The best books to help you think differently

Who am I?

I am a writer, teacher, and partner at IDEO, the global design and innovation firm. Before IDEO, I spent more than a decade teaching university undergrads and MBAs to create better choices, in their work and their lives. Now, I work with business leaders to help them do the same thing, at the intersection of design and strategy. I believe that one key to getting to those better choices is the ability to understand, reflect on and, yes, even improve our own way of thinking and engaging with the world. The books on this list have shifted my own understanding of the world and how I think. I hope they inspire and challenge you as well. 


I wrote...

Creating Great Choices: A Leader's Guide to Integrative Thinking

By Jennifer Riel, Roger L. Martin,

Book cover of Creating Great Choices: A Leader's Guide to Integrative Thinking

What is my book about?

When it comes to our hardest choices, it can seem as though making trade-offs is inevitable. But what about those crucial times when accepting the obvious trade-off just isn't good enough? What do we do when the choices in front of us don't get us what we need? In those cases, rather than choosing the least worst option, we can use the models in front of us to create a new and superior answer. This is integrative thinking.

Creating Great Choices is a field guide to integrative thinking. The book includes fresh stories of successful integrative thinkers that will demystify the process of creative problem solving, as well as practical tools and exercises to help readers engage with the ideas. 

The books I picked & why

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Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

By Carol S. Dweck,

Book cover of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Why this book?

Mindset goes deep on a particular, but vital, aspect of success – the idea of growth mindset. Put simply: People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are far less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed through hard work. Based on her long career as a researcher and educator, Dweck clearly explains what a growth mindset is, why it matters and how we can cultivate our own. It’s a helpful guide for anyone who wants to shift how they think about their capabilities and intelligence, but most especially for anyone who is a parent. Dweck’s lessons on how we unintentionally instill unproductive, fixed mindsets in children are unforgettable, in a good way. Plus, how many books combine business, education, and Michael Jordan?


Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman,

Book cover of Thinking, Fast and Slow

Why this book?

Kahneman won the Nobel in Economics for his work helping to create the field of behavioural economics – working at the intersection of economics and social psychology to explain how and why real people actually behave in the world, focusing on the systematic thinking biases that lead us to make the suboptimal choices we do. In Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman captures a lifetime of work in a fun, fast, and understandable primer that uses stories and illustrations to help readers reflect on how we think (and why). It’s a long one, but provides the best foundation for understanding cognitive biases and why they matter so much. 


Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

By Tom Kelley, David Kelley,

Book cover of Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

Why this book?

Every human is creative. Most of us just have the impulse to create driven out of us… usually in middle school! In Creative Confidence, IDEO founder David Kelley and his brother, author, and IDEO partner Tom Kelley explain how we can all reignite that spark, and build not just the confidence but skills to be creative in our life and work. Honestly, I would listen to anything David Kelley wants to tell me – especially about the worlds of innovation and problem-solving. He's one of the great designers of his generation, and helped build not just IDEO (the great innovation firm, where I happen to work) but also the Stanford d.school, which has helped unleash the power of design thinking into the world at large.


Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

By A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin,

Book cover of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works

Why this book?

My own early experiences with strategy were pretty uninspiring – slow, incremental, and almost entirely analytical. But the framework that Roger and AG lay out in Playing to Win changed it all for me. It’s practical. It’s understandable. And it is aimed at not just understanding the world as it is, but at imaging a world that might be different… and forging a real strategy to bring that new world to life. The book is based on the approach to strategy Roger honed in his career as a management disclosure and that AG practiced as CEO at Procter & Gamble. Full disclosure, I helped them as they were writing the book – and honestly think it is the best book on strategy of the past 30 years.


Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

By Sheila Heen, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton

Book cover of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most

Why this book?

For most of my life, I avoided conflict. I was a classic people pleaser. But this book, and the work by academic Chris Argyris that helped inspire it, quite literally changed my life. The book offers practical ways to engage in productive disagreement, to have tough conversations with a better hope of a good outcome. It’s a short and easy read, with lots of very practical tools for navigating the conversations you may be dreading.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in success in life, decision making, and creativity?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about success in life, decision making, and creativity.

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Creativity Explore 65 books about creativity

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake, Edge: Turning Adversity Into Advantage, and A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future if you like this list.