Want to accomplish more? Try reaching for a good book.
The people who accomplish the most in life are serious about self-improvement, which often comes in the form of a good book. Here are several dozen excellent reads, recommended by high-achieving founders and executives.
1. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore"When I read [this book] for the first time, it was like having the light turned on in a dark room. Moore helped me better understand the unseen forces that were driving the product adoption trends I was seeing in today's technology markets. Whether at eBay, Ancestry.com, or Scribd, Crossing the Chasm has helped me make sense of where our products fit in the product adoption lifecycle. Even better, this book has given me innumerable ideas for how we can take our product and our company to the next level."
--Eric Shoup, COO of reading subscription service Scribd
2. Grit by Angela Duckworth"Being one of a handful of women entrepreneurs in the restaurant business, you have to be on top of your game and be able to speak the language. I have a passion for food and business, and for the last 20 years have learned many lessons that can't be taught or learned in school--experience is the teacher. Grit emphasizes the notion that you don't need a high IQ or Ivy League degree to get ahead in life, but if you have passion and persistence you can do anything."
--Celeste Fierro, co-founder and SVP of The ONE Group restaurant and hospitality brand
3. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger"I found this book to be very insightful and easy to read. The author discusses and provides many real examples of things that have gone viral and why. One example of a brand video that went viral is Blendtec, which created a vacuum video that has been viewed over 10 million times. Berger breaks it down to six key steps he refers to as STEPPS: 1) Social currency, which is about people talking about things to make themselves look good rather than bad; 2) Triggers, which is about the idea of "top of mind, tip of tongue," or how we talk about things that are on the top of our heads; 3) Ease for emotion, or "When we care, we share" -- the more we care about a piece of information or the more we're feeling physiologically aroused, the more likely we pass something on; 4) Public--when we can see other people doing something, we're more likely to imitate it; 5) Practical value, which is basically it's the idea of news you can use, how we share information to help others, to make them better off; 6) Stories, or how we share things that are often wrapped up in stories or narratives."
--Matt Schnarr, founder and COO of caffeinated AWAKE Chocolate
4. The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker: How to Make Connections Others Don't by Dorte Nielson and Sarah Thurber"IBM predicts that creativity will be the most important leadership quality for CEOs moving forward, and few books prepare executives for this future as well as The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker. What is the secret? Seeing connections in the world around us. Through a combination of the latest neuroscience, creative theory and real-world examples, Nielson and Thurber have developed a hands-on approach to generating bigger and better ideas. While not everyone starts with the same level of innate creativity, this book and its 21 exercises are designed to bring out and enhance the creative potential in all of us. As a person interested in creativity, this book opened my eyes to new techniques that capitalize on everyday creative opportunities. As the head of a digital marketing agency, this book affirmed the advantages of establishing creativity as a core business value and how that will serve as a key differentiator between companies moving forward."
--Mike Santoro, president and partner of digital marketing agency Walker Sands Communications
5. Turn The Ship Around by L. David Marquet"Turn the Ship Around isn't a typical business book. It's not about business at all, but it offers a fundamentally critical lesson for all leaders and managers. The key premise is that when people come to you for permission to do something, they rarely consider all the outcomes and rarely take on full accountability. The author, an experienced Navy officer, took commission and control of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine, and overhauled the performance of the crew--leading them from last place in the fleet to first place. Instead of having his crew ask permission and seek orders, he told them to come to him with intent. Instead of 'Captain, may I turn the ship starboard 10 degrees?,' he wanted people to come to him and say 'Captain, I'm going to turn the ship starboard 10 degrees.' The difference seems minor, but the effect is enormous. 'May I' puts the responsibility on the manager or leader. 'I'm going to' puts the responsibility on the person taking action. By stating intent, that person must live with the consequences of their action and will think more completely about the action and its consequences. This small change turns followers into leaders, and as I've seen in my own company, works incredibly well in business."
--Ross Kimbarovsky, founder and CEO of crowdSPRING, one of the world's leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services
6. 5 Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni"I highly recommend this book for anyone leading a team. The author writes from the perspective of a new CEO charged to turn a company around, and her unpopular choice to prioritize building the right team before focusing on revenue or products. Step by step, the reader gets a tutorial on how to build trust with a team, embrace conflict, incite commitment, enforce accountability, and drive results. The first two steps, building trust and embracing conflict, particularly stood out. At Kabbage, we encourage new hires to refrain from business-heavy and resume-focused introductions, but rather rely on who they are and ask the same from their new teammates. It initiates teamwork and builds trust in a more impactful way. When conflicts arise, there's mutual trust between teammates. The book explains why conflict isn't only important, but vital to build a successful team."
--Amy Zimmerman, head of people for small business lending company, Kabbage
7. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell"As an Anti-PR Crisis Management Strategist, I know firsthand how little things add up to a seemingly overnight disaster. This book confirmed a little-known natural law that defines a tipping point as 'the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point' that occurs over time with incremental increases of a positive--or in my line of work, negative force. Using this data, I could then create a corollary of the datum and take a company being slaughtered by negative press and hostile public opinion and make voluminous but gradient changes to overcome the adverse reactions and tip the scale to favorable public opinion once again. Using the case studies in the book, especially on the use of key influencers and the media, one can see the effects of fake news on public opinion today. This principle is in play in all facets of life, and it would behoove any business leader to take heed to consistently work at becoming an 'overnight success.' Without this data, I feel people are continuously looking for the silver bullet--and in negative cases, go into apathy and give up when they could have persisted to a win. It's a fantastic book as well for any marketer or PR pro."
--Karla Jo Helms, chief evangelist and anti-PR strategist of JoTo PR Disruptors
8. Aha!: The Moments of Insight That Shape Our World by William B. Irvine"This book came to me in my formative business years as a recommendation from a fellow professor when I was teaching dental school and looking to transition to private practice. While the book was primarily for me to get my head around the "aha moment" as it relates to highly impressionable young dental students, it ended up awakening in me the very moment I was seeking to generate in others. With this discovery, it made me acutely aware of what the elements were that would make successful things happen for me in my business evolution. It even made possible for me to ensure others 'got it' and allowed me to set myself up for more than would have otherwise occurred. More than 30 years later I'm still using the principles found in this book to enlighten others and myself as things change around me, all the time, in an ever accelerating manner. If you really get this it will only contribute to your success."
--John A. Moore Jr., DDS, founder and executive director of Cosmetic Dental Associates
9. Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein"Edgar Schein is one of the seminal researchers and authors of organizational culture. In his final series of books as an elder he shows how our leadership mindset needs to change from doing and telling to more of a humble mindset of listening, asking questions, and creating environments that are adaptive and collaborative. This is the first of three books along the humble inquiry theme, in addition to Humble Consulting and his future book Humble Leadership."
--Michael Welp, co-founder of the diversity strategy company White Men as Full Diversity Partners
10. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen"Whether it's in our personal lives or at the workplace, many people experience an instant feeling of dread upon hearing the word 'feedback.' Too often it is perceived as a negative-- a stereotype that [this book] aims to shatter while educating business leaders on effective tactics for delivering and receiving feedback. Stone and Heen's framework reaffirms why I founded HighGround: to address the needs and expectations of employees while facilitating constructive dialogue that helps workers grow in their careers. This book is a must-read for anyone looking to better understand why solid feedback (and yes, criticism) is so crucial to organizational success. Rooted in neuroscience and psychology, Stone and Heen present tried-and-true practices that every businessperson can benefit from."
--Vip Sandhir, CEO and founder of the employee engagement platform HighGround
11. Rocket Fuel: The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want from Your Business by Gino Wickman"This is a great book that dives into the potentially great combination of the visionary and integrator roles in an organization. When these roles are functioning well, the result is often amazing for the company--when they function poorly, the results can be disastrous. It was an eye-opening read for me, and cast light on the opportunity for my leadership team to better define our roles in the context of our company growth. For business owners who are trying to do too much and for executives that are working with visionary owners, this is a must read. The book is part of a larger framework called EOS that is essentially a corporate management philosophy, but even for people not familiar with EOS the book can be read and appreciated on its own."
--Martin Rawls-Meehan, CEO of Reverie, a Detroit-based sleep technology company that makes mattresses and adjustable beds
12. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck"This book is about cultivating a 'growth mindset' by teaching yourself to actively seek challenges and support those around you to do the same. It's an especially important read for women in leadership positions, who often feel pressure to be perfect in all aspects of their personal and professional lives. The book reframes failure as a vehicle for growth, which is a particularly important mindset if you want to succeed, disrupt, and innovate. I've given out many copies of this book to family, friends, and those who work on my team. Beyond that, this book has made a lasting impression on me as a parent, since I try to develop these qualities in my kids."
--Kira Wampler, CEO of Art.com, an online destination for high-quality wall art
13. and 14. The Other Side of Impossible by Susannah Meadows and Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales"Empowering and reinforcing perspectives for modern times. The former provides an encouraging account of people who take control of their lives and empower themselves in the face of challenging health issues. The second looks at the workings of the brain that control our behavior. Both are useful for choice and perspective with illness, relationships, deaths of loved ones, and work-life balance stress. These books provide a chance to recalibrate, rethink, and reassess our interpretation of degree of happiness and stress in our lives--and may leave us feeling more connected in the process."
--Drew Richardson, president and CEO, PADI Worldwide (The Professional Association of Diving Instructors), a company committed to diver safety and education, underwater adventure and exploration, community, and conservation
15. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuck "This book offers actionable insights into the paradigm shift that is today's marketing of goods and services. I found great value in learning to understand where the prospective customer's attention is at, and how to market using the most efficient platforms possible to reach them. Today the undervalued platforms are social media and influencer marketing. Basic tools and motivation to optimize your marketing spend as a marketing professional are clearly laid out in this book."
--Justin LaGosh, sales and marketing director at SunButter, a U.S. grown, seed-to-jar sunflower butter, free of the top eight food allergens, including peanuts, tree nuts, soy, dairy, eggs, wheat, fish, and shellfish
16. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek"Throughout my career, I've practiced a simple gesture of having employees and leadership always eat before me at meetings or parties. I never had a premeditated reason to do this. Instinctively, it just felt like the right thing to do, so the title of the book is what caught my attention. Sinek does a great job of digging deep into behavioral characteristics of great leaders in a way that allows the reader to take away actionable items from this book. Reading this not only gives you nontraditional explanations of what great leaders do, it explores their psyche to explain biology's role in their actions--how chemicals in the body influence feelings. In today's startup-heavy, performance-driven culture, this is a great read for leaders who want to hone their ability to influence personal behavior to push others toward a common goal."
--Joe Beneducci, founder, president, and CEO of ProSight Specialty Insurance, a company that facilitates business growth through industry-focused insurance solutions
17. True North by Bill George "I read this when I moved into the CEO role at Monotype about 18 months ago. The premise is about staying true to yourself and using your unique attributes to help define your role as a leader, while creating a better self."
--Scott Landers, CEO of Monotype, a company which provides the design assets, technology and expertise that help create beautiful, authentic and impactful brands
18. Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferris "This book houses some of the greatest advice I've read about business, health, and more, from millionaires and billionaires. I like it because you don't need to read front to back; you can skip around and read stories that are applicable to you for that moment. It's brought me a lot of value and is probably the most marked up book I own. Tim has a way of always bringing real value, and this book is a testament to him being able to ask the perfect questions to highly respected individuals and 'masters of their craft' and get hugely valuable answers for his audience."
--Braydon Moreno, co-founder of Robo, a designer and manufacturer of 3D printers and associated products
19. Good is the New Cool by Afdhel Aziz "This book reaffirmed what many brands and marketers already know to be true: consumers no longer trust advertising, and they demand increased social responsibility from their brands while still insisting on cutting-edge products with on-trend design. Brands need to be cool, but they need to be "good" too, especially if they're going to pique consumers interest in a time where new technology makes it easier to bypass or block ads altogether. Rather than sinking more money into the 'broken system' of advertising, this book challenges marketers to create a new model where marketing is the vehicle to optimize life."
--Rachel Meranus, CMO of Olapic, a provider of visual content solutions and pioneer of the first visual earned content platform
20. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram "This is a biography of John Boyd, a legendary Air Force fighter pilot who revolutionized air combat and much more. It is a great read for entrepreneurs for two reasons. It is an inspiring story of the impact someone can have who thinks differently, brings facts and data combined with conviction to their views, and is willing to challenge the status quo of large entrenched organizations. Boyd persevered in getting two of the most successful fighter planes in the history of the U.S. Air Force--the F-16 and the A-10--designed and built in the face of staunch opposition. Each was revolutionary in conception and performance, and both are still mainstays more than 40 years after they were first developed. Perhaps even more important, Boyd can be regarded as a father of agile thinking through the strategic concept he developed later in his career that originated as a fighter doctrine but eventually came to be the underpinning of the general U.S. military strategic doctrine--the OODA Loop. OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, act, and it is about the notion of competing and winning not by having more resources or force but by understanding the situation and acting more quickly than your opponent--getting inside his decision cycle and disrupting his actions until he collapses. Not only is this the central doctrine of the U.S. military, with its emphasis on real-time sensors, integrated networks, and precision firepower, but it is at the heart of how agile startups act to disrupt their bigger, slower competitors."
--Rick Wise, CEO of Lippincott, a global creative consultancy
21. Deep Work by Cal Newport"Takeaway: In today's instant gratification world--we all get pulled in every direction seemingly every minute of the day. The natural reaction is to try and respond as quickly as possible to everyone and everything--task-switching continuously throughout the day. Cal Newport does a great job of reminding us that we leave our best work on the table as we do that. What's more important is our ability to focus and immerse ourselves fully on the cognitively complex task. This has profoundly changed my view of the definition of 'productivity' (which he defines as productivity = time spent x intensity of work). There are only 168 hours in a week--if you're not blocking long stretches on your calendar for deep work, you're wasting your most important asset, time."
--Andy Tryba, CEO of Crossover, Engine Yard, and Ride Austin
22. Start With Why by Simon Sinek"I'm not the biggest reader of business books, but once I was introduced to Start With Why, I became a big fan of Simon Sinek. Sinek applies his understanding of human behavior and how the human brain is wired to make decisions to help any leader inspire people to act. He explains that it's natural for people to connect and respond to 'Why' you do what you do, and that 'Why' is the key driver of how people connect with other people and how they make decisions. His foundational concept is that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it"--essentially, if you can effectively explain why you do what you do, you can inspire like minded employees to follow you and like minded customers to buy from you, especially as 'What' you do or 'How' you do it changes and evolves. It doesn't matter what you do, how big your business is or what your leadership style is, Start With Why creates a very simple and powerful framework that will improve the way you communicate and inspire action."
--Scott Galit, CEO of Payoneer, a solution for sending and receiving global payments
23. How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg "It gave me insight and validation into how principals and key executives of an extremely dynamic company communicate, innovate, and make decisions. It confirmed my belief of empowering staff to intuitively and authentically make decisions and lead. I liked the lack of a rigid hierarchy, which I feel can be an inhibiting management structure and the confirmation of how seeking and retaining 'Smart Creatives' is paramount to growth and stability."
--Alex Glasscock, co-founder and CEO of The Ranch, a healthy lifestyle company
24. Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard"I am truly grateful that Mr. Chouinard took time out of a fantastically rich, fulfilling, and busy life to write it. I read it and immediately bought eight more copies to share with my management team. It speaks to doing your own thing, following your gut and living, basically, by the golden rule: treat your employees and your customers as you yourself would like to be treated. It's a simple yet critical ideology if you want, as I did, to create a happy, quality-focused corporate culture, product, and customer experience."
--Annie Selke, founder and CEO of Annie Selke Companies
25. Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss"This book has been a favorite of mine since I was a child. The notion of taking charge of your own destiny and not being stuck or complacent has resonated throughout my career in the hospitality industry. To be successful in any endeavor, you can't be afraid to go places and take risks, and I think the essence of this book can be applied to many goals in business."
--Celeste Fierro, co-founder and SVP of The ONE Group, restaurant and hospitality brand
26. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido"In business and especially in marketing, one is always seeking fresh ideas and creative new approaches to better compete. There are dozens of books on creativity and how to inspire it, however I've found few that are either creative or inspiring. This book is thrilling proof that no matter how competitive your world, your business or your market, great talent and creativity will always find a fresh way to triumph. Blacksad is a graphic novel that pays homage to the great noir detective stories; each character is an animal, superbly characterized in an anthropomorphic style. It shouldn't work, but it does. Vivid proof that a picture is worth a thousand words and a creative inspiration to us all. So the next time you are in a brainstorm struggling for a fresh take on a longstanding challenge, take heart from Blacksad."
--Harvey Purchese, SVP of marketing, North America for independent family distillers William Grant & Sons
27. Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer"The progressive thought process with business principles applied across all platforms illustrates Meyer's forward thinking. For example, the bold move to have a no-tip policy against conventional wisdom now has general acceptability. This tells you that he dared to do something nobody else would, and drew inspiration to step outside of the norm for an alternative approach to success. This alone is a 'TED Talk.' To further illustrate and understand the impact he's had on the business community, Meyer's Shake Shack brand, a boutique concept comparably, is now located throughout the nation. Meyer, who took this concept in its full simplicity and created an IPO (2015) of sustainability and success, shares his business acumen with the public. He's applied the importance of selling people a philosophy versus telling them. This concept holds strong with me today. His approach was based purely on instinct and unconventional research. The ability to be successful in this model conveys his impact--not only on the hospitality industry, but business in general.
--Michael Smith, general manager of Hyatt Regency New Orleans
28. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight"I expected extravagant tales of signing Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and LeBron James. What I got instead was a look into the heart and mind of a gritty entrepreneur trying to survive building a business that faced adversity at every turn. The story delved deep into the growth, obstacles, and reinvention of a brand that has become synonymous with performance and never giving up. With each chapter, I was transported into Phil Knight's struggles to keep Blue Ribbon Sports (now known as Nike) afloat. I related to the early Nike team in a way I could never have imagined. Shoe Dog is a story many small-business owners know well; one of debt, and always selling and navigating difficult personalities in order to grow. Listening to one of the wealthiest people in the world reflect with passion about a period with little money as the best time in his life was inspirational to me as an entrepreneur, father, and leader."
--John Swanciger, CEO of Manta, a provider of small-business marketing solutions
29. How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can Do It, You Can Do It by Mark Cuban"If you're someone who has always dreamed of starting your own business or you have a strong passion for succeeding, I highly recommend this book. It's a short read that I finished in a couple of hours, but it has a lot of practical content you can start using right away. Mark Cuban shares his own experiences as he started out living on his friend's couch, to starting his own company and becoming a multibillion-dollar success story. 'Sweat equity is the best startup capital' is just one rule that has stayed with me as a great reminder. This book gave me the guidance, tips, and inspiration I needed to stop making excuses and get started doing something I'm passionate about. It was the day I read this book that my business was born.'
--Kayla Pickana, founder and CEO of Bonding Bees, a date-night subscription service
30. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie "Why? This book, which is older than I am, is a classic. What worked back then still holds true today. This book teaches that the knowledge of human nature is as important as the knowledge of your business. I have always known that treating people with respect and decency is a better way of getting them to want to work with you and do a great job for you. This book teaches how to humanize yourself by admitting that you are not superior and that you may have some flaws; that makes you approachable. It teaches you to empower those around you so they are more productive, approaching tasks with eagerness and self-confidence. This book is not only great for business, it's an all-around good self-improvement book."
--Jacquelyn Quattro, founder and CEO of Jersey Shore Cosmetics