Many of 2016’s bestselling nonfiction books can set you up for success in 2017. From Adam Grant’s Originals to Megyn Kelly’s Settle For More, this year’s bestsellers offer effective lessons, tools and roadmaps by those who have achieved excellence as leaders, entrepreneurs, and communicators.
Megyn Kelly, Settle for More
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly reminds us that pursuing one’s passion does not always follow a straight line. In high school, public-speaking was her favorite course, but she didn’t have a clear plan on what to do with it. She entered the legal profession where years of 18-hour days left her near a nervous breakdown. One day she heard Dr. Phil say: “The only difference between you and someone you envy is, you settled for less.” Kelly decided to settle for more at the age of thirty-two. A Chicago cameraman said he would help Kelly make a demo tape if she passed a quiz. “Tell me a story in sixty seconds or less,” he said. She did so, without a stumble. “You’re gonna be on TV,” the cameraman said.
The zone of genius is the place where your talent and passion intersect. It took 15 years for Kelly to find that intersection, but she found remarkable joy and success once she did.
Angela Duckworth, Grit
The power of passion is also a theme for University of Pennsylvania psychology professor, Angela Duckworth. In Grit, she reveals the following formula for turning your talent into achievement:
Talent x effort = skill
Skill x effort = achievement
Here’s the key. Passion and talent alone are not enough to achieve success. “Effort” factors into the equation twice. “There are no shortcuts to excellence,” writes Duckworth. “Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.” Paragons of grit, says Duckworth, are always ready to improve no matter how excellent they already are.
Phil Knight, Shoe Dog
Nike founder Phil Knight is certainly a “paragon of grit” and a leader with a strong work ethic. He also reminds us to pursue “crazy ideas.” At the age of twenty-four, Knight realized that one dream— to be a world-class runner—simply wasn’t in the cards. Fate, he writes, had made him good, not great. Knight turned his attention to a bigger dream, one that was “prodigious” and “improbable” and chased it with “an athlete’s single-minded dedication and purpose.” Knight started selling running shoes from the trunk of his car and it would take another ten years before he paid himself a salary. “I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy. Just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping.”
Knight says only pursue passions and crazy dreams that you truly care deeply about. “I wasn’t selling. I believed in running…people, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves. Belief is irresistible.”
Thomas Friedman, Thank You For Being Late
The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, beautifully synthesizes and connects complex ideas in his books. Although Thank You For Being Late traces the exponential growth and disruption of the age we’re living in, Friedman also tackles the issue of how to communicate such trends. Friedman’s approach to writing benefits any leader who delivers presentations or writes blogs and insights. Columnists, Friedman argues, are in the heating or the lighting business. “Every column or blog has to either turn on a light bulb in your reader’s head–illuminate or inspire–or stoke an emotion in your reader’s heart that prompts them to feel or act more intensely. The ideal column does both.”
Friedman reminds us writers to remember the human element in writing. “The columns that get the most response are almost always about people, not numbers. Also, never forget that the best-selling book of all time is a collection of stories about people. It’s called the Bible.”
Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run
Speaking of writing, if you like the way rocker Bruce Springsteen crafts lyrics, you will thoroughly enjoy all 508 pages of his autobiography. Springsteen reminds us that it’s the words that ultimately carry a song into our hearts, and the best words are often rooted in personal stories. “I wanted my music grounded in my life, in the life of my family and in the blood and lives of the people I’d known. Most of my writing is emotionally autobiographical. I’ve learned you’ve got to pull up the things that mean something to you in order for them to mean anything to your audience.”
Springsteen’s songwriting advice applies to any leader or entrepreneur who wants to connect with consumers. Don’t be afraid to let readers in and show them who you are. As in songwriting, your words must reflect what’s in your heart. “All the telling detail in the world doesn’t matter if the song lacks an emotional center,” writes Springsteen.
Adam Grant, Originals
“After you spot a promising idea, the next step is to communicate it effectively,” writes Wharton professor Adam Grant.
Grant argues that leaders and entrepreneurs often under-communicate their vision, mission or ideas. “If we want people to accept our original ideas, we need to speak up about them, then rinse and repeat…an unfamiliar idea requires more effort to understand. The more we see, hear, and touch it, the more comfortable we become with it, and the less threatening it is.”
Evidence suggests that people need to be exposed to an idea between ten to twenty times before they’re comfortable with it. It’s a good lesson. If you take the Grant approach, you might want to introduce an idea to your boss in a 30-second conversation at the holiday office party, followed by a short email the next week, followed by a meeting after the new year. Don’t under-communicate your idea.
Ken Segall, Think Simple
Simplicity is hard work and, according to former Apple adman Ken Segall, the most potent weapon in business. Segall led the team behind Apple’s legendary Think Different marketing campaign and worked closely with Steve Jobs for 14 years. Segall even started the ‘i-thing’ in Apple’s product names. Although the book is primarily about simplicity in business and product design, I consider it one of the best communication books of the year.
Effective communication is effective because it simplifies complexity. Segall cites Steve Jobs and other effective CEOs as “Chief Uncomplicators.” Business plans, memos, emails, presentations should be distilled to their essence, written as concisely as humanly possible. “Communication, especially the way Steve handled it, is as empowering as it is clarifying—which is why it’s such a helpful tool in the cause of simplification.”
Robert Cialdini, Pre-Suasion
Cialdini, a marketing professor and bestselling author in influence and persuasion, identifies what “savvy communicators” do before delivering a message to get accepted.
In one section of the book he takes us through the six concepts that make up influence: Reciprocity, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity and consistency. Each one applies to public-speaking and leadership communication. One of the most powerful techniques is the “liking.” Simply put, we like people who like us. By discussing your similarities or giving people a genuine compliment, it shows them you like them, and it’s hard for most people to ignore. “Indeed, we seem so charmed by flattery that it can work on us even when it appears to have an ulterior motive,” writes Cialdini.
Joel Osteen, Think Better Live Better
Every year I read several books by people of faith, especially by excellent communicators such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks or Pope Francis. Osteen is certainly one of the best Christian speakers of our time. In Think Better Live Better Osteen says a victorious life begins in your mind. He uses his own journey as a public-speaker to remind readers that the stories they tell themselves—the words they use in their own head—can either hold them back or set them on a path to success in their chosen field of expertise.
Osteen calls it “reprogramming your software” to keep out the viruses, the negative self-talk that prevents people from being their best. “When I stepped up to pastor the church, every thought told me, You can’t do this. You don’t know how to minister…it would have been easy to let that virus take root and keep me from my destiny. I did what I’m asking you to do. I kept hitting the delete button.” Osteen would not have been where he is today—selling out stadiums and speaking to 40,000 people a week—if he had not become an expert at deleting negative self-talk.
Duncan Clark, Alibaba
Self-made billionaire and founder of China’s Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, has an inspiring life story as told by Duncan Clark, who worked as a consultant for the e-commerce giant in its early years. What caught my attention was that Ma, an English teacher turned businessman, used teaching methods to communicate his company’s value proposition.
“Although he left the profession two decades ago, Jack has never really stopped being an educator,” Clark writes. “He used to joke that in his case CEO stood for “Chief Education Officer.” Ma’s speaking style is easy to remember and digest. One of Ma’s techniques is to adapt his examples to his audience. He will change his historical references in his presentations when presenting to an American versus a Chinese audience. “A close inspection of all of his speeches reveals he has essentially been giving the same speech for seventeen years. Yet by subtly tweaking his message to match the mood and expectations of the crowd, he somehow manages to make each speech feel fresh.”
Successful people like Richard Branson, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates say leaders are readers. If success leaves clues, these billionaires are giving us an important one.
[IMAGE: Gallo Communications]