Top 3 Books of 2021

Because of my work, I read A LOT – at least three books per month. Like most years, I finished 45 books in 2021 – but this time I was way more selective when deciding what gets downloaded onto my Kindle. And, lo and behold, my reading choices in 2021 were significantly different as a result.


I ended up reading fewer books about business and/or shaping culture and more about what makes us tick as human beings. But there was also a certain je nais se quoi about the ones I enjoyed most. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it — until I came across the ven diagram below from Adam Grant! In his usual, ultra-precise and insightful manner, Grant nailed the criteria that set the three best books I read this year from others. All three had:

  • Novel insights.
  • Engaging writing.
  • Rigorous evidence.
  • Practical takeaways.
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Given the above, I’m not surprised that Grant and I have one book in common on our list of the best books we read in 2021. It’s this one:

1. The Extended Mind by Annie Murphy Paul

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Annie Murphy Paul is a star science writer who presents a convincing case that our best thinking depends heavily on inputs from beyond our brains. She covers evidence that our best thinking comes from:

  • Our bodies (i.e. being aware of your own heartbeat can improve your decisions!)
  • Our surroundings (i.e. walking in nature makes us more accurate and faster on demanding cognitive tasks than walking in an urban setting.)
  • Our relationships (i.e. when issues are complex, a single mind labouring on its own is at a distinct disadvantage in solving problems or generating new ideas. We need a “group mind”.)

The last point reaffirmed my belief that communities like CultureBrained™ are more important today than ever before. CultureBrained is a growing “group mind” that allows its members to navigate the uncharted territory of this brave new world of work, figure out how to make work synonymous with fun, meaning and belonging and cultivate thriving company cultures at scale as our companies grow and evolve. If this sounds interesting, click HERE to learn more.

2. The Power of Us – Harnessing Our Shared Identities to Improve Performance, Increase Cooperation, and Promote Social Harmony by Dominic Packer and Jay Van Bavel

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I know that I’m not alone in being a fan of “The Power of Us” – Charles Duhigg calls it “A fascinating journey into the science of identity,” Arianna Huffington says it’s “Brilliant, entertaining and necessary.” and Annie Duke refers to it as a “Must-read.”

Case in point – did you know that Adidas and Puma were founded by brothers who made shoes together before the Second World War? And did you know that the small town in Germany where Adidas and Puma first started was divided by shoes for decades in what seemed to be an irreconcilable feud that started in a bomb shelter during the war? This book is packed with stories like this one – stories that make this rigorously scientific read a thrilling page-turner.

The beauty of the book is that the authors, psychologists Dominic Packer and Jay Van Bavel, integrate their cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to explain how identity really works and how we can harness its dynamic nature to improve performance, increase cooperation and yes – shape company culture, too.

The Power of Us is chock full of fascinating insights, engaging case studies, and pioneering research and I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that The Power of Us can change the way you understand yourself and others and help you and your team move beyond asking “Who are we? and towards answering “Who do we need to BECOME to bring our vision to life?”

3. Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown

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There are two things that surprise almost everyone I work with when I’m helping them codify, activate or evolve their company’s culture: my focus on storytelling and zooming in on the desired emotional impact on their employees, clients and the wider ecosystem. It’s best summarized in the comment a CEO I worked with this year has made during one of our meetings:

“Duh, it seems so obvious now! How come we haven’t harnessed the power of stories earlier? And why haven’t we thought more about what it feels like to work with us?”

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. Think Inside Out for adults. Or Google Maps for feelings at work (and in life). It’s a book that helps us navigate what makes us human.

Brown shares the necessary skills to understand emotions and shows us how to create meaningful connections. The book contains an actionable framework, language and tools to share the stories of our boldest and most vulnerable moments in a way that builds connection. And what is culture if not a network of connections, fueled by the stories we share, stories that create a shared identity?

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