For the entrepreneurs and executives on your gift list, here are 10 great titles to read by the fire.
Publishers in 2018 couldn’t match last year’s headline-grabbing business books: Ellen Pao’s tell-all about sexual discrimination at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Thomas Piketty’s tell-all about the ravages of rising inequality, to name two. But there were plenty of great new titles. More books about women and the nature of work joined leadership and technology as popular subjects. And Ken Kocienda, who invented the iPhone’s autocorrect feature, explains why your device shows „duck“ when you meant to type a different word.
Here are 10 of our favorite business books of 2018.
1. Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet, by Claire L. Evans
What unites the female programmers, hackers, game designers, and others in this engaging counter-history is user empathy. „They are never so seduced by the box that they forget why it’s there: to enrich human life,“ writes Evans, a reporter for Vice. Her account begins with familiar foundational figures of computer science, such as Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, before segueing into the age of networks. There we meet key contributors like information scientist Elizabeth „Jake“ Feinler, who made the Arpanet navigable while finessing requests to make coffee. Stacy Horn founded the early, edgy online community Echo, where more than half the users were women, many chatting among themselves in private hangouts. The internet is a reflection of its makers, Evans reminds us. Female perspectives and attitude are in its DNA.
2. Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs, by Ken Kocienda
Kocienda, a 15-year Apple veteran with a hand in the company’s most iconic products, is a generous, self-deprecating guide to life under Jobs. The phrase „creative selection“ riffs on Darwin: It casts product development as a long iterative process in which only the strongest design aspects survive. The book’s „who“–that is, Jobs, as seen through Kocienda’s interactions with him–matters less than the „how.“ Here Kocienda limns, through the lens of his own experience, the „essential elements“ of Apple’s innovation culture, which include dreaming big, combining complementary skills, making tough choices, and developing taste and empathy. This is a book about the poetry of software creation, and occasionally a thriller, as Kocienda and his team battle doubt and fear of failure to achieve something not just great but magical.
3. Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance–and What We Can Do About It, by Jeffrey Pfeffer
The Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is toxic. That’s an apt description of the workplaces in Pfeffer’s disturbing, important book. Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, explains how overwork, stress, lack of control, and insecurity impair employees’ health–and even shorten their lives. One study found 41 percent of people say work-related stress made them sick, and 7 percent had been hospitalized. Office wellness programs alone won’t cut it when offices themselves contribute to addiction, depression, obesity, and other ills. Drawing on examples from such companies as Patagonia and Google, Pfeffer suggests how a humans-first philosophy is also good for business.
4. Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else), by Ken Auletta
Most people don’t like advertising. But they do like the media that advertising makes possible. And businesses legitimately need a way to get out their messages. So the advertising industry makes a reasonable protagonist–call it an anti-hero–for this saga of technological, social, and business model disruption told colorfully by New Yorkercommunications writer Auletta. The frenemies besetting traditional players are obvious suspects like Facebook and Google, but also the in-house agencies of media clients, global consultancies, and consumers protective of their time and privacy. The phrase was popularized by Martin Sorrell, the blunt, combative founder of WPP who is one of Auletta’s principle characters. Sorrell resigned as CEO in April following investigations into his conduct. Thus the personal crisis of an industry titan plays out against the existential crisis of an industry.
5. Leap: How to Thrive in a World Where Everything Can Be Copied, by Howard Yu
This deeply researched mix of strategy guide and business history is a strike against complacency. Competitive advantage comes and goes with the tide. And, in fact, Tide detergent encountered strong resistance from P&G executives anxious to protect the Ivory Soap legacy before triumphing in the market with synthetics. That need to cannibalize your own products is just one lesson from Yu, a professor at IMD in Switzerland, who draws on examples ranging from Southern textile mills to WeChat to demonstrate his principles of constant reevaluation, reinvention, and repositioning. Being best at what you do has never been enough, Yu says. Being best at something different–over and over–is key to flourishing over generations.
6. Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World, by Rand Fishkin
In February, when Fishkin stepped away from Moz, the SEO business he co-founded in 2004 with his mother, he described the experience on his blog: „On a scale of 0-10, where 0 is ‘fired and escorted out of the building by security’ and 10 is ‘left entirely of his own accord on wonderful terms,’ my departure is around a 4.“ That gives you a sense of the candor and humor with which Fishkin (whose new startup is SparkToro) approaches entrepreneurship and that animates this tale of a founder’s bumpy ride. More important, the book abounds with hard-earned insights, some of which take down conventional Silicon Valley wisdom. Among them: Successful full-scale pivots are almost nonexistent; and great products are rarely minimally viable.
7. The Meaning Revolution: The Power of Transcendent Leadership, by Fred Kofman
Too many leadership books blather on about meaning and mission without explaining what they are or how they work. Kofman, LinkedIn’s „leadership philosopher,“ makes those amorphous ideas concrete. The book contains useful tactics for improving motivation and satisfaction. For example, „escalating collaboration,“ an approach to defusing conflict by involving all parties in creative problem-solving; and forging an effective culture by weaving together consensus, intensity, adoptability, and attitudes and behaviors. Kofman’s writing is informed by his experience working with leaders in the most challenging situations, including LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman (who supplies the foreword), Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella.
8. New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World–and How to Make It Work for You, by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms
The best book of its kind since Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, New Power explains the mechanisms and implications of technology-enabled movements. Old power acts like a currency: It is closed and held by a few. New power, by contrast, is a current: open, made by many, and most effective when it surges. The transition from old to new power unleashes potent effects that business and political leaders can use for good, both their own and others’. The Scottish beer company BrewDog, for example, has raised money from tens of thousands of its „equity punk“ customers. Buurtzorg, a home care organization in the Netherlands, improves community health care by giving power to small, self-directed teams of nurses. Heimans, an activist, and Timms, CEO of the 92nd Street Y, demonstrate how to lead virtuously in this hashtag age.
9. Regulatory Hacking: A Playbook for Startups, by Evan Burfield with J.D. Harrison
Yes, the Trump administration is taking an ax to regulations. But its emphasis is on rules pestering large corporations. Burfield, an investor who works with startups around the world, shows entrepreneurs–who can’t afford lobbyists–how to maneuver in markets where the government’s hand is heavy or their innovations don’t fit existing frameworks. Among other advice, Burfield suggests founders create „power maps“ to uncover sources of influence that might advance their causes. 23andMe, for example, built relationships with scientists who had longstanding ties to the FDA. Airbnb mustered the support of its grassroots users. Rules are made to be broken–or at least tweaked, Burfield says. But he cautions: Sometimes it is easiest to comply.
10. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, by Daniel H. Pink
The question „when“ ranks fourth on that list of the „Five W’s“ that famously govern problem solving and decision making. Popular writer Pink, whose previous books explore subjects like motivation and sales, argues for the primacy of temporal considerations. Timing is a science, writes Pink. Understanding how it works can improve performance and outcomes in business and in life. Afternoons, for example, bring out the worst in us. Midpoints of projects are similarly dour. Coffee followed by a 10- to 20-minute nap is the secret to rejuvenation. And how you end matters almost as much as that you end.