Throughout the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to review books for two PSMJ Resources publications, Professional Services Management Journal and A/E Marketing Journal. During this time I’ve read more than 20 books. And while there were a few duds along the way – that I decided did not even deserve a mention in the publications – there are five that really stand out. Three of the titles are A/E/C-related, and two are more general business books. These are the titles that I’ve found myself consistently mentioning and recommending to others, so I thought I’d share them. No two are alike, and they cover topics as broad as branding, profitability, sales, presentations, and even reworking businesses. 
Here they are, in no particular order:
The Architecture of Image by Craig Park, FSMPS, Assoc. AIA. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about branding, particularly in the A/E/C industry. To be fair, there’s a lot of misunderstanding outside of the industry as well, ironically among advertising agencies and graphic designers who equate brand to company colors, logos, and brochures! Good thing Craig Park is here to set us straight. The Architecture of Image is very broad in scope, and is really a primer about the branding process. A/E/C-focused case studies bring branding to life in our industry. When I reviewed the book, I noted that while it provides excellent, meaningful information for marketers and business developers, it really needs to be read by C-suite executives, principals, project managers, and other non-marketing staff, because it is ultimately up to them to “live” the brand – they have the power to enhance it. Or destroy it. 
Find the Lost Dollars by June Jewell, CPA.  This book got me juiced, and I shared it with a number of co-workers, who found great value in June’s advice. One comment really jumps out to me. A project manager, when only about a quarter of the way through the book, reached out to tell me not only how much she was enjoying it, but also that it was easily one of the best A/E/C books she’d ever read. And it’s true – June goes where few people have gone before. It seems to me that marketing and BD often get picked on when it comes to strategic planning or blame for a down year. “Oh, we weren’t busy enough and didn’t meet our profit goals, so it’s marketing’s fault.”  What’s often lacking from the discussion is the many places that profit is disappearing when it comes to the operations, and even administrative, sides of the business. June looks far and wide for places where money is hiding, and leaves no stone unturned. 
Quit Whining and Start Selling by Kelly Riggs. The title really says it all, doesn’t it? There’s a lot of whining going on – excuses for why business development isn’t happening. In the A/E/C industry, most firms are using to seller-doer (aka, doer-seller, rainmaker) model to some extent. But if you ask people where the model falls down, the response will most often be that key technical staff with BD responsibilities are “too busy” to tend to their sales commitments. Even when they’re not overburdened with project responsibilities – there’s always something more important, isn’t there? Well, that’s just whining, and Kelly wants them – and you and me – to get off our butts and do something. This is not a book about a new-fangled “sales system” (there are already hundreds of those out there), and this is not a book about closing. This is a book filled with meaningful, actionable steps that are relevant to anyone with BD responsibilities – from full-time sellers to principals and seller-doers. 
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. This book is just fun. It’s been out for a few years, but it is still extremely relevant. Business is broke, and the authors are proposing how to fix it. It is a lightning quick read, irreverent, and humorous. For instance, they rail on the corporate culture that rewards the workaholics who never leave the office, noting that they just can’t get things done on time like the people who leave at a normal time (who they refer to as the real heroes). Even their chapter titles crack me up: “Good Enough is Fine,” “Make Tiny Decisions,” “Your Estimates Suck,” “Underdo Your Competition.”  I found the book to be really thought-provoking, and shared a number of the authors’ insights with my colleagues. No, your firm is not going to run out and implement their advice or change your culture immediately, but the book gets you thinking about things differently, and for that alone it is worth a read. 
Resonate by Nancy Duarte. Nancy Duarte is my hero. Slide:ology (along with Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen) is one of my favorite presentation books. But she really upped her game with Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Will Transform Audiences, studying a zillion (I’m rounding up here) presentations to determine what really makes a great speech. She essentially reverse engineers some of the world’s greatest presentations ( King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Reagan’s Challenger disaster address to the nation, Job’s iPhone launch) and finds a pattern. Interestingly, she correlates the speakers’ “journeys” with famed mythologist Joseph Campbell’s hero archetype, which is dead on. Ultimately, she concludes that the speaker is not there to be Luke Skywalker – that is the audience’s role – they are there to be Yoda! For the Cliffs Notes, check out her TED Talk, “The Secret Structure of Great Talks.”
When I decided to blog about some of my favorite books, I hesitated – simply because there are many other excellent books I reviewed along the way, and I didn’t want to slight any of those authors. However, these are the books that I find myself repeatedly talking about with anyone who will listen! There are so many books out there, none of us can possibly keep up. So do yourself and your company a favor, and pick up these books!
There’s some of my “best of…” business books. Your turn! What are some of your favorites?