6 Non-Business Books for Business Leaders

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Leaders are readers and the best leaders read widely and deeply. They know that leadership is a human endeavor and that understanding the world around us makes us more effective. They also know that the very best ideas usually come from outside the world they’re familiar with. Here’s a list of six books I think will broaden your perspectives, deepen your understanding, and stimulate your thinking.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

The subtitle to this book says it all. This is a Natural History of innovation by one of the very best science writers, Steven Johnson. You’ll learn about many concepts that you can apply every day including the adjacent possible, liquid networks, the slow hunch, and exaptation.

Finding North: How Navigation Makes Us Human by George Michelsen Foy

My friend Suzi McAlpine recommended this book to me. The book is about how GPS and other technological advances are nibbling at the edges of what makes us human. The insights are wrapped in the story of the author’s attempt to recreate the final voyage of his great-grandfather using only period instruments.

How the World Really Works: The Science Behind How We Got Here and Where We’re Going by Vaclav Smil

Vaclav Smil is one of Bill Gates’s favorite authors and I picked up this book based on his recommendation. Smil describes himself as “a scientist trying to explain how the world really works” so that we can understand our opportunities and limitations. If business is your game, you’ll gravitate to the chapters on globalization and on risk, but this book is riddled with insights. Be warned, though, Smil’s style is dense and this will be a slow, but very rewarding, read.

The Hidden Habits of Genius: Beyond Talent, IQ, and Grit? Unlocking the Secrets of Greatness by Craig Wright

Craig Wright teaches a course at Yale on “Exploring the Nature of Genius.” He defines genius this way. “A genius is a person of extraordinary mental powers whose original works or insights change society in some significant way for good or for ill across cultures and across time.” Teaching the course and writing this book gave him unexpected insights. Reading this book gave me unexpected insights, too. I think it will do the same for you.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

I knew very little about Genghis Khan. That’s why I picked up this book. I discovered that what I did know was at least up for debate, if not flat-out wrong. I also discovered that there was a ginormous amount that I never suspected was worth learning from Genghis and the way he ruled as well as from the aftermath of his death. Read this for the history, but also for the lessons about succession and palace intrigue that are still valid today. Pay attention to the importance of culture and effective leadership.

Nimitz at War: Command Leadership from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay by Craig Symonds

This book is not a biography of Chester Nimitz, it is a chronicle of command. If you’re a business person, the best reason to read the book comes from the final chapter.

“Nimitz demonstrated that humility, careful listening, calm assessment, patience, and the ability to recognize when to accept calculated risk, brought military success as well as the admiration of those who executed his orders. Nimitz’s greatness lay less in his ability to do great things than in his facility to convince others that they could do great things.”

Read and enjoy these books. One question remains. What great non-business books have you read recently?

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