Business Book of the Year
The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Women's Empowerment by Linda Scott | Farrar, Straus and Giroux
It has been said many times this year that the challenges we have all faced due to the pandemic are unprecedented. The resulting economic uncertainty has impacted everyone, but women have experienced a disproportionate loss of jobs, and we are unlikely to understand the effects of that job loss on women’s equality for years to come.
Repairing the increased damage to an already difficult road for women, whose progress toward financial security and economic power has always been rife with obstacles and setbacks, is going to be critical. And when that road is repaired, it opens pathways forward for all. That’s why the Porchlight Business Book of the Year Award goes to a book rich in feeling and insight, research and solutions to address this issue: The Double X Economy by Linda Scott, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Jack Covert Award for Contribution to the Business Book Industry
Harriet Rubin, founder of the prestigious Doubleday business imprint Currency
There are many kinds of business books, with many kinds of stories to tell and lessons to teach. But there are two big threads: how to make it and lead in the corporate world, and how to leave that world behind (or avoid it altogether) and build something of your own. The 2020 Jack Covert Award for Contribution to the Business Book Industry exemplifies both paths.
Harriet Rubin rose to great heights in publishing, founding the Currency imprint at Doubleday in 1989. She published the likes of Peter Senge, Andy Grove, Arie de Geus, Faith Popcorn, and Don Peppers. In the process, she raised the quality of business writing and made it accessible to a popular audience. And then, at the height of her career, as the publisher of her own imprint, she walked away. She wrote a book, Soloing, about the experience, and followed it up with three others: The Mona Lisa Strategem, Dante In Love, and The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women, which would become an international bestseller.
The one constant throughout it all has been her focus on the quality of writing.
Leadership & Strategy
When More Is Not Better: Overcoming America's Obsession with Economic Efficiency by Roger L. Martin | Harvard Business Review Press
America’s system of democratic capitalism survived its initial flaws and sins, a Civil War and two World Wars. Indeed, it emerged more resilient than ever after two of our greatest tests, the Great Depression and World War II, with most Americans believing in our combination of democracy and capitalism and sharing in the great growth and prosperity of those times. But for the last forty-plus years, that faith has waned as the economic outcomes the system generates have become increasingly unequal and most Americans’ incomes have become stagnant even as their productivity has climbed and the overall economy has grown. Roger Martin believes that the root of this problem lies in our model of the economy as a perfectable machine and our obsession with efficiency above all else, suggesting "We should instead understand the economy in more natural terms, as a complex adaptive system—one that is too complex to be perfectable."
Management & Workplace Culture
After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back by Juliet B. Schor | University of California Press
At a time when the social contract between employers and employees was already frayed, task work and Big Sharing platforms have abandoned it altogether without creating a sustainable alternative. The largest for-profit sharing platforms have proven to be more predatory of existing industries and workers than productive for society. Most aren’t able to turn a profit even so, and even those that are viable and well-intentioned “find they are reproducing aspects of the conventional economy they were hoping to escape, including race, class, and gender exclusion.” But the problem is not necessarily with the technology, or the tools, but in the business model and the management model the platforms employ—both of which are too often based on a form of surveillance capitalism rather than true service. And the solution can be found in our shared values, which are found in the many diverse voices Schor and her team share in After the Gig. Deeply researched academically, it also takes us deep into the lives of people in the real world that are struggling to make it in the new economy and offers examples—too few and far between in realty at the moment, but worth highlighting and building upon—of places still attempting to meet the promise of empowering workers and remaking management as we know it.
Marketing & Sales
Obsessed: Building a Brand People Love from Day One by Emily Heyward | Portfolio
Emily Heyward presents us with a refreshing, more human insight into the world of marketing and sales within Obsessed. With her quick wit, honest exploration, and years of experience within the field, she shows us how to bring emotion and rationality into building your brand.
This book is not just for the business owner looking to begin their startup with a sturdy and genuine brand foundation, but also for the consumer and the everyday individual who cares about the companies they support and what they stand for. In this day and age, we want to know that the products we buy are made ethically and that the companies behind them stand by their mission down to their very core. In our own companies, we want to create the most genuine brand and product for our supporters by embodying our mission and allowing our supporters to peak behind the curtain and get to know the story that developed the passion.
That is what Heyward lays out before us in Obsessed. As a company, we need to “walk the walk.” And as consumers we need to know who we can trust to become a part of our everyday lives. She guides the reader through building your brand before it is even a brand, how to live your mission, knowing what problem your product is solving in the grand scheme of things, and having a story. Because your story matters just as much as your product.
Creativity & Innovation
The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work by Natalie Nixon | Berrett-Koehler Publishers
The Creativity Leap that Natalie Nixon advocates for is not a specific action or endeavor but rather an ability we can all hone and practice. It is what we all need to push our thinking across the chasm between a complex problem and into a place of improvement and innovation.
Nixon's blended background in anthropology and fashion has widened her view of creativity in business, and she shares this insight. In order to see the world more fully, we must be able to comprehend complexity and the creative process. Scientifically, complex systems "are not predictive, are hard to manage, and require perspective and regular experimentation." Nixon teaches us to be and think adaptively, honing our "CQ" (Creative Quotient) through inquiry, improvisation, and intuition. The creativity leaps that Nixon wants us to make are not as swift as a physical leap, but more like slow, steady, and sometimes rigorous processes. Using 56 interviewees of diverse work backgrounds and including exercises at the end of each chapter for you and for your organization, The Creativity Leap presents creativity from so many perspectives that it's impossible to deny that creativity and innovation are accessible and inherently human.
Personal Development & Human Behavior
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May | Riverhead Books
Katherine May’s Wintering is the loving guide we need to gently redirect our thoughts, create new habits of kindness, and walk with a grounded determination through this most difficult time. We don’t need to be fervently productive right now, or reconfigure our time management tools. What we do need is to be kinder to ourselves and others. We need to learn how to keep going in the face of it all. And, most importantly, we need to be able to spot our own personal times of wintering coming across the horizon, and discover how to move through them without paralysis. May’s book provides a season’s worth of survival strategies to shed new light on old habits, from the unexpected pleasures of winter swimming to the hopeful greeting of the post-solstice dawn to mark the turning of the year. Her tenderly observed stories and beautiful use of the language will surely reframe the season for her readers.
Here’s to hoping this time of global suffering will allow a more compassionate spirit to shine through on the other side. Even though we have all walked different paths in 2020, they have all been paths strewn with rocks and fallen trees. We have seen the world we know fall apart in bad and good ways, and from that wreckage we will build something new together. Or as May says: “We, who have wintered, have learned some things. We sing it out like birds. We let our voices fill the air.”
Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy by Margaret Sullivan | Columbia Global Reports
“Disruption” was the rallying cry of Silicon Valley for over a decade. “Move fast and break things” they invariably did. One of the “things” they broke as they siphoned off the advertising dollars that supported local new outlets across the country was our already fracturing civic life and discourse. The result?
At the core, this book is about a once-profitable industry that was able to support an important public function but is now no longer profitable.
Mainstream news and traditional news outlets were never perfect, but a shared reality is essential to our shared democtratic values—values we saw discarded to a cult of personality yesterday. A free press is foundational to a free society. We have gone too far in trading ours for the Silicon Valley notion that information wants to be free in a monetary sense, even as Silicon Valley has built some of the world’s largest, most monopolistic corporations monetizing that supposedly “free” information. Quality journalism takes time and investment to produce, and it deserves our time and investment to preserve and appreciate. Margaret Sullivan explores this dire situation and some notable experiments to reintroduce and reinvigorate quality local coverage and investigative reporting in Ghosting the News. I hope we take heed. Our very democracy depends on it.
Narrative & Biography
The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Binyamin Appelbaum | Little, Brown and Company
What’s in a name? If we are talking street names, it turns out to be quite a lot. Even when they are simply numbered, the streets we live on can say a lot about us, our identity, and history, how we make a living. They can give us a sense of pride in, and the feeling of being put in, one’s place. And not having an address at all means that, in many ways, you cease to officially exist, to count and be counted, in the eyes of your government.
Even though it was written before the events of this year, it seemed to be prescient of them. We learn about how documenting where people lived for tax purposes helped uncover the source of Cholera in 1854 London, and how a lack of that information in Haiti made it more difficult to do after the 2010 earthquake there, which feels especially topical in an era of COVID-19 and contact tracing. And as the nation debated the removal of monuments from our communities and changing the names of university buildings and military bases, Mask helps us understand that—from Edward P. Brennan’s successful effort to make sense of Chicago’s streetscape in the early 1900s to the ongoing efforts to do the same in places as distinct and different as West Virginia and Kolkata—how we name and navigate a place can be as monumental in its significance, and can reveal just as much about us.