The Business Survival Reading List
The Business Survival Reading List
The Business Survival Reading List

Disruption. If one word exemplifies what’s happening to the world of business today, that’s it. The high-speed pace of technological change, with its ability to disrupt business models and pricing has made disruption an everyday reality.  This point came home to me when I heard Ray Kurzweil speak at a conference on how the rate of change is doubling every year and what that means for the future.  When you see the trajectory of change, and what it means to the not-too-distant future, you can’t help but feel a powerful sense of urgency about keeping pace. The only way to avoid being eliminated from the game in this environment is to disrupt yourself.

Clinging to the status quo is a recipe for extinction. I say this from the perspective of someone who works for a 134-year-old brand. You can never get complacent. You have to constantly reinvent your business.

Just look at the industries that have been disrupted by technology.  Publishing. Printing. Retail. Education. Banking. Music. Entertainment.  The businesses within these industries that survive have been the disruptors.

But, how do you dare to disrupt your own business? How do you move beyond the status quo?  Here are 6 trends that point the way and a reading that can help.


You don’t have to found a tech start-up to be an entrepreneur.  You just have to have an entrepreneurial approach to every aspect of your business.  Act small.  If you find you are unable to have mini-start-ups in your company because your procedures are too cumbersome, your infrastructure too complex, or your hierarchy too structured take note. These are red flags that tell you, you’ve moved outside the realm of being an entrepreneur.


Failure is “in” because it’s a sign that you have taken risks and innovated.  The option—the  safe route based on best-practices and “the way it’s always been done” is a path to extinction.  Failure is the price you pay for being open to new ideas and for taking risks.  Learning to take calculated risks and get comfortable with failure is a requirement for entrepreneurial ventures.


Creativity is a key factor in being able to disrupt the status quo.  And, creativity isn’t just for “creatives.”  There’s no reason why salespeople or shopkeepers should stay in a self-imposed ghetto of mundane thinkers. Several of the books on this list teach how creativity works and how creativity can become a discipline, rather than an unreliable and mystical resource. Taking the kind of leaps that are necessary to keep up with the marketplace means learning to be fearless and embracing creativity.

The Power of Fringe

The safe, middle-of-the-road, something-for-everyone business is not so safe.  When businesses were largely local, it only mattered that you stood out from a small number of competitors. When information was scarce, any source of information was valuable. Now standing out is more important.  Just check Google for generic terms related to your business if you’re uncomfortable with being different. Learning to be different–meaningfully and significantly different–is more important than ever.

Radical Simplicity

Cumbersome and complex businesses and products are ripe for disruption.  Simplicity (or at least solutions that appear simple) reduce the friction that comes between a person and an action or purchase.  Simplicity allows for the speed that goes hand-in-hand with disruptive technologies. Businesses like Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Square and Dropbox are examples of businesses that are simple to use and simple to understand.

Thinking Small

This trend is a subset of Radical Simplicity. As organizations get bigger, they tend to get more complex and slow down. Speed is one of the requirements of successful disruption and small has the potential to move faster and sell faster in the world of short attention spans.  People don’t have the patience to read long pieces of content, even in print.  People who are used to paying $1.99 for an app are going to think five times before paying $199 for a downloadable product. While this doesn’t require firing people or cheapening your output, it does mean rethinking your internal processes to be nimble and redefining the size of a piece of content.

The Reading List

Here are a list of books that address these trends. Some of them can fit into more than one category.

  • The Lean Start-up: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business by Clayton Christenson
  • Zen Habits: Handbook for Life by Leo Babauta
  • Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya
  • The Power of Unpopular: A Guide to Building Your Brand for the Audience Who Will Love You (and why no one else matters) by Erika Napoletano
  • We Are All Weird by Seth Godin
  • Different: Escaping the Competitive Heard by Youngme Moon
  • Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
  • Do The Work and the War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
  • The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
  • Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields

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About the Author

Ilana Rabinowitz
Ilana Rabinowitz is the vice-president for marketing for Lion Brand Yarn and blogs about social media at Marketing Without A Net. Rabinowitz approaches marketing with an uncompromising focus on the customer and a grounding in psychology and neuroscience to understand what motivates people to make buying decisions.  She believes that businesses need to develop their own media as a means of creating a branded experience for customers.  She has spoken at digital marketing conferences including Web 2.0, Blogher Business and Internet Retailer. She is the author of a book about psychology, a book about mindfulness and co-author of a book about the culture of knitting. Follow her on Twitter at @ilana221.

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