Get your executives reading over Christmas

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —December 2, 2006
Filed in News

Some of my best projects started from getting a group of executives to read books like The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference or Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. So now is the time to suggest a couple of good books to get your executives thinking differently in 2007. Better still, buy a handful of copies and hand them out to the people who you think really need to develop a new perspective.

I recommend these four books because each one challenges traditional business thinking , they’re fun to read and they are the type of book someone might enjoy at the beach.

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. I’m still amazed and how many people haven’t read this book despite it being a mammoth best seller. I’ve seen this book transform a couple of key executives by getting them to ask “who are our connectors?” and “do we need more mavens?” which subsequently sparked a set of new conversations and projects that recognised complexity and interconnectness.

Dava Sobel’s Longitude. Dave Snowden put me on to this modern classic. It tells the story of a clock maker, John Harrison,  from the midlands of England and his efforts to win a coveted prize to accurately determine a ship’s longitude at sea. The conventional wisdom and practice of the time (18th Century) was to take measurements of celestial bodies and make complex calculations—a task impossible to perform on a rocking ship. But at every turn the powerful scientists of his day denigrated and derided the clock maker’s mechanical, and ultimately successful, solution. The question for executives is simply, “Are there places in your organisation where we treat our innovators like Harrison?”

Johnson’s Emergence is full of counterintuitive ideas explained simply and clearly. Great brain food. The main message from this book is that you don’t have to have control of everything for useful and productive things to emerge. In fact, attempting to keep control will only lead to chaos in complex environments.

Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. This is my current favourite. It’s thesis is simple. An over abundance of choice has lead consumers to value things like beauty, ethics and products that stand for something. Outsourcing to Asia of anything that can be made into a process has forced workers in the 1st world to consider new ways to stay productive. Automation is replacing workers on the factory floor with robots. Pink’s suggestion is that 1st world countries like Australia, US and UK need to rebalance their thinking and introduce more right-brain capabilities. These include capabilities like design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.

Happy reading.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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