Favourite Books of 2013 That I Read

readingI like to read.

As it turns out I like to eat Pecan Pie as well, but that’s not why you’re here.

In a previous post this week I outlined a compendium of articles and write-ups from 2013 that I thought were truly brain candy for a cerebral Canadian like me.

This particular entry focuses on literary works (aka. Books – remember those?) that are longer than a post or article.

In no particular order, these are the books I read in 2013 that caught my attention:

  • Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff
    • Written within the lens of a futurist who laments some of today’s technology and social inanities, Rushkoff reveals his disdain for a world that has all gone behaviorally Type A through his self described pillars of the Narrative Collapse (the loss of stories and longer thoughts in general), Digiphrenia (multiple technologies being used in multiple places), Overwinding (compacting services, goods, thoughts, etc. into one),  Fractalnoia (the connection of things), and Apocalypto (self explanatory really).
    • This was not an easy read, but it went deep into the psyche of our society and its fixation on impulses, distractedness, attention span disorder or deficits in parallel with the rising tide of technology interruptions and advances. In other words, I couldn’t put it down because it was so fascinating and poignant.
  • Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic. by Bill Jensen
    • I can honestly say it is an ‘epic’ book. I didn’t do as he suggests and pick habits at will, I read Bill’s book back to front to see if it made a difference. (and to be a disruptive reader) I don’t think it did, which I suppose is a testament to what he has crafted. Bill might have coined this book “I’m a Master Curator of Listening: Here are 25 Epic Habits For You To Be Disruptive and Successful”. What the book provides is story after story, anecdote after anecdote, and example after example of people doing their thing in a world gone mad … sorry, disruptive.
    • Page after page is filled with the thoughts of people Bill has listened to, whilst curating and crafting his 25 Successful Habits. It’s unlike a book I’ve read before in that there is probably more external quotes than internal writing. That is not to say Bill’s thoughts aren’t in the book. On the contrary indeed, Bill has done such a fantastic job at listening and then curating, it’s a marvelous example of Habit 23 “Your Power is Your Network” and Habit 25 “It’s Not About You”.
  • On Managing Yourself by Harvard Business Review
    • Ok, it’s not really a book rather a collection of eleven articles across some twenty years from the likes of Peter Drucker, Clay Christensen, Daniel Goleman, Robert Kaplan and Diane Coutu. My favourite pieces were Managing Oneself by Peter F. Drucker, Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey? by William Oncken, Jr., and Donald L. Wass, How Resilience Works by Diane L. Coutu, What to Ask the Person in the Mirror by Robert S. Kaplan, Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance by Daniel Goleman and the bonus article How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clay Christensen.
    • It was nice to have these articles in one spot, particularly during some of my research for the “It’s Work Not Jail” book project.
  • Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure by Tim Harford
    • Adapt isn’t a light read nor is it for the faint of heart but it straps you in on a roller coaster of complexity based observations — be it individual, organizational or societal — stopping from time to time to provide potential remedies and future-proof solutions. He takes you to the Galápagos, Netflix, Liberia, CAFE, Google, Royal Air Force, US Military, Baghdad amongst countless other places, references and anecdotes illustrating with zeal and precision why we over complicate our lives and processes. His ultimate point lies in a lack of courage and risk taking for the ‘trial and error’ approach to solving many of today’s problems. Problems that, ironically, we develop with perfect complexity.
  • Beyond Certainty: The Changing Worlds of Organisations by Charles Handy
    • Alongside Peter Drucker, Handy should be considered a workplace change pioneer and visionary. The mindset of hierarchical thinking for the sake of hierarchy structures is something Handy has written about for years. Seeing as he was keynoting at the Global Peter Drucker Forum 2013 I took the opportunity to re-read Beyond Certainty before hearing from him live and in person for the first time in my own life. (Sidebar, I received a signed copy of the book from Charles as well while at the Forum – what a thrill)
    • Why I like this particular book is that it’s a collection of essays written over several years where he delves into his thoughts on a ‘flatter’ organization where workers employ themselves in several positions over time (versus a singular job and which he coined ‘portfolio people’) learning and gaining experience along the journey. He sees the organization becoming more federal in operation than hierarchical. If you’ve never read Beyond Certainty, it’s time for you to remedy that oversight.
  • Igniting the Invisible Tribe: Designing An Organization That Doesn’t Suck by Josh Allan Dykstra
    • Josh provides us with a conversation in leadership and organizational change in this 272 page book. I use the word ‘conversation’ because that’s how it felt when I read the book. It felt as though Josh and I were having a conversation … one that intends to shake up the way work works. He builds his thesis around five key sections: New Answers; New World; New Problems; New Rules; and New Tools. At the end of many sections, Josh provides what he calls an “Ignition Point” – helpful workplace questions we must ask of ourselves and of our organizations.
    • The book is a quick read (at least for me) with comments and thoughts that run parallel to Flat Army. One of my favourite passages is: This lack of hierarchy will be difficult for most of us. We’ve been thoroughly conditioned to only think in competitive terminology. But like so many items from the reductionist “old world”, this is a zero-sum game – one person wins only when someone else loses. We no longer have to work this way, and frankly, this mindset has reached its limit in terms of productivity. The emerging economy demands that we re-think the way we structure, and language is a perfect tool to help us get started.
  • How To Be Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps) by Jessica Hagy
    • Jessica’s tact in this very intriguing book is to mix short, specific sentences — often witty, always pertinent, sometimes provocative — with touching, comedic and thoughtful graphics, alongside some larger size bumper sticker-esque slogans in an attempt to persuade you to be more interesting. It’s doodling life lessons.
    • The book was full not only of sage advice but of a-ha moments. I thought I might already be performing many of her suggestions so perhaps it was more of a needed affirmation due to the past few years of tough change management actions I’ve encountered and initiated both personally and professionally. It’s not only a wise piece of prose, it’s got gumption. It’s got punch. It makes you think. It inspires you to think differently. That’s what a good book should deliver. It needs to make you do things differently. It at least needs to be contemplative.
  • The Good Life: What Makes a Life Worth Living by Hugh Mackay
    • I suppose in preparation (and research) for my next book, I read Hugh’s brilliant take on what I might call a purposeful life and was with him every step of the way. He starts off by stating the book is not “about how to feel good, how to find happiness or how to reap some reward for your goodness” rather if we mindful humans “set out to be good or to do good because of what’s in it for you, then you’ll have missed the whole point of the journey.” He had me hooked from the very first page.
    • The Chapter titles give away his thesis rather well, including 1 The Utopia complex, 2 How the pursuit of happiness can make you miserable, 3 Seven false leads, 4 A good life or a good time?, 5 Do unto others, 6   Living the good life and 7 A good death. Mackay’s The Good Life is as profound as it is accurate, and it was a timely read for my next book. He concludes with, “You need only to treat people with kindness, compassion and respect, knowing they will have been enriched by their encounters with you.” #loveit
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
    • I liked Charles’ book for two reasons. One, he situated the reader through vivid storytelling. I’m a big Rosa Parks fan and was delighted to come across this story in the book. The introductory story of Eugene Pauly was also fabulous. The second reason I liked the book was it was cut into three key ‘habits’ sections, namely individuals, organizations and societies. In other words, there was a little bit for everyone, no matter where your interests lie with respect to the formation of habits.
    • I even reached out to Charles via electronic mail (per his website, where he guarantees a response) and lo and behold, Charles responded. He truly puts his habitual behaviours where his writing is.
  • Out Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes by Shawn Hunter
    • Is it cliché to say Out Think got me thinking? The link between fantastic leadership and innovation is (somewhat) undeniable but Shawn has effectively crystallized the behaviours required of leaders to actually improve levels of innovation in an organization. He aims to change the current mindset of the singular owner of ideas and innovation. As he states, “Creativity, mental flexibility, and collaboration have displaced one-dimensional intelligence and isolated determination as core ingredients of competitive advantage. But these methods and mindsets needed to drive innovation are only found by tapping into the discretionary levels of passion, creativity and initiative within us.”
    • As someone who truly believes in the collaborative organization as a way in which to ‘get good things done’, Shawn exemplifies my own tendencies to change leadership practices but does so in a quest to also improve the level of creativity and output of the organization itself. I loved how he incorporated the behaviour terms ‘marketquake’ as well as ‘mash-up’ in a couple of his chapters — in putting forth a solid argument that we need to rethink how we are treating the term and action of innovation.
    • In an interesting bit of author trivia, Shawn and I shared the same publisher and editor.
  • Accelerating Leadership Development: Practical Solutions For Building Your Organization’s Potential by Jocelyn Berard
    • Jocelyn is Vice-President Leadership and Business Solutions, International at Global Knowledge and this particular book is part Global Knowledge insight and part storytelling of Jocelyn. Drawing upon interactions, interviews and research with clients, alongside Jocelyn’s expertise and experience from his multifaceted career, the book aims to solve the riddle of actually developing leaders into high performing (and high potential) employees of tomorrow. The book begins with something called the Business Performance Framework — a model that effectively grounds the reader into the books three main parts: leadership and succession, leadership in action and leadership best practices.
    • The book is deep, running 291 pages, and it doesn’t skim on thoughts and opinions of leaders across many different verticals whether it’s Jack Kitts, CEO of The Ottawa Hospital, Colleen Johnston, CFO at TD Bank, or John Duncan, HR Director at Royal Mail. My favourite model was the Priority Quadrant from Chapter 12 which was built to help leaders determine “whether a particular task is urgent or important” through the quadrants of eliminate, delegate, plan to do (or delegate) and do. It was simple and something I plan on using personally going forward. Accelerating Leadership Development is a guide more than it’s a book, something you can refer to several times. You may want to utilize it in your organization’s leadership development programs if you’re interested in changing the way you actually are developing leaders.
    • In an interesting bit of author trivia, Jocelyn and I also shared the same publisher and editor.
  •  Awaken Your Authentic Leadership: Lead with Inner Clarity and Purpose by Tana Heminsley
    • One of my favourite parts of Tana’s book surfaced on page 15, “The Four C’s of an Authentic Leader”. Maybe that’s because I use the letter C in the 6 C’s of the Collaborative Leader Action Model (CLAM) in Flat Army … or perhaps because Denise and I named our three goats with the letter C … or perhaps it’s simply due to the fact it’s ‘authentic’. I know, too much. The four C’s of Tana’s Authentic Leader model are clear, choiceful (yes, she created a new word), consistent and caring. Later on in Chapter 8, Tana defines the Authentic You Personal Planning System — a nine step system that “can be used annually or whenever it feels like time to step back and reflect” such that you are taking very specific and personal actions such as ‘articulating your values’, assessing your work-life balance, setting your goals and creating an inner development plan in an attempt to gain balance back in your life. It’s a self-reflection book as well as an action-intensive discovery book. There are, for example,  63 pages of action worksheets found at the end of the book, which align to the Authentic You Personal Planning System detailed in the book itself. It really is a personal journey book, aiding you along the way of self-improvement.
  • The Lens of Leadership: Being The Leader Others Want To Follow by Cory Bouck
    • Cory is a fascinating character. With a military background as a Naval Flight Officer, coupled by years of instructing leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy massaged by corporate roles at General Mills, Rubbermaid and now Johnsonville Sausage as the Director of Organizational Development and Learning, he can draw on his many experiences to deliver his overarching thesis in this book … serve, build and inspire.
    • The ‘Serve’ section focuses on the table stakes of leadership. How do you give away your power? How do you embody integrity? What is nobility? I loved his story about SERE – survival, evasion, resistance and escape from the prisoner-of-war training. The ‘Build’ section delves into behaviours such as teaching, conversations, networking and change management. And finally, the ‘Inspire’ section was -as you guessed it – about inspiring and motivating your team and the organization. My affinity for the book and the ‘serve, build and inspire’ model stems from its unique parallels to the Connected Leader Attributes of Flat Army — where I believe we have the roots in the ground, the trunk of a tree and the foliage above that represents metaphorically a great leader. Cory’s three sections made that same connection for me.
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • It’s hard to beat the intelligence, insight and research of a Nobel Prize Winner like Daniel Kahneman … and Thinking, Fast and Slow places this rare thinker and cultural anthropologist (disguised as a psychologist) in a league of his own. Based on the many studies and conversations with his now deceased colleague Amos Tversky, this book is as much an entertaining ride through the annals of humanity as it is his relationship with Tversky, where Kahneman says, “The pleasure we found in working together made us exceptionally patient; it is much easier to strive for perfection when you are never bored.
    • The running theme of System 1 and System 2 — and when one system is triggered over another — was fascinating. Who is in charge? System 1 or System 2? It’s an exploration around our decision making, aided and abetted by countless examples, experiments and citations. If you’re into research and knowing more about the ‘why’ of our human make-up, this book is an absolute must.

I read a few more in 2013 (and re-read or skim read several others) but I won’t bore you with the details in this space.

You can take me out for a beer one day if you like. Happy to share.

 

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