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The Best Business Books Of 2012: Find Fulfillment, Get Productive, And Create Healthy Habits

These 12 books have shaped not only the way we work this year, but how we think and the conversations we're having. Authored by luminaries like Nate Silver, Clay Christensen, and Susan Cain, these delightful-to-read tomes offer insight into the power of vulnerability, habit, social media, and more.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
In Quiet, author Susan Cain argues that introverts are a reservoir of untapped talent—and that progressive managers can create environments in which they thrive.

"Any time people come together in a meeting, we’re not necessarily getting the best ideas," she tells Fast Company, "we’re just getting the ideas of the best talkers."

Amazon, $15.20.

2. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon
As the author of the disruption-defining Innovator’s Dilemma, Clay Christensen is one of the most esteemed minds in business. In How Will You Measure Your Life?, he and coauthors James Allworth and Karen Dillon investigate what it means to have a fulfilling career, and finds that it is both a focused and open process.

"I believe that we can, in a deliberate way, articulate the kind of people we want to become," he says. "As the rest of life happens to you, you can utilize those things to help you become the kind of person you want to be."

Amazon, $15.98.

3. Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, by Robert Pozen
Bob Pozen once simultaneously served as president of Fidelity Management, lectured full-time at Harvard Business School, and wrote for the Harvard Business Review—meaning that he’s earned the right to write a book called Extreme Productivity.

"If you want an active schedule," he tells us in an interview about turning career plans into daily actions, "you have to husband your time so you can act on the things that are important."

Amazon, $15.97.

4. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don't, by Nate Silver

Nate Silver has become a bespectacled icon for his prediction prowess—as you might of heard, he called every state of the presidential election (and pulled 20+ percent of the New York Times’ web traffic on election night). But as he observes in The Signal and the Noise, we as a culture have grown forecast obsessed—something all businesses would do well to be aware of.

"We need to stop and admit it: we have a prediction problem," he writes. "We love to predict things—and we aren't very good at it."

Amazon, $16.35.

5. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brené Brown

There's a myth about how entrepreneurs have to be invulnerable. Brené Brown will have none of it.

"If you are alive and in relationship, you do vulnerability," she tells us. "If you are alive and in relationship and in business, you do it hourly."

Amazon, $14.72.

6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explores how habits shape our lives—and how savvy businesses can shape them.

Febreeze, for instance, flopped when it launched as an odor killer, because, as Duhigg says, "the people who needed it, who lived with nine cats, had adapted to (it)." After noticing that people look proud after making their beds—a habit to capitalize on—P&G rebranded the spray as a post-cleaning reward, one that now makes $1 billion a year.

Amazon, $15.88

7. Renegades Write the Rules: How the Digital Royalty Use Social Media to Innovate, by Amy Jo Martin

Amy Jo Martin shares her story on how she got the Rock to become a social media machine in Renegades Write the Rules. In our excerpt she argues for why you need to share your life with your followers—whether you're an action star or an entrepreneur.

"With more than a billion people using these communication channels," she writes, "you can't afford not to have an active role in the conversation."

Amazon, $15.81

8. Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck: What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur and Build a Great Business, by Anthony K. Tjan, Richard J. Harrington, Tsun-Yan Hsieh

Business takes courage, observe the authors—but don’t confuse courage with fearlessness.

"Guts-driven entrepreneurs aren’t fearless," they write in our excerpt, "They just know how to cope with, and maybe even thrive in, uncomfortable environments."

Amazon, $14.75

9. The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World, by Frans Johansson

In every great career, Frans Johansson writes in The Click Moment, there's a time when talent and luck intersect in a fit of business serendipity.

"If you scratch underneath the glossy exterior of success stories, you're actually going to find that behind those things you're going to find an unexpected meeting, a surprising insight, and that's what's behind most success," he tells us. "It follows then that we should court those types of things."

Amazon, $15.85

10. Wait: The Art and Science of Delay, by Frank Partnoy

When making decisions, Frank Partnoy observes in Wait, you need to be able to understand whether you're operating at a Twitter or glacial pace—two contexts that might be happening simultaneously.

"What really good leaders are able to do is inspire the rest of the team by their knowledge of the granular," Partnoy says, "but also be able to step back from the granular and put together the tectonic pieces that need to be placed together."

Amazon, $16.49

11. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

Thirty years of research into leadership yields impressive results—like The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, now in its fifth edition. Culled from decades of asking leaders what they're doing when they're in top form, the authors distill leadership to its essence.

"Leaders accept and act on the paradox of power," they write. "You become more powerful when you give your own power away."

Amazon, $19.38

12. 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, by Nilofer Merchant

Social media is a game changer, yes, but it's only part of the larger shift of the Social Era, writes Nilofer Merchant. In our excerpt from 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, Nilofer sketches out the new paradigm's core principles.

What's at the center of the social era? Connections. "If the industrial era was about building things, the social era is about connecting things, people, and ideas," she writes. "Networks of connected people with shared interests and goals create ways that can produce returns for any company that serves their needs."

Amazon, $3.03

Did we miss one of your favorites? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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[Image: Flickr user Horia Varlan]

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  • Susan Chritton

    I am the author of Personal Branding for Dummies and I am receiving emails from people all over the world - but mostly the US - about how much the book is empowering them to live their authenticity in the workplace. Check it out. Susan Chritton

  • Tehmina Zaman

    The Power of Habit is one of my favorites from this list and has has been a key read for me this year. One book I would add to the list though is "$100 Start Up" By Chris Guillebeau.

  • Davis Liu, MD

    Great list. Read many and others on my to do list.

    Might I also suggest an extraordinary book written by HBS Professor Christensen's colleague HBS Professor Amy Edmondson called Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy.

    Edmondson notes "For over a century, we've focused too much on relentless execution and
    depended too much on fear to get things done. That era is over...human
    and organizational obstacles to teaming and learning can be
    overcome...Few of today's most pressing social problems can be solved
    within the four walls of any organization, no matter how enlightened or
    extraordinary... Generating ideas to solve problems is the currency of
    the future; teaming is the way to develop, implement, and improve those

    This like many of the books listed here was a must read in 2012.

  • Russ

    I highly recommend everyone read the book StrengthsFinders 2.0 by Tom Rath (and take their online assessment test). 

    "Do you have an opportunity to do what you do best every day?" Chances are, you do not. Why? Well, according to SF 2.0, it's because we devote most of our time trying to fix our shortcomings, rather than working on developing our strengths!

    The book is based on a 40-year study of human strengths by Clifton Gallup. He created a language which describes the 34 most common "talents" and developed an assessment tool to help people discover and describe these "talents".

  • Gary Wells

    I just read a great business related book titled Street Smart Disciplines of  Successful People. That would have been a great one to make the list as well.

  • Jill Malleck

    "Immunity to Change" by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey provides a practical way to overcome change resistance in yourself and your organization. Using the metaphor of the physical immune system,the researchers show how our limiting beliefs - our own and the collective mindsets we work and play in - keep us from trying new behaviours or signing up wholeheartedly for the change that we know we want. The book dives into the emotional life of organizations without getting all icky about it. A brilliant tool for leaders and facilitators of change.

  • Wayne Woodson

    What about The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything
    Else In Business?  It's Patrick Lencioni's latest and it's the best book I've read this year.  It talks about the essentials of organizational health leading to business success. 

  • Billy

    The Young Professional's Survival Guide: From Cab Fares to Moral Snares -> I think it will be big in 2013. Great book for every career.

  • Walt Kuenstler

    One that flew under the radar a bit is "Talk To Strangers" by David Topus. It's the definitive guide to meeting people, live and in person, as we go about our daily lives. The perfect antidote to a digitalized, sanitized, LinkedIn / Facebook / Twitter imitation of actual life.

    Learn more at http://talktostrangersthebook....

  • MasteringEmail

    I would like you to review my new book, Unload Email Overload. Using my methodology, your readers will save thousands of hours of precious time and the companies you serve will save hundreds of millions of dollars lost to disruptive email habits. 

  • Gary Wells

    I really think that "Street Smart Disciplines of Successful People" should have made the list. Not only is this a fantastic book for people entering the business world, but also for those seasoned business folks who want to revisit the important disciplines in the book, and who want to pass this valuable knowledge on to their fellow partners or employees.

  • Plattdujour

    A good list, cool new ways of thinking. But one new book you missed, I think, equally needed, is a terrific distillation of the kind of simple business practices that will always be essential, and which we forget at our peril - 'Street Smart Disciplines of Successful People'. It's a short book, but there's nothing slick about it, it's not entertainment, and it makes the point right at the beginning that business is not easy and this will be a tough read. It's written by a couple of American entrepreneurs who actually did it, created successful businesses and got rich. Luckily, it's broken into short, digestible bits, intended as a kind of reference book for correct practices and written in very non-business-school 'street' language. I recommend it. There is no book quite like it, to my knowledge. It could become a sort of test of whether you're serious or not. You can have all the cool ideas in the world, but then what? How do you monetize that? How do you run it? It's a bit of a slap in the face, actually. A wake-up. Do this. Then do this. Then this. Then you may stand a chance. I love it. Tough-talking smart guys showing us how it's actually done out there in the real world. And,yes, I found it on Amazon.

  • Max Klien



  • Sharon Ann Ohara

    Love that Brene Brown made the list.  Since her Ted Talk I have really noticed where vulnerability and authenticity is a differentiator in leaders.