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It seems like new books are published every day that promise better ideas for “how to” improve the way we work: how to consult, lead teams, manage businesses, design better courses, use new technologies, or communicate more effectively.  A quick search on, for example, revealed that it has 951,187 books related to management practices and 97,000 on communication skills.

To be frank, most of these books frustrate me.  Many are overtly self-promotional:  They spend more time recounting how great the author is at doing the central concept than they do at explaining how to apply that concept.   Occasionally, though, some books stand out for being surprisingly helpful.  With the holiday gift-purchasing season now in full gear, below are my recommendations for the best how-to books I’ve read in the past few years.

I recommend these books not because they are recently published but because they:

  • Provided multiple and meaningful insights.
  • Provided tips for how to do or use the new insights.
  • Focused on the practical as well as the theoretical.
  • Were engaging to read.
  • Caused me to reflect and relate the world around me to the book, even after I had finished reading it.

Ultimately, they changed the way I behaved or approached my work.

5. Good to Great by Jim Collins looks at the characteristics that enabled public companies to transform themselves from decent performers on the stock market to significant out-performers of the market for at least 15 years.  The book spotlights basic management concepts that have somehow gotten lost amongst all the fancy business theories of the last 40 years.  In the process, it helps you rethink your own management attitudes and strategies.

  1. Million Dollar Consulting by Alan Weiss provides excellent advice for how to run a consulting company.  It is particularly insightful in its discussion on how to price work and how to determine which projects to accept.
  2. Coping with Difficult People by Robert Bramson is an oldie but goody.  It takes a very pragmatic approach to dealing with those perpetually difficult people that we all have the misfortune to encounter in our lives.  Beginning with the assumptions that (a) some people are just difficult and (b) you can’t change them so you better learn how to cope with them, it provides interesting insights into their behavior and practical tips for what to say and how to behave with them to minimize their negative effects.
  3. The Art of Explanation by Lee Lefever describes how story-telling can help you make complex concepts more understandable and relatable.  It focuses on how to think like your audience, but does so in a very practical way.  It provides excellent tips, activities, and examples.
  4. Make Your Contacts Count by Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon completely up-ended the way I thought about networking.  It provides better explanations of why networking is so important, new insights for how to make it less painful and more effective, and practical activities to help you prepare to be a great networker.

That leads us to….

This month’s questions:

Based on the same critieria, what business-related “how-to” books that you’ve read lately would you recommend?  On what subjects did they focus?  Why did you like them so much?

Please share your ideas below so we can learn from each other.