Tech executives on the books and authors that have influenced them

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Holidays are a time for book recommendations, whether as gifts for others or for holiday reading. CNBC’s Technology Executive Board members are leading efforts to transform their companies’ products and services, empower an evolving mixed workforce, and protect us from hackers, but we’ve also learned that they love a good book, especially books with advice on leadership and team building.

As part of a feature in CNBC’s Technology Executive Council’s weekly newsletter, we’ve been asking members to recommend a book they’ve read recently that has impacted their careers or helped them communicate their insights to their teams and bosses at work.

At the annual TEC Summit, held in New York City on November 17, a few members took the time to tell us more about their book recommendations, with the help of some special guests: the authors. From the series of videos originally aired at The Summit, here are book recommendations for tech leaders and a summary of their conversations with the authors.

Guns, germs and steel: the fate of human societies

Author: Jared Diamond

Recommended by: Naveen Agarwal, Director of Market Development Prudential

Naveen Agarwal grew up in New Delhi, founded a startup in London at the age of 22, and eventually moved the startup to Silicon Valley for easier access to capital. So it’s not surprising to hear that it aligns with the central premise of Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book: Geography Matters.

“Guns, Germs, and Steel” is a deep dive, the result of decades of research, that began with the discovery that Diamond said it came as a surprise to him in his early days as a geography professor. The surprise was that the shape of the continents themselves affected where innovations could occur and how quickly they spread. Almas Agarwal narrated: “The Eurasian continent is long from east to west.” “This is important because … technology can shift east and west quickly without a change in climate and day length.” He added, “On the contrary, the wheel was invented in Mexico and never reached Peru… because of the north/south axis.”

In their discussion of the book, Agarwal asked Diamond if he thought geographic advantages would be facilitated now that technology has, in some ways, brought the world closer together. Diamond answered with two competing examples. “On the one hand, there are geographically punished societies that in the past fifty years have risen to the rank of first world.” On the other hand, landlocked countries, such as Afghanistan, are still lagging behind. “Geography still has a huge impact,” Diamond said.

Blitzscaling: The Highway to Building Massive Value Companies

Written by: Chris Yeh and Reed Hoffman

Recommended by: Vinay Pai, Senior Vice President of Engineering

Co-author Vinay Pai told popular venture capitalist Reed Hoffman that he read the Blitzscaling song while stuck at home recovering from a medical procedure in late 2019, and his lessons still stuck with him. Bay Hoffman told that he followed the advice in the book, choosing to continue investing in the business throughout the pandemic.

Published in 2018, the book puts Uber and Airbnb front and center as examples of “Blitzscaling,” which Hoffmann defines as “prioritizing speed over efficiency in a time of uncertainty.”

It’s not something you do forever,” Hoffman told Bay. “At some point, prioritizing efficiency … becomes important. Airbnb and Uber today may not be as core examples of Blitzscaling as they were five and ten years ago.”

The best example of a pandemic may be Zoom Video Communications, which led them to a discussion about the state of digital transformation in a post-pandemic world, Hoffman told Bey. “I think all the acceleration of digital transformation is basically permanent,” Hoffman said.

Make your bed: little things that can change your life… and maybe the world

Written by: William H. McRaven

Recommended by: Sanjay Srivastava, Digital Director of Genpact

Adapted from the University of Texas commencement letter, Make Your Bed is a self-help guide that stresses the importance of doing the little things right.

Retired Admiral Bill McRaven said, “If you can’t do the little things right, you won’t go far. You won’t be able to do the big things well.”

Sanjay Srivastava, who oversees artificial intelligence, analytics, automation, and digital services at Genpact, said the book has affected him at work and at home. The night before he interviewed Admiral McRaven, he asked all of his family to read the book and discuss it over dinner. “I think every one of the [the book’s 10 principles] Totally applicable in the digital world.”

Srivastava also admired McRaven’s ability to tell a good story.

“Leadership tells your company’s story in a way that employees can understand,” McRaven said. “They understand the beginning, they understand the middle, and perhaps they understand the challenges that will come with it. But they also see the end. They see what it will look like when the story unfolds the way the leader hopes it will.”

Think outside the building

Written by: Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Recommended by: Rajat Teneja, Chief Technology Officer at Visa

Published weeks before Covid arrived in the US, the headline “Think Outside the Building” portends the unpredictable experience of working from home forced by the pandemic and the ensuing debate about the future of the office itself. But the title stands for much more than just physical structures.

“Buildings are a powerful metaphor for all existing structures…all things that limit us to thinking a certain way or only talking to people just like us,” said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School. The book is truly a book about leadership, and is based on dozens of case studies from Harvard’s Institute for Advanced Leadership, which Kanter co-founded in 2005.

Visa’s Rajat Tinega told Kanter he was inspired by the many stories, particularly with calling it “Kanter’s Law”.

Kanter explained, “Kanter’s law is that everything can look like a failure in the middle, especially if it’s new and different.” “It’s easy to predict what will happen if you do the same thing you’ve always done.”

About the law, Tinega told Kanter “I’m going to use it now, when I talk about leadership with my team, because it really shows that in the middle, it’s going to be messy at times. And it’s also true that if you can anticipate some things that could go wrong, that’s a great team building mechanism.” “.

What You Do Is Who You Are: How You Create Your Business Culture

Written by: Ben Horowitz

Recommended by: Erica Brescia, GitHub COO

In this business book, Ben Horowitz, co-founder of legendary Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, offers lessons in building corporate culture through a variety of historical examples, from the slave revolution in Haiti to Genghis Khan. Each chapter also begins with a quote from hip-hop (Horowitz is a famous hip-hop connoisseur).

“One thing you say in the book is that for your culture to be vibrant and sustainable, it has to come from the blood, from the soul, which is a quote that I love,” Brescia told Horowitz in their interview.

“This is from Nas,” Horowitz said, quick to credit the rapper.

“It’s an interesting take on the concept of diversity and inclusion,” Brescia said. “How should leaders think about striking the right balance between building a culture that reflects them and one that supports this truly diverse team?”

Horowitz said a written culture or set of principles can aid inclusion, while still allowing for a culture based on the founders’ vision. In other words, culture “from blood” does not mean that everyone should be the same. “The analogy I used when I spoke to our team at Andreessen Horowitz is that I said, like, if we were an American soccer team, and I was like a very fast wide receiver and he was small, and I recruited all the little guys who could run fast, we’d have the worst team in the world. world. But people do it in technology all the time.”

Brescia said she owns the book “in all three versions” — paper, e-books and audiobooks — and recommends it to every startup founder she meets. “It was so valuable to me, I wish I would have had it when I was a junior founder.”

More favorite tech books

Here are some additional recommendations from members this year. The authors were either unreachable or declined our requests for interviews, but the recommendations are still worth mentioning.

11 Rings: The Spirit of Success

Written by: Phil Jackson and Hugh Delhante

Recommended by: Bobby Ghoshal, Head of Resmed, Saas Business Unit

The Hall of Fame coach for the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers imparts wisdom from their winning streak. “I learned a lot about how to become a team and how to become a coach,” Ghoshal said. “It’s a wonderful book.”

Why We Sleep: Unleashing the Power of Sleep and Dreams

By: Matthew Walker

Recommended by: Nicola Morini Bianzino, global head of technology at EY.

Walker, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and director of its Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory, advocates more and better sleep and offers ideas for how we can all sleep better. “It’s really cool, and there are some great health boosts if you follow some of the suggestions in the book,” Bianzino said.

The Princess Bride: The Classic S. Morgenstern Story of True Love and High Adventure

By: William Goldman

Recommended by: Andrew Toei, Clover Health President and CTO

“It’s a great book with a really positive message,” said Toei. “Even if you’ve seen the movie, the book is worth reading on its own.”

as you wish.


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