So, here’s the request that came in an e-mail:
We are going on a cruise in September and I want to load my Kindle with three books. What are the three best books you would recommend for my reading? The request came from a very sharp, keen-minded, successful, independent business consultant. He attends one of our book synopsis events. This is my attempt to answer his question.
I am tempted to simply list some of my all time favorite reads (not necessarily the best books I’ve ever read, although they are close — but definitely books that I am very glad I have read), like: The Doorbell Rang, one of my favorite Nero Wolfe mysteries, by Rex Stout; and The Powers That Be and The Reckoning by the truly great David Halberstam; and Defining a Nation, edited by the same Halberstam.
And then there is this: what are the business books from the last few years (and even a little longer ago) that should be on your “I’ve definitely read that book” list? I would certainly include Good to Great by Jim Collins; something Gladwell (it’s tough to choose — probably Outliers); Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf and The Leadership Engine by Noel Tichy; almost anything, but definitely at least one thing, by Peter Drucker. Add to this The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley, and a major personal favorite, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.
But – I still have not answered the question. If I had but three books to load on my Kindle for a September cruise, what titles would I choose? Here’s a list of five; you will have to narrow it down to the three that most interest you.
Choice #1: Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Diamond, a Pulitzer Prize winner with his earlier book Guns, Germs, and Steel, has written a tour de force in Collapse, sweeping us through the societies that collapsed, and providing warnings regarding the decisions societies make. An important book!
Choice #2: Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Laden, or, The Looming Tower: Al-Queda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright. Of course, the Wright book is the heftier of the two; it won the Pulitzer, and provides an amazing education about the rise of Al-Queda, what went into their thinking, and especially their animosity toward the West. But there is a personal tone and a very personal take on life in the strict Muslim world of Saudi Arabia in Carmen Bin Laden’s book — the former wife of Yeslam, one of the brothers of Osama Bin Laden. It is a captivating read, and noticeably shorter than The Looming Tower. (You can tell, from this response, that I think we ought to seek to understand this “other” culture that is so foreign to our own).
Choice #3: OK, which two business books to put on the list? Not necessarily which books to read for enjoyment, but which books provide the most important and useful information? I list two choices. I would put The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life by Robert Cooper, because everyone would benefit from reading an occasional “let’s aim high, and take things higher” book. Unfortunately,this book is not available for the Kindle. (Yes, I checked on all the others). So, for this category of business book, I recommend The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. (I haven’t yet read the new Schwartz book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance, which could be a better choice). And, for the other business book, I would have to go with The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, just because I think it deals with the complexity of this age and provides really valuable suggestions. (And, it gives every patient going in to surgery an important question to ask his or her surgeon: “do you use a checklist?”).
And you will notice that there are no novels on my list. I read about a novel a decade (except for my relatively frequent re-reading of the Nero Wolfe mysteries). But I have actually bought a novel – in the past week. It is: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I might actually read it – one of these days soon.
Two personal footnotes:
#1 – thanks, Tom, for providing a great idea for a blog post. I apologize for answering you in this fashion.
#2 — And, it would be interesting to have Bob Morris give his list of “only three” in response to this request? I’m pretty sure he would have different titles – all absolutely worth the investment of a Kindle purchase and a few hours of reading. So many books… so little time!
update: I definitely should have put The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis into the mix — as the book I would recommend to help you understand the financial meltdown of the last couple of years. So now I am up to six to choose from, to then narrow down to three. Sorry about that.
The range of what we think and do
Is limited by what we fail to notice
And because we fail to notice
That we fail to notice
There is little we can do
Until we notice
How failing to notice
Shapes our thoughts and deeds
• Psychiatrist R. D. Laing (quoted in The Power of Full Engagement)
I spoke at the second Take Your Brain to Lunch session today in Dallas, hosted and organized by our blogging colleagues Sara Smith and Cheryl Jensen. I presented my synopsis of The Power of Full Engagement, (The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz). It is a book that I have not revisited for quite some time. It is quite a book! A good book – useful helpful, clear.
Here’s a key quote:
We live in digital time. Our rhythms are rushed, rapid fire and relentless, our days carved up into bits and bytes. We celebrate breadth rather than depth, quick reaction more than considered reflection. We skim across the surface, alighting for brief moments at dozens of destinations but rarely remaining for long at any one. We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go. We’re wired up but we’re melting down. We survive on too little sleep, wolf down fast foods on the run, fuel up with coffee, and cool down with alcohol and sleeping pills. Faced with relentless demands at work…, we return home feeling exhausted and often experience our families not as a source of joy and renewal, but as one more demand in an already overburdened life.
We walk around with day planners and to-do lists; Palm Pilots and BlackBerrys, instant pagers and pop-up reminders – all designed to help us manage our time better. We take pride in our ability to multitask, and we wear our willingness to put in long hours as a badge of honor. The term 24/7 describes a world in which work never ends.
As productivity rises even as unemployment rises, more and more people are having to accomplish more and more in essentially the same amount of time as before. Using time well is truly a survival skill. But the authors of this book argue that energy management is really the secret behind good time management.
The authors recommend that we all seek to become “corporate Athletes.” Here is what such a person focuses on:
• YOU MUST BECOME A CORPORATE ATHLETE®
1. Principle 1: Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
2. Principle 2: Because energy capacity diminishes with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
3. Principle 3: To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.
4. Principle 4: Positive energy rituals – highly specific routines for managing energy – are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.
If you are feeling a time squeeze, it is likely that you are actually experiencing an energy squeeze. Check out this fine book – it could be quite helpful and useful.
You can purchase my synopsis of this book, with audio and handout, from our companion web site at 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
Cheryl: On August 12, 2009, over 90 women and men attended the inaugural event of Take Your Brain to Lunch focusing on women’s business topics. We were honored by the positive and insightful survey results at the conclusion of the event and will host these every other month starting in January 2010.
Today we announced our second event in 2009 where we will review 2 relevant business books on the consuming theme of work/life balance. This program is open to everyone, not just women. We will continue to focus on the topics which seem top of mind for today’s women; so guys, come on over and hang out with us to learn the inside scoop! On November 11, 2009 Randy Mayeux will deliver 2 books synopsis over lunch at the Park City Club, Dallas TX. The books are The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz and Getting Things Done: The Art of Stressfree Productivity by David Allen.
While I haven’t read David Allen’s book, I read The Power of Full Engagement a few years ago and have frequently recommended it to coaching clients. When I read books, I use a yellow highlighter. On page 5, I found “To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest.” You can tell I was hooked right from the beginning; this truly resonated with my own experience. When I’ve found myself “in the zone” so to speak, these characteristics have been present in spades. Perhaps my favorite toward the end of the book is “When we have blind spots, we can blind side others without even being aware that we are doing so.” How true this has been when I was open to feedback regarding my blind spots, ouch! I loved the stories of “corporate athletes” and found much of the advice regarding changes simple, straight forward, and common sense; and of course, challenging! Simple does not mean easy. Come join us for lunch on Wednesday, November 11 to hear the wisdom in this book along with what Randy will share from Getting Things Done. Networking, good books, dialogue with smart professionals, and lunch, YUM!
Sara is taking some well deserved vacation this week. She will be at Take Your Brain to Lunch!
Click here to register for the November 11 event.
Recently, Slate.com ran a test on who is better informed: newspaper readers exclusively or internet readers exclusively, in its News Junkie Smackdown. The winner seemed to be neither, with both sides wanting and missing the other side’s sources. But as I read the multi-entry series, I realized how tired I felt just from the task of reading the news. I read the news constantly – as do so many of us these days. And I feel that if I miss a story, then somehow I have fallen behind in the universe. Keeping up is wearing me out.
There are other tasks that are wearing us out – I think we are a tired people, collectively. Many of my friends now work as “independents,” perpetually scrambling for the next financial possibility, feeling the pressure constantly. Those who work for large organizations are feeling the pressure also. The next round of layoffs seems to be right around the corner. (How many of us personally know someone who has been laid off?) The strain of the economy seems to fill many with a deepening, underlying, constant uncertainty – about nearly everything. And such uncertainty, such insecurity, is very, very tiring. Not to mention that financial pressures are equally very, very tiring, and many face these on a regular basis.
Are there books to help? I think so. Two that I have read, neither “new’ but both still valuable, are The Power of Full Engagement and Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Of course, everyone knows about David Allen’s best seller. An entire industry has been created providing GTD aps for the iPhonie, following Allen’s principles. He is so right that any thing that clutters the life or the mind is burden producing and burden sustaining. Getting it off of the mind and into a place where it can be retrieved when needed is critical to one’s sanity, and energy level. Here are a few key quotes:
• Almost everyone I encounter these days feels he or she has too much to handle and not enough time to get it all done.
• In the old days, you knew what work had to be done – you could see it. It was clear when the work was finished, or not finished. Now, for many of us, there are no edges to most of our projects. Most people I know have at least half a dozen things they’re trying to achieve right now, and even if they had the rest of their lives to try, they wouldn’t be able to finish these to perfection.
• “This constant, unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy.” Kerry Gleeson.
• We all seem to be starved for a win.
The other book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, may be less well known, but it is a great and valuable companion volume for Getting Things Done. Consider these quotes:
• We live in digital time. Our rhythms are rushed, rapid fire and relentless, our days carved up into bits and bytes. We celebrate breadth rather than depth, quick reaction more than considered reflection. We skim across the surface, alighting for brief moments at dozens of destinations but rarely remaining for long at any one. We race through our lives without pausing to consider who we really want to be or where we really want to go. We’re wired up but we’re melting down. We survive on too little sleep, wolf down fast foods on the run, fuel up with coffee, and cool down with alcohol and sleeping pills. Faced with relentless demands at work…, we return home feeling exhausted and often experience our families not as a source of joy and renewal, but as one more demand in an already overburdened life.
We walk around with day planners and to-do lists; Palm Pilots and BlackBerries, instant pagers and pop-up reminders – all designed to help us manage our time better. We take pride in our ability to multitask, and we wear our willingness to put in long hours as a badge of honor. The term 24/7 describes a world in which work never ends.
• Fatigue has a cascade effect – fatigue leads to negative emotions leads to muscular tension leads to lack of focus/concentration.
• We need energy to perform, and recovery is more than the absence of work.
I realize that we are too busy to read these books about dealing with the stress of being too busy. But these quotes should whet your appetite while reminding us all that the problem of fatigue is real. It will take a lot of effort to become effortless in our work and life and emotional balance.
• You can order synopses of my presentations for both Getting Things Done and The Power of Full Engagement, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.