It’s summertime, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have some time to sit in the sun and do a little reading. Why not use the time to enjoy some of the great thinking out there on communications? These books are indispensable to anyone who is thinking about how communications can shape social change work. And, as a bonus, they’re all pretty quick reads — perfect for the airplane or the beach.

The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s breakthrough book on how ideas take root and spread. A book you can really breeze through, because Gladwell is a master of storytelling. He’ll take an example and dive in deeply enough to keep us engaged and, at the same time, make the lesson that we’re supposed to take from it very clear. From “the midnight ride of Paul Revere” to the success of Sesame Street, he removes the mystery from what makes some ideas become more widely understood than others. (Confession: I am an ardent fan and devour all his books… don’t even get me started about Blink). 

Made to Stick Chip and Dan Heath

Can reading about urban legends contain useful lessons for those of us doing social change work? Absolutely! The Heath brothers take a look at urban legends, President Kennedy’s call for a “man on the moon by the end of the decade” and other “sticky” ideas to see what separates them from ideas that, well, don’t stick around very well. They have great stories to draw on, and mix in fun exercises, such as a simple Made to Stick chart that I have up on my office wall. The cover even has pretend duct tape on it… made to stick.

Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard also by Chip and Dan Heath

The Heath brothers have a great follow-up to Made to Stick with Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Before I read it, I found myself wondering: but are these writers talking about really hard changes? And, sure enough, they include plenty of tough changes in their book. How to change people’s attitudes toward a local bird on the edge of extinction; how to change work environments and practices that lead to fatal medical errors; how to create changes in behaviors that increase the spread of HIV and AIDS. The Heath brothers break down the process of change with their straightforward three-pronged approach. The examples in this book are fascinating and inspiring success stories about issues you care about, and contain great lessons for us on how to facilitate change.

Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability Steve Krug

This may not sound like beach reading, but you won’t need to be on the Internet to appreciate what this book has to offer. Afterwards, you’ll look at webpages in a whole different way. The writer’s basic premise, that forcing people to “think” to find their way around a website limits our effectiveness, is shown with an easy-on-the-eyes format that inclues lots of pictures and humor. You’ll appreciate how Steve Krug walks you through the basic steps of creating a great experience for your web visitors — which isn’t about design or coding, but about being able to put yourself in the seat of your web visitor (or, better yet, sitting behind them looking over their shoulder). You don’t need to be anywhere near a computer to get what this guy is talking about. 

This is a short list, but each of these books has shaped my thinking about how to reach people and communicate skills and ideas effectively. And just as importantly, they are engaging reads. You can have fun and expand your horizons at the same time. 

There are, of course, other great books on communications. So if you want to add to this list, add it in the comments below. But keep it light: this is summertime reading!

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