Welcome to our erratically-published newsletter for readers of our books: Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive.
As our long-time newsletter readers know, we rarely make book recommendations, because it can get dicey for us. We have a lot of friends who are authors, so calling out a few books is asking for trouble (“Hey, where’s my recommendation? I thought we were friends!!”). We also try to avoid mutual-back-scratching situations, where we plug books in hopes that the authors will repay the favor someday. Bottom line: Both of us are old-school enough to believe that when we recommend something, we should really believe in it.
Below are some books we believe in. We gave ourselves three constraints in making recommendations: (1) The book must offer great *practical* advice. It might not be so captivating that it keeps you up at night, but it will deliver a big return on your investment of time; (2) The book must be a ‘hidden gem’ – not something you’ve seen 100 times at the airport; (3) We must avoid a ‘conflict of interest’—i.e., we’re not friends with the authors or otherwise biased in their favor.
Given those three constraints, we came up with 7 books. Please read the descriptions carefully; these are not really “general-interest” books—they’re more like specialized tools that will be absolutely perfect for 6% of you and irrelevant for the other 94%. Here goes:
1. Getting to Plan B: Breaking Through to a Better Business Model by John Mullins and Randy Komisar. This is a terrific book for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial advisers. If you love Lean Startup, you’ll love this. We both find ourselves teaching the analog, antilog, and “leap of faith” framework at least every month or two.
2. Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg. There is no shortage of creativity books in the world. Almost all of them include quick exercises that are fun to do in the moment. The strength of this book is its more robust and research-informed system for inspiring creativity. Good stuff.
3. The Complete Guide to Writing Questionnaires: How to Get Better Information for Better Decisions by David F. Harris. Again, this is not a general interest book. But if you need to write questionnaires that yield data you can trust, this is a must-read. Who knew questionnaires could go wrong in so many ways? And this book is actually more fun to read than it has any right to be. By the way, this is an expensive book and it should be; it is absurd to expect such specialized knowledge to cost the same as a Jack Reacher novel.
4. Sleeping with Your Smart Phone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the Way You Work by Leslie Perlow. We are puzzled by the title and cover of this book. Do NOT buy this book because you work late and obsessively check your iPhone at night. Rather, buy this book because you want to read a brilliant case study of how to improve the performance and sustainability of a team in a high-pressure environment. Our #1 takeaway: To have outstanding team performance, the team must build self-awareness—that is, a team must be good at what it does AND be able to have a dialogue about how to get better at what it does.
5. Alpha Project Managers: What the Top 2% Know that Everyone Else Does Not by Andy Crowe. If you want a book that keeps you reading until the wee hours of the night, read Presumed Innocent. If you want a book that draws distinctions between great project managers and mediocre ones—distinctions that may surprise you—read this one. One huge “a-ha!” for us: The alpha project managers are rated much more highly by their peers on communication, even though they don’t spend any more time communicating. Want to know why? Read it.
6. Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems by J. Richard Hackman. It’s all too rare to find a book that does a good job blending academic research, practical experience, and concrete examples/stories. For teamwork, this is that book. If your job requires you to assemble high-performing teams and to equip them with the right tools for success, then drop everything and spend a half day reading Hackman’s book.
7. [bonus] Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Confession: This is a technical violation of our standards on two grounds: Shafir and Chip shared the same graduate advisor so we do have a conflict of interest. Also, Scarcity does have many practical implications, but it is not a “nuts & bolts” book like the other 6. Nonetheless, rules are made to be broken, and this is a book that we find ourselves thinking about frequently. The concept of “tunneling” was a huge eye-opener for us. If you loved Thinking Fast and Slow, you’ll love this.
Hope you found this helpful. We’ll watch the response rate to this email and if it seems like you’re finding these tips useful, we’ll plan to do a new list every year or two.
That’s all for now — enjoy your spring and we’ll be in touch again sometime in the near (or distant) future.
Chip & Dan Heath