Closely related to words, words, words, are books, books, books. Everyone has their favorites. These are some that I like.
Amazon has this cool feature that allows people like me to yak about books I like. I could do that anyway, but Amazon gave me some cool little bits of code and pictures of book covers to make my list look really official. You can click on the hyperlinks and go right to Amazon. If you order one of the books, I get a gift certificate for a free bookmark or something.
Books that are Interesting
The Heart Aroused : Poetry and the… I had this book on a shelf for the last five years. For unknown reasons, I picked it up the other day [long ago] and found I couldn’t put it down. It’s one of the few books I’ve read recently that I wish I had written. David Whyte is a poet turned consultant. His contemplation on soul at work, or soulful work is wonderful (though in truth, it’s light on the work part, but deep in soulfulness)..
Questioning the Millennium : A… Probably the time to have read this was late 1999 while you were deep in millennial or millennium angst (the proper spelling is two n’s by the way). I read it just recently and it makes my list because it’s a charming and thoroughly engaging survey of a subject I otherwise had no interest in: the mechanics behind our current calendar. You can read it just to enjoy Gould’s use of the English language, to stock up on useless tidbits about why anyone cares about the thousand year metric in the first place, or to get the real skinny on Dionysius Exiguus, the guy who came up with the whole B.C., A.D. thing for Pope St. John I.
Out of Control : The New Biology of… I loved this book. The world of the made meets the world of the born. Chapters flip back and forth between topics like how bees swarm and distributed computing. This fits in the category of “brain breaker.” If you’re looking for a hard hitting, “Who Moved My Cheese” kind of business book, this isn’t the one for you. This probably isn’t the website for you either for that matter. We deal with big words here and long sentences here
What makes a good business book good?
So what makes a good business book good? That it is provocative? That it leaves you with something useful? Yes and yes. But the ultimate test must surely be that it is read and referenced repeatedly.
Some of the books I own that meet these criteria are Influence by Robert Cialdini, Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono.[amtap amazon:asin=0618001816] Alfie Kohn is in my mind a genius. A controversial genius. His stunning rebuke of B.F. Skinner and the legions of behaviorists that followed him lays waste to stupid theories like “catch someone doing something right” or any other line of thinking that has as its root rewards or punishment. It’s a lazy way to think, manage, market, or bring up children. Worse, neither rewards nor punishment ultimately work . . . unless you count malicious compliance as an acceptable outcome. Like I said, he’s controversial. I’ve read this book three times. [amtap amazon:asin=0670030767] A New Brand World: Eight Principles for… Scott Bedbury was the head of corporate advertising at Nike during the glory years that began with the breakthrough “Just Do It.” As if that wasn’t enough, he then went on to be the Chief Marketing Officer at Starbucks as that company went from something that a lot of folks on the west coast knew about to one of the most recognized brands in the world. So his point of view probably counts. If you have any interest at all in branding–branding the way it’s really done–this is well worth the read. [amtap amazon:asin=0385260954] The Fifth Discipline : The Art and… This is the touchstone for anyone interested in organizational learning and systems thinking. It’s sold about a bajillion copies, which is a lot, and is either testimony to really great marketing or to a deeper truth that we need to focus far, far less on events and spend much more time understanding that systems that comprise our organizations. Small changes yield big results if we just know which ones, when, and how. [amtap amazon:asin=0071364153] There’s a theme here. Jung was the first to talk coherently, at least in the west, about the collective unconscious and archetypes. These memories and images resonate for all people through all times. IMHO the authors have used the concept brilliantly to explore brands and branding. [amtap amazon:asin=ASIN/0029069386] Like all good consultants and pundits, D’Aveni begins with a rousing shot across the bow of his colleagues, mostly Porter and his notion of sustainable competitive advantage. The short version is that it’s a charming but obsolete notion. Markets relentlessly race to a state of perfect competition–meaning complete visibility and no profits. The winners are the firms that are built for speed and structurally and genetically wired to disrupt. My copy is old (1994) and dog eared and very much applicable to these post dot.com times. [amtap amazon:asin=0688128165] Everyone needs to read this book. It’s probably the most accessible thing you’ll ever read on how you’re influenced and why. For those interested in group dynamics, tribal behaviors, and culture building, the discussion of pluralistic ignorance and the Jonestown Massacre–the ultimate exercise in drinking the Kool-Aid, is worth the price of admission. [amtap amazon:asin=0066620996] I’ve referenced this book several times on this site. Jim Collins’ first book, “Built to Last” has become something of a classic. “Good to Great” represents a huge investment in time and effort to arrive at what I think are some pretty elemental truths: great comes from disciplined people, disciplined thinking, and disciplined action. Take comfort in the fact that Truth is truth. If you want research backed justification for common sense, you need to read this book. Maybe you should read it anyway. [amtap amazon:asin=0738204315] This is the anthem of what I call Customer 6.0, the hyper-informed, leave me alone, lookey what I found, I want it when I want it customer we’re all trying to figure out how to deal with. I love the Manifesto and the first essay in the book. I can’t honestly say I got past it, and I’m really struggling to make sense out of his book Gonzo Marketing, but I still think this is worth the read. If you want to half-step it, just go to www.cluetrain.com. [amtap amazon:asin=0735200572] I was staring at my bookshelf the other day and decided to pick this one up. The copyright says 1988 and I think I first read it in 1988. Some of it feels complicated but his core premise is right one. Companies like people go through lifecycles. Healthy growth is a function of taking care of the problems/issues of your current stage so you can move on to the more complex issues of the next. Toxicity and pathology come from carrying around the problems from other stages. What works for you today won’t work tomorrow.
Books About Decisions[amtap amazon:asin=0393317900] If you have any interest in decision making, this is a book you should read. If you were alive and aware in the early 60’s, this is a book you really should read. The Cuban Missile Crisis was arguably the hottest single point of the Cold War, thirteen days that brought the US and USSR within a bad decision of total, thermonuclear war. This book give you a terrific view into what went on with both sides, based on unprecedented access to recently declassified US and Soviet era records. [amtap amazon:asin=0393098966] If you’re going to read about the Cuban Missile Crisis, you should add this book to the list. It’s a short memoir by Bobby Kennedy, arguably President Kennedy’s closest and most important advisor. He was there for every bit of it. In some ways, the best part are his reflections at the end about the dynamics that supported what everyone came to regard as a superb decision process that led to an excellent outcome. [amtap amazon:asin=0684818388] If you’ve read much of this site at all, you know my interest and concern about ethics. Rushworth Kidder is a former Senior Editor at The Christian Science Monitor and brings a penetrating sensibility and wonderful voice to a subject most of us nod at but tend to shy away from. Long before it became fashionable, Kidder identified ethics (through his interviews of some of the giants of the last century) as one of the most important dynamics of our era. A very fine book and worth your attention.
Books About Journeys
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Mythos… If you’ve read my essay on Try vs. Do, you know that I’m a huge fan of this book. This comes about as close to a must read as I can think of. Your customers are on a journey. The question is, how relevant are your organization and your offers to that journey? Same is true for your employees? Read my essay, then buy the book, then call me.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible… And you think you have it tough. Bunch of guys head on down to the Antarctic to be the first to cross the frozen continent by dog sled. Ooops. Boat gets frozen in and ultimately crushed by the ice. In a terrific tale of heroism and grit, everyone of them makes it off the ice and ultimately to safety. Easy read. Great story. The essence of the heroic journey. It will take you most of a Saturday to read this.
Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea This is a ripping good tale, a true pairing of two stories. The first, of the sinking in a terrible hurricane of the steamship Central America along with 50 tons of gold rush era gold. The second, of a young engineer named Tommy Thompson who takes nothing for granted, questions everything about everything, and ultimate figures out what no one for any amount of money including the US government with it’s unlimited treasury could do before him: do delicate, real work at extreme depths. Tommy not only finds the wreck, but salvages the gold. It reads like fiction. It’s a pot boiler from the first page to the last. If you like a good tale, if you like innovation and a never say never attitude, read this book.
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation This is a book that many people have heard about, but unless you were an English Lit major, went to private school in the US, or had a proper English education (as in the kind they serve up in the home isles), your probably never read it. Pity. It’s the fountainhead of Anglo Saxon heroic literature. One of the leading lights on the book was a fellow named Tolkien, and indeed, the Ring trilogy and Star Wars, to name two, owe much of their architecture to Beo. For us moderns, it is a terrific metaphor for our own journey, personal, corporate or otherwise. Read this version.
Way of the Peaceful Warrior, 20th… It’s probably not too much to say that this book is a classic. It’s a novelized autobiography about a college gymnast and his encounter with a mystic service station attendant he takes to calling Socrates. The emphasis is very much on living in the now. It’s sold about a jillion copies. You should add it to your collection. “Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. No need to resist life; just do your best. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine. You are the world, you are the universe; you are yourself and everyone else, too! It’s all the marvelous Play of God. Wake up, regain your humor. Don’t worry, you are already free.”
Books on Innovation
Books on innovation tend to fall into two broad categories: why and how innovations move from whim to wham, nothing to mainstream; and attempts at telling regular people like you and me how to be more innovative. My personal experience as a consultant is that most organizations don’t lack for innovative ideas. In fact, there are lots of them floating around. No, the issue is almost always nurturing and cultivating divergent ideas, and all the political and personal risks that go along with doing that.
With that in mind, my book selections tend to focus on how to foster innovation, vs. how to come up with out of the box ideas. Here are some of my favorites.
Orbiting the Giant Hairball: …, by Gordon MacKenzie is a fine place to start reading about innovation. It’s a thin volume that doubles as a work of art, with vivid writing and lots of whacky drawings. MacKenzie spent 30 years working at Hallmark cards, where he carried various titles, surely the most interesting of which was “creative paradox.” You get the impression that some people thought he was truly cracked, but others regarded him as a creative genius.
This book is fun, interesting, and infused with sparkling insights about fostering creativity, innovation, and good work while simultaneously avoiding the centrifugal force of the corporate hairball. Even if you don’t read it, you should buy it. It is a visually stunning book that otherwise defies description.
The Innovator’s Dilemma: … by Clayton M. Christensen, PhD is in my judgment, one of the two academically oriented must reads on the topic of innovation. Unlike a lot of books on a lot of topics, Christensen has meticulously researched his topic, which is innovation, and what it does to established and emerging players in any market or value system. His message is simple and scary. There are two types of innovation: sustaining and disruptive. Established companies tend to do the first if they do any at all. It’s the other kind that kills them. And because the DNA of established companies is oriented towards serving the needs of shareholders (predictable returns) and customers (incremental improvement to what they’re already buying), they shy away from pursuing innovations that might upset either applecart.
Christensen spends most of the book making a well argued, not too-academic sounding case for his thesis and why you should care. He is less exhaustive on the prescriptive part, though he has some solid suggestions about how to introduce disruptive innovation into your organization.
The Deviant’s Advantage … by Ryan Mathews and Watts Wacker is one of the current hot business reads. In many ways it takes up where Christensen leaves off with the full intent of scaring the reader into believing that innovation happens, it’s driven by deviance out somewhere on the fringe where normal stops, and it’s headed your way where it just might overwhelm you if you’re not prepared.
Taking Christensen a step further on the prescriptive side as well, Mathew and Wacker lay out their ideas for what you can do to discover deviance while it’s out there somewhere, and position yourself to ride the wave of innovation on the way to business advantage. It’s a provocative book with great anecdotes and zippy writing.
Diffusion of Innovations was first published in 1962 by Everett Rogers, PhD. It is the other academic must read on the topic, and is more or less the standard textbook and reference on diffusion studies. Most people have never heard of Rogers, but have heard of Geoffrey Moore, the author of the extremely popular Crossing the Chasm and its various spin-offs. If you want to read the breezy popularized rendition of how the adoption curve works (innovators, early adopters, etc.), you should definitely read Moore. Most people in technology did when the book first came out, and Moore continues to refresh the content and extend his franchise. There are lots of examples of companies you will have heard of and he punctuates his writing with pithy quips and rousing injunctions. If you want to go to the source, read Rogers (that’s what Moore did). Rogers virtually invented the field, has done or read all the scholarly research, and lays out in clear, albeit academic language, exactly how and why innovations move from deviant and whacky ideas to the mainstream. It is both prescriptive and descriptive: he tells you why it works and how to make it work.