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Your Next Assignment

BrainI once attended a talk given by famous composer, Twyla Tharp. For those who don't know, she's also an outstanding author and I've used both her books in my graduate classes. At one point in her presentation, she called a college student up on stage and gave her a simple instruction: to sit on stage with her head down on her knees and no peaking. The young woman overthought it and kept peeking, believing something was going on she should know about, each time being chastised by Ms. Tharp. After about the third time, the frustrated choreographer simply stated:

"Once again, your education is getting in the way of your learning."

Out of an amazing speech, this phrase is the one that stuck with me. For one, it is typical Tharp (for anyone who has ever read her books), and two, it is exactly the criticism I have of much of modern education and why I teach the way I do. I would rather my students learn than be educated.

This month, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of graduates received diplomas, proving they have been educated. But NOW is when their learning begins. I received my undergrad degree around a quarter century ago, and I thought about the books I've read SINCE graduating... the ones NOT assigned by some professor but ones I'd picked up on my own.

So, graduates, here is your next reading. Your assignment is life; more specifically, using your life to make a positive mark on this twirling sphere. Here are the books (in no particular order) which have changed my life (note, you can just click on the title and the link will lead you to the book purchase):

Thank You For Arguing (Heinrichs): We live in a world of argument and disagreement. Now, more than ever, it pays to know how to argue INTELLIGENTLY. Heinrichs does an oustanding job of dissecting the art and science of rhetoric. Read this book and you will be light years beyond your future colleagues.

The Radical Leap Re-Energized (Farber): I've read and assigned many books on leadership over my career. I can honestly say, this is the ONLY book to motivate its readers to DO SOMETHING. Using an engaging story format, Farber cuts past the theoretical crap of leadership to its core. You will not be the same person after reading this book.

Dear Office Politics (James): You're all going to be embroiled in political games at work. You may as well learn to identify it and deal with it effectively. James manages the globally popular site, www.officepolitics.com and leverages the wisdom of her advisors to share workable strategies for handling the underbelly of cubicle-world.

Outliers (Gladwell): Virtually anything written by Malcolm Gladwell is worth reading, but this is his "magnum opus" primarily because it cuts to the heart of a concept every graduate should know and understand: cause and effect. If you can understand the true root causes of everything from greatness to disaster, you can harness that knowledge to do amazing things.

Simple (Siegel and Etzkorn): This is a newcomer (just released last month), but I fell in love with it immediately. Our world is overly complex. From government to healthcare to [insert your business here], we've added countless layers of complexity. This tome identifies the complexity, calls it out for what it is, and provides a simple three-pronged strategy for dealing with it. Simple is not easy, but if you want to add value to your new employer, graduates, this is a great way to do it.

The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs (Gallo): You WILL be giving presentations throughout the rest of your life. If you have serious hang-ups about speaking in front of an audience, get over it now. The late Steve Jobs is the undisputed master of effective presentations. Gallo dissects his presentation style and points the reader to countless YouTube videos to prove his point. If you're going to learn to speak well, this is the best resource I've seen.

Accomplishment Trifecta: Race Through The Forest, GUST, SWAT (Yours Truly): I've made a life and a brand out of accomplishment. I'd be remiss if I didn't include my own books in this mix (not because of more book sales, but simply wanting to share what I've learned). Knowing how to design, sell, and implement your accomplishments will be key to your success. In a world where "you're only as good as your last project," you'd better make darn sure your last project ISN'T your LAST project.

Certainly these are not the ONLY books I'd recommend you read. Walden by Thoreau, Seven Habits by Covey, Whack on the Side of the Head by von Oech, anything by the Heath brothers... all great reads. But if you truly want to get out of the starting gate head and shoulders above your peers, this is your starting point.

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