I have been a avid reader my whole life. For example, in high school I enjoyed re-reading Shakespeare over the summer. Geeky, I know. Lately my reading list has been determined mainly by my Sustainable MBA classes at Presidio Graduate School.
Here is what I have been reading lately. These are not meant to be book reviews but more of notes to myself reminding me what the book was about or what I found interesting.
Is it just me, or does it seem like a lot of business books are three times longer than they should be? Take The Speed of Trust for instance. It has a really good message and one that is important for business, but does it really take 322 pages to convey it? Even speed-reading through this I saw lots of duplication and often became bored. Okay, now that I got that rant out of my system, let's talk about what was good with the book. What is good is that it goes into depth (great depth!) about how trust can help a business. Here is the outline:
One caveat: while Covey does talk in later chapters about the right balance of trust and how not to get burned by overextending trust, this doesn't come across in the earlier chapters. So when he extols the virtues of doing a large business deal with only a handshake, it might give the wrong impression to inexperienced business students that this is the best way to conduct a deal.
I liked this definition of leadership which provides a good summary of the book: "Leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust."
Wow, this might be my favorite book I read this semester! Not only it is an important book for understanding our beliefs and actions, it was also well written bringing in funny stories of the author's life to give a personal context to many of the points.
Take this for example: they hypnotized some normal Stanford students and told them that when they heard a buzzer they would act as if aroused. Some students were given the gentle hint that the reason for their arousal might lie with other people. When brought out of hypnosis and the buzzer sounded, sure enough, they felt aroused. But here is the interesting part: these students became paranoid, hostile, and vindictive, so much so that professional clinicians confidently diagnosed that 80% of them were pathologically disturbed and officially insane. No wonder since they "became inarticulate, confused, hyperactive, angrily banging on the desk, in near tears, frightened, picking away at a scab, anxious, or developed an uncontrollable muscle tick." Yet seconds after their memory of the hypnotic suggestion was restored, they were fine. It is scary that something so small such as an unexplained arousal could cause us to act insane!
But that is not all of the weird and unexpected things our brains do to us. It turns out that our bodies produce a one-size-fits-all emotional response. Psychologist have long thought that our bodies response would be different to different emotions, whether it was nervousness about taking a test, excitement over winning the lottery or the stress of running to catch a bus. But it turns out that our body responds the same in all these cases. It is only the same arousal plus our emotional thoughts that creates emotions. While the intensity of the arousal varies, it is only our brain layering thoughts on top of it that creates emotions. So no wonder the Stanford students went temporarily insane when their arousal couldn't be easily explained by their brain!
There is so much more good stuff like this that I wished it had a summary of its findings. But without that, here are some of the results I found interesting.
So it is true: our brains have a mind of their own.
Reading this book gave me a feeling of deja vu. I don't think I have actually read this book before, but I have read other books by Willard and they must all be fairly similar. It was an easy read at just about 100 pages and every right-hand page was a graphic or table and most chapters were lists of seven items. Some examples are:
* The Seven-Step Change Process
* Seven Practices of Sustainability Champions
* Seven Paradoxes to Use
* Seven Derailers to Avoid
* Seven Personal and Organizational Change Models
Now this is a hippie book. Alan AtKisson (yes, the second "K" is capitalized), has been in sustainability longer than most of us have known what that word means, often performs songs a seminars, and includes letters in his book. And I liked it! In addition to presenting some good frameworks and techniques for furthering case studies, the book was interesting to read.
There were four main concepts he presented:
1. ISIS method
4. The Amoeba of Cultural Change
The ISIS method looks at these four elements:
* INDICATORS: Assess where you are, and where you are headed.
* SYSTEMS: Figure out why you are headed there, and where you can effectively change direction
* INNOVATION: Identify what to do to aim toward sustainability
* STRATEGY: Plan how to succeed
The Pyramid is a workshop tool for training on every dimension of sustainability. It guides people through the entire cycle in 1 to 2 days and produces a 3-D pyramid of the results and a strong consensus on action.
THE Compass is the tool for managing indicators and assessment, and the stakeholders who need them. North, East, South, West become the memorable Nature, Economy, Society, Wellbeing — sustainability’s compass.
The Amoeba of cultural changes includes these players:
* The Innovator
* Change Agents
* Spiritual Recluse
By delving into how each of these players can help or hinder change, Alan provides a way to better understand the challenges and methods for promoting sustainability. Here is a video of Alan demonstrating the amoeba.
For a good summary of all these concepts, see the ISIS accelerator guide.
We don't normally think too much about the culture of a business, but it turns out that culture is integral to all businesses and understanding its culture is crucial to success. The Corporate Culture Survival Guide is an interesting book that discusses what business culture is, how it evolves and changes in startup and mature companies and how to merge two different company cultures. Some of the areas it discusses are:
When new leaders take over existing organizations they can:
1. Destroy the existing culture
2. Fight the existing culture
3. Give-in to the existing culture
4. Evolve the culture
Another point this book makes is that you can't learn the culture by sending out surveys, the only reliable method is to conduct a group discussion. And the discussion needs to be focused on a problem that needs to be solved, not just a general exploration. This leads to another assertion that it is not practical to try to analyze the cultural fit of two organizations before a merger, but it is essential to do an assessment afterwards.
I finally got around to ordering my books for my 4th and last semester of my Sustainable MBA at Presidio Graduate School. This book came in the first batch I received and since it was written by the professor I will have for my Implementation of Sustainable Business Practices class, I thought I should read it first.
Overall, it was a good overview of strategies and tools for implementing sustainability in differing types of organizations. Most of it we have been exposed to before in other classes at Presidio but it was still a good recap. In particular, I liked the five different market segments they identified:
1. The True Blue Greens: 10 percent, are ardent environmentalists
2. The Greenbacks: 5 percent, are willing to pay up to 22% more for an environmentally friendly product
3. The Sprouts: about 1/3 of the US population that are willing to buy green products if they don't cost more
4. Grousers: 15 percent, don't feel that individuals can make much difference but will participate if there is an incentive for them.
5. Basic Browns: 37 percent, don't think environmental problems are serious and are tuned out
I read this book several years ago, but never got around to adding it to my book blog. However, it keeps coming up over and over again, so I thought it was time. To summarize the message of this book it is this: you can't predict the future by looking at the past. The example Taleb provides is that of the turkey raised for Thanksgiving. For forty days the turkey is treated great, given food, water and room to run around. There is no way that the turkey can predict that by looking at the past that everything is going to change on the day before Thanksgiving. In many ways, we act like turkeys. Whether it is the stock market investments or thinking that terrorists could never bring down the World Trade Center, looking at the past is not going to provide a foolproof version of the future.
Would you try to walk across a river that has an average depth of 3 feet? The picture below shows why not! So why do we try to compress data analysis into a single average number? The Flaw of Averages argues quite well that we should be more concerned with the "shape" of the data rather than a single average number.
All work and no play is, well, work and not play. This summer, I rediscovered my love of reading fiction after a long spell of only reading textbooks and non-fiction. Now, I am trying to keep an entertaining book close all the time so I have something to look forward to when I need a break. Here are a few of the books I have ready recently.