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Antifragile (2012) by Nassim Nicholas Taleb of Black Swan fame.  It’s not new, but it sure is germane!  Taleb posits that things (everything from teacups to corporations and governments) have three potential states: fragile, which breaks from shocks; robust/resilient, which withstands shocks, and antifragile, which grows stronger from shocks.  Clearly, after 2020, we need to learn how to build systems and organizations and governments that are antifragile.  Resilient is no longer enough!

Come of Age (2018) by Stephen Jenkinson.  With lyrical prose and incisive insight, story-teller Stephen Jenkinson explores the great paradox of elderhood in North America: how we are awash in the aged and yet somehow lacking in wisdom; how we relegate senior citizens to the corner of the house while simultaneously heralding them as sage elders simply by virtue of their age. Our own unreconciled relationship with what it means to be an elder has yielded a culture nearly bereft of them. Meanwhile, the planet boils, and the younger generation boils with anger over being left an environment and sociopolitical landscape deeply scarred and broken. Part critique, part call to action, Come of Age is a love song inviting us—imploring us—to elderhood in this time of trouble. That time is now. We’re an hour before dawn, and first light will show the carnage, or the courage, we bequeath to the generations to come.

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (2013) by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Research in psychology has revealed that our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities: We’re overconfident. We seek out information that supports us and downplay information that doesn’t. We get distracted by short-term emotions. When it comes to making choices, it seems, our brains are flawed instruments. Unfortunately, merely being aware of these shortcomings doesn’t fix the problem, any more than knowing that we are nearsighted helps us to see. The real question is: How can we do better?

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009) by Daniel Pink. If you’ve ever wrestled with compensation issues or wondered how to motivate folks in a time of shrinking resources or noticed that financial rewards often seem to backfire, here’s the why behind it all. Even though most businesses claim to be data-driven enterprises, this will make clear how little they’ve ever actually looked at the data on how motivation really works – some of the studies he talks about are fifty years old! They’re operating from what he calls “Motivation 2.0” (extrinsic motivation) when it’s time to move on to “Motivation 3.0” (intrinsic motivation.) Put succinctly, the carrot and stick don’t work much any more, and need to be replaced. Plenty of helpful suggestions about how to end-run the dinosaurs in your organization and get people re-inspired and moving again.

Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-year-old Company that Changed the World by Chris Lowney tells the amazing story of the Jesuits and their four leadership pillars: self-awareness, ingenuity, love and heroism.Written by a former Jesuit, it's a careful look at how the Jesuits have succeeded wherever they've gone for over four centuries, and what modern business can learn from them.

Indistractable (2019) by Nir Eyal.  The subtitle of this book is “How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.”  Yes, there’s one of these written every few years, and this is just the newest.  That means, however, that it’s got the most recent research, and after the last year, we can all use some reminding of how to unplug ourselves from our devices and reconnect with the world around us.  Section Six, on raising indistractable children is especially lucid, sound and compelling, painfully relevant given what kids have gone through in 2020.

Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. This is one of the most important leadership books in the last twenty-five years. It brilliantly illuminates the universal pattern of blaming others for our own weaknesses, and how to overcome it.

Leadership Without Excuses: How to Create Accountability and High Performance (instead of just talking about it) by Jeff Grimshaw and Gregg Baron. This a practical, how-to book on how to get your people (and yourself) to be accountable. It's full of actionable ideas, some obvious (once you've read them). some less so. If you are a leader whose people won't step up, this is a good read.

Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman (2009). This is a must read if you’re a parent, an educator or just fascinated by how children learn. Bronson & Merriman have gathered together fascinating research from neuroscience and the social sciences about subjects like: the negative impact of praise, the terrible effects of kids losing sleep, how to talk about race, why kids lie, at what age gifted kids can really be identified, why arguing is necessary for teenagers, how to teach kids self control and avoid peer pressure, and new ways to teach language skills. Fabulous stuff!

Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx, is a the wonderful story of Joe Ehrman, former NFL football star, minister and coach for a high school football team. Ehrman's program is called "Building Men for Others; no player on the team is allowed to walk into the cafeteria, see someone sitting alone and ignore them to sit with their friends. If they do, they're off the team. He's trying to build a new definition of masculinity, one that includes accepting responsibility, leading courageously, enacting justice on behalf of others and expecting God's greater rewards. If you're raising boys, this is an important read.

Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect (2014) by Matthew D. Lieberman. In Social, renowned psychologist Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter. Because of this, our brain uses its spare time to learn about the social world – other people and our relation to them. It is believed that we must commit 10,000 hours to master a skill. According to Lieberman, each of us has spent 10,000 hours learning to make sense of people and groups by the time we are ten.

Stealth of Nations, the Global Rise of the Informal Economy, by Robert Neuwirth, is fascinating, especially if you would rather swim strategically in blue oceans of possibilities instead of hotly contested red ocean current marketplaces. It looks at the $10 trillion gray market - the second biggest in the world - one that exists just outside the peripheral vision of most established businesses (and economists). Written by a journalist, it's a provocative look at vibrant forms of economic exchange that result in full employment for all - along with rampant pollution and corruption. It altered my thinking on a number of subjects.

Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard (2010) by Chip and Dan Heath. I’ve saved the best for last. This is, quite simply, the best book on change I’ve read since I stumbled across William Bridge’s work, Managing Transitions some two and a half decades ago. Why? Because the Heaths have integrated a massive amount of neuroscience and social research into an exquisitely simple and usable model. To change anything, you have to make it work at three levels: the Rider – our thinking brains, especially the prefrontal cortex, that wants reasons and logic for everything; the Elephant – our emotional brains; and the Path – the external realities surrounding the situation.

The image of the Elephant and the Rider is so spot on in terms of the real power balance in our brains: what really controls us is our emotions, as the last year has demonstrated conclusively. Our “thinking brain” is usually saying “oh, right, I meant to go this direction!” as the Elephant lumbers off to get what it wants. (And we all know what happens when the Elephant sees the Reptile!)

Upstream (2020) by Dan Heath. Another Heath Brothers magnifying glass that makes the complex a bit more simple and manageable.  Here Dan focuses on how to make solving problems before they happen as rewarding and remunerative as solving problems after they happen.  In other words, how to break our addiction to firefighting and reward the ones smart enough (and thoughtful enough) not to set fires in the first place.

 

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