Our favorite business* books of 2015
If playing Adele at the dinner table isn’t enough to quell the storms of your family holidays, why not make a hasty retreat and curl up with a book?
* A key underlying premise of this list is that many of the books that make the most impact on how we collaborate and conduct our business are not found in the Business section. And we discussed books that we read in 2015, not necessarily books that were published in 2015.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Weir’s massively successful tale of an astronaut stranded on Mars was our most-recommended book, which may tell us a little about the challenges that remain on the collaborative landscape.
Isaac, our co-founder, highlighted five lessons; actually, he highlighted six, but the sixth was a spoiler, so it didn’t make the list. The Martian reminds us of the importance of…
- Perseverance in the face of adversity (this is an understatement)
- Keeping a positive mental outlook (the main character is always joking, even about his own death)
- Project management
- Solving one problem at a time
- “Journaling” and/or documenting your work
“NASA and JPL trying to find a way to get a guy off Mars will definitely get you thinking about project management challenges,” says Brendan on our support team.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
“One of my favorites,” says Frank on our account services team. “Discusses why some companies, people, and brands are more influential than others.”
“It forces us as leaders to truly understand the root cause of why we are doing something or trying to get others to follow,” says Lesa on our engagement team. “In essence, it goes back to Peter Drucker’s concept of organized abandonment. Do what you do best. And regularly question the core business and product line; that is, if we were to start this business or consider selling this product today, would we? If you answer no, be sure to question why.”
To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski
“The author does a great job laying out the compromises in design for non-tech people (the layman being the intended audience) and the good intentions that lead to failure,” says Trey on our engineering team. “This is told via case studies of notable civil / structural engineering failures. A pretty old book. It’s just as relevant to software as is is for bridges and skyscrapers.”
Sagmeister: Made You Look by Stefan Sagmeister
This one lives up to its title. Legendary designer Stefan Sagmeister assembled eye-grabbing highlights from various points throughout his career, sprinkling his own incisive commentary throughout. Little surprise that this was picked by our own head of creative services, though the text offers inspiration and insights that certainly apply to non-creatives as well.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost and Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
I (Adam in marketing) went on a serious Solnit kick this year, and I feel better for it. The first choice here is a luminous exploration of what it means to be lost, and why losing yourself on occasion is so critical to your growth in this strange world. Wanderlust is slightly less powerful, but presents a powerful historical case for anyone who find themselves pushing back against the idea of 24-7 connectivity and availability.
“Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do,” she writes. “It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking. Walking itself is the intentional act closest to the unwilled rhythms of the body, to breathing and the beating of the heart. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing.”
On a different topic, if you haven’t read her now-famous “Men Explain Things to Me” essay, do. You may find yourself wanting to forward it to a few people in your personal or professional life.
Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World by Graham Hunter
Wes in sales: “Not a business book but within it rests some important life lessons and even business lessons. Go Barca.”
Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson
Joe in sales: “Or you could read Leading by Sir Alex Ferguson if you want to read about the management decisions that built the greatest club in the world. That club of course being Manchester United, Wes.”
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
“Great narrative from a startup turned VC about how to (and how not to) grow and scale a company. Many anecdotes and lessons on building a great team and product on razor-thin capital, and some overall great management lessons,” says Steve in finance.
Outwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill
This one comes to us from Ashkan on our sales team. “Napoleon Hill interviews the Devil to learn how the Devil uses fear to keep people from reaching their true potential. The Devil explains how he uses the fear of death, poverty, ill-health, and criticism to keep them in a state of drifting. ‘Drifters’ make no attempt to discipline or control their thoughts, letting their minds drift astray (procrastinators). The non-drifter is one that understand that failure is temporary, and is able to learn from adversity. It’s all probably the same kinda stuff you read in most self-help book. The importance of healthy habits, positive thought, surrounding yourself with good people etc… Written in 1938, Hill was ahead of his time, criticizing our education system and religious institutions as places where children are taught to not think for themselves.”
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
“A very good, anecdotal read about business and personal improvement,” says Isaac. “I really enjoyed his writing style and ultimately his points on improvement. He ties business success to personal improvement (physical, diet, mental outlook, skills) and how they are intertwined. Universal appeal (in my opinion).”
The 20% Doctrine by Ryan Tate
From Trey: “How to find success by encouraging innovation and pivoting if necessary. It’s told via very well-known case studies (GMail, Flickr, Atlassian, etc.)”
Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
Few collaborative environments are more intense than “touring rock band.” Brownstein charts Sleater-Kinney’s trailblazing rise from obscurity to well-deserved adulation, showcasing a zest for (and command of) language that frankly isn’t very fair considering her room-leveling talent as a guitarist and singer/songwriter.
Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships by Morag Barrett
“A good read on increasing collaboration and results, as well as growing relationships in and outside of work,” says Kyle on our sales team.
Mission High by Kristina Rizga
Rizga’s excellent new book is a clarion call about the risks of trying to fix complex, individualized problems with standardized solutions. It’s highly recommended for anyone who cares about the worrisome state of public education in America. Business leaders should find no shortage of inspiration from the progressive, collaborative educators who are transforming individual schools and changing individual lives.
How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
“Communication is vital to our business relationships, career and overall well-being. But the wrong approach to communicating, can send someone down the wrong path to discovery. Even coming across as too polished can change one’s ethos, leading to a path which may be detrimental to the advice seeker,” Lesa says.
Dark Forces: The Truth About What Happened in Benghazi by Kenneth R. Timmerman
From Steve in finance: “Not a business book, but a great real-life story about how a small number of people caught up in a major clusterf*** were able to band together to save each other’s lives. Not trying to compare life/death to the business world, but the lessons buried in this narrative are real examples that had much more of an impact than driving ‘growth’ or ‘efficiency.'”
The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman
“Much more than just MBA and business; life, relationships… it’s got it all!” says Frank.
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
“Focuses on the huge impact of your little, everyday decisions. A powerful and practical book,” says Wes.