Review: Cass R. Sunstein & Reid Hastie – Wiser

Wiser
Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter
Cass R. Sunstein & Reid Hastie

“Since the beginning of human history, people have made decisions in groups—first in families and villages, and now as part of companies, governments, school boards, religious organizations, or any one of countless other groups. And having more than one person to help decide is good because the group benefits from the collective knowledge of all of its members, and this results in better decisions. Right?”

This book was not for me. Although it’s in the “management” section of the library’s non-fiction, it’s all about theory and there is nothing practical or examples of what to do next. Not only is it theory, but it also doesn’t show “the right answer” at the conclusion of the theories. It basically says this can happen, and this can happen and this can also happen. It has no point or message that the book is conveying.

The message of the book is that group decisions are hard due to a number of reasons. These include: an individual’s bias, and how humans tend to agree with others – this causes a cascade of errors. Although the book is structured in chapters of “how groups fail” and then “how groups succeed”, the chapters didn’t really mean anything. The authorities continued to use examples of how groups fail in the succeeding section. Honestly I still don’t know the “solution” to this problem, and how to succeed.

The authors mentioned the same examples more than once, including writing that they would refer to it again in a later chapter. I don’t know why it couldn’t just be fully explained then and there? By the end of the Introduction I had already been convinced that groups fail in their logical thinking all the time, and I was ready for the solutions. I then fell asleep, lost interest and put the book down several times. The only semi-redeeming factors were the few story examples in the tournaments section and the fact that the authors used references for their work.

I did finish this book, but it’s only getting 2 stars. Don’t bother – there are better things out there. Anything is better than this.

Review: Harvard Business Review – Leading Virtual Teams (S)

Leading Virtual Teams
HBR 20-Minute Manager Series
Harvard Business Review

“Leading any team involves managing people, technical oversight, and project administration, but leaders of virtual teams perform these functions from afar. Don’t have much time? Get up to speed fast on the most essential business skills with HBR’s 20-Minute Manager series. Whether you need a crash course or a brief refresher, each book in the series is a concise, practical primer that will help you brush up on a key management topic.”

This book is a small, short quick read. It’s a nice little pocket size read. Unfortunately, I don’t think I really got anything out of it. It has some nice tips, including exact questions for team surveys or improving in general. However I felt I have already implemented most, if not all, of the things mentioned in it. I guess it’s a nice little reminder that I’m on the right track.

This book was published a few years ago, but would be even more applicable today given COVID-19 and teams being forced to work from home. I think overall it’s a good little read and has a few helpful pointers if you are new to leading virtual teams. Borrow it from the library, don’t bother buying it. You probably won’t want to read it more than once.

Review: Sarah Liu – The World We See (S)

The World We See
Leadership Lessons From Australia’s Iconic Change Makers
Sarah Liu

“The World We See is not just a compilation of leadership insights from 30 iconic Australian leaders, but a collective declaration that we will create a world where gender parity is not a dream, but a reality. In this book, female and male leaders share their life lessons and vision for a better tomorrow where every single one of us, regardless of gender, can rise up to get us one step closer to the world we envision.”

Suzi picked this book up from the library, so the following review is hers. I was after a book that wasn’t theory based for a change, and had more real life examples and stories to learn from. he title misled me, sadly. “Leadership lessons from Australia’s iconic change makers” – from this, I really expected actual lessons, stories and examples. However, what I received was 2-3 pages from each leader of wishy washy, meant to be inspiring and motivating, crap. This was the type of motivating crap that says “lighten up” or “the measure of success must be yours” or “failure isn’t falling down, it’s remaining where you’ve fallen”. This was paired with a quote on a coloured background page in between each leader’s lesson. If I wanted motivational sentences, I’d read ‘The Secret’!

To top it off, the whole book is also about gender inequality, and is aimed to be motivating to women in the workforce. I don’t have a problem with this being mentioned, but it felt like every leader had to say something empowering to women in their 3 page lesson, which was a waste and not necessary. This also included males saying they are open to women in the workforce – I bloody well hope so! I personally don’t feel that women need anymore empowering or motivating than men, and if they do they aren’t going to get it from this book. Everyone is equal, end of discussion. Gender diversity doesn’t need to be made into a big deal. Maybe it’s just my industry, but I work with more women than men, including women in high level roles, so I don’t see it as an issue.

Overall, what I got out of this book was nothing. It was a waste of my time. I felt that the leaders included could have used their few pages better to tell an actual story with a leadership lesson in it. Not fluff with coloured backgrounded quoted pages that can be found on the internet. I didn’t finish reading it. It might be non-fiction and I don’t have to rate it, but it’s hardly worth a single star.

Review: Patrick M. Lencioni – The Motive (S)

The Motive
Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities
Patrick M. Lencioni

“New York Times best-selling author Patrick Lencioni has written a dozen books that focus on how leaders can build teams and lead organizations. In The Motive, he shifts his attention toward helping them understand the importance of why they’re leading in the first place.”

I absolutely love Lencioni’s books and this one is no exception! Like most of his other books (except this notable exception), this is written as a leadership fable. The fable is used to explain his business concepts so that you can see them in action. He then also goes through the theories in the more traditional business book sense at the end.

The main character in the fable is the typical CEO leader who currently delegates out his leader responsibilities and is more involved in the areas he is comfortable in. I loved the plot twists and turns and couldn’t wait to keep reading it. I would have read it in one sitting if I didn’t have to go to work. I loved the ending and thought it suited well and was needed! The main point that the author makes is that leaders tend to fall into the trap of doing the things they enjoy or are good at. This means that they are too involved in the day to day operating tasks of the business and not focusing on the harder leadership tasks that can only be done by the leader, and are required for the business to grow.

It’s shorter than the average book, however it doesn’t necessarily need to be any longer. Nevertheless, similarly to Lencioni’s other books (eg. DEATH by Meeting), I would have liked a little more in the fast forward following the fable further into examples of how to actually do the correct things. If you can fit in and explain your point in a short book, then there is nothing wrong with it. I listened to this book as an audiobook. Although it’s not read by the author, it was still read with feeling.

If you lead other people or aspire to lead other people, this is a must-read. It’s not just for CEOs but also for small business directors, smaller team leaders and middle management. It reminds you of your ‘WHY’ you are a leader and reinforces that leaders must focus on big picture tasks rather than operations.

I want to say 5 stars as I love all of Lenconis books. In saying that for it to be a 5 stars it should be a re-read and I find it hard to re-read the fables after I’ve heard the story. I’d likely read the key take away points though. 4.5 stars?

Review: Patrick Lencioni – The Advantage (S)

The Advantage:
Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business
Patrick Lencioni

“There is a competitive advantage out there, arguably more powerful than any other. Is it superior strategy? Faster innovation? Smarter employees? No, New York Times best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, argues that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre ones has little to do with what they know and how smart they are and more to do with how healthy they are.”

This book is a bit of a disappointment from this author. The way it comes across is as a kind of summary of his 5 other books. His other 5 books are fables and go into each item in more detail. The idea of this book was to put each thing in context, however I felt that was lost. He said at the start that you didn’t have to have read his 5 other books first before this one.

I had read 3/5 at the time so I continued reading. He ended up providing a summary of each as he went, whereas it could have been better if he said read the 5 books first before reading this one, because he repeated parts of those books.

It had some good take away things, as in 6 questions that you go away and answer about your business.
1. Why do we exist?
2. How do we behave?
3. What do we do?
4. How will we succeed?
5. What is most important, now?
6. Who must do what?

Overall, it’s just not as good as his other books at all. There are some good parts, but disappointingly it’s written in the normal business type style book not in a fable sense like his others. The start was good as I was hooked early on, but I felt it went down hill at the end (and felt a bit rushed, honestly). It’s not a re-read, or a buy (I borrowed it through Scribd), but I still want to read the rest of his books.

Review: Michael E. Gerber – The E-Myth Revisited (S)

Michael E. Gerber
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Busines ses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

“An instant classic, this revised and updated edition of the phenomenal bestseller dispels the myths about starting your own business. Small business consultant and author Michael E. Gerber, with sharp insight gained from years of experience, points out how common assumptions, expectations, and even technical expertise can get in the way of running a successful business.”

This is a review by my wife, who is my resident non-fiction and business book reviewer. She got quite a bit of enjoyment out of this one I think, since she kept going back to read it, and was laughing at times. We borrowed it via Scribd, but it’s not good enough to justify a paperback copy for a reread.

Let’s start from the beginning. I like to read everything in order, including the Foreword. Sometimes the Foreword in these types of books really set the scene, but the one in this book was pretty much useless. Jumping into the Introduction then – it was good because it outlined what was going to be covered in the book quite well.

Thankfully, the book then got into the meaty bits of information that I was there to read. The first Part of the book: The Emyth and American Small Businesses included the phases of business, which I found interesting. I much enjoyed the first half, although at times it seemed repetitive.

The main takeaway from this book is that you need to work on your business, rather than in it. The author refers to working in it as being a technician; you’re already an expert in the industry, and it’s simple to deal with each problem that comes up by yourself, rather than delegating or training your staff. It’s easy to fall into this trap of ‘I can fix this problem’ and then get distracted from working on the actual business. While other books I’ve read describe this phenomenon, this book was much more helpful because it gave specific guidance of how to work on your business. eg. having a Standard Operations Procedure (SOP) or an Operating Manual.

However, some of the strategic direction and aim was kinda useless. eg. ‘make sure you have a clear primary aim’. That’s great, most business books have this, so it’s nothing new.

The Part towards the end of the book talked about systems processes. Which was fine, it covered a number of good systems, but the problem was that it was sales focussed (a major drawback of most business books). It asked questions such as “What’s your numbers?” meaning new business numbers / how many appointments have been booked. Unfortunately that’s useless to someone who doesn’t work in sales. Not everything is about sales! Honestly I lost interest in the sales section. Some ideas about other benchmarks to help manage your current business would have been useful.

Who should read this? Anyone who has a small business. The take home message was that just because you’re an expert in your industry, but don’t always work in it, you need to step back and work on it. You need to train your staff for how you want things to run, and how you see the business. You need a vision and a plan, and your staff need to know it as well. I’m not going to read it again, so 4 stars from me.

Review: Adam Fraser – Strive (S)

Strive
Adam Fraser

“Strive shakes up everything you know about happiness, turns you around, and sets you on the track to true fulfillment. It’s not what you think—happiness is not found in achievement and luxury and having all the free time in the world. Humans are most fulfilled and feel best about themselves when they are striving towards a difficult goal that involves struggle and discomfort.”

This book is firmly in the business non-fiction category. So, it’s actually a review by my wife (with edits from me for clarity and order). With that being said…

When I first saw this book on the shelf to be reviewed, I wasn’t keen on it because it seemed like it would just have the same old message of that happiness is the key to life. Happiness is a state of emotion, not the end goals of life! You shouldn’t feel bad for having negative emotions, you want to work towards your goal more when you have struggle.

The work we do when we don’t take the easy way is better. The easy way is if you just have everything you want – then what’s the purpose in life? Third generation rich kids are a disaster because they didn’t have to earn it and they don’t understand the struggle that took place to get there. Parts of the book made me smirk, because what was being said was just so true!

There are dot point summaries at each chapter end to make sure you’ve gotten the main points out of the chapter. This book isn’t going to be a complete reread, but it’s worth having as a reference book for flicking through when I need inspiration.

There’s a little picture that gets updated as you go through each chapter. [Rose: I can’t find the whole thing online}. This image basically acts as a guideline as it goes along of where you are up to in terms of learning about the strive pathway.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of it. I get the overall point, but there are some people who work for work’s sake, but that’s not necessarily the right path – don’t struggle for the purpose of struggling!

This book isn’t just his opinions, Adam Fraser has a PhD in biomedical science and did actually do research on over 800 leaders to see what they actually did. I’m going to pass it on to another friend who needs this motivation to keep striving and succeeding.

Review: Patrick Lencioni – DEATH by Meeting (S)

DEATH by Meeting
Patrick Lencioni

“Death by Meeting” is nothing short of a blueprint for leaders who want to eliminate waste and frustration among their teams, and create environments of engagement and passion.

A friend gave this book to my wife, and she read it across two days. I’ve never seen her so excited, even with the other books she’s reviewed for me (eg. Brew a Batch, Permission to Screw Up). This review is therefore written from her perspective.

The cover, as you can see, is a business guy head desking on top of a meeting agenda. I figured I’d just skim over it and then read the other bookies waiting in my bedroom. A trusted business friend recommended it to me – otherwise I wouldn’t have picked it up on my own. Once I had it, I thought I might get more insights into meetings.

Most of the book is a fictional story about a leadership team and how they are currently running their meetings. You get suckered in (invested) in how they improve their meetings. Given that it has this story you see real life examples of how it can be used and not just the plain theory. The characters give some of the reader’s thoughts back at them like ‘Why do we need more meetings? or ‘Really? You want me to do this in a meeting?’ where it is answered in the story as a group and the characters chatting about it.

Unlike the other business books where they try to cram in a bunch of theories and just hop about in meaningless or difficult to follow manner the story creates a framework. I would have preferred a little more of the ‘Fast Forward’ (non-fiction) at the end with the theories. This could have included more examples with the team doing the good meetings, the different types of good meetings. It was really interesting and enjoyable. This really has one meeting theory that can be summarized on a single page, so it’s not a reread of the whole book, just a revisit of the summarized theory at the back if need be.

Perhaps the most gleaming commendation for this book is that my wife stayed up late, and read this over two days. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so absorbed! Also, she’s a passionate fiction hater, and I could hardly believe she was reading a fictional story (and I teased her mercilessly too).

Review: Kristen Hadeed – Permission to Screw Up (S)

Permission to Screw Up
Kristen Hadeed

“This is the story of how Kristen Hadeed built Student Maid, a cleaning company where people are happy, loyal, productive, and empowered, even while they’re mopping floors and scrubbing toilets. It’s the story of how she went from being an almost comically inept leader to a sought-after CEO who teaches others how to lead.”

My wife listened to this book as an audiobook on long car rides, and I listened to some of it with her. This book was narrated to great effect by the author. This was amazing because although there was the standard business techniques that you get in any book, they were told as part of an enthralling story. It was told in such a way that the reader felt like they were there with Kristen, and wanted to know what would happen next. There were no bits where I was bored!

I felt like it was a longer than normal talking book that I would listen to, but it didn’t feel that long. [Rose notes that it clocks in at 5.5 hours(as opposed to Get to the Point, which was only two hours)]. I don’t normally like reading things twice, but there were some parts that I HAVE read again, such as the techniques of how to FBI (it’s a feedback technique).

Anyone in a leadership role, not just owning your own business (also middle manager, team leader etc) should read this book. There are business books out there that contradict themselves but this book tell you that even if others say that this is the ‘best way’, if it doesn’t suit your team, don’t push something that isn’t working.

The book by itself was 4 stars, but with the reading it’s 5 stars. The author helped. It sounded as if it wasn’t a book, it was a story. I’m not sure if the author had put in side notes that weren’t in the text, but it sounded like it. It felt like even when she ‘renamed’ characters, it was real in the story.

Some of the techniques that she uses and decided as really good should be highlighted more – like shit sandwiches, but FBI is better than that. They were explained equally, but more emphasis should be put on the FBI. The FBI method stands for: feelings, behavior, impact. It starts with saying how you feel, and then your feedback-ee can’t argue that and get off topic. What is the impact on the relationship, company, team, client etc? Feedback shouldn’t be an ordeal and a sit down session. Everyone in a team should be able to give FBI.

The take home message from this book is that team company culture is important and how to give feedback using the FBI method. Always keep trying different things, and if that isn’t working for you in those circumstances, try something else.

Review: Morgen Witzel – The Ethical Leader (S)

The Ethical Leader
Morgen Witzel

“Ethical behaviour by businesses, or their staff, is often seen as the corporate and social responsibility icing on an organizational cake – something that is nice to do but never really essential. But by turning this view around – and making ethical behaviour a primary focus – Witzel shows how businesses can create and maintain long-term competitive advantage.”

In the first line the author warns the reader – “Oh, no. Not another book about ethics” – in a laughing way that this won’t be one of those books. But it kinda is just another book about ethics. It was very slow to start off with, and there was a point near the start where I wanted to abandon it, but then I pushed through and got to a better part later on.I read it when I knew I would be distracted because I could easily pick it up and drop it again – it didn’t require too much brain power.

A strong point of this book were the inclusion of some really nice case studies that are boxed clearly from the rest of the text. For some of the case studies, the author asks ‘What would you do?’ and then tells you at the end of the chapter what actually happened. Any time there is a fact, it uses a reference. Its worth could be as a reference book because it has A LOT of references that you can refer to (haha). It has both footnotes by chapter and a Bibliography. If you like an idea, it’s easy to go and find out more about it.

The real ethics framework is only the last chapter (Chapter 10), where he gives how to make an ethical decision – how to ask yourself if it is an ethical decision you are making. But in the end, different people have different ways and levels of ethics to adhere to. It’s great to read about, and it’s nice that you should do the right thing, but even with the framework there will never be a black and white question. You can ask the questions, but not reach an answer – it’s just your opinion.

I’d like more items to action out of it, such as how to implement this in your workplace. What can I do to improve my business? How do you look after your shareholders vs employees vs customers? There were no takeaways of what I can do to create value or build employee relationships. Ultimately I just didn’t enjoy it and got nothing useful out of it. It IS just another ethics book – it’s average.

Bloomsbury | 12th February 2019 | AU$35.00 | paperback