I can name plenty of great books, but books that changed my life? Those had to make a lasting impact on how I think and act, which makes the list much shorter.
Each of the following books meets that standard. In certain situations, I immediately flash back to a particular book and think, “I know exactly what to do.”
And isn’t that a great definition of “changed my life”?
1. The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle
We’re all trying to learn new skills and improve old skills, and Coyle uses the science of performance to provide a great blueprint for getting really good at, well, anything.
Every time I try to learn something new, I follow his REPS approach: Reaching and repeating; Engagement; Purposefulness; Strong and speedy feedback. It works. Every time. And more quickly than any other approach I’ve tried.
Successfully try new things, and you’ll try even more new things–and your life will be infinitely richer, whether professionally or personally.
2. Devil in the Grove, by Gilbert King
Two things to know: This isn’t a business book, and I’m a white boy who was born in the South in 1960.
Now. I’ve been to diversity seminars. I’ve been through diversity training. I’ve even conducted diversity training. But nothing changed the way I think about people who are different from me, whether in race, religion, background, or simply how they look or act, like King’s book.
I thought I was reasonably enlightened. I wasn’t. A fascinating, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching story that should be required reading for everyone.
3. So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport
We all want to find our passions. Newport argues we often get it backward: passion follows from skill and expertise, because the better we get at something, the more we like it.
That’s because of a cool feedback loop. When you improve, you feel satisfied and fulfilled. That feeling motivates you to keep trying to improve, and when you improve more, you feel satisfied and fulfilled. So you keep working and improving.
And in the process, you can learn to enjoy and sometimes even love doing just about anything. You just have to try.
Some years ago, I needed to get back in shape. Bad knees made running impossible, so I–very grudgingly–started riding a bike. At first, I hated it. Then I got in a little better shape and could ride a little faster and farther, which made me feel (relatively) good about myself. That feeling motivated me to keep riding. Over time, I kept getting faster, kept getting fitter, and now I love cycling.
The same is true with speaking. I hated it at first. As I got better, I liked it more. Now I really enjoy it. All I had to do was get that feedback loop going. You don’t have to find your passion. When you try–and really try to get better–passion is very likely to find you.
4. Confidence, by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
I’m shy and insecure. For a long time, I tried to overcome that by trying to change my personality and somehow will myself to be more confident.
You can guess how that worked out.
Chamorro-Premuzic takes a different approach. He shows how confidence is built through success through another cool feedback loop. Improvement builds confidence. Competence builds confidence. Success builds confidence.
So forget the “self talk.” Admit your failings and work hard to improve them. In time, knowing you’ve been there/done that/done it well creates genuine confidence. That’s the kind of confidence you really want. Genuine confidence can never be taken away, because you’ve earned it.
5. The Effortless Experience, by Dixon, Toman and Delisi
No matter what our role, market, or industry, we’re all in the customer service business.
Instead of tossing out theories and platitudes, Toman and Delisi provide dozens of practical tips. There’s definitely an art to customer service, but there’s also a science–and The Effortless Experience provides testable and repeatable ways to improve the most important function of any business.
6. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
We are what we do, and what we do is based on our habits. Duhigg shows how to take bad habits and turn them into good ones–and how organizations can change their habits, too.
Want to be happy? Change your habits. It’s that simple. (And, of course, that complicated.) Changing a habit really can change your life.
7. In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters
I worked in manufacturing for a Fortune 500 company in the 1980s and ’90s, and this book was my competitive advantage within the company.
How? I didn’t have to rely solely on internal training or mentors. Peters gave me a different way of thinking. Even today, although some of the companies described in the book have since failed, that’s OK–the lessons are still relevant. If you’re feeling adrift and overwhelmed and feel the urge to get back to basics–and who doesn’t from time to time–In Search of Excellence is your book.
Quick note: This book changed your life, too. If you’ve ever benefited from advice by Collins, Drucker, Blanchard, Deming, or any other management thought leader, tip your hat to Peters. He arguably ushered in the era of the modern management guru.