What I’ve read in 2015
Better late than never! Since I’m posting this about 6 months late, I realize that my discipline to put together book reviews may not match my reading pace.
Regardless, I wanted to take the time to reflect on what I read last year and make this yearly post a tradition (see my post from 2014 here).
Malcolm X is known for his work as an advocate for the rights of African Americans who died for a greater cause. In popular culture, he is recognized as a symbol of resistance. However, this representation doesn’t capture his full life story, including his personal struggles and triumphs. Malcolm lived through several reinventions, many of them described in detail in this biography by Manning Marable.
In this book, I learned about Malcolm’s many roles: thought leader, charismatic public speaker, world traveller, fierce debater and change agent for good. One of the themes in his life that struck me was his lack of access to information. For example, when he started studying with the infamous Nation of Islam, he learned a modified version of Islam that was quite different than how the religion was practiced around the world. The leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammed, was a mentor who both helped Malcolm and hurt him at different points of his life.
Malcolm did benefit from his membership and leadership positions in the Nation of Islam, which is where he honed in on his craft and gained notoriety. Once he grew disillusioned with the group and left, he was able to study under different leaders and live several eye-opening experiences. For example, his trip to Mecca, where he saw people of different skin color and heritage come together as one for Hajj, was a catalyst that shaped a different mission for the rest of his short life. Malcolm ultimately became an advocate for human rights more broadly.
Unfortunately, he was assassinated in 1965 by three Nation of Islam members. His passing left the world with many questions. For example, if Malcolm had continued his important work, what would the United States looks like today? What if he had partnered with Martin Luther King later on in his life? It is tragic that America lost such an important figure, as he was surely on a path to creating a better world.
Positive Intelligence — by Shirzad Chamine
This is a great book for someone who is looking to make their mind a stronger ally. Shirzad’s book proposes a new approach to tap into your full potential, by increasing your “Positive IQ.” Some highlights from the book:
• Recognize your inner “Judge”
o The inner Judge drives you to decide what is good or bad in the moment. Unfortunately, our points of view are typically too narrowly focused, so our judgments of what is good or bad for us in the moment can be wildly inaccurate.
o The Judge’s most damaging lies: 1) we are not worthy of love of respect just by being who we are and 2) you will be happy when…
o Acknowledge the Judge’s negative self-talk, understand why it happens and what to do about it.
o Personally I recognized that I have an active inner Judge. In an exercise in the book, I wrote down judging questions I asked myself, and these are still relevant today.
• Use the Positive IQ self-assessment to find your top “saboteurs”
o Saboteurs are a set of destructive, habitual mind patterns. Through the assessment, I found that mine were called Pleaser and Hyper-Achiever.
o The book featured helpful strategies with how to deal with both.
• It’s not all doom and gloom (and judge and saboteurs); you also have a “Sage.”
o The Sage has the following powers: empathize, explore, innovate, navigate, activate.
• To improve your Positive Intelligence, you can weaken your judge and saboteurs and strengthen your sage.
• Powerful questions:
o What do you need to do so that in three years this is the best thing that could have happened to you?
o At the end of my life, how do I wish I would have conducted myself, regardless of the outcomes?
• If you want to keep being driven by being hard on yourself (i.e. through guilt, obligation, etc.), consider this question: Would you rather be pushed or pulled? Saboteurs push, sages pulls.
o“The fuels of your saboteurs might propel you forward, but with a huge amount of pollution and wasteful friction along the way.”
This book can be used as a catalyst to fuel personal, professional or team growth, as it gives a language to obstacles that are often unnamed, as well as a suite of applied exercises to overcome these obstacles and improve performance.
The World According to Mister Rogers — Fred Rogers
What better than some Pittsburgh-bred wisdom to commemorate two years in America? This collection of the quotes and musings of the famous TV personality are sometimes funny, sometimes vague and sometimes useful. While readers may find some of the lessons fluffy, often they are simple truths that we hide from. My favorite parts:
-The Clown in Me poem
-Dr William F. Orr: “There is only one thing evil cannot stand and that is forgiveness.”
-“As work grows out of play, an attitude toward work grows with it – an attitude that may persist all through our workaday life. That attitude can have a lot to do with how we accept challenges, how we can cope with failures, and whether we can find the inner fulfillment that makes working, in and of itself, worthwhile. “
-“I wrote in a song that in the long, long trip of growing, there are stops long the way. It’s important to know when we need to stop, reflect and receive. In our competitive world, that might be called a waste of time. I’ve learned that those times can be the preamble to periods of enormous growth. Recently, I declared a day to be alone with myself. I took a long drive and played a tape. When I got to the mountains, I read and prayed and listened and slept. In fact, I can’t remember having a calmer sleep in a long, long time. The next day I went back to work and did more than I usually get done in three days.”
-“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has - or ever will have – something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.”
-“I find out more and more every day how important it is for people to share their memories.”
If the book doesn’t do it for you, check out this must watch Mr Rogers remix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFzXaFbxDcM
Rich People Things by Chris Lehmann
Why do the rich stay rich? Read this book if you want to find out.
This book was written beyond my reading level. If you aren’t familiar with American history, you might have to, like me, use google quite often when reading. Despite these challenges I persevered and learned some new things. The takeaway message is that several pillars of our society contribute to income inequality and prevent us from creating a more just world.
These pillars can be explained by the many lies we tell ourselves. The biggest lie of all: the existence of the American Dream. In reality, very few have access to this dream, as upward mobility is a very rare occurrence. The notion that we are affluent entrepreneurs waiting to happen is the social mythology of upward mobility.
The author, Chris Lehmann, is a journalist who makes his points with flair. We both share an abhorrence for Malcolm Gladwell. I recommend this book for those who want to broaden their perspective on what keeps the rich rich. Here are a few of the topics explored:
• Meritocracy: The term became popularized in a satirical novel. It’s no wonder it’s a terrible ideal. The winners feel they deserve all the spoils, yet fail to recognize that they started with tremendous advantages over others.
• The U.S. Constitution: ratified to protect the needs and rights of the rich.
• Higher learning (rise of the customer-student, academic performance strongly related to income levels), the lobbying world (1,750 businesses employed 4,500 lobbyists during Obama’s health care reform battle), libertarianism (criticizing business is un-American)
• The chapter on Ayn Rand inspired me to read Atlas Shrugged to understand what others value in it. Turns out their beliefs are based on simplistic ideas that would never work in practice. More on that in another post.
One of the last chapters is on the language we use. Essentially, Lehmann challenges the media to speak more accurately about the hardships we face. He argues that vague or shifty language has protected the rich and taken away blame from those who deserve it. For example, it is almost taboo to talk about social class. Consequently, the middle class has no definition: according a Pew research centre poll: 40% of respondents earning less than 20,000$ a year called themselves middle class, yet more than a third of those earning more than 150,000$ call themselves middle class.
A challenging but enlightening read.
A gem from the late 1940s, this guide to selling offers dozens of tips and tricks to improve your sales process and skills. I found the lessons very applicable and I used this book to rewrite my sales script from scratch.
A great read for someone who is new to sales and would benefit from learning about the fundamentals.
How to Be Interesting: An Instruction Manual — By Jessica Hagy
Fun and inspiring motivational book. Use as “pick me up” when you need that extra boost. When reading, leave the cliched lessons behind and focus on the ones that resonate with you.
Your First Leadership Job: How Catalyst Leaders Bring Out the Best in Others
by Tacy Byham, Richard S Wellins
A fantastic book on leadership that presents all the basics a leader needs to succeed. A great resource for front-line and mid-levels leaders that want to take their skills to the next level.
Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures — By Michael Goodwin
It was fun to learn about economics in such an engaging, visual format.
Unfortunately, the book lost me when it changed it’s format midway though. While it started as an objective source of historical facts and economic perspectives, it eventually takes a strong left-leaning point of view on how things “should be.” The consequence of this was that the book lost the credibility required to give an unbiased explanation of past and current economic theory.
What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk about the Next American Revolution
by Gar Alperovitz
The case for employee-owned organizations. This ties in nicely with the popularity of entrepreneurship in today’s economic climate.
Don’t Waste Your Talent: The 8 Critical Steps to Discovering What You Do Best
by Bob McDonald
This book has some great lessons that challenge our assumptions about work (ie. Check out the “lemming conspiracy”). It also provides many tools and ideas on how to find a career where you will succeed and find meaning.
One of the main lessons that you get from reading this book is that preparing for and finding a career where you will thrive takes work. Lots of work.
Many of the career coaching clients I work with prefer to do this work with a professional, rather than though a book and self-driven exercises. This makes sense on several levels. Given this, it’s important to acknowledge how much one can expect to get from this book, especially if the reader is not willing to take the time to complete all the recommended exercises.
I went through the certification process to use the Highlands Ability Battery recommend in the book. I found that it is a useful tool that provides unique insights on abilities that are hard to get elsewhere.
If I had to improve this book, I would: 1) make it shorter by removing some of the examples provided; 2) edit some parts on women’s careers that were not worded appropriately and 3) add some design elements to make it more visually appealing.
Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook — By Scott Adams
Half book, half collection of comic strips, this piece by Scott Adams has a hilarious take on office life. What I was shocked to see was that nearly 20 years later, our organizations still struggle with the same management and organizational challenges!
A really fun read for someone who works in a bureaucratic organization with poor leadership.
Atlas Shrugged — By Ayn Rand
The most important book I read last year. It helped me understand the American point of view of libertarianism, which is quite influential to today’s political dialogue.