Archive for the 'Book Review' Category

02 Feb 2015

Posted by under Book Review

Nuthin’ to see here

invisiblesInvisibles: The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-Promotion by David Zweig (ISBN: 978-1591846345) 2014

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, personal branding – the current wisdom seems to be that if you aren’t promoting yourself, what you’ve accomplished and where you are going then you are in danger of being left behind or not noticed. In the modern workplace, many behave as if not being recognized will inevitably relegate you to the back bench.  Yet, for some people their experience does not support this notion.  In fact, invisibility allows some to find a particular kind and degree of satisfaction in their work that recognition and praise just cannot compete with.

In this book, author David Zweig looks at a number of people working in widely different fields who appear to not simply survive in obscurity, but actually thrive on it.  These individuals in some ways form the backbone of the organization in which they work, delivering solid results in a way that is understated and un-noticed.

Zweig’s premise, in fact, is that the intrinsic rewards of ambivalence toward recognition, meticulousness and savouring responsibility comprise three key traits embodied by many who work in roles and positions well out of the spotlight. Such individuals are the “invisibles” in our midst. Critically, the invisibles seem to find lengthy, rewarding careers out of the spotlight in ways that the more renowned and recognized people sometimes do not.  The invisibles have a sense of curiosity and engagement directly in their work that sustains them.

Who are the invisibles?  Just about anyone who operates in a supporting role – fact checkers at a newspaper, cinematographers, interpreters, roadies, designers and many others.  The common thread is that the work goes largely unseen and unrecognized when it is done well.  In fact, the better the job is done, the less likely anyone is even be aware of the work; and the invisibles that do the work couldn’t be happier.  Chasing rewards fades into insignificance compared to the compensation of mastery over work that resembles and art more than a task.

When considering motivation, Zweig offers an entire book full of case studies that demonstrate the principles found in Daniel Pink’s work, Drive.

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27 Oct 2013

Posted by under Book Review,Dave's Thoughts

Create and Connect

Godin_Icarus Deception

The Icarus Deception: how high will you fly? by Seth Godin, 2012, Portfolio/Penguin (ISBN: 978-1-59184-607-9)

I know, Seth Godinagain. It’s not that I go out of my way, but with life being busy, Godin’s writing style is easy to pick up and put down. In the case of this book, this strength is also a weakness in that the content feels quite repetitive. About halfway through the 240 pages it felt like there were just too many repetitions of earlier content. Godin’s style seems to have a “sound bite” quality that, for me, made it difficult to stay focused on the slowly developing theme of the book.

The good news is that Godin’s theme does resonate. The essence of the book is that as we have transitioned from the mid-20th-century manufacturing economy through the knowledge economy and look towards a “connection” economy the skills and abilities that are needed to thrive have changed and continue to change. Comfort v Safety2The command and control work world, with it’s strict hierarchy of leaders over managers over workers, has had a defined safety zone (behave like this and you will have “success”). Naturally, people align their lives and behaviours to keep their personal comfort zone within that safety zone. The “safe” behaviours have emphasized staying within the fences of following the rules, waiting to be noticed, accepting “cost of living” wage increases – being a reliable cog in the industrial machine.

But, the safety zone has moved. My Dad worked for one company for 38 years and then retired with a great pension. I have had 14 different jobs since graduating university and no pension at all. My kids? Who can say? Clearly, though, they will need the ability to innovate, create, build relationships and find connections in order to find success. In Godin’s terms, this is art. Not painting or sculpting – art in the sense of seeing differently and creating something that connects with others.

I see this all the time in my work, improving processes for engineering or project management depends critically on being able to get into other people’s shoes and then to develop new or different ways of working that really address the issues that cause ineffectiveness and frustration. It isn’t strict technical competence that will be required tomorrow, but the ability to apply that competence in creative ways that connect, add value and build relationships.

As the industrial age peters out, as the growth fades away, the challenge is this: training creative, independent, and innovative artists. We can’t use the old tools, because resorting to obedience to teach passion just isn’t going to work.

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02 Apr 2013

Posted by under Book Review,Dave's Thoughts


4dx-cover The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals
by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, Jim Huling; 2012; Free Press (ISBN: 978-1-4516-2705-3)

The 4 Disciplines of Execution, or “4DX” as the authors abbreviate the title, comes across as a pure business-oriented “pull your self up by the bootstraps and prosper” self-help book.  The entire dust jacket, as well as the first 10 pages and the forward are filled with self-congratulatory bumpf that is stereotypical of the genre.  Not a particularly compelling start…

So, what was I doing reading about the “next big thing” from the FranklinCovey Group? The 4DX concept, and the book, had been specifically mentioned by the director of the group that I am working for at TransCanada during a quarterly departmental update meeting. The 4DX principles were being used to set strategic and tactical direction for the group.  Well, clearly, if my boss’s boss is interested in something, then so am I!

Once I got into the meat of the book, I found that my initial skeptical concerns were being addressed by a thoughtfully developed set of business practices that the author calls the four disciplines; these are:

  • Discipline 1:   Focus on the wildly important
  • Discipline 2:   Act on Leading Measures
  • Discipline 3:   Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
  • Discipline 4:   Create a Cadence of Accountability

The essence of the 4DX methodology is to select one extremely important goal out of numerous potential initiatives and objectives, which may be important in their own right but are not the most important.  This focus is critical as it compels you to rise above the whirlwind of day-to-day business and be clear about what really matters.  The focus is then quantified by stating it as a “get from A to B by this deadline”.

So far, not much new.  The second and third disciplines are where the game changes into something a little different.  The discipline 1 goal is stated as a measurable idea, “from A to B by date”, just like any other business book might advise. This is a measure that can only be reviewed – it lags the actual activities that cause the movement from A to B.  By the time you get the report or scorecard it is too late to influence what you did last week or last month.  Discipline 2 changes the emphasis towards actions that act as leverage on the goal by looking for another kind of measure – a leading measure.  Leading measures are predictive and influence-able indicators of behaviours that support the goal. Discipline 3 then makes both the goal and the leading measures relevant by presenting the progress as a real-time scoreboard that shows clearly whether the team is winning or losing the game of reaching the goal.

It’s like a pick-up game of street hockey – the entire experience changes when scorekeeping starts and changes most significantly when the players themselves are the scorekeepers. The first three disciplines set up the game (focus on winning), provide leading indicators for behaviours related to achieving the win (how many shots on goal each shift?) and provide feedback on progress towards winning (what’s the score right now?).

4dx-graphicAll well and good, but if these ideas set up the game, it’s the last one that puts the team in the game. Discipline 4 creates accountability for the independent actions of team members to move the game along.  It is the communication that allows individuals to commit to action and follow-up.  It is a cadence of checking in and checking up that moves the leading measures and gets results – despite the whirlwind.

The inevitable question is then, “How do I actually do that?”   The theory sounds good, but putting it into practice?  This is where the authors have made an admirable attempt to get real.  Using an interesting combination of text and web content accessed by QR codes in side notes, the authors have attempted to make the book a multi-media experience with short video clips of interviews with people who have put the 4DX ideas into practice.  It works, sort of.  The process of browsing to the website and watching a video clip takes a bit of time and disrupts the flow of the book.  (Disclaimer: I actively despise the distracting habit many authors/publishers have of littering a book with large font excerpts from the text randomly interspersed in the prose.)  Worse though, the second QR code I scanned didn’t take me to the extra content directly; instead it went to a sign-in page that wanted my name and email address before I could get to the content.  Needless to say FranklinCovey simply gathered bogus information for their spam-victim database.

Bottom line on this book? I felt it was a good, concise take on a measurement based accountability system that should get results. Focusing on one important objective and reaching for it through smart use of leading measures and agile-style accountability makes sense and should be scalable to any sized team or organization.  The how-to information is down-to-earth and accessible as well. This technique appears to be useable not only in business but in any other area of life where the chaos of the whirlwind might otherwise blow away the best of intentions to win the game.

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17 May 2012

Posted by under Book Review

Brave, Smart or Stupid

 The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin, 2007, Portfolio (ISBN: 978-1591841661)

A month or so ago when I posted about Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams manifesto, I mentioned this little book, The Dip. I pulled it off the shelf and tucked it into my carry-on when we went to Ottawa and re-read it on the flight out.  It is a little book, about 7 x 5 inches and less than a hundred pages – easily read in just an hour or two.  It takes longer to think through how you might apply the concepts that to read about them. The concept presented in The Dip is simple: count the cost before you start on an ambitious task and if you are not willing or able to persevere to the end – quit now.

Godin postulates that all worthwhile endeavours have a dip – a low point after an initial amount of reward or success where the going gets tough.  The initial rush of feeling good about a new project hits the doldrums of working through the never-ending details and you ask yourself, “Is this worth it?”  And, if you decide that it isn’t worth it, you quit.  It was the right question, but asked at the wrong time and with the worst possible outcome, quitting after a significant investment (in time, effort, money, reputation…) is totally lost.  Godin illustrates this point with the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – quitting because the posse is making your life difficult as you head deeper into the hills is a stupid choice, it only gets you killed.  The time to choose is before you rob the train – at that time there are two good choices: don’t start if you can’t finish, or summon the strength to see it through to the end. The first is smart, the latter, brave.

Ok, so you aren’t likely thinking about robbing a train – but what about learning a new skill, changing careers or getting behind a cause you believe in?  If the task is worthwhile, it most certainly will have a dip.  In fact, the bigger the potential reward the longer and deeper the dip is likely to be.  Counting the cost before starting is the sign of maturity and the choice to be brave (and see the job through to the end) or to be smart (and find something else to attempt where you can be brave) is crucial to avoid being stupid and quitting in the dip.

I was struck by how this idea ties in with some of the concepts from other books I’ve read – Dan Pink might say that purpose allows bravery, and building mastery underpins perseverance in the dip.  Ken Robinson would probably argue that the passion, interest and opportunity required to be in your element help you to understand what is worth seeing through to the end.  Don Miller could argue that inciting incidents lead you into the dip and character gets you to the other side. No matter what, facing the dip is unavoidable – thus having the foresight to understand the difference between brave, smart and stupid then choosing wisely at the beginning is essential for success.

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