5 Books That Changed Me
by Heather Bussing
About 14 years ago, I gave up TV. It wasn’t exactly on purpose. It had something to do with not wanting to pay the cable company to pull the lines up from the street. That, and I was pregnant and completely overwhelmed and it just seemed like noise and light.
I haven’t missed it.
Instead, I read. These are the books I read in 2011 that changed the way I think about the world and how I operate in it.
Cad Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies and T-shaped People: Inside the World of Design Thinking and How it Can Spark Creativity and Innovation by Warren Berger.
Innovation thrives in wide open spaces and impossible constraints–conditions that rarely exist in most companies. Innovation is often born from mistakes and failure. If you have a problem to solve, think bigger than the problem and always be careful how you define it.
Berger gives examples of designers who have reinvented computers, cities and their own lives. He advises to ask stupid questions, jump fences and make hope visible.
More than any other, this book changed the way I look at every question and difficulty. It’s no longer a problem, it’s just time to look from a different angle.
Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel
Sandel is a political philosopher at Harvard whose lectures on doing the right thing became so popular, PBS did a series on them.
Sandel explores theories of what is just, how we get and enforce rights, and why. Should we enact rules that give the greatest good for the most people? Is there some objective standard of what is good and fair that we should apply to economic and political policy? How do we decide?
It turns out that western politics and culture are governed by a mashup of different philosophies with conflicting principles. It’s no wonder we can’t agree.
Sandel takes on the hardest political questions of our time–gay marriage, assisted suicide, affirmative action, abortion and government bail outs– and gives a framework for deciding what is right and why.
Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds by Scott Berkun
Berkun is probably best known for The Myths of Innovation in which he takes on the romanticism of how innovation happens. Mindfire is a collection of essays where Berkun continues to call bullshit on our cherished beliefs and habits.
Your time and attention are finite, nonrenewable resources. How do you really want to spend them? Burkun advises “Pick something. Do it with all your heart. Repeat.”
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman is a psychology professor and Nobel prize winner who has studied how people think and make decisions since the 1970’s.
It turns out we have two related operating systems. The first one is fast, intuitive, and often wrong. The second is slower, more rational and involves self control. Both of these systems are designed for maximum efficiency, which means that neither wants to spend more energy than is absolutely required. So we develop biases, make assumptions and take the path of least resistance whenever possible. This book will blow your mind.
Understanding the physical, emotional and thought process involved in making decisions has changed the way I approach problems and think about solving them.
Firing At Will by Jay Shepherd
This book didn’t change the way I think as much as it validated my approach to employment law. It did make me think hard about the role of attorneys in organizations. Shepherd believes the legal department and HR should focus on people first and running a successful business second. When you do that, there is much less risk to manage.
Shepherd advocates throwing out the policy manual, dealing with people individually, treating employees with respect, and quickly getting rid of the ones who don’t work out. This approach is counterintuitive to most corporate legal departments where the focus is preventing anyone from knowing anything in order to avoid a lawsuit. It also goes against the operating systems of many HR departments, where there is an edict for every action.
The consequence of a more personal, customized approach is that people actually have to deal with each other. Managers must pay attention to what is going on, be willing to make hard decisions and then take responsibility for them. So unfortunately, I don’t see the approach catching on.
But if it did, it would work.
And much of the nonsense about employee engagement would evaporate. People don’t engage with policies, incentives, or the latest rah rah program. People engage with people.