Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Summary of Recent Reading

October 27th 2013

Well, without always taking the time to make notes and write up a full book review, I thought I would blast out a summary of 14 books I’ve read recently and my major takeaways and ratings of these books.

 

Superfreakonomics

Author: D.Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

This a great book and sequel to the first, Freakonomics.  If you are interested in some of the strange economics and statistics that lead to questions to the norm, then this book is for you.  I particularly loved the content on global cooling, altruism and the value question between pimps and realtors in regards to add societal value.

 

Wikinomics

Author: Don Tapscott, Anthony D. Williams

This book covers a scope of how information has become open, shared, global and done with peers.  For bloggers who are well read and informed of the many social aspects, marketing and sharing tools, I wouldn’t recommend the book, but for those are are interested in how these social circles work, the tools and methods within them and to learn more about the shift in information creation, then it covers a wide scope and should give you a deep gain in knowledge of how editable online content has emerged and is shaping the direction people use and rely on for information.

 

Self Promotion

Author: Nancy Ancowitz

I was extremely disappointed in this book as its not a book on self promotion for introverts at all, its cookie cutter advice for business promotion primarily in extroverted methods, which simply don’t work for introverts.  I’m an extrovert myself but was hoping to find better ways to explore and coach introverts in their own methods that would be more compatible for them with self introspection and creatively in their ways, but this book is not that.  I actually couldn’t finish reading it I thought it was so useless and the author’s continual reminders and emphasis on extroverted methods are rather patronizing.

 

CypherPunks

Author: Julian Assange

Well this was an interesting read for the sense of gaining perspective in the whole aspect of privacy and security with internet data and information.  It is really a transcript of various discussions with a panel of experts on the subject and they very intelligently explore some of the challenges society faces and the troubles with internet security and privacy of data.  Some of it is actually quite scary as you learn about the many controls in place on these areas you may not even be aware.  While I found it intriguing, I also found it a bit boring and there is good thought provoking dialog but nothing really to give you much in the way of take aways, really lessons learned or applicable knowledge.  It might be different if you are in this space more closely than I.

 

The Power of Body Language

Author: Tonya Reiman

This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed will likely read it again to help remember, practice and deeply learn the hundreds of techniques, ideas and methods to reading someone else’s body language.  It covers a huge spectrum with interesting case studies and experiences shared for many of the techniques which puts more substance to them.  If you are interested in learning to read and understand people better in face to face communication, then this book is an absolute must.

 

The Half-Life of Facts

Author: Samual Arbesman

Facts are something that may seem like they don’t ever change, but this book challenges and actually proves that to not be true.  All facts and what we know as knowledge changes over time and there are realities to that which we should consider in how we use information and what we would call, “facts”.  Its quite an intriguing book and I enjoyed reading it, as it gives data evidence and examples to prove points (which I like) and it really makes you think about some of the data you “think” you know is true and where much of that comes from.  It forces the reader to ponder some of the ways you use information.

Wait – The Art of Science and Delay

Author: Frank Partnoy

This book was a fun read as it takes a look at many aspects of where waiting to make decisions until the last possible moment can have excellent results, despite common thinking on procrastination.  Its very well written, funny and engaging for the reader as useful and common examples of decisions for life are explored to see how waiting can be a serious advantage.

 

The Long Earth

Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter

Definitely a fictional rarity for me but I did enjoy this book.  The Long Earth is a scientific imaginative exploration story through a journey millions of universes wide to discover and seek out if other humans have evolved in these many universes.  I disliked the lack of plot and real story development as much of the book seems like a stream of story sci-fi bits pasted together as the characters ‘step’ from one universe to another, ever stepping farther from earth.  It’s completely anti-climatic which was disappointing yet I was still a bit intrigued with the whole concept and the ways the parallel universes are exploited and inhabited by humans.

 

What Every Body is Saying

Author: Joe Navarro

This is a good introduction book to learning and detecting body language but it is somewhat simplistic and does not tie in enough cues together to really be able to understand body language well, as the book “The Power of Body Language” above does do.  It makes many mentions about how just a couple cues were used so obviously in the author’s job experiences, that it seems like he is overselling the body language as as set of obvious signs, even though it is not, nor does he lay that claim.  Its a good starting book to start reading body language but I’d recommend the book about on the subject over this one, as its more interesting, much more in depth and covers subtleties and relationships between conflicting body languages signs much better.

 

Just Listen

Author: Mark Goulston

This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.  It is simple to understand, very actionable and the methods are easy to learn and remember.  Listening skills are so crucial to good communication and I found that I learned a lot of things I can still apply more often from this book and some new techniques and methods I would have never had before.  The tools he provides will help you put your mind into the other side of communication and focus on the other person, which many people say but never give you a good set of tools like Goulston does to actually accomplish this.  If you want to improve your listening skills and take some his challenges to overcome some of your own pride, I suggest you read this book, apply his techniques and start listening to what others not only say around you, but what they have to say about you.

 

Connectome

Author: Sebastian Seung

I have enjoyed many articles and books on the science of the brain and so Connectome was a book that really intrigued me.  A Connectome is essentially the entire neural network in your brain that makes you, well, you.  It is a unique mapping to every individual, it of course changes dramatically over time and it is something that scientists would love to be able to map out in its entirety, which is under way for extremely simple animals, but decades away from even conceptually mapping a human mind due to its complexity.  Seung explores neuron types, synopses and the relationships between them as actors and interchangeable parts.  If you know this science at all, you are sure to learn some interesting things about the mind, how it works and how science is discovering its capabilities and simulation of those areas.  Overall, I thought it was a bit too science oriented without a lot of take-aways (unless your a brain scientist) so I’d recommend The Brain That Changes Itself if you are looking for a mix of science and story about the amazing structure, uniqueness and adaptability of the mind.

 

The Thank You Economy

Author: Gary Vaynerchuk

Vaynerchuk is has earned respect from his blogging, videos and now his books as well as he dives into the social arena with this one.  It covers all the necessary advice of how companies must not overlook social media and change the way they think in order to grab attention, act like the small local businesses and reconnect with the people that should be their customers.  He always displays a huge passion and this book is no different as you can tell from his unique style, having as many sidelines and comments stuck in with his thoughts as his videos do.

 

The Art of Non-Conformity

Author: Chris Guillebeau

Non-conformity has never been too difficult to me as I have many unique sports, have a reputation for being different and for often being know to have a bit of a tendency to break the rules.  All these things are covered well in the book by Guillebeau and I thoroughly enjoyed it which I think you will as well.  Whether you connect with these concepts or not, the author gives ample advice on how to change these norms and to not get stuck in the normal day to day life the same as the masses with nothing special to show for it.

 

C.S. Lewis – A Life

Author: Alister McGrath

I’ve enjoyed so many of Lewis’ books I thought I would see what a biography about the man would add for me.  I have to say that while this book itself delivers well on that subject, it just doesn’t seem to add anything to me for thinking about Lewis’ writing or my own beliefs as result, which certainly all of Lewis’ books have done.  If you are interested in the whole story of Lewis, this one uncovers the known, the documented and draws conclusions from evidence to fill in some of the missing pieces of Lewis’ life, but I have to say I thought it was rather boring and uninteresting and I’ve read a few other good biographies as well, so had an idea of what to expect.  While that might be for you, it wasn’t for me, I’d recommend you simply read more of Lewis’ work directly, as he has so many amazing books.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 1 Comment »

Book Review: The Trust Edge

August 19th 2013

How Top Leaders Gain Faster Results, Deeper Relationships, and a Stronger Bottom Line

Review Review Review Review ReviewThe Trust Edge - Book Cover

Author: David Horsager

This is a great book about how you can make a different in an organization by using and leverage trust in how you operate and behave in your organization.  The author stated in the book “Trust flows from individuals, not organizations” and that is a fantastic summary of the book and really the reason to read it.  You can make a difference with how you use trust for yourself, your career and your organization and the trust edge is something that is available to anyway, independent of their organization as there is always room for trust.  Surely different organizations will have barriers or roadblocks (as they all do) to how far or how quickly you can use the trust edge, but you can certainly make some room for it.  Because of this, I think it is an excellent book to read and a lot of very wise advice and behaviors are outlined in the book, making it actionable and applicable to everyone, which I love about a great book.

Horsager outlines the foundation of success, trust into 8 pillars of trust:

  1. Clarity: People trust the clear and mistrust the ambiguous.
  2. Compassion: People put faith in those who care beyond themselves.
  3. Character: People notice those who do what is right over what is easy.
  4. Competency: People have confidence in those who stay fresh, relevant, and capable.
  5. Commitment: People believe in those who stand through adversity.
  6. Connection: People want to follow, buy from, and be around friends.
  7. Contribution: People immediately respond to results.
  8. Consistency: People love to see the little things done consistently.

Trusted leaders are followed and these pillars allow a leader to develop genuine relationships and powerful reputations leading to higher revenues and success in the business. Horsager includes many useful and actionable segments in the book with questions to pose on yourself and summary steps to help you put more trust into the way you operate in business.  These make the book much more applicable and his guides and methods are all very reasonable and useful to follow.

Horsager based his book on findings from top company research and he provides many examples of how trust is a critical factor to the success of these great companies.  Trust of the internal people and processes but also trust of the customer and vise versa.  Customers will never stick around if they do not trust you and your company.

So, I recommend this book to anyone interested in business, especially if you are interested in making and improving the trust and relationships you have internally and with customers, as it can make a huge impact on your success and enjoyment in your work.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 4 Comments »

Book Review: Bury my Heart at Conference Room B

June 26th 2013

The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers

Bury My Heart, Book Review

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Author: Stan Slap

This book interested me as a way to explore the passions in great managers and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  It looks at how managers can truly connect to their jobs, their teams and their emotional commitment for their work to get real meaning from it.  It looks at what makes some of the big difference between an average everyday manager putting in time and a great manager, who emotionally connects with their team and really pushes to maximize their impact with others and the organization.

The subtitle hints at it, that is to have truly committed managers and the author, Slap, puts a whole process around an individual discovering what will truly connect them to be committed and ready for caring, impacting work as a manager.  I like the messages throughout the book and found many times that their were some very wise comments, rants and advice that any manager who gives a darn can get some value from.

A general theme through the book and this process making the title of the book, is to explore, understand and then share the personal values you have as a person in some way to emphasis the company objectives and values as well.  It’t not to align the values directly, or to simply use the companies, its to really understand your own values, why you have them, know when and where they formed and then find a way to hold true to those in your workplace.  Living your values and fitting that in to your workplace is a way to then truly commit to get connected to teams, goals and values of the company as well.  Your values may not match the companies directly, but likely many aspirational aspects of values will align and it will enable you to find a way to make that reality in your daily work.  I held my rating at 4 stars because the thing that is difficult about the book, is to realize some of the outcomes that this book promises I think are very dependent on the company culture, where the response to such a process could be a major roadblock and there is not much help in the book at overcoming the obstacles you’d likely face with that.  I am fortunate to work in a culture that would easily accept this process and concept, however, I know that is not the case in every company and I didn’t find that addressed very well in the book.

This book would be exceptional for any organization leader who has a need or desire to re-engage managers to a higher level of commitment, emotional connection and value driven decisions.  If you want to put some heart into the way you manage or with your team, then I highly recommend this one.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 1 Comment »

Book Review: Instant Influence

May 31st 2013

How to Get Anyone to Do Anything Fast

Review Review Review Review ReviewInstant Influence Book Cover

Author: Michael Pantalon

The sub title of this book almost put me off it, but I’m glad it didn’t because it is an excellent and very applicable book.  The premise of influence is often debated and while this book sits in that questionable realm, it offers a perspective of influence that is not typical, and from learning and practicing it now, I agree this is much better approach to influence and useful every day.  The main take is that influence is done most effectively by using questioning and discovery.  I’ve always enjoyed using questions in coaching and finding influence but I’ve learned a lot of that through tough practice, not with a simple guided set of steps and actions, like are available in this book.

So, Pantalon outlines a series of steps in this book to have influence conversations.  An all important element of the process of questioning and discovery is to ensure that autonomy remains with the person being influenced.  That is key through the entire book and influence process.  These steps are:

1. Why would you change something if you were willing to change?

Knowing why someone will do something is critical as it is meant to discover some internal motivator.  Using probing questions here to dig into the real understanding of this one.  A series of why questions can help you get to some meaningful and often emotional reason behind a change.  That is important when influencing someone.

2. Rate your readiness to make that change from 1 to 10.

This helps drive the desire to change and can help to look at another perspective of what they might be scared of or worried about if they don’t change.  It helps to reinforce the why they should change and gives them autonomy in knowing their own reasons and rating for readiness.

3. Ask why they didn’t pick a lower number?

Give back some autonomy, throw them off guard and ask why they wouldn’t use a lower number.  If they are already at the lowest, a 1 out of 10, ask what it would take for it to be a 2?  These questions help to understand the reasoning again and reinforce their own discovery of the reasons for a number or rating.

4. Visualize a positive outcome or benefit from that change if it were to happen

Again, the autonomy is reinforced with the addition of “if” it were to happen so you are strictly talking hypothetical.  This keeps the conversation in a maybe without expectation to continue to discovery of the reasons why.

5. Ask why that outcome is important to them?

Probe a bit deeper to help understand and learn with them why something would matter to them.  Here again, you can ask why several times when need to get to meaningful and personal reasons, instead of superficial ones.

6. Determine a next step, if any leading towards that change.

Here is the clincher and after all this hypothetical discussion, you can test if there is any motivation to change and at least take the first step, however small and if any at all.  It provides that autonomy still yet is a way to make some action possible, even a small action, which is the power behind this process.

In Summary

So overall the book uses this process multiple times with many scenarios, responses, situations and methods you will need in such conversations to stay on track with the process and to use it to its fullest.  The examples are all useful to really learn the process and I think make it quite comfortable to use because of the wide variety of examples.  I was able to use the process and continue to use it in conversations and it didn’t take any extra practice, preparation or concern after learning it from the book.  Its a great teaching tool and if you are interested in influencing others, I highly recommend this book.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | Comments Off on Book Review: Instant Influence

Book Review: Makers

February 13th 2013

The New Industrial Revolution

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Author: Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson is quite an inspiring guy for anyone with an ambition to find a market for things that interest them and to do something with it.  That was the impression I had from his last book, The Long Tail, which you must read if you haven’t already.  This new book, Makers is a brilliant addition that uncovers an enormous amount of knowledge and presents it a way that covers how that knowledge is being put to good use throughout the world, but it also inspires you to learn from it yourself and to join the movement and become a maker yourself.  A maker is essentially a person who is involved in what he calls the new wave of capabilities for desktop application, content and now, real products that is finally possible on an individual scale to compete in the market place.  Makers are those people who are building their own products, producing there own manufacturing capabilities on a small scale and being successful at it.

What’s interesting about this book is how so many examples of what Anderson talks about are not only reasonable, but personal since he is a huge part of this maker revolution and so his stories and experience is extremely authentic in the realities of what is possible and what recommendations he has to make from lessons learned.  The book covers his theory that the manufacturing arena is going to change and shift from a huge capital limiting arena to one of creativity and equal access.  This is just starting to be done by rapid prototyping, 3D printers and personal production devices that enable anyone to get into the manufacturing business with a creative idea at a fraction of the cost of traditional manufacturing.

Anderson keeps a very optimistic outlook on future manufacturing and what the wonders of local technology allow anyone to do despite how many downsides and negative consequences of this revolution so many others point out.  Either way, in my mind, you can join it, enjoy the creative component and reap some benefits or you can watch others do it despite you, as I too believe that the maker movement will become ever more popular in niche markets where mass production with huge economies of scale will start to lose their market share.  I mean, who doesn’t want their own custom etched, physical version of a 3D object they dreamed up.  OK, that was my 3D artist in me talking, but seriously, there is so much room for replicating products, fixing parts, tweaking or customizing things the market for this will only continue to expand.

His previous book, the Long Tail is used as reference several times, this time, however, to look at how the smaller market, unique products have a tremendous value now since they were simply never affordable to make before.  The methods of customization, automation and robotics in scaling production manufacturing systems is covered deeply and its very interesting to hear and learn how easy some of the automation for production has become and how many companies have taken advantage of that to provide fantastic user choices and customization.

So, if you are interested in 3D printing, do any kind of product prototyping, would be curious about the capabilities of building your own products, or simply want to learn what Anderson’s expectations are for the future of manufacturing, then I think you will enjoy the read and gain some knowledge and insight you can reflect on for your own maker mindset for custom products.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | Comments Off on Book Review: Makers

Book Review: Judgment Calls

January 11th 2013

12 Stories of BIG Decisions and the Teams That Got Them Right

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Author: Thomas Davenport & Brook Manville

Making great judgments for business and in teams is a crucial part of leadership and something I value a great deal.  Judgments are often seen as something we react to with negative connotations but it is much more frequent yet invisible in ever little action we take, the choices and decisions we make many times a day and in the case of this book, the big decisions we need to make as well.  The authors have 4 parts in this book, that put the 12 stories into the following categories:

  1. Participative problem solving processes.  Examples from NASA, a home-builder, and McKinsey & Company.
  2. Use of technology and analytics in decision making. Examples from a health-care, technology and a school system.
  3. Organisational culture guiding decision-making.  Examples from ancient Athens, EMC and the Vanguard Group.
  4. Leaders with participative decision-making styles.  Examples from a philanthropic organisation, a media company and a product company.

These wide range of stories give a broad view of how decisions and the challenges associated with them might be faced in any organization.  There are no silver bullet insights or conclusions with step based programs to handle making decisions, since these issues are much more complex and through the stories, you will see this.  The book does however provide a view into the many factors that contribute to great judgments such as knowledge, experience, culture, information and organizational structure among the many.

I thought that about half of the stories had good subject matter, clear examples of actionable decision methods and were useful to consider how those techniques could be applied.  The other half of the stories however, I thought were less engaging or even contradicting like an example of NASA’s participative process that led both to failures and successes.  The failures followed the same process even though the authors seemed to use it as convincing evidence on how the participative process would be successful, despite the critical failures it created in NASA.

Anyway, there are no simple conclusions to draw or actionable steps to follow, but the stories will lead you to consider how ever decision and organizational judgment have a wide range of perspectives and that groups or teams of people will have more successes over individual heroes making decisions solely.  It’s a good book and if you are a leader or aspiring leader who will be facing higher level decisions that affect your organization, you will likely get a lot out of this book and some definite stories to relate to, think on and draw your own conclusions from.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | Comments Off on Book Review: Judgment Calls

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