Lockdown Literature: The Best Business Books to Come Out of 2020

Remember when lockdown was first announced back in March and we all had wild visions of learning to play the piano, sorting out the house from top to bottom, or mastering at least one other language? If you managed to get any of that done, a round of applause to you, and if, like most of us, you’ve just been doing whatever you can to get through (Baileys in November, anyone?) then fair play to you too.

 

It seems, however, instead of eating their bodyweight in banana bread, some people actually did become incredibly productive, so much so that they wrote actual books on actual business. In 2020? Mindblowing. Seen as these pro-active authors have taken the time to share their thoughts on how we can have a healthier and happier relationship with business in 2021, we thought it only fair to compile a top ten for you to add to your Christmas list. 

 

1. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by B.J. Fogg

Written by the world’s leading expert on habit formation, B.J. Fogg, this tome is all about improving your life one small step at a time. When it comes to change, this book aims to reset your thought process to believe that tiny is mighty: start with two push-ups a day in place of a gruelling two-hour workout for example, or take five deep breaths each morning rather than diving headfirst into hour of meditation. Fogg brings his experience of coaching more than 40,000 people to help us lose weight, de-stress, sleep better, or achieve any goal of our choice with his unique behaviour formula: make it easy, make it fit your life, and make it rewarding.

 

2. Capital and Ideology by Thomas Pinketty

The epic successor to Capital in the Twenty-First Century, this book challenges us to change how we think about politics, ideology, and history by exposing the ideas that have sustained inequality for the past millennium and revealing why the shallow politics of right and left are failing us today. Outlining the structure of a fairer economic system, our economy, Piketty observes, is not a natural fact. Markets, profits, and capital are all historical constructs that depend on choices. The book explores the material and ideological interactions of conflicting social groups that have given us slavery, serfdom, colonialism, communism, and hyper-capitalism, shaping the lives of billions, and concludes that the great driver of human progress over the centuries has been the struggle for equality and education and not, as often argued, the assertion of property rights or the pursuit of stability. 

 

3. The Long Win: The search for a better way to succeed by Cath Bishop

Cath Bishop competed as a rower at three Olympic Games, becoming the first British woman to win the World Championships and an Olympic medal in the coxless pairs event. In this fascinating examination of our widespread obsession with winning, she draws on her personal experience of high-performance environments to trace the idea of winning through history, language and thought to explore how it has come to be a defining concept in fields from sport and business to politics and education. As a senior diplomat and business specialist, in this book she brings an extraordinary mix of experience to examine what winning has come to mean to society and to us as individuals, and offers a fresh perspective on how we might redefine success, both personal and professional, for the longer term.

 

4. Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit by Alex Edmans

What is a responsible business? Common wisdom is that it’s one that sacrifices profit for social outcomes. But while it’s crucial for companies to serve society, they also have a duty to generate profit for investors – savers, retirees and pension funds. Based on compelling evidence and real-life examples spanning industries and countries, this book explains how to embed purpose into practice so that it’s more than just a mission statement, and discusses the critical role of working collaboratively with a company’s investors, employees and customers. Rigorous research also uncovers surprising results on how executive pay, shareholder activism, and share buybacks can be used for the common good. 

 

5. Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say…and What You Don’t by L. David Marquet

Few of us realise that our language in the workplace inhibits creative problem-solving and escalates uncertainty and stress. In both high-pressure situations and everyday scenarios, in each meeting and email, we have the opportunity to empower our colleagues by using the right words. Intending to show managers and leaders how to enable their team through communication, throughout this book author and former U.S. Navy captain Marquet outlines a set of principles and tools to help leaders inspire their people to take responsibility and address challenges without waiting to be told what to do, highlighting how small changes in language can lead to dramatic changes in a team’s success and happiness.

 

6. Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Rebecca Henderson

Applying rigorous research in economics, psychology, and organisational behaviour, as well as her many years of work with companies around the world, in this book, Rebecca Henderson debunks the worldview that the only purpose of business is to make money and maximise shareholder value. She shows that we have failed to reimagine capitalism so that it is not only an engine of prosperity but also a system that is in harmony with environmental realities, the striving for social justice, and the demands of truly democratic institutions. Filled with captivating stories of companies that have made the first steps towards reimagining capitalism and rich discussions of the important role of government, and how the worlds of finance, governance, and leadership must also evolve, Henderson provides the pragmatic foundation for navigating a world faced with unprecedented challenge, but also with extraordinary opportunity for those who can get it right.

 

7. Expert: Understanding the Path to Mastery by Roger Kneebone

What could a lace-maker have in common with a vascular surgeon? A Savile Row tailor with a molecular scientists? A fighter pilot with a jazz musician? At first glance, very little. But Roger Kneebone is the expert on experts, having spent a lifetime finding the connections. In Expert, he combines his own experiences as a doctor with insights from extraordinary people and cutting-edge research to map out the path we’re all following – from ‘doing time’ as an apprentice, to developing your voice and taking on responsibility as a journeyman, before finally becoming a master and passing on your skills – as the book shows, although each outcome is different, the journey is always the same.

 

8. When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America’s Obsession with Economic Efficiency by Roger L. Martin

American democratic capitalism is in imminent danger. More than forty years ago, a dangerous decline began that has created an unprecedented state of economic disparity. While the rich are getting richer faster than ever, the ‘middle-class’ family has fallen so far behind it would now take three generations to close that gap – perhaps even longer in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The moment to rethink the U.S. economy and embark on a journey to repair their broken system is now; in the book, Martin reveals the dark side of efficiency, providing evidence, rigorous economic analysis and insight to demonstrate that America’s constant effort to make the economic machine more efficient means fewer bigger winners and plenty left behind. 

 

9. Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol

Rocket science is often celebrated as the ultimate triumph of technology. But it’s not. Rather, it’s the apex of a certain thought process; a way to imagine the unimaginable and solve the unsolvable. It’s the same thought process that enabled Neil Armstrong to take his giant leap for mankind and that allows spacecraft to travel millions of miles through outer space and land on a precise spot. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to think like one. In this accessible and practical book, Ozan Varol reveals nine simple strategies from rocket science that you can use to make your own giant leaps in work and life, whether it’s landing your dream job, accelerating your business, learning a new skill, or creating the next breakthrough product.

 

10. Joy at Work: Organising Your Professional Life by Marie Kondo

The workplace is a magnet for clutter and mess. Who hasn’t felt drained by wasteful meetings, disorganised papers, endless emails and unnecessary tasks? These are the modern day hazards of working and they can slowly drain the joy from work, limit our chances of career progress and undermine our wellbeing. But, there is another way. In Joy at Work, organisational psychologist Marie Kondo and Rice University business professor Scott Sonenshein offer stories, studies and strategies to help you eliminate clutter and make space for work that really matters. Using the world-renowned KonMari Method and cutting-edge research, Joy at Work will help you declutter your desk and brighten up your business, overcoming the challenges of workplace mess and leading to the increased productivity, success and happiness that come with a tidy desk and mind.

 

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