what to read
The Art of War
Allegedly by Sun Tzu
The War of Art
Steven Pressfield, Black Irish
These combine well and not just because you might mistake one for the other if you’re in a rush at the library. They might have been written 1500 years apart but they both tackle the nature of war and both have pullable quotes.
The Art of War only became a bestseller when the star of The Sopranos admitted to his therapist that he was reading it. Since then, a book that was consulted by many military leaders through the 20th century, has been used by business leaders, politicians and, no doubt, mobsters. Some memorable quotes from The
Art of War include: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”; “appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak”; and “he will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout its ranks”. The War of
Art is a fitting 21st century bookend because the enemy is more within the mind than outside the walls. Steven Pressfield focuses on the artistic self. He, too, excels in desk-diary quotes such as:“Fear is good. Fear tells us what we have to do” and “it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be in the stands or out in the parking lot”.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
Clayton Christensen, HarperCollins
This is the pioneering work for the age of disruption. It was published in 1997 before Google was a thing and before most of us had email and yet it foreshadowed how disruptive technologies would cause havoc in the world of business. Christensen’s work also overturned many of the old masters of business because he posited that even the best businesses with successful processes and top leaders would fall prey to outliers. The tone of the book is measured probably because it was disrupting existing management expertise and it has none of the breathlessness those more recent books on disruption display.
The Second Machine Age
Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, WW Norton
This is a book that has both excited and terrified business leaders. The MIT professors propose that we are at the tipping point of an avalanche of digital technologies that will change, well, everything. They explain why it’s happened, how it will unfold and what it will mean to analogue workers. The excitement downtown is around the opportunities, the productivity gains, huge profits, lifestyle benefits and human capabilities. The terrifying part is about jobs. The Luddites may be right, after all.
Big Data Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, John Murray
Big data has connotations of Big Brother. For good reason. Somewhere out there in a desert is a storage unit that knows you’re reading this, what time, where and, perhaps, how you’re feeling about it. This is a readable book (Cukier is a writer for The Economist) about how data can tell us about how ’flu epidemics spread; ways people lie on dating sites; how political revolutions can be predicted and when workers slack off.
Primal Leadership Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, Harvard Business School Publishing
If you missed Daniel Goleman’s seminal work
Emotional Intelligence and its companion, Social Intelligence, this is a handy catch-up. The premise of the title is that the emotional aspect of leading is both the most important part and the original characteristic of leadership. Managing emotions, recognising them and exploiting them is even more important in an era when peeps are the most important asset to a business and, increasingly, teams are the tools of work.
The 4-Hour Workweek
Tim Ferriss, Crown
This book has devotees and many of them are entrepreneurs who aspire to a four-hour working week and a seven-figure income. In a slightly manic tone, Ferriss tells readers how to reimagine work, design lifestyles and engineer mini-retirements along the way. His greatest achievement is to cut the link between time and money – the equation is no longer neat. Most people who read it adopt one tip for life; others change their lives totally.
Ken Robinson, Penguin
Robinson is a critic of stultifying education and this comes through in his book but, at core, this is a call to readers to discover their passion, work with their passion, find outlets for it and celebrate it with others. It’s one of the least new-agey books in this genre and so it lacks a how-to approach. It’s more about the cultural landscape that stomps on individual creativity and, as such, might explain why you didn’t do well in school and yet are nailing it at work/art/life.
Daniel Pink, Cannongate
Pink has been writing about the workforce since the 90s with best sellers such as A Whole New
Mind and Free Agent Nation. Now he focuses on the worker and, in particular, what motivates people to work. In short, he discovers that our reasons for working – the need to direct our own lives, to learn, create and improve the world and ourselves – are not the same reasons employers pay us. Even if companies are slow to recognise the limits of carrots and sticks, we can at least recognise it ourselves.
What Every Body is Saying
Joe Navarro, HarperCollins
You’ll feel like a spy reading this book on body language, not least because it’s written by a former FBI agent. If impressions are made in the first 10 seconds, it’s helpful to know what your body is telling others about you and what other bodies are telling you are about the job/ date. It’s detailed, grounded in practice but hopefully your life won’t depend on getting it right. Clue: the most honest parts of the body are the feet and legs but don’t trust hand movements.
Thinking Fast and Slow
Daniel Kahneman, Penguin
Kahneman is a psychologist who wins economics prizes so this book is a little dense with research but worth the trip. He explains fast thinking that is intuitive and reflexive, and slow thinking that is conscious, laboured and more cautious. He doesn’t say one way of thinking is better than the other but he points out how we can use both systems to get the best from the whole mind. Enlivened with experiments and anecdotes, the book will make you think twice about jumping to conclusions, but that’s the point.
Dan Ariely, HarperCollins
This is a chatty exploration of behavioural economics that explains why most of us aren’t good at trading, making commitments and predicting outcomes. There’s a reason why you value your home more than the buyers trooping through the front door; there’s a reason why your diets fail; why wine in expensive-looking bottles tastes better and why your mother-inlaw won’t let you pay for her home-cooked dinner. In short, you’re not homo-economus. We knew that but economists were slow to come to the table.
Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler,
Sunstein ended up advising President Obama on the back of his idea that government policies are more effective if they nudge us to do the right thing rather than force us or rely on our own judgements. On other levels, the lessons from Nudge can be used to craft our own incentives or design programs for getting staff to do the right thing.
Michael Lewis, Penguin
The latest book from one of the wittiest writers on the world of money. If you worry you no longer understand the share market, fear not, he doesn’t either but he sets our to discover why. The answer, basically, is a combination of flash characters and abusive algorithms and the result is that much trading is being done for the benefit of traders and not for investors. Lewis concludes the problem isn’t just with the rapid algorithms and greedy traders but with the system itself. Might be time, to rebalance retirement savings.