Category Archives: Careers

Cross-train your brain to do four things really well

A condensed version of this post originally appeared in the Accenture Careers blog.


Do you want to excel in your career, today and in our uncertain future? Below are the four not-so-simple areas of focus.

But first a cliché warning: Smarter people than I have tread this terrain and stepped in a few. I’m thinking specifically about this from David Foster Wallace, from his famous commencement speech This is Water, where he began by talking about how higher learning should be about “teaching you how to think” …

If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted … The fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think … [but this] cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about.

Not that long ago you could graduate with many types of degrees, having absorbed facts and their interrelation, and expect to build a nice career. Naturally you would continue learning after graduation, but in that pre-digital era, when access to knowledge was constrained, learning was primarily absorbing new facts. Here I’m imagining my dad’s career …

Adopting Learning Skills For Today’s Work Environment

My late father was co-founder of a small-town accounting firm. As a CPA, he and his partners would turn to an imposing set of heavy, beige tax law books that filled to bursting the bookshelves his firm had built for them. To me, as a child, they reached so wide and high they appeared to hold the whole business up.

I wasn’t that far off. In that analog world, the folks closest to the facts got the job done. And got the raises. And the promotions.

What’s changed? For one, digitization – a democratization of knowledge. With sites like Google, Wikipedia, plus more specialized sites like The Markup, the world of information is in all of our pockets. What else has changed is complexity, and mass disruption. Our world is many factors more complex than my father’s, or yours.

It’s also clear that the pace of change will continue to accelerate.

How to cope? Here’s a comprehensive list. It’s the “Four Cs.” I discovered them in Yaval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (originally sourced from this NEA white paper). They are 1.) Critical Thinking, 2.) Creativity, 3.) Collaboration and 4.) Communication.

1. Critical Thinking

Consider Accenture’s Problem-Solution Mapping (PSM). It’s a hybrid of several mental models, including the thinking processes of Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. Here’s a video introduction:

It’s no accident that the first part of PSM is about stepping back and looking objectively at what we want to accomplish and why. It’s also about looking deeply into the problems identified to find root causes. Only once this is done do we construct hypotheses to test in pursuit of solutions.

Or consider the advice of Charlie Munger, someone best known as the behind-the-scenes member, with Warren Buffett, of the duad that built Berkshire Hathaway. In a speech Munger put it this way:

You can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience — both vicarious and direct — on this latticework of models.

Or finally, consider the words of my friend from a conversation I had with him this weekend. He’s a leader in a multi-billion-dollar e-retailer. He told me, “I’m advising my daughter to learn Python as a way to put her data science degree to work. In fact, we’re going to learn it together. But I’m also stressing the importance of learning how to define the right problems to solve, and finding a framework for their solution.” She’s got a smart father.

2. Creativity

Once you’ve identified the best problems to solve, it often takes creativity to solve them. In their new book Pivot to the Future, Accenture colleagues Larry Downes, Omar Abbosh, and Paul Nunes remind us that automation will place greater intellectual demands on all of us (emphasis below is mine):

We are not among those who think AI [artificial intelligence] will displace knowledge workers to a significant extent. We do, however, believe they will substantially alter the nature of work and in a positive way. Today, too many jobs are boring and repetitive leaving workers unmotivated or Worse. AI Technologies offer an opportunity to redesign work away from the mundane and toward tasks that require human reasoning, empathy, and creativity.

I agree with their belief that AI is not to be feared. We need to look at it as another tool for getting work done, and try not to listen to what scholars call “moral panic” over new technology. What it means is we need to develop the qualities that machines will be less effective at “learning.” Human creativity is at the top of my list.

3. Collaboration

In her TED Talk and best-selling book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, game developer Jane McGonigal makes a case for how multi-player video games develop crucial learning skills.

Arguably, the highest on her list is collaboration. She reminds us how these games are rehearsals for the modern work world, where delegating, co-creating and supporting each other are crucial keys to team success.

At Accenture, collaboration is priced into every project. What’s more, our commitment to inclusion and diversity helps ensure a working environment of psychological safety – something that Google’s research has found to be one of the keys to a winning team.

4. Communication

Of the four, this may be the easiest to practice – but the hardest to get right! In their excellent book on business communication, Weekend Language, authors Andy Craig and Dave Yewma describe what happens to our storytelling abilities when the weekend is over and we’re back at the office:

We’re full of feature lists and ten-point plans, ‘high level’ terms and nonsense. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we beat the snot out of our audiences with 118-slide PowerPoint presentations chock-full of text.

Audience members typically don’t remember anything.

Their book trains readers to tell stories instead, and to tell them effectively to achieve business goals. If you’ve read their book, you may have noticed some of their recommendations here. I’ve peppered this with anecdotes, metaphors, and other ways to (hopeful) bring my content to life for you.

How important is storytelling to Accenture careers? Consider this:

I work out of the Digital Hub in Chicago’s Accenture offices. And every month our Storytelling Club meets to isolate and strengthen these communication “muscles” in front of a live audience. It’s an invaluable resource.

Focus Your Thinking On the Four Cs

Now that you’ve learned “what to learn,” know that Accenture can help you. Consider joining us, learning from and working with some of the industry’s best and brightest. Find your fit with Accenture.

Right brain, meet left brain

This post originally appeared in the Accenture Careers blog.

As a Senior Manager in the Interactive Personalization Practice, I use my creative side to help design the best possible customer experiences. I use the analytical side to base these changes on data. The work is tricky but worth it; It leads to happier, more loyal customers for my clients.

Infinite possibilities

I’ve always been fascinated with how people work—and Accenture Interactive feeds my curiosity and sense of infinite possibilities. We’re using technology that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. We’re constantly learning. I lead a team of people from both “sides of the brain,” the creative and analytical. It makes for a fascinating workday.

Doing cool work with friends

One of the things I love best about working at Accenture is the company really “walks the talk” regarding inclusion and diversity. Our teams include people from many backgrounds and cultures, bringing different ways of thinking and communicating — all working together to produce something really cool.

And while Accenture is a global company, it feels oddly small to me — like an extended family. This is especially true in the personalization practice.

Doing cool work with your friends—what could be better?

Does your path have a heart?

A college writing teacher once returned a book I had loaned her with an index card in its pages, as a bookmark. She had written on it a quote from Carlos Castaneda: “Does this path have a heart?”

It’s a great question, and many years later, I can answer yes.

Now, here’s my career advice: Be prepared to learn your entire career. And if you don’t have a hunger and passion for learning new things, now is the time to start.

Bring your big ideas to life. Find your fit with the Accenture Interactive team.

The strength of the workplace duad

An abridged version of this post can be found on the Accenture Careers blog.

Standing in the café located in Accenture’s Chicago Digital Hub, I was scanning an email on my phone. It described what Accenture experts consider their secret sauce for finding and growing talent. To summarize:

  1. People Our people are the best and brightest in the industry, top innovators of today—and tomorrow.
  2. Culture We’re a literal global collective of diverse talent and personalities, combining to innovate and iterate.
  3. Purpose Innovating together to improve “the way the world works and lives.”

If I listed the first item without including the second, you’d think Accenture hires top people and finds them a desk where they can be privately brilliant. But as I witnessed the clusters of people at assorted tables and booths that day in the café, and the buzz of conversations, I knew better. “Innovating together” means organizing teams to address whatever the specific purpose is at hand.

Strength in small numbers

In my long career, elsewhere but especially at Accenture, I’ve experienced one extremely powerful team configuration: the duad. That’s my coinage for the deep and powerful collaborations where just two people come together to solve a problem. It was described in a recent New Yorker piece about Jeff Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat, of Google. Their unlikely co-working created a machine learning system that you probably used in the last 24 hours in one form or another, without ever knowing it. Jeff and Sanjay literally “changed the Internet.”

This type of collaboration is more common than you’d think, as the article explains (emphasis my own):

François Jacob, who, with Jacques Monod, pioneered the study of gene regulation, noted that by the mid-twentieth century most research in the growing field of molecular biology was the result of twosomes. … In the past thirty-five years, about half of the Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine have gone to scientific partnerships.

In my eight years at Accenture, I’ve been the lucky half of several duads. I believe one of the reasons Accenture is such fertile ground for this type of collaboration is its emphasis on diversity. Not just diversity of experience, or place of origin, or some other aspect that sets humans apart from the pack, but a diversity of strengths.

Tools such as online personal strength assessments help Accenture bring together teams of people whose personal skills and strengths complement each other for the most successful outcome. An unexpected value for me through one of these assessments was that it showed what I can best bring to a team and helped me seek out those whose strengths most fully complement my own.

Yin, meet yang

More than in other team configurations, complementary skills are key to excellent duads. In fact, the best duads can seem grossly mismatched.

Consider Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. As Michael Lewis describes in his enthralling The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, they were as different in temperament as chocolate and peanut butter. Lewis writes that Kahneman is “an introvert whose questing self-doubt was the seedbed of his ideas,” while Tversky was “a brilliant, self-confident [veteran Israeli] warrior and extrovert.” Their unlikely pairing all but invented the discipline of behavioral economics (Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for it in 2002; Tversky had passed away by then so could not share in the honor).

My own two-person collaborations are similarly yin/yang. For instance, you’d peg me on more of the Kahneman end of the spectrum. Additionally, a firm grasp of minutia can be difficult for me (if I were in school today I would be diagnosed as mildly dyslexic). So it’s no surprise that my partners in collaboration are typically detail-oriented extraverts.

Early in my career, I thought finding an amazing teammate was like lightning striking. “Don’t hold your breath,” I’d think, “because it’s rare.” Since joining Accenture, I’ve learned better. Great teams are more a product of a workplace design than happenstance.

Work with the industry’s best and brightest and do work that makes a difference every day. Find your fit with Accenture.

Time management for the career-minded

This post was originally appeared on the Accenture Careers blog.

TL;DR Choose a time management system that’s built to last, integrate work / life balance into your system and prioritize tasks strategically. Ultimately, keep the promises you make to yourself and your community.

What qualifies me, you might ask, to tell you about time management? After all, the topic has been covered ad nauseum, becoming a defacto publishing category. Well, my two bona fides:

  1. I’ve researched and studied probably a dozen systems over the years of my lengthy career and found tips you can follow to extract the most out of whatever system you’d care to try
  2. It’s working! I’m as surprised as anyone that the nuggets of wisdom I’ve gleaned have made me pretty darned effective in my work and personal life

Let’s start with a cliché: The secret to career success is working smarter, not harder. Don’t we all have a trusted family member or friend who told us this? I know I had one, and I was deeply skeptical. Wasn’t this country founded on grit and long hours? For a recent example, the musical “Hamilton” talks about how that Founding Father worked “non-stop” — “All I have is my honor, a tolerance for pain / A couple of college credits and my top notch brain.” Actually, Alexander Hamilton may be the poster child for what can happen to you if you aren’t circumspect about time. He did not work smarter!

Hamilton died in relative obscurity, which is exactly the opposite of what he wanted.

He was known for working tirelessly. One example is his contributions to The Federalist Papers — written with his characteristic eloquence and application of rigorous logic. This contribution alone should have made him a revered historical figure. The Papers became a blueprint for our new country. But Hamilton appears to have thought his cleverness and work ethic were precisely enough to bring him the fame he craved. Nope. He was efficient but not effective and his reputation paid the price.

My mentor was right: You really should work smarter, not harder. We have a limited amount of attention and energy, and more ways to sap both exist today than for any generation before us. We can easily become unmoored, and drift away from what’s truly important. That’s why this is essential:

Regardless of the time management system you settle in with, be sure it starts with a liveable strategy to direct your energies toward the right goals. Only then allow the method to govern how you manage time.

Whither Life Balance?

My studies have been far-reaching, covering both the expected — David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Seven Habits of Highly Effective People — and the obscure: The 90-minute Hour (don’t bother — this could have been written by Alexander Hamilton, it is so fanatical about productivity at all costs), and The Pomodoro Technique (worth considering for the right type of professional). I even tried, circa 2005, an app called Life Balance, a smart approach that never made the jump to iOS, and died with the Palm OS.

My research even includes the mid-century wisdom of — Go figure — our 34th president, Dwight Eisenhower.

I’ve earnestly tried them all, for a while tethering myself to alphabetized folders, both physical and virtual. I’ve tried working in the mini-sprints of Pomodoro — resting every 25 minutes for five, before starting another. I’ve tried the more agile-like week long sprints prescribed by Covey, categorizing everything by the roles I play in life (employee, professional, brother, friend, servant, etc.).

After my travels through these far-flung lands, I’m back to tell you what’s really important in the system you choose, and how you can immediately become more productive and less stressed-out. Here are my five highly subjective tips, borne of trial and error:

  1. Start with your values. I have to say Covey’s Seven Habits describes this step best. Read how he describes finding your “true north,” and commit to it. And by commit, I mean give it a year or two and see how things go. And if you really like where it’s taking you, also read Covey’s First Things First. That book goes deeper into values, and it finally got me to write a personal Mission Statement. What I wound up with is something that is as resonant for me today as it was when I first wrote it.
  2. Pick a system. Don’t leave time management to chance. Don’t wing it. It’s no coincidence Covey called them “habits.” He prescribes actions effective people must take that shouldn’t require conscious thought; They should become second nature. And many aren’t intuitive. So get a system and make it yours.
  3. Keep to-do lists. Recently a co-worker confessed he was getting overwhelmed. We talked about it, and I asked him how he managed his tasks. He wordlessly brought me to his computer monitor. It was papered with Post-Its, resembling the windshield of a car left under a tree on a wet autumn day. Imagine: He would start each day with more than a dozen yellow reminders screaming at him! Always in his line of vision, the tasks reduced his ability to complete them, and clouded his vision of which ones he could or should delegate! They became his master.
  4. Hide your list. My colleague’s story reminded me how valuable it is that when I capture a new to-do item, I immediately hide it from view. I’m rarely overwhelmed, even when I have a rolling list of 20 or more items per day — most non-urgent ones carried forward to be tackled tomorrow. Although you can rely on paper lists and hide them out of sight, I strongly recommend automated systems: While allowing you to turn away from them, automation keeps them ready for review at any time, wherever you are. That list is the first thing I look at each morning. My online system, Remember the Milk, is installed on all my electronic devices — two computers (one for work, one for personal stuff), my Android work phone and my Apple iPod touch music and podcast player. My tasks follow me everywhere but never overtake me. I am their master, not the other way around!
  5. Prioritize and refine your lists. For this last tip I need to talk about good ole’ late President Eisenhower. He came up with an enduring approach to prioritizing tasks. It is wisdom that Covey also explores in his books, but here’s a summary:

Draw an X/Y graph, with the vertical axis being level of importance, and the horizontal being urgency. Then rank each of your tasks into one of the quadrants. Here’s how that looks:

From there, how to proceed becomes clear:

  • Important / Urgent tasks are done immediately and personally.
  • Important / Not Urgent get deadlines (which can be ultimately moved) and are done personally. This quadrant is in yellow because it’s the area most of us fall down on, and it’s the most important to our success. We need to spend the most time in this quadrant.
  • Unimportant / Urgent task are politely delegated.
  • Unimportant / Not Urgent tasks are tactfully dropped.

When you divvy up your work this way, you discover many tasks disappear, which is liberating, and others are delegated — byproducts of which are collaboration and interdependence, qualities that help deepen work and personal relationships (Bonus!).

Drop, Delegate, Do Now or Do Later

Some tasks disappear because they are neither important nor urgent. Example: Does it really benefit you — or your employer — to attend that annual conference, or is it driven by ego … or FOMO? If in doubt, drop it and save yourself the paperwork and the time away from important tasks. You can always find out from others what you might have missed. Start skipping these things and you’ll soon be surprised at how often you hear there was nothing new covered!

Other tasks get delegated. Example: Next time, verbally ask a coworker to respond for the both of you to that group email asking who is bringing what to the potluck. (Promise to return the favor next time, of course. Don’t take advantage of work relationships!). In my experience group emails are often — but not always — the domain of the urgent but non-important. They can quickly become Reply All time-wasters.

Want to know if I deem something unimportant? When you ask me to weigh in on choosing an option, I smile and cheerfully respond “Surprise me.” By saying those words I’ve given both of us a little time back we can devote to other, important decisions. Oh, and another bonus: I’m often genuinely surprised by your choices!

This leaves only important work on your list — except for tasks such as “Follow up with so-and-so on what you delegated.” So what’s truly important? Don’t believe what you’re told. Refuse to let others impose on you what’s truly important. Instead, consult your values and goals. See Tip #1 above.

You Are Your Word

Time management is important because the best employees, the extraordinary parents, the cherished friends — they all have something in common: They do what they tell us they will do. And with every kept commitment, trust — and social and professional esteem — grows.

Here is how I handle a new request: If it’s important and I can do it, I’ll commit to it, and I’ll set a deadline. Then I’ll add it to my to-do list with a deadline well before it’s actually expected. (If it’s urgent and it’s due by 5 PM, I’ll promise that time but shoot for 3:00 and usually complete it by 4:00).

So what have I done? I’ve promised something to my boss, employee, friend or relative. But the task I wrote down in my to-do list was actually a different promise. It was one to my future self. It was a small withdrawal I made against my self-esteem “bank account.”

Once written down, the task is hidden while I tackle other things. I trust myself to do it. When I’m ready to review what’s up next, I will see that task and if it’s time, it tackle it.

When I’m done two things happen:

  1. I check it off my list and feel great! I’ve once again behaved honorably with myself. The amount I withdrew from my self-esteem account was returned — plus interest!
  2. I’ve followed through with the original promise. The person I committed to has an opinion of me as well, and I just helped that opinion grow a little.

To both that person and to myself, I have become someone who can be counted on to keep my commitments. One definition of living in integrity is having the same opinion of yourself as those held by your friends, family and coworkers. Good time management moves you closer to that ideal.

Have I missed any good tips? Let me know!

Creative Commons image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MerrillCoveyMatrix.png

Personal Mission Statements are dumb

That’s how I felt 25 years ago, when I was working on a system to improve my work and life focus. The concept made sense, it wasn’t that. Stephen Covey of Seven Habits fame conjectured, to paraphrase: “What good is ‘climbing the ladder’ if you reach the top and realize it’s against the wrong building?” He was trying to make the distinction between being efficient — moving as quickly as possible from rung-to-rung — and being effective. Effective people are also more resilient. For people who know they are navigating against their “True North,” setbacks don’t seem quite so hard.

No, what I hated about personal Mission Statements is the fact that those I had read — the examples I found — frankly were dumb. I know, they weren’t dumb to their authors. But to me they all sounded way too high-minded. They all sounded like the platitudinous statements made during the Q&A phase of a beauty pageant.

But I persisted. I realized that I needed to ignore the ones that I’d read. (They comprised a fairly small sample; This was pre-internet, before the world’s knowledge was at the end of a quick Google search.) Instead, I meditated and ruminated. And I assured myself that when I found the right one, others would likely find mine as dumb as I found theirs. It’s sort of like looking through someone else’s closets (“Do they really think that shirt is a good idea?!?”)

After literally a year of trying, my mission statement came to me in a flash. I was, interestingly enough, on a massage table at the time. It’s surprising what’s released along with all that lactic acid. For what it’s worth, here it is:

Lead by example
Live in acceptance and non-judgement
Help people laugh at themselves and the world
Help people succeed financially

That last one comes from my early professional life, which took place in the mid-1980s, the second most severe recession since the last one. It was a tough time to start out, and money was scarce. I vowed to be the mentor I never had and help people find work that they love.

Do you have a notable Mission Statement? I’ve turned my comments off, but you can find me. Let me know!

A Business Communication Reading List

A month ago to the day, I provided a crowd-sourced list of recommended readings for the career-minded. I didn’t have room in that post to talk about all the excellent suggestions from one extraordinary friend. Jill Stewart is a professional lecturer at DePaul University’s College of Communication. I’ve never told her this, but hand’s down my favorite business class in college was Business Communication. I thought I’d ace it without breaking a sweat. Boy, did I have a rude awakening!

My professor, lo those many years ago, showed me that communicating in business is hard. It’s also vital to career success.

I was reminded of all of this when I read Jill’s reading list, provided here verbatim. If you can find a smart, dedicated professor like Ms. Stewart, take her class and heed her words. Next best thing: Dip into this list. You can let her know what you think here.

Books on how to improve your writing

Clark, How to Write Short (2014) and Writing Tools (2008)
Danziger, Get to the Point (2001)
Gray-Grant, 8 ½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better (2008)
Fiske, The Dictionary of Concise Writing, (2006)
Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing (2008)
Kallan, Renovating Your Writing, (2013)
King, On Writing, (2000)
Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences about Writing (2012)
McCormack, Brief (2014)
Norris, Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (2016)
O’Connor, Woe is I (2012)
O’Connor, Words Fail Me (1999)
Rubin, Hey Wait How Do I Write This Email? (2015)
Strunk & White, Elements of Style, (1999)*
Watt & Bradford, An E.B. White Reader (1996)
Yagoda, How to Not Write Bad, (2013)
Zinsser, On Writing Well (1998)

Online resources, tips

American Copyeditors Association
AP Style Guide
AP Style Quizzes
Flesch Readability
Grammar Girl
Grammarly
Harvard’s Shorenstein Center’s Journalist’s Resource (for PR practitioners, too!)
The Publication Coach
Owl Purdue Online Writing Lab
Ragan’s PR Daily
The Writer’s Almanac, American Public Media
Writer’s Circle

Articles on writing tips

BrainPickings Blog (link is to a sample post)
Writer’s Digest (link is to a sample post)

* I do have to add that if you are new to Strunk and White’s legendary The Elements of Style, be aware that much has changed in language since E.B. White updated the work of his beloved teacher, William Strunk, Jr. Mind you, I used to consider this my bible, carrying a ragged, coffee-stained copy with me from apartment to apartment. But I now realize most of the rules have become quaint. This was a recent shock to me. I recommended the book last year to a dear friend, and then revisited it with her. It was sort of like visiting the house you grew up in, realizing it wasn’t an extravagant, magical palace as you remembered it. I still adore White’s short fiction and essays, his The Second Tree from the Corner — both the short story and the collection named after it — will blow the top of your head off. His mastery of language is that impressive. Likewise the book Jill listed as well, An E.B. White Reader. But if you buy The Elements of Style, listen to this podcast by the delightful John McWhorter for a strong dose of context.

For more career advice, these are two posts I reprinted on my blog from an Accenture Career site:

Tips for career-building reading in 2018

This blog post originally appeared in an Accenture Careers blog.

Building your career in 2018? Or perhaps you’re looking to make a change in your current situation. Either way, you may be surprised to learn how educational and inspirational your reading list can be.

Here’s a recommended reading list to get you started. The list is curated by me and a few of my friends and colleagues.

Let’s get started

To begin, I’ve put together tips on how to get the most value from your reading time. Let’s call it a Reading List User’s Guide.

  1. Choose books as wisely as you choose friends. Author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn once wrote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The same can be said for the authors you welcome onto your bookshelf or into your Kindle. In many ways, I consider authors I respect actual friends. For instance, early in my career, when I had my own direct-response consultancy, I would silently thank Peter Senge for what he had taught me. I would walk into a potential client’s business for the first time and apply the knowledge I gleaned from reading his book The Fifth Discipline, which focuses on how organizations “learn to learn.” I would look around at office dynamics and know with surprising accuracy just how much of a “learning organization” I was observing. No company is perfect, but Senge had trained me to see the extent of each organization’s “learning disabilities”—and by extension, whether they would be good customers for what I was selling. Now, that’s a valuable friend!
  2. Ask if popular books have truly earned their status. Good business books, like good speeches, should provide a strong mix of inspiration and education. Ask friends who have read a particular book what specifically they learned, or how they were moved. Listen closely to their answers. Much of the business world is ruled by groupthink, “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and trying to impress. Those impulses aren’t good enough reasons to read a book, even if it’s the one “everyone is reading.” It’s a surprisingly rare business book that deserves its popularity. I’m thinking of books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which rode best-seller lists for literally years, and remains one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time.Don’t be put off if your friends talk more to inspiration than education. The same year I first read (and learned a ton from) “7 Habits,” I was also deeply inspired by a different book, called The One-to-One Future. It was in the very early days of CRM (customer relationship management). And boy, did it inspire! It literally caused me to change my career path, a decision that is one of the best of my life. Last year, I derived similar inspiration from another book, The Business Blockchain. I haven’t changed my career yet, but you never know! (And thanks to Accenture’s deep involvement in blockchain, a lateral move within our organization isn’t out of the question for me.)
  3. Vary your reading diet widely. Non-fiction books don’t have to be formally about business to help you with your career. When I read Dr. Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, I realized that I wasn’t communicating clearly with roughly half the professional workforce (i.e., women!). By an embarrassing coincidence—and as though the world had a painful lesson to teach me—just as I was about to start the book, I nearly lost a client because she gave her instructions in something Tannen calls “rapport speak,” while I was hearing her through the filter of “report speak.” I screwed up an assignment and only realized how it happened after reading and internalizing the book. How’s that for valuable career advice!
  4. Read the way you learn. Educational research teaches us that humans have preferred ways of learning. You may not take to the written word. Today, that shouldn’t hinder you. Don’t pay attention to those who stigmatize “hearing” a book instead of reading it. If audiobooks work for your style and your schedule, go for it. I’m currently “reading” a book in three different formats at once. I have a hardback copy of Ron Chernow’s dense Alexander Hamilton for the tactile pleasure of its pages, and its many illustrations, paintings and drawings. I also have an e-book copy to read when I’m traveling, since the hardcover takes up a lot of luggage space. And finally, I have an audible copy, for when I’m working out or taking long walks. I did something similar, and for similar reasons, when reading the outstanding Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahnemann. Remember what I said about authors being like friends? Just like real friends, sometimes, once you deem them worthy, you invest the time and money needed to spend time with them. Good books, like good friends, are worth it.
  5. Use books to focus your thinking. To paraphrase the late David Foster Wallace in his famous “This Is Water” college commencement address (Google it; you’ll thank me), the worst cliché of such speeches is, “An education isn’t about filling us with knowledge but about teaching us how to think.” It’s easy to find that insulting. It’s not. He points out that “how to think” is not so much about the capacity to think, but the choice of what to think about (getting us back to point 1, above). Books that help us build our careers direct our thinking in important directions. This is crucial, because there is a lot of other stuff that really doesn’t matter. They’re distractions preventing us from doing great things.

More Reading Recommendations

So, in crowdsourcing my network, I’ve compiled a list of reading material that will both educate and inspire. Mine are sprinkled throughout the five points above. Happy reading.