I think I have come to understand this: there are two kinds of business books.
#1 – Books to read once, and then do what you’ve learned from the book. In other words, it’s not that they make you think. Instead, these books say, “do this, and something in your work life, your personal life, will work better.” You really don’t need to ponder, think, dwell on… you just need to do!
Here’s your clue: if you can summarize the message of the book in an action step or two, then you’ve got this category of book.
#2 – Books that make you think, and think, and think some more. These books linger with you in a different way. They help you understand, or at least think about, the world. They provide kind of an undergirding. They help you think about what is happening in a bigger and greater context. They help you make sense of the world.
Here’s your clue: you read a news story, and you think back about something you learned in that book…
(Example: when I read financial stories, I frequently think back to The Big Short by Michael Lewis. That book makes you think about right and wrong, and treating people right, and…).
Which type of book is more valuable? That’s not quite the right question. They are both valuable, for different reasons.
So… with those thoughts, here are some of the books that I have read that fit into category #1 — Books to read once, and then do what you’ve learned from the book.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. Lesson: Have a place to unload everything that you have to get done off of your mind. Write it down in the place you always check. Do what’s next on your list. (He is big on a “next action” folder). Learn this, do this.
Dress for Success by John Molloy. Look, I’m not a fashion guy. I have little eye for color. But I need to look appropriate to the moment. I read this book once, decades ago, And it told me what I needed to know about what color suit to wear, what color shirt and tie… And, any glance at the line-up for the current participants in a Republican Presidential Candidate debate, or a glance at the President at a State of the Union Address, and you see his the principles at work. Dark suit; not black; white shirt; contrasting tie. That’s it.
I see that there are newer books, by new authors, with similar titles. And, I admit I do not know the “rules” for women as I do for men. But these new books seem to cover those rules also.
(And, yes, I know that we live in a casual attire era. And, no, I haven’t learned the rules for that yet…).
So, the lesson is this – learn and follow the rules for the appropriate attire.
Never Eat Alone, And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz. The lesson is this – don’t eat alone. Meet with as many people as you can, as often as you can, and build on each encounter with next steps toward effectiveness and success.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. The lesson – get rid of bad habits. Add good habits. Here’s how…
Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others by James M. Kouzes (Author), Barry Z. Posner. People will not do well without encouragement. Become a noticer of, and then encourager of, the people you lead. (It is far better to become/be an encourager than a discourager).
When you read a book like one of these, you don’t necessarily need to re-visit the book often. You just remember its lesson(s), and then do what you have learned.
The other books, category #2 books – Books that make you think, and think, and think some more – you read these, and they linger in your mind in a different way. You might need to re-read these, or at least go back over your highlights and side notes. They don’t quite provide lessons on “what to do,” but they have plenty of insight on how to think about the world.
So, which category of book should you read? Both. Maybe alternate the categories. We need doers. We need thinkers. Reading books in each of these two categories will help you become both.