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Best NonFiction Books All Innovators Should Read in 2021 (And Beyond)

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Love to read? So do I! I consume books like they’re candy, especially now that I’m at home more and have the opportunity to learn even more. While I definitely love fiction and children’s books, non-fiction has the ability to scratch that curiosity itch on all things creativity, mindset, leadership and beyond. I’ve personally-curated this list of the best nonfiction books for innovators to read in 2021. I’ve chosen them based on their memorability, relevance to what’s going on today, and general ability to hold my attention from cover to cover.

Also as a quick note, if print books aren’t your thing or inaccessible to you for any reason, all of them have audiobooks! 

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

Cultivating leaders that are empathetic, daring, and embed courage into their company culture.

Author: Brené Brown

In Brown’s famous “no B.S.”-tone she gives actionable, and heavily researched guidelines on how to lead with courage over comfort in order to achieve more productivity, innovation, and happiness. The insights into how to be an empathetic AND brave leader are timeless, especially for women in the workforce.

“If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we have to be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected.”

Rethink Creativity: How to innovate, inspire, and thrive at work – 2nd Edition

Discovering your own unique creative lens and applying it to your life and work.

Author: Monica H. Kang (me!)

AUDIOBOOK AVAILABLE

Do you feel a lack of creative juices or feel it’s impossible for you to be creative at all? Or perhaps you know you’re creative but aren’t feeling empowered to use your creativity in your current life. I was in the same boat, which is why I decided to author this book: to give an actionable, engaging framework for anyone to embrace their own creativity and use it to improve their life and teams.

The newly revised 2nd edition of my award-winning book is packed full with more insights, stories, and playful imagery and resources. 

“There’s a difference between creating a space where you encourage creativity versus where you expect everyone to be creative. How you communicate that expectation can make the difference between killing creativity or fostering it.”

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Developing a mindset that leads to true happiness and creativity. 

Author: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What if you could live in flow in everything you do? “Flow” shares the science on how you could reframe how you think about taking ownership in designing an optimal – aka best experience – in everything you do by rethinking how you think, design and lead. One framework that stuck with me refers to the reason why some people could make any boring job a fun one. When tasks feel too easy or too difficult our minds are discouraged, but if we could design an easy task to feel challenging or a challenging task one step easier, it feels more energizing and empowering to do.  

“To overcome the anxieties and depressions of contemporary life, individuals must become independent of the social environment to the degree that they no longer respond exclusively in terms of its rewards and punishments. To achieve such autonomy, a person has to learn to provide rewards to herself. She has to develop the ability to find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances.”

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad One

A proven framework for building healthy habits and overcoming lack of motivation and willpower.

Author: James Clear

If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with processes and habits. And this book is all about how to build good habits and break bad ones by understanding how the science of habit building works. Why do we tend to have difficulty resisting that cookie after work? Why do some people have an easier time setting time to reflect as a leader? Clear draws on the science of behavior and communicates clearly how to apply it to our everyday lives so we can get into healthier habits, and know what to do when we fall off track.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

How to achieve an open, growth mindset to start achieving more.

Author: Dr. Carol S. Dweck

You might have heard of a “growth mindset” before but never to this detail of how it actually works. I love that Dr. Dweck covers  how we all have a growth and fixed mindset on several things in life. Just because some of us are more picky with foods we eat, how we like to work, or how we like to answer our emails, this doesn’t not mean we’re all fixed minded in everything else. Understanding this gives us the science to understanding how we could apply growth mindset framing to parenting, business, collaboration, and more. 

“In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome . They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, and working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful.”

Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Draws attention to importance of navigating the defining conversations in our lives, especially the tough ones

Author: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

The words from this book will pop into your head whether you’re having a heated conversation with a family member, asking for a promotion at a job, or even having “the talk” with your kids. We’re all always having crucial conversations that could make or break relationships. In short, these principles will change who you interact with  the world and how you want to show up. It surely encourages me to listen more than speak when I’m in those conversations.

“This is the first principle of dialogue—Start with Heart. That is, your own heart. If you can’t get yourself right, you’ll have a hard time getting dialogue right.”

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups

Dive into the world’s most successful organizations to decode the culture-building process

Author: Daniel Coyle

Where does great culture come from? How do you build and sustain it in your group, or strengthen a culture that needs fixing? I love this book because it not only reminds us of the importance of a culture, but breaks it down. It’s an essential read not just for leaders or organizations, but anyone who works in a group or team.

“Hire people smarter than you. Fail early, fail often. Listen to everyone’s ideas. Face toward the problems. B-level work is bad for your soul. It’s more important to invest in good people than in good ideas.”

Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts

A “mental first aid kit” for dealing with the emotional wounds we all carry

Author: Dr. Guy Winch

This book was an INCREDIBLE insight for me in terms of rethinking emotions in the workplace and within myself.  Practicing psychologist Dr. Guy Winch uses tried and true methods to give step-by-step instructions on how to deal with some of the hardest emotional feelings we all face. One framing? Start with remembering that unlike physical wounds, we are not taught to learn how to take care of our emotional wounds. And even the slightest cut that we get emotionally feels like a papercut when we leave it untreated for months and years. We end up showing up as a zombie with wounds carried from other workplaces and relationships. We need to learn how to take care of ourselves better and take care of how others feel and show up too.

“We often neglect our psychological wounds until they become severe enough to impair our functioning.”

Friendship in the Age of Loneliness: An Optimist’s Guide to Connection 

Friendship and how to rethink relationships, including why it’s so key in this time where well-being is even more important

Author: Adam Smiley Poswolsky

We were lonelier than ever as a nation, even before the pandemic hit. But this book, written by brilliant millennial author Adam Smiley Poswolsky, will guarantee to leave you with warm and fuzzy feelings about connecting with others authentically and with our own well-being. The takeaway? Reframing relationships starts by realizing it’s so crucial to make time for the people you care for. Don’t wait to call that friend. Don’t cluster gatherings because you’re too busy. Smiley shares real examples, interviews his friends, and discusses how this remote time is another powerful reminder to why and how we should take the time to care for friendships, especially in the workplace.

“Make human connection the true currency of life.”

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact

How to recreate moments and how it can quite literally change lives

Author: Chip and Dan Heath

This book delves into some fascinating mysteries of experience: Why we tend to remember the best or worst moment of an experience, as well as the last moment, and forget the rest. Moments are powerful, and when you learn the science behind why certain moments feel more powerful , you will learn how to create that for others. From your first day at work to how you do your weekly meetings, the Chip brothers share how reframing the way we think about everyday moments in life could be the gift in how we experience joy and powerful gratification in every single experience we have.

“The reason people hate meetings is that emotion is deliberately squeezed out. Participants sit and listen to programmed presentations. But this is a choice, not an inevitability. You can just as easily conduct a meeting that has drama, meaning, and connection. You cannot bring two teams together by simply talking about unity. They must experience unity. That's what makes it a defining moment.”

Bonus! Other Stories Focused Specifically for Innovators:

And of course I have many more books I’d recommend. I share more in my book resource page here but I’ve listed some of my other top favorites that I recommend you to read, explore, listen, and reread. They are books focused on leadership, psychology, storytelling, creativity, and reframing. Some you’ll want to read when you feel like you need a hug that it’s ok. Some you’ll want to read to push you to be bolder and not get comfortable where you are. In all, these have helped me to remind myself that reframing starts every day in what I do, how I respond, and how I engage. The key is you taking ownership and leading the life you want. 

I cover some of these in my Books with Monica series if you’ve listened to some of them they are all in our Youtube channel here. 

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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