Books to Think About – Ten From Sven

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Chair Of The Month

In search of a great book to cozy up with over the holidays? Or maybe to gift to a friend or colleague? Then look no further! Sven Govaars shares a list of favorite reads from 2017. 

While serving as a Consulting Regional Leader at Gensler, my team would every so often ask me what books I was reading. As I am often absorbed in 2 or 3 books at a time, I decided to post the list on my website (

My practice of updating the list continues to this day and it has since become known as the “Ten from Sven” related to what interests and influences my thinking at any given time.

Reflecting on this past year of readings, I see the current list as individual discoveries of new worlds borne out of great change. It has been a tumultuous year punctuated by disruptions – not all being negative – some are driving positive change. Each book has a unique point of view and each of us will take a different journey of understanding the author’s message. I’ll offer a couple thoughts with each title.

1) Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

The first book I read by Austin Kleon was “Steal Like An Artist” and it quickly became a handout for consulting retreats. I would suggest the participants – in a good way – “steal from the best, leave the rest but always make it their own”, never taking something directly from anyone. What “Show Your Work” does is tackle sharing your work. You never know what may come from it. You can read it in a day.

2) Find Your Why – A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team by Simon Sinek, David Mead and Peter Docker

There are very few people that are not aware of “Start With Why” – either the book or the TED talk. This book is one of discovery for individuals and tribes in search of the difference they intend to make in the lives of the people they meet. Finding your way requires a process and a personal journey. This book takes you from your ‘why’ to ‘what’ is and ‘how’ to make it real for you.

3) Ctrl Alt Delete – Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends on It by Mitch Joel

How do you start over literally and figuratively? Whether it is in business or for you personally that requires a “do over” we know it is easier to reboot when you have guidance from others. Instead of starting over and discarding the past, you can ‘startup’ again, adapt and see the world differently. I picked up the book because of the title, I finished reading it because it made sense.

4) The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

A book I read to my children when they were very young. Mr. Plumbean, the main character in the story, offers through his actions, lessons in life and business for leaders of all sorts encouragement to take a chance at following what we know to be true and yet, is often so difficult. I have used this for executive retreats as a thought starter, asking the question: “What is your big orange splot?”

5) Hit Refresh – The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone by Satya Nadella with Greg Shaw and Jill Tracie Nichols

This is the most recently published of the ten books, the story of Microsoft is fascinating through the eyes of their newest CEO. Satya Nadella’s personal journey coupled with finding a new spirit for Microsoft borne out of empathy. This requires keeping the best while hitting refresh. If you want a glimpse of the future and Microsoft through the eyes of someone on the front lines, this is a good read.

6) Resilience – Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy

This past year has had its share of natural and man-made disasters and disruptions. It is a topic I felt compelled to write about after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Texas. As I researched resilience beyond the physical and visible I turned to “Resilience” to better understand the many forms it can take. There are systems to respect. It is good to know now before our resolve and resilience are tested again.

7) Remote – Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

The authors founded the software company 37signals. I read their first book “Rework” and used a 37signals project management tool called Basecamp in the design of a human capital app for the iPad. They write about what they know and do. This book is a manifesto for the remote worker who champions choice of where, when and how to work. Remote does not necessarily mean working from home.

8) Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan

Wait, what? is the first of five questions the author describes in “Wait, What?”. There are similar books – The Five Most Important Questions (you will ever ask about your organization) by Peter Drucker comes to mind. This one has a unique perspective from a commencement address by the author. As James Thurber once remarked “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”

9) Unretirement  – How Baby Boomers Are Changing The Way We Think About Work, Community, and the Good Life by Chris Farrell

“Unretirement” provides background for understanding the how and why of Baby Boomers that, for many reasons, retire and then unretire without a roadmap. A new phenomenon that is changing the way we change as a society. Regardless of your age it is well worth reading. Millennial’s are not the only relevant generation to follow in the coming years. The unretired will be a formidable force in many ways.

10) Design Thinking for the Greater Good – Innovation in the Social Sector by Jeanne Liedtka, Randy Salzman, & Daisy Azer

In this book, the authors capture the attention of designers and business leaders by translating design thinking for the social sector. When the way you reach a solution is as important as the solution itself, design thinking is useful. This book helps us understand that financial gain is not our only measure in life and business when there is a greater good at hand to achieve. Think impact and results.

Not all of these books are recent, some have stood the test of time on my bookshelf, winning out over more recent contenders. I find myself going back to these when I am thinking about work, the workplace and our role as designers and change managers. Tomorrow may bring a new entry. For every one of the books selected there are ten others that could have taken their place.

Click on the links to read full summaries and reviews. Not every book will be of interest to everyone. These happen to be on my list for now. Aside from all the articles we read and the internet searches we do to keep up with a rapidly changing world, books take longer to finish, offer us more time to ponder an idea, and allow us to explore a subject at a deeper level.

You cannot always judge a book by its cover though these come close. Next on my list to read are “Trade Up” by Dean Niewolny, “Insight” by Tasha Eurich, “Got Your Attention” by Sam Horn and to reread “The Purpose Economy” Aaron Hurst. We’ll see what ends up on the next Ten from Sven. Stay tuned.

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