Recommended Books

Most Recent Good Read:

The Black Swan: The impact of the highly improbable

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Penguin 2007
Pp 366.

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.

Books from the LASA Team:

Beyond Crisis: Achieving Renewal in a Turbulent World

By Gill Ringland, Patricia Lustig and Oliver Sparrow
John Wiley & Sons, 2010
327 pages

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).

Scenarios & Insight:

The Power of the Tale. Using Narratives for Organisational Success.

Julie Allan, Gerard Fairclough and Barbara Heinzen.
ISBN 0-470-84227-X.

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).

Scenario Planning – Second Edition.

Gill Ringland.
ISBN: 0-470-01881-X.

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.

Creativity & Innovation :

The Medici Effect: what elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation

Frans Johansson

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!

The Hyper-Creative Personality: how to focus your ideas and become the most successful person you know

Blaire Palmer

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.

Problem Solving 101

By Ken Watanabe
Portfolio, Penguin Group, 2009
111 pp.

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.

Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind

by Nancy Kline.
Published by Ward Lock 1999. ISBN 0-7063-7745-1.

A simple and easy process for making room to think. She helps you to create a Thinking Environment that allows human beings to think for themselves. The most important and interesting part for us has been learning to form and use 'Incisive Questions' to remove limiting assumptions.

Learning and Learning Organisations:

Action Learning in Practice – 3rd Edition

Edited by Mike Pedlar
Published by Gower, London 1997



Action Learning – The Successful Manager Series

By Krystyna Weinstein
Published by HarperCollins, London 1995

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.


Learning as a Way of Being: Strategies for Survival in a World of Permanent White Water

By Peter B. Vaill. Published by Jossey-Bass in 1989
ISBN 0-7879-0246-2.

This book was written because its author foresees more and more 'white water' coming in the future. He says, '..beyond all other new skills and attitudes that permanent white water requires, people have to be (or become) extremely effective learners.' He gives alternatives to institutional learning and tells you how you can use each of these. For anyone truly interested in learning, this is a must read.

Leadership and Developing Leaders:

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: a corporate fool’s guide to surviving with grace.

By Gordon MacKenzie
Viking, 1996
224 pages

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.

Synchronicity: the Inner Path of Leadership

Joseph Jaworski

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.

Leading Like Madiba: Leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela

Martin Kalungu-Banda
Published by Double Storey Books Cape Town 2006

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.

Leadership and the New Science

By Margaret J. Wheatley
ISBN 1-57675-055-8

How we see organisations has a lot to do with how we interact with them. We are brought up in a Newtonian world and we frequently view organisations as machines. My experience is that organisations actually are organisms: it does not help us to dissect them to examine the parts, rather we need to look at them in terms of the whole. In this book, Meg Wheatley has taken the New Sciences (Quantum Theory, Chaos Theory, Complexity Theory, Field Theory among others) and put it into the context of living life in organisations and what this means to how we live that life. How do we interact? What difference does how we view the organisation make to our interaction and most importantly to its success? It is fascinating and a must-read. I kept thinking, Yes! This is what I observe. It connects what I am observing and experiencing to the latest scientific thinking.

Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life.

By Kevin Cashman.
ISBN 1-890009-29-6. Also available on audio ISBN 1-890009-30-X.

There is a quote from Laurens Van Der Post 'Every man must be his own leader. He now knows enough not to follow other people. He must follow the light that's within himself, and through this light he will create a new community.' That is what the book is about, totally in line with our belief of leadership is a necessary skill for all. There are seven 'Pathways of Mastery' each having a set of questions for you to think about in defining yourself as a leader. There is also a summary at the end of each chapter to help you come back to the book later.

Reclaiming Higher Ground: Creating Organizations that Inspire the Soul

By Lance H. K. Secretan
ISBN 0-07-058066-9

Linked to Leadership and the New Science in that Lance Secretan is making the same comparisons: is an organisation a machine or an organism? If our experience shows that it is an organism, how do we make our organisations more effective? He has a nice model called the Value Cycle (looks like a bicycle in the diagram) - that gives us great questions to ask ourselves in our organisations. How do we create organisations that don't kill us with stress and burn-out? How do we make a sanctuary for the soul? Most people will have had an opportunity to work in a department that was a sanctuary: a place where you felt you were being the best you could be, that the team was more than just the sum of its parts, that you were being supported. For various reasons, in today's world they don't normally last very long. However, using the ideas in this book, you might be able to change that. The life source of an organisation - and it is the life source that generates sustainable profits - is its soul. Many organisations go through regular downsizing and this not only robs them of organisational memory, it kills the soul. It is about time that we look at the meaning in organisations which helps us to leave a legacy with our life work.

Positive Methods for Change:

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

By Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras
Random House Business Books, 1997 (Tenth Anniversary Edition)
342 pp.

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.

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

By Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander Published by Penguin

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!

The Solutions Focus: The SIMPLE way to positive change.

By Paul Z. Jackson and Mark McKergow.
ISBN 1-85788-270-9.

Solutions Focus is related to Appreciative Inquiry. Both methods grew out of research in the 60's and 70's on how language creates reality. The book is straightforward and SIMPLE. It provides a framework for action for individuals and organisations to follow to encourage and grow change. Instead of being mired in the problem focus we normally have, they use what I would call the appreciative eye to focus on what works well and how to do more of that. Discovering and using the resources we have, building upon them, step by step it encourages a focus of hope instead of the normal way of doing things. There are good examples too, for people who are new to the ideas. Interestingly it also uses some of the complexity ideas around emergent systems that Pascale discusses!

Books for Personal Development:

The Integral Vision: A very short introduction to the revolutionary integral approach to Life, God, the Universe and Everything

Ken Wilber

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:

  • You can fall in and out of states. Being in a state is normally temporary. So, for instance three states are waking, dreaming and deep sleep.
  • Stages (or levels of development) are permanent. And each stage envelopes the lower ones. For instance, atoms are part of molecules which are part of cells which are part of organisms.

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.

Stumbling on Happiness

Daniel Gilbert.
ISBN 0-00-718312-7

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.

Feel Happy Now!

By Michael Neill
Published by Hay House Inc

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 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

By Stephen R. Covey
Simon & Schuster2004
409 pp. plus DVD

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.

The Power of Intention: Change the Way You Look at Things and the Things You Look at Will Change.

ISBN 1-4019-0216-2


Inspiration: Your Ultimate Calling

ISBN 1-4019-0807-1
Both by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.

I read these two books in the order in which they were written and feel that both are very useful. Ever wondered why some people have all the luck and others don't? Ever wondered why bad things happen to some people all the time and other people don't seem to be so affected? Dyer suggests that the difference is that some people are open to the abundance in the universe, so they understand when the universe is sending them something and they accept it, the others don't. The books are quite American in style and there are parts that are rather "New Age" and have put some of my colleagues off a bit (these are around raising your vibrational levels). Stick with it, however, and you will finish up with great nuggets of gold for your own development. He recommends meditation - and in particular Japa meditation - as part of a programme to connect you to the present moment. Each chapter finishes with ideas that you can immediately put into practise. The books have helped to anchor me in the present moment and to anchor me in an abundant world. I can't recommend them highly enough.


In Praise of Slow: how a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed

By Carl Honoré

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.