Quick and Nimble: Lessons From Leading CEOs on How to Create a Culture of Innovation

By Adam Bryant

Times Books, 288 pp., $19.50

In Quick and Nimble, Bryant reveals what he has learned from interviewing more than 200 CEOs and other top business executives. The question he asked Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Karen May of Google, Ronald Shaich of Panera Bread, and others was "How can a company foster a quick and nimble culture—with the enviable qualities of many start-ups—even as it grows?"

The common message that emerged from those interviews is that leadership drives culture and culture drives innovation.

When leaders' actions are culture-focused, even a large organization looks like "a bunch of sole proprietorships." Priorities are packaged into a simple plan to make it easy for employees to remember, internalize, and act on. With consistent behavior and total transparency, leaders can keep employees focused on contributing to the organization's mission.

Readers will learn from Bryant's interviews that effective leaders meet regularly with their teams, ask good questions, and show they care. They have a consistent message. Not surprisingly, respect, integrity, humility, accountability, dependability, and openness are part of these leaders' cultures.

Without mincing words, Bryant acknowledges that these leaders are strong and tough—ousting bad behavior as needed. They act as "shock absorbers" and keep good news and bad in perspective. They offer optimistic, constructive feedback. They help employees understand how to work effectively together.

Meetings with top leaders at the helm are smarter and to the point. A sense of urgency is apparent. People feel good about their contributions, but also know that mistakes are acceptable. In this intentionally constructed culture, employees become motivated learners, speak frankly and openly, share new ideas, possess the right priorities, and bring their best selves to a team where everyone pulls in the right direction.

Quick and Nimble offers idea after idea on how to create a culture of innovation. It is full of workable ways to nurture critical thinking and create the chaos needed for innovation to thrive. The author's dedicated research proves that leaders who intentionally make culture a key element of their strategy pave the way for organizational success.

Strategic Talent Development: Develop and Engage All Your People for Business Success

Janice Caplan

Kogan Page, 244 pp., $39.95

Now that the traditional hierarchy of management has been dismantled, we need to know how to engage employees in the new organizational structure. Caplan, an international HR consultant, takes readers through the process of designing and implementing a talent strategy across an entire organization. Readers will learn how to develop a pipeline of future leaders, and cultivate collaboration, innovation, rapid responses, and flexibility—resulting in a more agile business. Ultimately, this book is about recognizing individual talent and harnessing it to give businesses a competitive advantage.

Choosing Change: How Leaders and Organizations Drive Results One Person at a Time

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Walter McFarland and Susan Goldsworthy

McGraw-Hill, 238 pp., $30

It was only a matter of time before neuroscience found its way into change management. In a book about being deliberate and strategic about organizational change, McFarland and Goldsworthy apply the latest research in psychology, neuroscience, and executive development to change management. After starting with ways to develop individual change-readiness, the authors then delve into organizational change theory. Their five principles make it easy to integrate change into your organization's DNA. The foundational knowledge in this book is critical for those who hope to successfully lead their organizations into the future.

Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love

Richard Sheridan

Penguin Group, 270 pp., $27.95

Can you imagine if your company's culture was so exotic that it attracted visitors? That's the case at Menlo Innovations, a small software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The CEO and "chief storyteller," Rich Sheridan, implemented a radically different culture at Menlo after spending most of his career in workplaces where employees spent long hours and often produced low-quality results. Although most of the ideas at Menlo are unconventional (such as pairing workers two to a computer, allowing babies, and encouraging noise), they actually work. This book is the fascinating story of how Sheridan and Menlo built a corporate culture that supports sustainable growth.

What's on M. David Merrill's Bookshelf?

The Book of Mormon. This book is the foundation for my faith in Jesus Christ and my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The Conditions of Learning by Robert Gagne. This book, which I first read in 1964 as a manuscript, formed the direction for my thinking in my career.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. This book represents my interest in a wide range of subjects and my love of reading.