Summer Reading List for Midmarket CEOs

With summer's longer days and relaxed pace, it's time to create a summer reading list. Catching up on your reading is also a great way to develop new perspectives and gain fresh insights about your middle market business. Your summer reading can either be pure entertainment, filled with thrillers and celebrity biographies, or perhaps more highbrow, with instructive tomes on finance or global market trends.

Need some inspiration for your business? Take the time to read some of these books over the summer

The recommended summer reading list below seeks to combine the best of both worlds, to entertain and to educate. It's also a blend of new and not-so-new books that have withstood the test of time.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos. The Wall Street Journal calls this recent (May 2014) release "a splendid and entertaining picture of 21st-century China," which is increasingly becoming the world's most important business powerhouse. Osnos is a profoundly talented Beijing-based reporter for The New Yorker, and he knows China from the inside out. He offers readers stories of outrageous wealth among China's politically connected business class, as well as tales of aspiration from working-class Chinese seeking to create better futures for themselves amidst difficult conditions of authoritarian control. Anyone seeking to understand the complexities of modern China, especially its tightly controlled economic and political systems, would be wise to add Osnos's book to their summer reading list.

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Published early in 2014 by two eminent MIT scientists, The Second Machine Age reveals the technological forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy in the form of dazzling personal technology, advanced infrastructure, and much more. Companies will be forced to adapt to these dizzying changes and to transform themselves or disappear. Drawing on their years of research, Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for business survival and offer new options for business growth in an era of rapidly accelerating change. It's definitely a big-picture book worth reading.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant. One of the most acclaimed business books of 2013, Give and Take offers powerful insights from both the social-science and the real world to contradict the traditional wisdom that says business leaders need to be aggressive, powerful communicators and take-no-prisoners negotiators. Grant, an award-winning professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is a leading thinker on leadership styles. His groundbreaking research, summarized in an interview with the NCMM, shows that the most successful middle market business leaders balance their own interests while also considering the interests of others: "Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them," says Grant.

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, by Warren Berger. For innovation expert Berger, new ideas begin with insightful questions that lead to an ever-deepening process of exploration and discovery. Berger shows that most creative, successful people are masters of the art of inquiry, raising questions that no one else is asking to find powerful answers. The author takes us inside innovation pioneers such as Google, Netflix, and IDEO to show how questioning is deeply integrated into their organizational cores. He also shares instructive stories of entrepreneurs, basement tinkerers, and social activists who changed the world by beginning with a "beautiful question." It's a fascinating book about how innovation can be triggered with the right questions.

The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer. Amabile, who is the director of research at Harvard Business School, has spent the last three decades exploring the ways that companies of all sizes can support workplace creativity. Her trailblazing book, coauthored with her husband, finds that the biggest motivating factor for employees is small, day-to-day successes which show that they are "making progress" in meaningful work. As Amabile told the NCMM during an interview, "the progress principle was not obvious to managers, in terms of their responses to [our survey on motivation]. They actually rated 'making progress' dead last. Only five percent ranked progress as number one, and we know from our research with employees that 'making progress' was number one by a huge margin." To understand motivation, read Amabile.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. This is the classic book on the science of persuasion, in which Cialdini explains the psychology of why people say "yes" — and how to apply these understandings to different situations in your middle market business and elsewhere. Cialdini is the leading expert in the growing scientific field of influence and persuasion. This invaluable book is the result of his 35 years of rigorous, evidence-based research, along with a three-year program of study on what moves people to change behavior. You'll learn the six universal principles needed to become a skilled persuader and a successful influencer. This book will help build your leadership.

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less, by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao. Two brilliant Stanford professors explore one of the biggest challenges facing any company: how to spread pockets of organizational excellence across the entire enterprise. Sutton believes that creating the right organizational mindset is key. As Sutton told the NCMM during an interview, "there are some similarities among organizations and leaders who are hallmarks of scaling up excellence, and one is accepting the messiness of the process while always trying to clean it up. Being patient is part of it, as is linking the short term and the long term. You need a relentless restlessness, people who are never quite satisfied that things are good enough the way they are." This is a great book for discovering leading practices focused on operational excellence.

What are you reading this summer? Let us know by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.