There are a few books that I recommend to everyone who’s a writer, everyone who’s a freelancer, everyone who’s a captive employee, and everyone who works in high tech. Yes, they’re that meaningful. And none of them are “The Secret” or “Who Moved My Cheese?” or anything insipid like that. These books are:
- Don Aslett’s “Clutter’s Last Stand“
- George S. Clason’s “The Richest Man in Babylon“
- Robert Townsend’s “Up the Organization“
- Gerry Weinberg’s “The Secrets of Consulting“
- Tom De Marco & Tim Lister’s “Peopleware“
Okay, now I’ll tell you why they’re important.
“Clutter’s Last Stand” is at the top of the list because everyone needs this, no matter who they are. Don Aslett defines “clutter” as anything that you’re not using and have no immediate plans for but that you’re hanging on to for whatever reason. This includes things you’re hanging on to because they might be worth something someday, you may have a need for it, or just because you don’t want to throw it out. In fact, most of the time, clutter is filling up space in your life and using up time, blocking out things that you really want to do or get to and can’t. The message of “Clutter’s Last Stand” is that if you’re not using it and you don’t have plans for it and it doesn’t make you feel good to keep it, get rid of it! It’ll save you time, it’ll make it easier to move around, and you’ll feel incredibly free for the doing of it.
“The Richest Man in Babylon” is the first book you need to read about making and saving money. There’s an updated version “for the 21st Century” but you don’t really need that; stick with the basics. This is good, solid advice that I recommend. It works. And as you’re reading it, your internal dialog is going to be saying “Yes, but….” here and there. Here’s how you deal with that: the book is right. You’re wrong. Shut up and keep reading. Then do this. It works. It really works. It’s all that simple. If you stick to it, you’ll be in good shape. You can follow up by reading “The Millionaire Next Door” (which is also pretty good and along the same lines) if you need more financial smacking around. “The Richest Man in Babylon” has been around for longer than you or I have been alive and is readily available in the library if you don’t want to buy it.
“Up the Organization” was the foundation of “Theory Y” management: the idea that people want to work and they want to work hard and well given the opportunity. It’s a bunch of little pieces of no more than 200 words each that Townsend would jot down in a notebook. There are surprisingly few things that are dated. I have often found myself quoting things from this. There are a few additional books he wrote in the same style, all of which are equally good. You can find Townsend in the public library, too.
“The Secrets of Consulting” is a book that anyone who wants to get into freelance work of any kind needs to read. I like most of what Gerry Weinberg wrote, but this is my fave of his. “The Secrets of Consulting” presents many different lessons about consulting using stories and parables. They all end with a moral you can remember, such as Rudy’s Rutabaga Rule: “After you solve your #1 problem, your #2 problem gets a promotion.” (See how easy that was for me to remember?) This is a book that is fun to read. BTW, if you’re working programmers, I strongly recommend “The Psychology of Computer Programming.”
“Peopleware” is a seditious book. It may not quite as much use to you if you’re working in a non-technical environment, but it’s still valuable. The premise of the book is that it’s rarely the technology that kills projects, it’s managing the people. Their example of this is accounting software. Accounting software is not rocket surgery; it’s the antithesis of rocket surgery, in fact… yet 9 out of 10 accounting systems are never completed. Ergo, it’s a people issue. They’re right, too. But I think I can sell you on the book by telling you how I was sold on it: Chapter 8 is entitled [insert drumroll] “The Furniture Police.” That oughta tell you everything you need to know about the book.
There are lots of other books that I can recommend, and probably will as I think of them. But the fact that I always think of these books when I list books that people should read says to me that these are the books that you should read, too.