From the battle to be king of meatless meat to entrepreneurs’ skirmishes with Amazon and Facebook, expect plenty of dramatic tales in the new year.
If your New Year’s resolutions include “leadership–get better at it,” publishers in 2020 have some refreshingly non-theoretical offerings: one about word choice and one that’s a kind of lead-as-you-go field manual. Big names tackle big subjects (see Michael Porter on politics and Sylvia Ann Hewlett on #MeToo). And in a couple of juicy insider accounts, scrappy entrepreneurs take down enemies (Square beats Amazon) or are taken down by friends (Instagram’s founders exit Facebook, stage left).
#MeToo in the Corporate World: Power, Privilege, and the Path Forward, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett
For decades Hewlett, an economist, has illuminated the practices and power structures obstructing women in the workplace. In #MeToo in the Corporate World she tackles the limitations and unintended consequences of the #MeToo movement, including male skittishness about mentoring or sponsoring junior women. That over-cautiousness, in turn, narrows the pipeline to the C-suite, where we need diversity to end this crap once and for all.
Sizing People Up: A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction, by Robin Dreeke and Cameron Stauth
The same tactics used to detect spies and criminals can be applied to the business world. Whom should I trust? Is this guy going to deliver? What did that comment in the meeting really mean? Is she seriously going to buy or is she stringing me along? Hiring and sales should benefit. Sizing People Up co-author Dreeke is a former head of the FBI’s counterintelligence behavioral analysis program.
The Future Is Faster Than You Think: How Converging Technologies Are Transforming Business, Industries, and Our Lives, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler
A gazillion books ponder the social and economic effects of disruptors like AI, virtual reality, 3-D printing, blockchain, robotics, and digital biology. What’s intriguing about The Future Is Faster Than You Think is the speculation from Diamondis (executive chairman of Singularity University) and Kotler (a science journalist) about what happens when all that stuff starts coming together. The implication for extending lifetimes is especially intriguing.
Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual, by Jocko Willink
A field manual is perfect for new leaders, who have less time than anyone to wade through great big books on leadership. The military uses field manuals to provide simple, step-by-step instructions for coping with myriad unfamiliar situations. Willink, a onetime Navy Seal commander, takes that approach in Leadership Strategy and Tactics with subjects like dealing with imposter syndrome, doling out punishment, and giving feedback.
Competing in the Age of AI: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World, by Marco Iansiti and Karim Lakhani
Just as the internet required a fundamental reinvention of business models, artificial intelligence challenges leaders to rethink everything about their organizations. AI processes are more scalable than human-powered ones; the technology creates more scope because it easily connects to other digital businesses; and it greatly amplifies learning and improvement. In Competing in the Age of AI, two Harvard Business School professors explain how to take advantage.
Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say and What You Don’t, by L. David Marquet
Language is, arguably, the biggest leadership subject of all. Readers can apply lessons from Marquet, a nuclear-submarine-commander-turned-consultant, simply, immediately and every day. As Leadership Is Language demonstrates, Understanding distinctions between good and bad word choice and phrasing can improve the relationship between you and your team. For example: try delivering information (“I’ll start again at 11 a.m.”) instead of instruction (“Be back by 11 a.m.). See? Simple.
Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments, by Stefan Thomke
Thirty years ago Peter Senge encouraged companies to become learning organizations. Now in Experimentation Works, a Harvard Business School professor gets more concrete, lauding the power of “experimentation organizations” in which everyone–not just R&D–constantly tests everything from new processes to new business models with scientific rigor. Thomke lays out best practices for creating a strong hypothesis, setting up control groups, and interpreting results. Can you tell a true positive or negative from a false one? Do you ever compare current practices to themselves? If not, you may be blowing it.
Competition Overdose: How Free Market Mythology Transformed Us from Citizen Kings to Market Servants, by Maurice Stucke and Ariel Ezrachi
Conventional wisdom says competition is good. Fair enough. But more isn’t always better. In fact, the proliferation of rivals sometimes hurts consumers, who pay less but also get less–unhealthy food, toxic drinking water, hidden fees, failing schools, and an internet stalked by advertisers. The authors, both professors of business law, explain in Competition Overdose how lobbyists, lawmakers, and business leaders conspire to push noxious competition and advocate for something nobler.
The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time, by Jim McKelvey
As co-founder of the small-merchant payment company Square, McKelvey spent the early days of his venture not getting killed by Amazon. Square was so good at not getting killed that it actually took out Amazon’s rival service less than a year after its introduction. The company pulled that off using a strategy McKelvey calls the “innovation stack.” Other successful startups have used it too, and the author explains how it works.
The Myth of Chinese Capitalism: The Worker, the Factory, and the Future of the World, by Dexter Roberts
China’s manufacturing prowess is either threat or opportunity, depending where you live on the supply chain. But will it ultimately hoist that country to world domination? Maybe not, suggests business journalist Roberts. The Myth of Chinese Capitalism is a tale of two cities–impoverished Binghuacun, from which hordes of migrants depart; and industrial Guangdong, where hordes of migrants arrive. The struggles of families there predict rising social tension that endanger the giant’s future.
No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, by Sarah Frier
Journalist Frier landed interviews with Instagram’s founders, executives, and competitors to chronicle the company’s meteoric growth as it hooked the world on visual storytelling, followed by its sale to and rocky relationship with Facebook. No Filter‘s publisher promises previously unreported dramatic details of Kevin Systrom’s and Mike Krieger’s departures from the company they spawned. Also: Marquee users like Anna Wintour and Kris Jenner discuss how they craft their personal brands.
Reprogramming the American Dream: From Rural America to Silicon Valley–Making AI Serve Us All, by Kevin Scott with Greg Shaw
Books on AI are proliferating so fast you’d think computers were churning them out. But Reprogramming the American Dream author Scott should have an interesting perspective. First, because he is CTO of Microsoft. Second, because he grew up in rural Virginia and understands how white-collar disruptions affect back-roads populations. Scott advocates international policy collaboration similar to that focused on climate change, space exploration, and public health.
Always Day One: How the Tech Titans Plan to Stay on Top Forever, by Alex Kantrowitz
The title, of course, refers to Jeff Bezos’s dictum that Amazon employees approach each day like the first day of a startup. Kantrowitz, a BuzzFeed journalist, discusses Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and other leaders of the colossi that–for good and ill–dominate our lives and economy. In Always Day One he explains how such companies maintain a constant state of urgency and reinvention to avoid stasis and irrelevancy. And he suggests how startups might try to change that.
The Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy, by Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter
Remember when it was fashionable to argue that government should be run like a business? Even if government isn’t a company, politics is an industry, and a singularly destructive one with its own skewed forms of competition. In The Politics Industry, HBS professor Porter–creator of the seminal “Five Forces” strategy–joins activist Gehl to explain what happens when competing parties control the rules of competition and how citizens can help fix the system.
Billion Dollar Burger: Inside Big Tech’s Race for the Future of Food, by Chase Purdy
As meatless meat colonizes even the shores of fast food, Purdy, a writer for Quartz, reports on the potentially planet-changing disruption that may stave off hunger, endanger farm economies, and make some folks very rich. Billion Dollar Burger‘s center is Josh Tetrick, CEO of a Silicon Valley company developing meat from cell cultures. Tetrick, who is beset by hungry competitors, is a fascinating guy who previously took on Big Condiments with vegan mayonnaise.
Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them, by Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini
Hooray that business authors now talk less about managing workforces and more about managing individuals. In Humanocracy, London Business School professor Hamel and McKinsey alum Zanini lay out the costs of dehumanizing workers in the interest of control and explain how to achieve the benefits of coordination and consistency while letting employees be themselves.
Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that author Alex Kantrowitz interviewed Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai for his book Always Day One.
Feature Image Credit: Covers courtesy publishers