Tag Archives: Books

Three books, three formats, three sources

I’m currently reading three books. As I was thinking about which one I wanted to read last night I realized that I am reading each of the books in different formats. And not just in different formats, but from different sources. 

When I was younger, finding and reading books was a pretty straightforward thing: I’d ride the bus to the library on a Saturday morning, pick out some books, take them home and read them. Usually I would just make a stack and read from the top down. As I got older, the number of libraries I could visit increased, and eventually I expanded into bookstores. Buildings with books in them are still among my favorite places to “waste” time. 

It’s not nearly as straightforward today.

Three books, three formats, three sources

The first of the three books I’m reading is The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander.  I picked up this fantastic book based on a recommendation from Alicia Dudek during a tour of her Empathy Systems Co-Lab (a lab in the School of the Possible). Based on Alicia’s description of the book and the influence it had on her, as well as the obvious connection to the School of the Possible, I decided that I’d like to get the book and start reading immediately, so I did. You may have guessed, I’m reading this book on my Kindle after purchasing it from amazon.com.

The next book on my list is Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal. I wasn’t looking for this book specifically, but rather was looking for something related to experience design and user research. I’m fortunate to have access to Safari Books Online through the day job and do my best to take advantage. Just like browsing in a physical bookstore, I browsed the Safari “shelves”, picking up a volume here and there to flip through it, read the blurbs, check out the author. I ended up with Interviewing Users in part because it looked to be straightforward and well written, and in part because I’m familiar with Steve Portigal through his Twitter account and other online writings. So this one I’m reading in the Safari Books Online app on my iPad Pro. 

The last book is Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy from Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake. The “intangible economy” has long been on my mind, as has been the future of capitalism, and plays quite a central role in the work of tib(na) labs. The book was mentioned by Bill Gates on his book review site, which I learned from Tamarah Usher when she shared it on LinkedIn. I knew that this was a book I needed to read, but not necessarily something I needed to start immediately and not necessarily something I needed to own a copy of. Which, of course, means library. I checked the local library collection (on line, of course) and saw that it was available in a print edition. For this particular book I think I would have preferred an ebook, primarily so I could save highlights and add notes and bookmarks. (Things which are, for understandable reasons, frowned upon by the library in their physical books.) 

Three books, three sources, three formats. And this really just scratches the surface of the options available today. Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The more ways that books can be made available, the better my chance of being able to read them all. Well, maybe not all of them. But any of them that I want to read. Which is all of them.

A year in books – my 2017 reading list

I have started on my 2018 reading adventure with Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Leonardo da Vinci (who, as readers of this blog will know, is a bit of a role model for me). I hope to do better this year at sharing my thoughts as I go. Because last year I barely did that at all, I thought I would go ahead and just share my list from 2017. It is a shorter list than some years, longer than others, surprisingly light on fiction this year. This does not, of course, include any of my “short form” readings online and elsewhere.

Would love to hear your thoughts on any of these books, and any recommendations from your own 2017 list that you think I should add to my 2018 list.

Non-Fiction

George Lucas: A Life by Brian Jay Jones

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures by Library of Congress

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire

Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writings by Neal Stephenson

The Glass Cage: Automation and Us by Nicholas Carr

Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field by Nancy Forbes

Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold, with David Roberts

Reinventing the Sacred: A new view of science, reason, and religion by Stuart Kauffman

The Employee Experience Advantage: How to Win the War for Talent by Giving Employees the Workspace They Want, the Tools They Need, and a Culture They Can Celebrate by Jacob Morgan

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland

Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Live in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies by Geoffrey West

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People : Power Lessons in Personal Change by Steven R. Covey

Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing through other patterns by Nora Bateson

Hymns for the Fallen: Combat Movie Music and Sound after Vietnam by Todd R. Decker

Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours by Salim Ismail

Fiction

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Returning to Zero (Mick O’Malley #2) by Alan B. Johnston

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carre

The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland

(Note: the links to books on this page point to Amazon so that you can buy them if you’d like; if you do purchase a book by following one of these links, I will get a small percentage of the transaction. This will not increase your cost for the book, but will let me take Julie out for a nice meal once in a while.)

Some thoughts on, not quite a review of, The Neo-Generalist

I finished Richard Martin and Kenneth Mikkelson‘s new book, The Neo-Generalist, this morning. Where to start talking about this incredible book? I think I’ll start at the back, with the 17 page bibliography.

ng-cover1Yes, 17 pages. I was happy to see that I have read at least a few items from each of those 17 pages, a couple are on my Kindle waiting to be read, and even more are on my ever expanding to-read list. But so many more I’ve not read, or even heard of. Daunting for some, perhaps, but intriguing and inspiring for a neo-generalist like me. Because I am, in answer to the final question Richard and Kenneth pose in the Fade Out chapter, a neo-generalist.

That is not the only question they leave with us, though; they provide a full list of the questions they used to guide the interviews they conducted with the many incredible and interesting people featured in the stories told throughout the book. Seeing these questions at the end, after reading all the stories and the insights that Richard and Kenneth pull from them, helped me start to pull together my own thoughts on what I had read, to begin creating my own new knowledge from what they shared of theirs.

I only gave the questions some cursory thought, and am looking forward to answering them in detail (when I’m not typing this on my phone on a full airplane flying through turbulent air on my way home.) I’m thinking it might be a good excuse to finally start up a podcast to accompany the Phrontistery, something I’ve been wanting to do but just never quite had the right incentive. Interview myself? Maybe have one of the boys interview me?

The most powerful part of the book for me was the wrap up, in the final two chapters, where Richard and Kenneth talk about what neo-generalism means in more practical terms, the effects it has on career and life, and some of the challenges of being a neo-generalist in a world of hyperspecialization. Although I have always known, in the abstract at least, that the challenges and decisions and implications of my approach to the world are shared by others, it is still nice to see kindred spirits share their experiences and insights.

Speaking of kindred spirits, the book is full of them. I’ll leave it to you to read their stories and learn about them, with the following warning: prepare to be awe-struck. Unless, of course, you’re not.

If you are not a neo-generalist, your impression of the people and their stories may be a little – or a lot – different than mine. You may not see yourself in the stories, but I encourage to to read the book all the way through, to absorb it, so that you can better understand the neo-generalists in your life. Chances are you will see in these stories someone you know, someone you work with. Or perhaps you are a parent of a child who has these crazy ideas and can’t just focus on one thing because there is so much out there to know and to learn.

I was one of those kids, and was fortunate to have parents who accepted and generally encouraged my eccentricity. Though I never had a chance to explore these types of questions with my dad, I have a feeling that he would have identified as a neo-generalist as well.

As for the book itself, I chose to get the soft cover (“paper back” doesn’t do it justice) instead of the Kindle. Partly because the Kindle version was not yet available in the US at the time I ordered it, but mainly because this is the kind of book I personally prefer on paper. Paper on which I can jot notes, doodles, and other markings, and which I can dog ear for browsing again later. And which I can add to the permanent collection of key texts I keep above my desk for when I need a shot of inspiration and encouragement. The only thing I really missed about the Kindle was the dictionary; I found myself long-tapping words in the book on at least one (OK, more than one) occasion in a futile attempt to have a definition displayed.

To say I learned a lot from this book would be a huge understatement. I have a feeling I will continue to learn from it.

tl;dr Highly recommended, add it as close to the top of your to-read pile as you can.

Liminal Thinking – a review

I had the pleasure a couple of years ago of hearing Dave Gray talk about and explore some ideas he had for a new book, throwing them out to the audience and having a conversation around them. Earlier this year I had the privilege of reading some early versions of pages that had evolved from those explorations and which now form the heart of Dave’s new book, Liminal Thinking. I was excited to get the final version of the book and looking forward to sitting down and breezing through it, to soak it all in like a blast from a fire hose. And, at about 150 pages, it would be easy enough to do. To just read through it in one sitting, in probably just a couple of hours. Which is what I was expecting to do. Until…

Until I read Chapter 1, titled “Beliefs are models”. And then I wasn’t in a hurry any longer. I wasn’t interested in getting to the end, I wanted to read that chapter again. Even though he started with the story of the blind men and the elephant, a story I’ve heard many times before. A story I’ve heard before, but not really “seen” before.

Not surprisingly, this process repeated itself as I made my way through the book. Though I only made it from front to back once over the weekend, I figure I read the entire book at least 3 times in that period. Reading a chapter, re-reading it, maybe going back a chapter or two to make a connection. And I realized that, contrary to my original thought of just blasting through the book, I didn’t really want to get to the end. I didn’t want the experience of the book to be over.

And speaking of the experience of the book, I need to mention here just how beautifully designed the book is. Beyond the insight and knowledge in the words and drawings Dave gives us, the team at The Heads of State have created a work of art in this book. The most obvious aspect is the cover, but as you read through the book the design elements guide you along, quite unobtrusively, to help you get the most from those words and drawings. Simple touches like the spare use of color, consistent layout of the chapters so that you know when one is starting and when it is ending, and materials that feel luxurious in the hand. Not to mention the fountain pen friendly paper. Do yourself a favor, and get the hard copy book. (Though I will probably also pick up a Kindle version so that I can always have the book on hand.)

At one point in the book Dave acknowledges that some people naturally or intuitively think liminally, and I count myself among those just as you may. I’ve always thought “in systems”, trying to understand the why behind rules, traditions, and behavior. But, as I learned from Dave in this book, I have only been scratching the surface, getting down to maybe the level of a person’s beliefs, maybe their theories about life and the world. Beliefs, as Dave explains, go much deeper than that.

More importantly, I realized that I’ve never really turned that systems view on myself, on my own thinking, to understand how it is I’ve come to be the way I am. I’ve always thought I understood, but now I’m not so sure. I am looking forward to finding out.

Designing an online commonplace book

Categories or tags. Browse or search. Parent-child pages with one level of sibling pages, or parent-child-child(-child) with multiple level of sibling pages. Trying to figure out the best way to layout and implement an online commonplace book using WordPress pages. At least that’s my current approach.

Commonplace

 

50 books in 52 weeks – not this year

I enjoy reading, so like many people I have set a goal for myself to read at least 50 books a year for the last couple of years. I read 45 last year, you can see my list on GoodReads.  As I was getting ready to publicly commit to another year of 50-in-52, though, I realized that I’m not really ready to move on from the books I read in 2011 2010.

It’s not that I don’t want to read anything new, I do. I’ve got several new books on my list, including David Siteman Garland’s Smarter, Faster, Cheaper, Neal Bascomb’s story of FIRST Robotics, The New Cool, and Hal Needham’s Stuntman! I’m also looking at some older books that I’ve never read.

But well over half of the books I read last year are still bouncing around inside my head.

In a blog post last October, Harold Jarche  expressed a similar sentiment in the context of conferences that he attends:

One thing missing in these discrete time-based events is that there is little time for reflection. … This presentation is followed by some immediate questions & discussions and a coffee break. Then it’s off to see the next presentation. Reflection, if it occurs, comes much later, and usually after the participants have gone home.

Replace “presentation” with “book”, and that his how I am feeling about the books I read last year.

During a pre-launch webinar for his new book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson also talked about the state of reading.

Bill Gates takes a “reading vacation” to read. Ray Ozzie does the same thing. A very interesting strategy; usually when we read it is at night, when we are tired and have 20-30 minutes before we go to bed. Takes a couple of weeks to read, you lose the possible connections between the books you read.

All of this is my overly long way of saying that I’m not committing to 50-in-52 this year. Instead of moving on to the next conference, in my case a new year of reading only new books, I’m also going to spend some time quality time reflecting on the books I read last year.

What are your reading plans for 2011?

Update: Check out my  2010 Reading List lens on Squidoo.

Permission and forgiveness

“Do you really think George bothered to ask for f***ing permission?”

This was Kevin Spacey’s response to a question from the audience during the Q&A following the St. Louis premiere of George Hickenlooper’s movie “Casino Jack” at the St. Louis Film Festival. This specific question was related to getting legal clearance for the music used in the film, but it reflected a general theme of the evening as friends and family honored George – a high school classmate of mine – following his sudden death only two weeks before this hometown premiere.

In addition to numerous stories of guerilla filmmaking on the set of Casino Jack (like the scene filmed at the Capitol), friends old and new described George’s lack of concern for obtaining permission to do things. My favorite was a story told by Mike Beugg about the making of George’s first, sadly long lost, feature length movie. As the roller coaster (Screaming Eagle) pulled into the station, and passengers were screaming because of the knife and the blood, George was calmly reassuring everyone that “it’s OK, we’re making a movie.”

When asked, “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”, he responded, “I wanted to get real reactions.”

Not only had George not asked permission to do this, he wasn’t even asking forgiveness.

A few days later I came across Chris Guillebeau’s book The Art of Non-Conformity. With the above thoughts about George still fresh in my mind, I picked up the book and read it (devoured it?) in a couple of hours. What Chris had to say made sense to me on an intellectual level, but it was my recent evening with the legacy of George Hickenlooper that really brought it home, really made an impact.

As Chris tells us, and George showed us, it may be better to ask forgiveness than permission, but most of the time you don’t need either.

Something to think about as we head into the new year.

On the path of knowledge creation

ThiagiIn his foreword to Marc Prensky‘s book Digital Game-Based Learning, Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan (@thiagi) recounts the following (emphasis is mine):

Early in my life, my mentor explained to me the three paths that lead to the creation of knowledge. The analytical path, where philosophers reflect, meditate, and make sense of objects and events; the empirical path, where scientists manipulate variables and conduct controlled experiments to validate reliable principles; and the pragmatic path where practitioners struggle with real-world challenges and come up with strategies for effective and efficient performance.

Each of these paths can be taken in isolation from the others, we see that every day. It is also common to see these paths taken one after the other: analyze -> experiment -> implement.

More challenging, and much more powerful, is to integrate these three trails into a single path that allows you to go from trail to trail as needed to get you where you want to go.

Be excellent to each other (thoughts on Ubuntu!)

I had been reading up on Ubuntu (the operating system) when I came across ubuntu!: An Inspiring Story About an African Tradition of Teamwork and Collaboration (the book) at the library. It was obvious from the subtitle that this was not a book about the OS, but the title pulled me in to at least take a look.

At first I thought it was a true story, perhaps an extended case study, since it was in the new non-fiction section. It turns out, though, that it is actually a work of didactic fiction, a story created by the authors to make a point. That point being that at work we all seem to forget that our co-workers are human, that they aren’t just there as “cogs in the machine”, and that we all need to start respecting our fellow workers as people, even if the work they perform isn’t (yet) worthy of our respect.

Or as those two great philosophers Bill Preston and Ted Logan once said, “Be excellent to each other.”

This point is made through the application of the African tradition known as ubuntu, brought to (stereo)typical big box corporate America by a young South African man working at the company while an MBA student at a local university. The short definition of ubuntu is

a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual

Here is a more detailed description, as given by Simon (the young South African student) early on to John, his overly stressed and on the verge of failing manager:

Ubuntu…is about teamwork and brotherhood. It is finding that part of you that connects with other people and bringing it to life…. When you struggle, the Ubuntu in me reaches out to give you a hand. If you wander into my village with nothing to eat, our villagers will provide you with food. Why? Because at the deepest level we are all brothers and sisters…. If one of us hurts, we all hurt.

The rest of the story revolves around John’s learning journey, his epiphany, and the sharing of this new knowledge with the rest of the company.

If you are looking for engaging characters, a suspenseful plot, and a twist at the end, this is not the book for you. As William Gibson said recently, didactic fiction rarely results in deep characters or plot. And that’s fine, because the point of this story is to make a point.

For someone open to the idea of an engaging workplace, where each person is respected as a human first, and only then viewed as an employee, the story told in Ubuntu! will provide some insight into the possibilities. Ironically, these are the people who least need to read this book, because they probably already feel this way.

On the other hand, the people who could most benefit from this book – the managers who treat their employees like, well, employees – will most likely read this book and dismiss it as “touchy feely crap”.

The power of Ubuntu is, I’m afraid, one of those things that you have to experience to truly appreciate.

15 Authors (in 15 minutes)

This meme crossed my desk on Facebook last weekend, and I thought my response was worth sharing here as well.
– – — — —–

Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.

Where to start…? Let’s start with fiction.

When I was in the Army, Tom Clancy‘s books were a big influence. I enjoyed all of his books up to Executive Orders, which is where I think he should have stopped.

I love Stephen King‘s work, though I haven’t read much recently. (As you’ll see, I read more non-fiction these days.)

I’ve come to appreciate the work of William Gibson (@GreatDismal), and would have to say that my favorite fiction author these days is Neal Stephenson. (I re-read either Cryptonomicon or Anathem every year.)

On the non-fiction side, in no particular order (except the order in which they came to mind):

Douglas Hofstadter
From his first book, the masterpiece Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid to his latest, I Am a Strange Loop, he is the instigator of much of my interest in how our minds work.

Steven Pinker
Speaking of How the Mind Works, Pinker’s books have also influenced how I think about and understand why we do the things we do, and how we learn.

Daniel Pink (@danielpink)
His latest Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and his earlier A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future are outstanding. And every parent should give their high school senior The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.

Seth Godin
Linchpin

Steven Johnson (@stevenbjohnson)
His latest, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, is the book I wish I had written. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software and Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter are required reading if you want to understand how our culture ended up the way it is (and why that isn’t really so bad.)

E.O. Wilson
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, and everything else.

Richard Feynman
Not so much an author as a story teller, but oh what stories he had to tell.

Atul Gawande (#atulgawande)
I’m not a doctor, and after reading his books I don’t understand why anyone would ever want to be. But he has some great insights on what it means to walk the master’s path.

George Leonard
Speaking of the master’s path, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment has a permanent place on the shelf on my desk.

Don Tapscott(@dtapscott)
Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation gave me my first real understanding of the potential of the digital age, everything else is just gravy.

Temple Grandin
She has helped me understand autism better, and what it must be like for autistics to make their way in this society of ours. If you are the parent of an autistic child, run (don’t walk) out and pick up Emergence: Labeled Autistic and/or Thinking in Pictures.

Stuart Kauffman
Investigations just blew me away. I still only understand about 1/2 of it, but I keep going back to it to learn more and more.

OK, OK, that’s 16. So, I got a little carried away….