The 2017 Non-Obvious Book Award Winners

The Shortlist & Winners:

Every year we select less than 10% of all the books we review to be included in our Non-Obvious Book Awards Longlist or Shortlist. In this third year of our program, we officially expanded to include a Longlist of an additional 15 books due to the quality of submissions we received. Here are the finalist selections for the 2017 Non-Obvious Book Awards Winners & Shortlist:

2017 Most Shareable Book of the Year:

Hit Refresh

by Satya Nadella

Our Review: What if working at Microsoft had a deeper meaning? In the past that might have been a laughable idea, but it anyone can do it, it might be Nadella. "We spend far too much time at work for it not to have deep meaning,” he writes. While that might seem like standard inspirational talk for a CEO, the entire first third of the book focuses on how Nadella has made it a priority to bring more empathy back to Microsoft and encourage more risk taking without fearing failure. Grounded in his personal journey of being a father to a special needs child, the book also relays his efforts to bring mindfulness and other non-obvious leadership techniques to Microsoft’s executive team, and further down the organization. Adding credibility is Nadella’s open willingness to take an honest look even at his own missteps, including his widely criticized gaffe at a women's tech conference. While the blunder was embarrassing, Nadella proactively speaks of it in the book with an openness and vulnerability that you rarely find in executive memoirs – all of which supports the perception that this is who he really is. Humble, brave, empathetic, human and trustworthy. Hopefully he can succeed in his efforts to mold the culture of Microsoft in the same image.

2017 Most Important Book of the Year:

Give Work

by Leila Janah

Our Review: It is a commonly known truth among those who work in the non profit sector that the most powerful way to fight poverty is to help people lift themselves by working and having a purpose rather than giving them handouts. This book from Samasource founder Leilah Janah offers an inside look at her personal journey to build a global organization that has given work to tens of thousands of the bottom billion poorest individuals in the world by outsourcing "good" tech jobs to them and helping train them to do them. She writes: "Western countries have the best intentions but charity based aid often does more harm than good, and billions of people continue to suffer. Giving dignified steady fair wage work is the most effective way.“ In the book she tackles everything from how corruption impacts aid to her observation, inspired by a visit to the World Bank, that it is no longer staffed entirely with bankers. I realize you can’t realistically describe the ideas of very many books as world changing, but this one does actually happen to fit that description.

2017 Most Entertaining Book of the Year:

Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy

by Tim Harford

Our Review: It took just two pages before I knew I would love this book. Part of it has to do with the beautifully constructed stories and deep insights that Harford delivers without the fluff and fanfare that so many other authors employ. Instead of lazy complexity, this book tells the underappreciated stories of everything from Barbed Wire to Shipping Containers and why exactly each shaped the world’s economy through their adoption. Why is IKEA’s Billy bookcase so iconic? How did the invention of the Department Store help women feel more empowered? This is a book written for anyone curious about why our world economy works the way that it does. The choices for which inventions to include (Razors and Blades, Passports, Market Research) are as interesting as those that he intentionally leaves out (the Computer and Airplane, for example).  This is not just a book about big inventions. Instead, it’s a tribute from a highly curious mind about the inventions that deserve more celebration for the way that they changed how we work, travel, buy, sell and transact in the modern economy. Easily my choice for the most entertaining book I read all year.

2017 Most Original Book of the Year:

Win Bigly

by Scott Adams

Our Review: Review. Over the past year, Dilbert creator Scott Adams has been vilified by the liberal media for being a rare supporting voice for the persuasive powers of candidate (and now President) Trump. This book is the victory lap he couldn’t help writing. For example, he writes: "Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don't know where to aim your outrage.” To be fair, this book has some glaring editorial problems. Most notably, there is so much repetition of ideas (and words) from chapter to chapter that it seems like an editor barely looked at it. Those issues aside, reading his assessment of Trump as a master persuader was at once sickening and illuminating. At the end of the day, the book paints a convincing picture that Trump might know exactly what he is doing, and has manipulated all of our attention exactly where he wants it. Like him or not, you have to admit his methods are working. Adams, for his part, is enjoying the show immensely. Whether you choose to do the same or try to mount your own resistance, this book will open your mind.

2017 Most Useful Book of the Year:

Exactly What To Say

by Phil M. Jones

Our Review: The simple idea of this book is that there are “magic words” that can have an outsized impact in how you are able to persuade and influence others to understand your point of view, sell them your ideas, or just be more respected. Reading this well laid out and simple conversation guide will offer you highly actionable tips on words and phrases to use and how to inject them into your daily interactions. What I liked best about this book was the workbook style layout that made it immediately applicable for anyone to take a particular lesson and put it into action. Sometimes it is nice to read a book that skips the fluff and just tells you exactly what you want to know. Knowing exactly what to say obviously also means getting right to the point, and that’s what Phil does in this book. Being persuasive is not always an easy thing to pull off. No matter if you consider yourself a gifted communicator or conversationally challenges, this is one book that will inspire you to seek out conversation just so you can try the tips for yourself.

2017 Shortlist Selection:


by James Bidwell

Our Review: As a trend curator, I have been a fan and reader of the excellent idea spotting work at Springwise for many years, so I had this book pre-ordered for months. Through their network of more than 20,000 idea spotters, Springwise collects interesting ideas globally. In this book, you’ll find 100 stories of interesting startups, initiatives and products along with useful questions for each one to get you thinking about how to take each idea and use it to inspire new ideas in your company or industry. I would have liked to have seen more images to bring these great ideas to life a little more easily, especially in a large format sized book like this – and color would have been nice as well since I imagine this book will have applications and usage within academia as an actual text book as well. Like with other compilation style books, this is not one that you will likely read from start to finish. Rather, you will probably look now, keep it on your bookshelf and come back to it over and over again as a resource to inspire new thinking. I’ve only had it a few months and I’m already using it that way.

2017 Shortlist Selection:

The Power of Moments

by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Our Review: Do the defining moments of our lives just happen to us or is there some pattern to why they stand out? What causes us to misremember some experiences and moments as more positive than they actually were, and others as the opposite? These are the questions the Heath brothers tackle in this new book and they are widely relevant. Using examples ranging from a quirky California hotel with a “popsicle hotline” to a powerful idea from a high school to celebrate “signing day” when their seniors declare where they are going to college the same way we celebrate athletes getting drafted – this book does a masterful job of illustrating the wide range of moments in our lives that matter and just how much can be done to make them better. These moments are the way that we understand big ideas, make wholesale changes, and delight in experiences. Ultimately, this book will leave you with a new found appreciation for just how important these  experiences are, as well as just how much they can be shaped and improved in business if you just focus on them.

2017 Shortlist Selection:

Unleashing the Innovators

by Jim Stengel

Our Review: Just about every mature company is struggling to find the right ways to embrace disruption. Hotels worry about Airbnb. Automakers worry about ridesharing. Retailers worry about Amazon. How can large mature organizations successfully prepare for the future?  The results of a global study of more than 200 established corporations and startups that the author conducted in coordination with OgilvyRED (my former firm), finds the same conclusion I see with most of the organizations I work with that are successfully planning for the future. The insight: partnership works better than acquisition. Stengel’s research found that companies with successful start up partnerships are 3 times more likely to change their culture to be more innovative than those who rely on acquisition or do nothing. Large scale mergers drive investor revenue, but do little to change culture to promotion innovation. Instead, innovation happens by starting something new from within and augmenting that by using incubators, startup partners and venture capital-style investments.

2017 Shortlist Selection:

The Unmade Bed

by Stephen Marche

Our Review: In the piles of books we considered this year, there were no less than a dozen focused on the female empowerment. This book is a much needed exploration of the other side: what does it mean to be a man in this changing culture? Written by Esquire magazine contributing editor Steven Marshall along with editorial footnotes from his writer and editor wife Sarah Fulford, the book immediately tackles the idea of mansplaining and asks the relevant question of whether it is ever ok for a man to explain anything to a woman in today’s culture. How much should a man speak anyway? This willingness to take on somewhat taboo conversations is a refreshing theme throughout this book, as Marche tackles everything from new fatherhood to the "paradox of pornography" and whether it does indeed cause more violence toward women, or whether it serves as a "substitute for rape." The answers, like the questions themselves, are elusive. Can men and women ever truly move toward better understanding one another? That is the most important question of this book and one that I think most of us continue to seek a satisfying answer for.

2017 Shortlist Selection:

Hit Makers

by Derek Thompson

Our Review: There is plenty of advice to be had in books and online columns on what makes anything go viral, but this book is one of the most even handed explorations of how hits are actually formed. Taking the trademark approach he also employs in his work for The Atlantic, the author takes us into the elements of what makes ideas Looking at the somewhat puzzling success of Fifty Shades of Gray, for example, offers the author a lens from which to share all the elements that went into the book’s rise – and illustrates why it was more predictable than you may realize. For anyone who is trying to create a product or idea that achieves viral success, this book will give you some techniques you can use right away.

2017 Shortlist Selection:

Your Ad Ignored Here

by Tom Fishburne

Our Review: What happens when you combine the mind of a long suffering former corporate marketer and Harvard MBA with the keen observational skills of a comedian and cartoonist? You get this book. If you are in business, chances are you have already seen at least one of Tom’s cartoons in a Powerpoint presentation (they are all intentionally sized to fit perfectly on a slide). Perhaps you have used one yourself in the past. His cartoons describe the unique combination of bullshit and persuasion that is modern day marketing better than almost anything else. Reading this book is like sitting next to a hilarious friend in every boring meeting you have ever had and being entertained as he passes you one clever doodle after another describing the absurdity happening right in front of you. I have frequently used (and paid for) his cartoons to liven up my presentations. Whether you have or haven’t, I am guessing you will now … and so the very least you could do is buy this book to support his work. The next time you’re stuck on a boring conference call, you will be happy you have it. Bonus: Watch Tom Fishburne's appearance on the Non-Obvious Insights Show >>

2017 Shortlist Selection:

How To Be A Bawse

by Lilly Singh

Our Review: There is no shortage of guide books to career and life success written by influencers whose sole career bullet point involves creating videos that have amassed millions of fans and followers. Many of them are naïve and forgettable attempts to cash in on fleeting popularity. This book is different. The 50 chapter titles sum up the irreverent voice of the book: Don't give away all your secrets. Call yourself out. Commit to your decisions. Schedule inspiration. Not everyone hates you. Understand priorities. Be unapologetically yourself. You are a chameleon. Ultimately what makes this collection of tips so readable and worthwhile is the authenticity of the author that comes through in her writing just as it does in her videos. The book actually feels like you're sitting down and getting advice from Singh herself, which is presumably the reason why anyone would want to read it in the first place. This is the perfect non-obvious business book holiday gift to give the up-and coming professional in your life.

2017 Shortlist Selection:

No Ego

by Cy Wakeman

Our Review: What if the management advice that you have heard for years, like maintaining an “open door policy” was actually holding you and your team back from greatness? Unlike other management books written from an academic point of view, this book is like a real life coaching session from a helpful mentor on how to create connection without becoming a magnet for drama. If you love the workplace drama, this is not the book for you. Instead, it is written like a cross between a tough but necessary slap in the face from a brutally honest friend, and a no bullshit challenge from the toughest boss you’ve ever loved. “Your circumstances are not the reason you can’t succeed; they are the environment in which you must succeed,” writes the author. The book is filled with truisms like this which seem slightly obvious once you read them, but still no less profound. As I read this book, I found myself making a mental list of every whiny, victimized, or entitled person I had ever worked with and wishing I would have known about this book back then. Yes, it would have been great as a gift. Even more importantly, reading this could have given me a way to deal with those colleagues more effectively.

2017 Shortlist Selection:


by Michael Ruhlman

Our Review: "Grocery stores are more than just places to buy food. They are in a broader sense a reflection of our culture." While there are plenty of books about food and health, there are very few that dig deeply into the only retail experience most of us visit more than once every week. By following the management and staff at Heinens, a midsize Midwestern chain based in his hometown of Cleveland Ohio, the author asks the questions most of us have wondered at one point or another.  The one question he tackles in particular, is whether there is some underhanded sneakiness in how the food is positioned in the grocery store in order to optimize sales. Are sugary foods intentionally placed at eye level for toddlers to see? Is milk intentionally placed at the back of the store to encourage impulse buys? The interesting answers he gets will help you understand how your assumptions are myths and not realities of modern grocery store design.

2017 Shortlist Selection:

Entrepreneurial You

by Dorie Clark

Our Review: As a fan of Dorie's first and second books, I was eager to see what ideas this new one would introduce. Positioned as the inevitable third book in her series trilogy of building your own brand and learning how to stand out, this one focuses on the all important question of how to make money. Starting with the idea of building what Dorie calls a "portfolio career," she outlines the method for how to create multiple streams of income in many different ways. If you are a fan of books like The Automatic Customer by John Warrilow, or Mastermind Dinners by Jayson Gaignard, or Ask by Ryan Lefesque – this is a book that puts all those ideas together and wraps them into a step by step guidebook that anyone can follow. If you have a services based business, need to build your profile or are just looking for more ways to monetize your expertise, this book is one you need to get. I have already started using some of the ideas to grow my own business, and I suspect that this book will have a similar impact for you as well. Highly recommended. Bonus: Watch a conversation between Dorie Clark and Rohit Bhargava here >>

*Note - All reviews above are written by Non-Obvious Company founder Rohit Bhargava.

The Longlist Selections:

Here are the finalist selections for the 2017 Non-Obvious Book Awards Longlist:

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

Buy This Book

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 >>