OK, so most people post in December or January with their list of their favorite books of the past year. But it’s summer in TX, and perhaps the heat is getting to me and making me think more about how to work smarter and have more of an impact. That led me to going back to a few of the books that have had the most impact on me and my career-to-date and summarize them for all of you. Look forward to comments and responses with your favorite books!
A Whole New Mind by Daniel H. Pink
While Daniel Pink released this book in 2005, the improvements in Artificial Intelligence and automation continue to concern large portions of our workforce that their functions will be replaced by systems that can perform the same activities at exponentially higher speeds, with less mistakes, and with a larger impact. I absolutely believe this to be true, and like generations before us, the workforce will have to adapt and learn new skills in order to be relevant. What is compelling to me about the approach in “A Whole New Mind” is the introduction of the importance of right brain senses, such as “design”, “story” and “empathy” that are abilities that we possess and are the key to unlocking the potential of the AI capabilities. Some excellent examples exist, such as the design elements of the Apple products and converting technology that existed into an interface that was so comfortable for the user. The technology should not be understated, but the same technology with a poorer design could have easily failed. Humans continue to want to engage and relate, unlocking our right-brain aspects continue to be critical.
Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff
Ironically, I received this book as a gift at a conference hosted by Ingram Micro who was launching their cloud services. Coming from an IT infrastructure background, I was certainly aware of Salesforce in 2009 and the rapid adoption of their CRM platform, but did not know the story behind it. Mark Benioff’s narrative of his journey was electrifying. All of the elements you’d expect from a man that came from almost nothing to a billionaire exist: the big idea, risk, more risk, success, failure, competition, more competition, hyper-focus, discipline, hard work, confidence, and in some cases good luck. Not too dissimilar from Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, but completely different industry. Salesforce is now a mammoth in the industry and has evolved from a CRM company to a Cloud and platform company that is continuing to shape the industry. A fast read and a page turner, the company was about $1B in revenues in 2009 and has grown to almost $7B in 2016, almost all in subscription services. Don’t be afraid to take a chance.
Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.
My career started in the early 90’s following a BS in Marketing from the University of Arizona. My first jobs were in sales, then started to shift into business and product development roles, with sales always part of the responsibility. All I knew was that I continued to be frustrated by the things that I didn’t think I did well and others did. I was a pretty good task keeper, but others were better. I had a poor memory (and clearly that’s not getting any better), I had trouble digesting deep technical information, reading text over and over and only comprehending a small portion of it. All of this concerned me about my future. Then in an internal training we were asked to read “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and take the personality test as part of it. What an eye-opener and a freeing concept – – know what you do well, and instead of focusing on fixing your problem areas, focus on what you do well, and do that really well! It improved confidence and my demeanor, knowing where my strengths were and being able to classify them, then focusing on roles where I could deliver the most value to the companies who employed me. Much like how “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman helped my wife of almost 24 years and I understand each other better, this book helped me understand my strengths and how to unlock them. Epiphany!
DRiVE by Daniel H. Pink
Yes, this is book #2 from Daniel Pink. Admittedly, he’s a favorite of mine and his writings are engaging, supported by studies, and analyze the mind and how to unlock potential. As someone who’s on a continual quest to improve and understand why I think the way I do, his work is compelling. This book, “DRiVE” was the first Dan Pink book I read. I’ve had the opportunity to lead fantastic teams of people over the last 15-20 years and in that time I’ve made plenty of mistakes, just hoping to learn from them and not repeat them. Having worked in relatively small companies, I wear a lot of hats, but part of my focus has always been trying to provide a platform for extracting as much value as we can from the talented people that we employ. I’ll summarize this as motivation, but clearly motivation takes many forms. This book was an eye opener, illustrating radically different wants and needs by different types of employees, and that some of the motivators I was using were actually causing angst to my team and were a distraction. Understanding your team and how to motivate them is critical to success. Just ask the great business leaders and the best professional sports coaches. Talent is one thing, talent that performs is another.
Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte
This book is the last on my list for a reason. The concepts or messages are not as transformative as the others. That said, working in a business environment, and Information Technology more specifically, almost every day contains in-person or web-based presentation material. And it’s brutal. No, not every presentation is a keynote, and some require detail, but similar to how we think Twitter is impacting our ability to write, the poorly-constructed presentation is impacting our ability to present: speaking, engaging, compelling… I competed in Speech & Debate in High School, and to this day that experience may be the most impactful education I’ve had, college included. It helped me organize thoughts, increase confidence, and convey messages – – and since this was in the late 80s, that was all done without “Powerpoint”. Our reliance on data on slides versus the construction of true visual aids that keep our audience locked in on our message is lessening the impact of our presentations and wasting our audience’s time. “slide:ology”, with supporting images, shows how to take average visual aids and turn them into great visual aids.
As you may be able to tell, these books are less about deep business theory or sales approaches, but more about people, why we do what we do, how we are motivated, and understanding each other. To me, that’s the biggest hurdle. Thanks for reading, look forward to comments and hearing about your favorite reads!