May 30, 2017
UPDATED: January 5, 2022
A few weeks ago, Jay Acunzo asked me how I felt travel affects creativity. He certainly hit a hot button for me, because when people ask me where my best ideas come from I tell them, “on the road.”
But then he asked, “But if people can’t travel, where do they get great ideas?”
I grew up in a house of readers and I’ve always been somewhat of a bookworm. Books cover my desk, cover every inch of my bookshelves and teeter atop my nightstand. But when it comes to new ideas and getting creative with the work I do, reading books outside of marketing is my greatest inspiration.
This made me think that, surely, I’m not the only marketer who feels this way. And after digging into this with a few of my marketing friends, I’m in excellent company.
So, what are the best non-marketing books that every marketer should read? Here’s a list from the top marketers –
1-2. Carlos Abler, Chief Relevance Officer
The Sacred and the Profane and Patterns in Comparative Religion by Mircea Eliade. As storytellers and architects of customer experience awesome, we must become virtuosos at transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Understanding how the ordinary becomes extraordinary helps us counteract the forces of banality that corrupt the miracle of life.
Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane delves into the dialectic between these two poles in the human experience. Whereas many thinkers in religion interpreted it from a socio-economic perspective (Marx), a psychologist perspective (Freud, Jung), or other perspectives, Eliade was in quest of what was fundamentally religious about religiousness. The Sacred/Profane dialectic is the key.
Eliade’s Patterns in Comparative Religion takes a morphological pattern-language tour of how the sacred is expressed in human history. What we find, is that the extraordinariness of the sacred, are always delivered by vehicles that are otherwise quite ordinary. The sun, moon, earth, architecture, ritual, fertility, food, water, fire, celestial phenomena; all perfectly everyday things.
Perhaps the extraordinary is everywhere around us all of the time, but are clouded from view by our delusions of the ordinary. Perhaps you can lift those delusions by delivering and extraordinary experience.
3. Jay Acunzo, Host, Unthinkable Podcast, Keynote Speaker
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Read it in college. It’s a beautiful and dark story and has zero to do with business but everything to do with my love for creating honest, messy, emotional stories. If there’s a marketing application, it’s that we need to balance all our sterile, overly simplified, prescriptive content by presenting stories in all their confusing, emotional truth.
4. Ardath Albee, CEO, Marketing Interactions
Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee. Storytelling is the most powerful vehicle for content marketing. But to do it well, you need to understand the structure and framework for building compelling stories that will resonate with an audience. Then you can easily translate that into business stories that make your buyer the hero as they work their way from problem to solution with your help. Robert McKee is one of the masters at teaching storytelling.
5. Jay Baer, President, Convince & Convert, New York Times Best-Selling Author, Speaker
My favorite non-marketing book that every marketer should read is Procrastinate on Purpose by Rory Vaden. It gives you a rational way to amplify your time, getting more done with more impact. Marketing is getting busier than ever, and marketers are busier than ever. Prioritization and time management are absolutely crucial skills.
6. Michael Brenner, CEO, Marketing Insider Group, Keynote Speaker, Author
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace is my suggestion. I don’t think the word Marketing is used in the book one time but it’s obviously to connected to what we do (how to make something as squishy as “creativity” and make it scale. The big lesson for me is that “Your team is the hero of your story. The audience is the hero of their story.”
7. Ian Cleary, Founder, RazorSocial, Speaker
I love Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Sometimes we get caught up in sending tweets, Facebook updates, sharing pictures, etc. and our time cold be used a lot more effectively through relationship building. Keith is the master of this and shares some great information in this book.
8. Andy Crestodina, Chief Marketing Officer & Co-Founder, Orbit Media Studios
I recommend Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni. It’s not about marketing, but it’s still one of my favorite biz books. It’s written in a story-style narrative so it’s a quick read. And the moral is that the key factors in a successful service business are honesty, humility, and selflessness. Brilliant.
9. Andrew Davis, Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker
Use What You’ve Got by Barbara Corcoran. Barbara Corcoran is more than just a firm face on Shark Tank, she’s the smartest woman in business – bar none. If you don’t believe me read Use What You’ve Got. It’s her personal tale of life lessons she learned from her mom and how she applied them to build a booming business after a defeating divorce.
10. Pam Didner, B2B Marketing Consultant, Author, Speaker
I recently read Smarter, Faster, Better: the Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg. He talked about the topics such as Focus, Innovation, Managing Others and Goal Setting etc. Honestly, none of these topics are new. Duhigg discussed these ideas through specific case studies and examples and went into every case study and example in detail to explain what worked and didn’t work. This book is highly entertaining, informative and well-written. Highly recommend it!
11. Erika Goldwater, Consultant, Demand Generation, Marketing, PR
Although I have a hard time picking just one, I think the best book for marketers to read is the Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This book tells a story like no other. It engages the reader and leaves you thinking about the author, feeling her experiences and questioning many things in life. As marketers, we want to make our customers feel something and writing like this, shows us how it is done.
12. Kathy Klotz-Guest, CEO, Keeping it Human, Author, Podcaster, Speaker and Comic
Every marketer should read Essentialism by Greg McKeown. We’re all dealing with constraints in time and resources in a world with so much complexity, data, and noise. And there’s pressure to do more with less. This book gives some great tips for how to simplify your goals, eliminate distractions and get down to the heart of what really matters in your business and personal lives.
13. Ann Handley, Chief Content Office, MarketingProfs, Speaker, Wall Street Journal Best-Selling Author
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris. Mary Norris just retired as the longtime copy editor of the New Yorker. This book distills her experience working there editing some of the most amazing writers in the world with laugh-out-loud observations about words, magazines and life. Allan Fallow (formerly of WaPo) described it as “Pure porn for word nerds.” That pretty much sums it up!
Chapter 9 (F*ck This Sh*t) is pretty much worth the price of the whole book.
Marketing is about clear, empathetic, enjoyable, reader-centric communication. There’s a lot we can learn from traditional publishers like the New Yorker, which have been kicking ass in both short-form (Talk of the Town), humor (Shouts & Murmurs), graphics (cartoons!) and long-form (of course) for forever. That’s why I love the irreverent Mary Norris’s book.
14.-15. Carlos Hidalgo, Life Design Coach & Advisor
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Why is this important for marketers? I meet marketers all the time who say they do not have the time they need to accomplish the tasks at hand. This book goes into detail on how to establish the discipline needed to accomplish the things that matter.
Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. There is so much transformation that is needed by marketers today and it is not an overnight or easy fix. This book provides great insight in how to lead change in an organization and should be on every marketers bookshelf.
16. Thad Kahlow, CEO, Business OnLine
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. This book is a must-read for marketers, why? First, Ben tells a compelling, educational & entertaining story that is so good you don’t want to put it down. His direct and brutal authenticity breaks through and creates a believable bond to his anecdotes and advice. Second, it’s a book about Change and the pain that comes with Change in the most cut throat high stakes environment. This sets the stage for perspective. Even though we many of us operate in a world that is less competitive than the VC startup world, no are immune from the persistent, petulant winds of change. Buckle in and turn the challenge of change into a competitive advantage. It’s a great time to be a marketer if you can embrace change!
17. Doug Kessler, Creative Director, Co-Founder, Velocity Partners
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The best analysis I’ve ever read about how people think, evaluate options and predict outcomes. Including many of the cognitive biases that distort our decision-making. Any marketer who treats audiences like purely rational decision engines needs to read this. The author won the Nobel Prize for his work.
18. Bryan Kramer, CEO, H2H Companies, Author, Speaker
Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon McKenzie. It’s by far my favorite business book all of all time. Gordon McKenzie worked at Hallmark Cards for thirty years, many of which he spent inspiring his colleagues to slip the bonds of Corporate Normalcy and rise to orbit–to a mode of dreaming, daring and doing above and beyond the rubber-stamp confines of the administrative mind-set. In his deeply funny book, exuberantly illustrated book, he shares the story of his own professional evolution, together with lessons on awakening and fostering creative genius. It’s invigorating!
19. Katie Martell, On-Demand Marketer
Without one bit of hesitation: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style. OK, I realize this is likely an unexpected source of marketing inspiration. I’ll let the words of RuPaul speak for themselves.
“You must learn the rules first before you throw them out, and then by all means throw them out. The future belongs to those who have learned from the past.”
“The amount of respect you have for others is in direct proportion to how much respect you have for yourself.”
“If you want to be in the flow, you need to be present.”
20. Rebecca Lieb, PhD, Analyst, Advisor and Author
This may be cheating a bit because the book is fiction and very much touches on marketing as a theme, but it’s hardly a business book! Pattern Recognition by William Gibson will entertain while at the same time challenge marketers to think very differently about the work they do. The novel explores, in a character-driven fashion, the meaning of branding and identity as well as what’s behind the idea of “going viral.”
21.-23. Brian Moran, Founder & CEO, Small Business Edge
Earlier this year, I read three books simultaneously and the outcome completely changed my thinking about business and life. The three books are: Thank You for Being Late by Thomas Friedman, The Crisis of Disengagement by Andrew Sherman, and Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Friedman’s book showed me how rapid advances in technology are completely disrupting our lives and jobs. Sherman’s book focused on how apathy, complacency, and selfishness are destroying today’s workforce. Frankl’s book is one I’ve read four times in my life. It looks at how each of us determine our meaning for life. It is the most important book I will ever read. The three books together gave me a balanced perspective on the rapid changes taking place today, how they are affecting us, and why we must never lose sight of the big picture – our personal meaning of life as we know it.
24. Caroline Nuttall, Vice President, Advantage|Forbes Books
Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. First, this is my favorite book ever. It is to be savored like gooey cheese. Second, it is a wonderful representation of the power of perception. Through all of our celebrity chefs, foodie awards, glitzy restaurants and luxury cooking magazines, we see the entire food industry through rose-colored glamor glasses. Gabrielle reminds us that owning a restaurant is more about sweeping up maggot-filled rats. The gap between reality and perception of an entire multi-billion-dollar industry lies in the stories we tell.
25. Lee Odden, CEO, TopRank Marketing, Author, Speaker
A lot of what makes marketing effective is innovation and creativity. So rather than a specific book, I would recommend that marketers try to read as much fiction as they can to experience the magic of stories. Recently, I’ve been making an effort to read some of the same books my 13, 17 and 18-year-old kids are reading to better understand them. From light science fiction to adventure to fantasy – it has been an eye opener to break free of business reading and open up to the creative storytelling that engages Generation Z.
26. Joe Pulizzi, Founder, The Tilt, Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur
My pick is Stranger in a Strange Land (Remembering Tomorrow) by Robert Heinlein. This book, to me, is all about passion. An individual (or marketer) with real passion for a topic or movement can build a following (audience). Those who aren’t truly passionate about a subject will fail, as it is almost impossible to fool an audience over a long period of time.
27. Robert Rose, Chief Troublemaker, The Content Advisory
The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler. There are many books about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but this one makes the approach of writing actually consumable by mere mortals. This book has shaped the way I write everything from a blog post to a white paper to a book.
28. Jill Rowley, Partner, Sales for Life
My book recommendation is The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab. The speed of innovation and velocity of disruption are hard to comprehend. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Fluidity has replaced rigidity. The breadth and depth of change go well beyond marketing. Culture, talent, technology, ecosystems, and organizational forms will have to be rethought. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not only changing what we do, but also who we are. We can’t let human nature – empathy, creativity, and thoughtfulness – get lost in the sea of new technologies: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Genetic Editing, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things (IoT), 3D Printing, and Robotics. Every industry and every job role will be impacted globally. Are you prepared?
29. Andrew Swinney, Digital Strategist, Kasasa
How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business by Douglas Hubbard is brilliant. Marketers have a lot of data. So much data, that we’ve started showing our love for it by appending “Data-driven” to the front of our job titles. But this mountain of data can cause us to glob onto best practices, sometimes without understanding the “why.” How to Measure Anything clears up common myths about measurement and gives the reader mathematical frameworks to begin clearing up ambiguity; be that risk, performance, or even future possibilities.
30.-31. Mathew Sweezey, Director of Market Strategy, Salesforce
The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan. Unless you have an advanced degree in media theory you’re unlikely to know this guy. Let’s fix that. This book is one of the best reads for marketers because it does two main things. First, it is a book that doesn’t look much like a normal book. It’s wonky, creative, and fun. It will make you want to push the bounds of content. Second is its core message. McLuhan does an expert job at showcasing why the medium you choose to use has everything to do with its effect on the individual.
E.F Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. An economic book with the subtitle, “economics as if people mattered”, will leave you pondering the idea what if we did “marketing as if people mattered”. Schumacher challenges the very nature of modern economics and opens up a conversation for a new type of thinking. Where traditional economics is based on maximizing highest output, he asks the question what if our output was better humans, not more money. A provocative read and you can pick it up second hand from just about anywhere. Enjoy.
32. Todd Wheatland, Co-Founder & CEO, JARO Sports
Postcapitalism by Paul Mason. Helps you lift your head and get out of the everyday. Gives context to what seems like disconnected chaos – effectively predicted the rise of Trump and Brexit in cyclical context (rather than just political). Written by a frustrated Marxist – and even the Economist is giving Marx props these days as newly relevant.
33. Trish Witkowski, Chief Folding Fanatic, Foldfactory, Speaker
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte. It’s about how the way we choose to display statistical data in a visual manner can be skewed to the way we want people to see it and influence the way the information is communicated. Marketing these days relies so heavily on visuals and infographics, that this concept is really important today. Are we representing the data with integrity? Are we using the best possible way to graphically communicate the information?
34. And my favorite non-marketing book…
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink. Great work in any field is about connecting the dots between disparate ideas. This book tells the story of the rise of the left-brain thinkers because of the industrial revolution and the affect it’s had on the educational system. If you live in a society that needs left-brain thinkers, as we have for over a century, then you need to raise those kinds of students so they’re prepared to be that kind of a professional.
But the world has changed and we’re in the midst of market disruptions because of off-shoring and automation. No longer is the ability to think in process and data the path to a secure future. Instead, it’s the right-brainers who can bring together the influence of many things and create something completely new, unpredictable and what turns out to be disruptive. Pink re-introduces the importance of empathy, play and critical thinking in a world that needs to raise the value it places on original thinkers.
What are your favorite non-marketing books that everyone should read? Tell me in the comments below.
And in case you’re wondering what that third layer of creativity is for me, it’s music. Maybe that’s an idea for a future blog post.
Photo credit: Flickr user Sebastien Wiertz
Carla is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author. Having lived, worked, and studied on five continents, she's partnered with top brands and conferences to train thousands of people how to rethink the work that they do and the impact they can have. Her visionary expertise has inspired and equipped leaders at all levels to embrace change, welcome new ideas, and transform their business.
Her work with Fortune 500 brands served as the foundation for many of her books. Her tenth, RE:Think Innovation, is a #1 new release that busts the myth that innovation is something that requires a specific degree or special training. In fact, Carla explains why, to be a successful company in today's hyper-competitive, customer-driven world, innovation must be everyone's business. Her goal is to teach one million people how to become innovators by 2025.
Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.