Can't Afford an MBA? Read These 6 Books to Educate Yourself Instead

An MBA is an extended and expensive networking opportunity but not the only way to educate yourself about business.

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By John Boitnott

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Many entrepreneurs find themselves, at one time or another, wondering if they should go back to school to earn an MBA degree.

It's an understandable concern. The advanced degree seems to be ubiquitous in the C-suite, and the process of acquiring it brings many opportunities to forge relationships with other future leaders.

On the other hand, as with any master's degree program, the MBA is costly to obtain. It also requires a serious time commitment that many working business owners simply cannot make.

Fortunately, you can gain that same functional education through intensive readings of the best available sources.

This post isn't about the best business books ever published, however. It's about staying up to date with the most current thinking and new technological developments. If your goal is to level up your business game with books that are relevant and timely, start with the following books published in 2018.

Related: Reinvent the MBA for the 21st Century by Mastering the Ambiguity in Business

1. "The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups" by Daniel Coyle

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Coyle currently consults with the Cleveland Indians on matters such as player development and performance culture. Here, in "The Culture Code," he focuses on other successful groups and what makes them click and perform so seamlessly. From SEAL Team Six to Pixar, Coyle determines that it all comes down to a shared sense of purpose and mission, as well as a strong sense of shared risk. The lessons Coyle conveys may not be earth-shattering. In fact, some are simple and straightforward. But they can revolutionize your company culture and lead to enhanced success.

2. "Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence—and How You Can, Too" by Gary Vaynerchuk

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Gary Vaynerchuk is internet-famous, as well as a four-time bestselling author. He understands social media, personal branding and the principles that help organizations and businesses reliably achieve astounding levels of success. In some ways this is a follow-up to his earlier book "Crush It!" but the lessons he shares here stand on their own, as well. If you find yourself frustrated by how to help your brand stand out in a crowded market or by just how you're supposed to use social media, this book is worth your time.

Related: Gary Vaynerchuk Is Showing Us How to Make It as an Entrepreneur

3. "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup" by John Carreyrou

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sure, you can learn about business ethics and pitfalls for the unwary startup founder through dry lectures and textbooks -- but there's something about a gripping true story told well that drives home the dangers of ethical shortcuts far more effectively.

Carreyrou is the reporter who first disclosed the breadth and depth of the problems at Theranos, a blood test technology startup that has since folded, due directly to the fallout of the revelations from Carreyrou's investigative reporting. The company's founder and her right-hand man now face serious federal charges, and the business is but a memory. The story of their meteoric rise and jet-propelled crash-and-burn in a little over a decade makes for an engrossing read and a compelling object lesson.

4. "Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea That Drives 10X Growth" by John Doerr

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) comprise a goal-setting and achievement system that's fueled phenomenal growth rates at companies we all know. These two metrics help you create the right kinds of strategies and plans for your company and keep tabs on the best ways to measure your progress towards those objectives. Doerr has worked with companies such as Intel and Google to put OKRs to work. Here he shares the exact techniques that can help your company successfully reach its goals more efficiently.

Related: The 5 Top 10X Principles for Success

5. "Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work" by Alison Green

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

So much of an entrepreneur's time is spent managing people, as opposed to the business itself as a separate entity. As a result, understanding the psychology of people who are not like you is an invaluable business skill. Green relies on her own experience as a manager and as the author of the "Ask a Manager" website and advice columns to help you navigate the tricky interpersonal hurdles that populate every organizational chart. The book helps you initiate and manage 200 difficult conversations that are commonly encountered in many industries and fields.

6. "Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World" by Rand Fishkin

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Most startups don't achieve the sort of glorified Silicon Valley fairy tale status we're familiar with through the technology and business media. Most look something like Rand Fishkin's story -- from humble beginnings, with a healthy dose of failure, to many side quests and adjustments along the way. Fishkin is now a worldwide expert in SEO, and the company he founded, Moz, is a multimillion-dollar business. It's the story of how they both got there that contains the real wisdom for entrepreneurs and startups.

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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