January 30, 2012 12:19 am

Challenging received wisdom

The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, by George Anders, (Viking, £14.99)

Hiring good people is one of the biggest challenges for any business. Yet, all too often, the process is riddled with guesswork and bias. People employ those like themselves. They hire them based on their past rather than their potential. The quirky and talented are often excluded by systems that favour blander candidate. George Anders, a journalist for Fortune, reported on practices in a range of settings, from US Special Forces to Facebook to elite sports teams. He advises looking for “invisible virtues” such as resilience and curiosity. A stimulating take on an area of business rarely given such treatment.

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Philip Delves Broughton

Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist, by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, (Wiley, £33.99)

Negotiating with venture capitalists is seldom fun. Entrepreneurs who think they have won the brass ring of venture funding quickly find themselves deluged and confused by term sheets and false promises. The friendships that led to the founding of the business often become strained by arguments over the dwindling pool of equity. Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson have been through all this and their book offers hard-headed advice on dealing with lawyers and venture capitalists, so you can make the right decisions for you and your business, and focus on growing it rather than being manhandled by investors.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, by Eric Ries, (Crown, £14.99)

Start-ups, argues Eric Ries, are thought to be riskier than they need to be. Deriving lessons from agile software development, he says that entrepreneurs should treat their new company as a vehicle for testing ideas. They should use new technology to launch “minimum-viable products”. Only when they find something that customers like and are willing to pay for, should they invest heavily in development. This runs counter to traditional ideas for a new business, which has a thick business plan, pitches for investment and only later discovers if anyone wants what they are selling. Entrepreneurs love it, and Ries has become the pied piper of low-cost technology start-ups.

Start Something That Matters, by Blake Mycoskie, (Virgin, £11.99)

Social enterprise inspires mixed feelings. Toms shoes, founded by Blake Mycoskie, is at the forefront of this movement. For every pair of shoes the business sells, a pair is donated to a shoeless child in the developing world. Mycoskie’s book is an engaging account of how he founded the company. He argues that making money and doing good are not mutually exclusive. Much of the book is inspiring and helpful, packed with ideas on simplifying your life. What is missing are the financials. It would have been better if Mycoskie had divulged how much money Toms makes and how much is given away.

Supercooperators, by Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield, (Canongate, £9.99)

In a sea of bad books about psychology, behaviour and business, Supercooperators stands out for its robust scientific base and cheerful message. Martin Nowak is a professor at Harvard, and Roger Highfield is one of the best science writers around. They argue that we frequently misunderstand “survival of the fittest”. It does not just apply to individuals, but to entire groups. Those in which people co-operate and trust each other flourish over time. Even when they are destroyed, they have the capacity to rebuild. It is not competition but co-operation, the authors argue, that leads to the most successful and innovative organisations.

Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, by Peter Guber, (Profile, £12.99)

Peter Guber has been a Hollywood mogul, a sports team owner and political fundraiser extraordinaire. He understands how important good stories are to getting anything done. He has opened his formidable address book to assemble stories from everyone, including Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Michael Milken. He has excellent advice on getting your audience’s attention, creating emotionally involving stories, and then galvanising people into action. As you might expect from a Hollywood veteran, Guber is always entertaining and the book never flags, even while offering some of the soundest and most practical tips you will get from any business book this year.

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