It is the end of the year and a time to look back upon a full year of ideas and try to take stock of what the biggest ideas and insights were. For the past several months, I have been curating my annual Non-Obvious Trend Report and spending time amidst speaking and traveling to put together my latest thoughts on the trends that will matter in 2015.
As I start to put the finishing touches on the book, one of the nicest side benefits is I get a chance to go back through all the books I encountered this year and put together my annual selections for the best books of the year. This year’s selection of 15 ranges from books sharing simple yet forgotten ideas to a unique guide for teaching any of us to tinker more.
For the final selections, I had to go through dozens of final candidates and leave plenty of great books off the list. Still, here are my selections for the Most Influential Business Books of 2015 – along with the five top books of the year (at the end of the Slideshare presentation below). If you’d like to read my full review for any of these books, you can see it by clicking each link to visit the book’s page on Amazon.
1. Supersurvivors – Daniel B. Feldman & Lee Daniel Kravetz
A must read for every entrepreneur (even if you haven’t survived tragedy)
In a culture of always on happiness, a book like this offers a necessary and powerful reminder that no matter how many people come along to try and remind you about how the glass is half full … the real trick is to remember that if are only longing for a sip, a half full glass is plenty.
2. The Confidence Code – Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
A powerful book featuring one of the timeliest ideas of the year
Review Summary: This book has the most powerful idea yet for how women can power their own success by embracing the necessity for confidence. Rather than simply concluding that women need to be more confident, though, the book delves into the neuropsychology of confidence and takes a broader view of how and why some people have confidence while others lack it. That powerful impact, combined with the approachable writing and well researched conclusions make this a necessary read not only for women but for the men who want to win in a world where confidence is increasingly the secret of success.
3. Perfect Pitch – Bill McGowan & Alisa Bowman
Filled with practical ideas and advice worth following
As an author who appears in media and on stage regularly, I am often looking for advice on improving my stage and media presence. After having those experiences, I can safely say the tips and tricks the author shares in this book and highly useful and worth following. If you love to hear stories of someone who has helped thousands of people become more media friendly break down some of his techniques and ideas in a readable way, you will definitely enjoy this book.
4. How The World Sees You – Sally Hogshead
This book can take the place of that old Websters Dictionary on your bookshelf
I am an ENFP. At least, that’s how I might describe myself to anyone who has taken the same ubiquitous Myers Briggs personality test and been quantified by the well known formulaic letters the score assigns for your personality. This is a book for anyone who has ever felt like having more than a four letter personality. For anyone trying to build an amazing team, find their place in a shifting workplace, or just better diagnose and work through existing dysfunction – this book will quickly become an indispensible guidebook on your shelf that you can refer back to over and over again.
5. The Doodle Revolution – Sunni Brown
The best visual thinking book of the year
If you are seeking an introduction to the world of visual thinking, this book will give you everything you need to know. And if you’re a hard core believer already using visual thinking in their work (like me!) – you’ll still find plenty of exercises and tools in this book to improve your work and thinking. The toughest thing to do as an author is to write a practical book that is useful both for the beginner as well as the professional. Sunni does both beautifully in her latest book, and for that reason it deserves a spot on your bookshelf.
6. Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited – Steve Krug
This book could actually change the world … if we take the author’s advice
When you hear people talk about books that changed the world, it’s usually not a book on web site usability that gets that type of praise. Today we talk about responsive design and seem to focus our priority on making sure things work on multiple screen. Instead of being usable, the bar has shifted to just trying to make sure things don’t look broken. In other words, there has never been a time when reading Krugman’s advice has been more necessary.
7. Hooked – Nir Eyal
An essential read to understand why and how we get hooked as consumers
The premise of the book may initiallly seem laser focused on the “garage startup” tech company trying to create the next Candy Crush app-style addiction. It’s a good positioning to sell a book. What may surprise you more about Eyal’s model is just how useful it might be to explain all kinds of behaviours that go far outside the world of apps or technology. Everything about the book makes it clear that Eyal’s ideas can help you create habit forming products. What I found even more intriguing was just how valuable the book could be to help any of us better understand how and why we get hooked … and perhaps use that knowledge to make better habits in the first place.
8. Twitter Is Not A Strategy – Tom Doctoroff
The rare brand strategy book that goes beyond the borders of America
This is not a social media book. But it’s not entirely anti-social media either. For a blue book featuring the Twitter bird on the cover, that seems like the first important truth to share. The author is at his most real when he shares stories of missed opportunities, such as his story of working on a campaign for Nestle where the agency failed to create enough of a human voice for the brand, and later lost the work. Balancing these truthful lessons learned with award winning work help turn this book from just another agency book written as a holiday gift for clients into an actually useful brand strategy book that offers a rare glimpse outside of the US at what building an amazing global brand strategy, and then executing it is actually like.
9. Everybody Writes – Ann Handley
The cure to your fear of writing (seriously).
I used to hate writing. That is probably a strange confession considering I eventually earned a Masters Degree in English Literature and have written five books (so far). Yet the problem with writing is that most of us spend many years in school learning to hate it because of how uninteresting the topics are that we are forced to read and explore. No matter what you do, improving your writing matters. And there is no better person to help you improve it than Ann Handley. This book has a format and lessons that will actually help you improve your writing ability … even if you think you have none to start with. Helping the world to become better writers is a noble mission. If I had to pick one book that truly has the chance to make that important mission become a reality, this is it. Highly recommended.
10. Dataclysm – Christian Rudder
The one book about big data that won’t scare you.
In the past few years, more than dozen books have come out focused on the topic of big data. I should know … I’m asked to review many of them. Unfortunately, out of the last ten books on big data, nine of them are about the business and marketing opportunity. Maybe nine and a half. Meanwhile, the media today is filled with stories of data and its owners behaving badly. Uber’s disastrously named “god view” interface enabling their team to creepily track the rides of unsuspecting influencers is only the latest example. All of which makes Rudder’s new book a welcome departure. In particular, it is his unflinching focus on the big picture without resorting to the common media bias of reducing every macro insight into a neat little story of a single person where Rudder excels. In the process this book also offers some much needed hope that all this behavioural data we are all unwittingly donating online could do more than help companies sell us stuff more effectively. It could also be giving us an unprecedented look at the unfiltered, unsurveyed and unbiased behaviour of humanity. If only more people like Rudder with access to the “god view” of data took the time to understand it, of course.
11. The Sonic Boom – Joel Beckerman & Tyler Gray
Definitely for business and marketing people, but I’m biased …
The Sonic Boom is a perfect collaboration between a noted writer and composer to tell the important story of how music and soundscapes that we notice (and those we don’t) impact everything from our mood to our purchase behaviour. Reading the stories in this book, you do feel like you’re getting a front row seat at an illuminating event where a longtime magician of sound lets you see behind the curtain just for a bit. Ultimately the authors deliver a timely book on an important and often under appreciated aspect of influence, marketing and why we feel the way that we feel.
12. The Art Of Tinkering – Karen Wilkinson & Mike Petrich
An unexpected guide to reinventing brainstorms …
I have spent more days than I care to count in supposedly creative brainstorms. The format often starts the same: some sort of statement of a big hairy challenge that we all must innovate around. Someone stands at the front of the room with marker in hand ready to capture ideas on a white board, which all those in the room either share half formed concepts or frantically read materials or research online in search of instant inspiration. If that sounds like a jaded description of brainstorms – it probably is. Yet is sadly reflects reality in far too many situations. The people selling products or services can too easily become divorced from the final product. We need to CHOOSE to get and keep our hands dirty, and the typical business world offers far too few chances to do that. And this is the most powerful effect of this book’s philosophy, and the many ideas from all sorts of makers and creators that the book shares. Sometimes the best tool for creativity isn’t a Sharpie on a Post-it note. Sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty and tinker.
13. Welcome To The Real World – Lauren Berger
The best career advice book since I Will Teach You To Be Rich!
I am not in my 20s. In fact, I’m about to turn 40 – which I suppose uniquely qualifies me to write one of those hopelessly sappy blog posts with advice to my twenty year old self. The only problem is, I’m not exactly sure what words of significance I might offer myself. I think I’d tell myself to carry an umbrella less often. Still reading career advice from supposedly successful people is a time honored tradition. Unfortunately, that advice is rarely as useful as what you’ll find in Lauren Berger’s wonderfully useful second book. Aside from only appealing to 20-somethings, a big part of her approach in this book can help any manager also struggling to motivate younger employees who seem more concerned with their “work life balance” than actually working hard. As Berger proves in her advice for this book, the rules of success haven’t changed all that much. The real question is, who’s most willing to master the real world quickly enough to win.
14. Scrum – Jeff Sutherland
The book that might finally kill the Gantt Chart
Early in my career, I used to use Gantt charts to plot the expected path for web design projects. They were the perfect bit of theatrical organization … useful for entertainment value but of little management value after a matter of weeks (and sometimes less). At the time, I usually saw it as a necessary evil of project management. After reading Scrum, I see them for what they were – a process unintentionally holding us back. If you’ve ever slaved over trying to create the perfect Gantt chart, you’ll appreciate the importance of dependencies. Project managers know that sometimes you can’t start a new task until the one before is complete. And that’s exactly how I recommend you think about the value of this book. If you want to be more productive and help your projects succeed, buying this book might be your most important dependency.
15. Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
A book every employee wishes their boss would read
The title of the book of course offers a great anecdote about the power of putting your people first – but in the book Sinek goes on to illustrate the power of having empathy and combining it with a focus on creating a “circle of safety” in order to create an environment people love to work in. Like his first book, the premise this one will seem deceptively simple. Who needs to read a book when you already understand the big idea from a three word title? Yet as you dig into this book and the examples he shares, you quickly realize that the stories give you the inspiration to make it happen. All of which makes this the best kind of actionable business book – one that offers a clear point of view along with the right kind of inspiration to help you act on it as soon as you finish reading.