13 must-read business books in 2014

March 3, 2014
March 3, 2014

This originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Adam Grant here.

In December, I wrote about a dozen exciting business books that debut this year. In the past three months, readers have asked what’s coming next. After reading a series of gems, and hearing the buzz about others, here are the spring and summer arrivals that I’m eagerly awaiting:

1. A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger (Mar. 4)

Most people believe that great leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and activists are distinguished by their ability to give compelling answers. This profound book shatters that assumption, showing that the more vital skill is asking the right questions. Berger, a journalist, explains how innovative companies like Google, Netflix, IDEO, and Airbnb have nurtured a culture of inquiry, and what parents and teachers can do to ignite curiosity in children instead of stifling it. He also poses many fascinating questions, including this one: what if companies had mission questions rather than mission statements? This is a book everyone ought to read—without question.

2. The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun (Mar. 18)

He had an Ivy League degree and a coveted consulting job at Bain, but something was missing from Adam Braun’s life. At age 24, with $25, he started a non-profit. Fast-forward five years, and Pencils of Promise has built more than 200 schools worldwide. Braun’s journey is a playbook for aspiring social entrepreneurs, offering a vision for uniting business and philanthropy around a “for-purpose” mission powered by social media.

3. Flash Boys by Michael Lewis (Mar. 31)

The revered author who brought us MoneyballLiar’s PokerThe Big Short, and The Blind Side has turned his sights back on Wall Street. Details are being closely guarded, but it’s safe to predict that it will be an electrifying read that no gambler would bet against.

4. The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst (Apr. 2)

This book captures a tectonic shift in the global economy that has local consequences for all of us. Hurst, a pioneer and visionary leader in social innovation, makes a case that meaning makes the world go ‘round.

5. Essentialism by Greg McKeown (Apr. 15)

This book holds the keys to solving one of the great puzzles of life: how can we do less but accomplish more? It’s a timely read for anyone who feels overcommitted, overloaded, or overworked—in other words, everyone. It has already changed the way that I think about my own priorities, and if more leaders embraced his philosophy, our jobs and our lives would be less stressful and more productive. I’d say more, but that would violate the discipline of the essentialist.

6. Speaker, Leader, Champion by Jeremey Donovan and Ryan Avery (Apr. 18)

It’s one thing to appreciate a powerful speech. It’s another thing to design and deliver that speech yourself. This engaging, actionable read demystifies what makes a presentation extraordinary. The authors know their stuff: Donovan is a marketing executive for a billion-dollar company who conquered public speaking anxiety to become a talented orator, and Avery is an Emmy-winning journalist and the 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking—the youngest ever, at the ripe old age of 25.

7. Cubed by Nikil Saval (Apr. 22)

It’s billed as a secret history of the workplace, unraveling why our offices look the way they do and how so many people came to work in cubicles. This is the first book by Naval, the editor of a literary magazine. Although there are plenty of reasons to take a look, one in particular caught my eye: it promises to illuminate the forces that set the stage for Dilbert and The Office.

8. The Key by Lynda Gratton (Jun. 6)

Can companies solve some of the world’s most vexing problems? Gratton, an authority on leadership and professor at London Business School, offers a new approach to leadership competencies and development. She examines how leaders can build organizational structures and cultures that support broader communities, yielding a fresh understanding of how to scale impact and innovate for good.

9. Supersurvivors by David Feldman and Lee Kravetz (Jun. 24)

In the wake of tragedy, instead of being broken, some people bounce back to their former glory. We call this resilience, and we think of it as the ideal response to adversity. But it’s not. From the forefront of psychological science, counseling experts Feldman and Kravetz reveal how some people actually bounce forward: they emerge from illnesses, accidents, and traumas better than they were before. With extraordinary stories of people whose suffering opened the door to success, coupled with the latest evidence on post-traumatic growth, this is a rare book that both enlightens and inspires. I couldn’t put it down—it’s a blockbuster that leaders, parents, doctors, teachers, students, coaches, and caregivers need to read. I have only one complaint: it’s a tragedy that readers have to wait until the summer.

10. The Alliance by Reid HoffmanBen Casnocha, and Chris Yeh (Jul. 8)

In a world dominated by mobility rather than lifetime employment, leaders and employees are struggling with questions of commitment and loyalty. This book presents a framework for a new talent pact, one that allows employees to develop their skills and careers while making meaningful contributions to their employers. The authors bring a wealth of experience to bear on the topic, ranging from founding and chairing LinkedIn to writing multiple bestselling books to advising and investing in dozens of successful startups. I expect this book to have a transformational impact on how leaders and managers approach talent, and how we navigate about our relationships with our employers.

If I could rewrite my December list, I would add a trio of terrific books that launched in the past two months:

11. The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (Jan. 20)

This book was the talk of the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos. A pair of MIT thought leaders explain how digital technologies are fueling exponential growth that will change fields as diverse as medicine, retail, and transportation—and what it means for education, collaboration, and policy.

12. Mindwise by Nicholas Epley (February 11)

Do you think you’re pretty good at knowing what others are thinking, feeling, craving, and planning? Think again. This intriguing book from a prolific social psychologist at the University of Chicago covers why we fail at mind reading and lie detection, and how to improve.

13. Young Money by Kevin Roose (February 18)

Follow eight entry-level investment bankers for three years, and you’ll see a whole new side of Wall Street. Roose, a journalist who left Brown to spend a semester at America’s largest Christian fundamentalist university for his previous book, deftly narrates the hazing, burnout, bonuses, and addictions of the financial sector. Along with being entertaining and startling, it’s sparking serious dialogue and helping to pave the way for change on Wall Street.

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