Whether you are an existing or aspiring product manager, brushing up on your skills is crucial. One of the best ways to do this is by reading more. Yet, with the limited time we all have, how do you make the most of of your reading time? I’ve narrowed down the options to eight great books to sharpen your product management skills. These compelling books will stimulate your thinking and help you understand different aspects of product development, creativity, innovation and influence.
“To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others” by Daniel Pink
Daniel Pink is known for disseminating important ideas and concepts into easy-to-follow language and simplifying research so that it is actionable and useful in real life. “To Sell Is Human” isn’t just for current or aspiring sales professionals – it is helpful to anyone. Pink claims that we are all in sales these days. In terms of product managers, being good at selling (convincing and influencing) is especially important. You are often trying to “sell” ideas to everyone around you – including your own team of developers and designers. In this book, you will learn what it takes to be a great influencer in the 21st century, where everyone’s #attentionspan is 140 characters at best.
“Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, runs arguably two of the most creative organizations in the world. In his book with Amy Wallace, Catmull describes how they manage their process to constantly reinvent their creativity with each movie they release. He also discusses how to embrace failure and why assembling the right team is more important than having a brilliant idea. If you are a product manager obsessed with innovation and creativity, this is a must-read.
“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek
“Start With Why” is a great read for product managers because great products must have a clear and powerful answer for “why” they exist. Sinek argues that in every business endeavor we must first understand “why” we are trying to build a company or a product, and then deal with the “how” and “what.” In turn, this will ensure that the message around the purpose will be consistent both inside and outside the organization. It also helps with attracting the right talent, customers, and partners while keeping everyone focused, motivated and dedicated.
“The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses” by Eric Reis
In this classic read, Reis describes one of his early ventures and the concept of building companies in a iterative way so that necessary failures happen quickly and less expensively than with non-lean methods. This book gives current and aspiring product managers a solid foundation for understanding the “lean” concept attempted by many startups and businesses today.
“Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation” by Tim Brown
Tim Brown, CEO of the renowned design consultancy IDEO, makes a very strong case about the purpose of design and its importance to the product development process. He goes deep into describing important product development concepts like “human-centered design.” He also discusses “its impact on innovation, the importance of observation and uncovering unmet and unarticulated needs people aren’t even aware of, and describing how tools like prototyping can provide quick answers to move an idea forward.” The whole book is a good dose of the increasingly popular “design thinking” concept , which has been experimented with as more than just a design tool.
“Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath
This book especially applies to product managers who are working inside an organization that is reluctant to change and isn’t good at supporting new ideas and approaches. The Heath brothers describe research-grounded methods on how to motivate and inspire people to change. From finding out what works and replicating it across the organization, to making the change feel smaller than it is, these small tweaks in the environment can result in big changes.
“The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business ” by Clayton M. Christensen
A classic book describing the principles of disruptive technologies. Using data and real examples, this Harvard Business School Professor describes how startups can take on large companies almost unnoticed. They do this by chipping away at unattractive and low-end markets, only to quickly scale up and challenge their larger competitors. This is one of the books adored by Steve Jobs, and it is a must-read for any startup product manager or anyone aspiring to launch their own startup.
“Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson
Solid book about the best product manager ever. Enough said. I would be doing a disservice to not include this book on the list.