Archives for category: Books

There are few people who would argue with the statement that math is at the heart for most of our modern world. What is less well understood is what happens when that math goes wrong. And it does. All the time!

Mr. Parker’s highly amusing and thought-provoking book is about math and computers, but what becomes clearer as the book goes on is that this is also a book about systems and how and why systems can fail. There are lots of examples of people adding up numbers incorrectly or trying to take shortcuts to make the math simpler, which in turn leads to devastating and sometimes lethal consequences. However, it the subtler applications of mathematics where “Humble Pi” really scores.

For example, looking at 30- or 40-year-old kitchen appliance, still in use, is often accompanied by a phrase such as “they don’t make things today like they used to.” While this might seem obvious at first glance given that we are talking about an appliance working well beyond its expected lifespan, this is actually an example of “Survivor Bias.” If we looked at how many of the appliances had been manufactured, and then looked at how many were still in daily use, the chances are that we would recognize that this surviving appliance is an outlier and that the vast majority of the appliances have actually long been replaced or broken down. It is only the existence of this surviving outlier that prompts the idea even though we would likely not comment on its existence were more of the appliances in existence. The appliance’s rarity generates a false narrative that can only be understood by understanding the underlying math of the number of appliances produced.

For managers there is much to take away from Humble Pi. Mr. Parker encourages us to look at systems like layers of sliced Swiss cheese. All systems should be made of multiple layers – the checks and balances of any good system. But it is important to understand that there are possibilities for mistakes in every layer of a system – the holes in the cheese. The challenge as designers of systems is to ensure that the holes in each layer do not align. The author uses the example of two different nurses in a hospital performing a complicated drug calculation the same way and both making the same math mistake leading to a medical error.

Related to this idea of errors being a natural part of a system is the impact of a lack of tolerance for errors on new employee training. If managers terminate employees for making mistakes, the people who are left to train new employees are those who are must less likely to make mistakes. These are probably the worst people to train new employees who are obviously more prone to making mistakes. If instead, we teach employees to work a system that can detect mistakes and provide feedback, a system where the holes do not line up, then we will overall have far less mistakes – even when people are new. As the books says, humans can be very resourceful in finding ways to make mistakes.

This is not just a book about rounding errors, and why you should turn your computer off regularly. It is a book about what it means to be human in a world that relies and is built on mathematics, which humans are inherently not very good at. It is a fun and interesting read that will stay with you long after you put it down.

Who does not hate networking?

“A Friend of a Friend…” by David Burkus makes the case that we are doing networking all wrong, or not at all, and that there is a better way of thinking about personal networks. With a few caveats, I think there is a lot to learn from Mr. Burkus.

To most people, the purpose of networking is to be able to leverage your network for professional ends. That means reaching out to those people with whom you have “close ties” and seeing what they can do for you or who they can introduce you to. The author suggests, however, that “loose ties,” those that you have fallen out of touch with or never had a terribly close connection with in the first place, are a better way of leveraging your network connections. It is these loose ties that are more likely to bring a diversity of thought to your circle. With some intriguing data, the book put forward the idea that people who have similar thinking, and world view, tend to cluster together. As an example of this clustering of similar thinking patterns, Mr. Burkus uses the example of voting patterns, because voting districts tend to increase in their preference for a particular party over time – even when allowing for jerrymandering!

Trying to increase the diversity of thought to improve your exposure to ideas is not without risks. While most people would agree that they and others are subtly influenced by those around them, what is less well realized is that even the behavior and habits of friends of friends can influence our rates of obesity, smoking and stopping smoking to give just a few examples. Influence is contagious.

While for some it might seem that social media could be an ideal solution to these networking issues, the author urges us to use caution and to treat social media as a potential tool rather than as a panacea. Social Media can exacerbate the very issues highlighted above – a lack of diversity of thought, through the contagious nature of influence.

What has been known in some entrepreneurial circles and at some high-end retreats is that one of the best ways to get to know someone, without all the baggage of status and perceived worth, is to actually complete a task with a stranger – helping to prepare a meal is the most focused on example, but taking a class on almost any subject when collaboration is required works just as well.

In a refreshing change from most personal development and business books is to find the resources that accompany the book freely available from the authors website, with a commitment to keep them there. https://davidburkus.com/resources/

Where the book is lacking is in the assertion that personal friends and connections can also turn into good and productive business connections or partners and vise versa. While this is undoubtedly true, and the book serves up many examples of it working in the real world, it does not explore or even caution of the HR issues and general pitfalls of not having clear boundaries in the workplace for both those involved and those around them. While it is a relatively minor quibble, it does seem to be strange oversight given the book’s otherwise excellent attention to detail and research.

“A Friend of a Friend” is an excellent resource for those who find networking unnatural. It also explains why it looks so easy for some and borderline impossible for others. The success of its promise, and premise, still has a lot to do with personal motivation, but these tools are that are relatable and accessible for all. This book is for the introverted, extroverted, and the closet introverted alike.

This is a difficult and complicated book to review.

Being someone who has been an advocate of email, as opposed to other forms of business communications, such as text messaging and apps, I started reading this book with a certain amount of trepidation. Email does not have the sexiness factor of other tools; however, it does have distinct advantages for businesses.

Like many books with provocative titles, “A World Without Email” is arguably mistitled. The central tenant of the book is that email, and other communication tools that are often put in its place such as Slack, create a “hyperactive hive mind.” This hyperactive hive mind makes us so concerned with the work of reading and answering messages, that it frequently gets in the way of our actual jobs and that it is ill suited for most of the communication that is needed anyway. What Mr. Newport is suggesting in this book is that we reevaluate how we perform work rather than just assume that the way we have always done it is best.

The arguments for doing this are pretty compelling for a project-based workplace, where “knowledge workers” are producing materials. Where most of the arguments in the book fall down is when it comes to managers supporting other employees in a service-based industry – such as a veterinary hospital. Or a business where “training” your customers to communicate in a particular way is difficult if not impossible. Having said that what should actually be taken away from “A world Without Email” is not the title, but the idea that we should carefully look at our workflow and information exchange and build systems and protocols that actually work for what our employees need. This is of course opposed to making our employees bend to what an ad-hoc exchange of information, using a tool such as email can give rise to; a hyperactive hive mind.

A surprising recommendation from this book, is the suggestion that what is often missing from businesses for their knowledge workers is support staff. This does not mean a return to the days of typing pools and Mad Men-esque assistants outside every office door; but it does suggest that leaders need to understand that for knowledge workers, switching between their primary focus and communication, can dramatically impact the former without significant gains it the latter. Assistance in communication can result in productivity increases that far outweigh the costs of that assistance.

There is, however, a real danger that the wrong lessons from this book will be drawn. For example, that implementing a tool such as Trello, a task-based management app, will remove the need for meetings or other forms of digital communication. In fact, I find the focus on the evils of email while ignoring the much greater issues that can arise with text messaging and apps such as Slack, undermines some of the book’s credibility.

The idea, that workflow in business communications needs a more formal protocol, has been around for a while in various forms. Mr. Newport makes a good argument for devoting time and energy into a workflow protocol for you and your business. What is not so clear from “A World Without Email” is whether what actually needs to change is our relationship with email and other forms of communication – practicing good communication hygiene for example – rather than abandoning the tool all together for its own misuse.

To sum up this a book that is worth reading, thinking about, and even discussing with your team. It is not a book to adopt trite slogans from and use to justify making rash decisions.

Business is rarely one size fits all.

One of the many changes wrought by COVID-19 was not the move to working from home and the use of virtual meetings, but the discovery of the shortcomings of these modes of work and the “zoom burnout” which a significant majority of white-collar workers experienced.

Mr. Citrin and Ms. Derosa’s book, Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual Success, is written with these realizations in mind. Written from the perspective of mid-pandemic, the writing was finished in the fall of 2020, it was not aware, however, of how quickly people embraced returning to normal wherever possible. Remote work may be here to stay, as the book suggests, however, the tolerance for it both from employers and employees, is less than may have been expected at the time of the book’s writing.

What is interesting from the research that the authors have conducted is that there have been positive benefits to using virtual tools – particularly when it comes to expensive and complicated travel for meetings which are about getting to know people. What Leading at a Distance stresses is that it is easy to become too focused on the job of work, without allowing time, energy, and opportunity for the personal connections that make work fun and help to build trust. Checking in with teams can create an atmosphere of micromanaging, while managers who worry about micromanaging, can be seen as too distant because it is hard to causally “check-in” over Zoom. Building trust is often about personal relationships and so the authors stress the need to make time for these connections with remote teams and in particular with new remote employees.  

A problem with Leading at a Distance is that it is written with large corporate organizations in mind. This includes its research and its general outlook on company structure. While large corporate organizations are more likely to rely on virtual communication tools as a way for managers to communicate, smaller businesses have had to also embrace these tools and their challenges are often different from that of larger organizations.

What really works in Leading at a Distance, is it focus on results and culture with remote teams rather than whether they are busy at any particular moment. The book suggests that managers need to set goals and be happy that they are being met rather than on the how those goals are being met. What is surprising is the effectiveness of location when meeting with remote employees. There is always the temptation to multitask, or try to, when coaching, or being coached, over zoom while sitting at one’s desk. The authors suggest that having coaching conversations, particularly when it comes to difficult conversations, while on a walk or a calm setting such as a park or beach. This makes sense for anyone who appreciates the benefits of meeting out of the office, but it is rarely adopted virtually.

Having a hybrid team has its own challenges, say the authors. In particular, it is important to ensure that remote workers do not feel isolated or experience unconscious bias due to their remote role. This may require special attention from HR to ensure that there is a level playing field if we are to ensure that remote workers are a success.

Remote working is here to stay in some form. While the pandemic has shown what is possible, it has also shown how the tools are lacking for remote workers and that management will also need additional tools and training to allow remote teams to succeed. Leading at a distance is a good first step in a field that will continue to evolve and grow but is lacking in literature to help it do so.  

Subtitled “Getting Smarter about Visual Information,” How Charts Lie is a plea for the public to educate itself as to how we are misled everyday but the very tools that are there to make our understanding easier. As the economist Ronald Coase once stated, and then was forever quoted or misattributed to others, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.”

How Charts Lie is a sublime book. A book that actually makes you smarter, or certainly appear so. Reading it leads to an understanding of how statistics, and in particular charts, are misused to bolster some cases and discredit others. Using real world examples, Mr. Cairo shows how charts are often the unwilling accomplices as data is cherry picked, zoomed too far in on, zoomed too far out on, and data sets that have no business being used together are presented as unquestionable truths because they come in the form of a chart.

This is less a book about how charts themselves lie than how they are misused and how to read charts properly in the first place. A chart only shows what is there is an often-used refrain throughout. How Charts Lie is also a great introduction into some of the most often used charts and how they should, and should not, be used. That it is easy to produce a chart that seems to show that smoking leads to long life spans throughout the world is an example that should give us all pause and adopt “correlation is not causation” as our mantra.

An easy and fun read, How Charts Lie is colorfully illustrated with charts, both good and bad, which make what could be a dry academic text come alive in the mind of the reader. It should be noted that this is my second reading of “How Charts Lie.” The audio edition I originally purchased did not come with the PDF of charts and illustrations as it was supposed to – I’m looking at you estories.com. This rendered the book, interesting but fatally flawed and led to me also purchasing the latest hardback edition. I am so glad I did as it contains a new afterward written on May 3rd, 2020. This inclusion of how charts have affected the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – he postulates that the CDC’s “flattening the curve” graphic will become one of the most iconic visuals in history – brings added urgency to our quest for better visual data.

In a world where fake news, false equivalency, bad charts, and just plain lies are daily scourges which have real world consequences it is great to see a non-partisan work standing up for facts and truth.

That people have a seemingly unquenchable thirst for data presented visually, means that increasing our visual vocabulary has never been more important. Not adding to the problem and ensuring that our own charts are truthful and accurate is a great place to start.

How Charts Lie is guide to doing that and so much more.

Self-Help books, of which Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, undoubtedly is; seem to fall into the two categories. The overly new age, “everything will be alright as long as you are positive” and the so grounded in psychology and psychiatry that you need a degree in medicine to even begin. Resilience is neither of these; yet bridges both worlds and in such a way as to take value in both approaches.


It is telling the Ms. Graham is a marriage and family therapist. Her ability to speak in plan language but also to explain the scientific underpinnings to what can sound, and I am sure does, sound like hogwash to a lot of people, if it were not for these explanations. This is a book for rational people, willing to embrace change – even of they are a little reluctant. It is worth noting that this book was given to me to read by a colleague who recognized how useful it could be for the workplace – particularly in a profession dogged by mental health issues and suicide; but was unwilling to embrace even the small leap of faith that the book asks.


Resilience is a book of exercises – 133 in all. Some will not be right for you, and undoubtedly, some will. Each chapter deals with a different type of intelligence and general resilience. Each chapter is broken down into different mode of how the brain processes; conditioning, new conditioning, reconditioning, and deconditioning. These modes are then in turn broken down into three levels of need; “barely a wobble,” “glitches and heartaches, sorrows and struggles,” and “too much.”


This is a book to refer to and reference as the reader grows and their needs change. One of the most exciting chapters for managers is on “Practices of Relational Intelligence with Others.” The tools and exercises which are explained in detail, have significant uses in getting third parties to communicate with each other, and for improving with interpersonal communication. I am often someone who talks to others about whatever I am currently reading. Resilience, however, has had me proselytizing to co-workers significantly more than normal.


Its use as a tool to help train our brains, something we often pay scant attention to, cannot be disputed. It is a little long and dense, but as mentioned earlier this is a book to refer back to – not to ingest over a few days like I did. That the book strays into areas more normally associated with meditation and yoga is not says a lot more about the positive nature of those practices, than it does as a criticism of the book. This is a book for cynics, and self-help believers alike.
We all struggle from time to time and as this book’s title suggests, Resilience is about making us better and more adaptable. Being able to adjust and influence our thinking and emotions, rather than allowing them to influence and dominate our lives.


This should be required reading for the veterinary profession, and for anyone who wants to improve how the inside of their head works. I can’t recommend it enough, and it is not hyperbole to suggest that it could save your life.


I am keeping this copy of Resilience; it is on my nightstand.


I will have to buy my colleague another copy.

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.     

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