Books to grow your company by

May 22, 2018

I had the honor of speaking at the 2018 Scale-Up Summit in New Orleans on the topic of “Learning to Grow: How to Build a Learning Organization.”

Toward the end of my presentation, I mentioned the books I have read this year that I have found to be particularly insightful and helpful. I thought you might enjoy seeing them.

Here’s the list:

Enlightenment Now
By Steven Pinker

Comment: In his brilliant “defense” of the Enlightenment, Pinker attests to the progress we humans have made, despite the fact that many people – perhaps most – don’t realize it. This is powerful stuff and can help individuals and organizations gain much-needed perspective. This book was a game changer for me.

Excerpt: “More than ever,the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress need a wholehearted defense.We take its gifts for granted: newborns who will live more than eight decades,markets overflowing with food, clean water that appears with a flick of a finger and waste that disappears with another, pills that erase a painful infection, sons who are not sent off to war, daughters who can walk the streets in safety, critics of the powerful who are not jailed or shot, the world’s knowledge and culture available in a shirt pocket. … When properly appreciated, I will suggest, the ideals of the Enlightenment are in fact stirring, inspiring, noble—a reason to live.”

Factfulness:  Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — And Why Things Are Better Than You Think
By Hans Rosling

Comment: The title sums it up nicely. Rosling, like Pinker, gives us plenty of evidence  that the world is doing much better than many of us think – another perspective enhancer. If you haven’t seen his entertaining TED talks, look them up. Rosling recently passed away, which is a great loss for us all, needing his wisdom and perspective. His son is carrying on his great legacy.

Excerpt: “Though the world faces huge challenges, we have made tremendous progress. This is the fact-based worldview. It is the overdramatic worldview that draws people to the most dramatic and negative answers to my fact questions. … But this overdramatic worldview is not caused simply by out-of-date knowledge, as I once thought. My experience, over decades of lecturing and testing and listening to the ways people misinterpret the facts even when they are right in front of them, finally brought me to see that the overdramatic worldview is so difficult to shift because it comes from the very way our brains work.”

The CEO Next Door
By Elena Botelho and Kim Power

Comment: This is the best book I’ve seen about why the cult of the CEO/founder arose in the first place and what really makes the difference for good leaders.

Excerpt: “We found ourselves inspired by these CEOs’ stories of seemingly unlikely success. And that inspiration led to the foundational question behind this book: Are the “unlikely” CEOs we know simply lucky exceptions? Or did conventional wisdom get it all wrong about what a successful CEO looks like and what it takes to get there?”

The Great Questions of Tomorrow: The Ideas That Will Remake the World
By David Rothkopf

Comment: Rothkopf explains how the tech revolution is going to continue to dramatically change everything about how we live our lives. He does this by thinking about the future world through the lenses of keystone questions, e.g. Who am I? Who are we? Who rules? etc. This is a must-read for anyone in business and organizational leadership.

Excerpt: “As was the case during the fourteenth century, we too are living in what might be described as the day before the Renaissance. An epochal change is coming, a transformational tsunami is on the horizon, and most of our leaders and many of us have our backs to it. We’re looking in the wrong direction. Indeed, many of those in positions of power and their supporters are so actively trying to cling to the past we can almost hear their fingernails clawing at the earth as they try to avoid accepting the inevitable and momentous changes to come.”

Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
By Archie Brown

Comment: His focus is political leaders but there are plenty of lessons here for business leaders, as well. We have an almost archetypal need to focus our attention on strong leaders, which can blind us to the other, more subtle characteristics of effective leadership.

Excerpt: “No one ever says, “What we need is a weak leader.” Strength is to be admired, weakness to be deplored or pitied. Yet the facile weak-strong dichotomy is a very limited and unhelpful way of assessing individual leaders. There are many qualities desirable in a political leader that should matter more … integrity, intelligence, articulateness, collegialty, shrewd judgment, a questioning mind …”

The Culture Code
By Daniel Coyle

Comment: This is one of the best books ever written about effective groups. Leaders who get this right win and win a lot. This is a must-read for 2018.

Excerpt: “Group culture is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. We sense its presence inside successful businesses, championship teams, and thriving families, and we sense when it’s absent or toxic. We can measure its impact on the bottom line. (A strong culture increases net income 765 percent over ten years, according to a Harvard study of more than two hundred companies.) Yet the inner workings of culture remain mysterious. We all want strong culture in our organizations, communities, and families. We all know that it works. We just don’t know quite how it works.”