codelling
The best book I read last year, and I’ve read it three times now, was The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

All two of my repeat visitors may be wondering as why they have not seen a review of this book. The simple answer is that the themes and messages were so fundamental and altering of one’s world view that I’m still trying to get it straight in my head and I worry that by writing a half-hearted review I will not do the book justice.

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt is similarly dense; however, this is a book with a belief and a wrong that it feels needs to be righted. A mission if you will. The subject is a contentious one; that making academic spaces places of intellectual and emotional safety does a disservice to the purpose of a university, to the students themselves, and to society as a whole. However, this is not a rightwing attack on the “snowflakes” of the left and the colleges of the liberal elites. The Coddling of the American Mind is a well thought out analysis on what is going wrong in our academic institutions, and therefore with our students, and how both sides of the political spectrum need to understand their part in how we ended up here. The book is also a plea for why seats of learning must change. As perhaps the most vivid analogy in the book states:

“Students are treated like candles, which can be extinguished by a puff of wind. The goal of a Socratic education should be to turn them into fires, which thrive on the wind.”

This is a book written by liberal academics who care about the academic world and the students who undertake a college education. While the authors lay blame at a number of doors, including the left AND the right, it also offers up potential solutions and gives credit where credit is due to universities who are resisting slide towards “safety-ism.”
An area where the book really breaks new ground, in my opinion, is its definition of Generation Z or as it likes to call them iGen (short for Internet Generation). This is not the first generation to have internet access; however, it was the generation that always experienced having the internet in the palm of their hand, and always has had Facebook.

“This is not a book about Millennials; indeed, Millennials are getting a bad rap these days, as many people erroneously attribute recent campus trends to them. This is a book about the very different attitudes toward speech and safety that spread across universities as the Millennials were leaving.”

I’m not a fan of the handwringing that seems to take place over millennials these days, but the tangible differences in information flow, and how iGen is exposed to the world and therefore responds to it, makes a lot on sense and of course is a significant cause for concern. The book also uses the tools of cognitive behavioral therapy to show just how out of tune the thinking of some students has become.

The Coddling of the American Mind treads some of the same ground as Anti-Social Media by Siva Vaidhyanathan (which I reviewed here) however its argument goes much further than Facebook and Social Media alone. With Universities bending to the will of students and parents, because they consider them clients, what is getting lost is critical thinking.

This is an important book for society as whole, but particularly for anyone in the academic world or who deals with the students it produces.

Which is probably everyone.

joyful

Ingrid Fetell Lee is a great writer.

And that’s a good thing. Because in less capable hands; “Joyful: The surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness,” could be a ridiculous book that could be dismissed as new age trash. However, Ms. Fetell Lee skillfully navigates these potentially treacherous waters to give us a surprisingly joyful book.

Part memoir, part travel guide, part scientific dissertation, and yes, part new age exploration of what brings joy into our lives and why; Joyful is all this and more. The book leaves the reader with and actual understanding of why some things in the world are more joyful than others and how to differentiate between them. This is not a book that is going to change your life; however, it may change how you approach certain aspects of your life and give you the skills to add joy into the most unlikely of places.

Most the areas that Ms. Fetell Lee addresses are easy to dismiss: the differences in the shape of things, the color of things and the joy in abundance; however, she skillfully addresses her own doubts and takes the reader on a journey of discovery. Laugh out loud funny in places, Joyful is packed with real useable takeaways.

It is fair to say that Joyful was not what I was expecting. However, if a book well worth reading for anyone who works with people (that is probably all of us) or who has to make decisions about the layout and creation of spaces.

Joyful will make you question whether utility is really the goal we should be reaching for when joy is so easy to find, or to add, to the world we inhabit.

anti social cover

Warning: This book may alter your perceptions on how the world currently works and your part in democracy’s downfall.

Anti-Social Media is actually misnamed.

This book is an indictment of Facebook and to a lessor extent the other social media sites that seek to emulate its success. What initially seems to be the book’s raison d’être; an examination of the overreach, and dubious business practices, that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, is actually far more wide spread, nuanced, and ultimately damning. With possibly its most revealing allegation being that Cambridge Analytica were never anything more than Snake Oil Salesmen; while Facebook’s own employees worked directly for political campaigns in multiple countries with almost universal damage to democracy and the pollical process in the countries in which they worked.

Mr. Vaidhyanthan’s case is that Facebook is on its way to becoming, or indeed has already become, the operating system of our lives. While it has been beneficial in general terms for individuals; improving communication with friends and relatives, and even people who we would never have hoped to keep in touch with before its arrival, Facebook has done significant damage to society as a whole.

Facebook’s success, Mr. Vaidhyantha argues, is based on two elements. The first being that Facebook is deliberately engineered to be addictive; rewarding interactions likes, and shares, in similar ways to how casinos keep their guests playing. The second element of Facebook’s success being that it has become “one of the most effective advertising machines in history.” Facebook knows so much about us, and offers advertisers such levels of targeting that were never before dreamed of, that it is unparalleled as a sales tool.

If Facebook was just an engine for kitten & puppy pictures, along with family updates, and the odd attempt to sell us things, it could quite possibly be the force for good it sincerely believes that it is. However, Facebook has become a major factor in the political world. Facebook encourages weak ties between people, and is great for declaration and reaction. It undoubtedly helps political activists, activism, hyperbole, and alarm. Facebook; however, is useless for political discourse and deliberation. Posts which do not create strong reactions one way of the other fall foul of Facebook’s algorithm and are just not delivered in news feeds.

Although the tone of Anti-Social Media, is one of alarm, and it makes a strong case for the damage that Facebook and its ilk do to the world; the author does have some interesting suggestions as to possible ways to close the pandora’s box that Mark Zuckerberg has opened. If fact, Mr. Vaidhyanthan’s historical comparison of Facebook with the East India Company, and their “shared zeal for making the world a better place,” should give us all pause for thought. Facebook’s users are currently its product – Facebook sells highly targeted, and therefore highly effective advertising. Facebook could be forced to treat its users like clients; much like lawyers or financial consultants. If Facebook was to become an informational fiduciary, the argument goes, an only use data in ways that do not harm us, it may finally understand the difference between advertising that tries to sell us products, and political propaganda.

The Anti-Social Media is more than an inditement of the social medial filter bubble and Facebook creating more divides while its intentions are to bring us together. The book asks us to look at the changes in society, and in ourselves, as we have been using Facebook as an operating system. It asks us if the kitten and puppy pictures are worth it? Interestingly it does not ask us to give up on Facebook or Social Media; but to understand its societal dangers and the recognize our responsibilities in doing something about it.

This is the book that did not make me give up Facebook.

It did make me delete Facebook off my phone.

And renew a year’s subscription to a highly reputable news organization.

It’s that good.

The Personality Brokers Cover

I’ve never been a particular fan of Myers-Briggs personality testing, and their ilk, that still permeate business and management culture to this day.

And if a takedown of Myers-Briggs by exposing the complete lack of any scientific basis for personality testing in general is what you are looking for there are perhaps better books. Although, it has to be said, the author does a pretty good job of debunking Myer-Briggs while telling its history anyway.

The Personality Brokers is an examination of how Myers-Briggs became the cultural phenomena that it is today. Its highly humble origins in child rearing of highly dubious quality and obsession with Carl Jung – both his work and the man himself. Through what should have been its repudiation; training spies in World War II and personality typing Nazis – badly. All the way to it being a possible solution searching for a problem and the attempt to automate the hiring process.

The Personality Brokers is a cautionary tale of how wanting something to be true because it would be so useful if it was, does not excuse ignoring the evidence. The fact the it is still a tool used by both business and government today is astounding given the history of the Myers-Briggs and, when pointed out, the obvious reasons why it cannot work as a tool in the workplace.

That it is tool that has cost people their jobs, and possibly their lives, over decades should be a scandal of the highest order. Myer-Briggs offers organizations a way of sorting the workforce without the sticky and inconvenient truth that people defy categorization. What Ms. Emre does in this illuminating volume is show that Myer-Briggs personality testing has always been a dangerous myth that people wanted to believe and therefore overlooked its flaws. That it is something that Jung would have found abhorrent, and perversion of his work.

One cannot help asking “why?” all the way through this book. Why did this idea go so far? Why has not been stopped? And why are business people so gullible when offered a solution that really is too good to be true. While there have undoubtedly been people who have found Myers-Briggs useful, both as managers and professionals, it holds little value over traditional goal setting or positive thinking.

This is a great book for arguing with your boss about.

rejection proof cover

How do you make yourself immune to rejection?

Can you make yourself immune to rejection?

Entrepreneur, Jia Jiang, decided to conduct a personal experiment after being turned down by an investor, and nearly giving up on his dreams. See how he would handle 100 days of rejection!

To hold himself accountable, he documented his rejection experiment on a blog and filmed many of his encounters. What happened next is the stuff of modern fairy tales. One of his early videos went viral (see below) and opportunity after opportunity opened up for Jia Jiang.

Rather than exploit these opportunities, Jia Jiang realized that he had tapped into something extraordinary by his exploration of rejection, and so decided to continue his experiment.

What Jia Jiang discovered was the psychology behind rejection. That a rejection says far more about the person rejecting, and their current circumstances, and what the best ways are to change a rejection into a positive or a compromise.

Perhaps the most insightful thing to come out of Jin’s entire experiment is that it is not rejections that hold most people back, it is the fear of rejection that stops people from even trying in the first place. Jin asks some for some crazy things, and embarrassingly he rarely gets rejected, even when deliberately trying for the purposes of the project.

Rejection proof is a highly entertaining and lighthearted look at one of our deepest fears. It gives good and practical advice about how to ask for even the most outlandish things; but more interestingly it also goes into how to reject something and how reject in a way that still allows for the other party to leave feeling like that got a positive response.
Asking for something does not have to be a zero-sum game, and arguably should never be.

Jin’s experiment led to him reexamining his life and the choices he had made based on rejection and the fear of rejection. It is a fascinating story with a slew of good advice for anyone who has ever felt rejection or feared rejection to the point of inaction. It ultimately says we should embrace rejection as a valuable learning tool about other people and ourselves.
Enjoy watching Jin ask for doughnuts in the shape of the Olympic rings.

feminist Fight club

Its not often that someone recommends a book for me to read and that they then warn me about the same book. Feminist Fight Club came with the warning: it is not for the “faint of heart” supporter of feminism.

Feminist Fight Club is not for everyone. In fact, I’m sure it will annoy a number of people. Not so much for its content, but for its tone. It sometimes feels like one is reading the Communist Manifesto. Make no mistake, this is a revolutionary guide for the repressed in both tone and content. As with my caveated recommendation; I agree that not everyone is going to agree with Feminist Flight Club’s view of the world.

I am not one of those people.

This is a handbook for women who find themselves sidelined, un-listened to, and the victims of idea theft, by oblivious and clueless male managers and colleagues. The book makes the assumption that the workplace has evolved beyond the blatant sexual harassment of the “Mad Men” era; but that there is still a long way to go. It is a book to dip in an out of rather than read in one sitting; which is where its tone may become wearing over an extended period of time.

However, there is some superb advice, and insight, dressed up as rhetoric in the book. While the section on meetings can be found from many other sources on meeting etiquette; the book has one of the best chapters I have ever read on holding salary negotiations with a manager – regardless of the sex of either party.

If there is a fundamental problem with the book; it is that in its zeal to evangelize one audience it risks alienating another. What is potentially lost due to this zeal is actually some excellent advice on office politics and the way interactions between colleagues should actually take place. That being said there are not a lot of books that are as “in your face” and confrontational as this one is and that makes it all the more interesting.

From this male view point, Feminist Fight Club did make me re-examine how I have interacted in particular circumstances, and made me more aware of subtle and institutional sexism on television, and one assumes in real life.

This is not a book to convert anyone, it is a book to hone one’s skills, to become a better feminist, a call to arms, or to just become a better person.

sick
When Letty Cottin Pogrebin was diagnosed with breast cancer it was a scary and uncertain time. But what did not help, or helped dramatically, was the response of her friends. Some of her friends knew exactly what to do and what to say. Other friends seemed to have no idea, or said or did completely the wrong things but felt they were being helpful. But worst of all, some friends disengaged completely, as if they could not deal with her illness on any level. “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” is the result of Ms. Cottin Pogrebin speaking to many of the people she met while undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.

This is a book about sickness and death, but is also a book about friendship and casseroles. About gifts, and conversations. About children and the elderly. And it is about what is useful to most people who find themselves dealing with illness, and what is unhelpful.

Over the years of running a business with a significant number of employees, I have found myself in the position of having to interact with people who are sick, or have sick relatives, but without being able to fall back on deep personal friendships with the people concerned because they are employees. The feeling of wanting to help is tempered by not wanting to intrude, and not always knowing what to say, or what to offer to help. Or indeed how to say anything and not wanting to make things worse, or have one’s motives misunderstood.

“How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” is a book that helps navigate not just the feelings of those who are sick and their immediate relatives, but also of those who are acquaintances. Understanding how people can help if they want to, and how to not help if the wrong kind of help is actually harmful.

Almost like an etiquette book of old, “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick” is a book about dealing with taboo subjects. There are few right or wrong answers, but it does talk about the need for communication and for an understanding of how to listen to the answers that are given. An easy book to dip in and out of, and surprisingly funny in places, Ms. Cottin Pogrebin’s book is the kind of work that should be required reading for almost everyone, but particularly managers. Managers are often are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to illness, particularly serious illness, in a member of their team.

As Ms. Cottin Pogrebin states;

“Empathy plus action equals kindness.”

“How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” may be an odd choice for a business book blog, however, I would argue that it is books such as this that allow managers to show leadership. Management should always be about human connections. Knowing how to navigate some of the toughest interpersonal challenges any manager may face, and understanding the emotions of all involved, should earn “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick,” a place on every manager’s shelf.

It certainly has a place on mine.

conspiracy

 

Conspiracy is a book that the reader picks up believing it to be one thing, changes into something else while reading, and then turns into something unexpectedly different at its conclusion.
Subtitled; Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, Conspiracy tells the story of the gossip and snark site Gawker’s outing of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel as gay. This sets in motion a conspiracy with Theil using his vast resources to try and find a way take Gawker down. Or at least clip the site’s wings.

The vehicle that the conspirators ultimately settle on is Gawker’s publication of parts of a sex tape of wrestling star Hulk Hogan that was made without Hogan’s consent. With Thiel footing the bill, Hogan can undertake a long and protracted campaign, encompassing multiple lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions.

Thiel’s motivations are at the heart of the book. Is he out for revenge? Does he feel that a site such as Gawker should be allowed to get away with pushing freedom of speech deep into the territory of invasion of privacy? The book explores these issues in depth, and the nature of conspiracies. This is not, however, a thesis on conspiracy theories. It is rather an exploration of what it takes to construct, and maintain, a conspiracy. It is also a behind the scenes look at how the rich and powerful (all the characters in this tale are rich and powerful by conventional standards) go to war with each other.

Where Conspiracy sets itself apart is its examination of the aftermath of the Hogan vs. Gawker lawsuit and its effect on both the conspirators and the media. Mr. Holiday also uses the case, and Thiel’s motivations, to explore the culture wars and society’s relationship with the media.

Conspiracy is an entertaining and intelligent book. The constant focus on the nature of conspiracy can get tiresome, but this a tale that is rarely told and it reveals a lot about us as a society and the use, and the potential use, of power in the business world. It is a tale that has implications far beyond its Silicon Valley and Hollywood roots.

courage small

The Courage to be Disliked is an odd book.

It uses the literary device of a conversation between two people, which I have used myself and for which I now apologize. I can now see how annoying it can be. The conversation between a philosopher and a young man can at times feel patronizing and is not helped by the ham-fisted characterizations on the audio edition (which was what I was listened to.)

The title is a little misleading, but is really a reference to being comfortable in your own skin and not let what you perceive as the opinions of others dictate your happiness.
The Courage to be Disliked does bring up a number of interesting, and potentially controversial, ideas. The idea of compliments and praise being a form of manipulation, for example, while very interesting is also ripe for abuse.

What the book also does is to introduce the reader to the ideas of Alfred Adler and Alderian psychology. Alder, a contemporary of Freud and Jung, was arguably so far ahead of its time that it is only now that we are really realizing just how important his ideas are.

This is a book about personal development, how we perceive the world and how we feel about how the world perceives us. It has some significant short comings in execution; however, its mission is to bring complex psychological concepts to a wider audience is admirable and it certainly achieves its goals.

The Courage to be Disliked is perhaps hamstrung by the readers preconceptions, given its title and blurb. It does not live up to its press, but that does not mean that there are not valuable lessons to learn from Kishimi, Koga, and Adler.

moments

Any book by Chip and Dan Heath is worth reading and their latest, The Power of Moments, is no exception. For those who do not know the work of the brothers Heath you can check out my review of their first book “Made to Stick” here, and what I consider one of the best business books ever: “Switch” here.

Interestingly, The Power of Moments is very similar, and treads a lot of the same ground, as Scott Strattan does in his books Unmarketing and Unselling; they even use some of the same examples. What makes the Power of Moments seem new and fresh is that level to which it delves to understand moments, why they work, and how they work; as opposed to just focusing on how to create new moments of your own.

An early example of the Power of Moments is to focus on the lack of attention that companies pay to an employee’s first day. What the Heath Brothers point out is companies have a golden opportunity to create a truly memorable first day for new employees; but that more often than not new employees are treated as an impediment to the day’s business. They rightly point out what would a first date be like if we treated it the same way we treat an employee’s first day? Suffice to say we probably would not get a second.

Creating memorable moments is not about delivering the best of anything, or better value than your competitors. Moments are about when clients have expectations and we do something to exceed them. To create moments, we need to give employees license to break the script. To do something for our clients that is unexpected and that creates a memory for them.

The power of moments, however, is not just about business to clients. Moments also have value when motivating ourselves and our own internal dialogs and bargains when it comes to setting goals. What the Heath Brothers suggest is that rather than using the traditional SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely), or worse no real goal at all, that we borrow from the gaming world. In computer games, players advance from level to level, and in good games those levels are moments. For example, take the vague goal of wanting to learn play the violin. Even a SMART goal may just be to attend a lesson every week. However, with a level system, things look a little different:

Level 1: commit to one lesson a week
Level 2: Learn to read sheet music.
Level 3: Learn to play a particular song.
… Level 7 / Boss level: Play in a pub in Ireland.

By having an outsized end game, and then having manageable steps to achieving those level with rewards built in creates a sense of purpose. Purpose isn’t discovered, it is cultivated, and purpose trumps passion.

The Power of Moments is not a book about good businesses becoming great, but how to make any business extraordinary. Much like the book.

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