Things I Learned This Week #4

Sorry for the delay in publishing this – I actually spent most of my weekend learning about the complexity of CSS scripts, as I redesigned this and six other blogs. Which is why I didn’t write up my Things I Learned on Sunday morning. But rather than tell you what I learned about CSS (horrible, horrible taxonomy) I thought I’d share one significant thing I learned from the week, that might help you.

The most borrowed books from Microsoft’s staff library

At the Microsoft Campus in Reading, we have a staff library. It’s stacked full of all kinds of books – plenty of technical ones, plus a huge range of business and self-development books. I’m a regular visitor, and can always find something useful to pick up and read or listen to (with a 90 minute commute daily, I enjoy audio books especially).

David Stewart, our librarian, has been at Microsoft for a decade, and he’s just sent me a list of the top ten books borrowed from the library over those ten years. So if you’re looking for some personal development reading over half-term, then can I propose the Microsoft library Ten-Year Top-Ten?

1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Covey’s modern business classic reveals a step-by-step pathway for living with fairness, integrity, honesty and human dignity, principles that give us the security to adapt to change and the wisdom and power to take advantage of the opportunities that change creates. Much of what you read here is based on basic common sense and can at times be irritatingly obvious. However, what Covey manages to do so successfully is that he manages to make it sound as if changing the way we look at ourselves and the world around us so that we can become more successful both personally and professionally is an absolute doddle

2. Getting Things Done
Getting Things Done offers a complete system for downloading all those free-floating gotta-dos clogging your brain into a sophisticated framework of files and action lists, all purportedly to free your mind to focus on whatever you're working on. There is even an Outlook add-in to use to put these ideas into practice.

3. How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft's Cult of the Puzzle: How the World's Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers
William Poundstone’s book looks at Microsoft's brain-busting interview questions that separate the most creative thinkers from the merely brilliant. How Would You Move Mount Fuji? reveals more than 35 of Microsoft's puzzles and riddles. Have you ever pondered such problems as: Why are manhole covers round? How do they make M&Ms? What does all the ice in a hockey rink weigh? How many piano tuners are there in the world?

4. The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell’s well-hyped, well-recommended, usually well-liked book, is based on an idea that many of the problems we face behave like epidemics. They are capable of sudden and dramatic changes in direction. Years of well-intentioned intervention may have no impact at all, yet the right intervention - at just the right time - can start a cascade of change. Malcolm Gladwell provides a way of viewing everyday experience and seeking to enable us to develop strategies for everything from raising a child to running a company.

5. Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Business, Science and Everyday Life
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s book on networks in relation to not only IT such as the internet, but science and business and people; how everything is interlinked

6. Pitch Yourself: The Most Effective CV You'll Ever Write. The Best Interview You'll Ever Give. Secure the Job You Really Want
A book which explains how the Elevator Pitch replaces the CV; the CV looks backwards to what you did and where you did it, the Elevator Pitch looks to the future by demonstrating who you are and how you work

7. The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed our Culture
John Battelle’s narrative of the past, present, and future of search; he draws on more than 350 interviews with executives at Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and other companies, including Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and CEO Eric Schmidt. Battelle explores how search technology works, the amazing power of targeted advertising as a business model, and the frenzy of the Google IPO when the company tried to rewrite the rules of Wall Street and declared "don’t be evil" as one of its core goals.

8. The New Solution Selling: The Revolutionary Sales Process That is Changing the Way People Sell
Keith Eades’ book is regularly recommended/used on courses.

9. Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers
Geoffrey Moore argues that high-tech products require marketing strategies that differ from those in other industries. Moore’s chasm theory describes how high-tech products initially sell well, mainly to a technically literate customer base, but then hit a lull as marketing professionals try to cross the chasm to mainstream buyers. This pattern, says Moore, is unique to the high-tech industry. Moore suggests remedies for the problem that can help businesses meet their long-term goals. Written not just for marketing specialists but for all people whose futures ride on the success of a technical product

10. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't
Jim Collins concludes in this book that a good company can become a great company, but finds that there are no silver bullets to greatness. Collins and his team of researchers began their quest by sorting through a list of 1,435 companies, looking for those that made substantial improvements in their performance over time. They finally settled on 11 and discovered common traits that challenged many of the conventional notions of corporate success. Making the transition from good to great doesn't require a high profile CEO, the latest technology, innovative change management or even a fine-tuned business strategy. At the heart of those rare and truly great companies was a corporate culture that rigorously found and promoted disciplined people to think and act in a disciplined manner.

As an aside, my favourite book from our library doesn’t make it onto the Top Ten - Made to Stick gives excellent advice about how story telling can ensure that people remember what you need them to – and make information both memorable and repeatable.

Does anybody want to persuade their librarian to share their school’s Top Ten list?

I’m ashamed to admit that I have only read four of the top ten (1, 2, 4 and 10). I’d better get down to the library to start some of the others. Number 3 looks pretty interesting for a start.

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