This year, we’re sticking with the unconventional approach, but I reached out to our expert instructors to get their take on what has insipired them to grow.

Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

Recommended by: Kathy Claycomb

You know, most of us worry about our kids’ use of electronic devices. When my kids were younger, I enforced lots of rules regarding “screen time”. But, as my oldest was quick to point out, I didn’t follow those rules myself. My smartphone was always at the ready, and when it beeped or buzzed, I immediately responded. Call me Pavlov…

“Hamlet’s Blackberry” provides an interesting perspective on the impact digital technology is having on our lives. In order to do “real” analysis, I need time to think deeply.  And Powers points out that our devices are designed to prevent that. They interrupt us. They entertain us. They distract us. They are designed to grab our attention and keep it as long as possible. And just in case your smartphone isn’t distracting enough, your laptop is probably loaded with other digital distractions like instant messaging, email, notification banners and appointment reminders. Is it any wonder that we have a hard time completing tasks that require dedicated attention?

My two takeaways from this book were:

  1.  Society has incorporated many new forms of communication in the past.  It takes time, but we learn how to control the technology instead of being controlled by it.
  2.  I’m not alone in needing dedicated “think time”.  Our brains aren’t designed to do deep thinking while constantly being distracted.  So if you send me an email and I don’t reply right away, I hope you’ll forgive me.  I’ve started to shut everything down occasionally so I can focus on tasks that require more thought.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Reviewed and Recommended by: Ali Cox

It’s a well-written book about making snap decisions based on gut-reaction. It’s a great read for those of us who may sometimes analyze things to death when we may have been better served to go with our first instinct. It’s an easy read and thought-provoking and just another look at how decisions are made, whether the results are good or bad.

Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson

Reviewed and Recommended by: Heather Mylan-Mains

This book changed my life. It truly did. I approach conversations differently as a result of reading this book. There are conversations that none of us want to have. We tend to avoid them or have them badly. The good news is with some tools and techniques, these conversations can change and we can embrace dialogue.

The book focuses on the concept of dialogue and how to achieve this. The dialogue skills are things than can be learned. Poor habits can be changed with a little work and lots of practice. One thing gets in the way of crucial conversations, emotions! This was a huge eye-opener for me to learn to take the emotions out of the conversation to be more productive. Not to take the meaning, purpose or passion out, but the emotions.  You can control your emotions and you are in control of conversations when you remember this.

A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology by Bob Lewis

Reveiwed and Recommended by: Greg Busby

As my #1 go-to book, I have so many tabs and highlights that I just re-read the whole thing every time. Lewis is funny, pragmatic, and insightful. Also smart as hell. With chapter titles such as:

  • There are no best practices, only practices that fit best
  • Don’t confuse documentation with reality
  • Customers are external; Internal Customers aren’t
  • There are no IT projects

This book is great for BAs at any level who want to understand how IT supports the business (and how to deliver it that way), and for senior BAs who need to help the business understand and justify how IT can help improve it. It’s a book you’ll read, enjoy, and keep close to refer to again and again.

Business Storytelling for Dummies by Karen Dietz and Lori Silverman

Reviewed and Recommended by: Myself

In the requirements space we have come a long way from pure text requirements to getting more visual. I think it is about time we go back to using text again.  Don’t get me wrong, getting visual is still and forever, in my opinion, will be critical in your role. What I am saying is there is a way to use text along with visuals that will help get people excited about the projects you work on and ensure a higher rate of shared understanding. In organizations there are so many things going on day to day.

Why are those two things important? The projects you work are one of many things your stakeholders have to keep up with. You need to get them excited about the project to help keep them engaged at a high level. If everyone on the project does not have a shared understanding of the goals of the initiative, there is a great chance for project challenges and possibly failure.

This is where Business Storytelling for Dummies comes in. Karen Dietz, PhD and Lori Silverman have written the pragmatic guide to storytelling. They list 7 roles for which the book is helpful…not one says Business Analyst. Don’t let that stop you. Storytelling is a skill you need to add to your toolbox. It will help you in your current role and beyond.

Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

Reviewed and Recommended by: Heather Mylan-Mains

Change is hard, it’s always hard. As business analysts we are change agents. Almost everything we do involves a change. So how can we help with change? In this book, Kotter offers 8 steps for successfully managing change.

In our work, there is an abundance of resistance to change. Applying these 8 steps will improve the success for change. We can create value in our roles by checking in with teams on how they understand the change and are part of the solution. Don’t forget that even small changes need change management!

This is an easy read with powerful concepts. These steps will enable you  to change your ability to be effective in managing change.

Let’s Get Real (or Let’s Not Play) by Mahan Khalsa

Reviewed and Recommended by Greg Busby

This book focuses on business development/selling primarily in the services sector. Khalsa is also funny, pragmatic, and smart. The core of the book is that both the customer and the consultant have the same thing in mind: an exact solution to their problem. In order to achieve that, his number-one rule is “No Guessing!” The  techniques he discusses are excellent for understanding the true issue(s) that the business faces – as well as coming to agreement on what acceptable solutions would look like and how much they would be worth. A must-read for any BA doing strategy analysis or solution validation.

Podcast Bonus!

Reviewed and Recommended by: Ali Cox

I have recently become fairly addicted to the podcast Stuff You Should Know with Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant. Apparently I’m very late getting on this band wagon, as the podcast has a huge following and has been around for several years. The topics range from explanations of bodily functions (as Jimmy Fallon would say “Ew!”) to historical little-known events. One of my favorites is the story of how a dead body helped end World War II. Check it out; I dare you not to get addicted!

Have you read something lately that others can benefit from? Please comment below and let everyone know!

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