Archives for category: Books

Books that have a simple premise that sounds clever, often push that premise to breaking point and turn into a cluttered mess. Thankfully, The Content Fuel Framework is not one of them.

Its simple premise, that story ideas for marketing purposes can be generated by using a 10 x 10 matrix of focuses and formats, is the kind of thing that marketers tend to do by instinct. Where Ms. Deziel scores is in the simple and obvious idea of writing this all down in a matrix to see what unusual and interesting ideas, that would normally never get thought of, develop.   

By deconstructing the steps which most marketers take when creating story ideas, Ms. Deziel demystifies the whole process and allows it to become accessible for all. This is not a book about the nuts and bolts of marketing, but more about how to stress test your ideas to find out what are the best ways for them to be handled – particularly when working as part of a team.

I hesitate to write down the 10 focuses and formats here in a review, as without the context that the book provides, I suspect that using the matrix will initially problematic. However, the context that is provided in The Content Fuel Framework allows the reader to not only see these ideas applied in the real world, but also to recognize from the marketing that we consume every day, the same applied concepts.

A short book, The Content Fuel Framework is a book that has made me do something that no other marketing book has done before; and this is to copy the 10 Focuses and 10 Formats and pin them to my wall as a reminder. Ultimately, that has to be the main indication of where a book as merit or not – does it make the reader think, or does it change something about the readers behavior?

By solidifying into a formal structure, the internal processes that a lot of marketers go through; The Content Fuel Network gives both validation and new life into marketing storytelling.

It should be on every marketer’s bookshelf.

…or pinned to the wall.   

I love this book.

It’s easily the best thing I have read this year.

I’m writing this review to try and condense some of my thoughts about what it is saying and how it applies to my work and to my life. The connection to work may be tenuous, but the need to download and conceptualize what has in occupying my mind for the last week is real.

The subtitle to this book is “Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past.” How will the historians, and the general public, of the future view us; our history, and more particularly our culture, and society in the future – decades or even centuries hence? This is a serious book, that makes serious points about life and the remembrance of cultures and culture. It is also extremely funny and irreverent.

Whether it be books, music, film or television, it is impossible for us to be able to predict what will be considered a classic and why. What the book makes clear is that it will not be the things that we hold in high esteem today, mostly due to their value being on how relevant they interpret our world today from today’s perspective, even when that is not immediately obvious. What seems certain from past history is that major political and cultural events will have a direct effect on how we see and interpret cultural artifacts. For example, given on how we view cultural materials from the 1940s through a prism of the Second World War, we can assume that most of the early years of the 21st century’s culture will be viewed through the prism of the 9/11 attacks. What that cultural touchstone will be, of course, is unknowable.

However, cultural touchstones from our recent history can now be hinted at that would never have been dreamed of at the time of their initial impact. The Matrix, when it came out in the late nighties, was seen as a great action movie, with a clever script and innovative visuals. However, in the past 20+ years there has been dramatic changes in the visibility of, and how society views and accepts, transgender individuals. This includes the directors of The Matrix movie, the Wachowski Brothers, both of who transitioned during this time period. Lana in 2008 and Lily in 2016. It is hard to watch the Matrix today without seeing it as a metaphor for transitioning. A metaphor that was never even considered, or hinted at, when the movie was released.      

How future generations will view our world, which of course will be through our culture which is what we leave behind, will depend partly on what that future culture itself will look like. This is of course is impossible to predict, but there are fascinating clues. The rise of video games and what that means for teams and team sports; changes, or lack of them in the world of science; democracy and how we view written constitutions, the very nature of reality or possible realties.

Whole musical genres are summed up by single proponents when we look back over long periods of time. Marching band music, for example, is represented in the minds of most of us today by John Philip Sousa. However, he was just one on many composers of marching band music. How would our view of Rock Music change when viewed through the prism of Elvis Presley versus Bob Dylan?    

“But What if We’re Wrong?” tackles all of these and a lot more with insight and wit. This is book to think about and ponder. A book to return to and revaluate, much as it suggests we do with the culture of the past and we are bound to do with our own present.   

Ted Talks are ubiquitous, almost to the point of self parody. The great Ted Talks, and there are many, are internet classics. But what makes Ted different? And what makes a good Ted Talk? And what’s the difference between a good Ted Talk and a great one? More to the point, what can we learn from past Ted talks to improve our own talks and presentations?

I should start out by stating that Talk Like Ted does all of the above and more; however, it is quite possible that you would never get that far as it has an extremely crass and hyperbolic introduction in the stereotypical style of an old fashioned business self help book.

And that is a shame.

Because the rest if the book is not like that at all. What Talk Like Ted actually does is to deconstruct what makes, not only the most popular Ted Talks work online and in person, but also what makes the format work as a whole. With engaging stories about the talks themselves, and the people behind them, it connects the dots between seemingly dispersant topics and styles of talk.

A constant theme that Mr. Gallo makes in the book, is that creativity flourishes with constraints. Ted’s 18 minute limit on talks not only makes the talks ideal for consuming during a coffee break, and therefore increasing their viral potential, but also makes speakers clarify and simplify their ideas – much as Twitter does with its 140 character limit. In fact, a great take away from the book is to make your talk title fit into 140 characters and still be able to communicate the idea behind your presentation.

Another feature of Talk Like Ted, that sets its self apart just being a study of what makes Ted talks great, is its understanding that speakers often have no choice but to make their presentations longer than 18 minutes due to the expectations of conferences and audiences. By giving speakers the structure of successful talks, Mr. Gallo also presents ways to enhance and elongate without undermining the fundamentals already established. It would have been all to easy to just say “talk less.”

Well written and impeccably researched, Talk Like Ted, is both dissection of a cultural phenomenon and a self help guide for those that speak in front of others, or want to. This is book to refer back to, so I do encourage readers to get a physical copy. While I have an audio copy I know I will be referring back to it for my next talk and so a physical copy is on the way.

A two copy recommendation – a very Ted idea.

How does one review an iconic work of one’s chosen profession? A series of books, that have been adapted multiple times over the years as TV shows and movies? A collection that are probably cited more often than anything else as having sparked the interest of a young person in becoming a veterinarian? One reviews it gingerly; one supposes.

It helps when the book is great.

I’m not sure what I expected when I started reading the series – I’m currently on the 3rd book, although this review will focus on the first, and most famous, of the memoirs of the Yorkshire Vet. My knowledge of the books came from the BBC / PBS series from the 80s which, of course, was a long time before veterinary medicine became my career.

The book, set in the late 30s in the Yorkshire Dales, follows the misadventures of Alf Wight – writing under the pseudonym of James Herriot – as a newly graduated veterinary surgeon as he takes up a position as an “assistant vet” in a small mixed animal practice. One of the things about the book that is fascinating is that it covers a period of change in the veterinary profession. While set in the 30s, the memoir itself was originally published in a slightly different form in the late 60s and there are frequent mentions of how the treatment of animals has changed in those 30+ years. Of course, things have also changed even more dramatically since them. Which makes the book an interesting period piece in two different periods.  

Pharmaceuticals are practically unknown in the 30s, and the author has little time for concoctions of his own dispensary. It is also a time when as a newly graduated vet, Herriot had been trained extensively on horses, and to a lesser extent on farm animals. While he and the other students were interested the rapidly growing field of small companion animal medicine – particularly dogs and cats. It is interesting to see the discussion of growing the practice into companion animal medicine. It is also interesting to reflect on the legal position of veterinarians at the time, and that they had to compete with non-licensed practitioners.   

I have, as I’m sure others in the profession have, been bludgeoned by pet owners with “what happened to the days of James Herriot,” when asking a client to pay for services. It came as a pleasant surprise to find that in the first few chapters there is a forthright and frank discussion on the difficulty of getting clients to pay, and the penury of the practice is a common theme.

What is surprising is the “smoke and mirrors” that some of the vets feel they have to engage in due to the lack of medications and the be seen to be “doing something.” While Herriot has little time for this approach, it is not seen as a particular problem to others.

This is a book of its time. The 30s and 40s. Societal attitudes, and things such as drunk driving, are a little jarring to modern ears. In the second, book there are even couple of related tales that total would be clear breaches of medical ethics today, along with tales of bill padding which one would consider a breach of business ethics, and the “doing things for free” which haunts the profession to this day. These tales are told for comic effect, but they can make the modern veterinary professional cringe.      

 All Creatures Great and Small is depressingly familiar in some ways, with advice from strangers and faith in folk remedies, taken more seriously than the entreaties of “this young vet,” the strains of being on call, and the ever-present financial elephant in the room. But while some of the issues that the profession faces are still the same almost 90 years later, what is also apparent is the love of this vet for his patients and his clients. His willingness to go above and beyond, and his heartache at the loss of a patient, or the diagnosis seemingly out of reach.

For over 50 years, All Creatures Great and Small has been a gateway to the profession. With a new TV adaption, which I have not seen, already with us, the book remains a pretty faithful and relevant piece of literature. A book to be read, and understood, for the picture it paints of a different time, but a very recognizable profession. A beautiful and fun tales of the profession, out of time, but still veterinary medicine.     

Any book that tries to deal with a subject that is as current as the COVID 19 pandemic is going to face an uphill battle. It will be out of date as soon as it is written, never mind published.


With that in mind, Nicholas A. Christakis has done a remarkable job. An epidemiologist, Dr. Christakis in Apollo’s Arrow places the COVID 19 pandemic into is historical context as a plague and also provides a definitive account of how this pandemic played out and where mistakes were made – spoiler alert; there is plenty of blame to go around. Where Apollo’s Arrow really shines, however, is in its examination of the social impact, both positive and negative of COVID 19 on individuals, countries, and our culture.


Due to his background, Dr. Christakis is able to not only make sense of the confusing early decisions made by multiple parties, but also in understanding the motivations behind those decisions. There is also no coddling of the reader in Apollo’s Arrow. In a time when most people’s expertise in epidemics comes from the movie “Contagion” – and I have to include myself in those numbers – it is refreshing to gain an understanding of why more well know terms are problematic, such as R-0, and others that are less well known such as NPI (non-pharmaceutical interventions) are used and why.


While it is impossible the remove the politics of the response to COVID 19, particularly in the United States, Dr. Christakis does try his best and it is noticeable that in his initial timeline he tries to keep politicians out of the picture. That’s is not to say that there is any mincing of words; “If the United States had been a student in my class, I would have failed them,” is an early example.
The debunking of wrongheaded ideas from politicians is also a key element of Apollo’s Arrow. The Swedish solution – “herd immunity” as soon as possible, is an example. Sweden has small healthy population, universal health care, and low levels of poverty; all of which make it distinctly different from the United States. Testing and the approach to testing is also examined in depth. If you only test those with symptoms, the ratio of positives to negatives will be high. If you only test those that are worried, the ratio will below. Randomized samples are the only way to know levels of infection.


As mentioned above, it is in the social science arena that Apollo’s Arrow really shines. That “fear has its own epidemiology, its own spreading dynamics,” is one such revelatory idea. Dr. Christakis does not spare the conspiracy theorists; “There is a feeling that we can change our reality if we change the words or images – the virus is real. Reality matters.” A surprising part of Apollo’s Arrow is how positive it is, with a recognition of the successes we have had and also that our species is capable of extreme examples of altruism. We probably do not hear enough about that.


Where Apollo’s Arrow fails is in relationship to the vaccine. It points out that while there is hope, the quickest previously created vaccine as for Ebola; and that took five years. That a significant proportion of the population of the United States, and several other countries, has been vaccinated for COVID 19 by early 2021 is an almost impossible hope by the vantage point of the author at the time of writing. This is a very welcome shortcoming; however, and given the variants that now exist and the unknown levels of protection that the various vaccines may provide to these variants, we should probably not be so smug.


For anyone who wants to stand back and view the early days of the COVID 19 pandemic, and its effects on our society, it hard to imagine a better book; written without the benefit of hindsight, to read on the subject than Apollo’s Arrow. I can’t recommend it enough.

Pet Nation is a very curious book.

The central tenant of the book is that the United States, in the last 10 – 15 years, has become a nation of highly involved, some might obsessed, pet owners; and that those pets live extremely comfortable lives. There is a fairly convincing argument that pets are a symptom of a dysfunctional society. People are seeking connection, but increasingly lonely. Pets, through social media sites like Facebook, and because of them providing a positive subject for interactions, are both providing that connection and acting as a catalyst for human-to-human connections. My favorite line for the book is “Dogs are knitting society together.”  

If you want a friend, get a dog.  

There is also some interesting research in Pet Nation, and facts are for the mostly part cited. The occasional “scientists say” is infuriating, but these shortcuts are few and far between. One of the more surprising focuses of the book is the looming shortage of dogs in the United States. This is an idea that has been percolating for a little while now, but had not really been on my radar until reading Pet Nation. Mr. Cushing lays the blame for the shortage of dogs on the overwhelming success of spay and neuter programs and the failure to regulate, and thereby approve, commercial breeding operations. These are controversial assertions, but he does make a good case.     

 Mr. Cushing is an attorney who has been working in the pet field for a significant period of time. The chapter on the legal issues surrounding pets is excellent; particularly, when it comes to efforts by Walmart and Online pharmacies to force veterinarians send their prescription business to them.

Where the book falls down is in addressing the dark side of “Pet Nation,” particularly in the challenges facing veterinary medicine. The epidemic of suicide amongst veterinarians, and veterinary staff, and one of its contributing factors; the online bullying of veterinary professionals, is not mentioned at all. Also ignored is the problem of clients being unable to afford veterinary care, but still considering pets family members and therefore being devastated, or looking for scapegoats, when they cannot afford treatment or surgery that their pet needs.

While insurance is mentioned in Pet Nation, it is only to remark on the lack of uptake, rather than the larger issues that this represents. To give credit where it is due, the failure of pet insurance companies to market their products effectively is highlighted. Likewise, the moves to create a national title of Veterinary Nurse, to replace the hodgepodge of LVT, CVT, RVT, et al., which Mr. Cushing is part of, is given a welcome spotlight; but it is hardly the central concern facing the Veterinary Technician community.     

The blame for the lack of veterinarians, in Pet Nation, is laid squarely at the door of the veterinary schools. Their small class sizes, and the lack of schools themselves are seen as the problem. Crippling school debt, and those leaving the profession, are not mentioned. The idea of creating a veterinary Nurse Practitioner designation, while it would be a welcome part of the solution, fails to address the lack of veterinary technicians in the profession and is hardly the panacea it is presented as.   

Veterinary professionals may well find the focus on Banfield and Blue Pearl grating, given the glowing treatment, with little thought given to the issues that corporate medicine and the significant consolidation are bringing to the veterinary space. The occasional factual mistakes, parvo is endemic in areas of the United States, it is not a disease that is solely brought in by imported pets, are not quite as annoying as the mistakes by omission. Pet food is mentioned multiple times but the fight that many veterinary nutritionists and veterinarians over “natural” products and inappropriate diets is an argument that is ignored.   

There is good information in Pet Nation, and its central ideas are interesting. It is a missed opportunity to not address the wider, and darker issues that are part of its themes.  

Being, effectively, a self-taught manager, there are things you come across that drive you crazy. One of those things is the insistence, from people with MBAs, to only look at data when it comes to decision making. While I am a great proponent of education; I have my career in spite of a lack of further education – not because of it, I find the constant insistence on relying on data to be frustratingly narrow minded and lacking in imagination.

Restoring the Soul of Business, Staying Human in the Age of Data by Rishad Tobaccowala is one of the few business books that actually supports the downplaying of data, and by god is it refreshing to hear.

I should make clear; this is not a “touchy feely” plea for businesses to be based on being nice to people; but the business case for giving equal weight to both “stories” and “spreadsheets.” That the best business decisions are often not data driven, but driven by the experiences and ideas of individuals.

There are points in the book, like with many books that argue for seemingly “too good be to true” ideas and concepts, that the reader can become frustrated and want to yell “Yes, but..” Mr. Tobaccowala; however, deftly sprinkles in touches of reality which gives context, and caveats, to benefits that seem to have no place in the business world of real people.

Restoring the Soul of Business is a plea for the middle ground. That data has its place, and is not an omnipotent modern god as pointed out by Cathy O’Neil in her excellent Weapons of Math Destruction that I reviewed here, and that people with ideas and intuition, stories in other words, can balance each other in the workplace. Over reliance on either the “story or the spreadsheet,” a phrase that does begin to grate after a while, is a trap to which we can all fall into; and many businesses already have.

It is the realism of Restoring the Soul of Business that makes it a book worth listening to. That data driven companies tend to have cold cultures and little innovation which in turn leads to poor customer service. The examples litter the headlines; Southwest Airlines vs. United Airlines for just one example.

While there are lots of books that ask us to take a better look at our data, I have reviewed a number of them, this is one of the few books making the case for balance.

And that makes it a fresh, and interesting read, and a book to take to heart.

There are books that influence other books, and ideas that multiple authors undertake sometimes with wildly different results.

Better is a book that is accompanied with a healthy dose of Deju Vu. I have previously read Dr. Gawande’s “Being Mortal”, written years after Better – which was published in 2007, which had rocked my world and changed my perceptions on life, death, and above all quality of life. Better, therefore was a bit of a letdown. A lot of the stories, Better is essentially a collection of anecdotes, were familiar and there was no real great insight or overarching theme other than just to be “better.”

Perhaps because I am not a doctor, and yet know enough about how medicine and hospitals work from the fringes where veterinary medicine resides, that Better did not bowl me over as I was expecting. It is in fact telling, that Veterinary Medicine is not mentioned once in Dr. Gawande’s Better given that a lot of the issues he seeks to shed light on; medical costs, liability, and vaccinations are handled wildly differently by veterinarians than human doctors. There is a feeling that even though this is a book about looking at problems differently, the research has been performed on an ad hoc basis rather than in any systematic fashion.  

This is a book about out of the box thinking and overcoming inertia. Human medicine has become so specialized and therefore a victim of institutional dogma that change can easily been seen as heresy. Better suggests that it is often not the ideas that matter, particularly when those ideas fail create passion in others, so much as the people who champion those ideas.

It is not a book full of great revelations, it is a book that shows excellence and failure, and what those stories look like. The hope, upon reading such a work, is that others are inspired to replicate some of the ideas, or at least try not to stand in the way of those ideas when they are presented by others. And it is hard to argue the point that we can all do better, by being passionate and by not settling for the status quo.

All of this is not to say that Better is not enjoyable. These are interesting, and at times inspiring, tales that are worth reading. This is not a book to change your view of the world, I suspect not even in human medicine, but it is possible at this is too high a standard to hold any book to.

Dr. Gawande’s other books do have the reputation for this incredible high standard, but is it ok the settle for just being entertained and to find something interesting.

Chip Heath & Dan Heath write books that I have loved and have bought for others.

Switch, Made to Stick, and to a lesser extent, The Power of Moments; have become bibles of management theory to myself, those that I work with, consult for, and mentor. (Click on the links above to read my reviews of those books.)

So why, oh why, did I have no interest in Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, when it came out. I have come to believe, now having finally read it, that it comes down to the title. Being decisive is never something that I feel I have struggled with. I’ve made bold choices in both my work and personal life; and they have never been things that I have agonized over or second guessed myself after the fact. What did I need with a book about how to make decisions, even if it was from the brothers Heath?

And that’s a shame.

Decisive is a great, and very useful book just like all the other books by Chip Heath & Dan Heath. This is a book about choice. Yes, it also covers decision making, but really it is about how to expand one’s choices and evaluate them better. Like all books by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, it is impeccably researched; and it is that research that drives their advice and conclusions – even when it come comes inconvenient.

A central tenant put forth in Decisive is that when faced with binary decision (do A or do B), it actually helps the process to actively seek out more choices. This would seem to fly in the face of advice from the Heath Brother’s previous book Switch about choice overload. To their credit, the authors freely admit the seeming contradiction with regards to choice overload, and then explain elegantly how to increase your choices and not get overloaded.

Another surprisingly easy tool to implement from Decisive is that when we are faced with a personal decision, that we should ask ourselves what we would advise our best friend to do if they were in our shoes. It does sound odd, but the exercise does actually work and give you a differ perspective. To attain distance.  

These tools are all, if you’ll forgive the pun, wrapped up in an acronym; W.R.A.P.

  • Widen Your Options
  • Reality Test Your Assumptions
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding
  • Prepare to Be Wrong

That humans are not good at making decisions, and often hobble themselves, should not come a news. What makes decisive interested to me; however, is that it is possible to improve the quality of those decisions. Which leads me to wonder if not reading this book when it first came out was not a bad decision of my own.

That’s something I can admit to, as long the Chip Heath & Dan Heath could rethink their decision on the book title.  

This is the hardest book review that I have ever undertaken to write.

There are books that I do not feel I have the intellectual rigor to do justice too, The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt for example, which was one of my favorite books of 2018, and there are books that I can’t say much more about other than “read it,” Traction by Gino Wickman falls into this category. White Fragility is both; however, it also shook me to my core, and I felt I had no choice but to try and do it justice. I can count on one hand the books that have upended my beliefs, as White fragility has done, during my life.

I was initially skeptical of Ms. DiAngelo’s New York Times bestseller. I was uncomfortable with a white author discussing race for a primarily white audience. Considering myself a reasonably “woke” individual, but never as pretentious to use such a term, what can I, as a reasonably well read and liberal individual be taught through a third party’s experience of racism?

That I am part of the problem.

Ms. DiAngelo’s book is a tour de force and a wakeup call for those that consider themselves allies, but all too often support racist structures and prejudiced behavior.

“Our simplistic definition of racism as intentional acts of immoral individuals engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem and thus our learning is complete.”  – From White Fragility

White Fragility changes, some may say clarifies, our definitions of words that have melded into, as Ms. DiAngleo would probably agree, a binary good and bad. I cannot be those things because I, or they, am a good person. By not being to get past this logjam, true discussions of racism are impossible.

As quoted in White Fragility; “Racism is a structure not an event. A structure of oppression that goes beyond individual prejudice and discrimination.” In other words, racism is tied to societal power. Only whites can be racist because only whites, in the United States, hold societal power. That whites cannot help but be racist, is partially explained by being brought up in a racist society.

These are powerful and disturbing words for most white people to hear, let alone believe. It is helped by defining other terms, not just in their racism framework but in anthropologic one.  Prejudice is prejudging someone based on the social groups that the person belongs to and based on little or no additional information. “All humans have prejudices,” writes Ms. DiAngelo. Discrimination is action that is based on prejudice. It is therefore possible to be racist, because one comes from a racist society, but not be prejudice or practice discrimination.

In a devastating section of White Fragility, Ms. Diangelo shows us how “whiteness” has become the norm for “human” and challenges us to think about the patterns of friendship, culture, and society in general that we grew up in and continue observe today that reinforce a racist society. That believing we are in a post racial society, or that by our uniqueness of experience or background, means that we are immune to group messages and “white solidarity,” is expertly dismantled by Ms. DiAngelo’s totally logical arguments.  That “good schools” has become a metaphor for a “more white neighborhood,” is the most obvious example of this.

“The way I see the world, drives my actions in the world.” – White Fragility

White Fragility is not an easy read. This is not because of Ms. Diangelo’s prose, which are excellent, but because this is a book that you will disagree with. That is its purpose, to challenge your basic assumptions about the society we live in. To see the world in a different way. To understand the world as people of color understand the world. And hopefully understand the strictures that are in place that make it so hard for white people to have discussions about race, in any meaningful form.

White fragility is a starting point to allow our world view to be changed, and perhaps to make us more open to hearing feedback on when the society we grew up in, and live in today, intrudes on our interactions and friendships with people of color.

Read this book.

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