The new year has seen the publication of another crop of probing and provocative titles on economics, business and society. Driving the most sustained public discussions thus far have been works on the inequalities driven by and increasingly defining the current economic system. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Belknap Press) is the magnum opus here, focusing on economics, with Matt Taibbi’s The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (Spiegel & Grau) looking also at the social ramifications of inequality in the United States. Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (Norton) arguably looks at one source of this growing disparity by examining the seeming advantage of professional, high-frequency traders over the rest of the public in financial markets.
On the specific topics of creativity, leadership, and organizational and business success, 2014 has also already yielded some helpful titles. Some of these are narrowly cast, for example, Ben Horowitz’ The Hard Thing about Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers (Harper Collins), which offers sage if targeted advice on starting a business, or Nick Udall’s “creative rollercoaster” model presented in Riding the Creative Rollercoaster: How Leaders Evoke Creativity, Productivity and Innovation (Kogan Page). Others speak more generally to leaders across creative businesses and industries. Following my listing last fall of useful books (http://onforb.es/19CsYft), here is another baker’s dozen of recommended reads from the start of this year that speak to the work and lives of creative leaders. Once again, they comprise a diverse list, written by industry voices, journalist or academics and providing a wealth of insights, models and concrete advice.
(1) Julian Barling, The Science of Leadership: Lessons from Research for Organizational Leaders (Oxford University Press)
Barling, an organizational behavior professor at Canada’s Queen’s University, explores some central debates about leadership – whether leaders are born or made, the relevance of gender, the import of followership – by reference to mostly psychological research conducted over the past two decades. The result is an accessible and frequently illuminating tour of the evidence shaping and underlying popular if often superficial debates. Perhaps most directly relevant to many readers will be the question (and layered answer) about the effectiveness of leadership development programs.
(2) Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question (Bloomsbury)
What if companies had mission questions rather than mission statements? Looking closely at some of our most creative organizations, including Google, IDEO and Netflix, journalist Berger (who wrote the excellent Glimmer on design thinking) describes the importance of generating a culture of inquiry and learning. The result is potentially paradigm-shifting: rather than assuming great leaders, creatives, innovators, and entrepreneurs possess the distinctive ability to provide clear answers, the book proposes that asking the right questions might be a more fundamental skill.
(3) Adam Bryant, Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation (Times Books)
Offering consistently insightful glimpses of today’s leadership challenges and innovations, the New York Times ‘Corner Office’ column of interviews with executives appears twice weekly. In the second book drawing from his work on the column, Adam Bryant highlights lessons in innovation, change and, especially, building creative cultures. The result is a crisp summary of current leadership practice illustrated with helpful real-life examples of effective teams, increased respect, better conversations, and ongoing learning by leaders and organizations alike.
(4) Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies (Norton)
How are digital technologies – from hardware and software to networks and data sets – fueling exponential growth and profound social and economic change? Two leading thinkers from MIT explore the forces reinventing fields as diverse as medicine, retail, and transportation and having far-ranging implications for creative collaboration, business leadership and policy-making alike. Maybe most importantly, these dramatic changes will enable and necessitate a revamping of our educational system in ways that both leverage new technologies and prepare people for the transformed economy.
(5) Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Random House)
Catmull, co-founder and President of Pixar Animation Studios, one of the world’s most admired creative businesses, shares insights and proven techniques for harnessing talent, forming teams and structuring organizations, and producing fresh and original work. Mining his company’s illustrious production history for instructive episodes and helpful examples, he and Wallace devote special attention to the challenges of building and sustaining a creative culture. Their closing list of principles alone constitute an essential master class in creative leadership.
(6) Lynda Gratton, The Key: How Corporations Succeed by Solving the World’s Toughest Problem (McGraw-Hill)
Professor of management practice at the London Business School and founder of the Hot Spots Movement, Gratton has produced a fresh model for scaling impact and innovating for good. ‘The Key’ is to coordinate the latest approaches to organizational design and talent development with purpose-driven support for broader communities. The outcome, she argues, is business organizations capable of confronting and solving global problems like rampant unemployment and climate change.
(7) Arianna Huffington, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder (Harmony)
Exhausted and sleep-deprived, Arianna Huffington fell and injured herself in 2007. Amidst a battery of medical tests and soul-searching, she came to realize that there was more to success than money and power and that she – and we – needed a third metric for celebrating our lives, maintaining our sense of wonder, prioritizing our relationships, and remaining compassionate and generous. Combining personal details of her own journey with the latest psychological and sleep research, Huffington has produced a manifesto for redefining well-being, work and success.
(8) Keith Reinhard, Any Wednesday (Any Wednesday)
An original Mad Man, Reinhard was an advertising creative legend before orchestrating the merger that formed Omnicom and becoming the CEO of DDB Worldwide. For more than two decades, he penned brief weekly memos filled with wit, wisdom and advice to all his employees. This collection of 104 of those pieces both shares some of his favorite insights for inspiring creative excellence and demonstrates one way he put consistent creative leadership into accessible and effective practice.
(9) Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t (Portfolio)
Sinek is the perceptive, best-selling author of Start with Why (your company exists and should be meaningful to your customers and society…). Here, he turns to the crucial questions of how leaders can foster and support safety, trust and cooperation inside that organization as well as greater kinship with customers. While citing evolutionary biology and brain chemistry research, the book ultimately argues for the fundamental leadership values of hard work, empathy and sacrifice as bases for providing a safe environment for people to grow and succeed.
(10) Biz Stone, Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind (Hachette)
The co-founder of Twitter offers a creative memoir of his career in Silicon Valley (thus far), starting at Google, helping to pioneer both blogging and podcasting, and then launching the social media platform. In the process, he explores the nature and potential of ingenuity and imagination, reflecting through his personal experience on vulnerability, failure, empathy, ambition, collaboration, and creative culture. The result is an enjoyable and inspiring read that both reveals Stone as a genuine creative leader and summarizes many of the key lessons of building successful business enterprises today.
(11) Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (Viking)
The authors of the invaluable Difficult Conversations take on an equally challenging aspect of work and life in this new volume: how (well) do we receive feedback? Extending some of the principles of their earlier work to being less defensive and building richer relationships to engaging the feedback of others, Stone and Heen also show how to gather and process honest insights about oneself. The result is a book that very practically enables the development of greater self-awareness and deeper learning so helpful to becoming more effective leaders.
(12) Robert Sutton and Hayagreeva Rao, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less (Crown Business)
This is a major work based on a decade’s research by two Stanford professors on the pervasive challenge of spreading and multiplying success in organizations. Looking across industries, and from small start-ups hoping to grow to mature large firms seeking to avoid stagnation, Sutton and Rao offer insights and proven practices for ‘scaling up’ farther, faster, and more effectively. In the process, they provide actionable advice on such vexing issues as balancing individual and organizational needs, replicating successful mindsets, and eliminating destructive behaviors.
(13) Barry Wacksman and Chris Stutzman, Connected by Design: Seven Principles of Business Transformation (Jossey-Bass)
R/GA is one of the world’s most consistently successful creative digital agencies. Wacksman, its Chief Growth Officer, describes how the agency has been a pioneer in helping develop new business models featuring highly interactive eco-systems of interrelated products, digital services, brand loyalty and continuous customer engagement. He then goes on to identify how such ‘functional integration,’ achieved by valued firms like Apple, Nike, Amazon, and Activision, can be understood according to principles ranging from ‘Utility is Relevance’ to ‘Lead like the world depends on it.’