When I looked back on the books I reviewed this year as a springboard to a conversation I found I’d covered unconsciously (or was it?) some core themes that represent a sort of mini-syllabus for how to transform your organisation. Or even your life.
Although I’ve found myself increasingly turning to online videos and podcasts for long-form conversation, I still think books are vital to our mental wellspring of ideas.
When an author has thought long and hard about–and often heavily researched–a subject, then taken time to consider how best to present the ideas and had the whole thing interrogated by colleagues, experts, friends and editors, the work in question is at least worthy of our attention. I believe any of the books here would repay yours many times over. I hope you enjoy the list.
‘Principles: Life & Work’ by Ray Dalio
‘Principles,’ says Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s most successful hedge fund, ‘are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.’ His stated personal goal of ‘meaningful work and meaningful relationships’ is one most of us could subscribe to, and his fundamental question is: ‘Are you willing to fight to find out what’s true?’ By the end of his book, you may wonder if you’ve been fighting hard enough.
Read my full review of Principles
‘Leaders & Misleaders’ by Andre van Heerden
Most of us can recall those few gifted teachers who really made a difference in our lives. I was lucky to have Andre van Heerden as my history teacher. For the first two years of high school, he taught me everything from Hammurabi to Napoleon and his way of teaching made any era come to life—in fact, he made learning come alive. Back then, while he was teaching and I was learning, we were both enduring a civil war that saw the end of the racist regime of Ian Smith in what was then Rhodesia and what is now Zimbabwe. One of the great pleasures of 2017 was reacquainting myself with Andre. I encourage you to get to know him and his ideas, too.
‘It’s Not Luck’ by Eli Goldratt
As Yogi Berra once said, ‘When you come to the fork in the road, take it!’ We’ve all faced binary choices: opting for X means you can’t also do Y. How to decide? Confronted with a dilemma, it may feel good to trust our gut but it’s hard to avoid all our subconscious biases. Wouldn’t it be better to have some mental tools that help us think through key decisions?
Through his bestselling book, The Goal, Goldratt in many ways was the one who set me on my path to improving the way we work in large organisations. So you can blame him! But better still, read him and enjoy a radical thinker having fun using the form of a novel to convey his groundbreaking ideas.
Read my full review of It’s Not Luck
‘One Mission’ by Chris Fussell
It’s become fashionable to rail against hierarchy and to assume that people, once energised by their mission, can organise themselves into structures which are flat—at least in intent. But as with the flat-earthers, facts get in the way. Not only do we each have different cognitive capacities, we have different modes of thinking about complexity and the time horizon we can comfortably operate at. The essential question is: How do you get the speed that comes from allowing autonomous action, but maintain coordination and control?
I’ve been introducing and applying the powerful ideas of this book in several large-scale engagements this year. I can’t recommend it highly enough, along with Team of Teams, the book from Fussell’s former boss General Stanley McChrystal, to which he also contributed.
Read my full review of One Mission
‘A beautiful Constraint’ by Adam Morgan & Mark Barden
I’ve been studying constraints and consulting in them for the last twenty years so was eager to see what I might learn from the authors, a pair of marketing consultants whose firm, Eat Big Fish, specialises in breakthrough strategies. My own background in industrial engineering and Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints gives me a very rich, but quite precise, understanding of what is meant by the oft-used ‘constraint’ word. I found the authors’ take on constraints to be highly relevant and reaffirmation that ‘the obstacle is the way’ to deep innovation.
‘The ONE Thing’ by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan
It took me some time to take up a friend’s recommendation to read The ONE Thing. Here was a book written by a hero of the real-estate market of all things, it was a best seller, and I already knew everything there was to know about focus. After all, wasn’t that the main claim of my speciality, the Theory of Constraints? And then I reminded myself of the chutzpa of Dr Eli Goldratt, who famously said he wasn’t interested in Pareto and his 80/20. He was always on the lookout for the 99/1.
Once I got over my own hubris and picked up the book, I couldn’t put it down. It’s written in a very accessible and engaging style, filled with illuminating quotes and relevant explanatory diagrams. What a treasure trove of practical wisdom the book turned out to be. Just ask the question, every day:
‘What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?’
Read my full review of The ONE Thing
‘Mindset’ by Carol Dweck
Which mindset do you have? Read each statement and decide if you mostly agree with it or disagree with it:
1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much
2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are
3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit
4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are
If you mostly agree with statements 1 and 2, you may have a ‘fixed mindset’. If you agreed with statements 3 and 4, you likely have a ‘growth mindset’. So what’s the difference? And why does it matter?
Read my full review of Mindset
‘More Than Just Work’ by David Hodes
I know it’s a bit cheeky to add one’s own work to a list like this. But since I’m proposing books which can help with effecting an organisational transformation, it would feel disingenuous not to mention it. My book distils my thinking about three decades of managing work into a manageable framework. It’s edited and proofed—and looks gorgeous—but my editor and I are calling it the ‘advanced reader’s copy’. Soon, I’ll incorporate a few suggestions from some early trusted readers and make some changes based on new ideas I’m discovering.
You can buy the book here (with free shipping anywhere in Australia). If you do so now, I’ll send you the next edition for FREE later this year, bundled with the ebook and audiobook versions.
“A well-stocked mind is safe from boredom.”—Arthur C. Clarke
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