ost of us believe that education is getting hold of a degree in one or the other field and that any reading that extends beyond relevant textbooks is something that is just another pastime. It isn’t. Real education, let me add here, happens through well-written books. Even Dr. Seuss tells us that ‘the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’ Books are that magic potion that we have the facility to carry with us just about anywhere and in these technologically savvy times, we have the advantage of carrying an entire library with us in our pocket. Our smartphones too have become friendly enough to allow us a blue light filter that facilitates reading without any eye strain. Reading really must go on whether we are on our bed in a relaxed mood or travelling… and in these times we have more and more varied options available with massive treasures of podcasts and audio books that need only earphones and a will to know how the masters have interpreted life. For those who feel that reading is not what they enjoy, go ahead and listen to books on Audible or Storytel or if complete books seem to be too long, go ahead and hear experts talk about a wide range of subjects on podcasts on Spotify or even Google. However, my own experience tells me that reading a book is nearly always faster and has a far greater impact on learning than any other format.
We have all heard protest bytes whenever reading is mentioned. A student of law might turn back and ask, ‘Why must I know about how innovations work?’ A design student may want to know if reading about language intelligence or relationships is going to help him or her in any way in their profession. An architecture student may want to know if know about the art of asking is even relevant to his field. Well, let me just quote Oscar Wilde when he wrote that, ‘it is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.’ Think again if you are the sort who believes that reading is something that must be limited to textbooks and that anything beyond is only a luxury indulged in by the elderly and those who have time on their hands. Yes, time is essential and extra reading must never be done at the expense of study during exam time and definitely not when you have a project deadline to meet. But then life isn’t always about deadlines and it is a wide horizon of reading that helps a wider awareness to move in when a broader vision is needed.
On the top of my reading list are excellent works of fiction because I believe that a well told story is like our ever-expanding universe where every layer unfolded reveals facets that connect to life as we live it here on earth. However, for this article I do not plan to include any fiction and will dwell upon those books that are powerful enough to tell us things about our own nature in ways that helps us evolve. Professional evolution happens when the level of reading accelerates, and this adequately explains the title of this article. These books will include as wide a horizon as possible and will not remain limited to just one type, for instance, I will not be talking about two books on time management, or that I will not be choosing too many from the section that deals with relationships. This is because every topic will have a huge list of books and, I will encourage you to browse on your own and use your intuitive discretion to choose books. This list is merely a guideline.
Ten books that you may read
This list of books is not exhaustive and if you care to look around you can find hundreds of them listed on Amazon or could be there waiting for you on the shelves in bookstores in your city. What I have attempted is to avoid talking about books that are already too well-known and thus you may not find Dale Carnegie and others who are too well entrenched, in this list. This list of books covers a wide horizon of interests and I am sure most of you will find it interesting and informative.
1. 168 hours by Laura Vanderkam
This book picks up an issue that most of us are unable to control… and one of the things that the author points out is that planning for 24 hours is far more complex than fitting in a fair degree of varied activites in 168 hours, which is a week.
One of the examples in the book is that of Theresa Daytner, a mother of six, owner of a construction company, and one who goes beyond her professional goals to even be a soccer coach, goes on trail rides, and even pampers herself with massages and her choice of TV viewing… and this is one person of whom even Barrack Obama once asked, ‘Does she ever sleep?’ We are told that even Theresa gets her regular 7 hours of sleep. her secret, of course, is prioritization.
The focus throughout the book is on examples that highlight the benefits of undivided focus. For instance, most of us are constantly hopping from a whatsapp message to an email to an update on one of the social media platforms even as we are reading a book or having a conversation… and we end up being worn out, disconnected, and unfulfilled. This book recommends that we have our own grid on Excel with a column each for each day of the week and rows with 24 cells representing the hours. If we fill up this grid for a couple of weeks we will get enough information about our own activities and how to regulate them.
Obviously then, what matters is realigning our focus on our core competencies. To do this we must first list out the skills that we want to learn, activities that interest us, places we want to travel to… and then assign them a priority. The book goes on to tell us how vital it is to choose the right activites and why one activity could replace another if your efficiency is being compromised. The goal is to involve focus and efficiency and inspire others in the team and/or family to adopt these methods. Another important factor mentioned in the book is learning how to delegate tasks or to outsource activities that allow you to remain focused on your priority tasks with alloting enough time for socializing and leisure.
2. Mind over clutter by Nicola Lewis
Clutter can be agonizing because chaos leads to poor mental health. This book focuses on how to get adequately organized and recommends a four-step process. What is more important is understanding that clutter isn’t always about having too many of something but about their link to your inner happiness. For instance, if I have bought more smartphones than I plan to use or if I am tempted to register for more courses than I can handle… I believe they will qualify to be classified as clutter.
The charm of reading this book is the indirect way that the logic of decluttering your life applies to every student and professional. I have seen the desks of many of my colleagues and friends in their office that are mercilessly walling them within walls of pending paperwork, data sheets that they do net need, and sometimes even books that they will never read. The logic of decluttering, therefore,isn’t just for homes.
The author does point out that the best way to declutter is to first remove everything from the site to be cleaned up and then classify everything as things that are in use or have the potential to be used and consider recycling as well as upcycling.
3. Think like a rocket scientist by Ozan Varol
The one thing that prevents any of us from original thinking and an innovative approach is our own mindset. We see this attitude all around. Obviously then it is excessively opinionated thinking that limits our creativity and Ozan Varol in his book ‘Think like a rocket scientist’ gives us some vital clues to opening up.
The word scientist is used as an example to show that these are people who are constantly giving us new thoughts and ideas despite being surrounded by uncertainty. One of the prime villains in the world of creative thought is succumbing to uncertainty. This fear is unfounded in most cases and the author urges people to embrace their explorative approach with a sort of fearlessness. Equally dangerous is our habit of falling in love with conformity… and most of us tend to spend our lives bound by routines that end up suffocating new approaches.
Conformity leads to remaining busy with routine productivity which is an enemy of creative thought. The author informs us that J K Rowling thought up the story of Harry Potter during the time that her train from Manchester to London was delayed by a few hours… and this time was dedicated to experimental thought as it had enough time to wander about in the absence of an agenda. Creative thinking or even creative problem solving needs a mindset and not just a lot of money or time. The author recommends divergent thinking where no idea is dropped or thrown away but is considered a possibility. It is out of a set of improbable possibilities that the right solution emerges. One of the ways is to keep pushing away routine and cliched ideas. Even improbable possibilities need to be put through a blitz of questions… and at least one of them may emerge as the one deserves to be explored further.
Possible solutions too can become blind spots if one gets too attached to any one of them. One needs to stop seeing only what one wants to see… and the best way to do this is to constantly bombard a reasonable possibility with conflicting hypotheses. Scientists do this regularly and it is through their regular testing of possibilities that they come up with innovative ideas.
4. All you have to do is ask by Wayne Baker
This is definitely a book one must read if giving and asking are problem areas. The author has listed a few styles of asking, steps to know and understand how to ask, and has discussed at length the way the notion of asking and giving affects relationships at the workplace.
Unless we vocalise or write about our needs, no one will even know about them… and we know that many times the right kind of help is right there within reach. I remember telling my broadband servicing guy that paying Rs 999 for broadband seemed too expensive at times and that I was looking fothe right solution to this issue. He looked at me in surprise and said, ‘But Airtel now gives you the same speed and other tech specs for just 499. Minus a few perks that you probably may not need.’ I checked and realised that had I not aksed I would still be paying double for the same service.
One of the things preventing us from asking is our own misconception about the willingness of others to help… or maybe we do not have confidence on their ability to do or suggest an alternative. These kind of shut psychological doorways exist even in organisations when they have systems and procedures that prevent people from asking for and giving help. Such organisations tend to split into disconnected segments that stray away from productive and creative collaborations.
The author recommends one to have a clear goal before launching a request for help. This goal needs to be SMART or specific, meaningful, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound… if all of these are met, the request for help has a positive result. A request for help can be effective if it also states the action the giver needs to consider and must come with timelines. Research says that a request made in person is 34 times more effective than remote messaging… but then this is a step that needs careful thought. There are other facets like broadening the horizon of likely contacts who can help, appreciating those who have given help, and the role of reciprocity in giving and getting help.
5. The pyramid principle by Barbara Minto
Management is all about transforming thoughts into organized bits of actionable documents where summaries, deductions, and justifications form a sort of pyramid. This obviously involves approaching problems in a defined way and visualizing them logically so that everything is understood as it must be. Clarity in writing is what we all need to learn.
What this means is a step process where complex documents or concepts are broken down into meaningful short statements linked to each other. The idea is to travel from a definition of a problem to its solution. For instance, if the problem to be tackled is that of loss of operating time in a factory, the next statement should be if it is people, raw material, or machine breakdowns that cause it. If it is mechanical breakdowns, then what needs to be seen if it is training of maintenance staff that needs a tweak. This may lead to the next statement where the training of the trainers or supervisors may be recommended.
The book is all about breaking up an issue into logical bits that identify what needs to be tackled at every step. The author recommends approaching problems methodically and then visualizing them all using logic trees. Clarity in communication is what makes not just the problem visible but also leads the staff on to its logical resolution without getting confused with a host of other minor issues that may be hiding the reality of the situation.
6. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
Emotions are abstract catalytic accelerators that not only orient us in the right direction but also lead us to actionable paths. However, emotions need to be understood and harnessed well as otherwise they have the potential to distract us through irrational behaviour. Managing emotions is thus vital for not just professionals in the industry but also teachers, students, parents and almost everyone who needs to succeed. Just as IQ is a predictor of academic performance, EQ leads us on to academic, professional, and life successes. by the way, EQ is something that can be increased at any time and age is simply no bar for this improvement.
The book talks about the importance of encouraging people to express their feelings and get to the stage of relevant awareness. It is equally vital to recognize every step forward, be specific and constructive, and to tackle conflict to its logical resolution. EQ is powerful enough to help every individual have good social interactions by understanding how others perceive the world and this can be done by being aware of non-verbal signals as much as understanding verbal communication.
It is a fact that once an individual understands that ‘failures are due to something they can change’, they may keep going in their efforts without giving up. As someone who is dealing with people, it is, therefore, vital to know that simply being critical may be unhealthy and must transform into a specific criticism that is accompanied by a solution.
7. Cashvertising by Drew Eric Whitman
Understanding the consumer is what every professional in every organisation wants but these insights can be scattered all over years of experience or in a large number of books. This book effectively unravels the secrets of selling that are not connected to massive investments in expensive ad campaigns.
What do great marketers do? They know that desire is a form of tension that forces one to act if a need is left unfulfilled. If you have seen adverts carefully, you’ll know how fear can generate tension. Thus some ads begin by putting fear in your heart and then point out to a solution… however, the trick is to make your story believable. Thus marketers depend a lot on associations. For instance, they link a product attributes to what a consumer wants to be or do. They could thus be selling a good image, youthfulness or any other desirable trait.
Once this part has been sorted out, it is the turn of credibility to be introduced. Endorsements work. Obviously then, different kinds of ads need different approaches. However, headlines need to target the right consumer segment, for instance, not every confectionery buyer is a chocoholic and if a store is selling fudge, they need to know this. Magical words like ‘free’, ‘new’, ‘how’, ‘just released’ can give that extra oomph to a headline. Images, colours, copy, and even the placement of an ad matters. This book is a must-read for every young professional.
8. The pomodoro technique by Francesco Cirillo
This book teaches us the pomodoro technique of chopping work into manageable chunks of 25 minutes each. Uninterrupted chunks, of course. Once one chunk is over, it is time to take a short break and then go on to the next 25-minute chunk. This technique leads to real focused work done with exhaustion setting in.
The author stumbled upon a tomato-shaped kitchen timer and decided to call his method of chopping every task into smaller motivating units his pomodori. The breaks, according to the author, need to be of around 5 minutes and can be used to relax, have a glass of water, or just move around aimlessly. The entire sequence of work-break needs to run like a non-stop rhythm and the implication is that the brain will not get enough time or encouragement to procrastinate. The author also recommends that after every 4 pomodori, one can indulge in longer breaks of 15 to 30 minutes.
This technique is indeed useful for almost each of us. Students, executives, managers, teachers, writers, or any sort of professional will definitely find this beneficial.
9. The languages of leadership by Wendy Born
Bad bosses aren’t just those who are tyrannical but even those who are lazy or those who never like to delegate any work are equally bad leaders. This book discusses the art of leadership by first defining it.
The book talks about the circle of concern which includes all those who are relevant, for instance, co-workers, who happen to be there and you cannot really wish them away. The circle of influence is about the things you can do without depending on how well the others function. This is why leadership skills evolve when a person directs his focus on himself and not on others. This book then goes on to list the six levels of leadership and the author tells us about how ‘isolated leaders’ who work with just a handful of peoples, tend to be manipulative. The ‘interested leader’ is a bit more engaged but does not get respect from either his superiors nor his team. Then the author moves on to ‘involved leaders’, ‘integrated leaders’, and the ‘influenced leaders’ to finally talk about the ‘inspired leaders’ who are innovative and have cultivated a working relationship with all concerned, irrespective of their position in the hierarchy.
Leadership is all about aspiring to be an active leader who converses with the language of courage as well as strength. Compare this to strong leaders who could be merely ruthless or directive leaders who are good at engineering their surroundings. Active leadership isn’t about getting work done by hook or by crook but by being exceedingly perceptive and need to learn the language of trust and even vulnerability. This book is definitely to be read by any student who aspires leadership positions.
10 GRIT by Angela Duckworth
If there is one thing that this year of upheavels and uncertainties has taught a lot of us, it is the value of determination and perseverance. Angela Duckworth writes that ‘enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare’. Her book specifies that 66% of employers in the US look for people who employ hard work, grit, and determination. She clarifies that ‘grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it…’ and that achievements aren’t always about talent but are an interaction of skills with efforts.
The main mantra in the book is about the way skill and effort leads to success. She cites an example of John Irving, a writer, who did not have a natural or in-born talent for writing. He transcended this limitation by writing upwards of ten drafts of his novels to perfect them. This technique was successful, and he did finally get the National Book Award in 1978 in the US for his novel titled ‘The world according to Garp’.
The author also points out that this logic stays true for anyone, including those who are into fitness. She writes that fitness is less dependent on ability and opportunities (equipment, in this case) but has more to do with how hard and how frequently we exercise. If understanding passion and the role of skill development is to be understood, this is the book to read.
Reading the right kind of books
It is not that this list of 10 books is the ultimate one and that there are no others that need to be read. The point that I am trying to make here is about choosing those that cover a wider horizon of traits that matter. There are newer ones being published every other day the world over. As I have already mentioned, one doesn’t really have to read books to develop facets helping one to be better. There are podcasts and interviews on YouTube that can serve the purpose to some extent… however, the best way is to pick up one book and read it through slowly, because reading has to finally be adopted in actions. Take your time and target just ten books for the coming year, follow the actions recommended, and see the change for yourself.