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Talk of work usually raises issues of being overwhelmed. That has been common for a few decades, but lately there’s a new twist: The difficulty of finding focus amidst the swirl of people, demands, and, above all, devices. The first widely used smartphone, dubbed the Crackberry, was launched in 2003 and the iPhone, which drove mass usage, came in 2007. A generation into their use, we are struggling.

That makes Nir Eyal’s Indistractable timely reading, a smart, thorough look at getting traction in a world of distractions – the best business book of 2019 to my mind. He stresses our struggles go beyond electronic devices. Many distractions bombard us, some that seduce us but some that we legitimately crave. With that in mind, he starts with values, which if firmly in place can help steer you past some distractions. After that he adds practical tips for dealing with the onslaught. “In the future there will be two kinds of people in the world: Those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves ‘indistractable,’” he proclaims. If you want to be in that latter category – and your success may depend upon it – his book is an excellent starting point.

Consider it for holiday reading, along with the others on my top 10 list, in order of merit:

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  • Nine Lies About Work by consultants Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall is a stimulating, no-nonsense, research-based look at things about work you likely believe are true, such as people crave feedback or culture is the key to success that are wrong – and how to apply the revised perspective. The twists and turns in their analysis sometimes had me losing track of the exact issue we were studying but the book was an exercise in learning and fit the cover’s subtitle: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to The Real World.
  • Why do so Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders (and how to fix it)? by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at Manpower Group and a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia Business School, is also about the lies we tell ourselves, this time about leadership, resulting in undervaluing women and overstating the abilities of many men. It’s also research-based, and much broader and more complex than the provocative question in the title suggests – but the provocative question is important to address.
  • Bedtime Stories for Managers by Henry Mintzberg is a series of three- to five-page essays, perfect for an era of short attention spans, but also serves as an introduction to the noted McGill University management professor’s thought-provoking and humorous writings if you haven’t read him or a quick best hits parade if you have.
  • It’s The Manager by Gallup’s Jim Clifton and Jim Harter is a handbook to management based on the analytics firm’s extensive research, covering issues like leadership traits, coaching, focusing on strengths, 12 essential elements for success, diversity, and the gender gap.
  • Turning the Flywheel by Jim Collins is only 37 pages, a monograph to accompany his bestseller Good to Great, but it’s essential reading – a concise explanation of how leading companies he advises are building flywheels, perpetual motion processes to propel continual economic success.
  • Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, fights back against what he calls a conspiracy celebrating those who achieve success at a very young age, leading us to miss out on the many notables who blossom later in life. He highlights the strengths common to those late achievers and pleads: “Each of us deserves the opportunity to bloom in our own way.”
  • Couples that Work by INSEAD associate professor Jennifer Petriglieri looks at a little-studied phenomenon, dual-career couples, sharing stories from those she studied and offering advice for the struggles such couples face at work and home.
  • Driving Innovation from Within by strategy consultant Kaihan Krippendorff draws attention to the importance of intrapreneurs, who are responsible for more top innovations than we realize, and the webs they work in, as well as offering a guide to how to successfully push innovations in your workplace.
  • Seeing Around Corners by Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath aims to help you spot infection points before they happen and is an illuminating, educative look at strategy in action by a number of major firms.

As always, in preparing this annual list I stuck with books published this year rather than revised editions. But I’d be remiss not to mention the third edition of The New Extraordinary Leader by consultants John Zenger and Joseph Folkman which otherwise would have been high on the list. I had not read previous versions and found their research on competencies of leaders and leadership development fascinating.

Cannonballs

  • Best title of the year: Nincompoopery by long-time executive John R. Brandt.
  • Kick-ass marketing book of the year: The CEO’s Digital Marketing Playbook by agency CEO Thomas Donohoe – blunt, brash and beneficial.
  • Best storytelling: Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz looking at corporate culture through stories about Toussaint L’Ouverture, Genghis Khan and others in What You Do Is Who you are.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

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