This space is for books we've found interesting and useful. We will add to the list in the future. And we invite your suggestions for other books that meet the 'interesting and useful' criteria for you. We're also assuming most of you are already familiar with the classics of management, learning and organization development – Drucker, Senge, Covey, Argyris, – so we won't use this space as a trophy shelf. (Just click on the book to order from Amazon.)

Innovation / Creative Thinking

A Whole New Mind
Daniel Pink (2005, Riverhead)

Dan Pink's manifesto on "why right-brainers will rule the future" is an accessible resource for managers and organizations as well as for individuals. Just as information workers superseded physical laborers in economic importance, Pink claims the power is shifting again to people who possess strong right brain capabilities. He discusses ways in which certain skill sets can be harnessed effectively as we enter the "conceptual age," and identifies six "senses" crucial to success in the new economy: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. "Portfolio" sections for each sense offer practical advice on how to cultivate these skills within oneself.

The book has been criticized by some for oversimplifying the meaning of globalization, but we consider it an entertaining blast at the L-brain assumptions that industry (and schools) have for so long favored and rewarded, plus a thought-provoking tool for individuals, managers and organizations to reconsider the critical issues of talent, creativity and diversity in the workplace.

Awake at the Wheel
Mitchell Ditkoff (2008, Morgan James)

This is an entertaining little book about ideas and what it takes to make them real. It builds the all-important bridge between the arrival of a bright idea and its realization. Ditkoff uses the story of Og (inventor of the wheel – who knew?) to trace the genesis of ideas and the steps we need to take to implement them in the real world. This alone is an important contribution. Beyond that, he provides best practices and a toolkit for building creative agility and shepherding ideas through a skeptical or resistant community.

We believe that too many organizations tend to ghettoize creativity and innovation in their R&D and product development functions, when the most potential leverage exists throughout the organization, in creatively-neglected areas from HR to supply chain. If a new idea somewhere in your organization won't necessarily change the world, maybe it will change the world of a department or business unit. In any case, this short, easy-to-read guide should give your people some tools they need to take the next step.

The Back of the Napkin
Dan Roam (2008, Portfolio)

Dan Roam has developed an effective system for generating and communicating ideas. Although its core premise is about selling and communicating ideas, the real value of this system is visual thinking...solving problems with pictures. With these tools and rules to facilitate picture making, anyone is empowered to rise above the PowerPoint slide deck and the world of bullet points.

Roam outlines four steps of visual thinking, six ways of seeing, and the "SQVID" a full-brain methodology to focus ideas. This system leads you to think about what you are really trying to say, and then to communicate it simply and clearly with a fresh image.

Just as we see the concepts of creativity and innovation needing more legitimacy in every corner of the organization, visual thinking and communication should not be restricted to brainstorming sessions. The potential here is that people will really know what they want to say (rather than focusing only on how many 'slides' they will use to say it) and will get past the tyranny of lists and bullet points to help the audience see that they mean.

Just imagine the promise of all those wasted whiteboards around the world, and think about people really getting their ideas across, rather than subjecting their colleagues to yet another careless and stultifying PowerPoint bullet parade. This book will help

Learning / Organization Development

Mobilizing Minds
Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce (2007, McGraw-Hill)

We strongly believe that more managers should be versed in organization design early in their careers. But many are promoted to senior levels and suddenly find themselves responsible for running the organization as a whole system...the instrument through which they will execute their strategy. It shouldn't be a surprise that so many organizations seem like Rube Goldberg contraptions of matrices and silos, troubled by serial reorganizations, blurred accountabilities and confused employees.

McKinsey's Bryan and Joyce believe that most businesses underperform because the organizational apparatus basically reduces the return on their intangible assets – the ideas and creativity of their knowledge workers. Most companies are burdened by "hard-to-manage workforce structures, thick silo walls, confusing matrix structures, e-mail overload and 'undoable jobs'." Instead, knowledge companies should unleash talent rather than constrain it. So Bryan and Joyce present a new metric: profitability per employee, "...a good proxy for earnings on intangibles."

What should the new organization look like? A culture of knowledge exchange; the building of formal networks to help spread good ideas; ongoing competency development; a 'one-company' governance and culture, supported by a partnership ethos at the top; a 'portfolio of initiatives' leading to more dynamic management, while still meeting earnings targets. There's more: talent marketplaces, with capable employees creating their own career paths internally, and new performance metrics to reward people's contribution to team as well as individual success.

Not easy, for sure, but it sounds like a great place to work.

Brain Rules
John Medina (2008, Pear Press)

John Medina has written the neuroscience book for the rest of us, a fascinating and entertaining romp through evolution and brain science. He explicitly addresses 'work, home and school' as the settings for where his 12 Rules apply, and the implications are profound. There are many powerful take-aways for the workplace as well as any learning situation: managers, facilitators, course designers, meeting planners, attention!

Medina not only explains the latest research on the brain, but illustrates the meaning of this research and how we can use it to our advantage. Say you were organizing a two-day managers' conference for your company with the key purpose of the participants learning and applying critical new information about your business. Then consider these items and what you might do to accommodate them: the importance of exercise; why we're each wired differently; why we can't really multitask; 'repeat to remember/remember to repeat'; the function of sleep; how learning is affected by stress; the role of the senses; the dominant role of vision; the differences of gender; and the fact that we are 'natural explorers.' How might these affect your meeting's agenda?

The 12 Rules in this owner's manual for the brain are sure to help you

Creating Value with Human Capital Investment
Michael E. Echols (2008, Tapestry Press)

If you're responsible for investing in human capital development, or for making the business case for those investments, Mike Echols' little book can provide valuable perspective. Why, for example, do we treat spending on learning & development as an expense, rather than as a capital investment? In a word, GAAP – the accounting rules don't permit it.

Yet the little-recognized fact is that since 1980, over 80% of the growth in market value of publicly-traded companies (as well as the growth of GDP, corporate profits, and overall productivity) has been created by intangible assets off the balance sheet. Far from being "unreal" or "insubstantial," intangible assets are the engine of economic growth, not the traditional balance sheet investments such as buildings and equipment. And what are these intangible assets? Principally, they're embedded in the economic competencies and knowledge of your human resources...your people.

Companies need to wake up and treat their human resources as resources with the potential to create future streams of income. The intangible assets of the corporation – largely the know-how of its employees – are the key to future growth. Consider this in the context of the current and future turmoil in the 'war for talent,' and you begin to build a very convincing case for investing in human resources as never before.

Leadership and Team Development

The Leadership Challenge
Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner (2007, Jossey-Bass; 4th edition)

Granted, TLC has become a legitimate classic, but it stays on our list because Kouzes and Posner have continued to expand their bestselling manual, now 20 years since its original publication. The five fundamental practices of exemplary leadership still stand as the clearest guide for leaders at any level of experience: challenge the status quo; inspire a shared vision; enable others to act; model the way forward by setting an example; encourage the heart by linking rewards and performance.

Marshall Goldsmith, as a guest reviewer of the 4th edition for Amazon, says: "Let's face it -- very few readers of business books are CEO's of multi-billion corporations. Yet many business books follow the same over-used formula -- interviewing CEOs -- talking about what they are doing so well, and suggesting that you do the same thing."

Instead, Leadership Challenge demonstrates how leaders at all levels can have a huge, positive impact on their organizations. It can help leaders at all levels, even team members and individual contributors, not only to understand how they can lead, but how they can immediately apply what they have learned. The latest update also addresses the recent challenges of shrinking work forces, rising cynicism and expanded telecommunications.

Hostage at the Table
George Kohlrieser (2006, Jossey-Bass)

We have worked closely with former hostage negotiator George Kohlrieser in leadership development programs, and we find that what he brings to the table are his unique experience and perspectives for everyone, including managers.

George's world view is very connected to the heart, mind and spirit. The major themes that spin out from this perspective are (a) how we view the world, the power of the 'mind's eye', (b) everyone's fundamental need of a 'secure base' that results from bonding to other people as well as to stimulating concepts such as goals, country, beliefs, etc., and (c) the art of conflict resolution...negotiation through effective dialogue and emotional intelligence.

The overall objective, he says, is to develop a 'hostage-free state of mind,' and to achieve high performance in our lives and work. For example, don't be figuratively 'taken hostage' by another's unfair negotiating tactics. And in turn, don't take a subordinate hostage by imposing unrealistic expectations. We have much to learn from someone who has actually had to negotiate at gunpoint, and George takes the next step by inviting us to view life as 'an adventure, a journey, and an opportunity to learn, to contribute, to grow every minute, every hour, every day.'

Leaders at All Levels
Ram Charan (2008, Jossey-Bass)

The prolific Ram Charan ('America's leading consultant,' no less) writes books faster than we can read them. But whenever we're able to catch our breath, we find he's given us something of value. Leaders at All Levels addresses the problem of leadership succession. Charan warns that we have a serious problem in American management today — more and more CEOs are failing, and there is an acute shortage of capable replacements.

The core of this problem is the stagnant state of corporate leadership development. Because companies fail to develop the leadership capabilities of their managers, they are unable to fill their succession pipelines. And with unit managers stagnating, companies have difficulty executing, which only compounds the crisis. Charan shows how top companies approach leadership development as a core competency. They recognize an adaptable leadership pool as a competitive advantage, and they focus their resources on bringing out the best in the leaders they have.

In pointing out what's wrong with corporate leadership development – and how to make it right — he presents the concept of a leadership 'gene pool,' and shows how companies can determine the leadership 'DNA' they will need to succeed. He discusses ways to uncover the hidden leaders in a company, when and where to bring in fresh talent, how to coach, measure, and reward leadership, and much more. For anyone involved in leadership development, Leaders at All Levels is a fresh presentation of how to get succession right.


Good to Great
Jim Collins (2001, Harper Collins)

OK, G2G is already a classic, but it has so successfully penetrated the market (3 million copies, and counting) that people routinely refer to hedgehogs and BHAGs with no need for attribution. We've used the book extensively in management development programs and with our consulting clients, and Collins' concepts and stories have consistently sparked great insights and conversations.

The concepts of 'Level 5' leadership; disciplined people, thought and action; the hedgehog model and the flywheel still ring true. The G2G companies and their stories provide an excellent benchmark for discussions of why success doesn't require a high-profile CEO, the latest technology or an elaborate business strategy.

Simply Better
Patrick Barwise, Seán Meehan (2004, HBS Press)

We have the pleasure of working with Seán Meehan in designing and delivering workshops in customer focus for a client organization. Seán's workshop sessions vividly embody the messages in Simply Better, and provide clear direction in the fundamentals...the basic blocking and tackling of customer focus that all too many companies forget.

After leading us through great examples and stories to illustrate their points, Barwise and Meehan sum it up in six rules for becoming "simply better":

1. Think category benefits, not unique brand benefits
2. Think simplicity, not sophistication
3. Think inside, not outside, the box
4. Think opportunities, not threats
5. For creative advertising, forget rule 3
6. Think immersion, not submersion

Knowing how customers see your brand (they 'own' it, after all) enables you to develop a clear view of what they really value – usually generic category benefits, rather than the bells and whistles of competitive differentiation claims. Therefore, the fundamentals that companies need to get right are keeping their promises, and delivering on these category essentials that customers truly expect.

A major value of this book lies in its diagnosis of what's gone wrong, and prescriptions for a healthier culture of management and organizational learning. The authors strongly suggest that managers (from all departments...imagine!) get out of their offices and directly interact with customers. This gets managers out of the echo chamber of their own positioning statements, gives them a first-hand view of customer reality, helps filter indirect data such as market research, and becomes a source of storytelling. Immersion is a learning process in itself, and it can generate learning throughout the organization. This discipline of a learning organization will help develop a "pure air culture" of customer-focused decision making and (accountable) experimentation in which honest challenge and debate are seen as healthy. Amen.

The Halo Effect
Phil Rosenzweig (2007, Free Press)

This is for you contrarians out there. Once you've read Good to Great and the many current 12-step books for managers about achieving high performance, you may enjoy Prof. Rosenzweig's argument that most recent management literature is merely snake oil for the troubled. He warns authors, consultants, journalists and other pundits against being deluded by the "halo effect" – the assumption of inherent superiority in any company that has achieved success.

For example, Rosenzweig insinuates that Good to Great is more of a business fable, since it focuses internally and largely ignores the changing external environment of new technologies, competition and customers. It's a fair point, but we come away afterward without much guidance for success other than "shrewd strategy, superb execution and good luck." Is that all there is to it?