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The 10 Best Business Books Of 2016

From leading with grit to practicing deep work, these page turners introduced us to some new ideas this year.

Whether you wanted new ways to think about your business, insightful advice to manage your career, or analysis of the changing business landscape, 2016 offered up just the books you needed. Within that playing field, there were definitely some standouts. Here are 10 of the best business books published this year.

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Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
For years, Angela Duckworth’s research on grit—the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals—and self-control have offered valuable insights into why some people are able to stick with their vision while others let goals and plans fall by the wayside. This highly anticipated book by Duckworth, a 2013 MacArthur fellow and University of Pennsylvania psychology professor, doesn’t disappoint and landed on the New York Times best-seller list when it was released. This thorough examination of the power of grit is an inspiring look at the true “secrets” to success that are available to most of us.

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton M. Christensen, Karen Dillon, David S. Duncan and Taddy Hall
Called “the father of disruptive innovation theory,” Clayton M. Christensen is at it again. With his coauthors, Christensen makes the case that companies shouldn’t be selling benefits. Instead, they should be selling themselves for hire. Customers are looking for products and services to do specific jobs. When companies focus on the job at hand, they can innovate more effectively to win market share and customer loyalty. Using real-world examples like Amazon and Airbnb, the book makes it easy to translate this new way of thinking to your business.

Here’s the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood by Allyson Downey
Even as more workplaces pride themselves on being “family-friendly,” women still face difficult choices when it comes to pregnancy and parenthood. Allyson Downey blends practical advice from her time writing about the intersection of work and family with real-world insights as an entrepreneur and mother of two small children. The result is a fresh, practical, and honest book that provides reassuring guidance for women—and men—who are about to become working parents. It’s a rare book that speaks to the concerns many have–but are often afraid to express–about starting a family while on the career track.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
Just as the backlash against multitasking reaches a fever pitch, Cal Newport steps up with a guide to getting our focus back. He explains how the “residue” left by multitasking makes us less cognitively efficient. Without scolding—he gets that we’re all busy—Newport guides readers through a training regimen to strengthen focus and become more effective and better at our work by immersing ourselves in what we’re doing instead of flitting from one task to another. Dive into Newport’s book to reclaim your mental clarity and deepen your ability to focus on the task at hand until it’s done, and done well. The book racked up awards from the Wall Street Journal (business best seller) Amazon (best business book, January 2016), and others.

Disrupted: My Year in the Startup Bubble by Dan Lyons
When was the last time a business book was a page-turner? Journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and Fake Steve Jobs creator Dan Lyons brought his multitalented A-game to this bold, forthright look at the world of tech startups. From the moment his boss and old friend, Abby, unceremoniously fires the fiftysomething Lyons from his beloved job at Newsweek, it’s hard not to root for him. Where he actually lands is at inbound marketing and sales software company HubSpot, where most employees are half his age. In this New York Times best seller, he recounts his year at the startup with laugh-out-loud descriptions and important observations about culture, while also sharing his own lessons about reinventing one’s career in the technology age. (HubSpot responded to the book here.)

The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream by Amy Webb
When Amy Webb’s Future Today Institute posted its December 2016 trends report, the firm’s website crashed from demand. The popular futurist and author last made a big splash with her TED talk and book about using data to hack online dating. Now, she’s applying her skeptical, no-nonsense style to looking at how fringe elements in society become widely accepted and commonplace. You can’t pay attention to everything. Webb’s engaging style uses detailed examples of successes (Nintendo) and failures (BlackBerry) to provide accessible guidance about where you should be focusing attention to spot the trends and movements that are going to stick. In the shadow of an election where so many missed the signals, Webb’s book explores important issues at an opportune time. It is the recipient of an Amazon Best Book of December 2016 award.

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Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe
While it feels like change is happening faster than ever today, that’s hard to quantify. But Joichi “Joi” Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, and veteran Wired editor and writer Jeff Howe (who is, in part, credited with coining the term “crowdsourcing”), believe that humans always have a set of beliefs and assumptions. The problem is those beliefs and assumptions mask what you don’t know. Using a framework of nine principles, Ito and Howe attempt to get us to question these underlying belief systems to help us be more open to learning, adapting, and changing. As you get further into the book, you may start to feel a little less sure of what you “know.” But that’s okay. You’ll finish it a little wiser for the experience.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
Imagine a world where machines free us to work on our passion projects without the worry of rote task and routines that drag down our creativity. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Digital Business show us the possibilities of innovation in robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies. Theirs is a utopian vision, to be sure, with less emphasis on the “hollowing out” of the workforce by automation and more on realizing individual potential. However, they provide insight into how technology will revolutionize the way we work, and soon. The book was a New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal best seller.

The New Alpha: Join the Rising Movement of Influencers and Changemakers Who Are Redefining Leadership by Danielle Harlan
Danielle Harlan’s book makes you want to be a better leader. Eschewing the gimmicks and curated image development that some leadership books push, the founder of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential advocates a more broad-based and authentic approach to developing your leadership chops. This is a thinking person’s motivational book, and it works. She gives you permission to develop your own style. You’ll have to wade through some of the holistic advice, like taking care of yourself and getting exercise, but the book effectively combines solid guidance with a dose of self-help.

The Content Trap: A Strategist’s Guide to Digital Change by Bharat Anand
If you think a book about content is a snooze, think again. Harvard Business School Professor Bharat Anand makes the case that we all create content. But what we’re prioritizing needs an overhaul. Anand discusses how to create connections through content rather than spending time and resources on having the best content. He shows us with vivid stories and examples how the digital age has brought unprecedented opportunities for those who can master those connections to bring enormous benefits to their businesses and brands. The Wall Street Journal called it “. . . a call to clear thinking and reassessing why things are the way they are.”

About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and web sites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books.

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