August is traditionally a slow month. Summer is ending and it seems the whole world tries to relax before the back-to-school, back-to-work clamor begins. In France, the whole country retreats to the beach with a book and a bottle of wine. In America, we traditionally barbecue and lounge in pool or patio. The living, as the song says, is easy.

While bodies rejuvenate, this is a good time to restart the mental engines. Summer reading offers the chance to analyze and savor ideas without interruption, to challenge your thinking and refresh your mental nimbleness. Each of the business books we recommend here offers a refreshing and challenging theory or looks at an old problem from a new, provocative perspective.

Change is good John Kotter's Leading Change, released in 1996, resonated strongly with managers and went on to become the best-selling book ever published by Harvard Business School Press. In that ground-breaking work, Kotter explained why efforts for change within organizations frequently end in failure. A new follow-up, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations (Harvard, $20, 224 pages, ISBN 1578512549), co-authored by Dan Cohen, should give hope to cynical managers. The authors argue that large-scale change is possible if the right path is followed, and they outline a clear strategy for negotiating that path.

At the core of the strategy is a simple formula see, feel, change that can help organizations make successful changes. The people in a business must see a problem, preferably in dramatic, eye-catching fashion; they must feel the urgency of solving the problem; and they must change the behavior that caused the problem in the first place. The conclusions in The Heart of Change were based on interviews with 400 people from more than 100 organizations, and the real-world examples cited liberally throughout the book make this a highly readable and practical choice for any businessperson who wants to stir up change and make it stick.

 

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