Picking a few of the best books in any year is an exercise in shooting in the dark. We all have favourites and they come to us in varied ways.
One of the best was How To Be Exceptional, co-written by John Zenger, Joseph Folkman, Robert Sherwin and Barbara Steel. I wrote about it in my weekly strategic HR blog on Canadian HR Reporter’s website. There are tons of practical applications in its pages, especially if you’re in HR or training leaders. But it helps if you have a solid understanding of your own strengths and how to leverage them.
The other title that topped my list was Taking People With You by David Novak — another excellent read for leaders and business.
There are many other lists to supplement mine. I like the approach on Goodreads.com — put books in categories and show the number of votes for each so people can see the relative popularity from a fairly wide audience. On the other hand, it’s so varied it becomes one more opportunity to skip whatever your real work is and browse.
In my case, the first category I picked was humour since I’m thinking I ought to add more of it to my writing — despite the seriousness of most business subjects.
As to business, Goodreads’ closest category is non-fiction, which turns up a variety of items beyond simply business books. It includes two that I’ve written about this year: The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg and How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen. Both have ideas you can apply directly to work as well as spinoffs for personal life. Both also made Fast Company’s list of the 12 top business books for the year.
Fast Company lists two others that Goodreads notes. First is The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, who garnered plenty of media attention in the United States for correctly predicting how every state would vote in the 2012 presidential election. But I can’t see his book as highly useful beyond its basic premise — that it’s very tough to predict accurately. It echoes the truism first attributed to Yogi Berra: “Prediction is very hard, especially about the future.”
The only effective way to innovate is to try a variety of things in small pilot efforts to see if they work and catch on. Guessing what will or won’t catch on is best left to the angels — especially if one of them is Steve Jobs. Even so, it’s important to note how many times Jobs nearly went bankrupt.
Gratifying for me is the other book topping both lists — Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Kathe Mazur. As an introvert, I didn’t need to be told introversion can be a valuable commodity. I thrived on quietly listening and distilling what I heard — from staff, bosses, customers and more — into useful ideas and possible pilot programs that had a good chance of working.
Again, the title is pretty effective in capturing what the contents are about. Of course, we can’t hire all introverts. After all, where would they get their ideas from if no one’s talking? Diversity is the key and this is just one more area where people with great potential are often undervalued at organizations where the ability to talk, to present your ideas and speak convincingly to others are prized. Introverts can learn those skills too, and should, but they’re rarely given credit when other more vocal types are accorded an automatic advantage.
Only one of these lists included a book that Ebsco’s Business Book Review had in its collection of the five best of the year, as presented at a Strategic Capability Network event in Toronto in December: The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, which is just out in its fifth edition. This perennial favourite keeps being updated because it’s so popular and the messages are solid. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey was also picked up and it also made the Best 25 Business Books of All Time, along with Jim Collins’ Good to Great and others most of us have heard about or read. It’s nice to see perennial favourites, even though that isn’t what you expect in a “best of this year” review.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.