johnson & Johnson stay stable when the waters get rough. One commonality was that they had a higher purpose—one that wasn’t just chasing profits.

Knowing your “why” is just as critical at the personal level. Daniel Pink’s Drive points to a study in which psychologists asked university students about their life goals. Some cited external goals like wealth, while others brought up intrinsic goals, such as personal development or helping others. Years later, the students with profit goals were no closer to contentment, but those with intrinsic goals were happier.

The big lesson: Find your why. Knowing your purpose will help you set and meet meaningful goals, organize better, and even feel happier.

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Where we found it: Start With Why – Simon Sinek, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey, The Everything Store – Brad Stone, The Magic of Thinking Big – David Schwartz.

2. Put the work first

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You LoveOnce you know what you’re out to achieve, it’s time to put in the work to get there. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport advises to focus on the quality of your work rather than the outcome. By becoming a servant of the work, you naturally acquire the “rare and valuable skills,” that make you stand out. In fact, it’s these very same skills whose importance Seth Godin emphasizes in Linchpin. A linchpin is someone who finds their niche and pours in their expertise, passion, and emotional labor to become irreplaceable within their sphere. But make no mistake: becoming a linchpin takes practice – roughly 10,000 hours of it. The good news is this: if you’re journeying towards a why you believe in and focusing on doing great work, those 10,000 hours will go down easy.

The big lesson: Make the work come first. Focus on quality and invest in the activity rather than outcomes. You’ll hone your rare and valuable skills, rack up practice hours, and be on your way to indispensable.

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Where we found it: So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport, Linchpin and Purple Cow– Seth Godin, Mastery – Robert Greene, Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell.

3. Plan. Do. Repeat.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free ProductivityPutting in the work requires some planning – and sometimes a bit of recalibration. David Allen explains in Getting Things Done that one of the best things you can do for yourself is establish a system to organize your work and review it regularly. This frees you to create solid action plans that move your project forward. But as you review your plans, you might find something unexpected: as a result of the work you’ve done, what you thought was your next step may no longer apply. And that’s a-okay: progress doesn’t always mean sticking to a rigid plan – sometimes, it means rewriting it.

The big lesson: A good organizational system can actually drive action. Find a system that works for you and use it to structure, drive, and revise.

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Where we found it: Getting Things Done – David Allen, Built to Last – Jerry I. Porras and James C. Collins, The War of Art – Steven Pressfield.

4. Forget efficiency

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New RichWith all of the advice out there on lifehacking, the imperative to be efficient is strong. But a game changing piece of advice that many great business books support is that being effective will get your farther than mere efficiency ever will. Tim Ferriss’s classic The 4-Hour Work Week counsels clearing out the underbrush to make the most time for meaningful work. Instead of small tasks like emails or things someone who’s not you could do just as well, focus on activities that are unique to your talents and will advance your goals. The same advice is echoed in The 80/20 Principle: if used correctly, 20% of the effort gets you 80% of the results. Working effectively on important goals will always bring you farther than checking off a to-do list will.

The big lesson: When it comes to moving the needle, effective trumps efficient. Focus on doing the right things, not lots of them.

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Where we found it:The 80/20 Principle – Richard Koch,The 4-Hour Work Week – Tim Ferriss, Focus – Daniel Goleman,The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey.

5. Tell a sticky story

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceEven if you don’t interact with clients, telling a persuasive story is part of nearly every modern career. Both The Tipping Point and Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick explain that any idea can be expressed in a way that is impactful and memorable, or “sticky.” Luckily, there’s a psychology to telling stories in a compelling way, and it starts with listening. Listen to your audience’s stories so that when you frame your vision for them, you are better able to tap into their needs and desires – a surefire way gather their support. Once you learn to do it (don’t sweat it—even Steve Jobs had to learn!), you can sell anything to anyone.

The big lesson: Learn the right way to tell a story: once you can really communicate your vision, you’ll have more people to help you advance your why.

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Where we found it:The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell, Made to Stick – Chip & Dan Heath, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs – Carmine Gallo, Influence – Robert Cialdini, You Can Negotiate Anything – Herb Cohen, The Story Factor – Annette Simmons, Contagious – Jonah Berger.

made to stick

6. Change your expectations about creativity

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of InnovationIf you want create something completely new, you’ll need to sally boldly forth and be a little adventurous with what you try. Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From suggests that creative ideas arise from a process similar to evolution, which makes their arrival as unpredictable as it is exciting. Creativity Inc. underscores the same principle and stresses determination, too: keep on trying and allow creative ideas to arrive of their own accord as a result of experimentation. By keeping an open mind and treating each new challenge as your laboratory rather than your checklist, the ideas will eventually come.

The big lesson: Creative ideas are like cats. They might not come when called, but if you’re patient and keep the door open, they’ll saunter in and find their way to your lap.

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Where we found it:Where Good Ideas Come From – Steven Johnson, Weird Ideas That Work – Robert I. Sutton, Creativity Inc. – Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace.

7. Know you’re irrational—and that’s okay!

Business can seem as serious and logical as neckties and walnut paneling. When it comes down to it, though, business is about people, and people are spectacularly irrational. Our rational side might be able to make a decision about what’s best for us, such as nixing sugar or kicking a smoking habit, but the irrational self who favors chips and smokes can derail you. As you journey toward your why, understand that things might not go as you planned: others will interfere, and even your own irrationality can reroute your path to progress every now and then. But if you accept these truths as part of your project and remember to have fun and commit to righting your course post any slip-ups, irrationality can be refreshing, not world-ending.

The big lesson: Accept your inherent irrationality and that of others and be prepared to recalibrate when a curveball heads your way.

Where we found it: Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely, Fooled by Randomness – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

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About Caitlin Schiller
Caitlin is Editor in Chief at Page19 and handles copywriting and content marketing at Blinkist. She’s worked in leadership at a startup in Berlin, taught at a Spanish graduate institution, and has been writing for digital – agency side and freelance – for a decade. At Page19, Caitlin writes primarily on marketing, communications, and creativity.