Gift guide: Books about business and professional growth

Nov 20, 2019

Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Change by Stacey Abrams (TED talk: 3 questions to ask yourself about everything you do)
I work in government affairs, and the last thing I enjoy reading for pleasure are books by politicians. However, this book is different on so many levels and is a must-read — whether you’re a political junkie or just someone seeking inspiration to chart your own course. I instantly related to and was inspired by Abrams’s candid struggles to overcome self-doubt and embrace the full range of her abilities as a talented woman of color. Her writing is candid, eloquent, familiar, funny and highly digestible. I found myself nodding, smiling, dog-earing pages, and taking deep inhalations to digest her inspiring wisdom. (Read an excerpt from the book here.)
— Nikki Clifton (TED talk: 3 ways business can fight sex trafficking)

The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change by Bharat Anand
In the rapidly changing environment of the digital age, entrepreneurs, business professionals and nonprofit leaders all need to understand how people interact with content. Focusing on good content without intentionally considering the connections that content generates is “the content trap” that hinders progress, growth and sustainability.
— Alvin Irby (TED Talk: How to inspire every child to be a lifelong reader)

Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts by Brené Brown (TED Talk: Listening to shame)
This is my favorite of all of Brown’s books. I’ve read all of her previous books, and I appreciate that this one allows the reader to revisit important points from the earlier titles. I read Dare the weekend it was released. It came at a time when I was going through some personal and professional challenges and helped keep me grounded and focused.
— Liz Kleinrock (TED Talk: How to teach kids about taboo topics)

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull takes readers inside how the animation factory makes their sausage. This book is one of the most intimate looks behind the scenes of a company’s culture, and the impact it has on the people, business and product. I highly recommend it for anyone who thinks deeply about improving the culture of their organization.
— Joe Gebbia (TED Talk: How Airbnb designs for trust)

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark
I enjoyed this very inspiring book about the personal and professional life of Alibaba founder Jack Ma. Ma’s likable and easy-going personality makes the book very inspiring and fun to read, while also providing interesting insights as to how he managed to establish one of the highest-valued companies in China and the world.
— Pierre Barreau (TED Talk: How AI could compose a personalized soundtrack to your life)

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins
This is my all-time favorite business book on why values matter and what good leadership looks like.
— Halla Tomasdottir (TED Talk: A feminine response to Iceland’s financial crash)

Good to Great by Jim Collins
This book is full of extraordinary insights into how to manage an organization based on rigorous research. I also love the intercalated stories that help bring home points, like the Admiral Stockdale Paradox, a concept I have lived by both in my work and own life.
— Pardis Sabeti (TED Talk: How we’ll fight the next deadly virus)

The Big Idea by Donny Deutsch
This book will always hold a very dear place in my heart because it was given to me by my younger sister, who is now of blessed memory. The book was to encourage me in my entrepreneurial journey, as I switched from a corporate career in the US into the unknown world of starting and running an enterprise in Nigeria. It’s filled with stories of entrepreneurs saying ‘There’s got to be a better way of doing this,’ asking, ‘How can I provide an innovative solution to this problem?’ and forging ahead to change the world with their ideas. A must read for anyone who is thinking about taking the entrepreneurship route.
— Achenyo Idachaba (TED Talk: How I turned a deadly plant into a thriving business)

Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less by Tiffany Dufu
This manifesto/memoir is a reminder of how women are expected to succeed at two full-time jobs — the paid one outside the home and the unpaid one at home — and how we need to be realistic about our expectations in order to be successful at both.
— Grace Kim (TED Talk: How cohousing can make us happier and live longer)

The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth by Amy Edmondson (TED Talk: How to turn a group of strangers into a team)
This is the definitive guide to creating the conditions under which human beings can collaborate, innovate and thrive. It’s the book you want when you’re trying to do hard things with other people (for example, trying to get back from that desert island).
— Frances Frei (TED Talk: How to build and rebuild trust)

Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life by Francesca Gino
I first heard Gino speak on NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast about the role of rebels in creating real and profound change. At the time, I had been reflecting about how to acknowledge and honor my lived experiences and allow them to inform my professional work. Her evidence-based take on rebels as innovators and positive change agents — as opposed to the stereotypical person in arms against the opposition — inspired me to lean into my own authentic rebel talents and to break some rules along the way.
— Leah Georges (TED Talk: How generational stereotypes hold us back at work)

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
This is one of those must-reads for any business reader, especially people who are interested on lean manufacturing. Insightful and full of a-ha moments, it’s a business book that’s cleverly disguised as a novel. Surprisingly easy to read, it’ll rock your management self and make you see your company and your organization in a new light. It covers productivity, strategy, change management — you name it!
— Julio Gil (TED Talk: Future tech will give you the benefits of city life anywhere)

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant (TED Talk: Are you a giver or a taker?)
This highly insightful read by an organizational professor at Wharton Business School examines the link between our success and our interactions with others and the surprising forces that affect why some people rise to the top of the success ladder while others sink to the bottom. It’s a great book that encourages you to let your heart and values guide much of what you do at work.
— Leila Hoteit (TED Talk: 3 lessons on success from an Arab businesswoman)

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath
This is technically not a book about moments, despite the title; instead it’s about what creates powerful experiences and memories. It’s really helped me think through planning events in business — and in planning experiences with my family.
— David Burkus (TED Talk: Why you should know how much your coworkers get paid)

Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women by W. Brad Johnson and David Smith
I met Johnson and Smith, two amazing men, when I was writing my book about stopping sexual harassment and gender inequality. Through their eyes, I saw that these could be men’s issues too. Here, they provide the perfect guidebook for helping men be the mentors that women need them to be — and show us all how this is a fight that men and women need to engage in together.
— Gretchen Carlson (TED Talk: How we can end sexual harassment at work)

Re-inventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux
This book is about the rise of self-management as a new and future form of organization. Laloux shows how a number of extraordinary organizations, from nursing to power generation, have reinvented their management practices simply based on a different perspective of how we could relate to one another. Their workers have flourished and their market share has grown. I love this book because it is at once practical and inspiring.
— Hilary Cottam (TED Talk: Social services are broken. How we can fix them)

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright
One of the most challenging, rewarding and surprising things about being a professor is how much of your thought, time and energy is spent building and leading a team. After all, most faculty are PhDs, not MBAs. Tribal Leadership is one on a short list of books that I draw on in order to go beyond the traditional teacher/scholar model and try to build a team environment where super-smart students work together to solve super-hard problems.
— Dustin Schroeder (TED Talk: How we look kilometers below the Antarctic ice sheet)

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord 
As the longtime head of talent at Netflix and co-author of the legendary Netflix Culture Deck, McCord (TED video: 8 lessons on building a company that people enjoy working for ) has penned an incisive treatise against traditional HR practices. In short, digestible chapters, she explains how paying top dollar, firing anyone who isn’t an A+ performer and training employees on how businesses operate all helped Netflix become one of the most successful media and technology companies in the world.
— Jason Shen (TED Talk: Looking for a job? Highlight your ability, not your experience)

Creative Change: Why We Resist It and How We Can Embrace It by Jennifer Mueller
Dr. Mueller’s research on how we react to new and innovative ideas has had a fantastic impact on her field. In this book, she outlines a plan for overcoming the resistance to change.
— David Burkus (TED Talk: Why you should know how much your coworkers get paid)

The Heroine’s Journey by Maureen Murdock
I’ve read the book many times, and sometimes I just re-read a section out of it. It’s on my bedside table and in my Kindle, and I have found it a huge support during various phases in my life in the last 15-plus years. Most life journeys have been written by and about successful men. This book helps you understand the deep patterns in the journeys of successful women — showing what drives us to success but also to over-exhaustion — and how we can integrate masculine and feminine forces in our lives.
— Amel Karboul (TED Talk: The global learning crisis — and what to do about it)

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
We are swimming in distractions from email, text messages and social media, all of them stealing away our attention. Newport (TED Talk: Why you should quit social media) brings us some hopeful news: placing our concentration and effort on creating work of value is still a top-tier skill. Then he maps out a path to recovering this skill for those who may have lost it.
— David Burkus (TED Talk: Why you should know how much your coworkers get paid)

Jugaad Innovation: Think Frugal, Be Flexible, Generate Breakthrough Growth by Jaideep Prabhu, Navi Radjou and Simone Ahuja
This book goes a lot beyond other business books and speaks not only about the need to be agile but also the need to be frugal in developing countries in order to fit the consumer and context of these nations. I find this book extremely hopeful as it shows how simple, cost-effective solutions can change the world for the better.
— Mileha Soneji (TED Talk: Simple hacks for life with Parkinson’s)

inGenius: A crash course on creativity by Tina Seelig
This wonderful book shows how everyone is creative. Through examples from her own work, others in the design thinking field and history, Seelig (TED Talk: The little risks you can take to increase your luck) provides a wealth of tools and techniques to help everyone uncover their creative potential.
— Elise Roy (TED Talk: When we design for disability, we all benefit)

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp
Tharp is a dancer and choreographer, and I understand very little of that craft but I was drawn to her book when I saw it sitting on a table at a bookstore 15 years ago. She is a pragmatist and a true original. Her book is a terrific source of battle-tested advice about hard work, surviving failure, and living a creative life. I often find myself thinking about its lessons and retelling the stories in my own talks.
— Tim Harford (TED Talk: A powerful way to unleash your natural creativity)

US Army Survival Manual: FM 21-76 by Department of Defense
There’s a ton of really great stuff in this book that applies to business and life, especially in the beginning. A sample tidbit: “The greatest enemies in a combat survival and evasion situation are fear and panic. If uncontrolled, they can destroy your ability to make an intelligent decision. They may cause you to react to your feelings and imagination rather than to your situation. They can drain your energy and thereby cause other negative emotions. Previous survival and evasion training and self-confidence will enable you to vanquish fear and panic.” Overall, the first few chapters of the book read like a business or personal psychology book if you replace combat with business — or even daily life.
— Chieh Huang (TED Talk: Confessions of a recovering micromanager)

Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed by Frances Westley
Westley was my instructor in a conflict resolution course many years ago, and I have read this book multiple times. I learn something new each time. However, the main message I got from it when I read it the first time was that when trying to change the world (in whatever field you work with), it’s important to stop every once in a while and really think about what you are doing. It is OK to change plans, it is OK to change strategies, it is OK to revamp. Sometimes we are so deeply involved with what we do and the methods we use to reach our goals that we do not even see when it is not working.
— Patricia Medici (TED Talk: The coolest animal you know nothing about and how you can save it)

Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Making Connections That Count by Karen Wickre
Who knew connecting with others for one’s career could be so authentic, observational and reciprocal? In this practical, delightful read, Wickre reveals a whole new kind of networking for our increasingly transactional digital world. Full of insights and helpful tips, especially regarding social media, this is the perfect book for anyone in the midst of a career transition or considering one. (Read an excerpt from the book here.)
— Chip Conley (TED talk: What baby boomers can learn from millennials at work — and vice versa)

Go here to see the other book categories in the gift guide 

Do these recommendations look familiar? They’ve been curated from TED’s reading lists