Over the past year, we’ve covered a bunch of books that redefine “work” and offer solid tips for making it a less terrible way to spend your time.
Our list is a diverse sampling of advice and strategies from business-school professors, psychologists, and career coaches — all with the same goal of helping you craft a meaningful work life.
Below, we’ve rounded up our top seven picks.
Goldsmith is a psychologist and an executive coach who's worked with more than 150 CEOs. He's been named multiple times to the Thinkers50 list of influential management thinkers.
'What Got You Here Won't Get You There' is geared toward workers looking to advance to the next stage in their careers.
The thrust of the book is that just because you've been able to get by with your counterproductive habits doesn't mean you'll be able to reach the top of your field with those same tendencies. So it's time to nix them.
Goldsmith and Reiter outline the 20 workplace habits that keep business leaders -- and everyone else -- from success.
The authors also offer a number of necessary wake-up calls -- like the fact that it matters more what other people think of you than what you think of you. And that asking your team for 'feedforward,' or suggestions for the future, is just as important as soliciting feedback.
In the book, Duhigg, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist for The New York Times, deconstructs productivity and creativity into skills that anyone can develop.
He draws on stories from Disney creatives, Google teams, and aeroplane pilots to make the argument that productivity and creativity are really the results of systematic thinking and behaviour.
Consider the production of the hit Disney film 'Frozen,' for example. Duhigg suggests that the creative team succeeded by combining old ideas -- princesses and sisters -- in new ways. In other words, anyone can learn to be creative if they embrace the power of new perspectives.
Ariely, a behavioural economist and professor at Duke University, is the author of a number of popular books, including 'Predictably Irrational.' He also publishes a column in The Wall Street Journal in which he answers readers' questions about human behaviour.
In 'Payoff,' Ariely argues that human motivation is a lot more complex than we might believe. Most importantly, money isn't everything.
In fact, getting pizza and compliments can be more motivating than getting a financial bonus. And letting people take ownership of a project and giving them credit for it makes them more inclined to do it well.
If you're a manager -- or if you have hopes of ever becoming one -- this book will change the way you think of successful leadership.
Finkelstein, a professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, says that if you look at the key players within any industry, you'll notice that most of them at some point worked for the same individual.
Finkelstein calls these individuals -- whose ranks include fashion designer Ralph Lauren and Saturday Night Live's Lorne Michaels -- 'superbosses.' They're managers who spawn the next generation of talent by turning their employees into stars.
The book's main argument is that any manager can become a superboss by developing the key traits and behaviours that Finkelstein outlines, like fearlessness, authenticity, and not being afraid to let a great employee go.
Schwartz makes an argument similar to Ariely's: Human motivation is about more than just money.
And you can harness the power of intrinsic motivation -- or people's desire to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job -- to get better work from your employees.
Talented teachers show up to classrooms and are given ultra-detailed lesson plans to follow every day -- lesson plans that leave little to no room for creativity and autonomy. Teachers are instructed to 'teach to the test,' or the standardised exam at the end of the school year. Their performance is measured -- and their compensation determined -- largely based on their students' scores on those tests.
Schwartz calls this system 'assembly-line education' and says that it's 'the antithesis of smart job design' and job performance.
Burnett and Evans are professors in the design program at Stanford University; together they teach a course by the same name as the book.
The idea behind both the course and the book is to help people apply the principles of design thinking -- a strategy for improving on a product or experience -- to their personal and professional lives.
Let's say you're feeling unfulfilled at work. Before you jump ship or resign yourself to a life of misery, the authors suggest keeping what they call a 'Good Time Journal.' You keep track of your daily activities and which you enjoy the most, and try to redesign your current or next gig so you do more of what you love.
The authors also recommend an exercise called 'Odyssey Plans,' in which you map out different potential lives for yourself. The point is to realise that your life could take you in many different directions -- and you could be happy in each one.
In'Pivot,' career coach and former Googler Jenny Blake guides readers through the steps required to make a career change. It could be a big one -- starting your own business -- or a small one -- taking on new responsibilities in your current role.
If there's anyone who gets how intimidating it can be to make a career change, it's Blake. She started out on the AdWords product training team at Google; then helped launch Google's Career Guru program; then left Google after publishing her first book, 'Life After College,' to start a business based on her blog and book.
Blake puts a fresh spin on old ideas. For example, you should network -- but you can do it in a less-gross way by 'drafting,' or asking people if you can help with any work overflow they don't have resources to handle.
The main thing to know about Blake's pivot plan is that it involves a lot of careful planning and introspection -- so even if the final outcome doesn't look exactly the way you imagined it, presumably you won't wind up broke, unemployed, or regretful.
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