My Top-10 Favorite Books – and why you should read them

Bookcase full of books

It is no secret that I love to read books. Digging into and learning from someone else has to be one of my favorite pastimes. Many people ask me what I am reading because it is always something different. (Currently, as I’m writing this article, it is “Epic Content Marketing” by Joe Pulitzi and Brian Piper.)

I thought it might be fun to list my favorite business books I recommend. One reason I want to write this article is just the fact that I can forward it. If you are getting a link from me with this article, that is what just happened.

Usually, when I produce any list, I have them in no particular order. However, in this case, these are organized by my top favorites on down. Have you read any of these? Which was your favorite? What am I missing? Maybe I haven’t read that yet.

I should point out that when I state that you should read these books, you can listen to the audio-book version, too. It’s the content that you need, not the delivery method, that is important.

Also, if you haven’t read one of these, I’m including the link so you can order a copy. You won’t regret it.

It’s no secret that this is my favorite business book. I’ve been talking about it to anyone who would listen for years.


I’m an operations guy and a leader. I’ve always been interested in how to motivate others, get more accomplished, and succeed. That’s what Navy SEALS do. Long before breakfast.

“Extreme Ownership” is my go-to recommendation for anyone who has just been promoted to manager. Usually, that is an art person, a salesperson, or someone running some equipment. The head guy leaves, and the owner appoints you to run the department. You may know exactly how to do your old job, but managing people? That is a different skill set. You were just shoved into the deep end of the pool and forced to learn to swim. This book has great examples and stories of what it means to lead a team and how to think ahead.

It also has my favorite quote of all time, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.” If you haven’t read this one, it should be your next book.

Number Two: “Traction” by Gino Wickman

Picking the number two favorite was tough. I like so many books and have recommended the first five or six of these a gazillion times.

But “Traction” earns the number two spot because I believe it can make the biggest difference to shops in this industry that are struggling. This book introduces the “Entrepreneurial Operating System,” or EOS for short. It works because it reduces the solutions to the most common challenges businesses face into six core concepts.

This book is great if you need to clarify your direction and business mission to get big ideas and goals completed. The six areas that you will work on with the EOS are Vision, Data, Process, Traction, Issues, and People. You’ll discover foundational tools that you can use to create and implement a better way of running your business. This book is a gold mine.

These include an Accountability Chart, Rocks, Meeting Pulse, Scorecards, and a V/TO organizer for your staff. If you feel lost or confused right now with your business, you need this book.

Number Three: “Profit First” by Mike Michalowicz

I had the pleasure of having Mike MIchalowicz speak recently at our Shirt Lab New Orleans event. He is an amazing speaker and gave a great talk on employee hiring, motivation, and retention.

But that isn’t why you need “Profit First.” You should read (and implement) Profit First because it will make an incredible financial impact on your business and you personally as the business owner.

I won’t spoil the book, but essentially, the idea is that you pay yourself the profit from your business first, and the company must be able to run successfully on what’s left. All too often, especially in this industry, the revenue from orders gets gobbled up, and there isn’t much left for the company’s owners. Sound familiar?

Mike Michalowicz breaks down why that happens and hands an easy-to-follow plan to build a financial system that allows you to receive steady and consistent profit from your business. This book has revolutionized the banking methods of the decorated apparel industry.

If your business struggles financially, you aren’t getting steady profit checks, or you are unsure how to build a financial system that will be successful…then this book is for you.

Number Four: “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox

Yes, I know. This book cover isn’t the best. I wish it were designed better, too. But, as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

This is certainly true of “The Goal.

Here’s a secret. For at least the last ten years or so, I’ve read this book at the start of every January. Every time I read it, I discover something new.

This is unlike any business book you’ve ever read. For starters, it is a story. Alex Rogo has a problem. Actually, several, as his marriage is on the rocks, and that compounds the problem he has running his manufacturing plant. In The Goal, Goldratt helps us discover the underlying truths about a manufacturing business: the “Theory of Constraints.” (You can only move as fast as the slowest part of your process.).

This is a classic book and is usually on the syllabus of every MBA student out there. Once you read it, you’ll discover why my copy is dog-eared, underlined, and full of Post-it notes.

Number Five: “Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins” by Mark Schaefer

Mark is a fantastic writer and produces one of my favorite blogs, which is called {grow}. He is interested in marketing and studies and teaches this topic constantly.

Marketing Rebellion” changed how I view how to market a company.

It has been out for a while now, but I believe it is still very significant. Mark believes that customers want to interact with companies on a human-to-human level. As consumers, we are looking for evidence that there is a real person who has empathy and cares about us. When your company pushes out a shiny, faceless facade that doesn’t get the traction that a down-to-earth, personable – human – interaction will receive.

If you are not thinking of your customers first and how they see you, then this is a book you should consume and adopt as the basis for your new marketing strategy. The most human company wins.

Number Six: “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones” by James Clear

I’m unsure how often I’ve recommended this book over the years. Hundreds? Thousands? Who knows.

If you want change…real change, then this is probably the most helpful book you can consume. Why?

Clear gives you not only the reasons why things happen to drag you off course but easy-to-follow steps to get back on track and to keep heading in the right direction with positive change.

“Atomic Habits” is an easy read and oh-so fascinating. This book is great for your business but also for your personal goals as well.

A case in point. One of my favorite parts of the book is when he describes the triggers of how good habits actually happen. Let’s say you want to get back in shape and start working out again. In the past, you’ve had trouble sticking to the plan. In this scenario, a small act can trigger a good one. The habit trigger for working out isn’t going to the gym, and it could be getting off work and changing your clothes immediately when you get home to your athletic gear.

The trigger, changing your clothes, sets up the positive habit of working out. When you don’t change your clothes, you can get distracted and put off the exercise you want.

In your business, what positive trigger would set up a better habit? When I read this, I wanted to do more videos. At the time, the drawback was setting everything up as it took time. I resolved this by purchasing equipment and getting a mini-studio set up, so all I had to do was start filming. I removed the speed bump to the problem.

Want a more positive outcome for something? Read “Atomic Habits” and put what James Clear outlines into action.

Number Seven: “The Song of Significance: A New Manifesto for Teams” by Seth Godin

If you didn’t know it already, Seth Godin is a badass. He is one of my favorite authors and a superhero to me, as he blogs daily.

In fact, if you Google him, enter this first name, “Seth,” into the search. He’s the second listing.

Seth Godin is a powerful writer and deep thinker. I love his unique approach to a subject. You can’t fail to come away enlightened.

“The Song of Significance” is the best book I’ve read this year. It is one of those reads that pushes you over the edge with your thinking. This particular book is about the workplace and what matters to both the business and the employees. Things are changing regarding how work is being performed, what employees value with an employer, and what is significant about how businesses make money.

Seth Godin has a very interesting take on this topic and one that will inspire you to want to add more to the conversation than simple daily business transactions. It is a tiny book. You can read it in one sitting. But don’t think that the size of the book is proportional to the impact it can have. This is a must-read.

Number Eight: “2-Second Lean (How to Grow People and Build a Fun Lean Culture at Work and Home)” by Paul Akers

This book could be one of the most influential books in the decorated apparel industry, especially with the production and operations crowd. For my good friend Richard Greaves, “2 Second Lean” is his favorite book; he talks about it and refers to it practically daily.

How can this book get that much street cred?


The ideas and methodologies in this book can be the foundational elements for how you reshape and build your business so it can be the most efficient and effective business out there. At the core, the concepts are simple. Make small changes every day. A two-second improvement, if you will.

This stuff works. I’ve used the concepts in the book over the years to change and improve thousands of things for the better. This book shouldn’t just be in your business library but should be actively used every day.

What are you improving today?

Number Nine: “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” by Chris Voss

Are you in sales? Do you work with people? Maybe you have children or a family?

If any of those three questions are true, then “Never Split the Difference” can help you strengthen your communication and negotiation skillset in dealing with the interactions that matter.

Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want and gives you the conversational tools to use. He should know. As the FBI lead hostage negotiator, he sharpened his negotiating skills dealing with terrorists, kidnappers, and all sorts of bad people. But what he learned along the way as those same skills worked for getting a better price on a car, dealing with teenagers, or improving your salary or work benefits with your employer.

You must get to “That’s right” in your daily negotiations. Chris Voss’ book can help with that.

Number Ten: “Your Next Five Moves: Master the Art of Business Strategy” by Patrick Bet-David

Do you know what your business should do next? I’m not talking about order-taking here. Let’s focus on strategy. “Your Next Five Moves” is all about dialing in your vision for the future.

The book’s title comes from the idea that successful entrepreneurs and chess grandmasters have one thing in common. The ability to see the next five moves ahead.

While you may not be as successful in your business as you would like, or a chess grandmaster, Bet-David outlines and digs deep into the core concepts of what it takes to create a visionary strategy for your business.

He covers this ground by outlining Clarity, Strategy, Growth Tactics, Skills, and Insights for you to use. Regardless of where you are on your entrepreneurial journey, this book can provide you with the roadmap and tools to create a vision you can achieve.

Bonus. Here’s Four More

Above are the top ten books I recommend to people all the time. But as I don’t really track how many times I’ve recommended something, it was difficult for me to narrow it down to ten choices. So, in the true spirit of Lagniappe, here are four more books. Don’t consider them less worthy because they didn’t crack the top ten. They are here because they matter, and you will gain valuable insight from them if you read each of them.

Number Eleven: “Fanatical Prospecting: The Ultimate Guide to Opening Sales Conversations and Filling the Pipeline by Leveraging Social Selling, Telephone, E-mail, Text, and Cold-Calling” by Jeb Blount

One of the most commonly asked questions I get is, “How do I find customers?”

“Fanatical Prospecting” has the definitive answer to that question. This is why I recommend it, and use what Jeb Blount says in the book in my answer.

Businesses, especially in the decorated apparel industry, seemingly are always on the verge of running out of work. Sales is the lifeblood of your business. You need new customers to keep pushing forward.

For a lot of shops in our industry, this subject is a complete mystery. Does this sound like your shop? Are you struggling to find consistent sales leads that are based on customers that are in alignment with what you offer and can provide for them?

Here’s the answer to the question. The only thing left to do is get this book, read it, and start putting the principles into action. By the way, the action is what gets you the results.

Number Twelve: “The Creative Act: A Way of Being” by Rick Rubin

Let’s face it; we are in a creative industry. You have to bring the heat on a consistent and dependable pace every day. You don’t sell many undecorated garments unless you are a blank apparel distributor.

Being creative is the value we bring to our customers.

So, how does that happen? Have you ever pondered the possibilities and the psychology of being creative?

Famed music producer Rick Rubin has, and the result is “The Creative Act.” I own many books on creativity, but none approach the subject like this one. He has worked with some of the most famous and legendary acts in the music industry, but this book isn’t about music. It’s about how to reach down into your soul and find a creative spark that is distinctively yours. I’ve talked about finding your design “voice” for years.

Something that is distinctively yours. Other people should be able to look at your work and know that you created it. It is difficult. Elusive even. “The Creative Act” is something to meets that idea head on and disassembles the process and shows how things work when creating your art.

It is fantastic. You need this book.

Number Thirteen: “Building a Story Brand: Clarifying Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

Ah, “Story Brand.” A few years ago, this book changed the face of how to market for many industries. It is still incredibly relevant and a great place to start when considering how to build and attract new customers.

Because here’s the thing. Your customers don’t care about YOU. They care about themselves. They are the hero of their own story. How you fit in as the trust guide or mentor that can assist them in whatever they need.

“Story Brand” breaks this idea down into seven steps. In fact, Donald Miller has his SB7 Framework that he has created to assist you in developing a marketing plan that will be foundational for how you connect with your customers. This book is a fantastic tool and resource for building something that works.

Number Fourteen: “Awesomely Simple” by John Spence

This book, “Awesomely Simple,” has been a pivotal part of my business management thinking for quite a long time. It’s that good.

It covers the six main things great businesses must have to succeed: a Vivid Vision, the Best People, A Performance-Oriented Culture, Robust Communication, A Sense of Urgency, and Extreme Customer Focus.

Doesn’t that sound like just about every blog I’ve written?

It is no coincidence. That’s the great thing about reading; it is how you get solid ideas into your noggin. “Awesomely Simple” is an easy-to-read book, but the power of the book won’t be felt unless you start implementing the core concepts into your business. That’s where the real magic lies.

That’s Not All

Do I like more books than the fourteen I’ve chosen here? You bet your sweet patootie. However, these are the ones I’ve been recommending others to read for one reason or another.

Yeah, I’m a book nerd. Proud of it. It is one of the main sources of continuing education. People ask me, “Where do you find the time to read?” Besides the obvious here-and-there opportunities, I make time for it by reading while eating my lunch. If the weather is nice, I’ll be outside.

That’s the secret. Making time for it.

If you have any sort of commute, get an audiobook and listen while you drive.

I’ll end this article with a question. What book is the one that you always recommend to other people? Leave that in the comments.

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” – Ray Bradbury

“There is more treasure in books than in all of the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” – Walt Disney

“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a books I ain’t read.” – Abraham Lincoln

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1 comment

  • My list overlaps with yours a lot – Extreme Ownership is also at the top of my list.

    Here are a few I would add/recommend:
    Permission to Screw Up (easy read, great overall leadership primer)
    7 Habits of Highly Effective People (intentionality and goal setting at every scale)
    Permission To Feel (emotion regulation skills for self and others – written by the founding director of Yale’s emotional intelligence dept)
    Crucial Conversations (Guide to challenging/high stakes conversations with superiors, direct reports, life partners, etc)

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