Recently, a young designer asked me to suggest what she should be reading. She was specifically interested in business and management insights that would be relevant to a designer who is beginning to lead projects and teams and have more encounters with business leaders.
I wish I could recommend a single book to turn to, but it is not that easy. Here are the sources that have proved most valuable to me. I’m trying to keep the list very short.
Wall Street Journal
If you want to be able to talk to business people about what is happening in business, this daily newspaper will keep you current. It covers the broad trends, specific companies, and quirky fringe.
If you are really interested in business in the context of current events, the weekly magazine, The Economist, covers the whole world and goes deeper. Because it comes out every week, I find it a little overwhelming. Makes good reading if you spend much time on airplanes.
Harvard Business Review
If you want to be able to talk about broad business patterns and where things are going, the Harvard Business Review is worth tracking. Read this magazine each month and you will be able to talk to business leaders about trends. In general, the articles are written at a high standard. There is also a big library online of old articles about all kinds of topics. These can be a gold mine if you need to brush up on some new area before a meeting.
At the same high level is another magazine, Strategy and Business. Check it out too and you might decide that it is a better fit for you. At the end of each year, the magazine creates a summary of business books that is worth tracking, because it will reveal some interesting books.
Of course, if your clients are in a specialized industry, you might want to follow one or two magazines that are important to them.
The Art of Systems Thinking, by Joseph O’Connor and Ian McDermott
Systems thinking is an awkward label for the science of looking at how things interact in complex relationships. This science, which is less than 70 years old, has detected certain patterns that occur regardless of what kind of system is studied. Ecological systems of creatures in the woods, supply chains, and corporate incentive systems all get pushed out of place by similar factors and snap back for the same reasons. Many books are available about systems thinking available. This one is a very approachable introduction.
The ideas presented will help you ask smart questions about all kinds of business systems. This book is probably out of print. If you can’t find a used copy, look for Thinking in Systems, by Donella Meadows.
Coaching for Improved Work Performance, by Ferdinand Fournies
If you don’t get paid for what you do, but for what your people do, you are a manager. Managers tend to fail because they spend too much time on technical things and not enough time on refining how they get things done through others. Because the “others” are people, not robots, they are fallible and potentially problematic. Fournies offers a crisp, logical hierarchy for dealing with coaching opportunities. It’s good stuff—advice you will be able to apply countless times during your career.
21 Ideas for Managers, by Charles Handy
Handydescribes concepts that helped in his development from a know-nothing novice to a world-class business consultant. This is an easy read. It combines some good stories with some practical tools. It’s also a very down-to-earth reminder that even someone who doesn’t know much can still add value. Handy closes each chapter with some intriguing self-diagnostic questions. Don’t skip them.