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Some Great Books From 2010

Posted by Mark Bennett on January 3, 2011


Looking back at 2010, I found some excellent books that helped me to think about things in new ways or see them from new perspectives. Here are some of the best and if you haven’t read them yet, you might want to check them out. The list is of books published in 2010 that I read (except for “The Design of Business” which just fit in too well with its topic, so I had to include it.) Enjoy!

Thinking About Thinking

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Our friend Jake has written a couple of posts about this book already here and here. The posts show practical applications of what Lehrer writes about, which is the latest understanding about how our minds work at the neuroscience layer. This is not cold science by any means, but rather the latest in explaining why it is, for example, that at times it’s best to go with your gut and not with your head, sometimes the opposite, and sometimes you have to step back and weigh each and come up with some new thinking right on the spot. The book is filled with exciting stories that set the stage, followed by what research has found is going on in our brains to help understand what happened and how we can make better decisions as a result.

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely

I liked this book a little more than Ariely’s previous (and very good) book, “Predictably Irrational”, which Amy and Ken have written about. The first part, which focuses on work, is especially interesting as it taps into how the way we structure jobs can severely hamper motivation (particularly by destroying meaning, which we’ll get to later.) It also shows how external incentives can have escalating negative consequences on performance, particularly if the work involves a lot of thinking (which connects well with Lehrer’s book.) Mark McDonald has a very helpful review of the book, and he recommends reading “Predictably Irrational” first. I think you’d be okay not having done so if you don’t have the time or have read books like Lehrer’s. But if you have any doubts, it’s worth it to read both.

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

If you’ve read “Made to Stick” by the Heath brothers, you know they write very well about extremely useful topics about thinking. The same is true here, where they help you understand why it is that it’s so hard to make change happen and provide you with practical guidance on what to do to increase your chances of success. The thinking is based on the long-held (as in Ancient Greece) and fairly well-known concept of our minds having two major systems, which they call “The Rider,” or rational, and “The Elephant,” or emotional (some have referred to them as “Homer” and “Mr. Spock.”) It shouldn’t be any surprise that these two systems don’t always see eye to eye. What the Heath’s have done is develop a framework for addressing each system differently so that they are better aligned and work together to more effectively get the change you want.

Understanding Work and Strategy in the Big Shift

The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations That Win by Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Meg wrote about an HR Happy Hour with Dave Ulrich, talking about his book. She captured the main takeaway from the talk and from the book very well with this quote – “When we achieve meaning through our work, we succeed beyond our wildest dreams.” This echoes what Ariely wrote about and leads nicely into what Hagel, et al and Merchant wrote about. This book does a great job dealing with a very squishy subject. It presents a set of seven questions, with practical examples for each, to help you get your employees truly engaged by finding purpose, connection, identity, value, positive culture, growth, and delight in their work. Jon Ingham wrote an excellent in-depth review of this book.

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage by Roger Martin

I included this 2009 book because it does a great job laying out a framework for thinking about how much of business has generally evolved over time. It helps us better understand the prior forces that shaped so much of how business thinks about growth and profit, starting from an idea and then typically ending up as a large-scale machine that holds efficiency above most everything else. Martin uses this framework primarily as a vehicle for explaining why innovation becomes so hard as companies mature (those who’ve read Innovator’s Dilemma/Solution will find this familiar, but this book brings its own value.) We can use this framework for other purposes as well, and I found it very helpful for thinking about Ariely’s concerns as well as points made in both “The Power of Pull” and “The New How”. There’s a great review here by Debra Dunn.

The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion by John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison

We’ve written several times about the new way of thinking about business in this book and what it means for work, talent, knowledge, and collaboration. The upshot is that the overall business environment and many sectors specifically are seeing the rate of change in technology, business, geopolitics, economics, and sociological forces increasing. It’s at a rate that in many cases is surpassing the ability of the classic models of experience curves and scalable efficiency to sustain profits to keep pace. It is also making obsolete the similar thinking that efficiency and scale from market share could also serve as a barrier to new entrants. This tightening vise of (generally) increasing customer and employee power through choice and information means companies have to rethink their current “push” model. Wally Bock has a great, in-depth review here.

The New How: Creating Business Solutions Through Collaborative Strategy by Nilofer Merchant

The problem of successful execution of strategy is well-known by many, many companies. This book focuses on how the divide between those who formulate the strategy and those who must execute it (“The Air Sandwich”) is core to this issue. Those who formulate the strategy are not familiar enough with the real capabilities of those who must execute it, and those who must execute it frequently don’t understand the real intent of the strategy, let alone the big picture that it must work in. The proposed solution centers around a collaboration between these previously distinct entities that addresses many of the problems encountered by companies who have attempted this unsuccessfully. Check out Steve Shu’s excellent review here.

Simple, But Not Too Simple

One Page Talent Management: Eliminating Complexity, Adding Value by Marc Effron and Miriam Ort

The main title of this book can lead some to think it either presents a magic solution to your talent management process issues or is just a gimmick. The author even jokes that his approach does not consist of using a very tiny font in order to get all your talent management documents to fit on one page. The thinking of the book is best represented by the subtitle – focus on the value you get from each thing you incorporate in your talent management and stop when the complexity costs of adding it exceeds the value it contributes. That logic acts as a constraint, which in turn leads you to focus on which talent management practices are backed by science that confirms they really contribute the best value. The book itself practices what it preaches and is simple without being simplistic and Kris Dunn has written a terrific review.

On the Stack

I’m currently reading Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li and Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler. Charlene and Josh collaborated on Groundswell, one of the best books from 2008. So far, both books are terrific.

Next on my list is The New Polymath: Profiles in Compound-Technology Innovations by Vinnie Mirchandani. This book has received rave reviews.

Photo by docman

10 Responses to “Some Great Books From 2010”

  1. Thank you, Mark these look great!

  2. This blog post is featured in the January 5 Carnival of HR: http://ls-workgirl.blogspot.com/2011/01/january-5-carnival-of-hr-reflections.html

  3. Mark, thanks for mention of my book, The New Polymath. Honored you have it listed with the other great books above. 2010 was a really nice vintage…I am pleasantly surprised to see there are many voracious biz book readers like you.

    • Thank you, Vinnie, for sharing with us such great knowledge and insight. I am really looking forward to reading The New Polymath, and regret not having read it already. My copy was taunting me from the bookshelf just now and I looked through the table of contents again with great anticipation. Maybe I should just move it to the top of the list.

      I was torn whether to get a Kindle version to make it easier to take around with me or get a hardcover copy so that the next time I see you I can get it signed. I know your optimal solution would be for me to buy both formats🙂, but I opted for the latter.

      • The nice thing about reading on new Kindle is you can see highlights marked by previous readers. I periodically check those patterns and it’s good feedback what various readers found particularly interesting in the book. Of course, you may find that distracting – every one has their own style on how to digest a 400 page book!

        The economics of books are such that authors get only a small fraction of the proceeds so yes, I would thank you but the publisher and amazon/Apple/B&N would really thank you if you bought multiple formats!

    • (Hmm, WordPress comment replies are only two levels deep.)

      I agree about the utility of previous reader highlights – I like them. I also like the ability to highlight things myself for easier future reference (my friends at work laugh at all the post-it bookmarks sticking out of my hardcover books, some with little symbols to help me identify their intent.) So I use the highlight and annotate feature a lot on Kindle format (hey, I wonder if they’d ever offer the option for annotations to be shared with the author?)

      My default is to get the Kindle format these days, with the exception being if I wanted to ask the author to sign it, but I wish there was a “bundle” option that would get me a discount if I wanted both formats. I also wish that the e-book readers had some kind of carousel-like, “quick flip” view, or maybe something that could come up on the side and allow me to quickly traverse to a particular figure/diagram/chart (but beyond “Book Extras” in the “Go to” window). The e-books seem to be getting better at embedding the links in the text, but the navigation back and forth can still be awkward and there are times when I want to look again at another figure that isn’t directly referenced in the text of the page I’m on.

      • Mark, wow – publishers and retailers should be all over folks like you who want to buy in multiple formats. We are not there by a long shot…the pricing of ebooks compared to hard copies is by itself still chaotic – especially after Apple decided it would allow prices to float on the iPad unlike what amazon was trying to standardize on the Kindle, and of course, amazon followed suit with encouragement from publishers. The first week my book was out on Kindle it was priced higher than the hard copy price!

  4. Amy Wilson said

    Thanks Mark – my favorite post every year. I am very sad to say that I haven’t read a single one of these – though some I feel like I have (thank you for that!)

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