“The books that help you most are those which make you think the most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.” – Pablo Neruda
I came across this quote recently, and it got me thinking. Which books meet such a high expectation? As I gave it some thought, I asked some of my colleagues to tell me what book they believe satisfy Neruda’s earnest declaration.
Apratim Purakayastha, Chief Technology Officer, Skillsoft
The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen (Available on Skillsoft Books)
Harvard professor Clayton Christensen uses deeply researched case studies to explore technology disruption, and how established companies, once leaders and innovators, were forever changed by good enough and lower cost alternatives. In several cases, the disruption was massive and caused the demise of well-established companies. Being a technologist at heart, the book shaped my thinking about the need for continuously challenging the status quo in a technology company. A technology company must not only innovate upon its existing technologies but also develop new technologies that disrupt the established ones. If it does not do it by itself, someone else will.
Tara O’Sullivan, Chief Marketing Officer, Skillsoft
The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management, Hyrum W. Smith
This book completely changed my life and I regularly re-read it. Hyrum was one of the original creators of the popular Franklin Day Planner which I used for years. His book offers plenty of strategies for increasing your productivity and subsequently your inner peace. You control your life when you manage your time and to do this you need to make plans. From reading this book, I now have a few steps that I always take to ensure I make the most out of my day.
- I spend 10 minutes every morning figuring out what I have to do that day.
- I break massive projects into two-hour increments, put them into my diary, and make sure to schedule no meetings during this time.
- I turn off my email alerts and check in once an hour for about 10 minutes. I deal with the one-minute tasks immediately, and the others I add to my to-do list. People know they can get me on Jabber or text message if they need an immediate response.
- I write everything down. I have an extensive collection of beautiful Moleskin notebooks, but I also use OneNote. Whatever you use, the point is to keep track of everything.
- I believe in Kaizen – making 100 things one percent better is better than making one thing one hundred percent better. I practice this all the time.
Agata I. Nowakowska, Area Sales VP UK, Skillsoft EMEA
Quite a number of books have and continue to inspire me, so picking just one was a bit of a challenge. In the end, I selected two.
Shoe Dog, Phil Knight and Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell
Knight’s book is about the driving force of passion and commitment. What truly inspired me about this book is it showed how someone could translate a passion and talent, in Knight’s case for running, and create what now is one of the most successful companies and recognisable brands in the world. Setting up a new business is not an easy process but if you stay committed, work hard and follow your dreams the sky is the limit.
Gladwell is a bit of a hero in my eyes and his lesson that no matter how talented you are, it takes a lot of practice and hard work to ‘master’ what you do. His maxim about “ten thousand hours” is a lesson I live by and one I also am teaching my daughter. Everyone, whether an artist, a musician, a scientist or a designer must practice and devote time to become the best.
Mark Onisk, Chief Content Officer, Skillsoft
The 4 Disciplines of Execution: The Secret to Getting Things Done, On Time, With Excellence, Stephen R. Covey and Chris McChesney (Available on Skillsoft Books)
When I first listened to this book, it was nothing short of a professional revelation for me. It crystallized what I believe to be the most critical aspects of business. We must focus on the Wildly Important Goals (WIGs); things that must happen, or nothing else matters. I use this to prioritize nearly every activity for myself and my team. It’s very easy to get caught up in the “whirlwind,” as McChesney describes, of the day-to-day to-do’s and while those things may seem important in the moment and your peers and boss appreciate them, they may not ultimately have a meaningful impact on the business. The key is to align these at a strategic level in the organization and cascade down to your team so that everyone is on the same page.
Another lesson I learned was the need to establish lead indicators that you can act upon. So often we track lag indicators, which aren’t something we can actively manage. On a personal level, the classic example is managing one’s health. Typically we focus on things such as our weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or something that ultimately we can only influence by measuring lead indicators such as calories, the frequency of exercise or amount of sleep. This same logic applies in business. You need to track and manage what you and your team can control, and the results will follow.
The final element is creating a visible scoreboard and establishing a cadence of accountability that data informs. McChesney articulates this approach eloquently, stressing that discipline around the implementation and the data is the crucial element for success. Ultimately, you want to motivate your team with the scoreboard, the data. This undoubtedly translates to intrinsic motivation and creates a sense of accountability within the group around the review of the lead metrics, the things you and your team control.
Steven Wainwright, Managing Director, Skillsoft EMEA
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S.Dweck
This book is the result of decades of research by Stanford University professor and psychologist Carol S. Dweck. She argues that a person’s mindset, that is, how they view their abilities and approach challenges, is the primary predictor of one’s success. Dweck classifies “mindset” as a simple binary: although there is a middle ground, you either have a predominantly fixed mindset or a predominantly growth mindset. The fixed mindset is the belief that one’s qualities and abilities are immutable and unchangeable. In contrast, the growth mindset is the idea that a person can improve their intelligence and talents through hard work, dedication, and perseverance.
Being a huge sports fan, I love her analogy of Michael Jordan’s transition from a young slam-dunker to probably the most complete player the NBA has ever seen. This she attributes to not only his work ethic but also the recognition that as he got older, he needed to work even harder on his all-around game because he could no longer rely on raw speed, stamina and agility.
Dweck’s book inspired me to adopt the five-hour rule (approved by the likes of Bill Gates & Warren Buffet), namely set aside five hours each week for deliberate practice and learning. In the age of digital transformation, I think it’s vital that we all learn new skills so that we evolve and grow to keep pace with the advancement of technological innovation. Finally, I love to read, and classical literature is also a favourite of mine. I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene & Thomas Hardy as they help the creative side of my mind and improve my descriptive vocabulary, which is a critical part of my job as a leader.
Ellisa Harvey is the EMEA Marketing Director for Skillsoft EMEA.