Skip to main content

Top 10 Business Books of 2019

The holidays are upon us. A much-needed break to kick back, enjoy some downtime and catch up with some reading. 2019 has been a great year for business books so, if you fancy updating your knowledge and learning from the experts, here are my recommendations for your reading list:

1 Business for Punks: Break All the Rules – the BrewDog Way by James Watt

James Watt’s autobiography is a fantastic read.  In it, he outlines how he set about founding the craft brewing giant Brewdog with crowdfunding from Crowd Cube.  He dared to be different with incredible results. A great insight into how Brewdog overtook the competition to achieve global reach. 

2. The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

I’m fascinated by the different factors behind employee engagement. One of 2019’s recurring themes has been that day-to-day employee engagement lives and dies at team level. It’s a function of teams and not companies. 

The Best Team Wins is the outcome of a study of over 850,000 employee engagement surveys to develop their ‘Five Disciplines of Team Leaders’.  Themes include: recognising and motivating individuals, healthy discord, sparking innovation, unifying customer focus and building bridges across functions, cultures and distance. A huge eighty-five per cent of employee engagement can be down to the team leader or the manager, so here is a how-to guide for solving this issue.

3. Happiness by Design by Paul Dolan

Paul is a Professor of Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics, and I often reference his findings when I’m speaking publicly. He’s done a brilliant job of defining the fundamentals that drive happiness: Pleasure, Purpose, Attention, Environment, Avoiding Distractions, Relationships and Giving. It’s as if he’s been able to decode happiness. 

When I look back at my time as MD of Rackspace and Peer 1, I can see how many of the initiatives we had in place chimed with Professor Dolan’s research. This book provides a blueprint for building a great place to work.

4. The Joy of Work by Bruce Daisley

I love Bruce Daisley’s approach. He’s been hosting one of my all-time favourite podcasts Eat Sleep Work Repeat for a few years now. I always recommend Joy of Work to clients, particularly those creating a culture committee for the first time. 

The book is packed with easy-to-implement ideas to ‘make work suck less’. ‘Monk Mornings’ (turning off your emails and doing some real quality work as a result) and ‘Hack Weeks’ (employees coming together off their own back to improve a product or service) are just two fab examples. But there are 28 other great ideas all designed to answer the question: “How do you get employees to come up with an idea and drive through to a solution that consumers can use in the shortest possible time frame – without management saying ‘no’?”

5. The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done by Steven Denning

This book does a great job of looking at agile management and its power for potential transformation.  It highlights how businesses can be more nimble, adapting quickly and effectively for growth. Companies don’t have to be born agile. It’s about mindset and driving prioritisation through constraints and meaningful metrics.

6. 12: The Elements of Great Managing by James K. Harter and Rodd Wagner

This is the companion textbook that goes alongside Gallup Q12 Methodology. After a decade of work, there are more than one million employee and manager interviews identifying the twelve elements that make up the Q12.  In the book, the authors explain exactly how Gallup’s Q12 can harness employee engagement.

7. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell

This is the long-awaited biography of legendary coach and business executive Bill Campbell. “Trillion Dollars” relates to the accumulated market cap of the companies he worked for and the legacy he left behind. If you don’t have a coach – read this book. If you do – still read this book.  If you ARE a coach… this book should be your bible!

8. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth by Amy Edmondson

Fear kills creativity. So you need psychological safety in your workplace. This is one of my mantras that I repeat over and over again to my clients. 

If what you’re missing is innovation, maybe you have fear. Lack of trust will ruin a company’s ability to innovate. Staff find it difficult to be creative in an organisation where people are suspicious or negative. Fight or flight kicks in, cortisol rises and innovation goes through the floor. They’ve even proved this with lab rats who, at the slightest whiff of a cat, are unable to problem-solve their way out of a maze.  Read this book.  You won’t regret it!

9. Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Ashley Goodall and Marcus Buckingham

Marcus Buckingham’s books have been hugely influential in my life.  First Break All The Rules’ introduced me to tools like the Gallup Q12 and StrengthsFinder, setting me off on a strengths-based path ever since.  

Buckingham wrote this book jointly with Ashley Goodall, Senior Vice President of Leadership and Team Intelligence at Cisco.  As a result, it contains a great combination of Buckingham’s research and Goodall’s practical experience of the concepts. It’s deliberately confrontational, challenging some of the ‘well-known truths’ that are widely held in the corporate world. 

10. Play Bigger by Al Ramadan, Dave Peterson, Kevin Maney, Christopher Lochhead

If you can create a category, and own it, 85% of the revenue will come to you. The authors of this book use examples of Amazon, Salesforce, Uber and Ikea to demonstrate this idea. 

I often think of this when I’m working on strategy with clients. Particularly when we’re defining core customer and customer archetypes. How can you create a category? And, more importantly, how do you define what you do in such a way that you can be number one in your category? Manufacture your category in a way that brings in competitors (otherwise you haven’t got a category), and set them up to lose.

    Want to scale up? Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter and join a community of more than 6,000 ambitious leaders.

    Sign up today and get your copy of F**K PLAN B: How to scale your technology business faster and achieve Plan A, by Dominic Monkhouse.