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Berlin Brief

Top Ten Creative Leadership Books of 2015

December 17, 2015
David Sloum Berlin School DDB

The last twelve months have seen a wide range of new titles on leadership, teams, organizations, strategy and decision-making, as well as on creativity, talent, and the far-reaching changes underway in technology, economics, and the ways we work. Many of these books offer compelling new perspectives and constructive lessons for creative leaders. From the long shelf of research findings, analyses, provocations, and toolkits published during 2015, here are the top ten.

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Why Should Anyone Work Here?: What It Takes to Create an Authentic Organization (Harvard Business Review Press)

What are the organizational attributes that allow leaders to generate commitment and foster creativity today? Goffee and Jones, of the London Business School, offer six research-based and action-oriented keys to attracting, retaining and inspiring the best talent: Let people be themselves, practice radical honesty, build on people’s strengths, stand for authenticity (more than shareholder value), make work meaningful, and make simple rules. In doing so, the authors provide an essential guide for creative leaders wanting to transform their workplace and enable people’s best selves, including their own, to emerge.

Laszlo Bock, Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead (Twelve)

The longtime head of Google’s ‘People Operations’ offers a manifesto on how to think and behave differently at work in order to attract and grow the best talent – and, in the process, for leaders to grow themselves. Closing with a valuable ‘New Blueprint for HR’, the insight-filled book also launched re:Work, an ongoing platform of tools and lessons to address specific challenges and put people first in the workplace.

Herminia Ibarra, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader (Harvard Business Review Press)

One of our most consistently insightful management thinkers, Ibarra has written an important book that is both ambitiously original and immediately practical. Against orthodoxy, the INSEAD professor argues for leaders to act first then to think – and to use the ‘outsights’ resulting from the experience as a basis for meaningful individual growth and empowering of people and organizations.

Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind (Perigee)

Combining current neuroscience and psychological research findings with insights from the work and lives of figures ranging from Frida Kahlo to David Foster Wallace, the University of Pennsylvania cognitive psychologist and a leading science journalist explore ten attributes of highly creative people. The result moves beyond superficial views based in emotion or two-brain thinking to offer both an original explanation of creativity and practical steps for readers to unleash it in themselves.

Tim Leberecht, The Business Romantic: Give Everything, Quantify Nothing, and Create Something Greater than Yourself (Harper Business)

The former CMO of Frog has written a playful and probing book about how to re-think and re-enchant business and our engagement with work. Stepping away from the analytical and rational bases of prevailing management thinking, Leberecht emphasizes the role of passion and the unmeasurable in arguing that it is the recognition of the human heart of business that increasingly drives success.

Stanley McChrystal, Chris Fussell, Tantum Collins, and David Silverman, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World (Portfolio)

Contrary to the stereotypical view of regimentation and lockstep authority, the military has actively developed new approaches to dealing with the uncertainty and complexity of the twenty-first century. Here, the former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan outlines specific and tested rules for more consistently effective leadership, such as engaging ongoing change, moving from command to team thinking, and ‘leading like a gardener.’

Jeffrey Pfeffer, Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time (Harper Business)

A core tenet of creative leaders is to question everything. Stanford professor Pfeffer does just that, pushing back against many commonplace approaches to leadership and management. The author of the 2010 study, Power, takes special aim at what he sees as idealistic approaches like modesty, authenticity, trust, and leaders eating last. The result is a bracing but invaluable discussion of what research shows enhances leaders’ performance.

Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (Ecco)

A biography by the award-winning Bloomberg Businessweek feature writer of one of the most daring entrepreneurs of our time, a ‘contemporary amalgam of legendary inventors and industrialists like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs.’ The volume traces Musk’s life and career from South Africa through PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity and offers the fullest portrait yet of the driven and endlessly energetic creative leader.

Jim Whitehurst, with foreword by Gary Hamel, The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance (Harvard Business Review Press)

While some of today’s most admired and creatively successful businesses, including Pixar, Whole Foods and Google, are celebrated for their openness, a fuller understanding of how their practices can work more widely has been lacking. In this volume, the CEO of Red Hat, a former Delta Airlines COO and BCG consultant, outlines how leaders can reinvent their organizations with greater transparency, participation, and community and, in the process, enhance and sustain performance.

Stephen Witt, How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy (Viking)

Through three main characters – a CD pressing plant worker, an industry executive at Universal, and the German engineer who led development of the MP3 format – journalist Witt weaves a new history of digital music piracy. In doing so, he memorably describes the complex and very human re-making of a creative industry, an artform, and our everyday digital and online lives. 


25 Further Notable and Valuable Reads

Authenticity, Character, and Personal Leadership

David Brooks, The Road to Character (Random House)
Brené Brown, Rising Strong: The Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution (Spiegel & Grau)
Amy Cuddy, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges (Little, Brown)
Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer, Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both (Crown Business)
Fred Kiel, Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win (Harvard Business Review Press)

Talent, Teams, and Organizations

George Bodenheimer (with Donald T. Phillips), Every Town Is a Sports Town: Business Leadership at ESPN, from the Mailroom to the Boardroom (Grand Central)
Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World (Simon & Schuster)
Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone, Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations (Harper Business)
Daniel Lebetsky, Do the Kind Thing: Think Boundlessly, Work Purposefully, Live Passionately (Random House)
Brian J. Robertson, Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World (Henry Holt)

Strategy, Economics and Decision-making

George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception (Princeton University Press)
Martin Reeves, Knut Haanaes, and Janmejaya Sinha, Your Strategy Needs a Strategy: How to Choose and Execute the Right Approach (Harvard Business Review Press)
Philip E. Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (Crown)
Richard H. Thaler, Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics (W.W. Norton)
David B. Yoffie and Michael A. Cusumano, Strategy Rules: Five Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Groves, and Steve Jobs (Harper Business)

Complexity in Markets, Technology, Work and Ourselves

Richard Dobbs, James Manyika and Jonathan Woetzel, No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends (Public Affairs)
Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Basic Books)
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family (Random House)
Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Faris Yakob, Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World (Kogan Page)

Creativity and Creative Lives

Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips The Misfit Economy: Lessons in Creativity from Pirates, Hackers, Gangsters and Other Informal Entrepreneurs (Simon & Schuster)
Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life (Simon & Schuster)
Kyna Leski, The Storm of Creativity (The MIT Press)
Nathaniel Popper, Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money (Harper)
Amy Wilkinson, The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs (Simon & Schuster)


Finally, Two Noteworthy Updates

Two of the all-time greatest books about Creative Leadership were re-released in expanded or updated editions in 2015. Both richly reward reading.

Bill George, Discover Your True North (Jossey-Bass)
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? What It Takes to Be An Authentic Leader (Harvard Business Review Press)

David Slocum Faculty Director Executiv MBA

Dr. David Slocum

Academic Advisor and Faculty Member
Berlin School of Creative Leadership