Illustration: Ashley Siebels
In a world dominated by 280-character status updates and two-minute, viral-ready video clips, books are the only form of physical media whose sales are growing — and are expected to continue on that upward trend.
But what accounts for this marketplace resilience? Physical books, after all, were predicted just a few years ago to be dying. Instead, they’re thriving. Why?
A big factor comes down to books for and about business leaders.
The demands of this market epitomize something essential — and unique — about books in general. The medium is designed to study and dissect more serious, complicated subject matter — layered theories, multi-variable arguments of intellectual consequence.
To write and read books of such genuine argumentative weight simply requires a different level of commitment — certainly a different sort of commitment than a Tweet or a video. And what we’re seeing is readers are still very willing to make that commitment, as they still very much want to educate themselves.
Of course, not all books about business are created equal. Not all give readers the sort of experience described above — one that educates and inspires.
Some, however, do.
Here are a few business books from the past year which exemplify the importance and durability of this genre and medium.
“Killing Marketing” by Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose
Everyone knows that the three traditional “big cost” marketing verticals — print, radio, and TV — are no longer central to the marketing landscape.
Pulizzi and Rose, in this engaging read, detail why.
But they also lay out how marketing departments can change their approach to achieve results in today’s digital world. Namely, they examine the importance today of content marketing, and articulate why it must be a central strategic area of focus for companies who want to be considered “modern age.”
They’re not suggesting, as it were, that companies abandon all paid and earned media efforts. For most organizations, there will always be a benefit to engaging those channels. But what they make clear is if you don’t adapt to our new realities, you’ll fall behind.
Customers today simply demand that whatever they consume — ads included — provide them some kind of value.
Companies which achieve that end with their marketing will not only actualize revenue, but also customer loyalty.
Ultimately, this book is a must-read for anyone working in content marketing, but even more importantly, for executives looking to advance their marketing visions in the coming decades.
“Imagine It Forward: Courage, Creativity, and the Power of Change” by Beth Comstock and Tahl Raz
The ancient philosopher Heraclitus told us that the only thing constant is change.
In this audacious book, Beth Comstock and co-author Tahl Raz encourage readers to embrace that truth — and to harness their imaginations to adapt to it.
Comstock shares her own transformation from introverted publicist to GE’s first woman Vice Chair. She and Raz also examine how executives can take initiative in creating positive change within their own organizations, illustrating both the authenticity and courage it takes to be a powerful leader for change. Her advice and insights apply to most any organization, from non-profits, to start-ups, to large companies.
What the authors posit, ultimately, is that every company needs an internal effective change-maker, and that effective change starts with changing your own mindset — accepting that your own assumptions (and even past successes) may be your biggest barrier to winning what comes next.
“AIQ: How People and Machines Are Smarter Together” by Nick Polson and James Scott
People’s perception of AI run the gamut from visions of utopia to dystopian fears of robots claiming all our jobs and leaving people to fend for themselves.
Yet here authors Nick Polson and James Scott inform readers with a clear, unprejudiced explanation of how AI actually works. Their commentary is bracketed with a keen interrogation of its strengths and weaknesses, along with examinations of the abilities of artificial intelligence and examples of its uses.
For instance, they explain conditional probability — the root of Netflix’s recommendation engine — by comparing it with how mathematician Abraham Wald helped figure out the best way to armor military bombers.
Their larger point is this: rather than some fantastical breakthrough in technology, AI is rather simply the latest chapter in a long saga of using science and data to make sense of the world.
It’s beneficial, they argue, for businesses to demystify the concept of AI. This will allow companies to think clearly about how to take real advantage of it.
Organizations looking to harness AI need to remake their businesses so they maximize the collaboration between humans and machines, ensuring that machines amplify humans’ abilities rather than simply substituting for them. This book makes that argument cogently.
Author Tiffani Bova is an expert at helping companies find revenue growth in the face of stiff competition and fast-changing business environments.
Growth, Bova posits, is complicated. In this book, she recounts dozens of fascinating, in-depth case studies to demonstrate how companies should isolate and identify opportunities for it, as well as how companies can avoid the pitfalls which accompany the ever-prescient search for growth.
A key point: Bova maintains that before you can grow your company with confidence, you first need to grow what she calls your “Growth IQ.” She illustrates through insightful analysis why it can be a mistake to imitate strategies that worked for your competitors or rely on strategies that worked for you in the past. The strategies she suggests, ultimately, boil down to picking the right combination and sequence of plans that fit your company’s current growth situation.
One of the common threads between these books: the authors encourage readers to carefully peel back layers of their fast-moving businesses and do some root-cause analysis of the challenges they face.
From creating change to embracing AI, these books are useful in helping business leaders slow down and explore ways to transform their business environment or culture for the better.
It’s books like these, I believe, that explain why written work remains — and will continue to remain — relevant and important in the minds of readers.