Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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

Book Review: Awakened Leadership

December 31st 2012

Beyond Self-Mastery

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Author: Alan E. Shelton

Shelton makes this book on leadership a whole new experience; as he puts such an emphasis on experiencing leadership at the forefront of his book as well.  It is not your usual leadership book with traits, how to’s and the usual learning to be a leader stuff you will find in so many other leadership titles.  He writes the book with a series of stories, mostly being an auto-biography, as he discovered what leadership truly meant to him in his life and many experiences.  His stories are very inviting, intriguing and keep you drawn in to understand more of where the author is coming from in his discovery of leadership and then to see the application side that the book also includes once the concepts are shown from the story perspective.

There are some deep questions and exploration of one ‘self’ in this book to see where leadership is sourced from.  Ourselves.  Shelton shows many insights on that topic and he delivers some powerful stories and conclusions from his experiencing these.  He covers a lot of topics that you’ll find in other books, but I personally found a lot of his language to be overwhelming and completely unconvincing.  He references the ego countless times, and for my liking anyway, overuses words like manifest, essence, construct, enlightenment which completely distract me from his point, really not following what he seems to be trying so hard to share.  He leaves a lot of inconclusive points about his own understanding of things saying how its experiential and cannot be explained, yet this only created a lot more doubt in my mind as to what I could really take away from his book.

So, it a great storybook and Shelton definitely has some great leadership insights. The whole aspect of knowing yourself and being authentic, becoming more by accepting things as they occur and not being limited by what you think you need to still develop and to control the ego so that you can simply be, make sense to me already, but I’ve discovered them and learned them from other material and experiences without this book helping that much.  I certainly can’t say that will be true for you, as Shelton puts it himself very clearly, each person will have their own leadership discovery and journey so this book might be a great way for you to find some of that out yourself and Shelton’s unique style and stories will certainly leave you thinking.  As much as they did leave me thinking, I can’t say I learned much more about leadership or myself from readying this book.

To get a better sense of Shelton’s writing, please have a look at his previous guest post here, Learning, Humility and Leadership.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 1 Comment »

Book Review: Change Anything

October 28th 2012

The New Science of Personal Success

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Author: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

This is a superb book and while it makes high claims to be able to change your life which are hard to believe, it does provide some excellent guidance and methods if practiced consistently, I believe are foundation principles to change your life.  The book has 3 main parts:

  1. The science of personal success
  2. The six sources of influence
  3. How to change anything

The concepts in these sections all examine personal success and how influence on oneself is what feeds change.  Part 1 covers in great detail a section on willpower and the willpower trap.  This trap is often thought to be why people can’t change and unfortunately, most people accept this too suddenly and think they know the issue, when in reality, they are blind to the other factors that lock them in to believing the willpower is the limiting factor, leaving themselves in an impossible to break cycle.

Change from these traps requires a specific approach for each specific problem and the usual ‘blamed’ willpower must be learned to not be the real cause of these limiting beliefs.  To discover these, you must understand the next section of the book, which is all about the sources of influence.  Its these areas that really reveal the brilliance of this book as it forces you to not only look at what you are likely used to doing unconsciously, but also to tackle things from new perspectives, despite your old habits or how ingrained they might be in your character.  These six sources may seem too simple or even counter-intuitive, which is why this book is so valuable, because as titles they are not that useful.  However, they are:

  1. Love what you hate
  2. Do what you can’t
  3. Turn accomplices into friends
  4. Turn accomplices into friends
  5. Invert the economy
  6. Control your space

That’s not a typo, there are two sections dedicated to turning accomplices into friends.  Influences are covered from the 3 different sources, personal, social and structural.  All of these are explored and the authors present tools to use each influence for good and for the change you want.  This guidance itself is worth reading the book for, and it ties in to the whole purpose of the book, to change yourself first and get influence under control so you can change anything.  If you are interested in this level of influence, you can read their earlier book as well, called Influence, which I reviewed here.

So, overall I definitely recommend this book to any of my readers and anyone interested in personal development, in changing or improving some of their habits and if you are wanting to influence others for good as a result of your own personal development. There is a lot to take in from these authors and a lot of great techniques and guidance to absorb and apply for change.  I’m sure you will enjoy it like I have!

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 6 Comments »

Book Review: The Progress Principle

September 17th 2012

Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work.

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Author: Teresa Amabile and Stephen Kramer

The Progress Principle Principle is explained in this book with thorough research and great examples as forward momentum in the workplace by everyday events that make employee’s inner work lives better.  The book looks at helping people finding more joy in their work, break away from obstacles to progress and to instill catalysts for creativity and progress.  I personally didn’t find a lot of new inspiring content in this book, but it does cover its subjects well and provide a convincing set of actions anyone could use.  I just found that I’ve read so much of this in other books, there were not many new ideas to work from.

The authors focus on 3 main components of inner work life and dedicate a major chapter each:

  1. Progress Principle: The power of meaningful accomplishment
  2. The Catalyst Factor: The power of project support
  3. The Nourishment Factor: The Power of Interpersonal Support
There are some excellent points in this book about recognizing and making progress, using and bringing leadership to encourage it, finding things that ignite your own work happiness and of course then using other factors to encourage progress.  The two big ones of catalysts and nourishment I really liked and are often missing in people’s work lives or workplaces even when there is great accomplishments besides them.  Without them however, there is often little or no joy in the work and any progress fades quickly from keeping the workplace a thriving place of enjoyment.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in seeking their own progress in their career and especially to anyone who has made good progress, but does not seem to have the joy they want in their workplace.  This book will help you recognize what might be missing and to show you ways to bring that into your own work life or workplace.  It is probably more suitable to new supervisors or managers but can obviously be useful to any position since leadership can happen at any level, and influence in a leadership position will help you made a bigger impact with these tools from the book.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 8 Comments »

Book Review: The Personal MBA

June 24th 2012

Master the Art of Business

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Author: Josh Kaufman

I anticipated this book for some time after learning that Kaufman was writing it.  When I first really got into finding the best books for business myself, at some point I crossed paths with Kaufman through his website and book recommendations and I was happy to see he overlapped my reading list and recommendations very closely.  That led Kaufman on to bigger things and eventually to writing his own book on the subject of business by consolidating so much of that knowledge into this new all in one book, The Personal MBA.

I definitely enjoyed the book and he covers a vast amount of material in a concise and useful manner, but it is like few other books on his own list and a different kind of book to read, which may not be for everyone, which I’ll come back to.  The subjects go very deep in the major chapters of the book:

    • Why Read This Book
    • Value Creation
    • Marketing
    • Sales
    • Value Delivery
    • Finance
    • The Human Mind
    • Working with Yourself
Working with Others
  • Understanding Systems
  • Analyzing Systems
  • Improving Systems

Each of these are broken into great categories for learning about business and they go into immediate action lists, recommendations and methods needed for each topic.  This makes the book a great reference guide and it gives many examples, step by step plans and reasonable tools to start with in each area whether you are training and skills in it already or just needing to explore something you’ve not done before.  I found myself being reminded of other training, books and courses I’ve taken at many points and in many others, learning something completely new.

The book has so many topics (226 in fact) they are very hard to digest and as I mentioned above, you can’t get a lot out of this book if you read it like a standard book, cover to cover.  It is far better to speed read through it, browse it or familiarize yourself with all the categories and topics and then use them in areas you need or want to expand.  You really have to change focus to switch some of the topics and I found this hard to absorb much from if I was not able to apply it something I do in my work or experience I’ve already had.  I’m sure those topics will become useful at some point, but more as a reference when I need them and knowing they are there, than I could have possibly remembered from it all.

Kaufman introduces the book with a very discussion and perspective of why he feels that an traditional MBA is a waste of money.  From the extremely high costs, to the poor statistics of graduates among many other factors, he gives a very convincing and reasonable explanation why it is so important to have methods to learn business on your own.  I cannot concur more after my own considerations of doing an MBA, which I’m very glad I never pursued for all those same reasons.

The sections are well organized and do flow together quite well, which clearly shows just how much thought and learning Kaufman has applied when putting this book together.  Without getting into too much more on the content itself since it covers so much, I have to just say that if you have ever thought about an MBA or have any interest or reasons to learn more about business, then this is the best money you can possibly spend on the subject.  Its a valuable book and one you should add to your bookshelf.

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 2 Comments »

Book Review: Great By Choice

June 2nd 2012

Uncertainty, Chaos and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All

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Author: Jim Collins and Morten Hansen

I’ve loved Collin’s other two books, Good to Great, and Built to Last so I had to read his latest and I have to say, it is yet again, another great book.  Great by Choice looks at the decisions and choices that great leaders of their successful companies have made compared to their same industry counterparts who have not been successful.  These great companies and leaders and labelled 10 Xers, as they outperform the industry by 10 times!  All of Collin’s books are based on tons of imperical evidence and data that he uses as the foundation for his writing.  I really like this style as it shows not only does he have some grand claims to make but they have a basis well past personal experience and opinions, unlike many other books on the topic of leadership.

So, there are three main categories of choices that these great leaders and companies are found to make:

1. Fanatic Discipline: Choices and decisions that don’t waver and are based on solid core values, methods and systems, all while staying committed to growth over a long term.

2. Empirical Creativity: Finding solutions is based on observations, trials and experimentation.  One area described in this is of the term firing bullets first (the test and trials), then the canon balls (which finish the goal in a BIG way).

3. Productive Paranoia: They are critical thinkers, taking precautions and tweaking their business even when things are booming to ensure stable futures, positive outcomes and maximum return no matter what the situation.

These points and conclusions are outlined by many actions, stories and methods these businesses conducted and it is certainly not all intuitive results.  The most visionary leaders weren’t the cream of the crop, luck towards competitors and against the 10Xers still did not stop them, and despite all odds, the choices set forth by these companies with discipline, left a much bigger mark on success.  There is a lot to learn from the book and these companies in the massive dataset explored.  Even though the research ended in 2002, long before the trying times of the end of the decade, Collin’s findings and books have proven to be applicable in long term markets, despite recent swings and volatility.

A lot of the lessons in the case studies demonstrate how these companies manage chaos well and have continued to be examples in these recent years.  Its an interesting book with valuable research and something everyone can learn from to manage some of the chaos around them and lead themselves and their companies.  I highly recommend you reading it as well!

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 3 Comments »

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