20 Must-Read Books for Intrapreneurs Making Their Companies More Socially Responsible #SocentReadingList

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

In the last installment of our #SocentReadingList series, we shared 20 must-read books for aspiring social entrepreneurs. But striking out on your own isn’t the only way to put entrepreneurial innovation to work for social good. For this list, we’re shifting our focus to the changemakers operating within existing organizations or corporations: the social intrapreneurs

Whether you’re an employee who wants to launch a new initiative to make your company more socially responsible, or a leader who wants to bring out the creative ideas of the team(s) you manage, the books linked below will help you lead positive change from the inside (and overcome the naysayers who stand in the way.)

Looking for more individualized guidance launching initiatives that change your company from the inside out? Check out our MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship.

1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

To help you overcome the “corporate immune systems” that kill off new ideas.

Why we like it: Driving change from inside a larger organization is an uphill battle. You’re working against the “well, we’ve always done things this way” mindset, which is particularly challenging if you’re not at the top of the decision-making ladder. This compelling, story-driven book brings together decades of counter-intuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how everyday people can affect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, and how to use that pattern to successfully change your company from the inside.

2. Changing Your Company from the Inside Out: A Guide for Social Intrapreneurs by Gerald Davis & Christopher White

To gain the context and tools you’ll need to get your innovative idea off the ground.

Why we like it: Once you have a great idea for an initiative that matters to you (and should matter to your company), you’ll need a strategy to navigate the naysayers and make it a reality. Drawing on lessons from successful social movements other intrapreneurs, this book serves as a good primer on social intrapreneurship and a guide for affecting change from the inside. You’ll learn how to identify the right time for change, how to use storytelling to show why your change is compelling, how to determine who can make your innovation possible, and how to mobilize supporters. 

3. Rocking the Boat: How Tempered Radicals Effect Change Without Making Trouble by Debra Meyerson

To help you push boundaries without limiting your career paths.

Why we like it: Social intrapreneurship involves a delicate balance between conformity and rebellion. Meyerson shows that the best way to do that is as a “tempered radical” working toward transformational ends through incremental means—sticking to your values, asserting your agendas, and provoking change without jeopardizing your hard-won careers. The guidance and inspiration in this book puts self-realization and change within anyone’s reach, empowering you to turn threats to your identity into opportunities to make a positive difference in your company—and in the world. 

4. Conscious Capitalism Field Guide: Tools for Transforming Your Organization by Raj Sisodia, Timothy Henry, and Thomas Eckschmidt

To help you spread your conviction that businesses exist to do more than generate profits to the rest of your company.

Why we like it: At a purely profit-driven business, it’s easy to feel like the odd person out for caring about your company’s social and environmental impact. This book gives you the tools you need to spread those principles to the rest of your company. You’ll find practical guidance and tools for each of the core principles of conscious capitalism (higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership, and conscious culture), as well as real-life stories, exercises, worksheets, and clear advice to help you apply them. 

5. A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems…Where Governments Cannot by Alice Korngold

To help you make the business case for social impact.

Why we like it: When you’re trying to launch a social impact initiative, you’ll likely run into resistance from stakeholders solely focused on the financial bottom line. This book will help you overcome the argument that resources should be reserved for profit-oriented operations by showing that it’s not only possible for companies to do well while doing good – it’s increasingly essential. Korngold shares in-depth, real-world examples of companies that have incorporated sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their core strategies, and come out ahead for doing so. In addition to helping you demonstrate the business need, you’ll also find research-based strategies and tactics that you can apply to your company to drive world-positive change. [Editor’s note: Hear directly from the author, Alice Korngold, about her latest insights into better business in this episode of Beyond Buzzwords, our speaker series for corporate changemakers.]

6. The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a Corporate Insurgent by Gib Bulloch

For when you’re completely disillusioned by the profit-driven business environment and looking for inspiration. 

Why we like it: Business clearly has the power to change the world – but what if we, as individuals, had the power to change the world of business? That’s the question Bulloch explores in this refreshingly honest, witty, and personal account of what it took to change one of the world’s largest global consulting companies from the inside. Taking an approach that was less “tempered radical” and more “guerrilla warfare”, he managed to create a not-for-profit inside one of the most profit driven corporations against all odds. While this book is less of a step-by-step guide and more personal than others on the list, it’s an inspiring call to action that’s bound to renew your dedication to changing your company for the better. 

7. Great at Work: The Hidden Habits of Top Performers by Morten Hansen

For when you find yourself too busy with day-to-day work to dedicate time to advancing positive change.

Why we like it: You only have so many hours each day to dedicate to work, and more immediate tasks can easily push new initiatives onto the back burner. How do some people manage to get it all done? After conducting a five-year study of more than 5,000 managers and employees, Hansen reveals the answers in his “Seven Work Smarter Practices” that can be applied by anyone looking to maximize their time and performance. By pairing key insights with self-assessments, quizzes, and and questionnaires, this book will help you understand your individual style and put a strategy in place that makes you more productive and able to focus on what matters to you.

8. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher & William Ury

To help you move your idea forward without compromising on quality.

Why we like it: When your ideas involve changing the status quo, there’s going to be a lot of negotiation involved. Based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, this book offers a proven, step-by-step strategy for coming to mutually acceptable agreements without getting angry or getting taken. Whether you’re trying to advance a new social impact initiative, change a flawed hiring practice, or get more time off to volunteer in your community, the methods you’ll learn in this book will help you reach a “win-win.” 

9. The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil by Christine Bader

For when you’re in a steep uphill battle for positive change and need some encouragement.

Why we like it: There is an invisible army of people deep inside the world’s biggest and best-known companies, pushing for safer and more responsible practices. Christine Bader is one of those people. She worked for BP until a string of fatal accidents and changing leadership led to her abrupt resignation, when she switched tracks and joined the United Nations. Bader’s story of working deep inside the belly of the beast is unique in its details, but not in its themes: of feeling like an outsider both inside the company (accused of being a closet activist) and out (assumed to be a corporate shill); of getting mixed messages from senior management; of being frustrated with corporate life but committed to pushing for change from within. A relatable and inspiring read for anyone feeling discouraged in the fight for more socially responsible business practices. 

10. Social Intrapreneurism and All That Jazz: How Business Innovators are Helping to Build a More Sustainable World by David Grayson, Melody McLaren, & Heiko Spitzeck

For a look inside the mind of successful social intrapreneurs.

Why we like it: If you want to join the the growing wave of social intrapreneurs harnessing the power of large companies to create new solutions to the world’s rapidly growing social, economic and environmental challenges, this book will help you understand what it takes. Distilling insights from interviews with social intrapreneurs, their colleagues, and experts around the world, the authors identify the mindsets, behaviors and skills that have helped successful social intrapreneurs implement their ideas on a larger scale – and some of the pitfalls. 

11. The Greenhouse Approach: Cultivating Intrapreneurship in Companies and Organizations by Chitra Anand

For leaders who want to foster the innovation and creativity of their teams.

Why we like it: Intrapreneurship can be an uphill battle if leadership isn’t on board with innovative change. If you’re in a leadership position and recognize the value of social intrapreneurship to give your company an edge, this book will help you create a culture of intrapreneurship. The Greenhouse Approach shows how companies and organizations can use creative thinking to re-imagine current norms and structures and develop a culture that brings out the best innovations of your employees, equipping them with the tools to anticipate and adapt to change.

12. A Shark in a Fish Tank: 15 Principles of Intrapreneurship by Jordan Levitt

To help you get to the next stage of your corporate career by harnessing the power of intrapreneurship.

Why we like it: If you’re an ambitious go-getter planning to be with your company for the long-term, Levitt argues that you have a unique opportunity to lead your organization into the new era with your vision. A Shark in a Fish Tank is a guide for the career-motivated intrapreneur, where you’ll learn what intrapreneurship is about, how to understand the environment you’re working in, how to leverage your interactions with those around you, and how to harness the power of intrapreneurship to climb the corporate leadership ladder. 

13. The Rule of One: The Power of Social Intrapreneurship by Kazi Huque, Narayan Sunjararajan, & Jacen Greene

For anyone focused on leveraging social intrapreneurship to generate solutions for the developing world.

Why we like it: The Rule of One speaks about the power of social intrapreneurship specifically within the context of the developing world. The authors collaborated with Nobel laureate and microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus to co-found an intrapreneurial joint venture between Intel and Grameen Bank. In this book, they’ve collected and presented the original and transformational ideas that got them there, exploring how challenges related to poverty, healthcare, and education can be solved in a sustainable and comprehensive way. Through illustrative examples and useful case studies, The Rule of One provides a roadmap for companies who want to engineer business solutions that address the root causes of social and economic issues.

14. The Lean Enterprise: How Corporations Can Innovate Like Startups by Trevor Owens & Obie Fernandez

For leaders who want to bring the startup mindset to large companies but aren’t sure where to start.

Why we like it: This book goes beyond vague notions of creating an “innovative culture” to break down the nuts and bolts of what that looks like, and how to get there. It reveals the methodologies, tools, and incentive structures guiding the world’s largest organizations to capture that innovative magic that startups are known for in an easily accessible and practical way. 

15. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

To help you perfect your pitch for your innovative idea and become a more impactful leader of change.

Why we like it: In The Power of Moments, Chip & Dan Heath explore the question: why do some experiences jolt us to change, while others don’t? What they’ve found is that our most memorable positive moments are dominated by four elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. The book will show you how to embrace these elements to create moments that matter. As an intrapreneur trying to advance an innovative idea, this book will help you create the moments that will convince other stakeholders to change, rather than leaving them to accident or chance. 

16. How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide by Peter Boghossian & James Lindsay

To help you keep the dialogue from shutting down when perspectives clash.

Why we like it: As a champion of change, you’re going to have to overcome resistance from other stakeholders whose perspectives and priorities clash with yours. Those moments can be tense, and heated debates often lead to insults and shaming, blocking any possibility of productive discourse. This book will guide you through the straightforward, practical, conversational techniques necessary for every successful conversation, no matter the issue. A must-read for dealing with hardliners in a way that opens minds and fosters a climate of civility, connection, and empathy.

17. That’s Not How We Do It Here!: A Story about How Organizations Rise and Fall–and Can Rise Again by John Kotter

To help you understand the role of innovation in a company where the status quo isn’t working anymore.

Why we like it: What’s the worst thing you can hear when you have a good idea at work? “That’s not how we do it here!” In this book, Kotter uses a fable to illustrate how large organizations can foster innovation without sacrificing effective management. A thought-provoking read for anyone working within an organization that was once great, but the status quo isn’t working anymore. 

18. Managing Up: How to Move up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss by Mary Abbajay

To help you lead positive change when you’re not in charge.

Why we like it: If you’re not the person in charge, you’ll need buy-in from your managers to advance your innovative ideas for change. Managing Up outlines a proven strategy for managing those who manage you (without sucking up.) Drawing on years of experience helping companies and individuals transform their organizations into positive workplaces, Mary Abbajay shares actionable insights to help you develop the skills to forge strong relationships, increase cooperation, collaboration, and understanding between those who have different power levels and perspectives.

19. The Change Monster: The Human Forces that Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change by Jeanie Daniel Duck

To help you master the emotions of those who stand in the way of change.

Why we like it: It’s a universal truth that change is hard – and being a social intrapreneur is about driving positive change. In this book, Jeanie Daniel Duck draws on case studies and decades of experience to talk intelligently about the social dynamics and emotions of people in the midst of change efforts, and provides a straightforward framework that can be easily applied to your own environment. You’ll come away with practical advice and useful tools to anticipate and prepare strategies for guiding others in your organization through the change monster’s turbulent waters.

20. The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Beating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization by Tom Kelley & Jonathan Littman

To help you overcome the naysayers and devil’s advocates who stifle creativity and innovation.

Why we like it: Tom Kelley founded IDEO, the game-changing design consultancy that pioneered the concept of human-centered design. Full of engaging case studies and real-life examples, this book outlines the roles that people can play in an organization to foster innovation and new ideas, while offering an effective counter to naysayers. It’s a practical and helpful guide that covers both the underlying concepts and day-to-day realities of advancing innovation. 

Like this list? Make sure to check out our other reading lists for personal and professional growth by following #SocentReadingList on social media. 

If you’re looking for more personalized guidance to help launch your idea, check out our MovingWorlds Institute Global Fellowship. You’ll be part of a community of changemakers on the same journey to leading positive change, and gain the tools and practical experience to help bring your innovations to life.