Review

Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek

I just finished reading Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, an interesting book that examines what it means to be a leader. The main focus of the book revolved around the concept that the best leaders put the members of their group ahead of themselves.

Sinek gives a number of examples of great business leaders over the last 50 years and explained that companies where the leaders put their staff first and treat them well tend to have more success in the long term. The examples given include James Sinegal of Costco, the US military and 3M. He argues that a lot of the boom and bust of the last 40 years is down to the pressure that shareholders put on top company executives to make short term choices over long term stability.

He makes the point that the best modern companies provide a ‘circle of safety’ for their staff members. When all the members of a team feel safe there is less stress, politics,  hiding of mistakes and more sharing, collaboration and a better atmosphere. He quotes a number of studies that show that stress appears in employees when they have a lack of control in their job. His belief is that this largely comes about due to weak leadership who are unwilling to give up even a modicum of control to the individuals who are executing the actual task and doing the actual work.

Some of these concepts dovetail nicely with the concept of a Servant Leader. The term Servant Leader has appeared in the world of software development over the last ten to fifteen years, largely driven by the agile concept of a scrum master. The prototypical servant leader has an altruistic style of leadership that focuses on a high degree of member participation, shared decision making and high levels of team ownership.

My belief is that a really great scrum master or team leader must foster a strong circle of safety as described by Sinek. Without it you are fighting an uphill battle to elevate team engagement and employee ownership. Unfortunately it is very easy for leaders to fall into the trap of using their title; or worse manipulation to orchestrate their teams. This will negatively affect team trust.

Trust is the foundation of a solid team as described in the brilliant book the 5 dysfunctions of a team (click link for summary):

themodel

Sinek explains that two of the most important elements of being a good leader are integrity and the ‘management’ of control. A leader has to have a strong sense of integrity and the trust of the groups individuals, without this the members of the group will not be willing to commit fully, reducing the overall performance of the team.

Secondly a strong leader has to have the strength to share control. To engage the members of the group and share the decision making process, to delegate clearly and effectively and not micro manage staff members as they work on the assigned task.

Sinek also delves into the biology that drives strong teams forward, and shows how the advent of technology and reduced social interaction may be having a negative effect on the ability for geographically distant individuals to work as an effective team.

He examines the balance between the various different hormones that humans are exposed to in various circumstances. Endorphins and Dopamine, which are released into the blood stream to mask physical pain and to reward positive survival behaviour such as hunting and killing game.  Or in a more modern setting they are released when you win a game of hearthstone or complete a 52 book challenge 🙂.  There hormones can be highly addictive and have a tendency to promote self centered behaviour.

Serotonin and Oxytocin on the other hand provide a feeling of significance, pride and status. It drives us to make connections with people, seek the recognition of others and to be part of a team and achieve as a group. These hormones are only expressed in an environment where the circle of safety is maintained. Our physiology has been hardwired over thousand of years to operate best in this sort of environment.

So in summary this book touches on a number of really interesting areas with regards to leadership. If you are in a position of leadership such as a manager, team leader or scrum master you should definitely give it a go.

If you have recently read Leaders Eat Last and want to explore the concept further I would recommend the 5 dysfunctions of a team. It touches on a lot of the same areas and does so in a well written narrative driven manner.

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52 book Challenge

List (2017)

After learning so much from my 52 books last year, I have decided to do it again this year. It is going to be tricky as it is a busy year for me personally with my wedding in April, a new house to decorate and lots going on but I’m going to give it a go !

Some of the books this year will be re-reads of some of the best ones from last year, but I will try to make sure I read a fair amount of new stuff also.


Here is the current status of my challenge:

Completed:

  1. High Output Management – Andy Grove
  2. Creativity Inc – Ed Catmull
  3. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People x 2- Stephen Covey
  4. The Pheonix Project – by Gene Kim
  5. The 5 Dysfunctions of a team – Patrick M. Lencioni
  6. The Goal – Elijahu Goldratt
  7. The obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
  8. Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
  9. Men are from Mars Women are from venus – John Gray
  10. Stoicism: A Stoic Approach To Modern Life – Tom Miles
  11. Letters from a Stoic – Seneca
  12. Enchiridion – Epictetus
  13. Start with why – Simon Sinek
  14. Discources – Epictetus
  15. Design patterns: Elements of reusable object-orientated software – Erich Gamma
  16. Leaders Eat Last – Simon Sinek
  17. Deep Work – Cal Newport
  18. The Chimp Paradox – Prof Steve Peters
  19. The Singularity is near – Ray Kurzweil
  20. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
  21. Gwynne’s Grammar – N.M. Gwynne
  22. Scrum Essentials – Troy Dimes
  23. Overcoming the 5 dysfunctions of a team – Patrick M. Lencioni
  24. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 – Travis Bradberry
  25. The Republic – Plato
  26. Coaching for Performance – John Whitmore
  27. Clean Code – Robert C. Martin
  28. Shoe Dog – Phil Knight

Here are the books I’m currently reading:

  1. The Mythical man-month – Frederick P Brooks
  2. 12: The Elements of Great Managing – Rodd Wagner

Books coming up:

  1. Code – Charles Petzold
  2. Programming Pearls – Jon Bentley
  3. Building great software engineering Teams – Joshua Tyler
  4. The Go Programming Language – Alan A. A. Donovan, Brian W. Kernighan
  5. Essays – Michel de Montaigne
  6. Founders at Work – Jessica Livingston
  7. The Paradox of Choice – Barry Schwartz
  8. The Language Instinct – Steven Pinker
  9. Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity – Brooks Simpson
  10. Virtual Freedom – Chris C Ducker
  11. How the world works – Noam Chomsky
  12. The Zen Experience – Thomas Hoover
  13. Rich Dad Poor Dad – Robert T Kiyosak
  14. The power of Now –  Eckhart Tolle
  15. Masters of Doom – David Kushner
  16. Miracle Morning – Hal Elrod
  17. The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
  18. Jam – Yhatzee Croshaw
  19. Electric Eden – Rob Young
Essays

How do people make decisions?

During a recent discussion in an agile retrospective it came to light that a number of problems with a particular piece of work came about through some slightly flawed logic and inductive reasoning between the group working on the ticket.

This blog intends to open up a discussion and debate on the process of logical thinking with a view to helping people reach a favorable result in any endeavor they undertake.. Whether it is development, quality assurance, management etc.

Last year I completed the 52 book challenge (one book a week, for a year). During that time I read a number of books on critical thinking. These books investigate how we as humans come to conclusions, what that process looks like and the pitfalls that we can encounter on that path.

The most interesting books in this area were Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman. A Nobel prize winning psychologist in the study of judgement and decision making, and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I’ll reference both books often in this blog.

What is the process?

This is a very complicated question, however you try to break it down. What is the system or logical process that a human goes through in order to make a decision on something? How does that process propel us to the correct or incorrect answer? We obviously are not computers, robots or machines (yet). There is no fixed circuitry that we run electricity through in order to obtain a binary yes or no answer. This is both a major benefit to us and a major hurdle when it comes to decision making. We lack the absolute certainty that a computer can achieve when giving a set of variables and a logical algorithm. But we can handle abstract thought, we are flexible and can deal with the myriad of information and stimuli that surrounds us in this world. We can build links between information and stimuli and come to conclusions that a computer would not be able to reach due to the confines of its circuitry.

This ability to deal with abstract thought and original ideas is where engineering, art and music and other aspects that make us human come from.

So given that.. How do we attempt to find the right answer for any given question? The time I’ve spent coaching has firmly rooted the concept that the first step in improving something, is having the awareness of it. Hopefully if nothing else this blog can help raise awareness of how people make decisions.

Two Systems

There are two systems in the brain, that can be loosely summarized like this:

System 1: Operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
System 2: Allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice and concentration.

For example. If someone asks you what the answer to 2+2 is, you know instinctively that the response is 4. When given this problem your mind uses system 1, which in turn uses the associative reasoning that you have ‘stored’ to identify that the answer is 4. If someone then asks you what the answer to 24×16 is, this is not an answer you can work out without delving into system 2 and going through the logical process of working out the result. Problems occur when we start using the wrong system to answer a given question.

Like everything in biology there is an evolutionary reason that these two systems evolved. Studies have identified that engaging system 2 actually causes a person to take more glucose from their blood stream, so it is literally draining your energy when you have to concentrate on a task. So quite simply, we rely on system 1 as a ‘shortcut’ to prevent us having to work hard on every question. System 1 also gives us the ability to react quickly given certain stimulus, this was obviously very important for early humans whilst trying to survive.

So to further summarize, Daniel Kahneman describes the two systems using these key words:

System 1: Fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
System 2: Slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, conscious

An interesting keyword that appears for System 1 is ’emotional’. System 1 is high susceptible to emotional triggers. When you have a system that is fast, automatic, subconscious and susceptible to emotions as you can imagine that this is a recipe for disaster at times !

The active decision to use a specific system

So, given the choice. When should we use system 1 and when should we use system 2?

The first major hurdle is that system 1 handles stimuli by default. System 1 is fast, automatic and subconscious. So before System 2 gets a chance, System 1 has already had a stab at it. It has already taken the stimulus and run it through our quick, associative neural network and come to a conclusion. The neural network that it runs against is based on all your past (stored) knowledge, tendencies, beliefs etc. So like any logical deduction, you may be missing key facts and therefore come to an incorrect conclusion.

Take the question:

“How much money would you pay to protect wildlife?”

This question on the face of it is very vague. What exactly is ‘wildlife’, what ‘protection’ are we offering? The associative brain will break this question down into something simpler to answer. You may love badgers (remember about system 1 and emotions..), and really care about the protection of them. This would therefore be part of your neural makeup. Your associative system 1 may therefore instantly replace ‘wildlife’ with ‘badgers’. It may then replace protection with ‘stop people culling‘ giving you the following sentence:

How much money would you pay to stop people culling badgers?”

Your brain has boiled a hard (if not impossible) question into one that can be answered with conviction and certainty, but accuracy and detail has been lost during the process. This means that you may end up answering the wrong question (the second one), which may not necessarily be the right answer.

So back to the original question. When should we move past System 1 and engage System 2? We obviously have to be very careful when using System 1 exclusively. After reading “Thinking, fast and slow” my impression was that engaging system 1 was like playing with fire. Sometimes its fine, but other times you get burnt. But using System 2 exclusively would be quite exhausting and lead to poor decisions, so how do you function as a person and make the best decisions you can? Malcolm Gladwell looks at System 1 in a slightly different way. System 1 is built on experiences and previous associations, therefore people who have experience making deductions on certain subjects and certain criteria should feel a lot more confident about using System 1.

We can apply this concept out to software development estimation, a complicated task that I personally deal with on a regular basis. Someone with a lot of experience in a certain area would probably be able to make a reasonably accurate estimate of a section of work quite quickly. Someone with very little would have to actively engage system 2, go through some process to investigate what is required and use some logic to come to an answer. This is why experience counts for a lot in business and life. We can in effect, add associative links into system 1 by churning through the logic using system 2.

Inductive vs deductive reasoning

So where does inductive and deductive reasoning fit into system 1 and system 2? Lets first examine a definition of both:

Deductive reasoning starts with a general theory, statement, or hypothesis and then works its way down to a conclusion based on evidence.
Inductive reasoning starts with a small observation or question and works it’s way to a theory by examining the related issues.

When you engage system 1 to try and solve a problem, you are limited to using the knowledge and associations that you have already acquired to make your decision. This leaves you open to slipping into inductive reasoning, because you do not validate the shortcuts and assumptions you might have made to reach the given conclusion. System 2 naturally has an affinity to deductive reasoning. You apply some conscious ‘method’ when engaging system 2 to solve a problem. You could fail to find all the key facts and still make the wrong decision, but the framework you are using is more suited to the task.

So from my perspective it comes down to your knowledge of the given domain. If you have experience in it then you should feel more comfortable going with System 1. If you don’t then try to actively engage system 2 before you make your decision.

If this subject interests you then I would recommend reading  Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman and Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. At the end of the day a book is just one person opinion, so reading multiple books on a given subject is always beneficial.

Review

Review: “The Goal” – Eliyahu Goldratt

I first heard of “The Goal” by Eliyahu Goldratt when reading The Phoenix Project (TPP) during my 2016 52 book challenge.

TPP follows an IT manager as he attempted to turn around a failing IT department. His boss has just been fired and he has been given the impossible task of saving the department and the company. The approach that the IT manager used in The Phoenix Project originated from “the goal”, this prompted me to read “The Goal”.

The core concept explained in the book is the Theory of Constraints. The rationale behind the theory is that in any system designed to produce an output, the limiting factor in productivity is the systems most prevalent constraint. Any improvement made in the system anywhere but at the constraint only gives the illusion of an improvement.

The book starts off by making the point that before you can identify constraints you must understand what the ultimate goal of your system is. In the vast majority of cases (be it software development or manufacturing) the goal is to make money. It is quite surprising how easily this fact gets lost in software development, when you have hundreds of bugs and features all vying for a limited resource pool. In the vast majority of cases it comes down to someones subjective view of ‘what is urgent’.

The important distinction identified in the book is that the theory of constraints is not about trying to ‘improve efficiency’ or ‘get better metrics’. It is focused on better achieving the goal. In a contained system, whether it is a software development department or a manufacturing plant you get closer to achieving the goal by identifying and if possible removing the constraint.

Goldratt outlined 5 focusing steps that help you to identify and then eliminate constraints:

five-focusing-steps

image by leanproduction.com

The first step involves identifying the constraint in the system. In The Goal (and the manufacturing plant that it focuses on) the constraint turned out to be an industrial heat treatment oven. In TPP (and the IT department) it was an individual called Brent. I’ll focus on the story of Brent as that has the most parallels with my own work experience.

Quite often in an IT work environment there are a few individuals who end up becoming a major bottleneck due to their ‘usefulness’. The management team in TPP identified Brent as the bottleneck by going through all the work in progress in the system, then identifying the key resources required to complete the relevant task. It turned out that Brent was fully booked for multiple years into the future and was on the critical path for many of their most important projects that needed to be delivered ASAP !

Having someone who can jump into any situation and solve whatever task is encountered is extremely useful, but unfortunately those individuals often become crutches, single point of failures or knowledge vaults.

They can develop into crutches as whenever shit hits the proverbial fan it takes a very brave manager to resist going straight to their very own Brent. The decision to utilize Brent is often made even if there are many individuals in the team with the required task relevant maturity for the job, quite often the path of least resistance is still chosen. This sort of behavior subtly erodes the strength of the team as a unit. This sort of reaction also robs the management team of a chance to test someone else out to see if they have what it takes to be the next Brent in the making. Which is an important aspect of delegation.

Single points of failures are also unhealthy in a team due to the damage they can cause to knowledge retention and skill development. Department structures that try to support these fundamental building blocks must promote the concepts of succession planning. Everyone in the team should be training their successor. Not only does this drive growth and development for the individuals below but it gives the people above the opportunity to move on to bigger and better things.

Preventing knowledge vaults is important, both for the company and the individual. If you believe the modern maxim that knowledge is power then it is easy to understand why people might have a tendency to horde knowledge for themselves. The reality is that although this might give you some short term gains (the ability to hold your employer to ransom for a big pay rise) it will inevitably prevent you from progressing out of that role as no one else can do it. Additionally it deprives you of the chance to teach, as Seneca said:

quote-men-learn-while-they-teach-seneca-the-younger-51-98-39

So once you have identified your constraint, the next step is to do everything you can to attempt to relieve the constraint of work. in TPP this involved managing the work load to Brent. Identifying tasks that were lined up for Brent that don’t specifically need him, then making sure he is only working on urgent and important tasks. The management team also assigned a number of other capable individuals to work through Brent’s backlog, whilst he worked on the most important task. If they didn’t know how to complete a task they would discuss it with Brent and then document the exact steps required so that they would never need to go back to him again.

With the constraint identified and steps taken to manage it the department were better able to achieve ‘the goal’. My short review stands no chance of doing the two books justice (TPP, The Goal), I would recommend picking them up if you found this blog vaguely interesting.

If you want to learn more about the Theory of Constraints then there are a few great videos by BigVisible Solutions that can be found on Vimeo here:

Identifying the Constraint

Exploiting the Constraint

Subordinate to the Constraint

Elevate the Constraint

52 book Challenge

Summary (2016)

I didn’t manage to do as many reviews as i hoped during 2016. The challenge was tough enough without writing up a blog for every book ! So I’ve decided to do a brief summary for all the books in one sitting.

I plan to re-read some of these books again this year and will do a thorough review when i do that:

Book Rating Summary
Work Rules! – Lazlo Bock 5 This book is great if you are interested in how to run a business from a HR perspective.
It provides a window on googles internal corporate structure/people management methodology.
Mindfulness – Mark Williams 3 A good, short introduction into some mindfulness techniques.
In the Plex – Steven Levy 3 An in-depth look into how google works, a bit drawn out but had interesting tidbits. More a history of google than a major source of learning.
The Power of Body language – Joe Navarro 4 A good introduction into body language, sets the scene and gives some useful pointers into how to read others body language.
Emotional Intelligence 2.0 – Travis Bradberry 4 Outlines the concept of emotional intellegence, describes the main areas and helps the reader analyse their own strengths and weaknesses.
Business Analysis 3.0 – James Cadle 4 A great introduction into Business Analysis. Gives an introduction into various techniques to analyse the structure of a business and to identify ways to improve them, it also outlines the required steps to enable an individual to become a change agent in their company.
Growth Engines – Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown 3 A short book looking into quickly growing startups and examines what they are doing differently in order to achieve this growth.
The monk and the Riddle – Randy Komisar 4 A thought provoking, narrative driven look at the modern day aberration that is the ‘deferred life’ plan. The concept that we have to defer our life until after we’ve made it big, made our millions. If you are working a job that you hate or doing something that you are not passionate about then please pick up a copy of this book and have a read.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey 5 A absolute must for anyone hoping to improve themselves at work or home.
The Alliance – Ried Hoffman 4 A interesting look into how LinkedIn run their performance management/personnel development process that marries an employees need for personal progress with the companies need to get the most out of their staff into a powerful framework.
8th Habit of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey 3 A useful addition to the 7th Habit.
The 5 Levels of Leadership – John C Maxwell 3 A eye opening look into the mechanics of leadership, outlining the 5 levels of leadership and discusses what is needed to move up those levels.
Thinking, fast and slow – Daniel Kaneman 5 Thinking, fast and slow delves into the mechanics of how the brain works. It uses evidence from a lifetime of work by Nobel Prize winning Psychologist Daniel Kahneman to give the reader a better understanding of how their brain works and outlines the pitfalls we can fall into in various situations.
Words that change minds – Shelle Rose Charvet 4 Words that change minds delves into the controversial subject of neuro linguistic programming.. My personal thoughts are that NLP and the LAB profiles are a useful way to model/understand other people to help manage your relationship with them… but that is about it. I’ve used LAB profiles at work and it has helped me to understand the direct reports that work under me and guides my interactions with them.
Art of War – Sun Tzu 3 Timeless wisdom that can be applied to many other arenas outside of its original context
Linchpin – Seth Godin 4 A long detailed account on the virtues of becoming a linchpin in your place of employment. A valuable read but could possible have been shrunk by 30% and delivered the same message.
The little black book for Managers – John Cross 3 Gives a summary of what is required in a good manager. The main focus was on finding those little 1% increases in your team and individuals to deliver excellence.
Elon Musk – Ashlee Vance 5 A detailed look into the life and achievements of Elon Musk. Delves into his early days at paypal, starting up tesla and SpaceX. Gives a great insight into the mind of one of the most progressive, opinionated and driven individuals on the planet at this moment.
How to perform under pressure – Hendrie Weisinger 4 Have you ever froze under the pressure? This book helps the reader understand what happens in that moment, outlines the main causes of that pressure and provides a practical guide on how to cope in those situations. It makes the point that no one ‘works better under pressure’ and the best you can hope for is to achieve similar results to normal.
The Lean Startup – Eric Ries 5 Required reading for anyone interested in starting their own business or innovating and creating new products in established companies. It goes into detail about the focus on building a minimum viable product (MVP) to analyse the market in order to deliver validated learning.

Validated learning helps to guide the development of the MVP and provide the data needed to action a pivot and change the product direction to meet the needs of the emerging market.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho 4 A fable about following your dreams, being stoic in the face of adversity and being true to yourself.
The 4 hour work week – Tim Ferriss 4 An interesting perspective on modern day living. Tim Feris outlines a framework that may allow people to live their life while spending an absolute minimum amount of time working. It gives practical tips on how to go about achieving this.
How to win friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie 5 It amazes me that a 90 year old book can still remain as relevant today as it was the day it was written. How to win friends and influence people is a must read for anyone who wants to build relationships, network and simply be a better co-worker, boss, friend or significant other.
The Tipping Point – Malcom Gladwell 3 A narative driven look into how small differences seem to produce a statistical ‘tipping point’. Malcolm Gladwell investigates a number of real world scenarios and derives a framework to explain how these tipping points occur. It seems a lot of the evidence for the framework is built on seemingly cherry pickd events, therefore you cannot take the book as fact.. but it does provide an interesting and entertaining read.
Winners – Alastair Campbell 3 Although Alistair Campbell has a bad reputation you cannot deny that he has been through, and experienced a lot in his life. This book puts a number of different ‘winners’, from Richard Branson to the GB Olympic cycling team under the microscope and tries to narrow down what are the common traits that they share. Campbell provides an interesting perspective, he shows a side of his personality that is not often on show.
The Magic of Thinking big – David J Schwartz 4 Full of useful common sense advice. It feels like the author intended to write a new ‘7 habits’ or ‘how to win friends and influence people’ but failed to quite hit the same heights. worth a read, but not a life changing book.
Building Microservices – Sam Newman 5 The go to book for anyone who has an interesting in developing, deploying or managing in a Microservice world.
Blink – Malcolm Gladwell 3 Blink makes the case for the fast and associative side of the brain that people use to come to quick and decisive decisions. It looks at a number of situations where delving into detail leads to over analysis and in the end, giving people the wrong answer. This book seemed to be written as a juxtaposition to Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. Although its narrative driven approach is enjoyable it does seem to lack credibility due to the lack of a scientific approach in comparison to Kahneman’s methodical multifaceted approach.
Emotions Revealed – Prof Paul Ekman 4 This book delves into the science of emotions. Do not go into this book expecting body language tips. It Looks at absolute base level of emotions/facial expressions that all humans share, it uses psychological studies and the many years of experience of the author to build a factual, interesting insight into human faces and emotions.
The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx / Friederich Engels 3 The book/pamphlet that effectively started the communist movement. Given the impact that communism has had on the world this book is a must to gain a broader sense of what the main tenant of communism are.
The Innovators Dilemma – Clayton M Christensen 5 The innovators dilemma starts of slow and dry but really gathers pace in the second half of the book. The first half of the book discusses the rise and fall of companies in the electronic harddrive market over the last 40 years. It looks at how the vast majority of the time the market leader in HDD sales would fail to spot the next big innovation and lose their place at the top of the market when that innovation arrived. The second half of the book delves into why this happens, looks at why the natural structure of existing companies prevents them from catching the curve for the newest innovations. A very interesting read for anyone interested in innovation in business.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – Marshall Goldsmith 3 An interesting book that promotes the concept that in order to move to greater heights one must constantly adapt and change to reach those new challenges… What got you here, wont get you there !
Mediated – Thomas De Zengotita 1 An wordy take on the effects of modern media on society, it seemed like the author wrote the book with a thesaurus on hand to give any readers a headache trying to understand his thoughts. Probably one of the worst books I read this year, would not recommend.
Alex Ferguson – Sir Alex Ferguson 4 A detailed look into the life of Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary Manchester United manager. A must for any Manchester United fan.
Continuous Delivery – Jez Humble 5 The seminal book on continuous delivery.. The art of delivery software quickly and painlessly using a new approach that couples well with the Agile software development methodology.
The Chimp Paradox – Dr Steve Peters 3 Another interesting book on the human brain. Although at points it dumbs psychological concepts down to the point where it makes the listener feel like a bit of an idiot it does provide a novel framework to help people deal with their emotions.
Docker: up and running – Karl Matthias 5 A must read for anyone who wants to get a better understanding on new light weight container virtulisation software called Docker.
Ego Is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday 5 Ego is the Enemy delves into stoicism to explain why your ego can be the biggest obstacle to having a happy and successful life. It can cause you to make the wrong decisions, come to the wrong conclusions and to guide you down the wrong path. If you struggle to keep your ego in check then this is definitely a book worth reading.
Foundation – Isaac Asimov 4 A classic and timeless science fiction book. If you like science fiction and haven’t read the foundation novels by Isaac Asimov go and read them now !
The 48 Laws of Power – Robert Greene 3 The 48 laws of power tries to summaries what power is and how it ebbs and flows. The Laws aren’t really laws, more like advice as some of them contradict each other. It’s definitely worth a read as long as you do not take it too literally. If you did you might turn into a Machiavellian douchebag !

The author over elaborates at points so it might be worth picking up the abridged version unless you are really interested in the subject.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a team – Patrick M. Lencioni 5 A brilliant narrative driven examination on team work. It outlines the 5 typical dysfunctions that naturally occur in teams. The story follows a CEO who has been hired to turn around a failing startup that has some of the brightest and most intelligent board members but are failing to work together as a team. The CEO goes through the 5 dysfunctions and helps the team to reach their potential. Extremely insightful, it will have you examining the state of some of the teams you work in to identify what dysfunctions exist.
The Coaching Habit – Bungay Stanier Michael 4 This book is aimed at people who are already coaching and are looking to improve their technique. It gives specific tips and tricks that the author has learnt to get the most from every coaching session. It is definitely worth a read, but i wouldn’t recommend it to someone just starting in coaching. You would be better off starting with something like ‘Coaching for Performance’ and coming onto this later.
The 12 Elements of great managing – Rodd Wagner 4 This book used data from the extensive Gallup database (many years of employee interviews etc) to build a picture of what the attributes of great manager are. If you manage people then you should definitely read this book. None of the elements are particularly ground breaking, but incorporating them into your management style will help you become a better manager.
The Black Swan – Nassim Nicholas Taleb 5 The black swan examines how highly improbable events have shaped and formed the history of the human race. It illuminates the fact that stock market projections are generally garbage and that much of the maths and logic that underpins modern capitalist societies doesn’t account for the existence of black swans. This makes the socioeconomic framework that underpins society highly susceptible to them. The book started off slow but really picked up around the middle. If nothing else Nassim Nicholas Taleb re-enforces the need for society and individuals to question the conventional wisdom of financial institutions. When that doesn’t happen we end up with stock market crashes and big problems in society.
Delegation & Supervision – Brian Tracy 5 For anyone in a position of leadership this book is a must read. It is short, concise and to the point. It outlines what delegation is, what the benefits and common pitfalls are for it. It outlines a clear set of rules to make sure you delegate clearly and effectively.
The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday 5 Another great book by Ryan Holiday. It brings stoicism into modern day society in an easy to understand and relatable way. If you aspire to be an unflappable, reliable, consistent and steadfast individual then this book is a great introduction to stoic thinking. For me it acted as a gateway book into some classic stoic literature such as Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
HBR Guide to Building Your Business Case – Amy Gallo 3 For anyone wanting a summary of how to build and present a business case this book gives a good foundation..
Foundation and Empire – Isaac Asimov 3 The second book in the foundation series by Isaac Asimov. Not as good as the first but still a good read.
A Stoic Approach to Modern Life – Tom Miles 3 A short book on the application of stoic thinking to modern day life. It makes the case that stoicism still has a place in modern day life.
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius 5 A timeless classic full of wisdom that is still as relevant today as it was when it was written over two thousand year ago. Written by Marcus Aurelius, a man who many historians rate as one of the best emperors in the history roman empire. How could you not learn something profound and life changing from such an individual? My recommendation would be to buy this book and read it many times through your life as I’m sure it will provide different insights at different stages of your life.
The Pheonix Project – by Gene Kim 5 As someone who works in software development this book really struck a chord with me. It helped me put my finger on some of the problems that exist in my department that have been too subtle or indirect to notice first hand. It extols the virtues of lean manufacturing developed by toyota between 1950->1980 and its suitability to be applied outside of the manufacturing sphere. The story follows a IT department employee and his journey to improve his department. Definitely worth a read for anyone who works in IT, dev ops or software development and wants to understand how a department can be run efficiently.
King, Warrior, Magician, Lover – Robert L. Moore 4 This book examines the main 4 archtypes of the male psyche. What purpose they have and describes the Shadow form of each archtype and how they can unbalance an individual.
Review

Micro Review: “The Coaching Habit” – Michael Bungay Stanier

The coaching habit is a useful book to go through if you are a reasonably experienced coach and want to give your coaching method a bit of a kick start.

It summarises some of the pitfalls that you can fall into and gives good advice on simple techniques that can make you a more effective coach. This includes:

The kick starter question – A simple question that can kick start a coaching conversation into a productive discussion rather than a general chit-chat that drags on and on… The main example was the question “What’s on your mind?”.

The AWE Question – “And What Else?”. This focuses on getting as many options on the table as possible. More options gives the coachee more ways forward. The book highlights statistical studies that show when more options are considered people generally come to better choices. There is a limit though, at a certain point the number of choices/options become paralyzing. The Author suggests the book “The Paradox of Choice” makes this point succinctly, I’ve added it to my reading list.

The Focus question – This attempts to focus on the real issue at hand by redirecting back towards how problems are affecting the individual and what they can do to move forward.  An example is.. “What is the real problem here for you?”

The Lazy Question – This involves simply asking how the coach can help the coachee. Sometimes its as simple as asking and finding out.

The Strategic Question – The revolves around the strategic decision on what requests to say yes to, and what responses to say no to.

I’ve found the book very useful and am attempting to weave some of these questions into my coaching sessions.

52book

Micro Review: – “Ego is the Enemy” – Ryan Holiday

In “Ego is the Enemy” Ryan Holiday makes the case against the traditional egocentric personality ‘style’ that seems to have a stranglehold on most of us, whether in business or general life.

Our ego is there to protect us from the mental anguish that occurs when, sometimes, we just don’t live up to expectations. Unfortunately this can lead to self-serving bias, an inflated sense of self and the building of barriers between us and others.

Ryan makes the point that the only way to keep you on the trajectory of success is to remain balanced through successes and failures. To be humble and learn from every experience.

A lot of the content in this book reminded me of the former Managing Director of the small company I work for. He managed to build our company from nothing to a multi-million pound business in 15 years. He is a brilliantly humble man, with a sincere lack of ego.

It’s hard for people to see that there is another way when most of the public exposure to successful business men are individuals like Howard Hughes, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump and Elon Musk. The truth is that there is another way, and eventually you have to hope that humanity moves past the current egocentric paradigm. In truth, ego belongs in the jungle.. along with poo throwing and hitting others with sticks.