The Best Business Books I Read in 2016

5 Titles that Triggered Massive Transformation for Me and My Team

I’ve worked in and around publishing my entire professional life, and I’ve written several books of my own. I believe in the power of books to help people improve and grow. Read the right books, and you can trigger massive transformation in your life.

More than any other business books I read this year, five titles especially challenged me, stretched my thinking, and helped me to grow personally and professionally. Each one also benefited my team in different ways. I bet they can do the same for you.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

bookIf we want to be productive, we have to stay focused on the kinds of projects that add real value to our businesses. But that’s harder than ever today. When I talk with busy leaders, they tell me the biggest productivity challenge they face is constant distraction.

The problem is that even if those distractions qualify as work, they don’t add much value. Cal Newport, associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, labels most of these activities shallow work. Think about bouncing in and out of email, checking social media, or tweaking lists. This is low concentration work just about anyone can do. Deep work, on the other hand, requires intense focus and concentration. It’s demanding but adds a lot of value.

In the first part of the book, Newport argues we should spend much more of our time on deep work. He tackles it from a number of different angles, including neurology, psychology, and philosophy.

In the second part of the book, he provides a series of rules to help readers leverage deep work for themselves. Much of our lives conspire against deep work. The rules he offers can help anyone reorder their habit and habitats for deeper work.

Mindset by Carol S. Dweck

present over perfect bookWhat is a mindset? According to world-renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, it is an established set of attitudes or beliefs. We all know instinctively that attitude is important, but Dweck argues that it is basically everything.

She explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success—but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. A fixed mindset is one in which you view your talents and abilities as … well, fixed. In other words, you are who you are, your intelligence and talents are what they are, and your fate is to go through life avoiding challenge and failure.

A growth mindset, on the other hand, is one in which you see yourself as fluid, a work in progress. Your fate is one of growth and opportunity. Which mindset do you possess? This book challenged me, because I realized that in some areas I possess a fixed mindset and others a growth mindset.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling

bookI’ve read dozens of books on planning. But after the planning is done, the execution begins. In my experience, this is ninety percent of success. Yet, surprisingly, very few books have been written on this topic. In this book, the authors identify four disciplines of execution (4DX):

  • Focus on the wildly important goals (WIGs)
  • Act on lead measures
  • Keep a compelling scorecard
  • Create a cadence of accountability

Not only do the authors explain each discipline in detail, they provide scores of real-world examples from companies big and small. They also explain exactly how to “install” the disciplines in your organization. Based on consulting with hundreds and hundreds of clients, they provide practical solutions and best practices.

My team and I used 4DX for most of 2016, and it was incredibly helpful in reaching our organizational goals.

Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson

bookThe importance of sleep for our energy, focus, creativity, and overall health has been a major topic for me. Shawn Stevenson, creator of the popular Model Health Podcast, highlights one study that showed people who skipped a night’s sleep made 20 percent more mistakes on tasks and took longer doing them.

When we skip sleep we downgrade our performance. But good sleep boosts our energy, mental function, everything. It’s like a secret weapon. Sleep Smarter reveals twenty-one strategies anyone can employ to unlock the power of high-quality sleep. I was surprised to see how many I already knew and used. I was also surprised to see how many I didn’t. Some of his advice includes:

  • Setting a technology curfew.
  • Creating an easy-to-follow bedtime ritual.
  • Setting the thermostat between 62 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Killing the lights and getting blackout curtains.

Mileage may vary, so Stevenson encourages the reader to experiment and optimize your sleep for success.

The Revenge of Analog by David Sax

bookThis one takes a little setup.

Back in 2005, I blogged about the death of traditional book publishing. “I am convinced that we are only one device away from a digital publishing tsunami,” I said. It wasn’t really about the technology or aesthetics. As the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers at the time, I was concerned with securing the future of our business.

The Kindle came in 2007. At the time I identified three inefficiencies in the publishing business and how the Kindle solved them. “While this may not be the exact device that creates the tipping point, I think it does move us significantly in that direction,” I said. “The digital path is more clearly marked than ever.” I ensured that Nelson converted all its backlist to digital and all its frontlist going forward.

But by 2011, I was wary. In fact it was clear that digital publishing was not going to upend the industry. While some assumed half of all book sales would be digital by 2014, I was convinced it would be closer to 25 percent. It actually only got to 23 percent in 2014, and it’s fallen since. Publishers Weekly cites “digital fatigue.”

In 2015, I argued that paper was the best reading app. And earlier this year, I made the decision to shift back to print for most of my own reading.

My personal involvement in the digital revolution made me extremely interested when I encountered journalist David Sax’s book, The Revenge of Analog earlier this month. He follows the trend away from digital in several different areas including publishing, retail, the work environment, and education.

Sax makes explicit something many of us feel implicitly. Real, tangible things matter. And that insight has tremendous implications for business today—not only in how we purchase and consume, but also in how we invest and grow.

Being an avid reader gives you a strategic advantage in life. It improves your thinking, relational skills, and more. But you can leverage that advantage by reading books that stimulate personal improvement.

These five books were huge for me and my organization this year, and I’m confident they’ll have an impact for years to come.

Question: What was the best business book you read in 2016?