I aim to read one business book a week, but generally only manage 2 or 3 a month. I see reading books as one of the best possible investments in time but I want the very best return.

I’m very careful about choosing the next book. I research and cross-check before ordering. Equally, the more I know and trust the person recommending or directly pitching their own book then the less time I need to check it out.

Here are 10 books, in no particular order, that I read in 2011 and that stood out the most for me.

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer


The first ‘blogger’? Arguably, yes.  “The idea of writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognise their own humanity … can be traced back to a single person: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a nobleman, government official and wine grower who lived in south-western France from 1533 to 1592.” So writes Sarah Bakewell in this wonderful biography.

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne takes us on a tour of the life of Montaigne through his essays on ‘How to Live’. Montaigne did not set out to explain or teach anything. Instead he wrote about his experiences, his encounters and states of mind as they happened. His essays were the basis for asking himself questions about ‘How to live’.

Each essay tackles a different aspect like ‘Read a lot, forget most of what you read, and be slow-witted’, ‘Use little tricks’, ‘Question everything’, ‘Give up control’ and ‘Do a good job, but not too good a job’.

The question of ‘how to live’ and the responses he gave are as fascinating, as human and as relevant now as they were when Montaigne ‘blogged’ about them back in the 1500’s. Sarah Bakewell has written a magical book.

Anything You Want


This fabulous little book by Derek Sivers will take you about an hour to read and will change the way you think about life and business.

Derek is best known for founding and selling CD Baby, the most popular music site for independent artists.

Anything You Want charts how Derek fell from music into business, his failures, the way he overcame them, how he makes the complex simple and ultimately about what’s truly important in life.

The Lean Startup


Eric Ries has road-tested a new theory on how to successfully create something new in ‘circumstances of extreme uncertainty. He borrows concepts from lean manufacturing pioneered in Japan and applies them to the business of startups.

He goes out of his way to show that the lessons of what has become The Lean Startup movement don’t just apply to startups but can bring massive rewards for those working within a large established organisation.

The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses brings us concepts like The Pivot and Minimum Viable Product are all part of the approach which is has been adopted by companies like Groupon and Dropbox.

Essential reading for anyone even thinking about starting a business in 2012.

Poke the Box


This was the first book by Seth Godin to be published through his experimental publishing venture, The Domino Project.

Poke the Box is a short book all about how we need to be more willing to try things out. And that means being prepared to fail. Failing is part of the process of succeeding. It allows us to learn and open doors of opportunity that we wouldn’t otherwise know exist.

I watch my 2 year old daughter trying things out all the time. Pushing, pulling, running, jumping, falling, flicking switches, dropping, picking up, learning … poking the box. We should never stop and this book shows us how.

We Are All Weird Now


We Are All Weird was written by Seth Godin and also published through the Domino Project. It’s all about how and why the days of mass marketing are numbered.

We’ve all always wanted different things in different ways and at different times. What’s new however, is that the means for making this happen are increasingly a reality. This fascinating short book is one that absolutely rang true for me.

A must read for anyone in business, in marketing or anyone just lucky enough to be alive at this point in time.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?


An incredibly powerful book by Seth Godin on how and why it’s more important now than ever to become indispensable, to overcome the fear of failure, the fear of authority, and instead to connect, to create, and to thrive.

Linchpin explains how the forces of technology and economics are causing traditional ‘jobs’ to be “outsourced, downsized, or freelanced into obscurity”.

Meanwhile, (a few) others are positioning themselves to attract opportunities beyond their dreams. It’s not too late for you to join the few – but it will be soon.

Ignore this book at your peril.

Do the Work


Another Domino Project book but this time by Steven Pressfield.

This great book is all about what holds most of us back from getting on with the real work. The work that matters.

Do the Work helps us understand ‘the resistance’ that stops us from starting, and from finishing.

It sets out a way to overcome the resistance so we can do our own work. It will help you do your work.

Program or Be Programmed


A book with a powerful and important message. The contention is that we now face a choice: either take control over technology, or let it take control over us. Make the wrong choice and it could be the last real choice we ever get to make. Make the right one however and “you gain access to the control panel of civilisation.”

Douglas Rushkoff is a world-renowned media theorist and counterculture figure who argues here that programming is the literacy of the digital age. Without it we are utterly at the mercy of those that can.

If all we learn (& teach our kids) about technology is how to use Microsoft Word, play FarmVille and how to ‘friend’ on Facebook then we’re surrendering our (& our kids) future.

Program or be Programmed is that important.

The Thank You Economy


A swashbuckling ride as ever here by Gary Vaynerchuck on why Social Media is now mandatory for any business of any shape and any size.

He also argues that social media not only levels the playing field for small business but heralds a return to neighbourhood word of mouth recommendation – on steroids.

The Thank You Economy is a must-read for anyone who still doubts the business value of new media channels like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

I listened to the audio version which is packed with ‘off the script’ asides which bring the book (even more) to life.

The Flinch


This is the final book from the Domino Project by the marvellous maverick genius that is Julien Smith. He’s also a New York Times best selling author.

The Flinch is short book that packs a serious punch. It’s only available in digital form but deemed so important by the publisher and the author that they refuse to charge for it.

The book tells of how our seemingly in-built reflex to recoil from danger could be exactly what’s holding us back from doing what we need to be doing… and how to overcome it.

Which business books did you read (or listen to) in 2011 that stood out for you?