What separates the successful small businesses from the struggling ones?
The list of potential items stretches from positioning to marketing to product quality to customer service and beyond—but underneath the countless business decisions an entrepreneur needs to make is a single guiding force.
When the stresses of running a small business all rear their heads at once, mindset is what separates the cool-headed decision maker from the panicked mistake maker.
The ability to make calm, intelligent business decisions—even in response to failures—takes the right mindset. It takes someone able to respond well under pressure, as well as someone who approaches business from the right angles.
If that doesn’t sound like you (and let’s face it, stress gets to all of us sometimes), why not learn from the best?
These are 11 of the best books on mindset, so that you can bring a productive attitude to running your business.
The 11 best books on mindset and success for small businesses are:
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
- The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
- The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
- Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
- Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson
1. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
There are two dominant mindsets you can bring to your business. Which one do you have?
Carol Dweck is a psychology researcher at Stanford University. Her research focuses on mindsets—what they are, where they come from, if they can change, and how they affect our lives.
The two mindsets research has uncovered? Fixed mindset and growth mindset.
If you have a fixed mindset, you believe that what you get is what you got. Your intelligence, personality, and ability were set at birth—or are at least carved into stone and impossible to change.
If you have a growth mindset, you believe that improvement is always possible. Whether you’re working on a specific skill or a broader trait like intelligence, you believe that effort can move you forward.
Such a simple difference—but the implications of differences in mindset are enormous.
If you have a fixed mindset, every failure is a body blow to who you are as a person. You feel the need to prove yourself over and over—because you need to demonstrate that you are talented.
If you have a growth mindset, you seek out criticism. You actively take on bigger challenges knowing that there’s the possibility of failure—because those challenges are how you improve. When you do fail, you dust yourself off and try something different.
Dweck gives examples of how each mindset affects a variety of behaviors. In business, a growth mindset can help you make better decisions and build a stronger company.
2. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
The Lean Startup is a classic of entrepreneurship. And although it focuses on principles that can help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, it also has some important business mindset lessons that can change the way you approach growth.
The cornerstone of the lean startup approach is the build-measure-learn feedback loop. Rather than building from scratch and expecting a miracle, Eric Ries argues that it’s far more effective to iterate.
By starting small and learning what works through careful measurement (of metrics that indicate real growth, rather than vanity metrics), businesses and startups can experience hockey-stick growth.
Before you think “I’m not an entrepreneur” or “I don’t run a startup” and dismiss this book, Ries’ definition of entrepreneurship is one of the more important mindset shifts of the book.
An entrepreneur is anyone trying to start something new under conditions of uncertainty. When it’s hard to predict cause and effect, the lean startup approach can help.
3. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
What separates the best from the pretty good? Psychology researcher Angela Duckworth argues that it’s grit.
Duckworth’s research, presented in this book, ties in nicely with Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset in that it validates a lot of her findings. Top performers are not necessarily more intelligent or talented than those farther down the latter—but they try harder.
In Grit, Duckworth digs into what gritty individuals have in common—and how anyone can apply the principles of grit to become stronger, better, and more resilient.
In the research, gritty people have four key characteristics:
- Interest: A deep and abiding interest in something they want to improve or accomplish
- Practice: A willingness to engage in effortful, deliberate practice
- Purpose: A sense that their goals and interests matter to something outside of themselves
- Hope: The belief that they have the ability to improve and get results through their effort
In the rest of the book, Duckworth walks through how the grittiest among us set goals, find their interests, and practice to achieve success.
4. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
Extreme Ownership is a book about principles of leadership and teamwork used by Navy SEALs. If you want to be intimidated, look up a picture of one of its authors, Jocko Willink.
Throughout, Willink and Babin provide actionable advice on how to cultivate a high-performing team. From advice on building buy-in and setting standards, to prioritization and creating a culture of discipline—Extreme Ownership is an essential tome on leadership.
At the heart of the lessons in this book is a core mindset: the mindset of extreme ownership.
As the authors relate, extreme ownership is the idea that a leader should take responsibility for all of a team’s failures and stumbles. Rather than looking to assign blame, the most effective teams accept responsibility, acknowledge mistakes, and look for ways to solve problems.
5. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
Zero to One is an incredible mix of no-nonsense business advice and big-picture, principled thinking.
In Zero to One, PayPal founder and investor Peter Thiel argues that the greatest startups and companies avoid competition by creating things that are in their own category entirely.
Instead of going from “one to n,” which is relatively straightforward, the most disruptive innovators go from “zero to one.”
Thiel runs through a variety of characteristics of great businesses, with advising ranging from the highly tactical to the highly strategic. How many board members should a company have? What are the most important metrics to consider?
He lays out the four characteristics of a powerful new company:
- Proprietary technology
- Network effects
- Simple scalability
But he also talks more broadly about the mindset that leads to innovative companies in the first place. He believes that a founder must believe in a definite future—and that most people are instead indefinite optimists.
You’ll need to read the book to find out just what that means for business.
6. The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage by Ryan Holiday
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
This quote from Marcus Aurelius (more on him in a minute) is at the heart of Ryan Holiday’s bestseller The Obstacle is the Way.
A modern take on the classic philosophy of stoicism, The Obstacle is the Way studies how the things that seem to inhibit our progress can actually be our most important sources of progress.
Holiday breaks this book into three sections: Perception, Action, and Will.
First, how do we perceive our obstacles? A classic tenet of stoicism is that we can’t control external events—but we can control our perceptions and reactions to them. Are we perceiving our obstacles in a way that it constructive and productive, rather than frustrating?
Second, how do we take action? Do we act randomly in the hopes of finding a magic bullet that will solve our problems? Or do we take a deliberate approach and channel our energy into the ways open to us?
Third, what happens when the obstacle is powerful? When our obstacles are not easily overcome, we rely on will, determination, and patience to move forward.
The Obstacle is the Way is a book on mindset that doesn’t always apply its lessons to business directly. But the lessons it teaches can be valuable to anyone who faces obstacles in their business (aka everyone).
7. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
With the recent rise in the popularity of stoicism, this classic text has risen to prominence again.
Meditations is a collection of 12 books by Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor whose death marked the end of the 200 year Pax Romana.
Likely never intended for publication, Meditations takes the form of a personal journal. It is considered one of the most important texts of stoic philosophy, and has inspired many of the most successful people living today—from Tim Ferriss to Bill Clinton.
Because of its meandering nature, Meditations is difficult to summarize. Suffice it to say that the collection as a whole provides advice on dealing with adversity, being mindful of small wonders, and doing excellent work.
8. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Whatever happened to deep work?
In Deep Work, Cal Newport argues that deep work is becoming increasingly rare, replaced by large stretches of less intense, less productive “shallow work.”
At the same time, the fruits of deep work are incredibly valuable—in fact, Newport argues that success is directly related to the amount of deep work you can accomplish in a day.
And yet—there are many challenges to deep work. Bosses and employees expect us to be accessible at all times. Deep work itself is not always enjoyable, and can be boring or frustrating. Society as a whole is filled with distractions.
In Deep Work, Newport presents a compelling case for the effects of deep work on success—as well as providing actionable ways to cultivate the practice of deep work.
Making the mindset shift towards valuing deep work can have powerful effects on business success.