First Words in Best-Selling Business Books: A Story About the Idea

In a nutshell: Open with a story about or illustrating the business book’s idea.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference begins with a story about very small actions that created major change:

For Hush Puppies – the classic American brushed-suede shoes with lightweight crepe soul – the tipping point came somewhere between late 1994 and early 1995. The brand had been all but dead until that point. Sales were down to 30,000 pairs a year, mostly to backwoods outlets and small-The Tipping Pointtown family stores. Wolverine, the company that makes Hush Puppies, was thinking of phasing out the shoes that made them famous. But then something strange happened. At a fashion shoot, two Hush Puppies executives – Owen Baxter and Geoffrey Lewis – ran into a stylist from New York who told them that the classic Hush Puppies had suddenly become hip in the clubs and bars in downtown Manhattan. “We were being told,” Baxter recalls, “that there were resale shops in the Village, in Soho, where the shoes were being sold. People were going to the Ma and Pa stores, the little stores that still carried them, and buying them up.” Baxter and Lewis were baffled at first. It made no sense to them that shoes that were so obviously out of fashion could make a comeback. “We were told that Isaac Mizrahi was wearing the shoes himself,” Lewis says. “I think it’s fair to say that at the time we had no idea who Isaac Mizrahi was.”


Elon Musk: Telsa, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future begins with a story about the author’s meeting with Elon Musk:

“Do you think I’m insane?”

This question came from Elon Musk near the very end of a long dinner we Elon Muskshared at a high-end seafood restaurant in Silicon Valley. I’d gotten into the restaurant first and settled down with gin and tonic, knowing Musk would—as ever—be late. After about fifteen minutes, Musk showed up wearing leather shoes, designer jeans, and a plaid dress shirt. Musk stands six foot one but ask anyone who knows him and they’ll confirm that he seems much bigger than that. He’s absurdly broad-shouldered, sturdy, and thick. You’d figure he would use this frame to his advantage and perform an alpha-male strut when entering a room. Instead, he tends to be almost sheepish. It’s head tilted slightly down while walking, a quick handshake hello after reaching the table, and then butt in seat. From there, Musk needs a few minutes before he warms up and looks at ease.


Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World begins with a chilling story of danger:

Five muscled silhouettes, midnight blue against the sand-colored sunrise, Team of Teamsmoved down an otherwise empty street on the outskirts of the El Amel neighborhood in Baghdad. The morning call to prayer had just ricocheted through the urban sprawl and faded into the thick heat. A few blinds opened, then quickly closed; residents knew when to stay hidden. The door of a small house on the corner swung open and the men shuffled inside. It was September 30, 2004, and one of the biggest operations they would ever conduct was about to begin.


The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business begins with a story about the patient who prompted a new understanding about the brain and habits:

In the fall of 1993, a man who would upend much of what we know about
habits walked into a laboratory in San Diego for a scheduled appointment. He was elderly, a shade over six feet tall, and neatly dressed in a blue button-down shirt. His thick white hair would have inspired envy at any fiftieth high school reunion. Arthritis caused him to limp slightly as he paced the laboratory’s hallways, and he held his wife’s hand, walking slowly, as if unsure about what each new step would bring.

About a year earlier, Eugene Pauly, or “E.P.” as he would come to be known The Power of Habitin medical literature, had been at home in Playa Del Ray, preparing for dinner, when his wife mentioned that their son, Michael, was coming over.

“Who is Michael?” Eugene asked.

“Your child,” said his wife, Beverly. “You know, the one we raised?”

Eugene looked at her blankly. “Who is that?” he asked.

The next day, Eugene started vomiting and writhing with stomach cramps.



The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload begins with a story about the way the mind organizes information to avoid information overload and decision paralysis:The Organized Mind

One of the best students I ever had the privilege of meeting was born in communist Romania, under the repressive rule of Nicolae Ceausescu. Although his regime collapsed when she was eleven, she remembered well the long lines for food, the shortages, and the economic destitution that lasted far beyond his overthrow.

The opening story goes on to describe how the very bright young immigrant was overwhelmed by the amount of choice Americans are forced to deal with, with fifty different types of pens in the store to choose from, and endless choices when renting an apartment: furnished or unfurnished, top or ground floor, hardwood or carpets, and on and on. This leads into the concept of satisficing, or learning how to quickly select an option that is good enough rather than expending endless time, energy and angst searching for the very best.


Read more entries in the First Words in Best-Selling Business Books series.