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The 2016 Business Book Awards

We tend to rail at the gods when discussing gender inequality—Fight the system! Fight the power!—but don’t know how to wrest power away from them. In What Works, Iris Bohnet is more concerned that the glacial pace with which gender equality improves is due, in part, to unconscious bias. To counter these biases, she helps us identify our unwitting prejudices and then “design” a methodology for remapping how we habitually think:

“Because the stakes are high by every measure, let me be clear. Far from all gender inequities are the result of unconscious bias, which is only one of the culprits unjustly disadvantaging some and benefiting others. And behavioral interventions are one instrument in our collective toolbox to correct for these injustices. Biases are, however, a clear cause of inequality, and behavioral designs can accomplish things that hammers cannot.”

 

It’s true that What Works is a complicated book. Not because Bohnet isn’t a clear writer—she is both precise and engaging—and not because the methodology she presents is particularly daunting in terms of execution. It’s complicated because gender equality is complicated, especially if we want to make sure we don’t resort to knee-jerk name-calling or victim-blaming. It’s complicated because we simply aren’t aware of all the ways in which we are biased. But if we accept the optimistic premise that most people desire gender equality and most organizations recognize the value of gender equality, then Bohnet’s approach, while uncomfortable because it makes us adjust our habits and acknowledge our shortcomings, is the way to make change.

Category Winner

Leadership & Strategy

Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways by William C. Taylor | Portfolio

“Standard operating procedure” used to be how organizations went about setting a routine and ensuring results, but times have changed, and Bill Taylor is our guide to companies around the globe that are doing business differently—and brilliantly. This is not a book about sweeping disruption, but about the simple steps companies are taking to put their values to work to enrich the employee and customer experience with imagination, conviction, and a desire to subvert the status quo. Taylor is a natural storyteller who lets his protagonists—leaders who refuse to accept “business-as-usual”—drive his thesis that business brilliance is available to every organization and not the sole property of Silicon Valley startups.

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Category Winner

Management & Workplace Culture

An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey | Harvard Business School Press

Modern organizations face a particularly difficult challenge, not just from competitors or advancing technology, or even the global marketplace, but also from a dual responsibility to grow the company as well as the people within the company. While some managers might grouse about the burden, in An Everyone Culture, Kegan and Lahey explain that helping people realize their potential results in higher levels of performance and profitability. The authors lay out the methods necessary to and benefits derived from designing a culture that integrates personal development in an organization’s everyday work.

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Category Winner

Marketing & Sales

Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends by Martin Lindstrom | St. Martin's Press

Danish brand consultant Martin Lindstrom has made a career of noticing, of looking up from his screen and scouring his environment for hundreds of thousands of details that fly under the radar of today’s holy grail of big data. More of an ethnographic researcher than pure marketer, he gathers a wide range of clues—from refrigerator magnet arrangement and grocery lists to unused toy train sets and geographic patterns of diabetes—in the service of understanding the unmet desires of customers. At a time when the crushing weight of digital tracking makes us feel like numbers and not people, Small Data reminds us that our individuality is still powerful and matters quite a deal to marketers, salespeople, and the world at large.

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Category Winner

Creativity & Innovation

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson | Riverhead Books

In Wonderland, Steven Johnson has picked up on the scent of entertainment and its popular intersection with the business world. In Johnson’s intensely readable history, it is made plain that arts and entertainment have long been crucial to the developments we as a global society have come to think of as “serious.” Beware the irony of dismissing this book as trivial or frivolous; Johnson shows us how frivolity has accompanied serious scientific endeavor for centuries. Smart companies and their leaders are already aware of the correlation, and Wonderland impressively recolors industrial global history to help all of us realize how important play has been since the birth of industry itself.

Category Winner

Personal Development & Human Behavior

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport | Grand Central Publishing

Cal Newport is an accomplished writer and scholar. Although an exemplary thinker in the realm of personal development, his work isn’t diminished by the stylistic abuses common there, and he has not proclaimed himself a “guru” in that landscape. What Newport provides with Deep Work is a timely guide for taking steps that lead not only to success, but to a life well lived. From Carl Jung’s ideas on building his Tower to focus on his studies to Newport’s own advice on quitting social media, the book provides valuable lessons and tools for eliminating distractions and doing your best, deepest work.

Category Winner

Current Events

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond | Crown

You won’t find it in the business section of your local bookstore, but sociology professor Matthew Desmond’s Evicted provides a haunting look at what is perhaps the most personally impactful business of all for the poor—that conducted between landlords and tenants. One of the strengths of the book is that he gains access to both sides of the story, telling the stories of those paying the rent and those collecting it, entering the homes of those facing eviction and riding along with landlords performing it. Offering a thick description of people clinging to “the margins of society” in an American city (our home city of Milwaukee), desperately trying not to fall off, Desmond details how eviction is not just a result

Category Winner

Narrative & Biography

Door to Door: The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation by Edward Humes | Harper

Whether it’s an iPhone or an online order, the canned beverage in your refrigerator or your morning cup of coffee, each has been on a complicated, global journey before it reaches your door. In Door to Door, Edward Humes documents those journeys by taking us through a day

in his family’s life, tracking each of the products they use back to their source. In the process, he gives us a broad overview and stunning detail of our modern transportation infrastructure—its daily frustrations, logistical complexity, and future possibilities. What it reveals is that, for all the recent advances in technology, it is our modern transportation infrastructure that has changed our lives and business more than anything else.

Category Winner

Big Ideas & New Perspectives

What Works: Gender Equality by Design by Iris Bohnet | Belknap Press

Iris Bohnet’s book presents perhaps the most comprehensive roadmap ever written for making equality in the workplace a reality. Bohnet acknowledges that we must continue to chisel away at overtly discriminatory behavior facing women and minorities, but writes that real change will happen when we systematically design against subconscious biases. Bohnet spends significant time identifying and explaining the subconscious biases that lurk everywhere, not only in our structures, but in ourselves. Using multiple research studies, she describes the ways in which our decision-making is hindered by our habits, and how—if we design strategies to circumvent our biases or remap our brains—we can remove any detrimental defensiveness out of the effort and can instead follow a plan.

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