100 books every CEO and founder should read

Hello and welcome to Modern CEO! I’m Stephanie Mehta, CEO and chief content officer of Mansueto Ventures. Each week this newsletter explores inclusive approaches to leadership drawn from conversations with executives and entrepreneurs, and from the pages of Inc. and Fast Company. If you received this newsletter from a friend, you can sign up to get it yourself every Monday morning.

In June, I published a newsletter highlighting my summer reading list, and I’ll admit my selections were (mostly) what you’d expect from a New York-based media person: highly-anticipated books about the Redstone family, the rise and fall of online journalism, and the root causes of income inequality.

A blast of non-obvious

This week I’m recommending a list of more surprising titles, courtesy of Inc. and entrepreneur Rohit Bhargava. The first Inc. Non-Obvious Book Awards, aims to offer founders and business leaders perspectives that they may not normally hear or read. “We are all surrounded by plenty of obvious ideas,” says Bhargava, whose Non-Obvious Company has produced its own list of best nonfiction books since 2014. “Our mission since we started was to uncover those ideas that can take you in a fresh and new direction.”

Indeed, the Inc. Non-Obvious list features books you won’t typically find in the leadership section of the library. There’s Once Upon a Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare BookSeller, Oliver Darkshire’s memoir of his experiences working in antiquarian books, and Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe, a National Book Award finalist, that offers a portrait of Black life. 

“These books will shift your perspective and come from categories you might otherwise never read, but we are celebrating them all as ‘business books’ because they all have applications for business,” Bhargava tells me. (Disclosure: Fast Company Innovation by Design: Creative Ideas that Transform the Way We Live and Work, a book I helped edit, was named to the Non-Obvious Company’s Best Books of 2021.)

Reading (books) is fundamental

Bhargava has made a career of getting people to think differently about their businesses and the world through his newsletters, workshops, speeches, and yes, books: He’s the author of several books on marketing and trends, including Non-Obvious Megatrends: How to See What Others Miss and Predict the Future.

Entrepreneurs and executives today have many more places to get insights, including podcasts, webinars, and even short videos on TikTok. But Bhargava, whose lists only feature titles published in print form, firmly believes books still matter. “Books offer something bigger,” he says. “No one can be successful by only focusing on the micro. Even in a digital world, books are artifacts that propel big ideas from person to person—sometimes through reading and sometimes through just the passing along of a book from one person to another. There is really nothing else in the world that still offers that in such a beautifully analog and human way.”

Share your favorite read

What non-obvious books have helped you in your leadership journey? Please share your favorite unexpected business reads—and why. We’ll share reader favorites in a special year-end edition of the newsletter.

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