The most frequently highlighted passages in famous business and management books

Ben Franklin’s marginalia
Ben Franklin’s marginalia
Image: AP Photo / Joseph Kaczmarek
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A welcome consequence of the digitalization of our lives and media is the creation of streams of data that weren’t previously accessible. One of those is the book passages most highlighted by users of’s Kindle e-reader software.

It’s magical to see the short selections of writing that most moved readers across Amazon’s vast digital catalog of fiction and non-fiction works to wield their digital highlighters. Millions of passages are highlighted each month, the company says.

Amazon’s lists are predictably filled with mass market favorites. The most highlighted passage of all time is from Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games series: ”Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” Religious and self-help titles are also frequently highlighted. And scattered throughout the most popular highlights are selections from business titles and books of interest to managers. Below is a compilation of some from Amazon’s Heavily Highlighted Recently list. (Of course, as we’ve pointed out, any business book advice should be taken with a large quantity of salt.)

A number of the top highlights come from The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg. The most popular among them:

To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same.

First published in 1990, Stephen R. Covey’s bestselling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People also has several passages in the most popular. Among them:

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.

The most heavily highlighted passage recently in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs is the text of a voiceover for a TV commercial co-written by Jobs in 1997:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Another popular selection from Steve Jobs:

People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.

A section critical of brainstorming from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain makes the list:

Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of six, which do worse than groups of four. The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” writes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

Two sections of The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha, are popular:

How are you first, only, faster, better, or cheaper than other people who want to do what you’re doing in the world? What are you offering that’s hard to come by? What are you offering that’s both rare and valuable?

And this:

Take intelligent and bold risks to accomplish something great. Build a network of alliances to help you with intelligence, resources, and collective action. Pivot to a breakout opportunity.

There’s this section on the importance of deadlines from Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, by Brian Tracy:

Step three: Set a deadline on your goal; set subdeadlines if necessary. A goal or decision without a deadline has no urgency. It has no real beginning or end. Without a definite deadline accompanied by the assignment or acceptance of specific responsibilities for completion, you will naturally procrastinate and get very little done. Step four: Make a list of everything that you can think of that you are going to have to do to achieve your goal.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer, offers life advice thus:

Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next—and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.

Meditation is the focus of this selection from The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can DoTo Get More of It, by Kelly McGonigal:

Neuroscientists have discovered that when you ask the brain to meditate, it gets better not just at meditating, but at a wide range of self-control skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control, and self-awareness. People who meditate regularly aren’t just better at these things. Over time, their brains become finely tuned willpower machines. Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex, as well as regions of the brain that support self-awareness.

And, oh yes, there is one of the several quotes from the Fifty Shades of Grey adult trilogy, by EL James, that could pass as valuable business counsel:

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.