The Art of War
October 22, 2010 12:34 PM   Subscribe

What books have helped you succeed and grow professionally? Although recommendations like Getting Things Done or How To Win Friends And Influence People would be great, I would also like to hear about fiction or non-business books that you have read that have positively impacted your career. I am familiar with this thread about particular fields. I am more interested in books that have helped you generally in your career, regarding topics as diverse as work ethic, courage, communication, organization, leadership, relationships, work-life balance, etc. If the Men's Style Manual has impacted your career, bring it on!
posted by jasondigitized to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 120 users marked this as a favorite
Feeling Good is a classic DIY cognitive behavioral therapy book.
posted by griphus at 12:38 PM on October 22, 2010

Oops, quick on the click there. Anyway, it isn't a direct 1:1 career thing, but it does help you identify and neutralize behaviors which may be negatively impacting your psyche and behavior. So, it pretty much has the potential to positively effect everything you've listed.
posted by griphus at 12:40 PM on October 22, 2010

Zen and the Art of Making a Living. A little out of date and a little heavy (700 pages) but a classic. A lot of the 'What Color Is Your Parachute' stuff hits on it, but Zen got me thinking that you have to do what you're absolutely passionate about, and that it can be done.
posted by rmm at 12:41 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has helped shape a lot of the attitude, ethics and thinking about my career.
posted by sawdustbear at 12:48 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

The War of Art.
posted by sharkfu at 12:48 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. Pretty good read with useful tips for the business world.
posted by Yunani at 12:48 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ok, I'll probably get my Metafilter membership revoked for admitting this, but everything I ever needed to know about succeeding and growing professionaly, as well as leading others, I learned from a Star Trek Voyager Paperback titled Fire Ship.

Money quote from Captain Kathryn Janeway turned deck-hand (who has to work her way through the ranks of a Captain again)... "Make yourself more important than the job you're doing".

Sometimes a book doesn't have to be a classic or a masterpiece to have (for me) some truly profound nuggets of wisdom in it. Years later, that quote still serves me well.

disclaimer - I read it while laying in my rack at night aboard an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, so maybe I was a little starved for culture at the time...
posted by matty at 12:50 PM on October 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

matty: awesome. No shame.
posted by amtho at 1:02 PM on October 22, 2010

I'm a big fan of "the 7 habits of highly effective people."

It devote many pages to communication and leader ship but touches on all 6 topics you mention. It's composed as a book on good living, including sections on assessing how you set your priorities (work / family / leisure ) and "de-programming" habits or patterns you may have picked up unintentionally.
Quite and enjoyable read and re-read..
posted by oblio_one at 1:20 PM on October 22, 2010

I don't know how much it will help your career if you're not a writer, but I found Annie Dillard's The Writing Life pretty damn enriching.
posted by 256 at 1:20 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz did a lot to change my perceptions of the world in ways that I think have helped my career. The presentation is a little new-agey, but the 4 main points are solid:

1) Be impeccable with your word
2) Don't take anything personally
3) Don't make assumptions
4) Always do your best

These "agreements" that you can make with yourself will improve your interpersonal skills, make your communication and work more effective, help you be the kind of person that coworkers can trust and depend on, and also maintain your integrity in the sometimes-fraught world of business. Of course it is also personally rewarding to do these things, but I absolutely believe that this book could positively influence your career as well.
posted by vytae at 1:24 PM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Three books have been very helpful to me.

1) The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defence and any books by Suzette Hayden Elgin. My dad got it for me in my mid-teens because I was defensive smart-ass. It really helped calm me down.

2) The Art of Worldly Wisdom which taught be how to suck up without kissing ass and how to not talk about my projects before they are really ready for prime time and how to move around behind the scenes. It's not exactly "Aim for the Top" kind of stuff, but it's great for how not to shoot yourself in the foot while you're trying to get there. Read it in my mid-twenties.

3) The Art of Managing People - Practical advice on reading body language and having good converstaions with people. I'm pointing you to the newer addition. Read it in my early-thirties when I first started as a manager.

4) Please Understand Me. Not everyone is the same or wants the same things and this book goes into great detail about what motivates people and what communication styles may work with them. Of course, there's a self-test to determine what sort of person you might be. Read in my early-thirties.

5) How to Win Friends and Influence People - is such a classic it sounds like a cliche. BUT, it is also a great book that tells you a lot about how to get along with people. The first time I read it, I missed that showing anger and passion is actually part of the range of how to interact with people. Great book. Read it in my mid-thirties for the first time and wish I'd read it sooner.

6) The Adult Years: Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal I'm reading this now because, let's face it, I'm no spring chicken any more and I find this book helpful to own my wisdom and experience (such as it is) along with the changes I see in the mirrow.

These are just a few. As far as novels go, I loved Cloud Atlas and Possession. They probably had the biggest impact on my career in recent years.
posted by rw at 1:25 PM on October 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Switch and Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath are great all around.
posted by morganannie at 1:28 PM on October 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Re: links to my book recommendations - Sorry about the broken links - the titles are right at least - can't fix it at this time, either. Internet is flaky.
posted by rw at 1:35 PM on October 22, 2010

Along the lines of Please Understand Me: Type Talk at Work

And, Prayer and Temperament: Bear with me, here. This is the only MBTI book I've seen (not that there are not others) that offers specific guidelines -- not necessarily religous or spiritual in nature -- for developing your shadow type. For example, I'm an INTJ (really an xxTJ, but for illustration...), so for me, one of the guidelines is "Make a point of being tactful, friendly, sympathetic, with someone with whom you do not agree or toward whom you have some dislike." Well! If you are not religiously or spiritually inclined, consider borrowing to read what I'm talking about, or even buying a super-cheap used copy and then giving it to Goodwill or something.

Sweaty Palms: It's about job interviewing, but has good points for networking, as well.

30 Days to a Good Job: You might need it someday. It's the only job-seeker's book that had anything new to say to me, except for What Color is Your Parachute and Sweaty Palms

Color for Men: Really. And for women, this copy has the best color swatches as well as a way to determine how much of what type of apparel you need.
posted by jgirl at 3:00 PM on October 22, 2010

The Mythical Man-Month.
posted by mkb at 3:09 PM on October 22, 2010

I found Leadership and Self-Deception a really accurate look at problematic patterns in relationships, particularly at work.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:46 PM on October 22, 2010

That's Not What I Meant by Deborah Tannen changed my life, at least at work. Understanding how to differentiate what people say and what they communicate, or how to communicate what I wanted to, made a huge difference, in working and especially in interviewing. Probably any of her books, especially in combination with the Suzette Haden Elgin mentioned above, would do the same.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:33 PM on October 22, 2010

The Now Habit. It's a bit cheesy and over-the-top, but it works (especially the "Unschedule" trick).
posted by The Toad at 7:54 PM on October 22, 2010

The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making leaps to mind.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:21 PM on October 22, 2010

I'd have to say GTD has had the most impact on how I structure my work, and the clarity I got from that probably helped me make my career transition from developer to manager.

Other books I've found very valuable:
Making Things Happen - Scott Berkun - lots of good advice about project management
The Empty Raincoat - Charles Handy - a bit dated now, but it made me think about the long term "shape" of my career
Impro - Keith Johnstone - mainly for the first section on status in conversations. Once you're conscious of it, you can adapt your status more easily to the situation.
posted by crocomancer at 3:53 AM on October 23, 2010

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is as much about empowering one to take charge of one's life as it is about putting words to paper.
posted by shallowcenter at 4:52 AM on October 23, 2010

The Big Sister's Guide to the World of Work - I wish I'd read it sooner. (I'm a woman, YMMV.)
posted by gakiko at 6:36 AM on October 23, 2010

I've just read The McKinsey Way which had some really good stuff about how top consultants go about solving problems.
What they teach you at Harvard Business School is kind of similar and gives you an idea of what ultra-competitive types are learning and thinking.
posted by greytape at 2:58 PM on October 23, 2010

Principle Centered Leadership by Covey is a good manual for those who are expected to lead and be responsible for other people.
posted by storybored at 9:06 PM on October 23, 2010

Conversations With God, particularly Book One
posted by Manylives at 11:38 AM on October 25, 2010

Napkin Notes on the Art of Living is a truly brilliant book in general, but specifically it explores the concept of responsibility and lays out what needs to be there to ultimately get satisfaction from whatever it is that you're doing. I can't recommend it enough.
posted by blueyellow at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2010

The Four Hour Work Week - some good time management tips (after you get past all the gushing about people spending their lives vacationing)
posted by Jade_bug at 8:45 PM on November 10, 2010

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