Black Swans are random events that occur, phenomena for which we have no explanation. But weak signals do exist and are there for all to see. There are also usually some people who have noticed these phenomena, perhaps even mentioned them, but who were disregarded. There is a growing interest in this area; not trying to predict what is, by definition unpredictable, but in preparing sufficiently that impending crises do not sneak up on us.
Taleb is an academic and he has a good background to tell this story – he grew up in Lebanon where Black Swans were, he says, an every day occurrence. It is an interesting and irritating book at the same time. He can be humorous and he tells a good story, but sometimes he is too arch for my liking. It is not an easy read, rather it is a book one has to read in snippets (great train reading) because one needs to go away and think.
His conclusion is that our brains are programmed to recognise these weak signals but we disregard them because they are weak; we need to learn to look for them, recognise them when we see them and develop a greater awareness of our wider environment. And some people (i.e. foxes) find this easier than others.
At the end of the day, he says that ‘you always control what you do, so make this your end.’ In other words, you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction to it. Wise words.
The Black Swan is certainly a book we’d recommend because our world is becoming more and more turbulent and anything that helps us to make sense of it is welcome.
Like a child in a sweet shop, I was overwhelmed with the choice of goodies on display. This book is a treasure trove of great insights, useful tools, handy hints and homily wisdom. Even before I'd finished it, I had fired off emails to colleagues extolling them to "read this book", "use the tools on pages X and Y", and the like.
The overarching message is one that standing still is not an option. We need to open our eyes to ourselves and to what's happening around us and to have the courage to accept, welcome and embrace change. As I read it, I was conscious of having one eye on my own organisation; undertaking a strategic review in my mind as I turned the pages. Are we a PS-RO? Do we have a clear Narrative? Do we have the right Machinery? etc.
My Hero Quest is to build strategic thinking into my organisation. On my journey, I will return time and again to this book for help, guidance and reassurance. It may not deliver renewal, but having it to light the way will give us more of a fighting chance!
Gary Kass, Natural England (used with permission).
With good examples and exercises, this helps you to see how you can use story-telling in your own organisation. Stories are memorable, entertaining, people-centric and can help to explain or make clear something that is quite complex easily and quickly. They encourage creativity and help to handle emotion and the 'un-discussable'. After all, a 'story' isn't real life, is it? We are really excited by this book, especially because of our earlier work on story-telling at work (speaker at Corporate Memory, Corporate Amnesia workshop) and our current work with Scenario Planning (see Chapter 8).
This is THE seminal book on Scenario Planning for me. Sort of an A-Z of the history and “how to” of Scenario Planning from a recognised expert who can also write well. Easy to follow and clearly structured it starts with explaining the history of Scenario Planning and how scenarios link to strategic planning; tit hen gives many real life examples of how they have been used and the benefits that came out of using them. Part I is ‘the book’ containing everything you need to know. The following sections are further reading and reference materials if you would like to find out more.
It seems that this month is one for creativity and innovation. This is a fascinating book which was both enjoyable AND constructive. Mr. Johansson talks about 'The Intersection' where two different fields meet. This is the field of real innovation, of paradigm change in business. He suggests that there are two types of innovation, directional ideas where you know more or less where you are going with an idea (in a particular direction with a particular improvement for instance) and intersectional ideas which change the world and go off in an entirely different, unpredictable direction. Sitting in 'The Intersection' is the best opportunity for productive, effective, income generating innovation. This is not to say that directional ideas are bad, just that there is a greater probability of success (and also of failure) when you are working at 'The Intersection.'
Johansson begins by describing what 'The Intersection' is, followed by how to create 'The Medici Effect' which means to set the scene for developing intersectional ideas, then finally how to make the ideas happen. He uses stories from real life interviews and research to illustrate how these ideas can be used practically. It is interesting to think about how you can use what you learn here to improve the way you do business and perhaps even what your business is about. A book we highly recommend!
This book was recommended to me by my coach. It is based on Ms. Palmer's model and is written to help such people to understand themselves and to learn to work with what they have, encouraging the creativity this brings and minimising the flip-side and what can be holding you back. In reality, all of us are this type of personality some of the time, so everyone can learn from this book.
She describes Hyper-Creatives as people who are full of ideas many ideas for any one particular issue. They love generating new ideas and solutions. But they are not very patient with detailed work. They don't like finishing things, they go more for gut feeling than facts and data. They get bored with putting ideas into action. Do you know someone like this?
The book is structured around helping you define which type of hyper creative you are and then identify the benefits and their flip-side for that type. And she gives ideas on how to get around some of the difficulties you might encounter. Ideas that make sense, are relatively simple to implement and really do work. As someone who is frequently hyper-creative (to the frustration of some of my colleagues), I have discovered some by trial and error. The book is short and illustrated with case studies that help you to see what a particular type looks like in 'real life' or how one of the suggestions works out for them in practise. If you think you might be someone like this, then the book does give you ideas around how to support yourself so that you CAN complete what you start and become even more successful in your work and life.
Written by an ex-McKinsey consultant and translated from Japanese, this book means to be a first course on problem solving and explains in clear and simple terms how to go about it. This may sound like something we all know how to do, but it is useful to have a reminder and to have a structure. Although I have worked with problem solving in groups for over 20 years, I still found some tools that were useful and that I didn’t remember or had not known. It was originally a book teaching children how to solve problems and that is certainly evident. However, it is no less useful for that and is a quick and easy read.
There are many books on Action Learning and certainly there are more recent books. These two are in our library and have stood the test of time. Action Learning in Practice has everything you ever wanted to know about Action Learning between its covers – starting with the history of how Reg Revans came to pull it together out of the development work he was doing with managers to what it is (in great detail) to how to use it to using it in different places around the world. Mike Pedlar is currently Professor of Action Learning at Henley Business School. Krystyna Weinstein’s book is more about her personal learning journey with Action Learning, how she has used it, how you might use it and what she has learned. Both are useful, the first being more academic in tone and the second somewhat easier to read and less weighty.
This is an inspiring little book about how to be creative in a big company. MacKenzie likens a big company to a giant hairball. In a hairball all strands are tight and connected to the centre; there can be no movement within the hairball, because movement would loosen the strands and destroy the cohesive nature of the ball.
MacKenzie deals with the big questions of how a creative individual can retain his creativity in such an institution – and how he, and his organisation, can survive and thrive.
The book is an engaging discussion about encouraging creativity in formal institutions where everything conspires to keep creativity suppressed. MacKenzie calls it “orbiting”; responsible creativity, exploring beyond the corporate mind set while remaining connected to its values and purpose.
This little book helps people to move beyond not being able to see the forest for the trees. And it does so in a fun, irreverent and above all illuminating way. Best of all, it helps you to see how you can encourage this attitude in others – a way to build an environment that encourages and rewards innovative behaviour.
WOW! This book is amazing. Joseph Jaworski shares his journey of leadership and it is immensely compelling. Along the way he learns a lot, both about himself and about who he is as a leader. It is very approachable and easy to read.
His father, Leon Jaworski was the Watergate Special Prosecutor and his journey begins there. His father shared his findings with Joe (who was also a lawyer) and both of them were appalled at Nixon’s betrayal of the American people.
Eventually Joe decided that what was needed was Leadership and he quit his job as a lawyer (by that time he was working in London and had had several disasters in his own life) and decided to make his dream – The American Leadership Forum which develops servant leaders – happen. He didn’t know anything about leadership, he didn’t know how to do it and yet he did it.
The book follows his journey as he discovered how – when you are on track for your life’s purpose as a leader – everything just falls into place. And then it stops and gets difficult again – what are the traps you can fall into? How can you recognise when you’ve fallen into them and learn to find that flow again?
He found that his leadership journey echoed very closely The Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell) and incorporated that into the teaching of the programme the forum ran. Eventually he moved on and had several other adventures including writing the book Presence (with Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer and Betty Sue Flowers). It is a moving, rich book with which I connected deeply. I recommend it highly.
I’m including this book because I really loved reading it recently. What an absolute, uplifting joy it was to read! Martin Kalungu-Banda has taken stories from Nelson Mandela’s life and extracted the leadership lessons from each one. And how amazing they are! I am tempted to say if you want to read ONE book on leadership about someone who embodies being a great leader, this is the book to read. It will inspire you. Of course we each embody leadership in our own unique way, however, there are lessons here for each of us and ideas that we can each try out that will improve our leadership.
There are 22 short stories, each with a different leadership lesson and a note Martin calls ‘Food for Thought’. There are also lovely black and white photos of Mandela to illustrate the stories. The stories and lessons are quite simple, but all the more powerful for their simplicity. I suppose a bit like Mr. Mandela himself! I found many of the stories gave me something to aspire to.
At the end of the book, Martin distils the lessons down even further so that there are six main lessons for you to take forward. This is a most wonderful book which I can highly recommend – enjoyable, easy reading with a powerful and memorable punch.
While doing background research for the book I am currently writing with my SAMI Consulting colleagues (see News, below), I re-visited Built to Last. This book inspired me even more than the next book Collins wrote (Good to Great) because of its emphasis on Core ideology being central to an organisation’s ability to survive in today’s turbulent times. By Core Ideology, he means Core Values and Purpose plus Vision. To my mind, backed up by my experience, this is indeed key to an organisation that can succeed and survive in these times.
The organisations that will survive (and are surviving) in the long term are those who look to building the organisation and focus on what they are here to do, rather than profit first and foremost. This is not to say that profits aren’t important, rather that to be successful, something else should come first. Something inspiring that makes people want to get out of bed in the morning.
The authors say that to be ‘built to last you must be built to change,’ but you must be clear on what can change (such as business processes, what you produce and sell and so on) and what cannot – your Core Values and Purpose.
They go on to talk about a set of skills and tools that will help an organisation to become what they call a visionary organisation. Using memorable headings such as
No ‘Tyranny of the OR’; More than Profits; Preserve the Core/ Stimulate Progress; Big Hairy Audacious Goals; Cult-Like Cultures; Try a Lot of Stuff and Keep What Works; Home-Grown Management; Good Enough Never Is; The End of the Beginning and Building Vision, the authors provide us with much food for thought. Well worth a read.
I was driving down the motorway and listening to Radio 4 (as you do) when I heard Benjamin Zander interviewed as he had been running some workshops at The World Economics Forum at Davos. I was so excited by what he was discussing – The Art of Possibility – that I ordered his book. This is the book I wish I had written. This is a wonderful, abundant book, full of how to generate possibility in your life. I think it is the antidote to all the doom and gloom we hear in the media these days. It is easy to read, it is fun, it is full of stories to illustrate the 12 practices that are suggested and it touches my soul.
The first practice is called “It’s All Invented” about how our words create our reality and how we invent it… so we step outside of our box if we can figure out how. The first step (of course) is recognising that the box is there. The next is ‘Stepping into a Universe of Possibility” to which I respond with a big YES! I love number 3 which is about “Giving an A” – in my lexicon this is about helping people to find the hero within them and to recognise it in everyone (see above). And so it goes, each practice building upon the next and finally ending with “Telling the WE story”. This is a well written, uplifting book which gets my vote as the best book I’ve read in the last year. Read it, enjoy, and multiply your possibilities!
Well, he isn't shy, that is for sure, nor modest with a title like that. Ken Wilber has been producing books about his research into a unifying theory across all knowledge since 1973. He tries to integrate knowledge from different fields and different thought orientations (e.g. Eastern and Western thought) in a simple way. He is often seen as New Age, especially since he includes spirituality in his model. Even if you think this sort of thing this gives you an allergic reaction, it may well still be worth your while to read it. In comparison to some of his earlier books, this is an engaging, approachable, relatively easy read, and it does make you think. It is about making sense and meaning out of what you experience in life. In particular it helps by defining a model or map of our brave new world.
We found the distinction between states and stages useful:
Using these definitions to talk about organisations and teams gives us a shared vocabulary with which to map what it looks like.
I think it will need several readings, but it is short, it has lots of pictures and diagrams and I enjoyed it. I also need to read it in small bite sized pieces, because it makes me think. If you want to challenge your thinking, give this little book a go.
Gilbert is a quirky guide through how our minds really work – not how we think they work, but how they actually do (and how we can be sure about that). It is fascinating and fun, although I frequently found myself astounded at how our minds manage to convince us that what they tell us is really true, or really what happened when it patently did not. I knew memory was fallible, but didn’t realise how we are set up to deceive ourselves. This is particularly important to understand when we talk about scenarios and how we plan for the future. If we realise that people are built to imagine a good future and therefore not to worry about possible catastrophes… well it makes it all the more important to make ourselves look at several scenarios including unpleasant ones so that we can prepare ourselves for a future that will unfold but will not be the one we think it will.
This was a wonderful, uplifting book to read. Stress, anxiety and depression can be debilitating and difficult to deal with, but the worst thing is the belief that you can’t do anything about it. This book gives you lots of things to try and ideas that help you to get control of what you can control and to feel better about things – indeed to feel happy. I have – at one time or another – heard many of the ideas, however, never all in one book. Michael writes with a light touch. It is clear, simple enough (but not too simple) and easy to follow. Change happens easily when you focus on changing what you can change; what is in your control, your sphere of influence.
A friend of mine has a saying that I find really helpful. He suggests that we need to be clear about whose shit it is. There are three types: 1) yours, 2) mine and 3) God’s. If it is yours, it is up to you to do something about it. The only thing I might be able to do is influence you or change my behaviour so that it changes our relationship. If it is God's there is clearly nothing I can do about it apart from let it go. It is only if it is mine that I can do anything to change things. So I am aware of whose problem it is so that I can focus my energy rather than waste it and worry about things I can do nothing about.
I really enjoyed this and felt much better and happier after reading it. There were some good ideas and some good reminders – things I had been aware of, but had forgotten. It gets a good place in my bookcase so that I can pick it up the next time I’m feeling a bit less than my best!
The Eighth habit follows on from the first seven and it is about finding your voice and inspiring others to find theirs. It is about calling and the legacy you want to leave behind. This book builds on the previous book and develops the idea of legacy and voice further. It is still based on things like recognising the paradigm that colours what you see and on working on yourself to become the best that you can be. A fundamental underlying belief is that leadership is a choice people make and that all of us can choose to be leaders. To do so we have to be willing to take responsibility for the choices we make.
As with 7 Habits, there are exercises and questions and answers to help you work through the book. It is illustrated with examples from around the world and you finish it feeling inspired. Both books have the abundance mindset and will help you to achieve that for yourself - if it is what you want.
During the summer break (when we work slower) I tend to read different things. Having heard Carl Honoré speak, I was keen to take a look at his book on how to be “slow”. It is a thought provoking read. He makes the point that, “All the things that bind us together and make life worth living – community, family, friendship – thrive on the one thing we never have enough of: time.” He sums slow philosophy up in one word: balance.
The book must have been fun to write – it is a combination of statistics, interesting stories, anecdotes about how Carl (an international journalist) experienced his journey to find out about “slow” and humour. He looks at how we came to be so infatuated with fast and faster, and how a normal human being (one with a mortgage to pay, a family to raise and so on) could start to take advantage of being slow.
He looks at slow food, slow cities, mind/body, medicine, slow sex, the benefits of working less hard and finding the right tempo (balance). It is nice to know that I’m not the only one feeling that life is speeding out of control and to have some ideas about how to make better decisions about the speed of my life – how to find the balance. Carl says it best, “The great benefit of slowing down is reclaiming the time and tranquillity to make meaningful connections – with people, with culture, with work, with nature, with our own minds and bodies. Some call that living better. Others would describe it as spiritual.” It is a book to enjoy and savour… and read slowly.