If you are like me, chances are you have a few books that have had a big impact on either your personal or professional life that you might reference every now and then. I enjoy reading books, specifically books whose topics are related to my field. As the years have gone by, I have made more time for reading because I have found it to be the most effective learning strategy for me, personally. If you have spent any amount of time with me, either at work or over coffee or lunch, you probably have been subjected to one of my book recommendations!
In this post, I wanted to offer up the only three books I read every single year, on top of all the new books I read during the course of 12 months. These books contain lessons and concepts that have proved to be timeless, and can relate to many types of professions and businesses.
The Three Business Books I Read Every Year
The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
The Goal is a business management book that actually is written in a fiction format. The story is based around the character Alex Rogo, who heads up the operations of a production plant for a large manufacturing company. Rogo’s production plant is in big trouble. Shipments are delayed, efficiencies are less than optimal, and his job is on the line. On top of all of that, his home life is crumbling amid all the stress of his job. Without giving away too much detail (because I really want you to read this book!), Alex’s saving grace is an old acquaintance named Jonah, who helps give Alex key questions to answer within his plant, specifically as it pertains to available resources and bottlenecks.
I was introduced to this book in my Operations Management class as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire (UWEC). We read the book as a class, and also utilized a computer simulation game that helped drive home the point of shifting resources to avoid bottlenecks where you can and understand manufacturing capacities. It was one of my favorite classes I took at UWEC.
The reason this book is still relevant to me now is that you don’t have to work in a production plant to understand bottlenecks and balancing resources. Knowledge work is filled with having to battle these same challenges. I read this book every year to remind me of the concepts and solutions around how to manage my workflow and how that interacts with others and their workflows.
The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Brooks
The Mythical Man-Month is another book I was introduced to during my time at UWEC. The professor of my “Introduction to COBOL” programming class made this book required reading during the semester in Spring of 1998. This book was written by a former IBM software developer in 1975, but the lessons presented could not hold more true in today’s world, even outside of IT development. The basis for the book was that the author, Fred Brooks, had added more developers to a project that was behind schedule. At the end of everything, Brooks learned that adding more resources to his project actually delayed development. The lesson: throwing bodies at a project does not mean the project will get done faster (please take note senior leadership teams!).
While there are lots of lessons about building software in the 1970s, this book is more about project management. Brooks touches on topics like: inter-team communications, project progress tracking, project documentation, project estimation, team structuring, lowering project costs, and many other things.
Software development aside, the lessons in this book speak to all different kinds of projects and to individuals who have to manage projects of all sizes, which is why I still re-read this book every year.
Three Moves Ahead by Bob Rice
I have been playing the game of chess for many years, and recently, have introduced the game to my 12-year-old daughter, who has picked up on key strategies and is always eager to start up a game several times a week (she hasn’t beat me -- yet -- but she has forced two draws so far, which is incredibly impressive!) However, chess is about more than just moving wooden pieces around a square board. Chess is one of the greatest strategy and knowledge games of all time, and its concepts and lessons extend into life and work. Three Moves Ahead is about using the strategies of chess and translating them into actionable business strategies.
Some of the best concepts in Three Moves Ahead are about things like: making moves where you are not certain of the long-term outcome, not overthinking your moves because you are “on the clock”, thinking more about the players (employees) in your business or on your team and what their skills and importance are, and many more.
Some business professionals point to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as a great strategy guide, and I don’t disagree with that. However, I cannot relate as much to the war analogy in business, because I don’t really feel like you are at war. What you need in business is a strong strategy and execution plan, great positioning, and the ability to think several moves ahead with the players you have. That is what the game of chess teaches you.
A Year of Reading
On top of these annual reads I listed above, I will read a number of other books throughout the year. Some will be new releases, some will be older books I just never became aware of or got to in the past. Almost all of them will be business or personal development books, since I am not much of a non-fiction fan. But no matter what, I will be reading, because as one of my business mentors use to say all the time… “Readers are Leaders”. I will try and do a better job of writing recaps and sharing on my blog what I think it is worth it for you to check out.
If you get a chance to read any of the books I mentioned, or have read them in the past, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.