Innovation is the buzzword ad nauseam. It’s what today’s acclaimed entrepreneurs and bosses are all about, but what fuels them? They are all voracious readers.
Bill Gates is said to read some 50 books a year. Mark Zuckerberg aims to read 24 books every year, while Warren Buffett dedicates more than half a day to reading. If you’re plotting your game-changing moves for 2018, check out these 10 titles–a mix of classic and current–straight from the VIPs’ lists.
Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon
The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Clayton M. Christensen, 1997)
This is a fascinating study on how the ability to innovate is born from organizational cultures. In
The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen explains how more established organizations can still stumble despite good management and a steady clientele. He also gives concrete examples on successful companies moving forward in the midst of mass markets.
It’s no wonder that this work figures among the Amazon editors’ 100 Leadership & Success Books to Read in a Lifetime. Harvard professor Christensen’s thoughts on embracing innovation remain fresh and relevant to this day.
In his book about Amazon, The Everything Store, Brad Stone cited The Innovator’s Dilemma, as “an enormously influential business book whose principles Amazon acted on, and that facilitated the creation of Kindle and AWS [Amazon Web Services].”
Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (Simon Sinek, 2011)
Branson, the maverick entrepreneur looks to leadership guru Sinek as a source of inspiration. Acting more like a handbook for CEOs, Start with Why gives brands practical tips on how to put themselves above the rest, attract the right people, and find greater client loyalty. Talking about a company’s driving purpose–i.e., why they do what they do–gives better insights than talking about a company’s product. “This book is not designed to tell you what to do or how to do it. Its goal is not to give you a course of action. Its goal is to offer you the cause of action,” writes Sinek.
Travels with Charley in Search of America (John Steinbeck, 1960)
Reading about someone’s tour of the US with a French poodle isn’t that edifying, unless it’s John Steinbeck and his dog taking the trip. Although he begins the trip just to get to know the country, Steinbeck ends up renewing his faith in humanity because of the different people he encounters along the way. This is why Branson considers Travels with Charley his manual for living. “It opens your eyes to the small pleasures of life, and the great wonders of humanity in the little moments that matter,” Branson writes in Business Insider.
Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway
Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street (John Brooks, 2014)
Although its focus is on world events in the 1960s, Business Adventures still manages to impart valuable insights into modern business practices. Brooks’ timeless analysis of Wall Street events is what hooked a couple of famous fans. Best pals Warren Buffett and Bill Gates share business and philanthropic pursuits, and their best reads as well. Buffett even gave Gates this book, calling it one of his favorites. Gates later told The Wall Street Journal, “More than two decades after Warren [Buffett] lent it to me—and more than four decades after it was first published— Business Adventures remains the best business book I’ve ever read…Brooks’s deeper insights about business are just as relevant today as they were back then.”
Bill Gates, Co-founder, Microsoft Corporation
Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2012 (Carol Loomis, 2013)
A collection of cover stories on Warren Buffet, plus other pieces written by Buffet himself, Tap Dancing to Work gives readers a peek into how one of the world’s wealthiest men lives his life–from running his businesses to parenting. His unique perspective acts as a useful guide for the book’s readers, including Bill Gates. For Gates, reading Buffett leaves you with two important life lessons: be consistent with your vision and investment principles, and never stop studying how businesses and markets work.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike (Phil Knight, 2016)
This is another work that Gates considers a game-changer. Knight paints an honest picture of his life and career, from his ambitious first steps in Stanford to the mistakes that cost him. Knight’s autobiography is a compelling reminder that the journey to success is a bumpy ride. But, as he writes, “If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”
Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (Adam Grant, 2017)
The New York Time’s bestseller is best described as a dinner conversation with Grant on how to spot and champion innovation. Sandberg not only considers this book a source of inspiration for innovation, but also as a warning against mediocrity as Grant challenges the myths and conventional views on creativity. In her foreword to the book, Sandberg writes, “In these pages, I learned that great creators don’t necessarily have the deepest expertise but rather seek out the broadest perspectives…. It will not only change the way you see the world; it might just change the way you live your life.”
Elon Musk, Co-founder, CEO and Product Architect, Tesla
The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien, 1937-1949)
You would think that CEOs have no time to read voluminous novels like Tolkien’s much-celebrated trilogy about Middle Earth. But apparently, Elon Musk does, and with good reason. Basically a saga about good versus evil, Musk as a kid identified with the underdog story line: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Galadriel’s words sank into the consciousness of that young and nerdy boy, who took to fantasy and science fiction as a way of coping with a lonely childhood. Stories of heroes called to save the world led him to dream big. Just look at how far he’s gone.
Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Facebook
“I love reading first-hand accounts about how people build great companies … and nurture innovation and creativity,” says Zuckerberg. Here are two of his favorites.
Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Ed Catmull, 2017)
The story of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios as told by their president and co-founder is entertaining as it is inspiring. This is a case study for creative leadership–how one maintains a collaborative environment while still effectively leading the company.
The Idea Factory and the Great Age of American Innovation (Jon Gertner, 2013)
The history of Bell Labs, founded by Alexander Graham Bell in the 1920s, offers a wealth of insight to the challenges and solutions to technological innovation, as seen through the life and work of the team tasked with establishing a transcontinental phone line to connect New York and San Francisco.
Reading is indeed the smart executive’s gateway to innovation and empowerment. Immersing yourself in new, even unfamiliar, worlds and to eye-opening accounts could profoundly change the way you see life.
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