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The 2023 Digital Tonto Reading List

2023 December 17
by Greg Satell

I mark time through books because books define the zeitgeist. They reflect not only the wisdoms being received, but the questions being asked. We go to books not only for answers, but to sharpen our own inquiry. Last year’s list featured books about Ukraine (and this year’s list includes a great one too).

So perhaps it’s not surprising that this year’s list is especially heavy on change. We’re going through a lot of it and clearly there’s a lot still to come. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely puts stress on the system. Certainly, we are living in an age of great peril and there’s a level uncertainty that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before.

If we’re going to make it through we need to understand change, how to make it, how to adapt to it and how it happens. There are no easy answers. Change isn’t something you ever really master, but it is something that you can build skills to deal with more effectively. My hope is that some of these books can help you on your path. They certainly helped me.

Book(s) Of The Year

I’m always interested in learning more about change so I was happy to pick up David McRaney’s How Minds Change. You can imagine my surprise when reading the last chapter and I saw my name!

But that’s not the reason why I loved the book so much. David thoroughly researched a variety of methods, such as Deep Canvassing, Street Epistemology and the Change Conversation Pyramid and found they all had key elements in common. Probably the most important takeaway is that you need to create a sense of safety around the change conversation.

No Rules Rules by Netflix’s Reed Hastings and Insead’s Erin Meyer is probably the best management book I’ve ever read. It’s how I would have run the organizations I led if I was a ton smarter and had more time to figure things out. Reading it you can see why Netflix has been so incredibly successful.

What I like best is that nothing was presented as a fait accompli or a stroke of genius. In fact, each principle originated as a problem and went through several stages of failure before they hit on the right approach. If you lead an organization, this is an absolute must read!

Business, Management And Leadership

In most years, Bent Flyvbjerg’s How Big Things Get Done would be my book of the year. It’s just so smart, sensible and true to life, spelling out how to manage large, complex projects. One key principle—go slow in order to go fast—is easily worth the time and effort to read the whole book.

I loved Zeynep Ton’s Good Job Strategy so when she came out with her new book, The Case For Good Jobs, I immediately snapped it up and was not disappointed. I’m also a fan of Jonah Berger and his new book, Magic Words, offers great insights that will help you up your communication game. In a similar vein, Abhijit Bhaduri’s new book, Career 3.0, will guide you on how to build a career in the 21st century.

Finally, Andrew McAfee’s The Geek Way delivers an insider’s guide to geek corporate culture and Zeev Neuwirth’s Beyond the Walls offers a blueprint for fixing the American healthcare system.

Transformation, Change And Innovation

Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations is one of those books that a lot of people talk about but few have read. I finally took the plunge and was glad I did. There is so much wisdom, not too mention decades of research, that should inform any change effort. I also got around to reading Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy and it fully deserves its reputation as a must read for would-be revolutionaries.

Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity To Change provides great insights of how we create internal barriers to change and how we can overcome them. Freedom Summer, by the great sociologist Doug McAdam, provides incredible insights into one of the most important chapters of the civil rights movement and Gal Beckerman’s The Quiet Before delivers an interesting history of social movements, almost all of which, I had never heard of before.

Somebody recommended I read “How Change Happens,” and I quickly found that there are actually two fairly recent books with that title, one by Cass Sunstein and another by Leslie Crutchfield. The Sunstein book is incredibly rigorous, but can be a bit of a slog, the Crutchfield book features some good nonprofit case studies, but not much insight.

Everybody remembers the periodic table from high school chemistry class and Mendeleyev’s Dream tells the story not only of its creation, but how chemistry arose as a science from superstition and alchemy. If you’re interested in the history of science, you might want to give it a look.

History, Society And Politics

Since I started teaching last year I’ve learned a lot about how much pressure our kids are under. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff provide tremendous insight into what’s gone wrong with mental health on campus in The Coddling of the American Mind. This year Lukianoff published a follow up with Rikki Schlott, The Canceling of the American Mind. Both are well worth your time. The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols is similarly insightful.

The Status Game by Will Storr is one of those books that will permanently change the way you see things. It really is that powerful. Maria Ressa’s How to Stand Up to a Dictator not only provides you with a powerful memoir of the Nobel Prize winner, it also shows how early thew social media giants knew about nation states manipulating the information space and how little they did to mitigate the damage. Infuriating!

Power and Progress by MIT’s Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson explains how narratives about technology are often shaped by the powerful at the expense of the rest of us. Brad Delong gives a comprehensive economic history of the 20th century in Slouching Towards Utopia.

Finally, The War Came To Us by Christopher Miller is a masterpiece of war reporting. Chris started reporting for the Kyiv Post a few years after I was involved with it, so I never actually met him but I’ve been avidly following his career as he moved on to become a top reporter for BuzzFeed, POLITICO and now the Financial Times. It’s an absolutely riveting read!

***

So that’s my list for this year. If you have any suggestions, feel free to let me know in the comments section.

I will publish my “Top Posts of 2022” next Sunday and then will take the rest of the year off. I’ll be back on Sunday, January 7th with my future trend for 2024.

See you then…

 

Photo by Alexandra Fuller on Unsplash

5 Responses leave one →
  1. December 23, 2023

    Thank you, Greg, for yet another fantastic reading list. Each year, I eagerly look forward to its release, often starting my wait as early as October! Your guidance is consistently outstanding. Warmest seasonal wishes to you!
    Yours,
    Jarek

  2. December 23, 2023

    Dzieki Jarek!

  3. December 26, 2023

    Read Sheena Iyengar’s book Think Bigger that was just published this Spring. It explains a new breakthrough methodology developing innovative solutions.

    Indeed, Think Bigger is an innovation game changer that makes the most used methodology, brainstorming truly inferior and obsolete. Think Bigger is the first new methodology for generating new idea since brainstorming that was developed by Alec Osborne 100 years ago and is widely used as a key part of design thinking.

    Think Bigger develops superior innovative ideas because it compiles the best successful solutions to each critical sub-problem of a larger problem from anywhere in the world, from anytime throughout the recorded history of mankind, in any part of life or field of study within or outside of domain.

    Because these solutions have been already proven successful, their application to a new problem is much more likely to be successful than any pie-in-the-sky, brainstormed idea. So, it’s a true innovation game-changer that is likely to reduce the terribly high failure rates for new products and new services introduced in the marketplace!

  4. December 30, 2023

    Thanks David! I’ll check it out.

  5. January 27, 2024

    thanks

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