5 Thought-Provoking Books That Will Instantly Make You Smarter

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woman reading book

Can you guess one of the almost-forgotten secrets of powerful leaders?

It's found on the printed page of today's smartphones. It's an old skill, almost forgotten in our present, hurried world: reading.

No longer is it enough to have a good idea or product. It's about respecting leaders who are well-rounded individuals — think Reid Hoffman, Arianna Huffington, and Warren Buffett.

These folks are readers, vociferous readers. For example, Bill Gates is known to read more than 50 books a year!

Not everyone has the luxury (or the time!) to pick and choose the best books. However, find a few good books to read and make them yours. Doing so will reorganize your brain cells and help make you smarter and more well-rounded, too.

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Here's a clue to being well-rounded: Think like the liberal arts majors of yore. There was a time that education meant learning from the classics, history, science, and modern fiction — not just business books.

Now, full disclosure. I've written a few business books, and yes, I think they are good. However, business books are only one part of the puzzle.

Being well-rounded means getting out of your comfort zone and reading what may well make you uncomfortable. Look for books that give you an "aha" moment when you say to yourself, "I never thought of it that way before." These are the ones that are most likely to help you grow.

Here are 5 thought-provoking books that will instantly make you smarter.

1. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by Phil Knight (Biography)

Can't get a seat at the table with this titan? Here, you are privy to a personal look at this media-shy man whose entrepreneurial journey led to Nike's global brand.


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2. Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg (Science)

Rewire your decision-making process and change the way you go about your day. More positivity equals more energy. Learn how it's not so much what you think, but more how you think it, that matters.


3. The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning by Jeremy Lent (Culture)

We are, in great part, the result of patterns we've inherited from previous generations.

Take a journey back in time to understand the values you hold so dear today. Some still have merit, while others may have become outdated.


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4. Friend and Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer (Development)

Success is a combo deal. Think of a hot fudge sundae, made by combining ice cream and hot chocolate sauce. They galvanize each other by being so different. Likewise, in your own life, find the right combination of behaviors so you can be a friend or foe at the right times.


5. The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal (Fiction)

This powerful story takes place in a short time — a day in the life of a family — yet the tale is timeless. It's an exploration in lyrical prose of grief, hope, and survival.


The books in the above list are written on subjects we tend to shy away from; yet, they are at the core of who we are as humans, and who we are in relationships.

I'm adding one more to the list as one of my favorites: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg.

Here is a woman who seemingly has it all — Facebook fame, a beautiful family, and a life of privilege. With deep honesty, she discusses how her life changed after the sudden death of her husband and how she had to dig deep inside herself to find the courage to keep going.

Pick one, pick all, and let me know your favorites. I just want to encourage you to read. I promise it will help you stand out from the crowded pack of leaders. Guaranteed.

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Dr. Sylvia Lafair, Ph.D., is a CEO and is an accomplished change management expert and executive coach with over 35 years of experience.

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This article was originally published at Inc. Reprinted with permission from the author.