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23 Inspiring Books Everyone Who Wants to Succeed Should Read

Reading is a powerful daily habit which can mean the difference between success and mediocrity.

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BY Christina DesMarais - 21 Oct 2018

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Reading is a powerful daily habit which can mean the difference between success and mediocrity. It's a discipline which helps winning individuals push harder, farther and faster than the people around them. Not only does reading bring enlightenment through exposure to the opinions, learnings and stories of others, it's also exercise for the mind. If you read daily--or want to--here are two dozen ideas on which titles to get your hands on next.

1. Straight from the Gut by Jack Welch

"A key quote from this book that has stuck with me throughout my career is: 'I've learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.' As I've encountered challenges throughout my career, I've learned to think of them as lessons, taking into consideration what went wrong and how I can improve as I continue to grow as a professional. Some of my own personal and professional growth, as well as that of our company, has come as a result of mistakes and losses. Once the pain has subsided, real creativity, fight, improvement and growth has resulted."

--Kurt Heikkinen, president and CEO of Montage, a recruiting technology provider used by 100 of the Fortune 500 companies

2. Leading at a Higher Level by Ken Blanchard

"This book focuses on authentic, servant-oriented managerial leadership. Ken Blanchard presented these concepts to my leadership team at Microsoft and it transformed how we planned, operated and encouraged staff to build skills and continually improve performance. It provides a strong set of leadership principles and managerial methods to create truly high-performing organizations. Every leader can benefit from reading this one."

--Dustin Grosse, chief marketing and strategy officer at Nintex, a provider of process management and automation with more than 8,000 customers in more than 90 countries

3. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

"Not only is this a great history lesson on the founding of the U.S., but also an example of how leaders can build a lasting legacy. Alexander Hamilton's life shows that no matter how humble your upbringing is, with curiosity, hard work and perseverance you can succeed. Hamilton survived a troubled upbringing, hurricane and war, then went on to build longstanding institutions like the Treasury, the Coast Guard, the Navy and many of today's tax policies. His life is a reminder that you can overcome any obstacle and become stronger because of it. It's also enjoyable to read and compare to the musical."

--Jeff VonDeylen, CEO of Ensono, a global hybrid IT services provider with more than 2,000 employees in six countries and a 100-percent client referral rating

4. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

"In reading the book--and periodically coming back to it--I have found it invaluable as a way of bringing to consciousness the situations in which I'm likely to fall prey to biases using the two systems of thought posed by Kahneman: System 1 being the mostly intuitive, unconscious way we navigate the world and make quick decisions; and System 2 being the more analytical mode that is slower and more focused. As I consider the daily flow of business decisions, I've been able to catch myself making irrational decisions precisely because of those biases, which has helped me course-correct. It's also allowed me to recognize similar patterns of thinking in others, and to challenge and coach people's thinking by making them aware of our common, and uncommonly stubborn, patterns of irrational thought."

--Adrian Slobin, CEO of The Nerdery, a digital business consultancy serving nearly 200 businesses across industries

5. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

"Why is a comic science fiction series my go-to recommendation for insights on how to be successful in business? Two words: 'Don't panic.' Throughout my career, from working in global technology organizations to founding multiple technology startups, there have been countless situations where panicking would've been a natural response. But when you panic, you are unable to make sound decisions. As a software entrepreneur, you learn that this ride isn't a straight line up and to the right. It's a rollercoaster. When you're riding the rollercoaster and your head is upside down... you should not panic. As a bonus, this book is an absolutely entertaining read that continues to inspire both my creativity and my curiosity."

--Doron Gordon, founder and CEO of Samanage, an award-winning, cloud-based service management platform that automates and streamlines service delivery across more than 2,000 organizations worldwide

6. The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly

"With unemployment holding steady at 3.9 percent, everyone is concerned about the war for talent. The Dream Manager is a great book for any manager fighting this war. The book explains how helping employees meet their own personal goals can dramatically increase retention in your company. After reading it, it inspired me to sit down with my own team and talk with them about their personal dreams and how we could work together to achieve them. And in the process, I learned some tips for resetting my own dreams and goals, reigniting my passion for them. The book is a quick and easy read where the core concepts are told through a fable, followed by actionable steps you can take to make dreams a part of your company's core curriculum."

--Mike Santoro, president and partner at Walker Sands Communications, a six-time honoree of the Inc. 5000 list

7. Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

"I consistently return to this book because it not only helps drive memory, but helps to distill the important aspects of a meeting or conversation so the team can focus on what is truly important and the direction is clear. 'Our memories weren't built for the modern world. Like our vision, our capacity for language, our ability to walk upright, and every other biological faculty, our memories evolved through a process of natural selection in an environment that was quite different from the one we live in today.' In a world where we are inundated with information, emails, activities, and meetings, our memories of tasks are fighting for the last storage location in our minds. This book makes it clear that memories are derived from understanding the outcome and goal. That ability to understand what is important allows us to retain the details. Getting a first person's story of evolving their memory capabilities was extremely helpful in overcoming the doubts that this is just another Jedi mind trick. Just like a word map, make the important aspects as large and exciting as possible so you can't forget them and the details will fill in around it."

--Dan Neiweem, cofounder and principal of Avionos, which designs and implements digital commerce and marketing solutions for clients including Kellogg's, Sysco, and Ulta Beauty, and was ranked on Crain's 2018 Best Places to Work

8. Managing Up: How to Forge an Effective Relationship with Those Above You by Rosanne Badowski and Roger Gittines

"[This book] gives a very real and relatable interpretation on what it means to facilitate success for those above you, and in turn, secure your own professional success. While other business books will teach you how to move up to escape the grind, [this one] teaches you how to embrace doing the 'grunt work' and how seemingly menial tasks are the backbone to any successful business initiative. The ability to lead those above you is a necessary skill for anyone that works in a fast-moving and collaborative environment, and [this book] really breaks down the dynamics of how to manage your boss and establish a healthy working relationship. We believe in the book so much, we've implemented an agency-wide initiative for all new team members to read it."

--Catriona Harris, CEO of Uproar PR, a full-service public relations, digital and creative agency that experienced year-over-year growth since its founding in 2012 and secured a place on the Inc. 5000 list for three consecutive years

9. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't by Jim C. Collins

"This is a great book on companies who have transitioned from being good companies to great companies, and how most fail to make the transition."

--Wilson McDowell, director/principal of Cite Partners, a commercial real estate firm located in Orlando which has closed over 700 deals in four years

10. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

"Voss's book... provides clear and actionable advice. Once applied, it can have an immediate and profound impact on your ability to drive change. The core of being a great marketer, salesperson and real estate agent is your ability to communicate the value you add to your prospects, clients and team. Communication is one of those undeveloped skills (like management and interviewing) that we just assume we're good at because nobody tells us otherwise. Voss applies his experience as a former FBI lead hostage negotiator to everyday interactions."

--Jimmy Mackin, cofounder of Curaytor, a digital marketing and sales coaching company serving more than 800 businesses, has a recurring revenue of over $12 million, and was ranked number 303 on last year's Inc. 5000 list

11. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

"Despite a tech background and previous startup experience, I was a late bloomer as a founder--age 55. [this book] was instrumental in guiding me to build a lean, flexible company that develops a deep understanding of the problem and then executes. Thiel's contrarian view of the timeworn 'first-mover advantage' theory turned my world upside down at a pivotal point in my life. That view propelled me forward even after determining I was last to market, because we had identified a massively underserved niche. Thiel asks, 'What valuable company is nobody building?' And that question made me realize that seeing competitors in a space doesn't mean opportunities don't exist."

--Shailesh "Taj" Adhav, cofounder and CEO of Leasecake, a software service that simplifies lease management for commercial real estate owners, tenants, and brokers, and 2017 winner of the Techstars Global Showcase Award

12. Body of Work by Pamela Slim

"This book is a career development book for the 21st century. In this gig economy and other financial uncertainties, it helps the reader connect to their bigger career arc. My career has been a smattering of experience, and her book helped me see how it was all connected, and how I lived my values through a somewhat non-traditional path. Her humor comes through the pages, and her insights help the reader with strategies and insights to define what success means personally to them, and how to get it."

--Stacey Oliver-Knappe, VP of human resources for Romacorp Inc., the parent company of international brand Tony Roma's which has a presence in over 25 countries

13. Narconmics by Tom Wainwright

"Not only a fascinating eye-opener on how highly effective management and 'business' growth is achieved for nefarious purposes, but a refreshing take on economics, growth, brand development and diversification that anyone can learn from and apply."

--Alon Tamir, founder and CEO of Studio Proper, a Melbourne-based product design studio which has doubled revenue over the past two years and is expanding into the U.S. market

14. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim

"[This book] provides both content and exercises that allow a reader to analyze any project or business for its true competitive advantages. It also gives useful guidance on how to create and develop new territories within any given marketplace. Reading the book really helped me think about how I positioned my brand... in the marketplace, to give us a chance to grow the market size, versus just competing for market share."

--Dolly Singh, founder of Thesis Couture, a fashion tech startup in Los Angeles which has been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and more than a dozen other media outlets

15. 10% Happier by Dan Harris

"You might not think much of a business/life book that begins with the story of the author's panic attack, but that's exactly what makes this book so powerful. Harris, an ABC anchor and correspondent, uses honesty, relatability, and humorous self-deprecation to chart his journey from that (on-air!) panic attack, through his efforts to tame that same 'monkey mind' that messes with the best of us. A self-described 'fidgety skeptic,' he combines clever storytelling and scientific data to persuade readers to at least consider giving meditation a try. Skeptical yourself? Good. Harris' style is perfect for you, and just might change your life. It did mine."

--Deirdre Maloney, author of four business and life satisfaction books, and President of Momentum LLC, an international training and business consulting company which has served hundreds of leaders around the globe

16. Work as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond

"The title says it all. This book offers a poignant yet practical approach for making 'work' a practice of self-discovery and fulfillment, with the added bonus of being an easy read. I first read this book 17 years ago when I was a [young] junior associate at a large Wall Street law firm, feeling adrift and deeply dissatisfied with my work and how I was using my talents. [This book] prompted me to unearth what truly motivated me."

--Tamara Belinfanti, professor at New York Law School; author of the forthcoming book Citizen Capitalism: How a Universal Fund Can Provide Influence and Income to All; co-founder of the Ethical Shareholder Initiative; and a 2013 Aspen Ideas Scholar

17. Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success by Ken Segall

"Whether you're giving a presentation or writing a report, this book highlights the importance of simplifying information in a way that is understandable by everyone in the room. If you have a product-related business, the design must be simple. For example, when you buy an HP or Dell laptop, they offer several dozen different models. However, if you go an Apple store, there are just three different laptops. That's it, simplicity..."

--Garo Armen, CEO of Agenus Inc., a clinical stage immune-oncology (I-O) company with 20 ongoing pre-clinical and clinical stage programs (proprietary and partnered), and on course for an I-O industry record of filling 13 Investigational New Drugs (INDs) in three years, in the first half of 2019

18. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

"In this book, Gladwell asks the question: What makes high achievers different? This book gave me inspiration to be better or strive to become the best at things I love to do. As an example, I wanted to get my black belt in Tae Kwon Do. This book focuses on what it takes to be great and one of the things it focuses on is practicing and experience. I read that it took practicing each kick in Tae Kwon Do 1000 times a day to become proficient. I started practicing my kicks 1,000 times, three days a week from the time I started as a white belt until I had my green belt testing. I practiced five kicks 1,000 times (5,000) for three days a week (15,000) for 48 weeks (720,000) at which time I was asked to teach other students because I had become proficient. This, for me, was the key to success. How we do things, how we commit to what we want, and our experiences make the difference in why we are successful."

--Donna Greene, EVP of human resources for NextGen Healthcare, a global company with more than 2,900 employees serving 155,000 healthcare organizations to improve physician-patient relations

19. Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet by Jesse Itzler

"I was fortunate enough to start a company with Jesse Itzler a few years ago, and see first-hand how he approaches business and life. Jesse is the founder of Marquis Jet, a partner in Zico Coconut Water and owner of Atlanta Hawks. His book is insanely motivating. If you want different results you have to act differently. What you think you are able to accomplish is only 40 percent of what you are truly capable of. So put yourself out there, learn as you go, don't make excuses and give it 100."

--Jeremy Parker, cofounder and CEO of Swag.com, a provider of brand merchandise and promotional products which has demonstrated 300 percent growth annually and works with Amazon, Weight Watchers, Candid Co, Waze, Facebook, Starbucks and more

20. The Making of a Great Wine: Gaja and Sori San Lorenzo by Edward Steinberg

"It's not a book just for wine geeks. It's actually a great business story of a personality and brand transforming the reputation of a category--in this case a wine region. Even though Barbaresco had a long and storied history, it was still relatively obscure until Angelo Gaja brought it to international acclaim with a single wine, Sori San Lorenzo. Steinberg highlights in captivating detail Gaja's pursuit of perfection and tireless work ethic. His insistence in questioning and forging new traditions with his vineyard practices, always with innovation in mind, resonated with me. He is a renegade, artist and a hero of mine. He continues to inspire me today."

--Rutger de Vink, founder/owner of RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Virginia, outside of metropolitan Washington, D.C., and maker of premium wines which have earned the distinction of being included on some of the highest ranking wine lists at Michelin-starred and other fine dining restaurants across New York City and D.C.

21. High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People by Elad Gil

"As someone who manages a community of transformational startups looking to achieve scale, I'm interested in books that can serve as valuable guides to the opportunities and challenges that arise along the path of entrepreneurship. Elad's unique perspective as both technology executive and investor is reflected throughout [this book]. His advice is actionable, and he tackles topics that often feel elusive or intangible for entrepreneurs such as: sourcing alternative methods of funding, evolving company culture, consistent and transparent internal communications, managing a business in an economic downtown, and how to exit a company. After reading this book, I knew our entrepreneurs at Company would want to hear more from Elad so we hosted a conversation with him as part of our monthly Authors@Company event series."

--Matt Harrigan, CEO of Company, a 1.1 million-square-foot multi-tenant tech campus in New York City that houses startups, entrepreneurs, and enterprises working towards the realization of impactful ideas, together

22. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

"For every generation across all cultures, new ideas are always resisted until they are no longer deemed new or the old guard fades away. Thus, the old ways will always succumb to the new ideas. You might as well embrace it and enjoy the ride."

--Dave Atchison, cofounder and CEO of New Engen, a cloud-based, cross-channel performance marketing technology company which has doubled its roster of customers in less than a year, and increased its managed ad spend tenfold

23. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen

"This book had a profound impact on my life and career. Based on the longest and most devoured longitudinal study from the Harvard Class of 1938, this book takes a look at what it means to live a life of balance, fulfillment and joy, and just as important, what you want to avoid. This book helped me personally find the balance I had been looking for and I recommend it to my colleagues to read."

--James G. Brooks, Jr., founder and CEO of GlassView, an independent video platform which works with 80 of the Fortune 100 and has an audience base of 1.6 billion unique users

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