Most people in business want to wander towards the “business” or “entrepreneur” section of their local Barnes & Noble.
While that seems like a great place to start, there are hidden gems in other areas of the store.
Throughout my career, I have learned a lot from business books, but there are few fiction books that have taught me much more. I checked with other entrepreneurs and business owners to find their favorite fiction books that contain business lessons.
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Here is what they had to share.
Neil Bondre from The Interview Professional recommends The Alchemist. I have read this book as well at the urging of my wife, and would recommend it for anyone who reads regardless of your interest. It will keep you focused on the story until you get the end. A book that truly gives meaning to the phrase “can’t put it down.”
“The Alchemist inspires you to chase your dreams and have faith that everything will fall into place,” says Bondre. The book details the story of a boy who chased his “personal legend” and gave up the security of his life and all of his possessions to fulfill his dreams.
According to Bondre, there are several lessons you can learn from this book:
- “Do not wait too long to pursue your passion. The longer you wait, the more excuses you will find to not take action.”
- “Be prepared for a lot of adversity, skepticism, and doubt from outsiders and yourself. But, have faith that you can accomplish your goals.”
- “Have a long-term vision. Stay focused on your goal but be flexible in your approach.”
- “Be prepared to fail and to lose faith before you reach the end.”
- “Enjoy the journey. It will be a long and strenuous process at times, but it is important to take note of what you have learned and how far you have come since you started the journey.”
An American Tragedy
Sonja Hastings is the founder of Optimal Sales Search and recommends the classic An American Tragedy. It is a tragic novel about a kid that grows up poor. He is ambitious wants to become a person of affluence and fortune. SPOILER – In the end, he is defeated by a string of poor choices that ultimately lead to crime.
“The lessons learned about business in this 800-page story center around the importance of tethering ambition to focus, self-discipline, and ethics,” said Hastings. “When they become uncoupled, tragedy ensues.”
Here are some of the lessons that entrepreneurs and business owners can get from this book:
- “Hold strong to your values. They will keep you safe from making poor decisions and will provide clear bright lines in turbulent times.”
- “When you know what your values are, you don’t have to ponder a decision, you just make it.”
- “Clyde’s outcome in the novel reminds business leaders/owners to make good choices and do the right thing, regardless of the person costs.”
Beth Bridges, Vice President of Digital Identity at J-I.T Outsource, recommends Dune by Frank Herbert. Dune is the first in a science fiction series by the author. “I read 'Dune' and the rest of the series every few years,” says Bridges. “At first glance, it’s just far-future science fiction about drugs and giant monsters, but Frank Herbert also intended it to be a deep dive on power and politics.”
Bridges finds Dune and the series to be full of business lessons:
- “Share your vision to build your network.”
- “Trust but verify.
- “A one-product business can be powerful, but if you lose the monopoly, you're done.”
- “Don't discount any allies who align with your purpose, no matter how strange they may seem.”
- “Entrepreneurs will be the leaders of the future.”
“Over all of the other fiction books I’ve read this year, I would recommend The Martian to business owners and entrepreneurs,” Courtney Barbee from The Bookkeeper told me by email. Now if you don’t have time to read the novel, you can also watch the 2015 film adaption starring Matt Damon.
The story centers around an astronaut by the name of Mark Watney who is stranded on Mars. It details the efforts both he and NASA go through to effect his rescue. Watney’s resourcefulness and flexibility is a great inspiration for entrepreneurs.
Barbee adds, “I’ve never been abandoned in space, but I have had times in my business when things did not go as expected, and trying to adapt and persevere is always a preferable choice to giving up.”
The book provides lessons on resourcefulness and professional wisdom. A few takeaways from the book:
- “The book explores both issues of public relations and behind-the-scenes negotiation within the story.”
- “NASA may not be a business, per se, but it is run like one in some aspects, and the novel does not gloss over the board room scenes.”
- “There is an honest examination of professional ethics, with a cast of diverse and relatable characters.”
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The Way of the Shepherd
The Way of the Shepherd helped Karen Ellis get through her first year as President of the Life Learning Center, a non-profit based in Ohio. “I just celebrated my one year anniversary. This book was invaluable in guiding my steps during the course of a transition of leadership.”
Ellis adds, “Change is never any easy process, however by following the 7 steps in this book, I was able to discover my team’s strengths as well as the areas in need of improvement.” Here are the most important takeaways she got from the book.
- “Know the Condition of Your Flock - Get to know your flock, one sheep at a time.”
- “Discover the Shape of Your Sheep - Your choice of sheep can make flock management easier or harder.”
- “Help Your Sheep Identify with You - Remember that great leadership isn't just professional; it's personal.”
- “Make Your Pasture a Safe Place - Infuse every position with importance and cull chronic instigators from the flock.”
- “The Staff of Direction - Give your people freedom of movement, but make sure they know where the fence line is. “
- “The Rod of Correction - Stand in the gap and fight for your sheep.”
- “The Heart of the Shepherd - Have a heart for your sheep.”
Joseph Braithwaite, a contracting business advisor, recommends The Goal as it brings together many of the challenges of leadership and management under one title. The Goal was required reading within his Operational Management course as part of his MBA studies. This book helped him to combine complex theories with the practical business application.
“This book walks through the struggles of a recently promoted manager within a manufacturing facility,” stated Braithwaite. “He knows all about getting the product made, but very little about managing the entire process and its associated supply chain. The book brings into focus elements from supply and demand, Theory of Constraints, and team management.”
Here are some of his best takeaways from the book:
- “Although the goal might be of being the best, say in customer service or number one in your respective industry, every organization still needs a source of income, the book brings to light the need to generate cash.”
- “When the focus on the company’s efforts is all about ‘money’ - everything that brings the organization closer to that money is a good thing, anything that doesn’t is not. So focus on how to convert effort into revenue.”
- “The book focus on ‘Theory of Constraints’, and the fact that pushing harder in one area doesn’t always allow you to obtain the results you think. Taking a step back and looking at the bottlenecks is an important element of all processes.”
- “Dependencies are a focus of the book to highlight that no matter how well one area of a business is functioning, it’s still only as good as its slowest parts. Fixing the bottlenecks only moves the challenges around, continually evaluating and ridding the process of waste is a requirement.”
- “Challenges at work tend not to remain at work, and this book brings to light the stresses we tend to bring home with us on a daily basis to share with our families, for better or worse. Finding ways to continually evaluate the home life brings to focus the 'goal' at home as well.”
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The Remains of the Day
inSegment, Inc. Founder & President Alexander Kesler provides insight into an award winning novel first published in 1989. Kesler told me, “Ultimately, The Remains of the Day is essential reading for any entrepreneur who wants to have a better grasp on how to maintain humility and loyalty to your profession, while at the same time not allowing yourself to pass up opportunities that could bring both personal and professional success.”
This is a great choice and also listed as one of Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos’ favorite books of all time. It follows the story of a butler living in WWII-era England who reflects on his life. “He looks back on how the world around him has changed over time,” adds Kesler. “He also reflects on regrets and successes of his work.” Here are some of the lessons included in the book:
- “Be completely devoted to your work. Despite the changing world and hardships surrounding him, Stevens remains entirely faithful to his work. His example can inspire business leaders to find purpose in what they do, and to use that purpose to influence and motivate those around them.
- “Be reliable. One of Stevens’ greatest traits as a butler is his dependability in even the most surprising and stressful situations. This sort of reliability is uncommon in today’s business climate, but it doesn’t go unnoticed when it is exemplified.
- “Be decisive. If you have aspirations to start a new business or even make a career change, take initiative and follow what you’re most passionate about. A decisive attitude will keep you from experiencing regret later in your career.
- “Stay motivated. Along similar lines, don’t allow yourself to get stuck in one place where monotony is allowed to creep in. The Remains of the Day shows how routine life can become if no room for spontaneity is allotted. And it's this sort of spontaneity that can propel and motivate entrepreneurs to find new, creative ideas.”