Every year I share a list of the business books that I have read throughout the year that left the strongest impression on me. These are the books that challenged my thinking, forced me to look at my business differently, or helped to fill a skill gap.

This year, the books that left the strongest impressions were books on battling unconscious bias, telling more powerful stories and asking better questions.

All cover critical skills for small business owners, and all have tangible, clear to follow guidelines and steps to help you turn insight into action.

Most were not published this year, but they were still new to me.

Add these books to your summer reading pile, or gift them to your favourite entrepreneur at Christmas.

Doug Stevenson’s Story Theatre Method – Strategic Storytelling in Business, by Doug Stevenson (2011).

5-second summary:

Stories are almost magical things that, when told correctly, help sway opinion and trigger action.

During the year, when I was speaking at WordCamp Brisbane about my experience after the majority of my clients were hacked, I didn’t want my talk to be “nice”. I wanted it to be impactful and one of those “wow” talks.

I had heard about Doug Stevenson, but hadn’t done any of his courses or read his book. Boy was I in for a massive shake-up!

I read his Story Theatre Method book and did two of his online courses, and my talk was transformed. Feedback from members of the audience was that my talk was one of the highlights of the event.

Doug teaches not only the elements of how to tell a great business story, but also the physicality of “in moments” vs “out moments.”  He teaches story branding through the phrase that pays, and how to add humour that works for all audience types.

Finally, he also teaches how to actually get people to respond to the Q&A section of your talk – and not to have an awkward silence where everyone shuffles their feet and tries to work out the fastest way to the coffee cart.

If your role includes speaking in front of an audience, then take a deep dive into the world of Doug Stevenson: Your audience will thank you!

Doug Stevenson quote.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez (2019).

5-second summary

This book was one that shook me to my core this year. It explored why the equitable allocation of floorspace for public toilets creates queues, why mobile phones are the size that they are, why women freeze in office air-conditioning and why women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in car accidents.

Impeccably researched and cited, this book highlights the massive data gaps across everything from technology, health, urban planning and the media, caused by biased data that excludes women. These gaps are generally not conscious or deliberate, but they have life-shattering impacts on women.

This is one of those books that if I could gift every person in public policy and research, I would!

Caroline Criado Perez quote.

The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life, by Todd Herman (2019).

5-second summary

The Alter Ego Effect is a deceptively simple book – which looks at the power of creating a heroic alter ego to call on when the chips are down. This is not about play-acting, but tapping into a deep, heroic part of your psyche to help you achieve extraordinary things.

The book isn’t the simply “pretend you are someone else” schtick of the personal success snake oil salespeople. This book is remarkably practical, with solid steps to work out why an alter ego works and how to create one that will work for you (lycra superhero garments and optional extra).

If you are working on your self-esteem, or simply want a handy strategy you can pull out of your kit bag in the moments that we would all rather not have, then add this book to your reading pile.

Todd Herman quote.

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, by Donald Miller (2017).

5-second summary

This book was the hands-down winner in terms of the number of highlights and notes I made all over it when reading it throughout the year. (Yes – this is a multi-read book).

Building a StoryBrand explores how to improve your connection with your customers through the seven elements of powerful stories, and in particular, how to reflect this through your marketing copy.

It starts with the traditional hero’s journey writing model and then digs into the model in unique and highly practical ways. The approach explores the psychology of the customer and what makes them buy particular goods or services.

Donald Miller’s language is easy to understand, and relatively jargon-free, making it suitable for all types of business owners.

The only thing to be aware is that the book is obviously a lead into his high-priced training courses, so go into the book with open eyes, and take the gems that are scattered throughout the book while ignoring the subtle manipulation to “buy, buy, buy.”

Donald Miller quote.

The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you, by Rob Fitzpatrick (2016).

5-second summary

If you have ever wondered why focus groups, or asking your customers about your plans goes awry, then this book is for you. People who care about you will lie to you to spare your feelings (think about the answers to the “does my butt look big in this …” scenario).

The Mom Test looks at how you can ask better questions of your customers, and how to get meaningful and useful feedback on your product or service.

Asking better questions helps to reduce biased answers, and the book explores how to frame the questions you ask to remove the inherent bias.

It also explores some counter-intuitive steps such as why you should never start by telling someone your great idea before you ask for feedback.

The Mom Test is full of practical examples and sentences you can liberate and apply to your business straight away (which means it is more than worth the purchase price).

This book will help you stop racing off down into dry gullies because you think a business idea sounds brilliant, but you later discover that there is no real market of people willing to pay for the good or service.

If you are thinking of expanding your services, or starting a new business, this book should be mandatory reading.

Rob Fitzpatrick quote.

Last thoughts

Nothing beats a brilliant book. They are amazingly cheap and all it takes is one idea to transform your business or change the direction of your life. A good business book is simply condensed transformational magic – and who doesn’t need a little bit of magic in their business! 

Interested in some of the other books I have recommended over the years? Check out my Must Read Books for Entrepreneurs.

Ingrid Moyle

Ingrid Moyle (BA - Psych/Industrial Relations) is the Chief Web Wizard at Heart Harmony Communications. A self-confessed multipotentialite, Ingrid shamelessly blends her passions of human resources, psychology, web design and copywriting. When not hardwired to her computer, she quests for the perfect coffee while chasing virtual reality creatures across the backstreets of Brisbane.