The habit of reading books is like a workout for the mind. Researchers have found that it engages all the major areas of the brain and builds proficiency in language, the ability to pay attention, cognition and creativity. Not only that, when you read non-fiction penned by smart people who’ve learned important lessons you can accelerate your own path to wisdom and success. Here are the titles more than a dozen highly successful individuals recommend.

1. A Simple Plan by Scott Smith

“This is the one book I always recommend, and have for many years. The characters in the book are perfectly normal people, the type you meet every day in your personal and business life, acting in perfectly normal ways. But then the opportunity to reap a tremendous amount of money by just breaking a few laws that will hurt nobody appears, and the novel becomes a darker tome on human nature as everything spirals out of control. What will otherwise law-abiding honest people actually do to get very, very rich? The point of Smith’s book is you may think you know the answer--but perhaps you don’t.”

--Steven Schragis, founder of One Day University, and former national director of the Learning Annex, founder, CEO and publisher of the Carol Publishing Group, cofounder and publishing director of Spy Magazine

2. The Darkside of the Lightchasers by Debbie Ford

“The book is based around the premise of us as individuals diving into ourselves to face and listen to our shadows, meaning those different aspects of ourselves that make us uncomfortable and in turn are aspects in other people that make us uncomfortable. It was life-changing for me personally. Through facing and exploring our shadows, we not only open up understanding about our own lives, we open up understanding of the people and world that surrounds us. In the book she says, ‘When we come face-to-face with our dark side our first instinct is to turn away, and our second is to bargain with it to leave us alone. Ironically, it’s these hidden aspects we’ve rejected that need the most attention.’ I first read this book when going through my recovery from anorexia nervosa, but have recently reread it due to everything going on in our nation today. I feel everyone in the U.S. should read this book together at this time to work on ourselves, each other and our communities.”

--Ryan K. Sallans, who has provided hundreds of keynotes, presentations and training to corporations, health care institutions, federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and colleges and universities nationwide and author of “Transforming Manhood: A Trans Man’s Quest to Build Bridges and Knock Down Walls” and “Second Son: Transitioning Toward My Destiny, Love and Life”

3. Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs by Ken Kocienda

"This book gives a fascinating peek into the work behind creating the device that has gone on to define the 2010s. It was an extremely important read for me as a startup founder to see how one of the world's most innovative companies sets goals and delivers a great user experience when there is no preset benchmark. For example, how did they describe or know what a ‘good enough’ keyboardless keyboard experience was when they didn’t have anything that predates it to compare it to? I found this to be a thought-provoking read."

--Keith Ryu, cofounder and CEO of Fountain, an employee hiring and contractor vetting platform that is backed by over $11 million in venture capital and used by companies including Uber, Safeway, Deliveroo and Grubhub

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

“In this parable of a VC-backed Silicon Valley tech company, [the author] lays out a model for diagnosing and combating organizational dysfunction. The storytelling style employed allows the reader to draw strong parallels to real life career moments and apply the concepts to one’s day-to-day. I found the material instrumental in how I think about my executive team and how we imprint the organization as a whole with a strong operating philosophy.”

--Ryan Disraeli, cofounder of TeleSign, a global software company that protects online websites and users through various mobile identity services which has raised $78 million in funding, has annual revenues of more than $100 million and employs hundreds of people

5. The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Kaley Klemp and Diana Chapman

“When I stepped into the Executive Chairman role at Terminus, I really challenged myself to model conscious leadership, as presented in this book. Conscious leaders are present and intentional, emotionally intelligent, and genuinely open to alternative interpretations of challenges; they take personal accountability for company outcomes and embrace each challenge as a learning opportunity. In contrast, unconscious leaders lack personal accountability, cling to old models or past experiences, and see themselves as victims of their circumstances. These 15 commitments have inspired our team to think openly and creatively as we continue to grow rapidly, and have really helped me to set a tone of flexibility, agility, and curiosity throughout our organization.”

--Tim Kopp, executive chairman and CEO of Terminus, a marketing platform which ranks No. 61 on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.

6. Good to Great by Jim Collins

"The 'Flywheel Effect' concept within [this book] was one of the biggest influences while starting my company. Collins asks the reader to picture a 5,000-pound, 30-foot wide wheel. The task is to roll the flywheel on its axle as fast and for as long as possible. It takes a lot of effort to roll the wheel even an inch. But as you push, the wheel continues to move, until it has built enough momentum to complete a full rotation. The lesson is this: a good-to-great transformation doesn't happen overnight, or with a single action. For Kissflow, gaining our first 100 customers was like a team moving the flywheel one inch at a time. You have to keep pushing it in an incremental effort to move the wheel faster."

--Suresh Sambandam, founder and CEO of Kissflow, digital workplace software that more than 10,000 customers across 121 countries use to manage and automate work

7. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

“This book answered a lot of questions about my thoughts, the past and my worries about the future. I found it to be quite enlightening and spiritual at the same time with many aha moments. Being a self-critiquing, type A personality type who drives myself to be the best at what it is I do, this book explains why the past is the past and the future is the future and there is nothing I can do about either other than take a new perspective on what my thoughts and worries really mean. This book really drives home the fact that worrying about the future or agonizing over the past is just wasted time and causes distraction from what you can achieve now.”

--Dax Cornelius, partner and CEO of Bastion Collective, a marketing solutions company with more than 260 employees 

8. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh

“When working with employees and customers, it’s important to have patience and an open mind because you work with a wide range of personalities, backgrounds and traditions. [The author’s] experience and take on the world has really helped me see the world differently. I immediately became aware of how little I understand about the people and the world around me. As a result, I have more compassion for myself and others and I am less quick to judge and jump to conclusions. These traits have helped me professionally when communicating with partners and growing [my company] globally with customers all around the world.“

--Jason Tan, cofounder and CEO of Sift, a San Francisco-based technology company that fights online fraud with machine learning which is used by more than 34,000 sites and apps

9. Outsizing by Steve Coughran

“Strategy is always easy to talk about but can be much more difficult to execute in practice. [This book] offers a great perspective on how to drive strategic thinking, strategic planning, and most importantly strategic actions across all areas of a business, from startups to established organizations… [It’s] a great playbook for any growth-focused team in an evolving industry.”

--Clayton Bain, cofounder and CEO of Salucro, a worldwide healthcare payment technology and fintech company serving over 500 organizations

10. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

“No book makes imagining the future more fun, alarming, delightful, and wonderful all at the same time. This collection of short stories is really a collection of thought experiments played out in narrative form: ‘What would happen, if in the near future…’ Not only is this sci-fi at its best, but it inspires us to give thought to where we are headed as a civilization, giving us permission to both imagine what is next and be proactive in designing new products, spaces and experiences. In addition to being a go-to, Chiang’s eponymous short story inspired the film ‘Arrival’ which is also one of my favorites in the genre.”

--Noah Waxman, founder and head of strategy for Cactus, a design innovation firm that has worked with Nike, Mount Sinai Hospital, Facebook and others

11. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

“My journey into a healthy lifestyle came from the 80s aerobics movement. When studying to become a certified instructor, I became grounded in how proper exercise and eating fueled a healthy body and lifestyle. I would say mindfulness was a different story. I began to learn mindfulness from reading and studying the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi in grad school for their non-violent approach to social change that was deeply grounded in Buddhist teachings. The Tao of Pooh was the book that opened up a gateway to other writings about mindfulness, and I return to it as a reminder to stay present, happy and calm.”

--Randy Fiser, CEO of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) which has 25,000 members

12. Lone Soldier by Alex Gordon

"This soon-to-be published book by Alex Gordon, details the experience of a 'lone soldier,' which is a term given men and women from all over the world who voluntarily choose to join the Israeli army. For me, Alex's story exemplifies selflessness and how the act of giving can actually be receiving. After experiencing the profound loss of his mother when he was a teenager, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery, first to darkness and then on to find that serving others can bring purpose and fulfillment. His journey as a troubled teen from the streets of Manhattan to the role of an elite Israeli paratrooper in the mountains of Lebanon is an inspiring celebration of love for family, heritage and self-worth. [This book] reminds me that even through the day-to-day hustle of the world it's important to give back to not only our loved ones but also to humankind, as with servitude comes great self-joy.”

--Leena Jain, global chief marketing officer of Humanscale, a privately-held workplace furnishings company with $500 million in revenue and more than 1,200 employees in 50 offices around the world

13. Legacy by James Kerr

“The book is about how the most successful sports team in the world, the All Blacks, can teach us how to be better business leaders. The book gave an insight on tactics and psychology that could be used in a business environment to improve performance. A typical takeaway from the book, for example, is about embracing expectation, rather than being intimidated by it. By embracing expectation, you learn to thrive under the challenge, to aim higher, and to avoid crumbling under pressure and delivering a mediocre outcome. Business is a game just like Rugby, and it is all about winning and beating your competition.”

--Derek Paton, VP of international sales at Zinwave, an in-building wireless telecom equipment manufacturer with more than 600 installations in 26 countries

14. Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More and Live Bolder by Reshma Saujani

“I recently read this book after watching Reshma Saujani’s TED Talk. It has inspired me to change how I approach various daily interactions in my life, from tough contract negotiations to family conversations. It’s a great reminder that ‘perfect is boring’ and that in order to grow, you must take risks and learn from your failures. I get a little less perfect and a little braver every day.”

--Ingrid Kelly, strategic alliances at HP and chairperson of the steering committee at Mopria Alliance, a non-profit organization formed to provide standards and solutions that enable print and scan to be universally compatible and consistently easy for users

15. The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

“On the surface it’s a field study on falcons, but almost immediately the author immerses you in the lives and environment of his subject matter. You feel every little detail and appreciate the smallest nuance. I read it as a reminder that everyone I interact with -- customers, family members, people I pass on the street -- are all the leading characters in their own books, with stories that are full of detail, nuance, happiness, tragedy, complexity and everything else, and certainly worth taking the time to appreciate.”

--Ben Vaught, CEO of DemandStar, an online network which connects hundreds of local and state government procurement offices with hundreds of thousands of local and national suppliers

16. Pitch Anything by Orin Klaff

“This is an exceptionally daring look at owning the frame in any meeting. What I love about this book, is that Orin teaches and prepares the person walking into the room with the exact behavior that will get a yes every time. And what he has tested and proven over and over is that when you learn how to pitch anything, the CEOs, Netflix executives and bosses end up pitching you, because the delivery of what you have to offer becomes irresistible.”

--Tricia Brouk, internationally award-winning director, film maker, executive producer of Speakers Who Dare, curator of the Speaker Salon, founder of The Big Talk Academy, and former producer of TEDxLincolnSquare
 

Published on: Oct 14, 2019
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