Top 10 List: Business, Leadership & Innovation Books

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I read a lot. Fiction and non-fiction, kids’ books, newspapers, magazines, blogs and social network musings. A lot. I read the copy in ads for products not targeted at me. I read signage at stores and on wayfinding systems. I even read those brochures about local tourist stuff that are perched on that rack near the elevators at hotel xyz. I read all the words on products that end up in my house–cereal boxes, shampoo bottles, clothing tags, whatever. Sometimes I even read all the instructions in manuals, but that’s one type of reading I sometimes skim or skip, unless maybe the widget I’m putting together has more than 100 pieces.

I read things that interest me and even things that don’t interest me, especially if I’m doing research about a topic where I’m weak on knowledge. At various times I’ll even subscribe to magazines targeted at women or races that are not part of my heritage. I’m talking about print magazines that you have to pay money for, not just poking around on the web.

I also like to take in a lot through other media, and have lots of conversation with lots of people different than me, and am almost constantly observing human behavior–at airports, coffee shops, malls, stores, churches, campuses, offices, wherever–just to feel slightly qualified (at least informed) to properly steward a vocation that in some ways makes me a curator and/or creator of culture. Observing people “in the wild,” I find, provides the most unfiltered truth about human behavior.

Why do I do all this? I do it because as a purveyor of ideas and information and entertainment and education, I want to better understand people that aren’t me.

But reading, I believe, offers the most interesting relationship between communicator and listener, because the author makes editorial choices and the reader’s mind can receive all that the author is saying whilst simultaneously deliberating about what they’re reading and other things that come to mind, without interrupting the author and affecting their message. One can’t do that in real life, and we all know hitting pause on the DVR is not the same thing. You’re doing that right now even as you’re reading this.

I’m confessing all this because I’ve been encouraged by more than one friend to share this “philosophy” and make some recommended reading lists, which I’ve previously avoided because some of the books will inevitably be published by my employer, Harper Collins and all it’s imprints, and I don’t want to enable even the perception of “stacking the deck.” So, as I make recommendations, whenever I knowingly include a book published by any Harper imprint or authored by a personal friend or business associate, I’ll give it an asterisk or parenthetical making that declaration.

So, with all that, here’s the first list:

Top 10 Business, Leadership & Innovation Books
Listed in order of a loose narrative, if you read my short takes on them. I hope you enjoy reading about leading.

Strengthsfinder 2.0
by Tom Rath. Gallup
It always starts with people. It doesn’t matter what you can do because that doesn’t scale. There is no strategy that can beat the right people, working together in the right culture. So know thyself. And, know thy team. And, build thy team. And invest in thy team.

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
by Michael Watkins. Harvard Business School Press
How to “git er done” without creating too much whiplash or change fatigue. Covers the fundamentals, just so you don’t miss anything.

The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm
by Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman. Doubleday
How to drive excellent product development. IDEO is consistently on Fast Company’s and Business Week’s top 25 most innovative companies list and are consultants to the majority of the others on those lists (Apple, HP, Nike, and more). The IDEO process uncovers latent consumer demands, producing products we didn’t know we need and can’t ask for in surveys or focus groups, but buy like crazy once they’re ideated. (We already had a broom, mop and vacuum cleaner but then bought Swiffers.)

Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors
by Michael E. Porter. Free Press
Stimulates strategy development. Find your unique differentiators. And, why not drive disintermediation, instead of being a victim of it?

The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business
by Clayton M. Christensen. Collins Business Essentials (Disclaimer: I work for Harper Collins)
How to not get leapfrogged by competitors, with best and worst practices case studies.

Jump Start Your Marketing Brain: Scientific Advice and Practical Ideas
by Doug Hall. Clerisy
Quick and easy thought starters to ideate potent products or campaigns that you can quickly implement to buy you time to you plan the future strategic phases you will diligently execute.

Marketing Management
by Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller. Prentice Hall
The exhaustive classic marketing tome used in the MBA programs. With a multi-page, multi-level table of contents, this can be used like a physicians’ desk reference manual, but is well worth forcing yourself to read it cover to cover–more than once.

Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping; Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer and Beyond
by Paco Underhill. Simon & Schuster
How can you make or market products without knowing the psyche of your proposed consumers?

Trading Up: Why Consumers Want New Luxury Goods—and How Companies Create Them
by Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske. Portfolio
Case studies on great value propositions and upselling to give consumers what they want.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Penguin
Effective dealmaking, simple and doable. Practical takeaway: Intersperse players around the table instead of teaming up opposite one another. It’s the ole “make win-win deals” mantra. My basic summary of the book: At the end of your deal deliberation, would you still sign if you were the other party?

And that’s my top ten list of business, leadership and innovation books. But, please remember, you can’t do anything without hiring and inspiring the right people in the right roles, working together.

Is this list helpful? Any other books you recommend on this topic?

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