Archives for category: personal development

Scott Stratten, and latterly with his wife Alison, have written five other books on the intersection of customer service, social media, and marketing. I have reviewed most of them, which you can find here, routinely listen to their podcast, The Unpodcast, and I have a framed and signed “Don’t try to win over the haters. You are not the Jackass Whisperer” poster in my office. I am an unashamed fan boy.

Their books have swung from deep dives into marketing theory, to jokey and fairly superficial explorations of the absurdities that the marketing, and wider business world, is full of  – always with humor sprinkled throughout.  Although by no means an expert, I am certainly familiar with their work and their thinking on a variety of subjects.

Their latest book, would seem to an addition to their collection of books with a “gimmick.” A 125 question and answer book to see whether when presented with an example of “jackassery” one responds with a “Jackass Reaction” or a “Whisperer Reaction.”

But…

That is not what if going on here at all.

By coming at the subject from an indirect angle, the Stratten’s have laid bare our worst instinctual reactions to other people’s worst behavior. It shows that, in many instances we are just as much the problem rather than the innocent victim that we too often paint ourselves as. The implicit message is that the only way to deal with bad behavior is not to react to it out of outrage, but out of understanding and an attempt to solve the real underlying issue. To be the better person.

Of course, the book, and by assumption the authors, are not suggesting that all behavior is acceptable, but that “pick you battles” is really mantra we should all live by. That we have a responsibility to make the world a better place, and that starts with our interactions with each other. I find this particularly interesting as there was an element of “shame culture” in the earlier Unpodcast episodes. Jon Roson’s excellent “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” which I reviewed here, goes much deeper into the culture of naming and shaming online; and the Jackass Whisperer seems to be a repudiation of that shame culture.

The Jackass Whisper is over the top, although most of the inciting incidents seem to be based on real occurrences (we really are doomed as a species), the reactions, both as a Jackass or as a Whisperer, are so over the top that it becomes useful to use them as a gauge for how you, the reader, would deal with such a thing. If one is being honest it is easy to see where your reaction is really not helpful, although perhaps satisfying at the time in terms of revenge.

It is, or course, easy to read this book superficially – as I did initially if I’m honest. But it subtly asks questions of us that are not easily answered. Is this the person I want to be? Do I really have to react like this to perceived provocations?

I’ll leave you to guess in the comments on my Jackass scale, but really that is not what is important about the Jackass Whisperer. It is the thought, and potential internal discussion, on the nature of reaction that a thoughtful reading of the book provokes, that makes it well worth your time and the purchase price.

courage
Farnziska Iseli’s book “The Courage Map: 13 Principles to Living Boldly” is a short book that makes the case for adding more courage into our lives to make them more interesting, more enjoyable, and more successful.

Ms. Iseli then further breaks down courage, as the title suggests into 13 key principles. These 13 principles are obviously important to Ms. Iseli, and have informed her business, personal, and travel life. It is also obvious, that some of these principles have been thought about extensively over a number of years give the book a sense of intellectual rigor that is sometimes not found in other books of its type.

The Courage Map can be a little schizophrenic; however, as personal development books go. On the one hand, it dips in and out of travel book territory to underline and exemplify the 13 principles at the core of the book and one finds oneself wanting to either hear more about a particular principle or about the anecdote about Iranian border guards.

This is a little frustrating, because it lends the book the air of a spoiled adventurer, which Ms. Iseli patently is not. For those who do not know, Ms. Iseli is a highly successful serial entrepreneur and speaker. I found myself throughout wanting to find out more about Ms. Iseli’s travels and gain a deeper grasp over what her trips meant to her and he philosophy of courageous living. Almost as if there were two books fighting each other.
This is a shame, because there is some really good thinking in “The Courage Map.” There are short throw away phrases that resonate long after they have passed in the book. Who doesn’t understand what a “poop shower” is? I for one am glad to add it to my vocabulary. Likewise, the insight that “kindness is like snow – it beautifies everything it covers,” a quote from Kahlil Gibran, is an immediate and pivotal idea to glean from any book.

Which chapters resonate with the reader, I suspect, will be wildly different with each  individual reader. I found the chapter on non-attachment particularly illuminating and gave a serious reason for thought and pause – really the purpose for any book of this type. While I found the chapters on “flow” and “love” a little too in the realm of new age mysticism.

There is a lot to take from Ms. Iseli’s book, and it is a book I expect to dip back into. Not all of it is for everyone I suspect. But its central theme, that we should all learn to live a little more boldly if we want to be happy, is an admirable quality and certainly one that is helped with a thoughtful reading of “The Courage Map.” While perhaps a little frustrating for some readers, there is some great stuff here in “The Courage Map,” which makes it worth your time to read and keep on your shelf.

design your future

When you review books, and particularly when you are behind in reviewing the stack of books at your bedside like I currently am, you form opinions of them as they wait to be read.

This is, of course, complete nonsense, the very definition of judging a book by its cover. But it happens.

For some reason when “Design Your Future: 3 simple steps to stop drifting and take command of your life” was sent to me, I took an instant dislike to it. I don’t know if it was the cover, or the tag line, or just more likely the subject matter. I rarely find that books meant to inspire me to change my life ever actually do. But I read it more out of a need to get it off my nightstand than anything else.

So by way of contrition let me be the first to say, I was wrong about this book.

I absolutely loved it.

Mr. Quartuccio has managed to mix basic cognitive behavioral therapy tools with basic goal setting and created a rather elegant way of looking at one’s life and life goals, without the pitfalls and baggage that makes people like me hate books of this type. “Design your Future” is an easy read with an elegant layout that does not feel simplistic.
The main idea of “Design Your Life” is that awakening, disrupting, and designing your life is a constant process that puts you in command (not control) of your life and helps you identify what is actually important to you. That most of us drift through life, afraid to make changes, but unhappy with our lives and with vague life goals that show a constant lack of progress, is probably not news to many people. That the stories we tell ourselves reinforce the status quo, and therefore continue to make us miserable, however, may be. What is really unusual is to finish a book with a real sense that these issues are solvable with a little work on your part.

One of the most intriguing tools in the book is the suggestion to write your own eulogy. Not as macabre as you might thing, writing your own eulogy actually gives a destination to your life. How long do you want to live? What are the things that you want to achieve before you die? What is actually important to you? By creating these fundamental goals for one’s life, one can then work backwards to see what the lessor goals need to be while also providing motivation. “I want to lose 20lbs” because I need to lose weight is a little adrift as a life goal, while “I want to lose 20lbs because my doctor says that will help me in my goal to make it to 80 years old” is more anchored into a general scheme to take control of one’s life.

I also really like the book’s emphasis on completing things rather than trying to make them perfect. “Ultimately, perfectionism is a guise for fear. Fear of being judged or being attacked or having your flaws exposed or whatever other weird hang-up you’re carrying. The book you’re reading is littered with so much imperfection it makes me cringe. But guess what? I’ve got a book.”

The nitpicker in me finds the over emphasis on meditation in “Design Your Future” a bit much, however, in fairness to Mr. Quartuccio he does acknowledge that all he wants to do is “ignite a personal curiosity” which he did in me.

Design Your Future is a surprising and useful book that talked directly to me. Perhaps it was just the right book at the right time; however, who cares. It’s a great read and made me think.

I’m off to write my eulogy.

 

The Culture Code

It is easy to dismiss “The Culture Code, The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups” by Daniel Coyle within the first few pages as I very nearly did.

This, however, would be a mistake.

There are two initial problems. The first is in the choice of companies, or organizations, that are used as case studies. In the time since the book was written, and even since its publication in January of 2018, two of these heavily featured companies have undergone significant cultural upheaval and it is hard not to see those case studies through the prism of hindsight. Pixar lost John Lasseter due to revelations in the wake of the #meetoo scandal. And Zappos, to add to the woes mentioned in the book regarding the Downtown Project, lost 18% of its workforce, including a significant proportion of management, due to its all or nothing adoption of Holacracy. To be fair to both companies, they both seem to have survived these events and continue to grow; but it does make the reader question the book from the start.

In addition, it is hard to shake the impression from the initial introduction and chapters, that The Culture Code and its talk of “belonging cues” is more about hacking interpersonal relationships and the manipulation of people through our actions and specific phraseology. Which just feels wrong.

This, however, is not the case.

What the Culture Code has unpicked is the remarkable reasons why teams of people work well together, and why they don’t work. We presume teams of skilled individuals will produce skilled results. And we are wrong as Mr. Coyle points out. Belonging cues, which can take the form of active listening, light touching, showing people where they fit into an organization, the closeness of employees’ desks, and the language we use, creates a continuous sense of safety. Even just simple “thank yous” from managers, and them picking up trash, can signal that “we are all in this together” and that they serve the group.

As with most culture research, The Culture Code repeatedly emphasizes that great cultures start at the top. One of the ways to create a safe space for the group is for leaders to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is a significant belonging cue. Vulnerability sparks cooperation and trust, and asking for help as a manager, or leader, sends a clear signal that you have vulnerabilities. Interestingly, vulnerability can be contagious with the obvious benefits to the group. Difficult and painful interactions can actually help create a more bonded team through shared vulnerability.

While creating a sense of safety and vulnerability in the group makes for a better team, Mr. Coyle turns to storytelling to give that team focus. Groups that have successful cultures repeatedly and consistently, often to the point of redundancy, tell their story. Simple beacons, such as slogans, phrases, or imagery, focus attention to the shared goal. “High purpose environments are filled with vivid signals” the Culture Code reveals referring to Pixar having images of Woody and Buzz Lightyear in their buildings or the Seals having a piece of the World Trade Center in their lobby.

“Build a language to build behavior.”

Do we really need to tell nurses and other staff that a particular surgery is better for the patent, and that they should speak up if they see a mistake, even by a doctor, being made? The answer the Culture Code gives us is a resounding yes.

“The value of signals is not in the information but that they orientate the team to the task and to one another. What seems like repetition is in fact navigation.”
The Culture is that most unique of books. A book arranged and filled with great ideas and real-world examples of those ideas in action. Impeccably researched, the march of time notwithstanding, and well written, The Culture Code is a leadership book about daily interactions and grand visions. It is a management book showing the pitfalls and routes to success.

I’m better for having read it, and I have no doubt that it will be a book I return to and recommend to other managers.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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