The Value Plan book was built upon the solid foundation provided by many of the world's top authors across a wide variety of fields. Each of the books listed below has had a significant impact both on my thinking and my teaching, and I hope that you will also learn as much from these as I have. I will continue to add more books and references to this list, and would welcome your recommendations for others as well. Please note that each of these books is linked to my Amazon Affiliates account which will tell Amazon that I have recommended the book should you choose to buy it through Amazon.com. If you would prefer to avoid this, please just type the name of the book or author into your preferred search engine.
If you only have time for 3 books...
While all of the books that I have listed on this page are truly outstanding, if you only have the time to read a very short list of books, these three are the most essential of the essential:
Service Dominant Logic (2014) by Stephen Vargo & Robert Lusch
If you are truly interested in understanding what Marketing truly is all about, and how it is evolving from a pure “box-moving” practice to one focused exclusively on Value, then this is the book to read.
If you are a marketing executive and can read only one book on marketing (in addition to The Value Plan), this is most definitely the book to read.
Cradle to Cradle (2002) by Michael Braungart & William McDonough
This book should be required reading for anyone interested in a career in Marketing or Product Design/Development. This is truly groundbreaking work, upon which McDonough and Braunegart have built a global platform for innovation in the materials used to create new products.
Please take time to read this book thoroughly, and digest all of the insights raised and bring these into your product development processes as soon as possible.
Truly outstanding book!
Thinking, Fast & Slow (2013) by Daniel Kahneman
The ability to understand how human beings (including ourselves) actually think and behave is vital to the creation of true value. From protection against “Jumping to Conclusions” to insights into how value is actually derived, this book is one to read and re-read over the course of your career.
From The Preface:
Junkyard Planet (2013) by Adam Minter
Adam Minter’s excellent exploration of the global trade in waste. This book was very helpful in my thinking about the phenomenology of value. While people around the world throw away tons of waste each year, Minter outlines the intricate global network that has evolved to help handle this waste, and extract value from it.
The Pyramid Principle (2002) by Barbara Minto
There are many books out there on M.E.C.E. and the best way to logically structure your thinking, but Minto’s Pyramid Principle outlines the essential thinking and analysis processes required to do this most effectively. There are times when her writing is a little dense and difficult to follow, but her explanations for how to structure your approach to solving a problem should not be missed.
From Section 1:
Let My People Go Surfing (2006) by Yvon Chouinard
Yvon’s writings are excellent guides for anyone who is leading others, and especially for any executive truly interested in creating a responsible approach to their business efforts. While Chouinard calls himself an accidental executive, I know his insights are incredibly powerful for my MBA students, and any other true student of business.
The Cluetrain Manifesto (2001) by Rick Levine et al.
This was truly groundbreaking work when it was published in 2001, and while so much has changed in the years since then, the fundamental principles that Levine and his colleagues outlined are timeless. We are human beings and not eyeballs, consumers, or any other name thrown at us. An excellent read.
The $100 Startup (2012) by Chris Guillebeau
The idea of starting small, gaining people’s trust, respect and interest before moving forward was a revolutionary idea to me when I first read Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Workweek. Here, Guillebeau takes Ferriss one step further, and provides a very helpful blueprint for anyone interested in starting a business from scratch. Although this is basically a book on entrepreneurship and bootstrapping, Guillebeau is a natural Marketer. And because of this, his insights on how to understand what people value are important and interesting for anyone in the field of Marketing to read.
The Psychology of Being (1962) by Abraham Maslow
Many of us know about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but reading Maslow’s insights into how he derived this Hierarchy is truly enlightening. His studies of “Self Actualized” individuals predates the entire psychological field of Positive Psychology by decades. Maslow was a revolutionary thinker whose ideas continue to offer important insights to students of Marketing globally.
From Section 2:
Small Giants (2005) by Bo Burlingham
It seems to be common thinking in business to that constant and perpetual growth is the ultimate goal of any executive who would like her or his tenure as CEO to be considered successful (i.e. Built to Last, or Good to Great). But Bo Burlingham presents a refreshingly different perspective, offering many insights into successful U.S. businesses that have chosen to stay small, and by doing so, retain their quality and focus. Now that I am living in Kyoto Japan, and am surrounded by so many small businesses that have been successfully in business for hundreds of years, the ideas presented by Burlingham in this 2005 book have become more important and powerful. I highly recommend this book not only to my Marketing students, but to anyone interested in pursuing quality and excellence rather than size and scope.
How to Win Friends and Influence People (1938) by Dale Carnegie
Dale Carnegie had a gift for being able to speak with so many top executives and leaders, and delve into the qualities that helped lead them to success. At the heart of Carnegie’s study of influence is the idea of listening to and building true empathy for those people that you meet. Understanding this “secret” catapulted this book to be a global best-seller, and it continues to influence people today. A very important book to read to help develop your empathy skills.
The Innovator's Dilemma (2003) by Clayton Christensen
Very few books have the impact that Clay Christensen’s first book has had on business thinking globally. The idea of disruption has come under fire recently, but Christensen’s thinking on the value equations of customers, and how they evolve is vital reading. His classic “Milkshake” lecture should be seen by all Marketers, and this book is one to read anytime that you feel that your products or services have no possible avenues for improvement.
Winning at New Products (2011) by Robert Cooper
Cooper’s vast experience with the process of New Product Development makes this a very worthwhile book for any executive within a large corporation on exactly “how” new products can be effectively developed. While Agile and Lean development processes are making many of the concepts presented in this book seem obsolete, don’t let that convince you not to read this book. It is well worth it as the foundation for your efforts to try to “speed up” or parallel process product development. Cooper explains the fundamentals in a clear and helpful way, with many warnings and insights that are as useful today as they were when he original wrote them.
The Four Hour Workweek (2009) by Timothy Ferriss
I wish that Tim Ferriss hadn’t have mixed his “Get Rich Quick” formula, with his outline for how to create a scalable business that doesn’t demand 80-hour weeks of time. If he has just written that book, I am confident that it would be a guidebook in Entrepreneurship classes globally. But he wrote this one instead, and although it made him famous, it also helped to hide some incredibly helpful insights into a very effective business model for entrepreneurs who would like to bootstrap, test and scale slowly. If you can ignore the Get Rich Quick themes, this book is a gem, and very instructive for how to invest your time in creating products and services that offer measurable value to a specific Lightning Rod Target Audience.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008) by Seth Godin
Godin is a genius. Period. His books are inspiring, and helpful, and this one especially helped convince me to keep writing The Value Plan when I felt like stopping. Maybe I can use that as an excuse if you hated what I’ve written in The Value Plan. Or maybe not. But Seth’s insights into how social communities are formed, and the role of those who are passionate about the things that make them passionate is important for any marketer to deeply understand. We’re no longer living in a one-way, shout from the rooftops world. And this book will help you understand that much more deeply.
All Marketers Tell Stories (2012) by Seth Godin
If I couldn’t convince you of the power and importance of Stories in marketing and business overall, please read this book. It is brilliantly written, and in true-to-Godin-form, inspiring. His insights into what makes a good story are priceless, and important for every marketing executive to deeply understand.
Stranger in a Strange Land (1991) by Robert Heinlein
If you’ve never understood why so many senior executives in your IT department keep saying that they “Grok,” it’s time to read this book. Of all the books I’ve listed in the references to The Value Plan, this one doesn’t fit in with all the others, as it is pure fiction, and was not written to educate marketers or executives. But if you can figure out what “Grok” truly means, and can translate that into your ability to understand the worldview of your Lightning Rod Target Customer, it was worth putting on this reading list.
The Sources of Innovation
Eric von Hippel has explored innovation in a unique and compelling way that has resonated with executives globally. His work with 3M and other companies have led to measurable results to support his ideas related to the process of innovation. Here he outlines his ideas related to Lead Users, that have now become part of the common lexicon of how we talk about those very important first customers. This is not a popular business book, so expect to take a little extra time understanding the concepts and ideas that von Hippel presents, but be equally prepared to receive a higher level of value from the effort.
Stimulating Innovation in Products & Services (2006) by Jerry Kaufman and Roy Woodhead
The first time I read about FAST Modeling, I was deeply impressed. Even though I have many friends who are engineers, before reading this book many years ago, I had always thought that the worldviews of engineers and marketers were fundamentally different. This book changed that for me, and I began to see engineers as being just more technically competent marketers. This is an outstanding book, but definitely not for those who are allergic to detailed descriptions of processes. I found this book fascinating and have used it as a recommended textbook in most all of my classes on New Product Development.
Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013) by Maria Konnikova
A very helpful walkthrough of the mindful process that Sherlock Holmes would go through in solving a case, with additional insights into the creative problem solving capabilities of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as well. I especially like Konnikova’s personification of Kahneman’s System 1 as “System Watson” and System 2 as “System Holmes”.
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1994) by Marshall McLuhan
Marshall McLuhan was a true visionary. He created the concept of a “Global Village” before the Internet was developed, and his ideas of “hot” vs. “cool” media predate the idea of “leaning forward” vs. “leaning back”. And the ideas presented in this book, although they are now dated, are incredibly important for any marketer trying to understand how communications channels influence human interactions.
Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd (2011) by Younme Moon
I’ve read many books on competitive differentiation, and while most seem difficult to take immediate action from, Youngme Moon’s Different holds a number of very important insights, and easy-to-apply concepts that should be standard reading for any marketing executive. I found her explanations all to be based on actual hands-on experiences, and described in a way that I could easily understand. If you are struggling how to truly separate your Solution Product from those offered by different competitors, this is definitely a must-read book.
United We Brand (2003) by Mike Moser
I have yet to find a better, step-by-step guide to developing a Brand Strategy than Moser’s United We Brand. The simple toolkits provided in each chapter are easy to understand, and extremely powerful. I have run many executive training programs and workshops using this book as the required textbook, and the results were always outstanding. Moser’s emphasis on Core Values and his clear explanation of what these are and what they mean have continued to be helpful for me in teaching this concept. And although I don’t know if he is the first person to use the Tombstone Exercise, I again have found this to be a simple but powerful tool to distill the many ideas generated in brainstorming sessions to a concise and powerful message about what a company stands for above all else.
Loyalty Rules (2003) by Frederick Reichheld
If you have heard of the Net Promoter Score, then you already know Reichheld. He has built a very strong, global reputation around his research on Loyalty. This book crystalizes his main points into an easy-to-read and easy-to-follow framework. Unlike the rest of the books listed here, I’d like to recommend that you read this book together with Byron Sharp’s book How Brands Grow listed below. Both take a very strong, and opposite view of the other, and while I have personally landed on Sharp’s side, due to his extensive data efforts, Reichheld’s insights still remain appealing to me. So please read both of these books in tandem, and let me know which argument you found most compelling.
How Brands Grow (2010) by Byron Sharp
Byron Sharp’s book is a must read for any brand manager, and even more importantly any executive who manages marketing teams or departments. This book challenges marketers to actually look at the purchase behavior of their customers, and if this information is not available, to understand the basic laws of marketing that have been proven through such data-driven analyses for decades. While Sharp’s insights may hurt, and directly challenges Reichheld and others who espouse the primary importance of Loyalty, his arguments make perfect sense. But rather than accepting Sharp’s arguments, I would like to ask you to challenge both his and Reichheld’s. And what you learn from doing so should be priceless as you implement your new Value-driven strategy.
The Third Wave (1984) by Alvin Toffler
Although I strongly argue against using the word “consumer” for any type of customer who does not actually consume what you create, I have been a huge fan of Toffler’s concept of the ‘Prosumer’ since I heard it. Here in The Third Wave, Toffler argues that successfully making products or services for customers today requires a marketing or development executive to be both the producer and the consumer of whatever he or she is making. Toffler argues that this will lead to a level of expertise that simply producing something will never create.
Positioning: The Battle for your Mind (2000) by Al Ries & Jack Trout
This book is required reading for anyone interested in building and maintaining a clear, resonant story. Ries and Trout introduce psychological concepts of how human thinking works, and how advertising and storytelling work within these concepts. Although now many examples that they use are outdated (as the original version was written in 1981), the main concepts and thinking are timeless. This book is also very short, and straight to the point, making it a perfect book to read in a weekend or on a short business trip.
Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to tell your story in a crowded social world (2013) by Gary Vaynerchuk
Gary’s insights into Social Media and how to work with each of the different social media platforms are amazingly spot-on and helpful. I know that his personality may rub you the wrong way, but don’t let that get in the way of your ability to carefully listen to what he says. You will be very happy you did so. Gary is an expert in what he does, has his past successes to prove it, and this book encapsulates this expertise in one place. I love the examples (both good and bad) and his running commentary on these. This book is a little heavy to carry around comfortably (the high quality photo stock is to blame), but if you’d like to build your physical muscles at the same time you build your social media muscles, this book will definitely do the trick.
Launch (2014) by Jeff Walker
If you are moving from developing your Marketing Strategy to implementing it, Jeff’s book is an excellent guide for how to avoid what he calls “Hope Marketing” and make sure that your LRTC is interested in and willing to buy your product or service. I don’t like Jeff’s selling technique, as I find it a little heavy on trying to prove his value, but like Gary V. above, don’t let that get in the way of your learning from him. What he says seems to be spot on, and I will be trying many of the techniques he outlines in this book and letting you know how they work from my own personal experiences with them.
Banker to the Poor (2008) by Muhammad Yunus
If you have any questions about how a business can be created that adds immense value across an entire Value System, read this book. I find Yunus’s writing style to be compelling and extremely personal, and although this is most definitely not a marketing book, I also feel it is important reading for any marketing executive.
From Section 3
The First Mile (2014) by Scott Anthony
Scott’s explanation of the Reverse Income Statement, and how it can be applied by anyone wondering about the viability of their proposed business ideas is excellent. I’ve read the original source materials from McGrath and MacMillan which this is based upon, but Scott’s discussions outlined here are far easier to understand and to follow. His insights for how to slowly move from planning to implementation are also excellent, and worth reading.
The Four Steps to the Epiphany (2005) by Steve Blank
If Steve had written this book specifically for marketing executives, I don’t think I would have written The Value Plan. I love Steve’s methods and approach, and find his work to be incredibly easy to understand and apply. It is no wonder that his work and teaching in the field of Entrepreneurship is legendary. His insights into customer discovery are vital for every marketing executive to understand and master. This is a self-published book, so its availability through Amazon may be limited. But find this book, buy it and read it. You will be very happy that you did.
The Mind Map Book (2010) by Tony Buzan
There are other less expensive versions of this book available, but this is the version that I have in my office and often refer my students to. So that is why I’ve listed this specific version here, as I know it is fantastic and have not seen the others. Tony claims that he invented mind mapping, which for his specific style, is definitely true. However, the use of semantic models to represent different yet related concepts has been around for centuries. What I like about Tony Buzan’s method is that it is easy to understand, and simple to implement, and you don’t need to take his courses (at least I haven’t) in order to grasp the key points of his approach, and use them effectively. I strongly recommend mind mapping to all of my students, as it helps to bring order to complex issues, and as this is by far the best book that I have ever read on Mind Mapping, this book is high on my list of “must reads” for my students.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes (1986) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
No other books can help your efforts to become an expert than these. Reading the words that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote rather than watching the movies has had a direct impact on my own abilities to step back and see the bigger picture. My favorite example for The Value Plan overall is Holmes’s discussions with Watson in A Study in Scarlet, but I also love the insight Sherlock Holmes reaches from The Hounds of Baskerville in which he finds critical insights not from what is there, but in what is missing (in this case, it was the barking of the hounds). I find this type of thinking incredibly helpful for any marketer or entrepreneur looking for a new opportunity or unmet need. But all of Doyle’s work with Sherlock Holmes are enjoyable and worth reading, even if it is only for fun and enjoyment.
Blink (2007) by Malcolm Gladwell
I love Malcolm Gladwell’s books, as he has an amazing way of accessing the latest, cutting-edge research and matching these findings with very important stories for business leaders. I always have tried to caution my students against “Jumping to the Isle of Conclusions”, as you’ll find in Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth, but Blink made me think much more deeply about this idea. Gladwell’s distinction between experts and novices, and how these different types of people differ in their “jumps” added the extra support I needed to make my case to both MBA students and senior executives about their original, “great” ideas. This is an especially good book to read if you or anyone on your team is prone to jumping without having yet acquired a deep level of expertise in a specific area.
The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? (2012) by Seth Godin
This is Godin’s most aspirational book yet, with Seth reaching new heights of supporting and cajoling the more quiet of us to step up and add something of value to the table. Although I’ve been planning to write this book and launch this website for years, it wasn’t until I read this book that I finally decided it was time to put it out there on a scale larger than my MBA classes or Executive Training sessions. So if you don’t like what I’ve written or created, please blame Seth 🙂
Emotional Intelligence (1995) by Daniel Goleman
Daniel Goleman’s work was groundbreaking in 1995, and remains a driving force behind some of the more recent movements by Google and its extended Search Inside of Yourself initiative. And most important for our efforts with The Value Plan is the ability for you and your team to build empathy into your Lightning Rod Target Customers, and possessing a high degree of Emotional Intelligence will enable this process to go more smoothly and effectively.
The Phantom Tollbooth, 50th Anniversary Edition (2011) by Norton Juster
This is simply an amazingly fun book to read. Not only did Juster give me the greatest example in the world to use in my classes on “Jumping to Conclusions” but he has also written one of the most enjoyable books for anyone who enjoys poking fun at adulthood. Although you won’t get many more marketing insights from reading this book, maybe you will gain a few laughs, and a more relaxed view of the world we live in.
Analysis for Marketing Planning (1991) by Don Lehmann and Russ Winer
This was one of the books that I used when I was in Business School, and it remains a classic even today. There are many outstanding ideas for how to conduct a situation analysis, and what things you might want to consider when building your Question Tree. I recommend this book as a support for The Value Plan in order to guide your initial thinking if you have found any of the content that I have presented in the section on building a Question Tree to be too abstract or unclear for your way of thinking. This is a fantastic book, but one of the main culprits in “box-filling” mentality of marketers. So after reading it, make sure that you review my “no box-filling” rule before creating your Value Plan.
Applied Imagination (1953) by Alex Osborn
I always like going to the original source of ideas, and Osborn is definitely the originator of structured brainstorming. I have not read this book cover-to-cover, as I found many of the insights or ideas to be too dated to be relevant, but his explanation of how and why to conduct structured brainstorming exercises will remain timeless.
To Sell is Human: The surprising truth about moving others (2012) by Daniel Pink
This is less of a book about Motivation and more about Storytelling, which is why I’ve listed it here. Daniel Pink’s work, like Malcolm Gladwell’s, is based on thorough research and unique insights. Here, Pink goes into great detail on the elements of a Story, and how great salespeople can use these to motivate and move others. If you find yourself stuck in trying to craft or create a truly compelling story, this is definitely a book to read.
The Lean Startup (2011) by Eric Ries
This book also made the Top 3 listed above, but only slightly missed because of the strength of the other three books I chose. But this is a very close #4 and should be a must-read for anyone who prefers a structured or linear approach to product development. While the ideas outlined here were first introduced to me in Ferriss’s 4 Hour Workweek, this book presents the ideas of minimum viable product and pivoting in a way that they have become now part of the Lexicon in any current discussion of Business Models or Entrepreneurship. What I think is most important about this book for a marketer to understand is the mindset that Ries presents. The ideas of building and launching only final products, and never swerving from the product launch specs and date have been replaced by agility and flexibility. If you’re having any difficulty creating minimal product ideas, or identifying an LRTC, this book is a definite must-read.
BizDo; The Spirit of a Business Master (2013) by Yoshie Sugai
Yoshie Sugai offers important insights for how the Spirit and practice of the Japanese Martial Arts can help empower today’s leaders with the capabilities that they truly need to succeed. Her insights into “seeing” versus “perceiving” are extremely helpful in distinguishing the essential from the supplemental, and can serve as a powerful foundation for anyone conducting detailed research into customers, markets or systems.
Will and Vision; How Latecomers grow to dominate markets (2006) by Gerard Tellis and Peter Golder
I’ve let many of the most stubborn advocates for First Mover Advantage read this book over the many years since it has been published, and the results have been consistent. “I never thought about it this way”… So if you or any of your colleagues are still unconvinced by my own arguments against the concept of First Mover Advantage within The Value Plan book, please read Will and Vision. It will change forever the way that you look at new product introductions and competition.
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