I frequent the Conversation Agent blog published by Valeria Maltoni regularly, and take away more food for thought than I get from any other blog. She recently posted an article containing a Summer reading list. Heading into the last full month of summer (although here in the Pacific Northwest it actually feels like the first full month, as the summer to date has been rather cool and moist….), I felt this was a great idea and opportunity to bring to light a number of works I have or am reading and the ways they have enhanced by thoughts and are enriching who I am and making my business more worthwhile.
- A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. I discovered this book via an article by Valeria Maltoni called On Strategizing. I became even more intrigued by the importance of questions, not just in business but in the rest of life as well. Along with helping me learn to ask better and more insightful questions (the answers are, in contrast, pretty straight-forward…), I also started to rethink my approach to strategy. In the light of working for many customers who, upon ticked through the strategy and planning, promptly placed it on the bookshelf or in a filing cabinet, where it resides to this day. I now feel that companies need a sustainable strategy process. Processes are ongoing and supportable, but ‘finished projects’ (think “Well, I’m glad that whole strategic planning bit is over so I can get back to work.“) tend to dead-end, as it were. I’m enjoying the exercise of considering More Beautiful Questions!
- Systems Thinking for Business by Rich Jolly. First of all, this is NOT an easy read. Then again, a book that presents applied systems science, also called complexity science, isn’t likely to be a real page-turner. Nonetheless, with my evolving research concerning sustainable strategy processes, I feel that I need deeper understanding of systems thinking and this book does focus on systems thinking in business, so it is a bit less theoretical than it might be otherwise. There are, again, a great number of books available (the next one that I will be tackling is Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows), but I had to start someplace, so here I am. If you’re looking for a quick and easy intro and have a Kindle, you could try samples of some others, but I preferred to dig in. Heavy lifting, but in a good way…
- The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. On the recommendation of a colleague, I picked this book up on my Kindle. It is a well-written, easy read. Written as a story/interview, Gerber is helping the owner of a pie shop who is going through a number of business difficulties. The big take-away I have from this book is the utter tendency of most start-up owners and entrepreneurs to operate initially in Entrepreneur mode, followed by settling into Technician mode. He makes the case (with lots of explanation and examples…) that three modes or personas need to operate within the business in order to be successful: Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician. Clarity around their functions and how each makes the business grow really helps me both with my own business and in understanding the businesses of my clients. Every small business owner needs to read this.
- Buyer Personas by Adele Revella. Sometimes only a hard copy will do, which is why I didn’t get a Kindle version of this book. I want to be able to flip around it, make notes and generally use it as more of a reference in the long-term. That said, I have not yet finished it (probably take me another week or two at my current rate of “reading multiple books at once”…). However, one of central tenants of my business value for clients is to research their Visitors/Audience/Customers/Community (VACC), and personas can be part of that mix. Many of my clients feel they know their VACC, but once research is performed and models are built, things can be a bit surprising, especially concerning assumptions AND opportunities. This is a well-written volume worth the effort of any marketing professional or business owner who wants to not only dig deeper into who the folks are that populate your VACC, but focus limited resources on reaching the Right Ones.
- Million Dollar Consulting Proposals by Alan Weiss. Like most consultants, writing a good, solid proposal can be a challenge. My first tries were, to be kind, pretty awful. I discovered Alan Weiss about a year ago and have read several of his books since, as well as engaged one of his associates in a business coaching relationship. The resulting change in my business has been significant. I’ve altered my business model, utterly redesigned my messaging and marketing, am on the cusp of launching a new website with all that having influenced its design, AND rebuilt my proposal process from the ground up. It has made a huge difference, and this book was instrumental in most of those changes. If your business utilizes the proposal process at all, you owe it to yourself to absorb the valuable content presented here.
- Flawless Consulting by Peter Block. I’m always leery of having a single source of professional information (especially since I was getting so MUCH from the works of Alan Weiss, as I mentioned above…). So, at a recent event when a senior coaching consultant was conferring with recommended this book by Peter Block, I got a copy on my Kindle and read it. I appreciated his “down-in-the-weeds” descriptions of the consulting process, especially how difficult it can be to ensure implementation of all the great work you do with a client after you leave. His emphasis on partnering with the client and authenticity of the relationship, along with part played by all party’s EQ (Emotional Quotient) affirmed my belief in the importance of Human-To-Human (#H2H) relationships in my business.
- Smart Change by Art Markman. I have long been curious about habits and the mental and psychic foundations for creating and changing them in myself and, if helpful, in others. There is certainly less known about the mind that known, but the more I know about my own thinking (and the distinct challenges there…), the more I have a bit of understanding and empathy for those around me (and my clients!). A piece of advice: read Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow before you read this one. It will give you a solid foundation for understanding the further details in Markman’s work.
- Eisenhower: Soldier and President by Stephen Ambrose. While a student of history, I don’t usually go in for biographies. However, I’ve always been a bit intrigued by Eisenhower. My hometown in Iowa is the birthplace of his wife, Mamie, whom I met many years ago at a church service. While president, Ike and Mamie would visit her uncle in my hometown, and it was a BIG DEAL (as you can imagine….). A far-from-perfect man, he is considered a good president from our current historic viewpoint. I wanted to find out how he ended up president, having been a career soldier, more about his personality, and how he fit his times. There are numerous other biographies of him, but I like the way Ambrose writes, it is one volume, and, while his shortcomings are not hammered upon, they are not ignored either. His life and style of leadership are something to be considered, especially in light of the state of adversarial politics we inhabit today.
- Liberalism by Edmund Fawcett. With the adjectives “conservative” and “liberal” bandied about like swear words nowadays, I felt that I owed it to myself and any beliefs I hold about these streams of thought to find out what they actually mean and the philosophy they embody (and how they influence culture and policy, as well as how they may have evolved). I had discovered this book via a book list in The Economist magazine (full disclosure, I subscribe to the hard copy of The Economist). It has received good reviews and also fit into one of my reading passions: history! While it is a long read, I found Fawcett’s writing easy to understand and the arc of the story fascinating. It was really enlightening to find out just how liberalism has changed, how it has remained the same, and to read it from a non-American-centric point of view. While America figures strongly in the story, the genesis of liberalism in Germany, France and Britain gave me a perspective I didn’t have before and strengthened my intellectual foundations regarding the beliefs I have and their place in all the layers of my life in this world. Whatever stripe of policy system you may currently subscribe to, this is a worthwhile read. I’m now currently looking for a like volume on conservatism and am open to any recommendations you may have (please leave them in the comments below).
- A Place to Stand by Elton Trueblood. Through the hefty bibliography of another book I finished earlier this year I was led to Trueblood’s book The New Man for our Time and was so blown away after finishing it that I scoured Amazon and discovered this book. I am impressed by his stance as a philosopher; his intellectual honesty and willingness to confront the chaos of the world in which we live (the book was published in the late 1960s…..also a mixed up time of the world) with an openness of mind thoroughly intermixed with a strong faith encourages me in appreciation of the mystery of faith.
- The Songs of Distant Earth by Arthur C. Clarke. When I was young I went to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke. I walked away awestruck and promptly went to the library and checked out everything I could find that he’d written. Turns out he’d written a LOT! A non-fiction volume entitled “The Promise of Space” really engaged me, so I dug around in the library to find his address and sent him a letter. Considering who he was and who I was, I never expected him to actually see the letter, let alone read it. A number of months later I received a gracious reply. He apologized for taking so long to get back to me, but mentioned that he was traveling a lot and so only got his mail infrequently. He readily answered the couple of questions I had and recommended some further reading, then wished me well. Wow. Anyway, I’ve been a fan of his work ever since, and had not read this particular novel in many years….so, having forgotten the plot, etc., I dug in. It is just as good as I remember it. While there is much to recommend about this story, I also recommend Childhood’s End. He doesn’t indulge in magic and fantasy, but the characters he creates are pretty believable and the technology is plausible. GREAT patio reading!
If you’d like to share some of the cool stuff you’re reading this summer, please add your contributions to the comments below. Stay cool out there!