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David Slocum's Top 10 Books for Creative Leaders

December 12, 2017
2017 Creative Leadership Book List by David Slocum

As another busy year comes to a close, Faculty Director David Slocum looks back on his top reading recommendations from 2017, with deep dives into entrepreneurship, technology, commerce, culture, and more.



Eric Ries, The Startup Way: How Modern Companies Use Entrepreneurial Management to Transform Culture to Drive Long-Term Growth Entrepreneurship (Currency)

The entrepreneur, advisor, and author of the influential 2011 bestseller, The Lean Startup (and last year’s undervalued Kickstarter project, The Leader’s Guide, demonstrates how established firms can productively adopt a ‘startup state of mind.’ Using General Electric as a guiding case example, Ries shows how lean tools like minimum viable products, pivots, and learning and feedback loops can drive innovation at scale. Beyond generating new products, services, or business lines, the resulting outcomes include process and management innovation and ongoing institutional adaptation and learning. Ries’ book ultimately celebrates how creative, nimble, long-term, and civic-minded leadership can continually transform businesses and benefit society.  


Julian Birkinshaw and Jonas Ridderstråle, Fast/Forward: Make Your Company Fit for the Future (Stanford Business Books)

Rather than bureaucracies or meritocracies, the best organizational response to today’s uncertainty and volatility are adhocracies marked by agility, a focus on opportunities, and decisive and purposeful action. The London Business School professor and author of Reinventing Management, and the co-author of Funky Business, have written a valuable guide for the ambidextrous leaders of these organizations who need to shift their styles and act with conviction across fast-changing situations.


Scott Galloway, The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google (Portfolio)

The NYU professor, L2 Digital founder, and host of the weekly ‘Winners and Losers’ video blog offers a characteristically lively and incisive account of the rise and reach of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Combining business with social and cultural analysis (e.g., ‘the four manifest god, love, sex, and consumption’), Galloway deftly discusses the value they add, potential dangers they pose, and the endgame of their concentration of power.


Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake, Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy (Princeton University Press)

Advanced economies now invest more in intangible assets – design, branding, research and development, software – than physical ones. While providing a rigorous analysis of this economic transformation, the Imperial College Economics professor and the research director at Nesta illuminate the resulting complex business and public issues, including innovation and growth, inequality, the role of management, and financial and policy reform.


Mukti Khaire, Culture and Commerce: The Value of Entrepreneurship in Creative Industries (Stanford Business Books)

How should leaders approach the relationship between art and business? The Cornell Tech professor analyzes the roles and activities of creators, producers, intermediaries, and ‘pioneer entrepreneurs’ in fashion, music, literary publishing, painting, and film. In a series of illuminating case studies – from Chanel to the Sundance Institute – she delivers an insightful and powerful account of how cultural goods are produced, consumed, and valued.

Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal, Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (Dey Street/ HarperCollins)

The author of The Rise of Superman and co-author of Abundance and Bold, and the director of the Flow Genome Project, document the fascinating revolution in optimizing human performance. Following advances in psychology, neurobiology, technology, and pharmacology, altered states of consciousness promise to enhance the performance of ‘Promethean’ creatives and hackers, ‘closet ecstatics,’ and leaders seeking to accelerate innovation and collective action.

Andrew W. Lo, Adaptive Markets: Financial Evolution at the Speed of Thought (Princeton University Press)

Like human beings, financial markets are products of long histories and reflect ‘principles of evolution – competition, innovation, reproduction and adaptation.’ In this important book, an MIT Finance professor builds on the insight to propose the Adaptive Markets Hypothesis, in which rationality and irrationality and efficiency and inefficiency coexist, and financial evolution shapes behaviors and markets.


Christian Madsbjerg, Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm (Hachette)

A founder of ReD Associates and co-author of the excellent 2014 The Moment of Clarity develops further his approach to solving problems by using the human sciences. The resulting method, sensemaking, turns from big data to thick data – and its deep engagement with culture, language, history, and the social structures underlying human behavior – as the basis for better and more nuanced thinking.


Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson, Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing the Digital Revolution (WW Norton)

The MIT researchers and authors of The Second Machine Age examine how leaders can navigate today’s world of such rapidly changing technologies as Artificial Intelligence, big data and analytics, and the sharing economy. Their resulting call is for both startup and established businesses to integrate minds and machines, products and platforms, and the core and the crowd.


Leonard Sherman, If You're in a Dogfight, Become a Cat: Strategies for Long-Term Growth (Columbia Business School Publishing)

Yoking together strategy and innovation, a Columbia Business School professor and long-time consultant argues that to avoid dogfights among average competitors in mature markets, companies need to become a cat, reimagine and renew themselves, and compete on their own terms with new ideas. Sherman’s book offers leaders helpful examples and practical advice on how to pursue such ‘continuous disruptive renewal’ and the ‘Holy Grail’ of business – ‘Long-Term Profitable Growth’ – it can produce.


And 15 Other Valuable 2017 Books for Creative Leaders:

Adam AlterIrresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (Penguin)

Ray Dalio, Principles: Life and Work (Simon & Schuster)

Amy Edmondson and Jean-Francois Harvey, Extreme Teaming: Lessons in Complex, Cross-Sector Leadership (Emerald Publishing)

Scott Hartley, The Fuzzy and the Techie: How the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Chip and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact (Simon & Schuster)

Bryce G. Hoffman, Red Teaming: How Your Business Can Conquer the Competition by Challenging Everything (Crown Business)

Kim Malone Scott, Radical Candor: How to Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin’s)

Nilofer Merchant, The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World (Viking)

Jennifer Riel and Roger L. Martin, Creating Great Choices: A Leader's Guide to Integrative Thinking (Harvard Business Review Press)

Greg Satell, Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age

(McGraw-Hill Education)

Tali Sharot, The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others (Henry Holt)

Jim Stengel, with Tom PostUnleashing the Innovators: How Mature Companies Find New Life with Startups (Crown Business)

Freek Vermeulen, Breaking Bad Habits: Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business (Harvard Business Review Press)

Sam Walker, The Captain Class: The Driving Force Behind the World’s Greatest Teams (Random House)

Geoffrey West, Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies (Penguin)