FT business books: what to read in the New Year

‘Leading in a Non-Linear World: Building Wellbeing, Strategic and Innovation Mindsets for the Future’, by Jean Gomes

One only has to look over the past year to understand how unpredictable the world can be. The only thing that is certain is, ironically, uncertainty and continued complexity, so we need new ways of understanding and thinking about the challenges we encounter, whether personal, at work or within society.

In an age of rapid transformation, mental inflexibility could leave us with beliefs, values and opinions not aligned with new realities. Here, Jean Gomes examines the fascinating array of interior resources of our mind and body that could boost our health and performance in complex times — and how organisations can also encourage and harness these.

Gomes provides a practical guide with analysis of our mindset and the means to grow and strengthen it. Drawing on interesting developments in neuroscience, experimental psychology and physiology, the book offers expertise to take control when faced with unprecedented situations.

Our mindsets, both individual and collective, are not fixed, and they can be adjusted and evolve, so the author offers some effective ways to open them up and presents science-based strategies to deal with disruption. From a team or organisational perspective, for example, the chapter “Future Now” details how to shift to a long-term business strategy with a view to “bust the assumptions that short-termism is our only option”.

Meanwhile, the chapter on the “experimental mindset” describes how we can get better at being wrong “if we accept that failure is an inevitable consequence of good experimentation”.

“The Open Mindset” highlights that open organisations encourage values such as transparency, learning, creativity, community and co-creation. Google, for example, researched what makes a team great. Gomes states that the tech group discovered that who was on the team was a less important variable than how team members interacted. “By far the most significant factor they found was the influence of psychological safety.”

‘Happier Hour: How to Spend Your Time for a Better, More Meaningful Life’, by Cassie Holmes

“I don’t’ have time!” 

Actually, this book from a professor of marketing and behavioural decision making at UCLA shows that in fact, you do. Everyone seems to be time poor these days, especially working parents, but surprisingly small changes can help you take back some control and subsequently feel happier in work and life.

The author, who teaches Applying the Science of Happiness to Life Design to MBA students, says that when it comes to being time poor, “perception is everything” and brings in her personal experiences, those of others and plenty of research to back it up.

When crunching the data, Cassie Holmes found that people with too little time are significantly less happy and less satisfied in life. Meanwhile, having more than about five hours of free time a day is also linked to less happiness, partly because it undermines one’s sense of purpose.

Holmes discovered that people can start to feel much happier if they take back just two hours to do the things that are important to them, a target she felt was within her own reach as she dashed around being a top academic, mother and wife.

From this Holmes also deduced that it’s as much about how we spend the time we have, not just how much. Let’s take exercise as an example. Many can relate to ditching physical activity when things seem too busy — including the author: “Studies show that time stress makes people exercise less in general, and this has a direct negative effect on both physical and emotional wellbeing,” Holmes writes.

But while you feel you don’t have time, just do it anyway. The author describes how the demands on her time were the same as ever but she took charge, got up 30 minutes earlier and went for a run. The result? She felt in control and her day got off to a less harried start.

The book has plenty of practical exercises so that you can start reclaiming time for the things you really want to do. This includes tracking your time and guidance on how to analyse what you have gleaned from this, what makes you happiest . . . and what doesn’t.

Overall, Holmes urges readers to consider “importance over urgency” and advocates taking a long-term view. “Thinking in terms of years can be vital in informing how to spend your hours,” she writes. “That is, thinking about life overall highlights your values, which can then guide better immediate decisions about how to spend your time.”

‘Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Connection — Now and in an Uncertain Future’, by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman

Many business books examine the changes affecting the workplace and what the future of work will mean for business. Here, two writers with a background in psychology and psychiatry aim to address the impact of these changes on people, offering advice on how individuals can thrive in a “topsy-turvy” world of work that is ever more technology-driven.

The “tomorrowmind” of the title describes a type of ideal mindset: put simply, one in which you can better prepare for change, respond to setbacks and achieve your full potential, whatever workplace transformations are thrown at you.

Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, chief innovation officer of coaching platform BetterUp, co-wrote the book with psychologist and founder of positive psychology Martin Seligman. They draw on their combined experience and results from BetterUp’s research, which includes data from “hundreds of thousands of workers in all industries around the world” on what it takes to succeed in the workplace.

By looking at the evolution of work through the lens of behavioural science, Kellerman and Seligman study how historical labour changes, such as the shift from agriculture to industrialisation, have affected human beings and the brain.

And, most recently, how the rapid rise of technology-driven work has created problems for workers, from job insecurity and social isolation to stress and burnout. The writers highlight individuals who have been able to adapt to and overcome these challenges. They also look at organisations themselves, and why some are better than others at allowing employees to thrive.

But mainly, the book puts the focus on the individual, and offers guidance on how to develop a “tomorrowmind”, which is broken down into five critical skills under the acronym “Prism”: prospection; resilience; innovation; social connection; and mattering.

The writers’ goal is to help people flourish at work in the face of psychological pressures amid an ever-accelerating pace of change. Tomorrowmind argues that while this change is inevitable, mindset is everything.

‘Break the Rules!: The six counter-conventional mindsets of entrepreneurs that can help anyone change the world’, by John Mullins

There is a cadre of high-profile entrepreneurs who wear their lack of formal education as a badge of honour: university dropout Bill Gates and Sir Richard Branson, who left school at 16, to name two. But London Business School professor John Mullins provides written proof that academia can teach something of practical value to the current generation of aspiring doers and makers.

This book is the latest in a string of highly praised titles by Mullins, blending a researcher’s interest in case studies with a founder’s attitude that conventional thinking on issues such as forming a business plan and securing funding is probably flawed.

Break the Rules builds on this theme by challenging half a dozen commonly held views on the best way of succeeding in business. The chapters are set out like lectures, with key learning points, real life examples and closing remarks to distil the points made.

Mullins has been doing this kind of teaching in person to MBA students at LBS and as a mentor to start-ups through leadership programmes such as the Young Presidents’ Organization for many years. And it shows in his writing. He also has skin in the game, as they say, having founded three start-ups, all of which gives this easy to read 210-page book a greater degree of authority than some other entrepreneur self-help books.

The book cover for ‘Happier Hour’ has been replaced with the UK edition.