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The 2012 Business Book Awards

The Advantage is a smart, quiet book. The message isn't about making millions of dollars, turning the ship around, inspiring innovative excellence, breaking all the rules. Instead, the message is about prevention, laying a solid groundwork of internal health to avoid the extremes mentioned above. To venture into a different metaphor, The Advantage is about eating your veggies, sharing a dessert rather than eating the entire slice, and taking a walk around the neighborhood each morning rather than auditioning for The Biggest Loser to make a drastic and last-ditch change.

Despite its sensible qualities, or rather because of them, we are passionate about the importance of this book. Patrick Lencioni, one of the biggest names in business books, is the right person to show you how to attain organizational health—nay, organizational excellence—and prevent the dysfunctions that come from such internal parasites as politics, unresolved conflict, and confusion.

Like anything that's valuable, organizational health takes some work. The payoff? Transformation.

With The Advantage, Lencioni leaves his preference for fable writing (e.g. The Five Dysfuntions of a Team, The Five Temptations of a CEO, and Getting Naked) behind. There are no fictional characters and narratives this time around, and while we'll miss Lencioni's talent for telling engaging tales, The Advantage still sings with the tenor of Lencioni's accessible and generous voice. The book is well-stocked with straightforward advice about getting things right in your organization before they become wrong. Because if, or rather when, things do go wrong, as they are apt to in the life of a company, the organization's health will be strong enough to withstand and endure the assault. Therein lies The Advantage.

Category Winner

General Business

Private Empire: Exxon Mobil and American Power by Steve Coll | The Penguin Press

Steve Coll's case study detailing the extraordinary operation of ExxonMobil is an impartial peek into a world that, for most, is and always will be as opaque as the dense black matter they deal in. Readers are privy to a wealth of insider stories, and, along the way, Coll's narrative manages to impart some of the worldly wisdom that helps the corporation stay so successful. There's nothing small about Private Empire: big money, big oil, big drama, 700 pages. Coll's austere narrative is the most modest element present. But the publication of Private Empire could not be timelier; one can't resist wondering how the most consistently profitable corporation in the U.S. will transform and be transformed by the changing energy market.

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Category Winner

Leadership

The Commitment Engine: Making Work Worth It by John Jantsch | Portfolio

Small business guru John Jantsch knows the importance of personal commitment, but from owning his own business and studying others, he knows that it's just as important to generate commitment to your business, your ideas and values, your story, your products and services, in others—particularly in your employees and customers, but also in the businesses you partner with. If you can set a clear purpose and build a business around it that generates commitment in others, then you can let go of the controls and watch as your business seemingly runs itself.

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Category Winner

Management

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni | Jossey-Bass

What would happen if Patrick Lencioni–a truly elite business book writer–left the fictional storylines and characters more common to his work and wrote a straight-forward business book? In 2012, to our delight and every manager's benefit, we found out. In The Advantage, Lencioni presents the important, yet rarely addressed, issue of interpersonal barriers that prevent organizational health. These dysfunctions (e.g. politics or inter-team rivalry, lack of accountability, disruptive turnover, confusion) impair productivity and morale, which directly impedes success. Organizational wholeness—-something attainable by all, Lencioni assures us—trumps everything else in business. We agree.

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Category Winner

Marketing & Sales

Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out by Marc Ecko | Touchstone Books

It is very rare to read an entire business book from cover to cover or find a story that is so interesting and captivating that it immediately puts perspective on how you channel your own creativity. Unlabel is that book. It is a success story, but it's one that shares the bruises, scars, and painful mistakes that every entrepreneur and business owner must overcome to succeed. Unlabel is a great mix of personal anecdotes from Marc Ecko’s own life and helpful action tips that other small business owners and entrepreneurs can use to further their businesses and their lives outside of business. In a time where the majority of the world is forced to hustle and fight in a competitive world, Unlabel is the perfect story of a man who clawed his way out of a garage, creating a multi-million dollar company in the process.  

Category Winner

Entrepreneurship & Small Business

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau | Crown Business

This book is not about getting rich, and it's not about being on the "leading edge." And, as the author tells us in his opening "manifesto," it is not about doing less work, it's about doing better work. Chris Guillebeau's new book is simply a very well written guide to independence via entrepreneurship. He offers insights on how to break away from the conventional workforce, but he augments his guidance with very relatable anecdotes and case studies that entertain, excite, and educate. The $100 Startup does offer cases in which people have made quite a bit of money, but the goal of the book is always to teach readers how to be self-supporting. This is the everyman's guide to entrepreneurship.

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Category Winner

Personal Development

So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport | Business Plus

Career advice of the "Do what you love" variety is usually followed up with a "bust out of your cubicle, sacrifice all, and follow your passion" anecdote of success. It's the kind of advice that gets people who aren't excited about their work to get excited about, well, doing anything but what they are doing. Cal Newport takes a different angle to finding fulfilling work, advising instead that passion is an unreliable advisor, and people actually long for and are fulfilled by becoming really, really good at something. Newport's advocacy of "using the craftsman mindset to generate fantastic livelihoods" offers a refreshing and realistic alternative route to finding work you love.

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Category Winner

Innovation & Creativity

The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? by Seth Godin | Portfolio

The Industrial Age and its factories required quiet productivity and standardization, and the people who worked in those factories were certainly no exception. But the Industrial Age is over. We live in a different time now, which Seth Godin calls "the connection economy." Connections involve people, but they also involve ideas, and as we make connections we create rather than replicate. Whether we're flight attendants, sales people, wait staff, managers, or painters, we can all make connections. We can all make art. The term "creative" often gets applied to a specific type of person. Godin shows us why that is wrong, how each of us can better understand what we are capable of, and what a huge resource of innovation that understanding can offer. Before addressing any challenge, we first must address ourselves. Godin shows us the way.

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Category Winner

Finance & Economics

Finance and the Good Society by Robert J. Shillerv Princeton University Press

Financial Capitalism has a rather well deserved black eye coming out of a crisis largely of its creation. Robert J. Shiller makes no apologies for the financial industry or those in it, but takes a longer view and shows how financial innovation has advanced human goals and agency throughout history and can still be a force of good in society. He very adeptly and academically lays out the roles and responsibilities of the individuals within finance, and the role of finance within the larger society. Shiller demonstrates along the way that instead of demonizing finance, we could be doing our best to democratize it—that finding the solution to our problems and building a better future for all of us requires not a more profound anger, but a deeper understanding of finance and its role in our society. And most importantly, he provides us with one.

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