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The Most Influential Books of the Past Decade

Every once in a while, we read a book that doesn’t just transform the way we see the world, it also changes how we live our lives. For the past 10 years, I’ve been asking business leaders and students which book has most influenced their actions. I give them one rule: it must include rigorous evidence. Pure self-help and autobiographies are out; so are books by leaders dispensing advice. (Experience isn’t a substitute for evidence. If it were, obeying the laws of gravity would make us all physicists.)

I’ve compiled a list of the most frequently mentioned book for each year, with one additional rule: no author can appear twice. Here are the top picks, and how they’ve made a difference:

2004: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Yes, there’s such a thing as too much freedom. Readers have learned to limit their choice sets to minimize indecision, regret, and misery. We’ve also figured out whether we tend to be maximizers (searching for the best option) or satisficers (looking for good enough). Since maximizers tend to do better but feel worse, we’ve learned to satisfice when decisions aren’t of colossal ...

How Future Thinkers Can Revolutionize Strategic Planning

Can leaders in a democracy think beyond the next election? This is a key question posed by New Zealand academic Jonathan Boston, who is studying how different countries attempt to address long-term risks to society, the environment and fiscal sustainability.

Visiting the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship, Boston summed up some of his initial research on how the U.S. and several other democratic countries address long-term policy issues, in a recent presentation at American University.

A number of important societal problems reach beyond the span of an election cycle, and for political leaders there can be “a temptation for inter-generational buck-passing,” Boston says. “Such temptations will be all the greater when the short-term costs are direct, specific, certain, tangible and visible while the long-term benefits are more generalized, less certain and more intangible.”  

He is optimistic, though, noting that in the U.S., political leaders created the Social Security system and the Interstate Highway System—both of which, GAO says, provide benefits across generational boundaries.  

Boston says some future challenges may be unpredictable—such as non-state terrorism or new technologies—while others are known—like the potential effects of climate change or demographic shifts, which can affect health ...

The Four Types of Sleep Schedules

Erwin Schrödinger, the Nobel-prize-winning Austrian physicist, was able to make major contributions to the fields of quantum mechanics, general relativity, and color theory during his lifetime. There was only one caveat: He was not able to make those contributions ... in the mornings.

“He couldn’t work in the mornings at all,” his wife, AnneMarie, said in an interview. “The [Max] Planck lectures—as you know, it was 30 or 40 years ago that Planck was in Berlin—were given in the morning from nine to ten. When he got this very, very honorable call to Berlin, he wrote first thing and said, ‘I’m very sorry, but I can’t keep the lecture hours because I can’t work in the morning.’ ... They understood, and changed it to the afternoon—two lectures, one after the other—on two days.”

Scientists would later classify people like Schrödinger as “owls”—people who prefer to wake up late and are more alert in the evenings. It’s one of two basic chronotypes, or preferred sleep schedules. The other is “larks,” or ...

3 Tips to Help Federal Leaders Prepare for a New Congress

What will the new Congress mean for federal leaders? Even with a new Republican majority in the Senate, we won’t see much of a difference in policy. We’ll most likely experience stalemate/status quo for the next two years. The politics, however, will change. The level of scrutiny for federal leaders will increase with more hearings, investigations and oversight across the board. So what can a federal leader do in this situation? Here are three things:

1. Get your data drill and congressional testimony processes down. The federal government spends an inordinate amount of money asking for information from itself. Agencies, offices and programs often have to spend hundreds and in some cases thousands of person hours collecting and vetting the information needed to respond to questions for the record, data requests and hearing preparation. This can add up to thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars for some programs and agencies.

Another hidden cost is the time and attention of senior people who should be implementing programs and focusing on strategy. They often need to contribute to and review anything going out of the agency, office, or program. If you streamline your processes and deploy tools ...

The Purpose of the FedView Survey Is More Than Satisfaction

Recently, the Office of Personnel Management released the governmentwide results for the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and soon, we’ll also learn which agencies are deemed the best places to work, and which ones need improvement. While engagement is always a focus during the month when survey results are released, it’s important to remember that it should be a strategic priority all year long. The FedView survey exists for a strategic purpose–to help agency leaders unlock the productivity and potential of their teams, understand their employees’ perception of their employment experience, realize their staff’s commitment to the organization, and assess engagement risks associated with delivering the organization’s mission.

OPM has collected data through FedView for almost a decade. In doing so, they have garnered increasing support for the engagement discussion and for good reason—engagement of the workforce is directly connected to performance, and for the last few years the scores have gone down. But most fail to understand the link between engagement and satisfaction scores and overall agency performance. In fact, CEB research shows that organizations that build high levels of engagement can see real results in their organization’s performance—up to 23 percent ...