Self-improvement is a big theme considering many people see the start of a new decade as an opportunity to push themselves harder. Want ideas on how to sharpen yourself? Check out this selection of inspiring books, curated by high-achieving founders and executives.
1. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
"Culture trumps everything. What I love about this book is that it gives you a peek under the hood of one of the most innovative movie studios out there. Through numerous stories about Pixar, it becomes very clear how crucial culture is in creating a company that constantly pushes the boundaries. I also love the transparency the author brings to the stories to illustrate how challenging the creative process actually is. It's so easy for us as a consumer to see the final product and just assume it's the result of a spark of brilliance, but the reality is that the process of innovation is often very messy and full of missteps and detours towards the final output."
--Matt Hornbuckle, cofounder and co-CEO of Stantt, a men's apparel company which offers men's clothing in over 99 sizes and is sold in over 400 retailers across the U.S., including Nordstrom, Rothmans, and Richards
2. The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You by Julie Zhuo
"This book is a pleasure to read because it gives future managers and leaders a glimpse of some of the factors that influence how an organization functions, such as team culture, trust, feedback, and self-development. Oftentimes as leaders of our organizations, we forget that the foundation begins with us. Julie talks in raw depth about her personal development and growth as an individual before she was comfortable assuming the role of a true manager. Without a good understanding of yourself, you will have a hard time understanding what you want in a team. From what I've gathered, her focus is on culture and finding the right people to weave seamlessly into the company fabric. I've implemented some of her strategies and suggestions into my businesses and the change in company output is immediate."
--Lewis Chen, restorative dentist and cofounder of Beam Street, a New York City dental studio which has more than quadrupled its clientele within six months of opening and has been featured in a variety of media outlets, such as Well+Good, SHAPE, and MSN
3. All about Them: Grow Your Business by Focusing on Others by Bruce Turkel
"In marketing, it's easy to get caught up in talking to your customer about the company and [the] product. However, [this] book does a great job of outlining practical insights on how successful companies can shift from being company-centric to customer-centric. From afar, the premise of this book seems simple and trivial, but the takeaways are complex and vital."
--Kevin Escalera, digital marketing director at RSP Nutrition, an all-natural active nutrition brand distributed at retailers such as Amazon, Bodybuilding.com, Whole Foods, GNC, and Vitamin Shoppe, in over 5,000 U.S. retail locations and over 80 countries
4. The Originals by Adam Grant
"This book showcases how to create and champion original, powerful thoughts and concepts through testing and experimentation. Anyone can be original, but it's calculated risk taking (rather than reckless) that is the most rewarded and successful. The challenge and opportunity with creativity is selecting the right ideas, not just having them. Building breadth and depth of experience is paramount. Having diverse interests, experiences, and hobbies enhances creativity. Also, procrastination isn't bad. Strategic procrastination lets you incubate thoughts and ultimately come up with a better solution."
--Ricky Joshi, cofounder and chief strategy officer of online luxury mattress brand Saatva, which has more than $200 million in annual revenue
5. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
"This story serves as a reminder that the path to success is littered with significant challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome. We like to celebrate successes, and for good reason, but it's easy to only see the end result and think that it was a forgone conclusion from the start. Perseverance and perspective are critical characteristics for a start-up founder's peace of mind while on the journey. Also, having been a rower as well as a history instructor in the past, I appreciate how the author interweaves the sporting narrative with the broader historical significance of the time."
--Matthew Zarracina, founder and CEO of True Tickets, a mobile ticketing start-up that has established commercial partnerships with numerous major live theater organizations
6. It Starts With You by Fred Stuvek
"[This] book is a three part success-with-integrity how-to that lays out reasons and strategies for becoming more mentally disciplined, cultivating a goal-supportive community, and developing resilience via the opportunity of failure."
--Andrea Marcellus, fitness expert, author of "The Way In: 5 Winning Strategies to Lose Weight, Get Strong and Lift Your Life" and CEO of AND/life
7. Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall
"I recently read this book and loved it because it brings together physics, organizational structure, and company culture. Loonshots are innovative ideas -- some would say crazy ideas -- and this book talks about how an organization's structure can impact and foster a culture that nurtures these ideas and drive innovation and breakthroughs. At a time when we're moving faster than ever, this book is a great reminder to take risks, challenge conventional thinking, and learn from failure as we seek to do things better and drive innovations."
--Erin Hutchinson, CMO, Americas at Merkle, a marketing agency with more than 9,200 employees, and more than 50 offices around the world
8. Rocket Fuel: The One Essential Combination That Will Get You More of What You Want from Your Business by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters
"Founders typically embrace a visionary approach, recognizing a need in the marketplace and being ambitious enough to pursue a new solution. This book talks about the essential leadership combination that will accelerate your business growth -- a 'visionary' and an 'integrator.' It was recommended to me by one of my mentors, and I recommend it to anyone looking to structure their business for rapid growth. As I have steadily grown my own business, it has continuously inspired me to analyze what I need to set my company up for success, whether it be through new hires or business goals."
--Tiffany Guarnaccia, founder and CEO of Kite Hill PR, a public relations agency that has represented dozens of clients specializing in the tech, media and advertising sectors, and founder of Communications Week, a cross-industry conference for the public relations, communications and media industries, hosted in three countries around the world
9. The Green New Deal byJeremy Rifkin
"This book addresses the economic, social, and technology impacts we have on society when it comes to the transition from fossil fuel to clean-energy. It is imperative that as we all continue to innovate and look for ways to leave our mark on the world that we understand the ramifications, and continually strive to better the world around us. This book helped spark that passion in me."
--Philippe Bottine, CEO, North America at SES-imagotag, a global retail technology provider with solutions currently in more than 1,500 U.S. stores
10. Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff
"This is one of my favorite books because it dives into the untold stories of the early days at Salesforce. The company transformed the way enterprise software is licensed, on its way to becoming the leader of the cloud computing revolution, but the path wasn't always that clear. Everyone, from founders to leaders in our communities, can learn about thinking differently, motivating a group of people with a solid mission, and the power of being bold through this book. It's these early values that Marc Benioff created that inspired Salesforce employees around the world. He, and this book, serve as an inspiration for any founder who wants to fulfill an even higher mission in the world."
--Duke Chung, cofounder and CEO of TravelBank, a business travel and expense management platform serving more than 20,000 organizations
11. The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky
"I highly recommend this book for entrepreneurs, founders and anyone looking to take their business to the next level. It covers a part of the startup journey that's not often discussed -- the tricky middle years. Belsky is chock full of insights on the unglamorous and unpredictable aspects of scaling a business and addressing difficult decisions. It's a must-read for entrepreneurs who are in the middle of their journey and need reassuring advice."
--Peter Guagenti, CMO of MemSQL, a database for operational analytics and cloud-native applications, which has 160 million streaming users and customers including 12 of the Fortune 50 and 5 of the top 10 banks
12. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
"It was my inspiration to become a professional cook in the first place, but it also reminds us of our company mission to make restaurant life easier. Oftentimes, companies can get lost in numbers and metrics, but Kitchen Confidential reminds us that we are serving real people in a tough industry. I encourage all of our employees to read it, because it enlightens everyone to put humanity before our technology."
--Wilfred Pacio, cofounder and CEO of Pared, a hospitality-focused marketplace connecting and matching restaurant operators with restaurant professionals to work together at over 4,000 businesses in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
13. Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin
"Contrary to popular beliefs, greatness is not innate. Great performers are masters of deliberate practice. Practice doesn't make perfect, but rehearsing specific skill sets with high repetition and intensity can make the difference between good and excellent. This book also carries significant meaning as it was given to me by a U.S.A. Olympian, Sayaka Matsumoto."
--Steven Khuong, cofounder and CEO of Curacubby, a mobile commerce platform that tracks over one million financial data points and has helped hundreds of private schools across the U.S. improve their operating margins by over 13% in 2019
14. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
"[The author] provides an empathetic and humanistic view of what we can and should do for those we know who are growing old and preparing for death. His book should be required reading for anyone in the health, nutrition, diet or lifestyle industries."
--David Kopp, president and CEO of Healthline Media, an online health information publisher whose sites Healthline.com, MedicalNewsToday.com and Greatist.com inform more than a quarter of a billion readers monthly
15. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
"I dove back into this book multiple times over the last couple of years as my business began to scale. We're a fast-growing company that takes pride in transparency from the top down, so it is vital for every team member to understand the why behind our vision and each decision we make. It serves as the North Star for the organization and the culture within it. Sinek provides concrete examples of how to communicate the why, how, and what of your business to your team. It has helped me understand that, in my role as CEO, I need to ensure my thought process is crystal clear for each decision before I try to communicate it to my employees, customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders. This book is a must-read for any leader searching for better ways to connect with and create buy-in across teams."
--Josh McKinney, CEO of Ekos, a business management software platform used by nearly 2,000 craft food and beverage producers