The best books to understand today’s complex world, and help our planet get back on track

Why am I passionate about this?

As an innovation expert for over 30 years, I've been cautioning about the "dark side" of innovation and emphasized the importance of sustainability. Though in light of the urgency of our planet's situation, we need to shift our focus from sustainability to regeneration. The unprecedented complexity and connectedness of today’s world demand thinking in systems, and the kind of innovation that leads to the transformation of our current social and economic systems so we can live in harmony with nature. This requires us to question who we collaborate with, what we value, and how we create value. We need to work together differently, with different leadership, and to change our own ways of thinking.

I wrote...

The Other Side of Growth: An Innovator's Responsibilities in an Emerging World

By Bettina von Stamm, Anthony Mills, Larry Schmitt , Steve Wells , Mick Simonelli , Michael Graber , Teresa Spangler , Bryan Mattimore , Mike Pinder

Book cover of The Other Side of Growth: An Innovator's Responsibilities in an Emerging World

What is my book about?

In the spirit of my deep-seated belief in collaboration, and that no one of us hold all valuable information, I'm choosing a book I've written together with colleagues from the Global Innovation Institute. We wanted to raise awareness that innovation is not only a good thing, and that we need to innovate responsibly. 

From the back page: Innovation can be a powerful force for good in our world – used to benefit society, business, and the environment. But innovation can just as equally be a force for harm in our world – used to create great value for sone at the expense of others. It falls upon our shoulders to ask the right question, and to do the right things to ensure innovation remains a force for good over the long run.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World

Bettina von Stamm Why did I love this book?

In her book, first published in 1999, Meg Wheatley was the first to bring together three topics that have always been close to my heart: leadership, innovation, and complexity theory. 

I also happen to believe that deeply understanding these three is necessary for coping, let alone thriving, in the context of the 21st century. This is the book to start the journey with.

Her thoughts express what I communicate with my writing: the urgency to innovate innovation, a delight in embracing uncertainty and complexity, and the need for leadership approaches to evolve.

By Margaret J. Wheatley,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Leadership and the New Science as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The new edition of the bestselling, acclaimed, and influential guide to applying the new science to organizations and management. In this new edition, Margaret Wheatley describes how the new science radically alters our understanding of the world and how it can teach us to live and work well together in these chaotic times.
We live in a time of chaos, rich in potential for new possibilities. A new world is being born. We need new ideas, new ways of seeing, and new relationships to help us now. New science—the new discoveries in biology, chaos theory, and quantum physics that are…

Book cover of The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

Bettina von Stamm Why did I love this book?

For too long we have considered everything in the world through the lens of linear relationships.

Slowly – too slowly in my view – are we realizing the systemic nature of most things.

What Fritjof and Luigi do in their book is enable the reader to truly internalize the systemic nature of the world that we are part of. The ‘being part of’ aspect is critical.

Too many of us humans seem to consider ourselves to be the pinnacle of evolution, tobe in control, to have the right to plunder our planet at our heart’s content.

It is high time everyone realizes that we are but part of a system, entirely dependent on it and its healthiness. While it might be a little heavy-going at times, the book takes the reader on a journey at the end of which any chance to still see the world through a linear lens will have been removed.

An easier way to access the content of the book might be to check out Fritjof’s videos, or join his course which, based on this book. 

Encouraging people to see the world through a systemic lens has been a constant theme in my work.

By Fritjof Capra, Pier Luigi Luisi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Systems View of Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation, leading to a novel kind of 'systemic' thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, the authors examine the appearance of key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative structures, social networks, and a systemic understanding of evolution. The implications of the systems view of life for health care, management,…

Book cover of Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges

Bettina von Stamm Why did I love this book?

If the first two books provide the general context and rationale for systemic approaches, the following three will offer some guidance for the other necessities for thriving in the 21st century: achieving transformational change, shifting towards urgently needed regeneration, and the twin path of developing as a person and as a leader in order to facilitate the transformational change we need.

By now (almost) everyone will have realized: we cannot continue on the trajectories we are currently on, there is just not enough planet left. But how do we go about introducing the transformative change we so urgently need?

We all know how challenging change is, be it at the personal or organizational level. Otto has developed a systemic approach that is based on collaboration and co-creation, considers systems and has been proven to work (which he illustrates through case studies from around the world).

Again their courses and videos are available for those who rather listen and do than read.

I came to Otto’s work when I realized that all innovation is change (though not all change is innovation), and that current approaches to change management struggle to deliver the desired effects.

By Otto Scharmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Theory U as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Access the deepest source of inspiration and vision

We live in a time of massive institutional failure that manifests in the form of three major divides: the ecological, the social, and the spiritual. Addressing these challenges requires a new consciousness and collective leadership capacity. In this groundbreaking book, Otto Scharmer invites us to see the world in new ways and in so doing discover a revolutionary approach to learning and leadership.

In most large systems today, we collectively create results that no one wants. What keeps us stuck in such patterns of the past? It’s our blind spot, that is,…

Book cover of Regenerative Leadership: The DNA of life-affirming 21st century organizations

Bettina von Stamm Why did I love this book?

Earth Overshoot Day, the day when humanity has used up the resources our planet can regenerate within a year, was in 2022 on the 28th of July.

It means that from that date onwards we have been eating into our children’s future, and that ‘sustaining’ the status quo or even circularity (keeping the resources we take from the planet in circulation for as long as possible) are no longer enough.

Giles and Laura offer a pathway from a mechanistic worldview towards a living system one, with case studies, tools, and all.

By Giles Hutchins, Laura Storm,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Regenerative Leadership as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book by leadership and sustainability experts Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm provides an exciting and comprehensive framework for building regenerative life-affirming businesses. It offers a multitude of business cases, fascinating examples from nature’s living systems, insights from the front-line pioneers and tools and techniques for leaders to succeed and thrive in the 21st century.

Regenerative Leadership draws inspiration from pioneering thinking within biomimicry, circular economy, adult developmental psychology, anthropology, biophilia, sociology, complexity theory and next-stage leadership development. It connects the dots between these fields through a powerful framework that enables leadership to become regenerative: in harmony with life, building…

Book cover of Personal and Organizational Transformation Towards Sustainability: Walking a Twin-Path

Bettina von Stamm Why did I love this book?

It is clear, at least to me, that significant, indeed transformation change is necessary if we are to preserve the beauty of our planet.

Well, not only the beauty, its ability to sustain life.

For such transformation to happen, we need to start with ourselves – most people will be familiar with the quote by Mahatma Gandhi: be the change you want to see in the world.

In her book Dorothea shares her own story, which is a journey of integrating the innovation and sustainability agendas for Philips, and of realizing the connectedness of the own personal development journey and the journey of developing as a leader.

By Dorothea Ernst,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Personal and Organizational Transformation Towards Sustainability as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by the WBCSD Vision 2050 in which "all people live well within the limits of the planet", this book asks how do we achieve this bold ambition? Telling a story of personal growth and corporate transformation, it provides insights and tools for anyone driving sustainable development within their organizations and in their own lives. Discover how you can consciously use your professional role as a source of change. Learn how the consistent use of few, yet meaningful visuals, enables generative dialogue and communication for aligned problem solving within multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder teams. See how personal mastery can guide you…

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The Boldly Inclusive Leader: Transform Your Workplace (and the World) by Valuing the Differences Within

By Minette Norman,

Book cover of The Boldly Inclusive Leader: Transform Your Workplace (and the World) by Valuing the Differences Within

Minette Norman Author Of The Boldly Inclusive Leader: Transform Your Workplace (and the World) by Valuing the Differences Within

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent 20 years leading global teams in Silicon Valley, and I had few role models for empathetic, human, and inclusive leadership. I was committed to being the leader I wished I’d had all those years. I had a lot of success, a big VP-level job, and I loved my work. Then, I got a new manager who bullied, undermined, and silenced me. I decided I wanted to help leaders do better. I became an author, speaker, and consultant focused on inspiring leaders to create an environment where everyone is heard, seen, and respected.

Minette's book list on amazing leader, listener, and human being

What is my book about?

To create innovative, collaborative, and high-performing organizations, we need a new leadership model.

Speaker, consultant, and former Silicon Valley executive Minette Norman is committed to inspiring leaders by sharing some of the most important things she learned over the decades she spent in the corporate world, such as: every human being needs to feel they belong; teams thrive when everyone can share their unique ideas and experiences; innovation is a group activity; empathy and compassion are leadership superpowers; and, leaders set the tone by what they say, do, reward, and tolerate.

This is not a book about quick fixes or…

The Boldly Inclusive Leader: Transform Your Workplace (and the World) by Valuing the Differences Within

By Minette Norman,

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