It's summer, and that means beach, which for many means beach reads. Beach reading tends to denote a lot of girl books (remember The Nanny Diaries?) and popular nonsense by authors like Dan Brown, Candace Bushnell, and -- heaven forbid -- Jonathan Franzen. But look, you're intelligent, educated people, right? I recommend spending your beach days with some books that are interesting, engagingly written, and, most important, helpful to your career even if most of the following aren't directly IT-related. Oh, and remember to wait thirty minutes after applying sunblock before heading for the sand. (And if you're in Ipswich, pick up some fried clams. They'll really improve your career prospects because they're magical.)
Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming, and How to Prevent Them
Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins
Harvard Business School Press, 2004
Predictable surprises are what Max Bazerman and Michael Watkins, both professors at Harvard Business School at the time of publication, define as "events that catch leaders off guard even though they had all the info to anticipate them." It is, in fact, a common leadership failing, according to the authors. The approach they recommend is to take blanket measure to prevent a "spectrum of disasters."
The book was inspired by the September 11 attacks, which the authors say could have been prevented. Interestingly, the traits of predictable disasters Bazerman and Watkins identify sound a lot like Harvard business historian Richard S. Tedlow's explanation for leadership denial in his book Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face and What to Do About It. All three, in essence share the belief that leaders often deny (which leads to predictable surpises) because it's simply easier than dealing.
For more on Denial, see "Facing the Obvious ."
Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science
If it seems sometimes that I write about things that seem to have little or nothing to do with IT, it's because I'm a big believer in taking lessons from seemingly far-flung sources and that sometimes a seemingly unrelated example can illuminate one's own experience. Neuroscience is a bit like that. Management Rewired was one of the best-reviewed management books of 2009.
"The cool thing about neuroscience is that it provides hard data," author Charles S. Jacobs told me.
Scientific proof is a gift: Leaders who understand the human brain as a social organ can be far more effective at building successful teams and motivating employees to elicit their best performance. After all, the workplace is if nothing else a social environment. Knowledge of the brain has applications in practically every area of management, including goal-setting and performance feedback, motivation, and teambuilding and management. Once you understand how the brain works, explains Jacobs, logic kicks in and "you'll know what to do and what not to do," said Jacobs.
For more on Management Rewired, including comments from the author, see my article, "Want to Lead Effectively? Look to Neuroscience ."
Adventures of an IT Leader
Robert D. Austin, Richard L. Nolan, Shannon O'Donnell
Harvard Business Press, 2009
I have to confess something: I don't love this book. It's guilty of one of the reasons I think so many business books are a waste of time: trying too hard to present the book's central idea as a compelling narrative. That would only work if Bill Buford were your ghost writer. It reminds me of high-school assemblies when guest speakers would try to deliver an anti-drug message with terrible rap music. Of course, that's my own opinion and I'm sure many other readers will find it an engaging read.
The reason the book is on this list, however, is that despite the unfortunate form, the book does offer some good practical guidance on What to Do. And even though the narrative format is awkward and forced, it is useful in putting these lessons in context, as well as showing the issues IT leaders face in a chronological flow.
For CIOZone's analysis of the book, see "A Year in the Life of a CIO ."