Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nine Books of 2008 to Prepare You to Change the World in 2009

November was a month of travel and discovery for me. My bags remained packed from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference in Raleigh, to Greenbuild 2008 in Boston, to an interview for a net-zero-energy library gig in Phoenix. All that conferencing and traveling and networking revealed some more great books as well as providing time away from my computer to catch up on my reading.

As I reflect on the important books of 2008 and begin to prepare myself for the tsunami of change coming in 2009, I wanted to share my book recommendations with you and I hope to hear from you about the great ones I may have missed.

Seth Godin wants to you to change the world by leading a tribe and he gives you examples of people who have and how they did it. Especially useful is his illumination of Web 2.0 social networking tools that can help us create and stay in touch with our tribes. This is Godin's best best-seller yet. Welcome to my tribe.

The Necessary Revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world.
by Peter M. Senge, Bryan Smith, Sara Schley, Joe Laur, Nina Kruschwitz

This is the most important book of 2008. Senge taught us how to create "learning organizations" in his systems theory classic, The Fifth Discipline. This is the how-to book to read after Godin has inspired you to lead your tribe. Like Godin, Senge is trying to catalyze grass roots leadership by providing examples of how others managed to turn their organizations around, even from their positions deep down the org chart. Senge's strategies and tools for transforming organizations are well-tested and proven. He walks us through the transformations of GE, Alcoa, Coca-Cola, Nike, Costco and BP and shows us how ordinary people accomplished revolutionary change that will be required by all organizations if we are to achieve a sustainable world.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America
by Thomas L. Friedman

Climate change, globalization and growing populations that are trying to catch up with our levels of consumption are problems of historic proportions, but, as Friedman points out in a way only he can, this is also a time of historic opportunity, IF we take action now. A multiple Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist and author of The World is Flat, Friedman provides a very readable account of the fix we are in, but more importantly he argues for a way out that may also provide the jump start we need to revive our economic woes.

Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, Third Edition
by Lester R. Brown

This is the deeper, broader, more detailed version of the books above. This is the one to read when you are snowed in at the airport and no planes are leaving until tomorrow. This is the textbook version of how to reboot our civilization by a man who has devoted his life work to the topic for the past four decades. I was inspired by his work as a college student at Indiana University in the seventies and he continues to teach me essential principles we all need to master now. I would love to teach a semester course using this text to return the favor. If you can only read one book on this list, for the sake of your future and mine, this should be it.

Strategies for the Green Economy: Opportunities and Challenges in the New World of Business
by Joel Makower, Cara Pike

Joel Makower, executive editor of has been advising companies on green strategies for twenty years and he has written more than a dozen books on the topic. As President-elect Obama prepares to unleash a "green economic recovery plan" this might be a good time to get familiar with Mr. Makower if you don't already follow his blog - Two Steps Forward. For Fortune 500 business captains, Makower is a seasoned consultant with a balanced, hype-free view. For environmentalists, he is a leading crusader in the war against greenwashing. If you are in business, subscribe to his blog and read this book.

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything
by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

For people who understand how dramatically the world must change in the next few years, it can be extremely frustrating to be in an organization that is highly resistant to change. But it is in these change-resistant organizations where change agents are most valuable. If you study plane crashes or medical malpractice cases, you often find that somebody lower in the chain of command failed to elevate their concerns about something they saw going wrong to the level necessary to prevent disaster. They were conditioned not to question authority or authority was conditioned to ignore them. Patterson's team, also the authors of the previous best-seller Crucial Conversations found in a hospital study that "fewer than one in ten respondents said it was politically acceptable to speak openly about what was going wrong." In a study of project managers, they learned that 88 percent of those surveyed were currently working on projects that they predicted would eventually fail - or what some called a "slow-motion train wreck." If you find yourself rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, this is the book that will help you turn the rudder. The authors describe danger of the serenity trap. "Every day you ask for the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Somehow that gets you through. There are actual people out there who - instead of continually seeking the wisdom to know the difference - have sought to make a difference. And they have found it. They've discovered that when is comes to changing the world, what most of us lack is not the courage to change things, but the skill to do so." They proceed to explain Six Sources of Influence based on a firm foundation of behavioral science, but in simple terms that anyone can master, but not in a single reading. This is a book you will keep coming back to as you begin to discover how it can change your life.

The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems
by Van Jones

Few people embody influence more so than does Van Jones. He was a hit as a speaker at AASHE and Greenbuild and he has the ear of President-elect Obama. But this Yale Law grad cannot be accused of all talk and no action. He has shown how to "repower America" by combining retrofitting and weatherization of dilapidated housing in inner city neighborhoods with training programs for the unemployed. He has linked the solution to climate change with the solution to poverty and unemployment and social injustice. This is an eloquent and powerful voice offering practical solutions you need to hear.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
by Daniel H. Pink

I had the pleasure of hearing Daniel Pink speak at Butler University shortly after I read his delightful book. He describes learning to draw by taking a week-long class that used the approach described by Betty Edwards in her excellent book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Designed to suppress the verbal left brain, this technique allows the more intuitive right brain to truly see, freeing the student to draw what is seen instead of a generalized left-brain concept. If you have never tried this drawing technique, get the book or take a class based on the book. Pink extends this phenomenon to a much wider discussion of what kinds of skills a hot, flat and crowded world will value and he comes to the conclusion that creativity will rule. He notes that easily repeatable left-brain skills (tax preparation, writing wills, drafting, engineering) are increasingly turned into computer programs or outsourced to firms overseas where the salaries are lower. He suggests, for example, that an MFA will be more valuable than an MBA in the near future because creative minds will be in high demand and that skill is very difficult to computerize or ship overseas. This lacks the scientific heft of some of the other books on this list, but it is certainly an entertaining and thought-provoking read. If you are among those considering a return to the classroom during these turbulent times, this would be a good read over the holidays as you peruse the course catalogs.

Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell

This is yet another hit by the author of The Tipping Point and Blink that continues the theme of those two to look for the hidden patterns in everyday phenomena. Like Pink's book, this one is more entertaining than scientifically rigorous, but it will likely become a part of our language used to describe those holistic phenomena most people miss. Outliers are people like pro athletes and concert pianists that seem to be from another realm when it comes to talent and skill. What made them so different? What do Mozart and Bill Gates have in common? The answer surprised me, but it also made me look at the world in a different way, as did his previous best-sellers.

Perhaps these books will encourage you to become an outlier at this tipping point in the history of our hot, flat crowded world when we need to lead our tribes of right-brain influencers in a necessary revolution toward a Plan B for a new green economy.