The Most Influential Business Book of the Past Decade
I was planning to write a top ten list of the most influential business books of the decade but as I worked on the list–and looked over other writers’ lists–I began questioning the premise. Very few business books are influential at the “decade” level. In fact, few business books have a half-life of more than six months.
The scandals that books detailed became old news. The companies that books idolized became part of the landscape. The CEOs that books lionized become yesterday’s celebrities. The motivation that books inspire becomes tired and spent. And the conversations those book sparked, why, we barely remember them.
For example, can you name the biggest business bestseller of 2013? Huge sales. Huge. Was all over the news. Every pundit commented. Can you name it? Hint: the author was a Chief Operating Officer. Can you name it now? Well, it was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, a book full of “women must change” advice that’s seems impossibly dated in a #METOO world.
So, no, there aren’t many business books whose influence spans a decade, but there was one business book (interpreting the category broadly) that continues to be highly influential, gradually changing the foundations of how we view capitalism: Le Capital au XXIle Siècle aka Capital in the 21st Century by French economist Thomas Piketty.
The premise of the book is simple: wealth doesn’t automatically “trickle down” as a “rising tide that raises all boats” but instead wealth flows upward, increasingly enriching a diminishing number of the super-rich. The observation that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is centuries old, but it was who Piketty revealed the mathematics behind the bromide.
For people who think about the nature of business and the acquisition of personal wealthy, Capital in the 21st Century was the “red pill” that changed everything. Before Picketty, most businesspeople espoused an Ayn Rand-ian view that the rich were rich because they were makers while the poor were poor because they were takers. It’s an attitude that’s still exists but now rings hollow. We now know the super-rich are takers rather than makers.
For entrepreneurs, this is a red pill that’s hard to swallow. We tend to think of billionaires as role models. We try to imitate their thought processes and replicate their success. But while a very small handful of entrepreneurs join the ranks of the super-rich each year, it’s clear now that the game is massively rigged to favor the already-wealthy.
In short, Capital in the 21st Century was the tipping point where the concept of the meritocracy crumbled under the weight of mathematics. It’s a book that’s changed, is changing, everything, and will no doubt remain influential long beyond the current decade.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.