The Vitae Bookshelf: Allison M. Vaillancourt

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Image: Bookshelves, by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, 1725 (Web Gallery of Art)

In this new series debuting today, Vitae asks academics, administrators, and Ph.D.’s in the nonacademic world to pick the five books that most influenced them in some aspect of their work, professional life, and career — and why. First up: Allison M. Vaillancourt, a columnist for us on leadership and administration, picks five books that have influenced her approach to change.

I am always on the prowl for strategies to advance organizational and social change. Here are five books that have given me important new perspectives.

RulesRules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals
By Saul D. Alinsky

For decades I have been energized by two key concepts in this book. First, if we want to make change, we must communicate within the experience of the person or population we want to change. If we disregard their values, they are unable to hear us. Second, profound change is only possible when people feel frustrated and defeated enough to let go of the past and consider a new future. People who are comfortable do not embrace change. If we want to create change, we may first need to create discomfort.

Leading ChangeLeading Change
By John P. Kotter

Leading Change serves as a recipe book for advancing organizational change. Its eight steps are a little complicated, but remembering the first two will serve change agents and organizational revolutionaries well: First, establish a sense of urgency and, second, create a powerful, credible guiding coalition to advance your cause. Kotter’s analysis of the importance of crisis is especially compelling.

Living BeautifullyLiving Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change
By Pema Chödrön

Profound change is hard and scary, and it is somewhat comforting to have a famous Buddhist nun admit that change is challenging even for her. Pema Chödrön urges us to accept that we are constantly on shaky ground. When we feel uncomfortable, we should admit it and try to express curiosity about our discomfort rather than expressing agitation or resistance.

ContagiousContagious: Why Things Catch On
By Jonah Berger

Want to advance an idea at your institution? Don’t even think about writing a memo to announce it. Just as word of mouth about a product is profoundly more powerful than advertising, grass-roots communication is more powerful than official communication. Jonah Berger has identified six principles that encourage ideas or products to go viral. Among them: creating a sense of social currency that makes followers feel like insiders, creating practical value, and using compelling stories.

collaborative intelligenceCollaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently
By Dawna Markova and Angie McArthur

Have you ever had a brilliant idea that was shot down by others because it was perceived as illogical, risky, or perhaps not bold enough? If so, you will probably like this book. Collaborative Intelligence encourages us to consider how other people think in order to establish more effective partnerships. Some of us are analytical — always looking to fix things and create order. Others are innovative — interested in trying new approaches and making a mark. We work with people who are procedural — focused on precision and committed to fairness. And we work with others who are relational — concerned with feeling, teamwork, and a sense of inclusion. When it comes to pushing for change, we tend to use words and concepts that feel comfortable to us. But to build allies, we must pay attention to how others see the world.

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