January 22, 2018

Books To Devour By Nilofer Merchant, Roger Martin, Jennifer Riel and Daniel Pink

I recently spent three weeks touring the coastlines of Australia. Between the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Manly Beach, Sorrento and Adelaide I devoured some wicked surf and sand in the land Down Under. (Not to mention fantastic beer and wine.) Someone needs to hire me so I can move there.

I managed to plow through a few books when I wasn’t in the water. Three, in particular, delivered a rather unusual troika of goodness, thus I’m recommending you place them on your 2018 reading list. In particular, all three books provide an incredible amount of guidance to improve your self-awareness, albeit each book tackles a different nuance.

The books are:

    • The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World by Nilofer Merchant
    • Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking by Jennifer Riel and Roger L. Martin
    • When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

In Merchant’s third book, The Power of Onlyness, she tackles the importance of our ideas. They must make a dent, they must find a way to bubble up. Our ideas are one thing and clearly important, but the how of an idea’s journey is equally so. This is where the rubber meets the road of Onlyness.

The book argues that connectivity allows the potential for your ideas to be leveraged for greater good more than ever before. Merchant provides practical means and poignant stories that help you shape your ideas (purposeful, meaning driven, etc.) as well as the ways in which you might connect your idea to others to watch it really take shape, if not take off.

My favorite story detailed Leo Bretholz, an escapee of an SNCF train from Paris set for Auschwitz and “how an extended purposeful community formed around an idea to move the world.” It was an idea to have SNCF compensate victims/survivors of those train rides from Paris to Auschwitz decades after the atrocities. That idea sparked others to get involved–including the use of and employees of Change.org–and eventually, over a few years, a $60 million settlement came to fruition.

I reached out to Merchant to discuss the notion of teams, networks, and ideas. She said: “We have the idea of teams, and we have the idea of people being badass but we lack the language for how those things connect. It’s why the lexicon of Onlyness matters.” Indeed, the book will certainly help you crystallize your ideas whilst showing you ways in which to connect them to others. Merchant’s Onlyness theorem will increase your self-awareness of making a dent in the world through your ideas and the connections needed to truly make an impact.

In Creating Great Choices, Roger L. Martin teams up with long-time colleague, Jennifer Riel, to revisit his 2007 book, The Opposable Mind. Specifically, the book investigates the use of–and makes improvements to–Martin’s now world-famous strategy model, Integrative Thinking.

The key components of Integrative Thinking remain:

  • Articulate the opposing models
  • Examine the models
  • Explore the possibilities
  • Assess the prototypes

Chock full of stories, graphics and perhaps most importantly templates–where the reader can practice or try out what you’ve just read–the book is a wonderful follow-up from the original manuscript. It’s practical as an Integrative Thinking guide, easily approachable and can be put to use immediately. Being a Canadian, I appreciated that there were several Canadian stories such as Tennis Canada, Toronto International Film Festival and a teacher from Hamilton, Ontario. (My hometown!)

But my most relished story actually opens the book. A brilliant example is laid out by Riel and Martin regarding the creation of The LEGO Movie, one of our family’s favorites. LEGO CEO at the time (and now Executive Chairman) Jørgen Vig Knudstorp insisted that in order to make a great film, LEGO would have to cede creative control to producers, directors, and screenwriters at Warner Bros., but that any personnel involved had to spend time at LEGO and with so-called superfans. LEGO could have done it on its own, or it could have outsourced the entire movie to a studio. Instead, it’s an excellent example of articulating opposing models, examining the good and not-so-good, then exploring and assessing what to do instead.

The self-awareness factor of this book encourages you to look at every problem as not one problem, but potentially two, and perhaps finding a way to improve your decision in a more practical and even economical way.

I was pleased to see that in Daniel Pink’s sixth book, When, he opened it by paying homage to the work of Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan, a legend in the field of circadian rhythms. Essentially it’s our biological backbeat, our internal clock. The book goes on to explore this notion of our internal clocks in many different and often enlightening ways. As Pink often does in his books, there are helpful tips and insightful solutions to help you, too.

Type-Task-Time, is one of those. Determine your chronotype, determine what you need to do, and then find the optimal time of day to then take on a task, make an impression or make a decision. Pink provides quite a useful, simple, and practical tool. There are many found throughout the book, including a sly reference to the Beastie Boys, one of my favorite hip-hop artists. (There are also some neat “When” goodies found on his website.)

But it’s not only about how we can handle our “When,” it’s how to avoid other people’s “When.” There are some weird if not alarming pieces of research Pink includes supporting his argument. Try to avoid hospitals altogether in July, it seems, as there is a greater chance you might come into contact with an intern who will cause more harm to your body than a more seasoned medical practitioner.

Furthermore, you may want to avoid accepting a scheduled surgery time in the afternoon and push back for one in the morning. The data suggests it is four times more likely that something might go wrong (or not picked up by the doctors) in the afternoon slots versus the morning.

How does When help your self-awareness? Pink masterfully captures it in one of the books final passages:

“I used to believe that timing was everything. Now I believe that everything is timing.”

Three great reads to put to the front of your pile come from Merchant, Riel/Martin and Pink. While each addresses a different topic–ideas/connections, thinking and timing–put together they become a wonderful enhancement to your self-awareness progress in 2018.

I am better for it. As a bonus, they got me out of the water and sun enough while in Australia not to burn too crisply either.

<Originally posted to Forbes>

Dan’s Newest Book

Click for details about Dan’s latest book, Work-Life Bloom.

Buy Dan's Books
Listen to Dan's Podcast
Read Dan's Column On