I often get asked what the best books are to help one at work. As it turns out, I give reading lists to whoever works for me. One list is focused on developing good character and “soft skills” and is relevant for whichever line of work you are in. The other list is on more technical knowledge related to the finance industry. Below is the first list, I’ll post the second one next week:
Turbo-charging your productivity
Four-Hour Work Week (Ferris) – a provocative and at t times grating, book on how to take the 80:20 and deadline pressure principles to the limit. The associated podcast is excellent
Getting Things Done (Allen) – probably the best task and time management book around. Main points are take things out of your head (note them) and have effective lists
A Technique for Producing Ideas (James Webb Young) – short book that shows that even creativity has a process. Read and research a lot, sleep on it and the ideas will come.
3 Laws of Performance (Zaffron) – written by the Landmark education group, it shows the power of the word
Whatever You Think Do The Opposite (Arden) – fun and simple book that will be inspirational whatever the page you open
The Elements of Style (Strunk and White) – I keep this close to hand all the time. Helps with grammar , but also stylistic points
The War of Art (Pressfield) – from a best-selling author. He punctures the stereotype of artists that only work when “inspired”. For him, writing is a 9-5 job. Just start typing.
Politics and the English Language (Orwell) – Orwell understood language like no other. He relentlessly argues for simple and clear language.
Reading Like a Writer(Prose) – in the end, the best way to write well is to read lots. This book teaches you how to read effectively so you learn the most.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (Tufte) – I love Tufte. He hates chart garbage and finds all sorts of amazing ways of representing information.
Leadership and teamwork
The Effective Executive (Drucker) –still the best book on how to manage and lead teams.
Social Physics (Pentland) – an excellent book that shows that a well-functioning team of “average” individuals will outperform a dysfunctional team of “stars”
Scaling Up Excellence (Rao and Sutton) – argues for experimenting and scaling, but ultimately if management doesn’t get involved in the nitty gritty nothing will change
Creativity Inc (Ed Catmull) – the co-founder of Pixar describes the culture that produced the biggest string of film hits ever.
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Patrick Lencioni) – very practical and engaging management book that uses a fictionalised company to describe how teams fail.
How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie) – corny in parts, but still a classic. Remember, “never criticise, condemn or complain” about others.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Cialdini) – teaches all the tricks that marketing uses to influence you.
How To Be a Power Connector (Robinett) – you can be systematic about networking as much as anything else.
Talk Like TED (Gallo) – good guide to presenting
Non-Violent Communication (Rosenberg) – the best book I’ve come across on how to authentically communicate with others. It could change your life.
Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (Keith Johnstone) – this may sound random, but improvisation makes one very aware of power dynamics between people
Doing the right thing
What Money Can’t Buy (Michael Sandel) – the Harvard prof forces you think about what the limits of markets are: eg can you buy and sell babies?
Systems of Survival (Jane Jacobs) – a very clear book on the difference between the syndromes of commerce (entrepreneurs) and guardians (system enforcers). Both are needed, but the lines between them shouldn’t blurred.
What Works for Women at Work: Four Patterns Working Women Need to Know (Joan Williams) –powerful evidence-based book on challenges women face that men do not.
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing (Ware) – one of those books that reminds you of the purpose of life
Lucifer Effect (Zimabrdo) – based on the famous Stanford prison experiments, it argues amongst other things that being a quiet bystander to evil makes you complicit
Obedience to Authority (Millgram) – another classic that describes Millgrams experiment where he found that people were willing to electrocute others if someone in authority told them to do so,
Meditations (Aurelius) – Marcus Aurelius has be the closest we have seen to the Platonic Philosopher King. He was featured in the movie “Gladiator” as well! This book is like a diary of his thoughts which he wrote while out on war. A great practical example of Stoicism.
Analects (Confucius) – one of the best classics on the duties of leaders within hierarchies, Some of the language and cultural bits can be off-putting, but stick with it.