Books to Read in 2021 for Professional Growth

Happy 2021 Everyone! We took a long [much needed] break from social and this blog to focus on the business and some projects we were working on. We were extremely lucky to be busy in this uncertain season. But, as we roll out of 2020 (let’s breathe a collective sigh of relief) – time for our list of books to read in 2021.

When the year begins, I choose a reading goal (52 this year, one book per week). I furiously add books to my Goodreads account while perusing “best” and “must-read” lists. I divvy this list up between audiobooks and real-life books that I pick up at the library.

Outsourcing this question to the team this year, I asked what books are you reading in 2021? I have a feeling this list is going to look a bit different than most years. With an uncertain twelve months behind us and more to go – perspectives, priorities, and goals have shifted. From the personal and business side. How can we manage that and what can we read to support it? Here’s my list for you this year, feel free to judge, comment, or contribute below!

List of Books to Read in 2021

1. Designing Your Life – Bill Burnett and Dave Evans

Designing Your Life - CIL Books to Read in 2021

We’re all big fans of design thinking at CIL – so this was an obvious choice for me. Especially after this year, creating order out of chaos is essential. This book poses the question, why settle? And I’m left wondering the same. What is it going to take to design a life/career/business that you love?


2. Essentialism – Greg McKeown

We all want to have the “do-less, but better” mentality. You’ll find another book similar down further on this list. But how can we really utilize our time to really dig into what we need to do? Where should our priorities lie? If you’ve ever felt knocked down at work or are just dragging your feet, this one is for you.

3. The Culture Code – Daniel Coyle

What do you think of when you think of culture? Do you think about amenities? Do you think about cohesion? I’ve been grappling with how you provide a great culture for a remote team while also staying true to who you are. This book gives us a look into what some successful organizations do to see what makes them strong.

4. Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek

Simon Sinek gave one of the best TED talks in history, you can watch it. Not only do leaders/managers have to run a company, but they have to make it a place where others feel inspired to work. How do we create a tree of trust and invite others to join us? How do we make our work matter and invite others to join us? Let’s find out together!

5. Grit – Angela Duckworth

We’ve always heard that hard work is the cornerstone of every great business. Angela Duckworth makes a case for that in her book, Grit. She explains how perseverance and passion can get you there. I’m here for that. It’s not talent, it’s not luck – but the willingness to get back up and after this year, we could all use a little bit of that.

6. Daring Greatly – Brené Brown

Vulnerability can often be seen as weakness, especially in the business world. One of my coworkers recommended this to me and after looking at the cover, I knew I had to read it. What stuck with me was this: “We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing.” I believe in a culture where we lift each other up, so reading this book to make sure I do more of that this year.

7. Superfans – Pat Flynn

I love brands. I have a deep passion for any company that does something well. Zappos has made themselves famous based on customer service alone, but what they do is sell shoes. Brands pop up a dime a dozen these days, but there are certain qualities that certain ones apart. What are those qualities and how do we find our own superfans?

8. It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work – Jason Freid & DHH

If you know me, you know I love Basecamp. They did remote work before it was a necessity. They have created a culture that has been built over time, by slowly hiring the right people and creating an environment that people actually want to work in. This book feels timely to me when few of us have work/life separation. This is my definitely by top books to read in 2021.


9. 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think – Brianna West

When I saw the title of this, I hoped it was true. I love having my opinions challenged or finding a new way to think about something, so this was right up my alley. I love talking with people because often I’ll leave the conversation with something I hadn’t thought of before.

I’m starting off the year with a fresh (& better) morning routine, thanks to this book.

10. Tim Ferriss

Yes, I literally just wrote the author. If you haven’t heard of Tim Ferriss, I’m sorry. He has a podcast, you should listen to it. He’s also written a few books that I think are relevant, necessary, and amazing tools for work and life. Tools of Titans, 4-Hour Work Week, and/or Tribe of Mentors. Read them all, be inspired, and change your life.

11. Thinking Fast & Slow – Daniel Kahneman

Another co-worker recommendation here. I was super intrigued by the idea that we have two systems to think: one that is more cognitive and one that is more emotional. How do we harness those two systems for greatness and use them to our advantage? Where are my emotions best suited? And when would logic be the correct choice? Stay tuned, I’ll report back.

12. Untamed – Glennon Doyle

This was on every 2020 book list I looked at. I’ve already read it, but insist you do, as well. Glennon Doyle is raw, emotional, frank, and just a inspiring writer, to say the least. I laughed and cried in this book and felt like we were spirit animals. How do we become our true, authentic selves? Take a walk in Doyle’s world and you’ll soon find out.

Well, that’s it – these are all the professional development books I plan to read in 2021. The rest will be fiction, memoirs, what have you. What are you reading this year? What is inspiring you or where are you hoping to grow professionally or personally? I’m always looking for book recommendations or your thoughts on mine – so give me a shout or follow us @cityinnovationlabs to find out what we’re reading next.

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