When I was at the library yesterday, I picked up what looks to be an interesting book called, Promised Land. In it, author Jay Parini has chosen what he considers to be “Thirteen Books that Changed America.” It got me thinking… of all the books on my bookshelves, which ones have really changed the way I think, teach, design, or practice my profession?
Mmm… I thought I”d share the list I compiled; it actually came together very quickly. The books run the gamut from very practical to quite heady. These are the books I keep coming back to, that inspire me, that seem to endure. They are in no particular order…
The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge (1990). I remember thinking that The Fifth Discipline was one of the most profound books I had ever read – and I had no idea what to do with the ideas it discussed. Luckily, I was able to figure some of it out. Senge pioneered many of the best ideas around how organizations and individuals develop the capacity to learn. Just so you don’t have to look it up, the five disciplines are personal mastery, mental models, building a shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking (the fifth discipline that integrates them all).
Active Training by Mel Silberman (1990). A terrific book about how to create engaging training experiences, now in its third edition, but I have the original. The companion work, 101 Ways to Make Training Active (1995) always came in handy as well. Silberman was my guide in learning to create solid classroom training, and I often gave his books to new designers.
Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning by (guess?) Michael Allen (2003). I think Michael Allen knew what good e-learning looked like before anyone else, and he described it in a clear, actionable way. This is a book I still recommend all the time.
Improving Performance by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache (1995). An excellent guide to help managers and learning professionals get a handle on all the factors that contribute to performance. When the training and development profession embraced performance consulting back in the mid-90s, this book provided a terrific framework for thinking about how to analyze a performance system. From it comes the famous quote, “If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time.”
The Performance Consultant’s Fieldbook by Judith Hale (1998). A practical guide to performance consulting with an excellent assessment model. I’m always using Hale’s framework to check myself on performance analysis.
Learning in Adulthood by Sharan Merriam, Rosemary Caffarella, and Lisa Baumgartner (2007). I actually read the second edition when I did my doctoral work, but I invested in the latest version a few years ago. This is an excellent overview of learning theory, and I pull it off my shelf often.
Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity by Etienne Wenger (1998). An amazing book that deeply explores the nature of learning in community. These concepts inspired my dissertation research work. (Wenger’s later, more practical books on building communities are helpful, but not nearly as enlightening about learning and identity formation in a community.)
Creating Significant Learning Experiences by L. Dee Fink (2003). This book set me on the right track when I started teaching graduate classes. It provides terrific advice about designing academic coursework that has lasting impact on students – advice which can be used in other settings as well. While I don’t implement Finks’ approach to the letter, this was (and is) an inspiring handbook for being the kind of professor I want to be.
Writing for Scholarly Publication by Anne Sigismund Huff (1999). I heard Ann speak when I was in graduate school, and she had a profound inpact on the way I think about academic writing. She uses the metaphor of entering a conversation that really resonated with me (although I had colleagues who weren’t nearly as impressed). Dr. Huff’s latest book, Designing Research for Publication (2008), is a gem as well. So much to write, so little time…
Critical Human Resource Development: Beyond Orthodoxy, edited by Clare Rigg, Jim Stewart, and Kiran Trehan (2007). I deliberately attended sessions on critical HRD at the Academy of HRD conference a few years ago just to get an idea of the topics of the day, and was intrigued. This book compiles a number of critical perspectives in one place, and gave a lot of food for thought. It’s important for us to question our assumptions and purposes, and to pay attention to who and what our work serves.
Novations by Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson (1986). This one is going back quite a way, but it’s the first book I had read that talked about specialization as a unique and important career path. This book, along with Caela Farren’s Who’s Running Your Career? (1997) gave me the perspective to pursue learning and development as an area of deep expertise.
Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham (2007). Marcus Buckingham dares to dream that there is a way for all of us to play to our strengths for most of our working day… and in so doing, be productive, happy, inspired, and energized – and to contribute positively to our companies and to the world around us. I am blessed to feel that I am for the most part living that dream.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch (2008). Dr. Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who unfortunately died last year after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The book (and the videotaped lecture you may have seen on the internet when it went viral in 2007) is about really achieving your childhood dreams, and it’s quite inspirational. For me, the more relevant aspect of the last lecture was Dr. Pausch’s reflections on his role as a professor, which he likened to being a “fitness instructor of the mind.”
Like Jay Parini, I’ll stop with the baker’s dozen – thriteen books that have inspired me professionally. I’d love to hear ideas from you – summer’s here and I love to read at the beach!