Book club

“My father always said, ‘Never trust anyone whose TV is bigger than their book shelf’ – so I make sure I read.”

-Emilia Clarke

It’s not easy to put together a top 10 list of my favorite business books. My interests range broadly across consumer psychology, behavioral economics, design thinking, culture, and leadership to name a few recurring themes. I also avidly follow my favorite authors, so picking just one of their books is a challenge. So, in the spirit of MVP thinking, here’s an initial list to provoke your feedback rather than the perfect list. I’m sure we can iterate on this so that the full set of books covered over time is more complete and sparks a lot of great conversation. If you’d like to check out the full reviews beyond the high-level summaries below, please click through to my website, where you can also vote on upcoming books to cover in the virtual chat.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in combining agile principles with human centered design. Larger companies can learn to behave more like lean startups if they build a culture of experimentation focused on getting fast feedback for two key questions: 1) who is my customer? and 2) do I have the right value proposition?

This book showcases his Nobel Prize winning work on psychology and behavioral economics. It’s incredibly applicable to shopper insights, where consumers build up habit loops and engage less in more active search for solutions unless they experience pain points and friction on their path to purchase. 

This book is closely aligned to the ideas in Thinking Fast and Slow. It focuses on how habits are formed and different ways that companies can engage consumers on their journey to reinforce loyalty. It also delves into what can influence and evolve organizational behavior.

Lou shares his unique approach to spotting clues along the customer journey and how the way customers feel about themselves along the journey shapes their relationship with the brand. By helping your employees become more “clue conscious” you can also tap into their energy and ideas to build a more customer-driven culture.

My mom, who is an artist, recommended this book to me after previously suggesting The Gift Economy, which Godin references in his book. The core concept is that experience is a gift you give to your customers or your employees. In his book, Godin focuses on how you can become a “linchpin” in your organization – someone who inspires and motivates others and builds energy in an organization. I love this connection between customer and employee experience and how they are closely tied to culture. I’ve always been very interested in the nexus of culture and customer experience, which is so important given the role frontline employees play in delivering an exceptional customer experience across industries such as retail, hospitality, healthcare, financial services, and utilities.

I’m lucky to have been part of the Katzenbach Center community in my years at Booz & Company and Strategy& (rebranding of Booz after it was acquired by PwC). In this book, Katzenbach and Khan explore the importance of striking the right balance between your formal and informal organization to evolve your culture and drive organizational effectiveness. Many companies don’t pay enough attention to the informal side of things such as relationship networks or leadership commitments, focusing too much on formal organizational levers like structure, decision rights and incentives. Evolving your culture to be more customer-driven requires careful attention to both your formal and informal organization dynamics. This in turn amplifies the ROI from your investments in data, analytics, and technology to drive continuous improvement in the customer experience.

In his latest book, Sinek applies the principles of game theory and infinite games for how companies approach their mission, strategy, and organizational development. The core idea is that in infinite games, where players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint, it is important to think about the concept of winning differently. Organizations that carry on as if they are playing a series of finite games underperform in many ways because they don’t build purpose-driven, innovative organizations. This book builds on Sinek’s earlier works, Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last, further reinforcing the connection between leadership, employee experience, and customer experience.

I’ve always been fascinated with how we learn and ways that we can improve our individual and organizational effectiveness in a constantly changing world. Insights are most valuable if you take action and are open to change based on the ongoing feedback you generate. In his earlier works Give and Take and Originals, Grant explored how our mindsets and behaviors can make us better leaders and innovators. In his latest work, he shows how your ability to rethink and unlearn can be powerful tools to identify when change is needed and help engage and persuade others to act together.

This graphic novel is a fun read about how to enhance your organization’s ability to drive creative thinking and boost your innovation effectiveness. The authors lay out a systematic approach to creating the right conditions for innovation to flourish through the combination and application of existing ideas in new ways. First, they encourage you to break down your problem into challenges for which you are going to search for a better solution. Second, you allow your thoughts to search more freely for precedents of how they have been solved before, so that you can select and combine them in new ways. Third, you enjoy a spark of insight when you see the idea come together in your mind. Fourth, you put your idea into motion and drive sustained impact. If you try to jump straight to ideation without the first two steps, you’re more likely to generate incremental thinking constrained by your industry’s ingrained assumptions. I’ve found this framework to be a very powerful way to ideate more transformational opportunities to innovate the customer experience, while using a lean startup approach to get fast feedback and iterate on them.

Adaptive Enterprise provides a clear and compelling case that organizations need to evolve their strategies to become what Haeckel refers to as a “sense-and-respond” organization. He contrasts this model with a “make-and-sell” organization. This is one of the earliest and best articulated arguments for making customer experience a central focus of your north star vision, using regular insights into how your value proposition is resonating with customers to adapt and guide continuous improvement efforts. This book is highly complementary to the concepts in Clued In by Lou Carbone, which should not be a surprise, as the two have collaborated in their thought leadership. There are also several parallels to the core ideas in Lean Startup, where gaining fast feedback about your target customer and whether your value proposition resonates are the two key questions to answer as your organization pursues an ongoing series of pivots when needed.

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