Like most people who are time poor, I find travel offers the perfect opportunity to decompress with dedicated reading time. Admittedly, I struggle to make a dent in what is increasingly becoming a long list of business-focused books, and when you pepper-in fictional narrative for balance, the list becomes even longer.
But I do love a challenge and consider reading a critical part of self-improvement.
My reading list is usually a combination of titles recommended by friends and colleagues, new releases from industry experts I follow, or works from individuals I respect who’ve been enthusiastically championed in the trade press and media. It also contains some classics that are worth dusting off and re-reading every so often.
I tend to reach for themes related to how I can become a better leader, develop more fine-tuned emotional intelligence, or communicate with greater precision. Other times, I’ll default to books that touch on my functional area of expertise and use the time to re-acquaint myself with familiar concepts interpreted through someone else’s perspective. I love a good left-of-field book too that’s provocative and has a specific point of view.
As we step into the summer holiday season in the northern hemisphere, I’ve compiled some new finds and old favourites for anyone whose looking for inspiration:
The First 90 Days – Michael D. Watkins
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read this book. It’s a great pre-cursor to starting any new job, as it provides a solid framework for how to approach getting acquainted with the people, processes, and politics of a new organization, as you navigate your first three months.
Quiet – Susan Cain
This one’s for all the introverts and the closet introverts masquerading as extroverts while they figure out their place in the world. I read this book about 10 years ago, and as an introvert, it had a deeply profound effect on my understanding of how I interpreted the world around me. The central message is that it’s OK to have quiet confidence, as well as offering tips and advice on how to navigate situational dynamics that often feel counter-intuitive to introverted personality types.
The Culture Map – Erin Meyer
As a third culture kid, themes around identity and cross-cultural behaviour are topics I find interesting. I find building an understanding of how to approach interpersonal communication, equips me with valuable skills I can use to create more meaningful relationships with colleagues. Erin’s book sometimes toes the line into cultural stereotypes, but it redeems itself by offering practical anecdotes for navigating relationships within a global workforce.
Quantum Supremacy – Michio Kaku
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Kaku in the early noughties, when he delivered a futurology keynote that described a world of self-driving cars, where your toilet basin could give you a daily health reading. We may not be quite there yet, but in this 2023 release, he presents the art of what’s possible using quantum computing, positioning technology and physics as the keys to solving some of humanities biggest challenges.
Miracle in the Andes – Nando Parrado
This is a powerful book. It covers the 1972 survival story of passengers who crashed into the Andes mountains in South America, and the philosophical, spiritual, and moral dilemmas they had to contend with in the aftermath. Essential reading for anyone interested in observing the human spirit in the face of adversity, when courage, tenacity, mental strength, and survival instincts are all that remains.
The Art of Innovation – Tom Kelley
Considered by many to be the godfather of product innovation and design-thinking principles, this is a must-read book for anyone who’s goal in life is to find new solutions to old problems. Don’t mind the dated case studies, the ideation framework and methodologies provided are what counts.
Surrounded by Idiots – Thomas Erikson
I’m a blue. Granted, this will probably mean nothing to you if you haven’t read the book, the premise of which is based on four different personality types (red, blue, yellow, and green) in existence. You know that feeling when you really want to like someone, but your universes just don’t coincide? This book explains why, and how personalities that seem at odds with each other, are actually essential for an organization to function at a high level.
Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Ever wondered what drives our decision-making and why we make the choices we make? From careers to shopping behaviours and matters of the heart, Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman examines our own unconscious biases and the influence they have when we make intuitive (fast) decisions, versus when we apply more rational (slow) thinking.
The Pirate Inside – Adam Morgan
In the context of startups, we often talk about the notion of being a ‘Challenger Brand’—a newcomer that goes up against the established, big players in the market, with a view to disrupt the status quo. Adam Morgan’s book examines why teams should think like disruptors (i.e. pirates), the importance of challenging from within to create market momentum, and propagating the view that I’ve always held: marketing is a team sport.
Why we sleep – Matthew Walker
‘The shorter we sleep, the shorter our life expectancy’ is one of many statements put forward in Matthew Walker’s book. The author seeks to explain the physiological and psychological benefits of getting a good nights’ sleep, and how our own behavioural choices (narcotics, caffeine, jetlag, exercise, diet, etc.) have an impact on life-supporting motions like sleep.
Honorary works of fiction worth mentioning:
The Life of Pi – Yann Martel
This is the book I give to all the young adult offspring of my friends and family. From themes of spirituality, hope, and trust, to the importance of hard work and having strong moral principles, I’m convinced it contains all the life lessons they need to navigate the world with awareness and empathy. It’s also a great beach read as you gaze out to blue waters, imagining the narrative playing out in front of you.
The Bees – Lalline Paul
This is a debut novel that fictionalizes the inner workings, intrigue, and drama of a working beehive. I like to think of it as an anthropomorphized study of a bee colony that draws parallels between the organizational dynamics you would encounter in any complex enterprise company. Flora is our lead protagonist, a bee that has worked her way up the chain to command power and respect, who we can all identify a part of ourselves within.
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