2020 Book List: 20 Titles Recommended by our Experts

The ability to observe, learn, and adapt matters more than ever. While the year didn’t look like we anticipated,  COE has hosted 40 events (compared to 22 in 2019) with over 4,000 attendees total, nearly 20% of which were new to COE! We curated a lineup of experts to speak (virtually) on topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to change management, additive manufacturing, emerging technologies, coaching, supply chain, and innovation.

As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to share a selection of books recommended by several of our speakers and team members. Please note many of these book recommendations pair with topics we covered in 2020; recordings of these webinars are available in the members only portion of our website in the digital content archive.

Without further ado, here are the titles to add to your 2021 reading list:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

  • Book coverRecommended by: Emily Jackson, BSM, MBOE, RN, NEA-BC,  Director of Nursing for Divisions of Medicine and Neurosciences at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center 

Thinking Fast and Slow gives us incredible insight into what goes on in our heads as we make decisions, judgements and choices.  As the title suggests, it expands understanding of when it’s appropriate to think quickly, using system 1 thinking, and when we need to slow down and put ourselves into deeper thought and understanding about a decision.  As a nurse in NYC, the epicenter of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, it was the learnings from this book that often helped me to stop and slow thought down when necessary, but also to be confident and rely on intuition when needed. -- Emily Jackson

Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data by Charles Wheelan

  • Recommended by: Kelly Reo, Executive Director of the Center for Operational Excellence

I read this while completing the masters of operational excellence program at The Ohio State University. It's an interesting and unthreatening read with relatable and engaging examples. It's not too technical, focuses on the intuition that drives statistical analysis, and clarifies key statistical concepts. 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

  • Recommended by: Dr. Cynthia Turner, Assistant Dean and Chief Diversity Officer, Fisher College of Business

Caste is an incredibly powerful and stirring nonfiction narrative on racism and its brutal history in America. This work is a must-read for all organizational leaders, diversity practitioners, HR professionals, and allies who wish to build sustainable solutions to combat racism in the workplace and marketplace on a foundation of truth. 

Andy & Me: Crisis & Transformation on the Lean Journey by Pascal Dennis

Recommended by: Amy Tomaszewski Cain, Assistant Vice President, Operational Excellence, Grange Insurance

This is just a good story that weaves in application of Lean in a way that keeps you turning the pages, plus the author does a good job with the characters and you feel for them, especially at the end. 

Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

  • Recommended by: Greg Cebular, VP of Sales & Project Management, The Technology House

Book CoverI love this book because it makes you question the tasks you take on and the projects you choose to spend your time on. Essentialism made me decide whether the task was the best use of my time based on the impact it could have. It also taught me that it was okay to say no or not right now if the task was not a good fit. Ultimately, Essentialism is about being narrowing our focus on the tasks that can have the biggest impact on yourself, your job, and your business.

Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban

Recommended by: John Gray, Professor of Operations, Fisher College of Business; Associate Director, Center for Operational Excellence

It describes manufacturing gone awry in the Indian generics pharmaceutical industry, written by an investigate journalist. Her first book was on counterfeit drugs (Dangerous Doses). It's an interesting read on operational non-excellence.

We Can’t Talk about That at Work: How to Talk about Race, Religion, Politics, and Other Polarizing Topics by Mary-Frances Winters

  • Recommended by: Dr. Karen Townsend, President of KTownsend ConsultingBook cover

 I didn't write this review, but it sums up what I think this book is great: “Conversations about taboo topics, such as race, gender, and religion, happen at work every day and if they aren't handled effectively, they can become polarizing and divisive, impacting productivity, engagement, retention, teamwork, and even employees' sense of safety in the workplace. These conversations, when viewed as necessary and manageable rather than avoidable and tense, are also ground zero for impacting lasting change. The bottom line is that we need to talk about this at work in moving toward a world that works for all.

Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help by Edgar Schein  

  • Recommended by: Peter Ward, Retired Professor, Fisher College of Business; Academic Director, Center for Operational Excellence 

An amazing and personal book on giving and receiving help—very much in the spirit of his earlier, pathbreaking work on humble inquiry. Edgar Schein is a giant in the fields of psychology and organizations, but I think that he captures the heart of lean thinking and practice. 

How to be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive by Jennifer Brown

  • Recommended by: Marisa Afzali, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Progressive Insurance

This is an outstanding handbook to help leaders (as well as non-leaders) better understand the importance of creating an environment of belonging, and how to both assess, as well as advance, one’s behaviors to be more inclusive.  The model used in the book - the Inclusive Leader Continuum – provides a path for development and an understanding that becoming more inclusive is a continual journey of self-reflection and learning. 

Hacking Supplier Diversity: Cracking the Code for the Business Case: Revenue Generation, Economic Impact, ROI by Scott A. Vowels

  • Recommended by: Kai Peters, Senior Commodity Manager, Supplier Diversity and Social Responsibility, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

I would recommend this book for anyone planning to start/build a supplier diversity program!

Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process to Solve Problems, Gain Agreement, Mentor and Lead by John Shook

Recommended by: Amy Tomaszewski Cain, Assistant Vice President, Operational Excellence, Grange Insurance

I found this book a bit tedious when I first read it years (and years) ago; however, when I re-read it to teach from it (again) I found a lot more to it, especially in the side notes from the author. I continue to recommend this to anyone that wants to know how to solve problems. 

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

  • Recommended by: Cheyanne Cierpial, Marketing Associate, Center for Operational ExcellenceBook cover

This is a great book to bring continuous improvement into your personal life. The author provides a great, simple framework for building good habits. Plus, you can hear James Clear speak at our 2021 Leading Through Excellence Summit.


The following books were written by our 2020 speakers:

Human/Machine: The Future of our Partnerships with Machines by Daniel Newman and Olivier Blanchard

  • COE Speaker: Daniel Newman
  • About the book: Human/Machine explores how we will work symbiotically with machines, detailing how institutions, companies, individuals and education providers will evolve to integrate seamlessly with new technologies. With exclusive case studies, this book offers a glimpse into the future and details how top companies are already thriving on this very special relationship. From gamification in job training to project management teams integrated with bots and predictive technologies that fix problems in the supply chain before they happen, the authors deliver a powerful manifesto for the adoption and celebration of automation and AI. In a much more fluid, skills-based economy, we will all need to prove our worth and future-proof our skills base. This book offers a blueprint to avoid being left behind and unearth the opportunities unique to human-machine partnership ecosystems.


3rd Edition of Excel Basics to Blackbelt: An Accelerated Guide to Decision Support Design by Elliot Bendoly

  • About the book: This third edition capitalizes on the success of the previous editions and leverages the important advancements in visualization, data analysis, and sharing capabilities that have emerged in recent years. It serves as an accelerated guide to decision support designs for consultants, service professionals and students. This 'fast track' enables a ramping up of skills in Excel for those who may have never used it to reach a level of mastery that will allow them to integrate Excel with widely available associated applications, make use of intelligent data visualization and analysis techniques, automate activity through basic VBA designs, and develop easy-to-use interfaces for customizing use. The content of this edition has been completely restructured and revised, with updates that correspond with the latest versions of software and references to contemporary add-in development across platforms. It also features best practices in design and analytical consideration, including methodical discussions of problem structuring and evaluation, as well as numerous case examples from practice.

Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Lessons from Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning by Katie Anderson

  • About the book: In Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, leadership coach Katie Anderson and Toyota leader Isao Yoshino bring you a remarkable book about what it means to learn, to lead, and to care. Created through years of collaboration, this book offers their shared reflections on leadership and learning, providing readers an inspirational experience that defies generational and cultural divides. With a career that spanned nearly four decades at Toyota Motor Corporation, Isao Yoshino’s stories help us understand how Toyota intentionally developed the culture of excellence for which it is renowned today, and how one person learned to lead so that he could lead to learn. Katie Anderson weaves together these heartwarming stories of personal discovery, and offers her own unique perspective on them, with the intention of helping you learn to lead and lead to learn.


Steady Work by Karen Gaudet

  • About the book: Steady Work Reveals How to Implement a Continuous Improvement Operating System in Book coverQuick-Service Restaurants. Author and former Starbucks’ Regional Manager Karen Gaudet offers practical and astute business guidance plus a heartfelt personal story about how “Playbook,” a continuous improvement business system, revitalized the retailer during the global financial crisis and helped employees in Newtown, CT, get through the worst week of their lives. Clear, concise, and actionable, Steady Work is a must-read for managers and executives in retail, restaurant, and service industries as well as continuous improvement professionals in any business. It explains in detail how a lean operating system solved a critical problem that every business faces, especially quick-service restaurants: How to steadily meet huge fluctuations in customer demand with the right levels of staff and product mix.


Becoming the Change: Leadership Behavior Strategies for Continuous Improvement in Healthcare by John Toussaint, MD and Kim Barnas

  • About the book: Healthcare is in the midst of a massive disruption. With financial structures in tatters and the future uncertain, this is the moment to begin the revolution. But first, leaders need to learn how to support staff at all levels as they make transformational improvements in care. This book demonstrates that real change is very personal and has to start at the top―whether you’re an executive, governing board member, manager, or physician. A powerful new approach to healthcare leadership, this book showcases executives in health systems around the world as they: practice behavior-based solutions to organizational problems, learn how to support continuous improvement, be more present in their leadership role, learn how to reflect and assess themselves as leaders, achieve better results for patients. Drawing on a wealth of behavioral research, industry case studies, and personal insights from healthcare professionals, the authors explore how change actually happens—from the inside out, top to bottom, throughout the whole organization. You’ll learn how healthcare systems led by people who are compassionate, principled, and engaged can undergo profound and lasting transformation. Find proven strategies for cultivating principle-driven behaviors that can turn the remotest possibilities on the healthcare horizon into a new working reality.

Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy by Geoffrey Parker

  • About the book:  Uber. Airbnb. Amazon. Apple. PayPal. All of these companies disrupted their markets when they launched. Today they are industry leaders. What’s the secret to their success? These cutting-edge businesses are built on platforms: two-sided markets that are revolutionizing the way we do business. Written by three of the most sought-after experts on platform businesses, Platform Revolution is the first authoritative, fact-based book on platform models. Whether platforms are connecting sellers and buyers, hosts and visitors, or drivers with people who need a ride, Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne, and Sangeet Paul Choudary reveal the whathow, and why of this revolution and provide the first “owner’s manual” for creating a successful platform business.

Feedback Fundamentals and Evidence-Based Best Practices by Brodie Riordan

  • About the book:  The value of feedback is often unrealized because people dread giving it, dread receiving it, and may not know what to do with it once they get it. Feedback Fundamentals and Evidence-Based Best Practices balances research, testimonials, and practical tools to provide readers with a thorough understanding of feedback exchanges. Critical findings from decades of research in psychology, business, and other disciplines are distilled into tools and strategies that readers can easily adopt in their own lives, regardless of who they are or what they do. Throughout the book are a wealth of examples from a variety of people and situations, both within and outside traditional work contexts. Feedback Fundamentals and Evidence-Based Best Practices: Give It, Ask for It, Use It is a crucial resource for professionals, leaders, and anyone of any industry or stage in life looking to give better feedback, proactively ask for feedback, gracefully receive feedback, and put that feedback to use.


Definitive Guide to Transportation: The Principles, Strategies, and Decisions for the Effective Flow of Goods and Services by Tom Goldsby

  • About the book: This is the most authoritative and complete guide to planning, implementing, measuring, and optimizing world-class supply chain transportation processes. Straight from the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), it brings together up-to-the-minute principles, strategies, and decisions for cost-efficiently and effectively moving goods between sellers and buyers. CSCMP and Thomas Goldsby introduce crucial concepts including transportation modes, execution, and control; outsourcing, modal and carrier selection, and 3PLs; TMS technologies; ocean shipping, international air, customs, and regulation; and much more. Step by step, The Definitive Guide to Transportation helps you optimize all facets of transportation, one of the highest-cost, highest-impact areas of supply chain management.

So, which one are you reading first?

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