Creative Selection – Ken Kocienda
Kocienda summarises his book, and conclusions about the Apple culture as: “A small group of people built a work culture based on applying the seven essential elements through an ongoing process of creative selection.” If that sounds a bit vague to you then it summarises the book which veers from detailed anecdote to attempts at generalisable theory of Apple.
I’m not sure what to make of this book. It’s fascinating to be able to get a glimpse inside how Apple worked during the gestation of the iPhone. That’s what got this book published. Yet… it feels wrong for one person to be letting us behind the curtain when that’s just not what Apple does, and this was clearly a team endeavour. Even if Kocienda is the most benign and kindly teller of the iPhone story, it’s nigh on impossible for him to do justice to all of the teamwork involved.
There are undoubtedly interesting tales in the book, and some superb attempts to simplify complex technical issues for a non-technical audience. If I was compiling a list of must-read Apple-ology books this wouldn’t make it. But if you’ve read everything and want a bit more then Creative Selection is an interesting few hours of detail, particularly around the development of Safari and the iPhone keyboard.
It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work – Jason Fried & David Heinnmeier Hansson
I have long been a fan of Basecamp the product and company (which used to be known as 37Signals). I spent so much time using Basecamp when Head of Technology at Netmums that some nights I dreamt in Basecamp!
Fried and Heinmeier Hansson influenced my approach to development and I greatly respect their approach to business. This is their third book, and I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t think they’d be offended if I noted that all three books have been pretty similar in style and content. But Fried and Heinmeier Hansson have clearly iterated their thinking to improve and condense their key messages. This latest book is the most crisp and impactful of all.
It reads as a series of short, digestible chapters extolling a human(e) approach to business and software development. One of their key insights is to consider the company itself a product that needs to be continuously improved. There’s lots of good thinking packed in there such as “hire the work, not the resume”, “don’t meet, write” and “disagree and commit”.
A refreshing and uplifting read for anyone with an interest in how to improve work – highly recommended.
City on the Line – Andrew Kleine
Andrew Kleine is an unabashed government budget nerd. But that’s ok, in fact it’s what has made his book so good. In it he reflects on his time as Budget Director for the City of Baltimore, taking the city government on a journey from siloed budgets as usual to ones focussed on outcomes, on value delivered for the citizen all informed by staff and citizen involvement. The book combines an engaging memoir of his time in Baltimore, a crisp analysis of why public sector budget processes often founder and a very approachable guide on how to adopt outcomes based budgeting in your own public authority. I absolutely loved it and have bought a pile of copies for colleagues at Essex County Council. It’s a journey we’re committed to going on too.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo is a professional tidier from Japan – yes she gets paid to help people organise and tidy their homes and offices! She has become something of a phenomenon with her own Netflix series and a range of books. Kondo tells how even from a very early age she had a fascination with tidying and organising, how she tried every trick, gadget and gimmick to keep her home and school organised. Through trial and error she has developed a very different approach to the typical keep-tidy books. This approach, the ‘KonMari Method’, provides a route map to rethinking what relationship one wants to have with our stuff. This leads one down to having much less stuff in a way that is easy to keep organised. It works – I’ve found it very powerful and useful. Watching some of the videos available online and Netflix do help to bring her techniques more to life.
What I also found interesting was – incredibly – how similar the core of Kondo’s techniques were to Kleine’s outcomes based budget approach. How so? Both are absolutely clear that nothing else matters in what they write if one cannot agree a clear sense of what the outcome you are seeking to achieve is. Obvious perhaps, but hard and it’s far too often that work sets underway before that clarity on outcome is achieved.
The myth of the strong leader – Archie Brown
On the fundamental argument of this book, I completely agree. In short, Brown’s core argument is that far too much emphasis is placed by the media and political analysts on ‘heroic leaders’ being the source of success and change for their parties and governments. Indeed their influence on election results and delivering change is far less than many think is perhaps the most compelling case made in the book’s opening chapters. Then sadly this thread is lost as the author gives us his potted histories and opinions on a number of world leaders of the last century or so.
While I found some of these parts to have some interest from a historical perspective, and being well written, they undermine the book’s case by barely mentioning the teams of people that worked with the leaders reviewed. Also the book verges on becoming more of a trot through the 20th century’s geopolitics – as seen by the author – than a book on leadership.
With a third of the pages and a greater focus on the core argument this book would have been far more powerful. Too much time is spent reviewing leaders’ histories and a typology of leaders without doing the leg work of explaining how they were part of much wider teams and collaborations.
Scripts People Live – Claude Steiner (2nd ed)
Wow. What a powerful, optimistic book. I wish I had had a chance to meet Claude Steiner as based on this, and his other books I’ve read, he was a humble and clear thinker pushing forward radical ideas. His obituaries give a hint of his impact.
From some reviews and the introductory chapters one might be lulled into thinking that this is a theoretical work for practitioners, but it most certainly isn’t. It is in many respects a manifesto for helping oneself and others towards living a “good life” based on principles of honesty, equality and cooperation.
Yes there is theory in there, and a range of common scripts people live, which are fascinating to explore in one’s own life context. But on finishing the book I felt they had just been the necessary building blocks for the concluding sections which argue powerfully for a harmonious way of living in our communities and how to raise children to ensure their autonomy, intuition and judgement.
We Do Things Differently – Mark Stevenson
At the outset I worried this book could turn into an extended Wired magazine puff piece where a ‘heroic leader’ (nb that’s not a compliment in my lexicon) is going to solve a world problem with nothing but their charisma and amazing startup. There are moments in this book where it could go that way, but Stevenson is wise to such temptations. The book combines a travelogue, potted histories of major developments (e.g energy grids, industrialised agriculture), interviews with genuinely interesting people, new ideas and technologies along with inspirational projects which do give me hope for some of the intractable problems we face today.
Stevenson’s nifty wordsmithing and humility have crafted an uplifting book which manages to romp joyfully through the failings of drug trials by corporate pharma, crowd sourcing cures to TB, boosting rice yields organically, using air for power and cooling, local renewable power generation and storage, urban farming, participatory budgeting and schools reform. I finished the last page feeling uplifted and curious to learn more.
I’ve decided to make more effort reading non-fiction books and thought a booklog (a blog?!) would help me with that goal and also capture some key insights. So here goes…
Factfulness – Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund
A wonderful romp through facts, data, the world as it really is and engaging personal tales of Hans Rosling’s extraordinary life understanding disease in Africa, influencing the rich and powerful whilst also creating the tools and teachings for a better world.
As the book argues, it is humbling and relaxing to realise that things are getter better but there are still big problems. For understandable reasons the news and campaigners often try to make issues feel more urgent and troubling than they really are. One of the best and most important books I’ve read in a long time.
Help! – Oliver Burkeman
This book, being made up of Burkeman’s columns for the Guardian, reads a bit like a lots of intellectual snacks without ever getting to the main course. Which can feel unsatisfying given that he does touch upon some pretty deep issues around happiness and the meaning of life, but never pauses to explore any of the ideas he raises in anything more than column length.
Each piece is well constructed – mixing humour, self reflection and a healthy skepticism to provide a solid quick dip into some major areas of life. But given that he had the space of a book, a little bit more exposition and depth would have been welcome.
All the same I took some inspiration and ideas from it. I was encouraged to try writing a journal again. The section on prioritising was insightful – wherein he argues that there is probably no point having much more than a today and someday set of priorities.
I also enjoyed the sections poking fun at self-help books which promise change in 28 days whilst also demanding immediate massive action. Burkeman advocates “radical moderation” and recognising that habits probably take more than 60 days to form.