The Shortlist & Winners:
This was the inaugural year of our book awards program and it was published under the original name of the "Influential Marketing Book Awards." True to its name, it was more focused on business and marketing titles and initially only selected by founder Rohit Bhargava and launched on his popular blog by the same name. This year's awards did not include Longlist selections.
by Sally Hogshead
Our Review: I am an ENFP. At least, that's how I might describe myself to anyone who has taken the same ubiquitous Myers Briggs personality test and been quantified by the well known formulaic letters the score assigns for your personality. Over time, the test has also managed to influence us to make judgements about the social value of being an introvert versus an extrovert (I versus E) and what is better or worse. This is a book for anyone who has ever felt like having more than a four letter personality. In Sally Hogshead's thoroughly researched new book, each of us finally has the chance to rethink that limited description of ourselves. Instead, her study of fascination yields a method to uncover how the world sees you instead of how you see yourself. Thankfully, it's good news. Instead of painting a picture of leaders versus followers, Hogshead illuminates how different personalities can actually compliment one another, and that the real secret of effective teams is to have members that work well together rather than constantly agree. For anyone trying to build an amazing team, find their place in a shifting workplace, or just better diagnose and work through existing dysfunction - this book will quickly become an indispensible guidebook on your shelf that you can refer back to over and over again.
by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
Our Review: Every year I select at least one standout book on the topic of gender in the workplace to feature on the annual Influential Business Book Shortlist. In previous years, I have spotlighted John Gerzema's brilliantly researched book The Athena Doctrine, as well as one of last year's most popular books - Spousonomics. This year's selection is The Confidence Code. This book has the most powerful idea yet for how women can power their own success by embracing the necessity for confidence. Rather than simply concluding that women need to be more confident, though, the book delves into the neuropsychology of confidence and takes a broader view of how and why some people have confidence while others lack it. As more brands like Dove and Always launched viral campaigns across 2014 featuring the central theme of confidence in girls and women, the media culture surrounding this idea helped propel even more attention for the book and importance of teaching and fostering confidence in girls and women. That powerful impact, combined with the approachable writing and well researched conclusions make this a necessary read not only for women but for the men who want to win in a world where confidence is increasingly the secret of success.
by Christian Rudder
Our Review: In the past few years, more than dozen books have come out focused on the topic of big data. I should know ... I'm asked to review many of them. Data as a topic has moved firmly out of the world of mathmatics and statistics and seems to fit now squarely into the dual worlds of business strategy and marketing. Out of the last ten books on big data, nine of them are about the business and marketing opportunity. Maybe nine and a half. Meanwhile, the media today is filled with stories of data and its owners behaving badly. Uber's disastrously named "god view" interface enabled their team to creepily track the rides of unsuspecting influencers. Online adverstalking banner ads follow us for weeks with retargeted offers after a single innocent product search. Yes, alongside the beautiful promises of useful personalization are plenty of reasons to fear data and the people in charge of using it. All of which makes Dataclysm such a welcome break from all the big data fear mongering. As Christian Rudder shares, "if Big Data's two running stories have been surveillance and money, for the last three years I've been working on a third: the human story." It turns out this story is more fascinating than any of us realize. In a style reminscent of Freakonomics, Rudder shares interesting examples of human biases and what they teach us about the lessons of humanity that big data might teach us if we're only open to paying attention. Instead of quantifying his insights in order to effectively increase a conversion rate - Rudder is more interested in the human story in aggregate. It is this unflinching focus on the big picture without resorting to the common media bias of reducing every macro insight into a neat little story of a single person where Rudder excels. I have long thought and written that the mark of a game changing book is one where you can finish reading it and long to have a deeper conversation with the author. This book will not only do that, it also offers some much needed hope that all this behavioural data we are all unwittingly donating online could do more than help companies sell us stuff more effectively. It could also be giving us an unprecedented look at the unfiltered, unsurveyed and unbiased behaviour of humanity. If only more people with access to the "god view" of data took the time to understand it, of course.
by Sunni Brown
Our Review: The first time I saw Sunni Brown "performing" in person, she was doing graphic facilitation to capture a talk by a keynote speaker at a large event. The second time was at a networking event in Austin filled with some of the smartest minds in the world of marketing and communications. And the third time, I learning from her insights into the facilitation techniques behind "gamestorming" to use gaming techniques as part of workshops. To call her skills and background versatile is an understatement. So when her latest book came out earlier this year, my expectations were pretty high. This book doesn't disappoint. If you are seeking an introduction to the world of visual thinking, this book will give you everything you need to know. And if you're a hard core believer already using visual thinking in their work (like me!) - you'll still find plenty of exercises and tools in this book to improve your work and thinking. The toughest thing to do as an author is to write a practical book that is useful both for the beginner as well as the professional. Sunni does both beautifully in her latest book, and for that reason it deserves a spot on your bookshelf.
by Ann Handley
Our Review: I used to hate writing. That is probably a strange confession considering I eventually earned a Masters Degree in English Literature and have written five books (so far). Yet the problem with writing is that most of us spend many years in school learning to hate it because of how uninteresting the topics are that we are forced to read and explore. Years of schooling (even if you weren't an English major) are tough to unlearn. The fact is writing is one of the most critical skills today in a business world filled with blogs, tweets and emails. No matter what you do, improving your writing matters. And there is no better person to help you improve it than Ann Handley. I know her personally and have read her work for years. I consider her a friend. Part of the benefit of being an author is that you can end up with plenty of friends who also write books. This year alone, I had more than a dozen friends publish a new book. This book is one of the only ones to make my list. The reason isn't just because of Ann's writing - which is always a pleasure to read. More importantly than good writing - this book has a format and lessons that will actually help you improve your writing ability ... even if you think you have none to start with. Helping the world to become better writers is a noble mission. If I had to pick one book that truly has the chance to make that important mission become a reality, this is it. Highly recommended.
by Steve Krug
Our Review: When you hear people talk about books that changed the world, it's usually not a book on web site usability that gets that type of praise. I remember working as a Web Producer in Australia back in 2000 when I first encountered Steve Krugman's first edition of this book and back then it was a hot topic. Usability was a priority in everything we built and Krugman's work became something of a bible for how we thought about usability testing. Nearly 15 years later, the conversation in the world of web design has changed. Today we talk about responsive design and seem to focus our priority on making sure things work on multiple screen. Instead of being usable, the bar has shifted to just trying to make sure things don't look broken. As a result, we have an Internet and App marketplace filled with decent looking but frustrating to use interfaces. In other words, there has never been a time when reading Krugman's advice has been more necessary. If you are a designer or have any input into the design of any type of interface, this useful update to an already timeless book should be on your must read list.
by Nir Eyal
Our Review: The back cover describes this as the book "everyone in Silicon Valley is talking about" and clearly author and Stanford Professor Nir Eyal is a rock star in the tech and startup bubble of the Valley. The premise of the book may initial also seem laser focused on the "garage startup" tech company trying to create the next Candy Crush app-style addiction. It's a good positioning to sell a book. What may surprise you more about Eyal's model is just how useful it might be to explain all kinds of behaviours that go far outside the world of apps or technology. We live in a world where brands, products, and services all seem to desperately be trying to hook us as consumers. Some use palette science to create the perfect combination of bitterness and sweetness to satisfy our food cravings (Oreos) while others create gamified addiction through level ups and microrewards. To understand our own behaviours and why these experiences are so tempting - understanding the psychology of temptation is essential. Everything about the book makes it clear that Eyal's ideas can help you create habit forming products. What I found even more intriguing was just how valuable the book could be to help any of us better understand how and why we get hooked ... and perhaps use that knowledge to make better habits in the first place.
by Tom Doctoroff
Our Review: This is not a social media book. It's not entirely anti-social media either. For a blue book featuring the Twitter bird on the cover, that seems like the first important truth to share. Instead, the author builds on a long international career leading agency work for many large brands to break down many of the barriers that still exist in the marketing world between digital and other aspects of marketing and advertising. Sure, the book features many JWT campaigns and more than it's fair share of spotlighting what are clearly the best global case studies from the agency. Yet the author is at his most real when he shares stories of missed opportunities, such as his story of working on a campaign for Nestle where the agency failed to create enough of a human voice for the brand, and later lost the work. Balancing these truthful lessons learned with award winning work help turn this book from just another agency book written as a holiday gift for clients into an actually useful brand strategy book that offers a rare glimpse outside of the US at what building an amazing global brand strategy, and then executing it is actually like.
by Joel Beckerman
Our Review: There have certainly been plenty of books in the past about the power of sound for healing, but I remember the first time I thought about sound as an element of marketing and business in a bigger way than just jingles and ads was when I read Martin Lindstrom's exploration of the role of our senses in purchase behaviour in Brand Sense. The book began to explore the idea of sonic branding ... but this is the book that takes the idea to the next level. The Sonic Boom is a perfect collaboration between a noted writer and composer to tell the important story of how music and soundscapes that we notice (and those we don't) impact everything from our mood to our purchase behaviour. Reading the stories in this book and the break downs from the author, you do feel like you're getting a front row seat at an illuminating event where a longtime magician of sound lets you see behind the curtain just for a bit. As you might expect, plenty of the book is devoted to the why of sound and proof of its impact. For quick believers in the premise of the book (like myself), that upfront can get a bit repetitive. Luckily, the real life stories and useful insights later in the book more than make up for this ... and as an author myself I know that sometimes the introductory chapters sharing the premise of a book may seem hopelessly basic to some readers, but for others stand out as the most valuable part of the book. That's the challenge of writing for so many different levels of familiarity with the topic. Still, the authors collaborate well to bring it together and ultimately deliver a timely book on an important and often underappreciated aspect of influence, marketing and why we feel the way that we feel.
by Simon Sinek
Our Review: For a guy who achieved much of his recent reputation from a single well presented TED Talk, the first thing that will strike you about this second book from Simon Sinek is just how compellingly it is written. Taking readers on a journey from the battlefield to the board room, Sinek’s examples based on his years of consulting experience offer a firsthand look at some of the techniques that effective leaders use to inspire true loyalty from team members. The title of the book of course offers a great anecdote about the power of putting your people first – but in the book Sinek goes on to illustrate the power of having empathy and combining it with a focus on creating a “circle of safety” in order to create an environment people love to work in. Like his first book, the premise this one will seem deceptively simple. Who needs to read a book when you already understand the big idea from a three word title? Yet as you dig into this book and the examples he shares, you quickly realize that the stories give you the inspiration to make it happen. All of which makes this the best kind of actionable business book – one that offers a clear point of view along with the right kind of inspiration to help you act on it as soon as you finish reading.
by Jeff Sutherland
Our Review: Early in my career, I used to use Gantt charts to plot the expected path for web design projects. They were the perfect bit of theatrical organization ... useful for entertainment value but of little management value after a matter of weeks (and sometimes less). At the time, I usually saw it as a necessary evil of project management. After reading Scrum, I see them for what they were - a process unintentionally holding us back. In this insightful introduction to Scrum, the author peels back layers of corporate and political wastage to tackle what may be one of the most fundamental questions facing the world today: why can't large groups of smart and motivated people seem to get great things done? Of course, our business literature today is filled with the two visionaries in a garage launching something amazing ... but that's a more uncommon situation than it might seem. Instead, the world is filled with large teams trying to tackle large visions, and routinely failing. This book offers a new vision not just for how to manage a large scale project, but also how to shift the thinking of everyone on a team towards working smarter instead of working harder. If you've ever slaved over trying to create the perfect Gantt chart, you'll appreciate the importance of dependencies. Project managers know that sometimes you can't start a new task until the one before is complete. And that's exactly how I recommend you think about the value of this book. If you want to be more productive and help your projects succeed, buying this book might be your most important dependency. .
by Lauren Berger
Our Review: I am not in my 20s. In fact, I'm about to turn 40 - which I suppose uniquely qualifies me to write one of those hopelessly sappy blog posts with advice to my twenty year old self. The only problem is, I'm not exactly sure what words of significance I might share. I think I'd tell myself to carry an umbrella less often. Still reading career advice from supposedly successful people is a time honored tradition. Unfortunately, that advice is rarely as useful as what you'll find in Lauren Berger's wonderfully useful second book. I was lucky enough to cross paths with Lauren thanks to her popular blog and unofficial title as the "Internship Queen" and received an advance copy of this book. While I read the book almost immediately (more than six months ago), I found myself returning to several bookmarked passages this past week as I was making the final selections for the 2014 Influential Business Book Shortlist. This book deserved to make the cut. As I read back through it, I realized the reason I found it so valuable when I first read it and again this week ... Lauren knows how to be useful. Some topics in her book, like how to prioritize tasks, may seem blindly obvious when you read them. Yet when you think about how often you actually forget or need inspiration to make better habits, the book moves quickly from being obvious to being necessary. Aside from only appealing to 20-somethings, a big part of her approach in the book can help any manager also struggling to motivate younger employees who seem more concerned with their "work life balance" than actually working hard. As Berger proves in her advice for this book, the rules of success haven't changed all that much. The real question is, who's most willing to master the real world quickly enough to win?
by Bill McGowan
Our Review: The books I tend to learn the most from are the ones written by doers instead of thinkers - and this useful book from Bill McGowan certainly fits that category. Reading other reviews, I saw several readers seemed put off by his "name dropping" liberal usage of real life stories and anecdotes. I disagree. To me, those anecdotes made his lessons personal and highly readable. As an author who appears in media and on stage regularly, I am often looking for advice on improving my stage and media presence. I have even hired coaches to work with me directly (though I haven't worked with or personally met the author of this book). After having those experiences, I can safely say the tips and tricks the author shares in this book and highly useful and worth following. If you are the kind of person who prefers a more analytical and methodology driven book, this probably won't be a great fit for you. If, instead, you love to hear stories of someone who has helped thousands of people become more media friendly break down some of his techniques and ideas in a readable way, you will definitely enjoy this book.
by Karen Wilkinson & Mike Petrich
Our Review: I have spent more days than I care to count in supposedly creative brainstorms. The format often starts the same: some sort of statement of a big hairy challenge that we all must innovate around. Someone stands at the front of the room with marker in hand ready to capture ideas on a white board, which all those in the room either share half formed concepts or frantically read materials or research online in search of instant inspiration. If that sounds like a jaded description of brainstorms - it probably is. Yet is sadly reflects reality in far too many situations. For that reason, this gem of a book made my list of the most Influential Business Books of the year despite the fact that most of the people reading it would categorize it differently. In fact, I came upon it when seeking great resources to help teach my kids about tinkering and building. However the tinkering principles the book shares, such as "use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways" or "express ideas via construction," are perfectly applicable to the world of marketing. In fact, we don't hear them enough. The people selling products or services can too easily become divorced from the final product. We need to CHOOSE to get and keep our hands dirty, and the typical business world offers far too few chances to do that. And this is the most powerful effect of this book's philosophy, and the many ideas from all sorts of makers and creators that the book shares. Sometimes the best tool for creativity isn't a Sharpie on a Post-it note. Sometimes you just have to get your hands dirty and tinker.
by David B. Feldman & Lee Daniel Kravetz
Our Review: The most powerful idea in this book is the author’s finding from years of studying people who have overcome tragedy and thrived that so called "positive thinking" may actually hinder more than help in the recovery process. Instead, real power comes from harnessing "grounded hope" as a way to achieve realistic success. While this conclusion clearly impacts anyone recovering from major personal tragedy, the book also offers a powerful and unique lesson for entrepreneurs and business people. In a world where we tend to see and celebrate overnight success stories of apps that hit it big or billionaire 22 year old founders, it has become easy to build outsized expectations of ourselves and our own success. Seeing a 24/7 newsfeed of friends having the times of their lives, getting married, adopting dogs and traveling the world doesn't help. In a culture of always on happiness, a book like this offers a necessary and powerful reminder that no matter how many people come along to try and remind you about how the glass is half full ... the real trick is to remember that if you are only longing for a sip, a half empty glass is still plenty.
*Note - All reviews above are written by Non-Obvious Company founder Rohit Bhargava.
About the Non-Obvious Book Awards
These awards are organized and judged by the team at the Non-Obvious Company. Our mission is to help leaders, organizations and curious minds learn the habits that allow them to see what others miss and face the unknown. We do this through our published books, popular keynotes, custom workshops, annual book awards and our weekly Non-Obvious Insights Show.
Get new book recommendations weekly. Join our email newsletter >>