5 Books Our Culture Experts Love

It’s no secret; we have quite an affinity for culture here at CultureIQ! Like high-school sweethearts texting all hours of the day, we talk culture all hours of the day. And when we’re not talking culture we’re reading about it. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we wanted to share the top five culture books our experts love:  

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

by Carol Dweck 

*Keri’s Pick!*

Inspired by Carol Dweck’s decades of research, this book outlines the two overarching mindsets people have about the ability to learn and grown.  Dweck outlines two different mindsets:  a fixed mindset, in which people believe abilities and intelligence cannot change and a growth mindset, which people believe intelligence and their capabilities can be developed and learned. 

Dweck outlines how CEOs can fall into the “CEO Disease” and the implications of a CEO or leader’s fixed mindset over having a growth mindset.  The implications of having either mindset can impact the organization’s culture either by helping or hurting the company’s overall success.  

This book transcends all industries and roles. It is for CEOs, Leaders, Managers, Entrepreneurs, Parents, Teachers, Coaches, Non-profit, for-profit and everything in between. 

Favorite Quotes:  

  • “Even in the growth mindset, failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.” 
  • “You have a choice. Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re just something in your mind and you can change your mind.” 
  • “Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth take plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.”

The Critical Few: Energize Your Company’s Culture by Choosing What Really Matters

by Jon R. Katzenbach, James Thomas, and Gretchen Anderson

*Wendy’s Pick!*

 While there are hundreds of culture books available, most offer vague generalities. The Critical Few is one of the handful that outlines an actual process for aligning culture to strategy.  The authors alternate chapters containing a narrative story of culture transformation with details on how to actually get the work done.   

Favorite Quotes:

  • “The highest intent of leaders should not be to fix or change their culture but to align it with their strategy.” 
  • “If you are a leader at any level and you see an opportunity to move your business in a new direction, you will be far more successful if you engage culture in your effort. Conversely, if you ignore culture or presume that it will resist you, you will be far less likely to achieve your goals.” 
  • “Unify your organization’s people around a common, clear cultural movement, driven by a core of keystone behaviors and positive emotions.”

Think Again

By: Adam Grant

*Diane’s Pick!*

Grant blends academic research with skillful storytelling to show why it is important to rethink your own knowledge, assumptions and opinions, and how to practice rethinking and encourage it in others.  Think Again is not a book about culture per se.  However, creating a culture where employees “think again” helps organizations to adapt to changing circumstances, and allows for more productive resolution of conflicts.  It is especially relevant as businesses are constantly adapting in the pandemic, and individuals with increasingly polarized views may have to work together.  

The book ends with 30 actions for impact, including:

  • Build “challenge networks” of people you trust to help you to identify blind spots in your thinking.  
  • As you form opinions, be in “scientist mode”, asking “what evidence would change my mind?”, and revisit your opinion as evidence becomes available.
  • Encourage others to rethink through “persuasive listening”.  Ask questions about what they think, how they came to form their opinion, and what evidence would change their mind. As you understand and learn from their viewpoint, be open to changing your own assumptions.
  • To create an effective learning organization, it is important to have both psychological safety (where employees aren’t penalized for failures), and process accountability (e.g., the decision process is evaluated for rigor and creativity).  E.g., Failures are OK if they are based on thoughtful decisions.  

Favorite quote:

“We won’t have much luck changing other peoples’ minds if we refuse to change ours.  We can demonstrate openness by acknowledging where we agree with our critics and even what we’ve learned from them.  Then, when we ask what views they might be willing to revise, we’re not hypocrites.”

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business 

By: Charles Duhigg  (2012)

*Paul’s Pick!*

The Power of Habit is not written to explain culture, per se, but that is what makes it so useful. Culture is nothing more than individuals thinking and behaving in automatic ways, which are habits. 

Habits have three fundamental parts. First is a cue, which Duhigg defines as “a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.” Next is the routine, the set of physical, mental, or emotional behaviors connected together to form what is the observable habit. Finally, there is the reward that tells your brain if the whole “loop” is worth remembering in the future. Once a person associates a Cue with a Routine and a Reward, they no longer consciously pay attention to their own behavior. 

A great example of how behaviors can be altered to manage organizational culture comes from the former ALCOA ECO, Paul O’Neill, who set one goal from day one: zero injuries. He spoke nothing of profit, market share, or earnings per share. Yet, by setting reward systems up to eliminate workplace accidents create a “keystone” behavior that led to seemingly related behaviors – namely a focus on quality, efficiency, and talent. 

When he retired ALCOA’s stock value was 5 times higher than when he started. He changed habits that not only reduced accidents, but coincidentally made the company a world better. What he calls “institutional habits” is what we would call “culture.” 

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers

By: Michele Gelfand

*Paul’s Other Pick!*

Michele is a cultural psychologist whose book helps to explain behavior in societies and in organizations. She starts with a simple, but empirically supported distinction between groups who value rule adherence (tight cultures or rule makers) and groups that value permissiveness (loose cultures or rule breakers). Countries are easily seen in these classifications: Germany, Japan, and Singapore have strong social norms with little tolerance for deviance, while Brazil, the United States, and New Zealand have a dislike for formality and a passion for individuality. 

Companies and even teams can be thought of in this same way. Yet, it is not the case that one classification is good while the other is bad. Rather, rule makers enjoy consequences that are different from those of the rule breakers. It is merely a matter of one form of culture having advantages and disadvantages that are mostly opposite of the other form. Innovative teams that are most successful actually blend elements of both extremes by balancing individuals who lean toward these extremes. Rule breakers are highly creative, but rule makers are highly productive. Create a team of rule breakers with a splash of rule makers to capitalize on all that creativity, and you have yourself an agile and highly successful business.


Inclusify:  The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams

By: Stefanie K. Johnson

*Ryan’s Pick*

In this easy-to-ready book, Dr. Johnson makes a compelling case and action-oriented guidelines for organizations to inclusify: “Inclusify:  To live and lead in a way that recognizes and celebrates unique and dissenting perspectives while creating a collaborative and open-minded environment where everyone feels they truly belong.” In short, to create a culture of uniqueness and belonging. Managers and business leaders learn the benefits of fostering an inclusive work environment that welcomes and listens to perspectives from individuals of all backgrounds. Anyone interested in ratcheting up a focus on Diversity & Inclusion would benefit from this guide. 

In a conversational tone, Dr. Johnson details six leadership/culture archetypes she sees in her work helping organizations with their D&I efforts. Inclusify highlights the subtle ways in which leaders fall short in attempts to develop cultures of uniqueness and belonging. Are you a “Culture Crusader” who has created a like-minded team with a strong sense of belonging, yet lacking unique/diverse perspectives or are you a “White Knight” taking a paternalistic approach to minority groups resulting in a lack of emphasis on shared goals diminishing team cohesion because people cannot see how they fit together (high uniqueness, low belonging)? Perhaps you’re somewhere in-between. Either way, Inclusify provides you with common follies of each archetype and specific recommendations for how to combat them given your current situation. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Both uniqueness and belonging are important for culture and need to coexist by encouraging individuals to share their unique perspectives while also feeling fully part of the group.
  • Ignoring the benefits of listening to different perspectives limits creativity and stunts innovation.
  • Humans have two basic needs: to stand out and to fit in. Blending uniqueness, individuality, and a sense of belonging will benefit any organization’s culture. 

Favorite Quotes:

“Unlike ‘diversifying’ or ‘including,’ Inclusifying implies a continuous, sustained effort toward helping diverse teams feel engaged, empowered, accepted, and valued. And although few people are born Inclusifyers, there are specific steps that leaders can take to become one.”

Now that you’ve got a taste of our love affair with culture and culture books; How’d we stack up? Did you swipe right on all, some or none of these books? 

We’d LOVE your feedback! 

  • What are your thoughts on the books we listed? 
  • What books would you recommend?  
  • Do you have any follow up questions for our culture experts? 

Feel free to reach out via LinkedIn or at hello@cultureiq.com