Top-Drawer Business Books of 2016

Too many business book lists are narrow in definition. As Robert Weider said, “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative person looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” The Top-Drawer list is less traditional. That is why the list includes, and is sometimes dominated by, books not categorized purely as “business”.

We always avoid books promising four-hour workweeks because they are fables, over-simplified and prescriptive how-to works that are vacuous and dangerous, and so-called inspirational books that are trite, lite and ineffectual. These are all tossed aside when one experiences the blunt adversities found in actual commerce.

There are no shortcuts or magic panaceas in business. We have to do the work even when reading. As John Locke stated, “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.” We encourage you to read the selections here and make the knowledge yours.

The list includes books released in 2016 that are top-of-mind, notable, relevant, well written, applicable, thought-provoking, and innovative. Our last bit of criteria makes the selections tougher to determine and that is timelessness of content. We love sharing the Top-Drawer list because so much of success in business is predicated on great storytelling and these selections exemplify that skill.

This year 13 make our list and are presented in no particular order. For the first time, fiction efforts are included for the amazing lessons they carry if one is open to the education. For fun, we have included a separate list of 8 timeless business novels.

Remember, life is too short to drink cheap scotch or to read books that are not Top-Drawer. So keep these selections within easy reach for repeated reference.

A Family Saga of Coney Island, the American Dream, and the Search for the Perfect Hot Dog by Lloyd Handwerker and Gil Reavill

The best lessons in business come from company biographies. Why? They entertain while educating and they do not prescribe. Case in point…what can we take away from a hot dog business. This is a cool story about a man whose actual hunger fueled his success. It didn’t hurt that he had immense business savvy baked into his core. Business lessons coupled with the story of an immigrant family – what is not to love? It is penned by Nathan’s grandson, who is a documentary filmmaker and great storyteller.

The Power of Resilience: How the Best Companies Manage the Unexpected By Yossi Sheffi

What can go wrong, will go wrong. That seems to be the lesson of this book but as you dive deeper it is about enterprise risk. Sheffi, author of the The Resilient Enterprise, focuses on deep tier risks as well as corporate responsibility, cybersecurity, long-term disruptions, business continuity planning, emergency operations centers, and detection. The book charts the balancing act between taking on the risks involved in new products, new markets, and new processes—all crucial for growth—and the resilience created by advanced risk management. The book compels you to hope for the best while planning for the worst.

‘Sprint’ by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz

When five client organizations tell you they are subscribing to a new process you take notice. Sprint is a process and a guide from Google’s venture capital arm GV. Its design partners Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, and Braden Kowitz tell you how to implement this signature five-day “sprint” session. It gets very interesting and undeniably relevant when they describe how they used the method to launch game-changing products with companies like Blue Bottle Coffee, Slack, and Nest.

Originals by Adam Grant

Adam Grant is the highest-rated professor at Wharton and the youngest to ever reach full professor. He is doing some of the most exciting work in behavioral science. In Originals, Grant takes a look at some of the most innovative and daring thinkers of the past 100 years, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to the founders of Google, breaking down what goes on inside the mind of an “original.” We agree with Malcolm Gladwell’s take, “Reading Originals made me feel like I was seated across from Adam Grant at a dinner party, as one of my favorite thinkers thrilled me with his insights and his wonderfully new take on the world.”

Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent by Sydney Finkelstein

Have you ever had a SuperBoss? If so, count yourself lucky because they are in short supply. The author is the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and the director of Tuck’s Center for Leadership. He does not blame individuals he blames the system of talent development. Finkelstein explores the characteristic behaviors of the world’s most effective bosses, upending conventional best practices and presenting a new, comprehensive paradigm for developing talent.

Shit Happens!: Swear Words and Mantras to Color Your Stress Away by James Alexander

Last year our list proudly hopped on the adult coloring book bandwagon. We featured one for its de-stressing benefits and creativity building. Now along comes Alexander’s colorful way to rant in private. How fun is it to color in certain words? We suggest you give it a try. By the way, we loved being introduced to new words and being reaquainted with others. There are over 50 to color including CockBag and Twat Waddle…all for $4.99 on Amazon!

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

“Writing about yourself is a funny business…But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise, to show the reader his mind. In these pages, I’ve tried to do this.” And the author does just that. He shares lessons on creativity, storytelling, super-pleasing the customer (The Boss is notorious for giving 4 hour concerts), being curious, and persevering through personal and professional challenges. He is very forthcoming even sharing his struggle with depression. Even those at the top of their field experience self-doubt. Springsteen normalizes a driven life.

TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking 1st Edition by Chris Anderson

Love them or hate them the TED Talks format has lessons for public speaking and communicating in business. Jean de la Bruyere said it best…“There are certain things in which mediocrity is not to be endured, such as poetry, music, painting, public speaking.” Even the most seasoned speakers need to be refreshed. The big takeaway from Anderson’s book is there is not such thing as over-preparing.

The One With All the Writing Advice by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant

A recent report suggests bad business writing costs US businesses nearly $400 billion a year. Couple that incredible statistic with the fact that every business is expected to be a storyteller and to develop unique content then we all have to get better at writing. The book examines the television show Friends by dissecting plot, characters and pace. You will learn there is much more behind a sitcom than first thought. Who knew Ross, Rachel, Joey and the gang would help your business.

How To Have A Good Day by Caroline Webb

Caroline Webb is the CEO of consulting firm Sevenshift and a senior adviser to McKinsey, where she was formerly a partner. This book collects up best practices from her 16 years of consulting. The title may sound like a self-help book but it is packed with field-tested career advice and tons of neuroscience. Webb applies three big scientific ideas to show how to set better priorities, make time go further, ace every interaction, be our smartest selves, be resilient to setbacks, and boost our energy and enjoyment. Hmm, maybe it is a self-help book after all.

If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? by Raj Raghunathan

Guess what? Smart people do not always make the best choices. Raghunathan, a professor at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, argues that the traits and behaviors that provide professional success can sabotage real chances at happiness. Smart people like to control everything in their lives, which can make them more ambitious but this can make them unhappy, because they’re constantly disappointed when things don’t go exactly as planned. Raghunathan provides mindset shifters to get you to a happier place.

A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st-Century Winery by Kathryn Hall and Craig Hall

Isn’t it everyone’s dream to semi-retire and operate a winery. Well good luck with that. If you want to make a million in the wine business then start with ten million. This is a different vino story. The Halls were never in the business for the fun of it. They strove for excellence and made it. Since the couple’s purchase of their debut winery, their critically acclaimed HALL Wines and WALT Wines have become fixtures of the California wine industry, winning numerous accolades including a coveted 100-point “perfect score.” This was no overnight success. It is a story that takes places over twenty years.

Interior Design Master Class: 100 Lessons from America’s Finest Designers on the Art of Decoration by Carl Dellatore

At Swystun Communications we often tell clients that running a business is like staging a play. So many elements go into the mix. Getting it right is no easy task. We close out the 2016 Top-Drawer list with this incredible book on interior design. So much goes into a room. There are practical considerations, unique touches, different styles, and incredible attention to detail. Suffice it to say there are oodles of business lessons in these pages and you may get ideas for your office design too.

Now here are 8 classic business novels that are must-reads:

The Embezzler by Louis Auchincloss

We are doomed to repeat history time and again. This novel of financial shenanigans was written in 1966 but seems ripped from recent headlines. Unfortunately, response to such scandals never solves corporate greed and selfishness so the story has become all too familiar but is still entertaining in the telling.

The Moneychangers by Arthur Hailey

Businesses today love to talk of collaboration but few highlight the chafe and rub of internal politics. Sparring between employees can get quite bloody. Hailey’s portrayal of two executives competing to be CEO lays bare these base behaviors. “Watch your back” is still too common and may not get physical but the mental costs on an entire organization are always costly.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

The movie and the resulting franchise never achieved what Crichton did in the pages of the book. He asked the question, “Just because you can does not mean you should.” That is an incredible lesson for a world hell-bent on monetizing every single idea we envision or trip across.

Bartleby, The Scrivener – A Story of Wall-Street by Herman Melville

For every fulfilled and engaged employee there are ten or more simply collecting a paycheck and dreaming of something else. Apathy runs rampant in organizations where purpose is unclear and often found written only on a tarnished brass plaque. Melville nailed such organizations more than century ago.

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

When DeLillo wrote this, limos were cool. Now they have become the silly symbols of success and privilege he originally set out to skewer. This does not mean you should avoid the ride. Hop in and prepare to feel the shallowness of all you originally desired to achieve.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Yates, Cheever and Carver. Read them all or prepare to be damned to an ironic or sham career or both. This particular work will have you laughing and identifying with the silly successes of the traditional breadwinner while wincing at that of his wife’s. Then, of course, it gets worse.

Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

This novel was seen as a massive foreshadowing that now falls short of reality. Kudos goes to Coupland for taking on a creative imaging of Microsoft culture. We were doubtful, even fearful, of such organizations. Now we accept these technology kingdoms because we believe they have simplified our lives. Coupland got it right in 1995.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

This is a delightfully jaded look at advertising that is an industry that has always been delightfully jaded. Ferris lays bare the entitled characters and their vacuous responses to adversity. It is a novel that begs a theatrical stage version (when are the auditions?!).

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