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These Books Will Change the Way You Look At Industry and Leadership

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I like to read a few books at a time, usually one about management and another about innovation. And rather than look for opinions that align with my own, I prefer to have my assumptions challenged, my point of view broadened, and discover completely new ways of seeing the world.

Several recent reads fit this category – they delivered the unexpected, created conversation and made me think differently. 

These are my top six, with at least one of the lessons I took from each.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Noah Harari wrote this book as if he was observing humankind from another realm. His ideas are unexpected and sometimes controversial.

How did humans develop so far and wide when primate groups usually cap at 150 individuals? (Hint: shared myths). An interesting element of this book is the concept of imagined realities – money, religions, relationships and jobs work for us because we share a universally accepted truth about them.  Shared myths allow us to organize in teams, sometimes of a billion people or more. But when that truth changes so do our realities.

Lesson for industry: If the ability to create and share myths allowed Homosapiens to thrive and organize, what could happen with an enforceable trust mechanism like blockchain? How would it permit and change us by reducing the friction of interaction?

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

Actor/author Alan Alda talks about the challenges faced by technologists and scientists who must communicate ideas to people unfamiliar with the concept. (He’s the host of Scientific American Frontiers, where he met and talked with so many scientists working to get their ideas across).

Everything from how projects get funded to selling your idea to the world – it all relies on how well you convey what you know.   If the idea of sending scientists to improve classes seems ridiculous, you need to open up your mind a little.

Lesson for leadership: Based on the concepts in this book I am changing the way we do project reviews with this directive: Explain your concept to me the way you would explain it to your grandparent or an 11-year-old. You do not score extra points for complexity.

Humans + Machine, Reimagining Work in the Age of AI

I am fascinated by how authors Paul R. Daugherty and H. James Wilson portray the future of how we’ll work. There certainly are fears growing around if and how AI will replace workers. This book helps alleviate those fears because while AI will reduce the need for repetitive, non-value-add work, the result is also an increase in better jobs for those people.

Lesson for leaders: Use the arguments in this book to help your teams prepare for and adapt to the future, reduce fear and take advantage of the opportunities in the future of work.

Ready Player One

For anyone who wants to “see” the future, author Ernest Cline does a great job creating a virtual world and describing how we’ll interact within that world.  His views of virtual shopping malls and virtual schools are truly insightful. 

It will be easier for people to connect and collaborate virtually but the quality of those interactions will diminish. We’re already experiencing the benefits of virtual interaction in manufacturing, as technicians can open a cabinet and look at a part in 3-D in real-time without the need to travel.

What’s coming: the blurring of human and machine interaction. If you get robocalls you already know how difficult it is to tell when you’re talking to a human or to a machine. (Hint: ask the suspected robocaller to repeat a word for you).

Lesson for industry: For every technology, there’s an upside and a downside. Understand both.

Permission to Screw Up, How I Learned to Lead by Doing (Almost) Everything Wrong

When author Kristen Hadeed started her apartment cleaning service, she had 50 employees – and 40 of them quit the same day. She shares everything she did wrong, and she helped me look at mistakes in a new way.

Lesson for leaders: People who are trying their best and making decisions with good intent deserve help and mentoring, not job termination. 

Delivering Happiness, a Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

This is a comic book from Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. He’s also run a worm farm and a pizza business.

He stresses that as leaders, we owe it to our teams to be precise and direct, and to align what we say and what we do with our values. This book reinforced the power of corrective feedback. We all need it; we don’t all get it, or deliver it.

Lesson for leaders: This book made me more aware of the culture I am trying to create, and how I communicate what I expect and what I value.

What are your standouts? How have they changed you, your assumptions of the world and how you see the future? 

Dave Vasko
Dave Vasko
Director of Advanced Technology, Rockwell Automation

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