By Christina DesMarais

Continuous self-improvement is a pursuit that high achievers consistently follow. And one of the best ways to get better is to learn from the wisdom of others as laid out in a book. Here are nearly a dozen great ideas on which titles to pick up if you want to become a smarter, stronger version of yourself.

1. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

“Detailing the mindset and principles that Navy Seals deploy to successfully complete the most difficult, dangerous combat missions, Extreme Ownership outlines how you can apply them in any situation, team, organization, or environment. The lessons and practical action steps covered are essential to winning in both business and in life. After reading this book and adopting the principles of Extreme Ownership, my quality of life improved immeasurably and I was able to scale my company more than 200 percent in 12 months.”

–Chris Cavallini, founder and CEO of Nutrition Solutions, a healthy lifestyle meal preparation company used by more than 45,000 clients including elite professional athletes from the NFL, WWE, and UFC, as well as everyday people

2.The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

“To say this book has impacted me as a business owner and individual is an understatement. I have read [it] over 328 times, and believe it or not, I learn something new about myself every single time I read it. The simple way it gets me to focus on what’s right with things rather the wrong has completely altered the course of my life and continues to do so on a daily basis. This book has transformed the way I think, allowing me to laser focus on the positive. I preach this theme when I speak to audiences globally on the power of transformational change.”

–Garrain Jones, a transformation coach who has spoken to over 500,000 people in over 60 countries

3. 12 Rules for Life, an Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson

“When I first started out as an entrepreneur, financial success was a major focus of mine because I grew up with nothing. [This book, and] specifically the rule ‘Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient),’ has taught me the powerful lesson that chasing the dollar is a sure-fire way to feel empty, lonely, and ironically, drastically reduce your income potential in the long-run. This book has helped me understand that’s it’s critical to identify your primary motivating factors for running a business first. Once you understand and pursue what lights your soul on fire, the cash will come.”

–Jeremy Adams, co-founder and CEO of Unicorn Innovations, a customer acquisition agency that has generated hundreds of millions in trackable revenue through online paid traffic for brands

4. Dear Founder by Maynard Webb

“For my birthday this year, a seed investor gave me a copy of [this book], and I wish I had [it] when I first started my entrepreneurial journey. It captures many situations that a typical founder encounters on their journey and was a great reminder of lessons learned along the way. One key point Maynard underscores is the importance of setting priorities and discerning. When building a company, scaling strategically is vital. You can’t do everything on your own as you grow, and need to be able to delegate. Also, when you’ve gone through a tough stage, it is easy to get into the habit of looking backwards rather than looking forward, using how far you have come to set audacious goals for the business, and yourself. It is like a time machine, but we should think about it more like the DeLorean from Back to the Future, when talking about where we were a year ago and how far we’ve come. I need to point my DeLorean into the future more, and this book helped me realize that.”

–Michael Serbinis, founder and CEO of League Inc., a digital benefits platform serving hundreds of customers such as Uber, Shopify, and Unilever

5. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

“Nothing has better informed my perspective on how to make sense of a changing landscape, which is key for anyone in this world, but particularly founders/entrepreneurs. The author’s key insight is that everyone tends to share the same worldview or paradigm…but it is always flawed. Over time, evidence of the flaws adds up, which creates a crisis. Visionaries with the right priming, experience, and timing discover a whole new way of seeing the world, ending the crisis and creating a new pervasive paradigm. While written in the ’60s about scientific history, it may as well have been written yesterday about business and technology. It’s my secret way of making sense of today and getting a handle on the future.”

–Eric Anderson, principal at Scale Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that invests in early-in-revenue enterprise software companies such as DocuSign, Box, and HubSpot, and raised $400 million to close its sixth fund in 2018

6. The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

“This book is an eye-opening journey through Shonda Rhimes’s perils of introversion when her sister embarrassed her over Thanksgiving dinner: ‘You never say yes to anything.’ She moves toward a breakthrough by challenging herself to say yes–to everything–for a year. Known for creating ground-breaking shows like Grey’s AnatomyScandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, Shonda discusses how fear of discomfort kept her from countless life-changing opportunities, even the chance to have dinner with President Barack Obama (which her publicist later forced her to do). From The Year of Yes, I was able to discover a path to learning, truly and fully, more of what I was good at and what I enjoyed by trying new, exhilarating, and scary things. It forced me to stop writing them off because of fear of failure, worry of rejection, and good old-fashioned fear of looking uncool. Pushing myself to try new things was, and will continue to be, critical to my growth and my ability to help manifest growth in others. I move that we all take a period of time to just say ‘yes’ and see the beautiful experiences that come from it.”

–Megan Holston-Alexander, investor at Unusual Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital firm that raised $160 million to close its first fund in 2018; and blogger at “A Black Girl in Venture”

7. The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross

“[This was] the best book I’ve read this year. I liked how this book brought into focus what the defining technologies and industries are for the future and how they are already changing the world. It is a fascinating read on how machines/robots, genomics, and the codification of inherently human traits like trust, cyberwars, and last but not least–data–are and will be defining the future. It also talks about the geographies where innovation in each of these fields is being driven, and how these hubs are not necessarily in Silicon Valley.”

–Ashish Thusoo, co-founder and CEO of Qubole, a data activation company used by companies including Lyft, Comcast, and Grab to process data in minutes

8. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

“[This] is one of my favorite books on leadership. The novel explores the thoughts, motivations, and decision-making processes of leaders during the Civil War battle at Gettysburg. It taught me many great lessons in how to lead: by leading with a cause that people can embrace and communicating effectively–especially in times of rapid growth and transformation. This book also serves as a constant reminder of working towards a greater cause, that as business leaders our mission is more than increasing revenue but also about improving the larger industry to change how people live and work.”

–Matt Hawkins, CEO and board member at Waystar, a technology platform used by more than 440,000 health care providers

9. The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey

“If you care about becoming a sustained leader in creating customer advocates, having customers who will go to bat for you and will serve as your most passionate spokespeople, then [this book] is a must-read. It talks about making the transition from measuring Net Promoter Score as a vanity metric to building a Net Promoter System to deliver a sustained advantage over your peers. The book has given me a new perspective about finding and acting upon customer feedback, the most important feedback any company can receive.”

–Aditya Narula, head of customer success at Kabbage, a small-business lending platform which has helped more than 160,000 customers access more than $6 billion

10. A Mind at Home with Itself by Byron Katie

“The key lesson Ms. Katie taught me is that feelings of anger and suffering are optional and that these stressful feelings tend to create less than ideal business (and personal) decisions and outcomes. Ms. Katie teaches how to approach these challenging areas and how to get them to work with and for you, rather than against you.”

–Mike Baker, VP of global sales of Armis, an IoT security company that uses intelligence from over 7 million connected devices to protect against IoT attacks and has raised $47 million in capital

11. Touch: Five Factors to Growing and Leading a Human Organization by Tod Maffin and Mark Blevis 

“Reading this book reminds me that at the end of the day, we are not just selling features, but creating value for our customers. We are not building just a product, but building a movement of cultivating better Spend Cultures by helping organizations rethink the way they track, spend, and manage their resources. And that is being human.” 

–Aman Mann, co-founder and CEO of Procurify, a 95+ person SaaS company helping organizations control and manage company spending, backed by investors including Mark Cuban and Ryan Holmes


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