Yes, there are a lot of “Best Books of 2012″ lists this time of year. So, indulge me. And, if there’s one here that appeals to you, why not plan some holiday reading? Oh, and please do share your favorites too. Caveat: This list is about books read in 2012 rather than just published in 2012.
My theme for this year was “transitions” – mainly because of my personal transition from Corporate America to free agency, which I wrote about in my first post. But, all these books apply very well to any kind of transition – if you’re thinking of growing your business, expanding into a related field, etc.
Here are the top 5, in no particular order:
1) The Startup of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career - Reid Hoffman (Co-founder of Linkedin) and Ben Casnocha (entrepreneur, author, blogger) describe how to look at your working life as a startup and apply strategies such as the “pivot”, have plans A, B and Z, etc. The idea is to be entrepreneurs of our own lives – a well-worn concept, yes, but they write about it in a fresh way. Some Amazon reviewers have complained that the book is an ad for Linkedin. I did not think so. There is plenty of advice here beyond Linkedin. Yes, the examples are more about tech entrepreneurs turning their failures into successes but all the stories have enough universal aspects to keep you interested even if you’re not in Silicon Valley. Personally, I walked away with 2 pages full of actions for myself – one of which was to start this blog. Regardless of where you are in your career phase, I promise you that you will find some useful tips here.
2) What’s Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job – Kerry Hannon, author and personal finance journalist wrote this book about real people who have changed their careers and lives at different stages. What I really liked about this book is that the stories were brief and written mostly in the career-changer’s point of view. Each chapter ended with a list of useful resources for further investigation. While I did not choose a career path similar to any of those in the book, I found inspiration in each one of them. A short, quick read that you can dip into as and when you please.
3) Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career – Herminia Ibarra is an INSEAD professor and this is a profound, well-researched book that holds up very well (first published in 2004). If, like me, you’re not into the typical common approaches of doing inventories of your skillsets and taking multiple self-assessment tests to figure out what you want to do, this book is for you. The techniques she describes apply well to any transition in your working life – not just for those starting out in self-employment. Her main thesis is that successful transitions are about careful experimenting rather than figuring out all the solutions and then acting on them. My biggest takeaway, as I wrote to a friend after reading the book, is as follows (in my words rather than Ibarra’s):
Ultimately, it does take a complete evolution of your value system – your definitions of risks, success, who you are, and what sacrifices you’re willing to make to become the person you’d most like to be – to get up the courage to step off an established path and forge a new one. And, noble as they may seem, such transitions are invariably messy, experimental and demanding. There is no pure, blinding insight that suddenly makes the required path and actions clear – you know, when the clouds part and rays of bright sunlight reveal a beautiful, unobstructed path ahead while a Hallelujah chorus rises up sweetly. But, there is a unique satisfaction in discovering how one can best align one’s interests, talents and reward system and creating your own path as you go along.
Also, real, deep, lasting change always takes longer than expected – because, in order to make room for the new, we have to give up the old values / identities / perceptions that we’ve invested in heavily before. It takes the following on a consistent & constant basis to create a new identity – “doing” of new things, “interacting” with new/different people and “retelling” our life stories through new values. All this will take time when you’re an “identity in transition”.
4) Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers – Alex Osterwalder is a European entrepreneur and this book is from 2010. I have to admit that, although my last few years have been in strategy consulting and working with business model transformations, somehow, I missed this book till this year. And, now, it is the one I recommend to anyone looking to create a business plan for their venture. What I really like about it is that you can visually map out your entire business model in a canvas format – my first version was on a wall with post-its. There are a lot of examples in the book and, if you are willing to go through Osterwalder’s site and YouTube videos, you’ll come across even more. The book is a unique collaboration with 470 practitioners across the globe. My only peeve is the small font size (getting older, you see). Still, a gem of a book that is striking enough for you to leave on your coffee-table too. Everyone I’ve recommended the book to has reverted to me with how effectively they’ve been able to apply the approaches described – regardless of the phase of their business / venture.
5) Your Money Milestones: A Guide to Making the 9 Most Important Financial Decisions of Your Life – Moshe Milevsky is a Personal Finance Professor at the University of Toronto. He’s more a financial economist with his life-cycle planning approach to personal finance (an approach that I also subscribe to). For all that, he writes in a lively, warm, easy manner and draws you in with terrific everyday examples. I enjoyed his little tangents and references to other books / articles / papers as well as they expanded both my perspective and my reading list. I have written about the powerful theory about investing in human capital here and here. Milevsky also describes the flaws in common thinking about retirement saving and spending, which, I promise you, will change your mindset too. If you’re looking for 1 book on personal finance that provides a holistic framework without “get-rich-quick” schemes or pithy do’s and don’ts, while allowing you to pick and choose which milestone you’d like to address, this is it.
Stay tuned for more detailed reviews in 2013. Also, in the subscriber newsletter, I will start book-of-the-month recommendations for those who might be interested.
Happy Holidays and Happy Reading. Please do share your thoughts and comments on these books.
[N.B. A few other books that I read this year are included on the Notable Books page.]
Reader: If you enjoyed this post, consider subscribing for free email updates straight to your inbox – with additional tips and resources. Click here for easy signup. Your information will never be publicized, shared or used for any kind of solicitation.