Recommended for You

The Secret to Growth: 8 Must-Reads

What do high-achievers and big successors have in common?  Great question.  We all wish there were a step-by-step process on how to become one of these icons.  I often find myself unsure of whether I am falling into a rut of going through the motions or if this is a path to growth.

As a 2020 college graduate, I have learned the importance of self-help and personal growth books.  I (would have) walked across stage one of 8,000 students, a statistic that proved the need to differentiate myself while attending a Big Ten University. Large schools have many benefits, but it is easy to get lost in the crowd.  I found that reading about simple life skills and eventually putting them into practice, could help me stand-out against my peers, and these skills would translate to my career and other parts of life.

For anyone in any stage of their career, here are eight dependable must-reads recommended by our NCW team.

  1. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

This book covers simple life-skills that relate to most sales and people-focused business roles.  Carnegie touches on making good first impressions, becoming good conversationalists, what to do when nothing else works, and plenty more. We face these challenges every day, this great read unravels tips and tricks to make it in the real world.

  1. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

A team favorite and one of Bill Gates’s favorites, this book is a memoir by Nike co-founder, Phil Knight.  In his book, Knight talks through the parts of his like including his shortcomings, while encouraging us to get out there and pitch “the crazy idea” because there is someone out there who want to hear it.

Nike spent nearly twenty years on the verge of bankruptcy.  Shoe Dog emphasizes understanding your audience, knowing your purpose, and using grit to overcome obstacles.

  1. #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso

Ladies, this is our era.  Amoruso is the 36-year-old, Greek American, founder and owner of Nasty Gal.  She explains how she turned the generic eBay-styled shop into a lifestyle.  Amoruso shares her personal story of being broke and directionless.  Amoruso says she wrote this biography to highlight her unique path to success – trusting your instincts, following your gut, knowing which rules to follow and which to break.

#GirlBoss was eventually turned into a Netflix series.

  1. The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger

This is the story of how Disney CEO Iger took on a role during a difficult time for the company.  In 2005, it was a matter of fight or flight when big tech came prancing in.  Iger had visions of expansion, adaption, and quality growth.  Twelve years later, Disney came out as the most respected media company in the world.

Iger engineered a few key takeaways within innovation, taking responsibility, crisis management, learning from failures, and being aware and adapting to a changing world.  He emphasized soft skills of optimism, courage, curiosity, empathy, and integrity.

  1. Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz

Schultz worked as an employee for Starbucks when they only sold coffee beans.  Schultz proposed the idea that they should open a coffee bar.  Starbucks shut that idea down very fast and Schultz took it among himself to create the coffee empire on his own.  What a power move.

Schultz’s “rags-to-riches” story teaches us the value of the consumer experience, adapting (hmm, I see a trend here), setting standards and building customs, and believing in your product.

  1. I’m Feeling Lucky: Confessions of Google Employee #59 by Douglas Edwards

Edwards has an interesting perspective as one of the few non-engineers during Google’s early years.  He has seen the ups and downs, ins and outs, and his four major takeaways.

Always say, “yes”.  Focusing on removing obstacles is half the battle in wanting to grow.  If the answer is no, help find a better way to get the process done.

Give attention to what you are not doing.  From an economic standpoint, if you are not going forward, you are going backward.  Think about the projects you are not launching and deals you are not closing.  It is all about how you use your resources.

Creative thinking.  Google has a “20 Percent Time” rule.  This allows employees to devote 20% of their week to something that is out of their normal realm of work.  The allotted brainstorming time is discouraged by most companies but a key differentiator and was the result of the billion-dollar ad-serving application, AdSense now called Google Ads.  Do not discourage creative thinking.

Praise.  At first, Google only hired high achievers.  When the only form of praise was through pay, engineers became discouraged and ultimately performed worse.  Edwards harps on the leadership style that is very involved and acknowledges the wins and losses of individuals.

  1. Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg

This bestseller shares the leadership lessons of Bill Campbell, the former executive at Kodak, Apple, and Intuit.  Campbell was a mentor of many other major tech giant CEO and COOs.

Three simple learnings:

Your People Make You a Leader.  “If you’re a great manager, your people will make you a leader.”  Bill explains that you earn the right to lead people by building trust.

It’s About the People. Trust your people, believe in your people, think about your people and how you can help them.  Your employees are your bread and butter of the company; their well-being and success is your top priority.

Tough Love.  This is a two-parter.  Being transparent, straightforward, and having high standards is the “tough” part.  Being respectful and supportive is the “love” part.  The perfect mix of both translates to being an effective leader.

  1. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell focuses on societies outliers.  What do high-achievers and big successors have in common?  This is the story about nature versus nurture something that Gladwell argues are both necessary.

There is a harsh reality that culture, upbringing, and socio-economic status are influences when looking at the successors of all time.

One part that resonates with me is the 10,000-hour rule.  The rule suggests that to become an expert in something it is required to put in 10,000 hours – roughly ten years.  Gladwell gives the examples of Bill Gates and the Beatles.  The successors were born in the right time, given great opportunity, but paired with hard work and dedication is what high-achievers and big successors have in common.


These eight reads are perfect for any stage of life.  I am personally looking forward to reading Shoe Dog and absorbing all the knowledge Phil Knight has to offer.  At the end of the day, each memoir acknowledges that our fate is not set in stone.  Each story lets us envision how coffee shop baristas to engineers all had a visionary that was beyond the ordinary and took the extra steps to make them extra-ordinary.