2022 is well underway. Like many of you though, I feel as though I’m still working to get in a “proper groove” with work and life. I’m about halfway through 5 different book titles, behind on multiple work projects and juggling family responsibilities.
So, when I sat down to write this article, it took me some time to figure out what books to recommend. What I settled on was a list of 5 non-fiction books I enjoyed reading in the past 3-6 months.
They all share the same general theme of the context of work and self-improvement. I’m going to be attempting to integrate some of the lessons as the year continues. Hope you can draw on some of their wisdom as well. Happy reading!
By Andrew S. Winston and Paul Polman
Released at the end of 2021 by Harvard Business Press, this book has made waves in the global sustainable business community. Winston, a professor best known for his works “Green to Gold” and “The Big Pivot”, helps to tell the story of Paul Polman’s leadership at Unilever, the global consumer goods company. Over a 10-year span, through a series of bold moves and steadfast leadership, Polman transformed Unilever into a leader in ESG and sustainable business practices.
This book outlines what steps Unilever took to pivot towards sustainability and serves as a guidebook for a new framework for measuring business success; one based off measuring a company’s positive impact on society, not just quarterly earnings. While at times a bit repetitive and lacking in delivery, the concepts that Winston and Polman run the reader through are insightful.
For someone with a foundation for sustainability in business already, some concepts- such as moving away from monthly reporting, holding your supply chain accountable and emphasizing an equitable company culture- may be old news. Even so, you are sure to find informative nuggets no matter your level of previous expertise, such as the story behind Heinz’s failed buy offer and the positive business outcomes that came as a direct result of a shift away from short-term profit seeking.
2. Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life
By Gillian Tett
When I was recommended this book from a friend, I thought from the title that it may read like a textbook. I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Months after finishing the book I am often reminded of the tenants of Tett’s arguments, particularly the need for understanding others through an anthropological- and hence more empathetic- lens.
Tett does a wonderful job of relating her personal experience studying traditions in rural Tajikistan and her experience as editor at the Financial Times, to the arc of overall story. Her book is split into 3 sections. Section 1: how we can learn to make the “strange, familiar,” Section 2: how to make the “familiar less strange” and Section 3: what we can learn from “social silence.”
Her overall thesis is that if we can develop what she coins as “anthro-vision,” –in other words see others through an anthropological lens– rather than the lens of our own culture, we can better understand others and demystify behaviours we interpret as strange.
As she explains in the second half of the book, this way of framing our understanding also has application in the business world. Drawing on examples at companies like Intel, Nestlé and General Motors, Tett dives into how adding “anthro-vision” as a tool is a roadmap to better business and embracing ESG.
In today’s political climate, one where we are grouped into “us” vs “other”, her arguments ring especially true. I’m reminded of a friend who recently asked me about how strange people were from a particular part of the world I was familiar with. Rather than trying to respond in a meaningful way, I should have handed him a copy of this book.
3. How To Prepare For Climate Change: A Practical Guide To Surviving The Chaos
By David Pogue
WELL, hate to be a buzzkill, but we all should be thinking more about how we can prepare for climate change. This book by American science writer David Pogue, focuses on providing practical advice for the increasing turbulence caused by the challenges of global warming.
From re-thinking how you live at home, what to grow in your backyard, to how to reevaluate your finances, Pogue gives step-by-step advice for how to better prepared for future externalities many of us are currently ignoring.
It’s very much a textbook with lists of resources- as the title implies this isn’t a book to read when trying to unwind on your beach vacation. This is one to buy and read in sections, perhaps making a priority list of what you want to implement step-by-step.
More broadly speaking, this book is a wake-up call that it is not impractical to think about how climate change may impact our families and start to make some preparations that could help us down the road. I don’t think the intention of the book is to cause panic attacks or scare us into building backyard bunkers for doomsday, but rather to inform us of the realities of our situation on earth and that it never hurts to start to prepare.
Besides, many of his suggestions, such as collecting rainwater or utilizing solar power, are more sustainable and will lesson your contribution to our worsening climate.
4. Atomic Habits
By James Clear
Word of Mouth was strong on this book- I think I heard about it from 3 or 4 people all in the same week. After a quick listen on audible, I ordered the print version of the book to be able to reference more easily.
This book falls within the self-improvement category, but isn’t filled with the fluff or hyperbole that can seep into the genre. It is very clear and gives practical, data-backed advice on how to think about and develop healthy habits.
It helped me better understand how to think about behavior change and gave me a sense of how little action, rather than grand pursuits, can be more impactful on overall outcomes. As Clear argues, positive achievements are the result of habit “compounding”. Much like financial interest, benefits grow with consistent action over time.
For anyone looking for some inspiration, or a more regimented look at their habits in all aspects of life, then this book certainly provides a treasure-trove of good ideas.
Clear also provides many resources such as tracking, journals and case studies online through his website: https://jamesclear.com/
5. The Second Mountain
By David Brooks
Well-known American political pundit and writer David Brooks tells of his personal journey and the epiphany he had after his divorce- that pursuit of success as our culture defines it (the symbolic first mountain many climb in life) doesn’t compare with the deeper fulfillment found in committing to living with more purpose (the second mountain).
Part philosophical, part self-help advice, I found “Second Mountain” a thought-provoking read. Going through my own career shift, Brooks’ thoughts were compelling and helped inform me on how to better align my work with my deeper purpose.
Considering the pandemic and the shift to working from home, I think this book has extra relevance in 2022. For anyone who is considering the next step in their career or re-evaluating what is important at their work, this book provides some wisdom that can help inform decision making. At the very least, it is bound to broaden your viewpoints on the meaning of career and give strength to those of us tired of climbing a mountain endorsed by society, but oftentimes devoid of genuine meaning.
While some of Brooks’ experience may not ring true for everyone, especially his focus on faith, his personal narrative adds an authentic value to his arguments. I think his work here will stand the test of time and become an oft referenced resource about work and finding purpose.
Enjoying these book round-ups? Have some feedback or book suggestions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we would love to hear from you.
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Written exclusively for WELL, Magazine Asia by Jackson Kelleher.