4 Books I read in 2014 that made me a better creative, thinker and leader

This year has been 365 days of amazing growth, insights gained, a few dozen sleepless nights and goals being smashed like The Hulk finding his favorite wall. To think that my personal and professional development (or yours) happened organically—without trying—is delusional. I’m a perpetual student of the marketing game and because of this—I end almost every night with my face buried in a book learning as much as I can while trying to strike the perfect balance of light on a page without waking up my wife.

2014 has brought some fantastic business books into my life—some new, some old, but all containing some extraordinary truths and understanding to business. Some books I sought out on my own. Some books were recommended to me. And even one book I was promised physical harm if I didn’t read. The commonality with the books I’m sharing is that they are deeply profound to the online/offline marketing space in which we are but mere participators. If you have not read these books, put them on your “must-read list of 2015.”

1.) David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell

What’s it about:

In Gladwell’s newest journey into the economies of relationships and perceptions, he challenges our notion of what we consider advantages to be—both in business and in life. Gladwell systematically presents case studies throughout time that suggest—like beauty—advantage is in the eye of the beholder. Applied to your professional life, David and Goliath will force you to rethink your view on your “competition” and your business’ core values. Have it be the first book you read of 2015.

An interesting takeaway:

Gladwell’s theory of “relative depravity.” A central theme in the book, relative depravity examines the idea that it might be a far better decision to be a big fish in a small pond versus a small fish in a big pond. Is the next big money job offer or client contract right for us? Gladwell argues it’s not.

2.) Tribes, Seth Godin


Many of you are probably very familiar with Godin (author of Purple Cow), but in his lesser read, equally thoughtful Tribes, Godin uses the successes of entrepreneurs to convey points on customers, leadership and the ideas that govern both. This is a quick-hitter of a book that you can finish in a few days of casual night reading.

An interesting takeaway:

Godin’s brief but true take on the correlation between innovation and happiness. There’s a cyclical marketplace nature in which creating innovation for customers is rewarded with a level of fulfillment. This principal obviously applies on even a microcosm of a scale.  

3.) First, Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman


Is there a science, a formula, a set of common intrinsic qualities of superb leadership? The answer is yes and what defines great leadership goes against what you’ve been told by most “experts.” Data scientists Buckingham and Coffman poll and interview thousands of great leaders across a diverse set of industries to distill down 12 actions of the world’s greatest leaders. First, Break All the Rules is a game-changer.

An interesting takeaway:

First, Break All the Rules suggests that you should actually favor your top performers—almost giving them preferential treatment. The book argues that a fallacy in leadership is treating everyone the same. Buckingham and Coffman promote the exclusivity of treatment toward your best employees and the shunning of your laggards. Very interesting, indeed.

4.) Burn Your Portfolio, Michael Janda


This book was given to me to read with the accompanying statement, “You, and every creative out there, should read this book.” They were right. You, and every creative out there should read this book. Although written from a design-lens, this book reads as a how-to guide for running a creative agency, managing creatives and the intricate dance between the agency and client. If you preform any iota of creative services, you MUST read this book. Each chapter is only a few pages long but packed to the gills with masterful insight from a creative who has learned each lesson through luck, skill or the hard way. 

An interesting takeaway:

Literally, every chapter is relatively interesting. Janda covers topics such as our business being an organism that wants to die, collaboration, stress and finances specific to agencies. There are 361 pages of amazing insight within this book.

I’ve read other great books (Google Semantic Search, Buzzing Communities and Jonah Berger’s Contagious) this year, but the four listed had the most meaning to me. But enough about me and my list. What’s yours?

Share your top business books with us.

Holden + Ellis is a Columbus marketing firm that reads a lot

Holden + Ellis is a Columbus marketing firm and creative data agency that specializes in the innovation of ideas. Reach out to Holden + Ellis’ Founder and Chief Visionary Officer Josh Fitzwater with thoughts on marketing at josh[at]holdenellis[dot]com.