Books on knowledge work

Jim McGee has a good list of books on knowledge work at his blog. I recognize a number of favorites (Information architecture; anything by Christopher Alexander, though the choice here is one of the denser ones; and Don Norman’s Design of everyday things.)  Others are not my favorites – Gause and Weinberger’s "Are your lights on?" is one of the few books I have actually thrown out. Langer’s Mindfulness I read in grad school and it irritated me with what I felt were rather simplistic exhortions to pay attention.

Much as I like many of these books (at least for the ones that focus on the thinking part of knoweldge work), I wonder whether we have a causality problem – is it that people who work smart and pay attention seek out books like these, or do reading them actually help in some way. I suspect that there is some sort of middle ground – people who are aware of the need to think creatively create crutches for themselves, partially by exposing themselves to many patterns, and then get a jump start in the writing, searching (an area missing from Jim’s list, incidentally) or creative process by starting from a known example or platform.

In one of his books, Richard Feynmann explain a colleague’s incredible performance in standup mathematics by saying that he had worked so much with numbers that when faced with any calculation he could approximate fast – "It was easy for him – everything was close to something he knew." Some of these books – and I suppose which book will work for whom is highly individual – will offer a few more known places to start from.

(And while you are at it, check out Jim’s post on essays on research work as well. Great stuff.)