What to read if you want to be awesome: The 17 best books of 2017 (Part 2 – Business and Career)

The six books below are ones that have significantly shifted my thinking around how to design a career, how to build a business, and how to think strategically within a large business.

This post is part 2 in my top 17 books of 2017 series. These ones are related to career and business. You can read the first part (books focused on Performance here). Part 3 is coming up soon.

There is no ranking (the numbering continues on from my last post), but each book is relevant for different people at different stages of their career so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading them all depending on what stage you are at.

Would love to hear what other books you’d suggest. In the meantime… get reading.


7. So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

Who should read it: Anyone ‘looking for their passion’, starting their career, or considering switching careers

Summary: I LOVE this book. It irks me no end that there are so many (mostly young) people running around ‘looking for their passion’, and that there are so many self-proclaimed coaches telling them that’s what they should be doing. I’ve always believed that you like what you are good at, and you value what you spend time doing. And enjoying something + valuing it = passion. So just get really good at something and it will likely become a passion. The author maps this out far better than I can. He articulates a realistic way to think about your career, how to become so skilful at what you do, how to develop ‘career capital’ so you are seen as valuable, how to trade your capital for flexibility, and how to find your ‘mission’ rather than your ‘passion’.

Quote: ‘The things that make a job great, I discovered, are rare and valuable. If you want them in your working life, you need something rare and valuable to offer in return. In other words, you need to be good at something before you can expect a good job.’


8. Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Who should read it: Everyone who receives or gives feedback… so everyone (especially managers, coaches, athletes and employees)

Summary: This book has more of a business than a sporting slant, but I still recommend it for those in the sporting world because athletes and coaches exchange far more feedback on a daily basis than you’d see in a month in an organisation. The authors cover the three types of feedback – appreciation, coaching and evaluation (and why you shouldn’t mix them). They also talk at length about how to become better at seeking out and receiving feedback, how to become an expert at giving it, and how to build relationships using feedback conversations. Extremely practical with literally word-for-word scripts and questions that you can use.

Quote: ‘Feedback is not just what gets ranked; it’s what gets thanked, commented on, invited back or dropped. It can be formal or informal, direct or implicit; it can be blunt or baroque, totally obvious or so subtle you’re not sure what it is.’


9. The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

Who should read it: Managers, leaders and coaches

Summary: This is a book that you can start implementing immediately and is also an excellent complement to the one above on feedback. It gives you a step-by-step, word-for-word guide to having coaching conversations. And coaching conversations are something that is vastly lacking in most companies. The author goes through the seven questions you need to ask for an effective conversation and what to do with the most common responses to those questions. If you followed even half of his advice you’d have exceptionally motivated employees.

Quote: ‘If there are no stupid questions then what kind of questions do stupid people ask? Do they get smart just in time to ask questions?’ ~ Scott Adams


10. Rework by Jason Fried

Who should read it: Anyone who has, or wants to start, a small to medium sized business. Any advisors or mentors to business people.

Summary: This is a very easy read with chapters of literally 1-3 pages long. Despite that I highlighted more in this book than many longer ones. The author questions many assumptions about business – for example he asks ‘Why grow? Small is not worse than big. There is such a thing as right sized.’ He also gives very practical, very easy to implement tips on how to start a business, hiring, productivity, management, investor money, competitors, promoting your brand and culture. I’ve returned to this book many times for the wisdom within it.

Quote: ‘No time is no excuse. The truth is most people just don’t want it bad enough. Then they protect their ego with the excuse of time. Don’t let yourself off the hook with excuses. It’s entirely your responsibility to make your dreams come true.’


11. Winning – The Ultimate Business How To Book by Jack Welch

Who should read it: Leaders and aspiring leaders in large organisations

Summary: My professional career is in developing strategy for companies, and it’s amazing how many leaders are not taught how to think strategically. This book is the best I’ve found at articulating exactly what questions to ask, how to answer them, and how to implement them. Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for 20 years during which the worth of the company grew 4000% – he knows what he is talking about. He covers everything from setting the mission of the company, to why candor is essential for success, to how to beat the competition, to when to fire someone, to work-life balance. Extremely comprehensive and relevant for those in large companies, BUT you need to remember that you are reading this book for the content, not necessarily for enjoyment. Not the easiest read.

Quote: ‘Effective mission statements balance the possible and the impossible. They give people a clear sense of direction to profitability and the inspiration to feel they are part of something big and important.’


12. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Who should read it: Anyone trying to make a difference in the world, or who has a business dependent on the spread of ideas through social networks

Summary: While this book is technically about how ideas and trends spread, it’s also a business book as you could use the same methodology to purposely spread your idea (Sesame Street is a great example of this detailed in the book). The author uses some fantastic examples to illustrate that it requires three types of people for an idea to become endemic. Mavens are the data banks – they provide the message. Connectors are the social glue – they spread it. Salesmen have the skills to persuade us when we are not convinced of what we are hearing. Worth reading purely to understand our society, but essential if you are building the type of business that depends on idea spread.

Quote: ‘The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.’


That’s it. Read these 6 books and I guarantee your thinking around your career and how to run business will shift significantly. Part 3 of this post coming soon with a set of books related to improving your knowledge and life in more general terms.

December 20, 2017