Josh Bersin: Here’s my reading list for 2020

By: | December 23, 2019 • 5 min read
Josh Bersin writes HRE’s HR in the Flow of Work column. Bersin is an analyst, author, educator and thought leader focusing on the global talent market and the challenges and trends impacting business workforces around the world. He will speak at the 2020 Virtual HR Technology Conference scheduled for Oct. 27-30. He can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

I am a big reader. I’m wired to learn by reading, so I find myself reading books, downloading reports and diving into articles wherever I am and whenever I can. I’ve also gotten into podcasts, which are very convenient for learning when you’re on the go.

As an analyst, I really consider it my job and responsibility to keep up on things in the world. What I’ve found is that broad interest in many social, economic and political topics teaches me “why” we face certain challenges. I also think everyone can benefit from history, which can provide so much context for where we are today—whether for business or current events.

As far as real-time news, I follow many people on Twitter, constantly browse stories on LinkedIn (which has done a masterful job of curating news that is relevant to me), and always read articles and emails people send me.

Finally, I learn a lot by listening to those I encounter every day in my work. I’m likely to learn something from every conversation, so I try to ask lots of open-ended questions.

Following is my personalized list of learning resources—books, magazines, podcasts and more.  I invite you to make 2020 a year in which you continue to broaden your knowledge and challenge your brain. Lifelong learning applies to us all, no matter our age or job title.

Sources for keeping up on what’s going on:

  • Despite the political overload, I read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal every day.
  • I listen to“The Daily” by New York Times, “The Journal” by Wall Street Journal, “The Argument” by New York Times Opinion and a fascinating business podcast called “Acquired” by Ben Gilbert and David Rosenthal.
  • Every Sunday, I watch Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN. He has a unique way of really making sense of global politics and the economy.
  • I love reading Tim O’Reilly’s newsletter on the future of work.
  • I adore The Economist. It is the most educational, independent voice on what’s going on in the world; plus, its writers have a wry sense of humor.
  • I read print copies of The AtlanticFast CompanyFortuneForbesWired and Strategy+Business. These publications find amazing stories, case studies and always give me new ideas about how people are thinking and where the business world is going.
  • I’ve come to love the MIT Press and the Sloan Management Review.

Recommended books:(Don’t be intimidated. I do a lot of skimming and often don’t read cover to cover.)

  • The Ride of a Lifetime, by Bob Iger. Read this to gain a deeper understanding of how people and organizations work.
  • Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, by Anand Giridharadas. Giridharadas has single-handedly figured out how to explain the big problem with income inequality.
  • The Longevity Economy: Understanding the World’s Most Fast-Growing, Misunderstood Market, by Joseph Coughlin. This book explains why retirement even exists and gives valuable insights into planning for and taking advantage of the aging workforce.
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein. This book’s essential message is that research now proves that being a generalist is the best long-term path to success.
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. The workplace needs a lot more focus on kindness, generosity and forgiveness, and this book will really bring these concepts into crisp clarity.
  • The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, by Michael Lewis. Lewis, author of Moneyball, explains why the U.S. federal government is amazingly important to our everyday lives.
  • The Value of Everything, by Mariana Mazzucato. This book rethinks how we define value and addresses some fundamental questions. Why is it better to drive stock price up, even if doing so wrecks the environment? Why is it OK to pay people poorly to increase a company’s value? Why are wages considered an expense and not an investment?
  • Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management, by Caitlin Rosenthal. This book looks at the operational management and talent management of slavery and its relationship to today’s organizational structures, labor relations, management practices and other workforce-related issues.
  • The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age and The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads, both by Tim Wu. These books will teach you a lot about advertising and monopolies and their impact on our world.
  • Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham. I could not put this book down (I also watched the TV series). It’s a must-read if you want to understand the risks and opportunities related to nuclear energy, as well as the impact of groupthink and information warfare.
  • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohleben. This book will blow your mind. You will be amazed at what kinds of teamwork, strategic thinking and caring trees have—and it will make you think a lot about how your company operates.
  • Can American Capitalism Survive? Why Greed Is Not Good, Opportunity Is Not Equal and Fairness Won’t Make Us Poor, by Steven Pearlstein, and Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, by Robert Reich.  Pearlstein’s book made me soften my notions about capitalism. Reich’s book really reshaped my thinking about the taxes I pay. You have to get smart on these issues because they’re the most important topics of the day.
  • The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, by Scott Galloway. Galloway really “tears down” these four companies and discusses why they’re a drain on society.
  • Hit Refresh, by Satya Nadella. Nadella is the Jack Welch of our times, without the blustering and bloviation that Welch brought to the business world.
  • Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Enterprise, by Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. This book is still applicable today and helps you understand how we got to where we are in terms of organizational design.
  • Trevor Noah: Born a Crime, by John Murray. You won’t want to put down this truly inspirational life history.
  • Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder. This book tells the back story of Russia’s meddling in U.S. and global politics and reads like a spy novel.