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21 Books to Learn 21st-Century Skills

The Competencies without a Classroom Knowledge Library
Griffin Jaeger
May 25, 2021

We all have that one book that we can't recommend enough.

For some, it's a childhood story that they couldn't put down. For others, a self-help book that taught them 21st-century skills and lessons that they’ll never forget.

Throughout season 1 of our podcast, Competencies Without a Classroom, we interviewed hiring managers, business leaders and industry professionals, and asked them to name one book that they wish they had read before they were 18.

Buckle your seatbelts, everyone, the Competencies Without a Classroom book club is now in session. Here are 21 book recommendations for both you and your students.

Mindfulness and Habit-Building

1. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

This book outlines 13 principles designed to help readers reach their greatest potential. Napoleon Hill guides readers in tapping into what he defines as “infinite intelligence” (the power of the universe) to attract abundant wealth. Rob Comeau recommends this read for anyone looking to learn more about mindset and mindfulness, two critical skills.

2. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

On the topic of mindfulness, this book outlines the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, focusing on what you can control. Damian recommends this book for students, as it’s important they recognize the power they hold over the decisions they make and how anyone can make what they want happen.

3. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

As an avid reader, Scott Barker shares the impact this book had on his life. The lessons embedded in this story act as a manual for how to be an effective individual and a lifelong learner. Learn core skills that will set you up for success in whatever you do.

4. Start with Why by Simon Sinek

We can all benefit from learning how to be more purposeful in what we're doing and learning to be more articulate, personally and professionally. According to Jena Cammisoli, Start with Why incorporates tons of lessons that can be applied to daily life regarding these valuable 21st-century skills and asking yourself “so what?” to find purpose in making important decisions.

5. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Rumeet Billan shares that if she had read The Power of Habit earlier on, it would have helped her understand how her habits form. By picking up a copy and reading through, you may find yourself learning foundational skills like habit-building and setting better habits earlier on rather than later. Trust us, you’ll thank yourself for doing so.

Copywriting and Communication Skills

6. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser

Jimmy Daly coins this read as entertaining and interesting, offering practical ways one can improve their writing. Copywriting is an adaptable and valuable 21st-century skill. If you’re reading this and thinking about brushing up on your writing and communication skills, this book is a great place to start.

7. Good to Great by Jim Collins

As Jimmy Daly notes, “there are so many things you can learn just by studying a book that you enjoy.” Good to Great is another great read for 21st-century learners to brush up on their copywriting skills. Not only is it a great writing example, but you'll learn some great business fundamentals page by page. Investing your time into learning new 21st century skills like copywriting is a great idea, as it continues to become more popularized and sought out in the professional world.

Motivation and Change

8. Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

Eat and Run shares valuable lessons about both eating and running, through the journey of an ultramarathon winner. Callum Bradley recommends it as a motivating story that will get you up off your chair and out for a run.

9. Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

As AJ Tibando notes, Winners Take All speaks about using the power of government to improve people’s lives and bettering the most marginalized communities. As changemakers, you can do important work in your community, but change is two-sided. For those interested in igniting change through politics, government, and social justice, this one's for you.

10. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Jenn Cutajar said that if she had read this when she was younger, it would have helped her get out of her head and really allowed her to be more purpose-driven. The Gifts of Imperfection helps readers clear the clutter and noise in their minds.


11. Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

If you couldn't tell already, we’re huge fans of Dr. Brené Brown and all of the 21st-century skills she teaches readers, and you should be too. Dare to Lead is another great read, touching on shame and how to reflect on and grow from it.

12. The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table by Minda Harts

Recommended by Janelle Hinds, The Memo is an incredibly important read about women of color taking their place in the workplace, building confidence, and feeling like they are enough. It also touches on 21st-century skills like building confidence and being resilient in times of failure.

13. EntreLeadership by Dave Ramsey

Leadership encompasses a variety of 21st-century skills like EQ, focus, teamwork, communication, collaboration skills, and problem-solving, among others. Recommended by Jeremy Bout, this book is great for anyone interested in entrepreneurship or learning how to be an effective leader.

14. 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell

Learning what it means to be a leader is not something you’ll necessarily be taught word for word in high school or post-secondary. This book lays out 21 laws that can be applied to anyone's life in order to be an effective leader in whatever one does. As we spoke about with Peter Lewis, you can be a leader across all stages of your life. Doing so involves all sorts of 21st-century and soft skills.

Finding Yourself and Your Way

15. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

At the top of Jay Gosselin’s mind is Range, a book about career development. It focuses on how young people should take time to explore and try new things before deciding what they ultimately want to do in life. It includes valuable anecdotes and research, and is a great lesson for any of your students to take note of.

16. The Diviners by Margaret Laurence

According to  Zoe Share, “when you find the books that speak to you, they can be a fabric that carries you through”, and we couldn't agree more. For Zoe, this book was The Diviners, a story that made her appreciate nature, water, and following her own path.

17. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

Winnie-the-Pooh is a story we all appreciate as kids. Believe it or not, each character is representative of different emotions or tropes, and this book dives right into it through a lens of Taoism. Ilana Ben-Ari found it a fantastic book for slowing down and not pushing against the tide.

18. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X

Described by Bernie Uche as raw and visceral, this book stood out in terms of understanding himself and what it means to be a black man. Co-authored by human rights activist Malcolm X and Alex Haley, the book includes a series of conducted interviews and is a very impactful read.

Sales and Interpersonal Skills

19. The Dictionary of Body Language by Joe Navarro

Body language plays a huge role in our perception of others, and vice versa. Understanding and clearly articulating thoughts and feelings through body language can contribute to 21st-century skills like communication and self-awareness, ultimately interpersonal skills. For this reason, Peter Hopwood recommends The Dictionary of Body Language.

20. Influence / Pres-suasion by Robert Cialdini

Austin Belcak loves the work of Robert Cialdini so much he couldn't pick just one book. These two texts offer insight and guidance surrounding 21st-century skills like copywriting and relationship-building and the key skills you can use to build strong relationships in life and through writing.

21. To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others by Dan Pink

The ability to sell is an incredibly valuable 21st-century skill in today’s professional environment. You may find yourself selling a product, a service, or your own abilities throughout the employment search. Eric Janssen recommends this book as a background on the importance of sales and learning how to do so.

There you have it, 21 books in which you can adopt new 21st century skills, and have a good time while doing so.

Do you have a book that you wish you had read before 18 that you’d love to recommend? Let us know by reaching out to us on Twitter at @spaces_edu.

Happy reading!

Griffin Jaeger

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