Books for communicators: 9 books to read in 2018


The end of the year approaches, so we have listed nine books that communicators in your team need to pick up in 2018. No matter what communicator role you fill, there are heaps of gold dust here for you.

For each book, we have included an Amazon link and one of our favourite excerpts.

For communication within your organisation, teamwork, and interpersonal communication, check out Kim Scott's Radical Candour, Patrick Mayfield's Practical People Engagement, and Michael Lopp's Managing Humans.

For climate change communication, read George Marshall's Don't Even Think About It and Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything.

Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline is a core text on what learning really means for an organisation. And Clayton Christensen's Competing Against Luck is a wonderful guide for communicating your purpose with absolute clarity.


Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change

George Marshall, 2014

On different values: People with different values have their own codebooks, and they contain entirely different, and even contradictory, meanings.

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

Peter M Senge, 2006 (second edition, originally published 1990)

On 'learning': The problem with talking about “learning organizations” is that the “learning” has lost its central meaning in contemporary usage. Most people’s eyes glaze over if you talk to them about “learning” or “learning organizations.” The words tend to immediately evoke images of sitting passively in schoolrooms, listening, following directions, and pleasing the teacher by avoiding making mistakes. In effect, in everyday use, learning has come to be synonymous with “taking in information.” “Yes, I learned all about that at the training yesterday.” Yet, taking in information is only distantly related to real learning. It would be nonsensical to say, “I just read a great book about bicycle riding—I’ve now learned that.”

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice

Clayton M. Christensen, Karen Dillon, Taddy Hall, and David S. Duncan, 2016

On "jobs to be done": Before launching, the company [Airbnb] meticulously identified and then storyboarded forty-five different emotional moments for Airbnb hosts (people willing to rent out their spare room or entire home) and guests. Together, those storyboards almost make up a minidocumentary of the jobs people are hiring Airbnb to do.

Radical Candor: How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean

Kim Scott, 2017

On teamwork: Neuroscientist and academic Stephen Kosslyn once gave a talk in which he described how people who work together on a team become like “mental prostheses” for each other. What one person doesn’t enjoy and isn’t good at is what another person loves and excels at. Together, they are “better, stronger, faster.”

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

Naomi Klein, 2015

On climate change messaging: For more than forty years, the view of the Earth from space has been the unofficial logo of the environmental movement—featured on countless T-shirts, pins, and bumper stickers... When we marvel at that blue marble in all its delicacy and frailty, and resolve to save the planet, we cast ourselves in a very specific role. That role is of a parent, the parent of the earth. But the opposite is the case.

Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships

Patrick Mayfield, 2013

On simple and accessible language: Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard argues that when an audience is heterogeneous (mixed) it is likely that you need to communicate at the level of a nine-year-old. This sounds extreme but it has been tested. So if you have groups present in a conference representing different stakeholders, jargon will not work. The language needs to be simple and accessible. If people do not understand, at best they will miss the message and switch off, at worst they get annoyed or even angry.

How Change Happens

Duncan Green, 2018

On stakeholder relationships: When activists draw up a list of stakeholders, we often initially describe a sparsely populated landscape (‘the state’, ‘people’s organizations’). Closer scrutiny normally uncovers a much more complex ecosystem, as I discovered in 2014 when I asked a group of Tajik activists and aid workers to list the stakeholders on water and sanitation in a typical village. First it was only state authorities and villagers’ water associations. Then one added, ‘Who you turn to depends on the issue: for policy you go to the village head; for health problems to the doctor; if you have bad dreams, you go to the mullah.’

The group ended up plotting the influence and level of interest of appointed and elected village officials, the school principal, mullah, doctor, respected village elders, women’s groups, community organizations, state employees, ‘educated people’, and ‘relatives (and lovers!) of powerful people’. All were seen as potential allies in improving the lamentable provision of water and sanitation.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Timothy Snyder, 2017

On credit to journalism: It is derision that is mainstream and easy, and actual journalism that is edgy and difficult. So try for yourself to write a proper article, involving work in the real world: traveling, interviewing, maintaining relationships with sources, researching in written records, verifying everything, writing and revising drafts, all on a tight and unforgiving schedule. If you find you like doing this, keep a blog. In the meantime, give credit to those who do all of that for a living.

Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager

Michael Lopp, 2016 (original 2007)

On credit to project managers: You know what a good project manager does? They are chaos-destroying machines, and each new person you bring onto your team, each dependency you create, adds hard-to-measure entropy to your team. A good project manager thrives on measuring, controlling, and crushing entropy.

Which other books for communicators do you recommend? Send suggestions to us on Twitter @bigbluecomms