Business Books for Non-Business People: Guest

Every discipline has its required reading -- The Elements Of Style for writers; Understanding Exposure for photographers; True And False for actors -- and the business world is no exception.

Sadly, most business literature is not only written for a business audience but also for purposes of discussing business itself, rather than examining how craft intersects with commerce. Conversely, most craft-specific volumes avoid taking a hard look at industry (and often with good reason) but luckily, thanks to a select, slim library, even the least business-minded individual can avail themselves of how to turn dreams into sweet, sweet, rent-paying dollars.

Zilch: The Power Of Zero In Business, Nancy Lublin. Lublin comes from the non-profit world (Dress For Success, Do Something) and here shows how to apply some of the bootstrapping principles learned in that realm to conventional and unconventional organizations alike. The ends are typical (boost revenue, increase engagement, and so on), but Zilch offers interesting ways to think beyond simple dollars (in terms of both resources and achievements). Some readers may find certain included anecdotes and ideas (such as stacking your group with “Chief Passion Officers”) to be too whimsical for practical application, but Zilch ultimately offers a master class in doing more with less -- or, in some cases, with nothing at all.

Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. As a software company, Chicago-based 37 Signals earned its fame as much through its products as it did through its approach to conducting business: lean, fearlessly, and deliberately. Rework isn’t so much a how-to guide to finance and operations as it is a why-to guide for following your passion, trading number talk for a “what are you waiting for?” pep talk based on practical observations from the digital-age business world. Distribution, communication, marketing: The old business-school tenets are all addressed, but the emphasis here is on learning by doing, knowing when to forget the conventional wisdom, and how to embrace common sense. “Make tiny decisions.” “Don’t confuse enthusiasm with priority.” “You need less than you think.” In the hands of lesser practitioners these would be hollow platitudes, but Fried and Hansson demonstrate the experience and the expertise to back (and bulk) up their assertions in a way entirely void of the technical business jargon that keeps so many from learning about industry in the first place.

Pretty much anything by Donald Trump. His bluster has by now become comical and his advice, for those not born into an insanely wealthy and well-connected family of real estate developers, is generally useless. Still, there comes a time when you have to will yourself to think big, and no one talks a meaner game than The Donald. “I don’t do it for the money,” Trump said of his enterprise in The Art Of The Deal. “I do it to do it.” An often uninspiring character delivering inspiration in spades: who knew? 

Andrew Reilly is the Director of Publishing for 2nd Story, a live reading series and fully chartered non-profit organization based in Chicago. His nonfiction has appeared in Alarm, The A.V. Club, and The Beachwood Reporter, among others, and he once upon a time wrote and edited the award-winning 35th Street Review White Sox blog. His fiction and essays have also been featured in a number of print and online publications based in some unknown number of cities, but he still calls Chicago home, just as he has since leaving the north suburbs where he grew up.

Contact Us