We read a lot at RedThread—both to directly inform our research and because we’re reading junkies. We also listen to a lot of podcasts. (In fact, in this piece, we use “reading” as shorthand for “consuming content,” regardless of whether we’re consuming a podcast, book, audiobook, or article.)
Part of our mission at RedThread is to accelerate the flow of ideas through the marketplace—and one way we do that is by sharing what we’re doing / thinking as soon as we’re doing it. In that spirit, we want to share what our team members are reading these days.
We’ve divided the list into 4 sections:
- Reading that directly informs our research
- Reading that keeps us up to date in the field
- Reading that broadens our horizons
- Reading that we plan to do
Throughout this post, all titles and images are hyperlinked to the source. Let’s dive in!
Reading That (Directly) Informs Our Research
These books, articles, and podcasts help drive our thinking on the specific topics we’re writing about currently—topics like purpose; diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); people analytics; learning; and skills. Here are our top things to read in this category.
In this book, author James O’Toole gives a fantastic historical perspective on how businesses have approached purpose. We’ve been doing a lot of research on the topic of purpose—individual, team, and organizational—and found this book remarkably enlightening (pun intended). It helped us understand how our collective concept of purpose has changed over time and why purpose is such an important component of a business’s success, now more than ever before.
Also supporting our purpose research, this book’s author Rebecca Henderson describes how capitalism is on the verge of destroying the planet and destabilizing society. Capitalism is destabilizing the climate, driving human deaths and mass species extinctions. Wealth is increasingly unevenly distributed and many institutions that have historically provided stability—families, faith traditions, governments—are “crumbling or even vilified.”1 What can org leaders can do to change the path we’re on? A lot—and this book offers a practical roadmap for how businesses can build a kind of capitalism that works for everyone.
A number of people recommended this book to us, including Deborah Quazzo, Managing Partner at GSV Ventures and one of the guests on our “Is Purpose Working?” podcast season. Isabel Wilkerson writes about the existence of a invisible caste system in America and how that system influences us all. She shows how a rigid hierarchy is embedded in our society and institutions, feeding racist policies and beliefs in ways we often do not see. The book supports the research we’re doing on DEIB.
This powerful book reshapes the reader’s notions of what it means to be racist. Starting from the idea that there are very few people in the world who think, “Yes! I’m racist!”, author Ibram X. Kendi helps readers understand that racism is fundamentally a problem of systems, policies, and institutions that foster inequity and invite individuals to (sometimes unconsciously) hold beliefs and commit actions that also foster inequity. The book paints a compelling picture of how we can all be antiracist by actively and continuously pushing ourselves, our communities, and our institutions to promote equity. This book supports our research on DEIB.
Reading That Keeps Us Up to Date in the Field
We love these sources—none of which, you’ll notice, are books—because they reflect some of the most leading-edge thinking on the topics we care about. If you like RedThread’s research, then you’ll probably find these resources helpful, too.
Matthew is a longtime learning leader who writes about skills, talent, and learning. One of our favorite quotes:
Ultimately, we in L&D may be robbing our organizations of some of the greatest potential in talent, because they sit in the frontline and they're non-exempt employees—and so they just don't get access to content, or the systems, or the programs, or the mentoring, or the class.2
This podcast, hosted by Christopher Lind, gives one of the most comprehensive (and entertaining!) perspectives around on learning tech—vendors, challenges, opportunities, ecosystems, and more. Each episode features a learning tech vendor talking about the problems they’re trying to solve. We like it because it’s not salesy, it’s always informative, and Christopher has an amazing ability to synthesize what’s going on in the space.
Every month, David Green posts on LinkedIn a summary of the top articles published that month on people analytics and related topics. Each post contains a dozen or more articles, each summarized in at least a paragraph, often with helpful charts and graphics. This single monthly post is a great way for us to keep up to date on what other people are saying in the field.
Stacey Harris and John Sumser at the HR Examiner host a weekly podcast, “HRTech Weekly One Step Closer.” They cover topics ranging from HR tech trends to analysis of tech vendors, recent mergers and acquisitions, and the implications of senior leaders’ movements between orgs. This weekly show is another fantastic way we stay current on others’ thoughts in the field.
McKinsey has been publishing a lot on skills, reskilling, upskilling, and the future of work. The company’s findings are well-researched and highly informative. These articles help keep us current on others’ work on the topics of skills and learning—for example:
Learning itself is a skill. Unlocking the mindsets and skills to develop it can boost personal and professional lives and deliver a competitive edge.3
McKinsey Quarterly, August 2020
Reading That Broadens Our Horizons
Curiosity may have killed the cat…but it sure makes us better researchers! We read a lot of stuff that’s not directly related to our research projects or even our areas of focus. These books, podcasts, and Facebook groups (yep) help us stay on our intellectual toes and keep us growing, learning, and thinking.
Author Philip Coggan writes the weekly Bartleby column for The Economist. Here, he’s provided a sweeping history of trade, industry, and growth in the global economy from ancient Rome to the 21st century. We enjoy his style of putting complex information about management and the world of work in an easy to comprehend and interesting format that’s very appealing.
We’ve been talking about how AI will disrupt our lives and work for some time now—but how, exactly, will that happen? Authors Ajay Agarwal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb explore the economic implications of the price of AI, which is declining in a way that’s similar to how the price of computing declined in the 1980s and 1990s. The book was recommended to us to truly understand AI disruption.
In 1954, then-Senator John F. Kennedy decided to write a book profiling 8 of his predecessors: Senators from history including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 and became a classic on courage in the face of difficulty and pressure. It’s an exceptional view into leadership in different times—with real implications for today.
This book is an amazing exploration of failure—what it is, what it isn’t, and how failures are part of the journey to successes. Author Dr. Sarah Lewis, an associate professor at Harvard, has a background in art and culture—and uses these lenses in her lyrical, insightful, and practical exploration of the true nature of failure. (Hint: It’s not what we tend to think.)
This resource isn’t a single article or book—it’s a private (though very large) Facebook group of parents learning to live and parent with a growth mindset. Although most of the discussions focus on how to help children, the lessons and insights that group members share are often equally—if not more so—relevant to adults. We’ve found it to be some of the most helpful self-awareness and growth content available anywhere.
Reading That We Plan to Do
You probably won’t be surprised that we have long lists of things we want to read, but haven’t yet. Here are the top few.
Given current events, we think it’s tremendously important to better understand the history of Asian-Americans in our country. Asian immigrants and their descendants have played a major role in U.S. history, but much of this influence has been overlooked or forgotten. This book by Erika Lee, a professor, author, and historian at the University of Minnesota, was recommended to us as a comprehensive, engaging, and fascinating way to learn something we should already know: how Asian-Americans have shaped the history of the United States.
The Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere
Looking ahead to post-pandemic life, we’ve recognized that work—like life—will never look the same. In this new environment, employees want to know how to stay connected while maintaining work-life balance; managers want to know how to lead remote teams; and orgs want to know how to enable great work to be done. We’ve heard that this book by Tsedal Neely answers many of these questions. It’s a practical guide for leaders, managers, and teams as they figure out what works best for them and their organizations.
We are looking forward to reading this product of a collaboration between Tarana Burke and Brene Brown—something that combines Brown’s work on vulnerability with Burke’s work on shame resilience. They bring in Black authors, artists, activists, and more to share their stories—resulting in a “stark, potent collection of essays on Black shame and healing” within a space where we can “recognize and process the trauma of white supremacy…be vulnerable and affirm the fullness of Black love and Black life.”4
This resource started as a book and has continued on as a podcast about the way we work. Author Aaron Dignan explores the “operating systems” of organizations—the things that comprise organizational culture—and how we can improve the ways we work.
There’s increasing research that, to improve performance, employee engagement, and other key metrics, orgs should focus on helping their managers become better managers and leaders. This book by Julie Zhuo is a practical guide designed to do just that. Each chapter focuses on a specific aspect of management—for example, holding effective meetings (and canceling unnecessary ones)—and offers specific advice to new managers learning the ropes.
For more sources related to our current research agenda, check out these lit reviews:
- Learning Content in the 2020s: What the Literature Says
- Choosing Learning Tech: What the Literature Says
- The Changing Perspective on Mobility
- Competencies vs. Skills: What’s the Difference?
- Skilling: 5 Themes in the Conversation
- The Purpose-Driven Org: What the Literature Says
What Are You Reading?
You might have noticed from this article that we love reading. We want to hear from you: What are you reading these days? What questions are you trying to answer for yourself?
Share your favorites with us at [email protected]!
- “Why I Wrote the Book,” Reimagining Capitalism / Rebecca Henderson.
- “The Price of Skills Debt,” The Skills Obsession podcast / Dani Johnson, Stacia Garr, Chris Pirie, and Matthew Daniel, March 2021.
- “The most fundamental skill: Intentional learning and the career advantage,” McKinsey Quarterly / Lisa Christensen, Jake Gittleson, and Matt Smith, August 2020.
- You Are Your Best Thing, book description, Penguin Random House, 2021.