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The most successful people often are serious about self-improvement, which can come in the form of a good book. Here are two dozen excellent reads, recommended by founders, executives, and other high achievers.
1. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
"It may not be the newest shiny object on the shelf, but it certainly remains one of the best books for teams I have ever read. You don't have to have a creative-based business in order to appreciate the fact that Catmull just knows how to work better with people, and how to make those people thrive. It's an inspiration to me to see the meticulous detail and passion by which he continuously achieved this, even through failure, and how humble he was in the process. It's a must-read for every entrepreneur and leader of people and at every level of business from startup to Fortune 500."
—Chad Parks, founder and CEO of Ubiquity, which provides 401(k) plans for small businesses
2. Surge: Supercharge Your Life, Business, and Legacy by Richard Lorenzen
"This book aims to help readers understand the habits and mindsets used to take the company that I started at 15 years old and turn it into one of New York's fastest-growing public relations firms. Speaking at schools and community centers across America, I was inspired to write this book when I saw an underserved need for a guide that would show aspiring and current entrepreneurs how to leverage their personal habits and goals to make themselves into the type of person a successful entrepreneur is."
—Richard Lorenzen, founder of Fifth Avenue Brands
3. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini
"Influence explains the psychology of why people say yes, and how readers can apply this understanding to their personal and professional lives. Dr. Cialdini is a world-renowned expert in persuasion who brings 35 years of experience researching why people are moved to change behavior. The book includes six universal principles, with direction on how to use these guidelines to master the art of persuasion. I've used these principles to accomplish goals in my personal and professional lives, including everything from helping my employees reach their career goals to helping our global technology consulting company close new business. I recommend this book for anyone in a leadership position."
—Ed Szofer, CEO of SenecaGlobal, a company that provides IT solutions for midmarket companies
4. The Professional Marketer by Tim Matthews
"For me, this is the one book every marketing professional in today's SaaS world needs to read. The insights are from a true practitioner, and are far more relevant and valuable than most marketing classes at top-tier B-schools. The book enables readers to elevate messages and reach the right audience through Matthews's experience and success. This is priceless."
—Deepak Patel, director of products, data center, and cloud at internet security technology company Bitdefender
5. Play Bigger by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Christopher Lochhead, and Kevin Maney
"After reading through the examples in Play Bigger, it became evident that the most exciting companies sell us the concept of different and introduce the world to a new category of product or service. In doing so, they become category kings like Amazon, Salesforce, Uber, and Ikea. The authors cite nearly 20 years' worth of case studies that show how category kings swiftly take over the market cap in a particular category, leaving scraps for other competitors in the space. While thought provoking, the real value of the book comes from the practical, templated framework the authors provide for designing your own category that includes a clear articulation of the problem at hand, creating a memorable name for a category, and developing a unique point of view about the current and future of the category. If you're interested in capturing 76 percent of the market cap in your category or industry, I strongly recommend this book and would encourage you to play bigger."
—John Burton, CEO of Nintex, a process automation platform
6. The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard, William Oncken Jr., and Hal Burrows
"I love this book, because the storytelling conjures such vivid imagery of what Blanchard is trying to communicate. The lessons of delegation, communication, and fighting the urge to be an internal firefighter are timeless and are as applicable to an entry-level employee as they are to the C-suite. I recommend this book to all young employees looking for something to help them get it."
—Todd Thibodeaux, CEO of the tech association CompTIA
7. The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps Between Plans, Actions, and Results by Stephen Bungay
"Today, hyper-adaptability is more important than economies of scale and corporate process efficiency. Companies need to organize in autonomous teams and align them toward the most important goals. They need to be more agile. This is the best book I have read describing this shift toward a new normal in organizations and how to build and lead them."
—Patric Palm, co-founder and CEO of the planning and collaboration app Favro
8. The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia's Quest for Wealth by Michael Schuman
"It's about the individuals who drove Asia's economic ascent, which is the big global financial story of the century. The Miracle profiles elected officials, bureaucrats, and private citizen executives and entrepreneurs, all of whom contributed to an unprecedented rise in living conditions and economic output in their countries and companies. In addition to being inspiring, the case studies contain policy lessons that we should be paying attention to here in the West.
—Larry Braitman, chairman of the board for CureJoy, which provides expert advice on cures, fitness, and beauty
9. Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin
"A lot of the people I meet or that I've worked with complain and ask why they are not getting anywhere in their career or why they're not a director after just two years. I believe all of us need to understand that input correlates to output. This book is a fabulous read to understand that exceptional talent is a function of hard work over time. There are no shortcuts in life: 10,000 hours of practice or 10 years. This book is the starting point and a blueprint you can follow to be successful."
10. The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy From Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh
"This fascinating book takes the reader through the history of secrets from the runes of ancient civilizations to the future of quantum-based encryption. If you were born before the 1990s and are like me, you probably spent most of your grade school years trying to build a secret alphabet to exchange messages with your friends. However, secret alphabets or codes aren't just child's play. There are times in history when the fate of a war and millions of lives depended on the strength of such ciphers. This book takes the reader through the history of cryptography and condenses very complex topics in the field of applied mathematics into easy to understand concepts."
—Bogdan Botezatu, senior e-threat analyst of internet security technology company Bitdefender
11. 7 Strategies for Wealth and Happiness by Jim Rohn
"After reading hundreds of personal development and business books, this one is my all-time favorite. To succeed in business, and in life, it's important to first establish strong fundamentals. This book provides the tools and guidance to easily understand the power of setting goals, advancing personal development, seeking knowledge, controlling finances, mastering time management, and building a winning team. Almost anyone can get value from it, regardless of the person's age, experience, business, or stage in his or her chosen journey. The late Jim Rohn was a master teacher and business mentor. He has truly helped shape who I am today, and significantly influenced my approach to business."
—Tim Chatfield, co-founder and CEO of Jitjatjo, maker of an intelligently matched temporary staffing mobile app
12. Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson
"There are two things I look for in a business book: First, inspiration and insight from others based on their experiences; second, coverage of someone's life journey. I want to know about the person's values and motivations—look into his or her soul and psychological makeup--and Branson offers just that. His book provides a fascinating look into what influenced and shaped one of the most business-savvy entrepreneurs of all time. For me, there are many insights to be gained, particularly around growing your empire and competing against formidable business adversaries. It is relevant to any leader seeking to achieve success through innovation and expansion. I've taken those learnings and applied them in my own business life."
—Clive Jackson, founder and CEO of Victor, an on-demand private jet charter marketplace
13. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon
"This book provides an eye-opening perspective on the intersection of business and life from a strategy point of view. The best idea is that, both in business and our overall lives, we are often drawn to things that provide gratification and positive reinforcement in the near term, such as wanting to answer all of the emails in our inbox before we leave for the day. However, real success requires investing for the long term, and often the results cannot be seen for a very long time, and maybe not even in our lifetimes. So, for example, coming home earlier to read a story to your kids before their bedtime or being present for family meals may not provide an immediate reward or demonstrate a short-term benefit, but if you want a good relationship with both your children and your business (which for many is a top priority), then you cannot escape investing in them for the long term."
—Josh Sultan, CEO of Jetson, a one-stop shop for electric and non-electric transportation
14. The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
"It discusses the evolution of Bezos—arguable one of the greatest innovators of our generation—and demonstrates that success can be achieved through the relentless pursuit of progress. Most important, [it] highlights that stale industries can be reshaped by innovative thinkers who are willing to take risks. This book was a huge driving force as to why I entered the food industry. It enabled me to push myself out of my comfort zone and into the unknown."
—Robert Jakobi, co-founder and CEO of BOU, the better-for-you bouillon cube
15. Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
"Cognitive dissonance is one of the most powerful forces in our personal and professional lives. It helps explain why we often unnecessarily repeat mistakes and defend entrenched positions. As this book explains, our brain wants to insulate us from making mistakes, so it allows us to rationally justify contradictions in our mind. So rather than learning from our mistakes, we tend to double down and get further entrenched in our position as a defense mechanism. This book is essential for leaders of companies to read, as it can help increase self-awareness, both in ourselves and our teams. The ability to detect and act on cognitive dissonance is a competitive advantage in all aspects of our life."
—Robert Glazer, founder and managing director of award-winning affiliate marketing agency Acceleration Partners
16. Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living With Purpose by John Addison
"Addison's straightforward approach and genuine style pulls you in from the second you begin reading. He walks his readers through his personal and professional experiences, helping leaders understand and apply the nine practices that led to his success as a CEO today. He shares his ups and downs and what he learned to grow his leadership during the good times and bad. The practices he shares come down to having the integrity, courage, and honor to live your best life. His practical advice and personal stories will help you lead so that people want to follow you. One of Addison's quotes that stand out is, 'People don't follow you because of what you say. They follow you because of who you are and what you do.'"
—Stacey Hanke, founder of executive coaching consultancy Stacey Hanke Inc.
17. Change Starts Within You by Cortney McDermott
"I have had the chance to live two lives. One as an unhappy yet successful businesswoman and another as an entrepreneur with all the rewards I once dreamed of—doing something I was passionate about, finding love, and finding my tribe. Change Starts Within You was what I needed back when I was searching for the right path for myself and learning to trust my intuition. It would have comforted me on those dark, difficult nights of trying to figure out what was wrong with my life and gently guided me in the right direction to become the person I am now. I love this book, and McDermott's simple steps to learn to trust your intuition are priceless."
—Carla Coulson, sold-out creative coach and author of Italian Joy, Paris Tango, and Chasing a Dream
18. The Potential Principle: A Proven System for Closing the Gap Between How Good You Are and How Good You Could Be by Mark Sanborn
"In his latest book, Sanborn inspires others to unlock their true potential. He emphasizes that the only limitation we have is that which we place upon ourselves. This book provides a framework and insights for how to be the best version of you. Thank you, Mark Sanborn, for encouraging continuous improvement. You inspire us to embrace the journey."
—Zoe Jane, senior director of Sun Pharmaceutical Industries
19. Results at the Top: Using Gender Intelligence to Create Breakthrough Growth by Barbara Annis and Richard Nesbitt
"The male leaders featured in Results at the Top are true change makers who realize that gender equality relies as much on men as it does on women. Annis and Nesbitt contribute to understanding how to genuinely change future outcomes for women. Their solid advice can help drive diversity goals and accelerate progress in boardrooms and executive suites around the world."
—Kathleen Taylor, former president and CEO, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
20. A Field Guide to Lies and Statistics by Daniel Levitin
"[It] promises to teach readers how to make sense of a complex world, taking a critical view of the facts, figures, and statistics we're presented with every day. It's a publication that can help us understand—and critically examine—the forms of numerical reporting applied to art and the art market. What do art indexes, auction prices and records, and reports on the size of the market, for example, actually tell us? It gives insight into their underlying methodologies and biases."
—Al Brenner, CEO of MutualArt
21. Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins
"'Any time you sincerely want to make a change, the first thing you must do is raise your standards,' Robbins writes. This line and this book are things I read many times before starting American Financing in 1999. This book taught me that combining intense curiosity, a positive attitude, and deliberate action was the path to achieving anything. If you read it, and keep success journals, you really can discover your purpose and take control of your thoughts."
—Damian Maldonado, co-founder and CEO of American Financing
22. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
"A classic that may be more relevant today than ever in communicating with people and creating strong, trusting relationships. As 'customer success' departments continue to blossom, B2B providers have more people interacting directly with the client than ever. These touch points can be elevated by using the simple, yet often forgotten principles in this book, like the power of a smile. Furthermore, as trust ensues, making new recommendations and exposing opportunities for a client's growth are easier. Finally, it goes without saying that this is a must for the B2C frontline staff and salespeople."
—Bob Batchelor, product marketing, Adtaxi
23. An American Hedge Fund: How I Made $2 Million as a Stock Operator and Created a Hedge Fund by Timothy Sykes
"I turned $12,000 of my bar mitzvah gift money into $1.65 million trading thousands of stocks from 1999 to 2002, managed the number one Short Bias Hedge Fund from 2003 to 2006, and starred and appeared regularly on CNBC all before the age of 26. It's been a wild ride. This book aims to pack the lessons I learned as well as the top tips for stock trading into one awesome story. It is the first realistic look at the world of stock trading and hedge funds. Anyone who opens this book is sure to be educated and inspired."
—Timothy Sykes, millionaire expert stock trader
24. Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo From Maslow by Chip Conley
"While attending an entrepreneurs reunion at Stanford, I heard Conley (founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality) speak about how he built a unique, winning culture in the topsy-turvy hospitality industry. He was able to inspire low-income workers by enabling them to find meaning even when scrubbing toilets. In his book Peak, he brilliantly applies Maslow's hierarchy to create a pyramid of triangles for a company's relationships with its customers, employees, and investors. The Peak culture Conley defined—the one that we aspire to achieve at G2 Crowd—starts with heart and authenticity at the core. We serve customers by not only meeting their expectations but also their desires and even their unrecognized needs. This turns customers into evangelists. We take care of our employees by providing fair compensation, recognizing their brilliant contributions, and letting them find meaning in the mission of the company. We take care of investors by ensuring not only that we have transactional alignment by offering them sufficient returns, but also by being aligned in how we work together, and ultimately having them take pride in our mission and their investment in our company."
—Godard Abel, co-founder and executive chairman of the software review platform G2 Crowd
25. Double Your Income Doing What You Love: Raymond Aaron's Guide to Power Mentoring by Raymond Aaron
"This book encourages readers to understand not only how to delegate everything you hate doing so you can spend your time doing only what you love to do, but also to discover why this is the key that opens the door to abundance and joy. You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Just follow the 'Guaranteed Path to Success' found in the pages of this book. I show you step by step how to take control of your world so you can double your income doing what you love to do."
—Raymond Aaron, goal attainment coach and speaker
26. Don't F**k It Up: How Founders and Their Successors Can Avoid the Clichés That Inhibit Growth by Les Trachtman
"Multiple academic studies reveal that between one-third and one-half of founding CEOs get replaced, and not just when things go poorly. Once a company has scaled the steepest grades of the mountain and begun to need to accelerate on the flatter portion, that is when ironically the need for a 'gear change' becomes apparent (often driven by investors). It can be in both the company's best interest and even the entrepreneur's—in the long term—to bring in someone new. Trachtman is that new someone. He has been the 'second CEO' at a half-dozen companies at this point and can speak authoritatively about this transition from early-stage hill climbing to later-stage growth and acceleration. His book explains not only the necessity for the change but also the art of doing it right: entering the right way (usually as a less threatening consultant), figuring out how to take charge, and helping founders step aside gracefully. It's a story that isn't told very often—read this one."
—Matt Marx, Mitsui career development professor of entrepreneurship and associate professor of technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and strategic management, Sloan School of Management, MIT