Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome to my 4th annual reading list for all things ESG, sustainability and corporate responsibility. Each year, I compile a list of books I found helpful in my own life, career and sustainability journey. Over the years I’ve talked to countless individuals who found this list helpful, so I’ll continue to compile it annually. All of my previous lists are available on my LinkedIn articles page or at http://marcytwete.com/writing/blog/.
This year, I’m breaking my list into three key categories: books to make you think differently and plan accordingly, books that outline mistakes and common errors in business and ESG and how to learn the lessons from them, and some incredibly impactful memoirs/biographies of business leaders. Let’s dive in:
Category 1: Think Differently and Plan Accordingly
- My last recommendation in 2021 was a book that launched in February 2021 that I’d yet to read. So it’s only fitting I’d start this year’s list with the incomparable Adam Grant. His book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know was one of my favorites last year, and if you haven’t read it yet, do it now! Working in ESG, it’s easy to think we’ve “got it right” and stay on our moral high horses only to criticize how others in our organizations “don’t get it.” Instead, we need to rethink our approach constantly and reword, remake and try again to reach the right conclusions. What worked five years ago won’t work today. What worked five months ago might not work today. Taking Adam’s advice and thinking again about some of even our most steadfast beliefs will benefit everyone. This book’s commentary on bias, overconfidence and cycles of thinking will certainly make you think.
- When I moved from Chicago to Minneapolis during the pandemic, I connected with a Minnesota-based compliance leader, Lisa Beth Lentini Walker early in my time here and was delighted to read her new book this year. Written with StefTschida, Raise Your Game Not Your Voice: How Listening, Communicating and Storytelling Shape Compliance Program Influence, goes far beyond the world of just compliance. You should read the whole thing, but ESG professionals must pay special attention to its first chapter – “Becoming a Deep Scholar in Your Organization.” On a day to day basis, I’m shocked how many corporate responsibility professionals don’t know enough about the company or industry they work in. Stop it! If you want to get people in your organization on your side, you must prove you know what keeps them awake at night, not just what keeps you awake at night. How does the company make money? Who are the players at every level? Get geeky about your business and show others how much you care about the whole of its success, not just its ESG success.
- Books from Michael Wade have made this list before, and his new one in collaboration with Cyril Bouquet and Jean-Louis Barsoux is no exception. Alien Thinking: The Unconventional Path to Breakthrough Ideas outlines a process for bringing ideas to life inside companies of any shape or size that is second to none. Their acronym ALIEN stands for attention, levitation, imagination, experimentation and navigation. It’s a blueprint for ESG integration and bringing new ideas to life in any organization.
- There’s a lot of discussion in ESG these days about burnout. Our field is booming, but it’s also changing. And change is slow. C-suites know ESG has to be important, but are sometimes reluctant to effectively resource the function or the needs within it. This can lead to a lot of frustration for professionals in the field. If you’re burned out or close to it, read Karen Walrond’s The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy. If you love Martha Beck or Brene Brown, you’ll love Karen Walrond. She reminds me to step back into my purpose, embrace the curiosity we all need in this field, and remember that failure is a necessary part of success.
- John Doerr’s Measure What Matters has been a must read for impact-based organizations since its publication in 2018, and John’s new book expands on that thinking and applies it to our climate crisis. Speed & Scale: An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now takes cues from the companies and leaders who are thinking big about climate solutions for our future. I’ll be honest with you, if you’re an ESG expert, this book isn’t necessarily for you, as it covers a lot of basic concepts we’re already pretty familiar with. But here’s why this book made my list – every corporate leader should read it if they don’t yet really “get” what corporations can do and must do so solve our climate crisis. It’s an easy-to-read, well written and graphically pleasing book that outlines the problem, the solutions, and the “how” of the work we must do to implement. Buy a few copies and give them out when a leader is standing in your office and doesn’t hear you!
Category 2: Cautionary Tales: Learn from Mistakes Before You Make Them
- Everyone has an opinion about Facebook, and its parent company Meta. And 2021 proved a year of public calling onto the carpet for the tech giant. So it may seem strange that this recommendation was written in 2019. But it rings even truer today than it did upon publication. Author Roger McNamee was an early investor in Facebook who warned Zuckerberg about the Russian influence on the 2018 election and its potential downside for Facebook. His book Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe outlines the massive changes in Silicon Valley in the last 20 years and how those shifts led to a number of business models that exploit user emotion and profit from conflict and in many cases misinformation. I recommend this book because, no matter your industry, it’s important to step back and see your business as a part of larger industries, and understanding the shift happening in the general corporate sector as well.
- If you’re watching the Sex and the City reboot, And Just Like That, you probably cringed alongside most of America as Cynthia Nixon’s character Miranda struggles to be an ally to her black professor early in the series. It’s a visual lesson in a white woman wanting to be an ally, but instead contributing to the microaggressions perpetrated against people of color in our society. Part of the problem? Yes. Part of the solution? We can be. Tiffany Jana and Michael Baran’s book Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify and Stop Microaggressions goes to the heart of the issue of not inclusion but exclusion. How do we, in subtle yet damaging ways, undermine the work of inclusion? And how do we fix those tendencies in ourselves and our organizations? When we are willing to see these acts of exclusion and call them out, we become allies.
- Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us was my holiday break reading, and my entire family heard about it. Framed by asking the question “does power corrupt, or are the corrupt attracted to power,” author and political science professor Brian Klaas looks at both perspectives and for me asks the question my Kellogg ethics professor asked of our class a few year back – bad apples? Or bad barrels? If you’re in a company where you’re watching bad behavior from individuals or the company on the whole, Klaas’ book will help you identify which situation you’re dealing with. And ultimately, how do we judge corporations who navigate ethical gaffes.
- Bloomberg’s Peter Robinson published Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing, examining the decades that led to the 737-Max crashes and the aftermath of them at Boeing in general. Did Boeing’s desire to win in the marketplace put its responsibility to the people who trust them and believe in their safety second? How did their decisions over decades contribute to the place they find themselves today? Every ESG leader has found themselves in conversations like those Robinson outlines in his book. When do we speak up? When do we walk away? How do we bounce back and help to lead change if our company finds itself in a place like Boeing?
Category 3: Impactful Profiles from Business Leaders
- Indra Nooyi retired as PepsiCo’s CEO in 2018 after 12 years in the role, which is 7 years longer than the average tenure of a CEO in large companies. Well known as a CEO who believed strongly in sustainability and multi-stakeholder partnerships, I was delighted when she published My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future in 2021. As you would expect, she discusses her views on women’s initiatives in corporate and the difficulty that still exists for women in the workplace and the double standard and “glass cliff” that can exist for female CEOs. It’s a great read from an incredible female leader. Like Carly Fiorina’s book, I’m sure it is one I’ll read again and again over the years.
- I’m a huge fan of Michael Dell, so dedicated to sustainability he famously demanded his team create packaging that was earth friendly enough to eat. The decision to move the company back to private in 2013, though, caused some concern about their continued commitment to transparency. But instead, Dell continued to lead in transparency and ESG initiatives throughout this time, leading to their transition back to a publicly traded company in 2018. Michael begins his book with a quote from former Intel CEO Andy Grove that says: “A corporation is a living organism; it has to continue to shed its skin. Methods have to change. Focus has to change. Values have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation.” Dell’s new book, Play Nice But Win: A CEO’s Journey from Founder to Leader is focused on Dell’s transition from public to private and back to public again, and it’s a lesson in business strategy for different stakeholders and different outcomes at different times in a company’s lifecycle.