The world’s most successful business leaders–Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Cuban among them–are prolific readers. According to some studies, CEOs consume as many as 50 to 60 books a year. If you’re seeing this article on the first week back at the office after New Year’s and aren’t already 100 pages into some smart, thought-provoking title, then you are already lagging.
To help you start the year off right, here are a few promising books scheduled for publication in the first quarter of 2018.
How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars (February) will sell you on the strength of the title alone. This is the Snapchat story: That billion dollars, of course, is what Facebook offered to acquire the startup in 2013. CEO Evan Spiegel, then 23, walked away. He would subsequently lead Snapchat to a massive IPO and then watch as share prices declined and Facebook simply copied many of his product’s most popular features. The rivals’ ongoing feud (Spiegel recently attacked Facebook over distractions and fake news) should pique readers’ interest in the backstory. Author Billy Gallagher, who was not given access by the company, is a former frat brother of Spiegel’s and covered Snapchat’s early days for TechCrunch.
Daniel Pink has written excellent books on motivation and sales, among other subjects. With When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (January), he tackles a broader subject with implications from exercise to management. Much of the book is smartly organized around beginnings, midpoints, and ends: Each period presents its own distinctive strengths and minefields. Pink is a fan of tools, and while When offers nothing as comprehensive as the wonderful motivation toolkit in his earlier book Drive, about motivation, there’s advice on such techniques as performing a pre-mortem and ordering your daily timing decisions. Kudos for the chapter title about group timing: “Synching Fast and Slow.”
The credibility of best practices derives from the number of practitioners calling them best. The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance (February) draws from a formidable sample. Best-selling authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton administered a 100-question survey to 50,000 adults, studied more than 850,000 employee engagement surveys, and conducted site visits and interviews at high-performance organizations around the world. So when they suggest, for example, that you closely manage individual employees’ career paths (a practice they call “job sculpting”) and establish a team code of conduct, you should pay attention.
There are so many books on decision making, how do you decide which one to buy? One contributing factor is a novel perspective. That’s brought by Annie Duke, a world-champion poker player who knows that perfect certainty is almost never possible. In Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts (February), Duke proffers strategies for navigating the obstacles found in poker, business, and life: deception, risks, unknowns, and incomplete information. Her cogent advice is relevant beyond the green-felt table. After all, as Duke points out, every decision is a bet on one version of your future self against all other versions of your future self.
Niall Ferguson’s 2009 book, The Ascent of Money, traced through history the evolution of financial systems toward the fatal effervescence that caused the last great recession. The Harvard historian’s new release, The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, From the Freemasons to Facebook (January), promises a similarly wide-ranging and provocative tour through the history of human connectivity, pre- and post-high tech. Ferguson also ladles out illuminating doses of networking theory and analysis of the threat that growing political and economic complexity poses to established hierarchies and institutions. He asks: Can a networked world have order?
Carl J. Schramm spent a decade as president of the Kauffman Foundation, the country’s premier education and research organization devoted to entrepreneurship. Burn the Business Plan: What Great Entrepreneurs Really Do (January) is his first book aimed squarely at founders. (Much of his earlier work dealt with policy.) While encouraging aspirants toward launch, the book is mercifully free of Silicon Valley fairy tales. Schramm is interested in real people starting real companies: Readers will find most of his cases gratifyingly unfamiliar and generally relatable. Burn is a solid roundup of the current best thinking on startups, guiding new entrepreneurs in both introspection and execution.
Serial innovators occupy their own pantheon among the gods of science and industry. In Quirky: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World (February), New York University professor Melissa A. Schilling sets out to identify what makes such people both capable of and driven to repeated feats of spectacular creativity. Her subjects range across three centuries: from Benjamin Franklin and Marie Curie to Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. Although many traits Schilling identifies are personal (social detachment, idealism), there’s also some practical fodder: circumstances and practices that can be replicated by innovation-hungry individuals and teams.
Start the new year with a book about failure. Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It (March) autopsies some very public disasters, among them Knight Capital’s 2012 trading fiasco, the 1996 crash of ValuJet flight 52 in the Everglades, and last year’s flubbed announcement of best picture at the Academy Awards. Authors Chris Clearfield, a former derivatives trader, and András Tilcsik, a professor at University of Toronto, suss out the common vulnerabilities–from complexity to corruption–of modern systems. Their proffered solutions are admirably evidence-based, drawing on everything from brain science (surface divergent opinions) to engineering (design for transparency rather than elegance).
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