CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- Chances are, your must-read list is a lot longer than your already-read list. Between running day-to-day operations and brainstorming ventures, there's not a lot of downtime for reading, no matter how much you intend to get around to it.
Which is a shame, because the right book could inspire you to look at the same old problems with new insights and enthusiasm. But of all the business books out there, which are worth your time? Which deliver the biggest bang for the buck?
The right book can inspire insights and enthusiasm. But which of many business tomes are worth the time?
Luckily, there are business writers and editors tasked with sorting through the good, the bad and the overrated. Following recommendations from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, National Public Radio's
show, Amazon.com's Editor Picks,
and Inc.com, we came up with a short list of the best-reviewed recent business books covering topics relevant to entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
If you do squeeze in a vacation this summer, here are five books worth bringing along:
1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
It's old news that implementing transformational change is next to impossible. Workers cling to their routines, while owners are afraid of risking their life's work on an unproven strategy. Brothers Chip Heath (a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford's business school) and Dan Heath (a senior fellow at Duke University's CASE Center, which supports social entrepreneurs) set out to discover how change happens and how it lasts.
Central to the book is the idea that change doesn't go against human nature; after all, if people always resisted change, no one would ever start a business. Using research from psychologists, the authors provide a game plan for facing and thriving through change. The story-driven format provides real-life examples of how people made dramatic changes in their personal and work lives.
2. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovations
, by Steven Johnson
At first, the conceit of this book might seem overwhelming: How can one book possibly summarize hundreds of years of innovation? But science writer Johnson pulls it off, using examples from science, natural history, the arts and politics to show that effective new ideas spring from seven different situations. Each gets its own chapter, including "The Slow Hunch" (ideas that don't appear fully formed but gather strength over time by those willing to keep following them) or "Error" (milestones that emerge when an idea fails miserably, only to reveal something else).
3. The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home
, by Dan Ariely
Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke, is fascinated by how what we do often veers dramatically from what the rules of logic would predict. By looking at how humans behave irrationally -- seeking revenge, for example, when doing so brings no material benefit -- he explains how emotions can drive decisions that are not in our best interest long term. While Ariely connects with readers by telling very personal stories of his own health challenges, there are also many takeaway points for managers (including a discussion of why compensation is not the ultimate motivator for employees).
4. Delivering Happiness
, by Tony Hsieh
Online shoe and clothing retailer
is well known for its employee-centered culture. In this book, founder Hsieh lays out his vision for the business and explains how he made it a reality. The majority of the book covers Hsieh's journey through entrepreneurship -- from dot-com busts to last-minute loans to keep Zappos afloat. While it's an engaging enough success story, the real lessons for business owners come toward the end, where Hsieh shows how the company's values play out in day-to-day operations. If you want to make customer service a priority, Hsieh's book offers a road map for how it's done.
5. Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business
, by Nancy Lublin
Lublin, founder of the nonprofit Dress for Success, takes a simple subject -- making do with less -- and makes it compelling by weaving in her own experiences and those of other nonprofits. Along the way, she shows how for-profit businesses caught in the same budget crunches can accomplish more despite limited resources. Each chapter ends with questions that guide the reader into creative problem solving.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.