What I’m Reading

Reading is an important part of what I do. These days less for knowledge, more for challenge and insight.

Here’s what I’m reading this month – updated as we go through the month.

June 2021

Slow Looking. Shari Tishman. I’m reading this having read the article I’ve referenced above. In our quest for speed, we have forgotten how to pay real attention to what we are doing, and it’s doing us no favours.

The Righteous Mind. David Haidt. One of the easiest ways to speed up what we do is to believe we are right. It allows us to replace conversation with evangelism and take the moral high ground. Thanks to Dan K for recommending it.

Civilised to Death. Christopher Ryan. I’m reading this as part of a reflection on our relationship with growth. The nature of a civilisation based on a very partial definition of progress seems worth some time. I enjoyed it the first time, and I feel a need to re-read it.

May 2021

Design as Art. Bruno Munari. A classic work. We have made much of business functional, grey and uninspiring. It doesn’t have to be that way. As Picasso said, we are all born artists; the challenge is to stay an artist as we grow. Business has enough mechanics; we need more artists.

Finding the Mother Tree. Suzanne Simard. Suzanne’s name is one I have known since her work on the “wood wide web” and a BBC video that inspired my grandchildren. I find her work a rich source of metaphor, and I am looking forward to this.

Essentials. David Whyte. Much of business literature has moved to serve the status quo rather than what might be. For that, we need to look elsewhere, and I’m grateful to Sue Heatherington for introducing me to this.

Do Build. Alan Moore. I have already mentioned this above. I suggest you also have a look at Do Design. It sits wonderfully alongside Do Build, and together they will change the way you look at business.

The Hidden Life of Trees. Peter Wohlleben. A wonderful and insightful short book that will change the way you think about trees. I read it following up on another metaphor rich book, Entangled Life by Merlyn Sheldrake. Between them, they offer enough insight and metaphor to change the way you think about what we’re doing to the planet without shouting at you.

Soil, Soul, Society. Satish Kumar. A book of powerful metaphor and practical action.

April 2021

Who do we choose to be? Margaret Wheatley. I love all of Meg’s work; they are all on my “go to” bookshelf, and good friends when I need a provocation. This one is I think perhaps her finest as she separates where we are and who we are. Powerful, provocative and inspring.

The Art of Peace. Ueshiba Morihei. Another re-read. The man who founded Aikido, and why, and along the way mapped a way to not so much change our identity as to bring our real identity into the open

How the World Thinks. Julian Baggini. A thoughtful walk around the history of philosophy, how it started, where it started and where it is. For something as ambitious as this, a very compelling read, and a good lens on how we see ourselves and our identity. Baggini has a real talent for this, for which I’m grateful.

Re-sounding. Rick Spann and Simon Martin. Published by the innovative TAOS institute, this short, well-referenced book offers an exciting alternative to conventional views on organisational change. It is also free to download. Provocative and, in my opinion, well worth reading.

The Fifth Hammer. Daniel Heller – Roazen. Based on the legend of Pythagoras’s discovery that we need apparent disharmony to induce harmony. I bought this to go alongside Re-sounding and Daniel Byrne’s “How music works” to see if it will help me leverage the insights from Re-Sounding.

The Artist’s Way. Julia Cameron. I hadn’t heard of this bestseller until introduced to it during an unhurried conversation hosted by Johnnie Moore. It’s about how we can best get out of our own way when doing something new and creative, and with a book on the blocks, I need that right now.

March 2021

The Enchiridion. Epictetus. A couple of millenia on, we have much to learn from the Stoics. The Enchiridion is a short collection of thoughts that apply as much today as they did then. It’s on my “go to” bookshelf.

Civilized to Death. Christopher Ryan. We are paying a social, emotional and physical price for the civilisation we have built. I think this is an important reflection on that, because we have a choice.

Quiet Disruptors. Sue Hetherington. Change does not have to be noisy. This is a great reflection on the idea that what can be powerful does not have to be shouted about.

Lessons from a small country. Jane Davidson. There are inspiring politicians out there. I just wish we had some of them in England. This account of how to bring younger generations into the decision making process, by the Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing in Wales is an object lesson in how politicians can inspire if they choose to.

The Art of not Making. Michael Petry. I’m interested in the relationship between those who have the idea, the artist and those who bring the idea into being. Sometimes, they are the same person but more often they are not. Without those who bring it into being, the ideas would perish. Understanding where the boundary lies between having the idea, and bringing it into being seems important right now.

Beyond the Limits. Ranulph Fiennes. I am re-reading this as a reminder of what it takes to push boundaries. A truly remarkable man, and I’m sure not the easiest to work with he has crystal clarity on what needs doing at the edge,

Bird by Bird. Anne Lamott. I’m in the process of concentrating more on my writing, and finding my own style. At one end is the technical; not least my single handed attempt tp propagate the comma which more than a few of you have noticed, together with my blindness to typos. Welcome Grammarly. At the other end is escaping finding my own language and Anne’s book is proving a real joy. Sat between the technical and the poetic is uncomfortable, but welcome.

February 2021

Friends. Robin Dunbar. He of “The Dunbar Number“. I really value his work, I’m reading it because I believe that we will need to choose our friends carefully over the next few years, and remember that despite any narrative to the contrary, anybody who gives you money for work, or to whom you give mony for work is not your friend. 

The Corrosion of Character. Richard Sennett. Another of my favourite authors. A well written philosophical take on what the gig economy mentality does to the character of those who run business.

Critical Path. Buckminster Fuller. Classic, and a frequent reread for me. A good way to save the customers of the leadership industry $26.7bn.

Radical Inclusion. A thought provoking piece, written with Martin Dempsey of the US Army, on how we can improve our understanding through who we listen to beyond out comfortable circle. Really important right now at atime of “quickenng”

The Starfish and the Spider. A few years old now, but still at the front of my “go to” bookshelf. A great look at the power of truly decentralised organisations when things are, well, like they are now. 

Also, The Good Ancestor by Roman Krznaric. A public philospher on long term thinking in a short term society. A book I’m reading form insight more than content. Not as good as a conversation, but way better than another “how to”

January 2021

he Corrosion of Character. Richard Sennett. An old one for me, revisited. When we extend our supply chains, we share our character and the choices we make can either dilute or strengthen it. For those who care about their work over and above the money it makes, it’s important.

Camino. Leandro Herrero. A new one. I really like his work, and follow his daily thoughts. His new book is a collection of these over the years, and a great prompt. I reas them a couple at a time in the morning, and it helps set my day. Recommended

Emergent Strategy. Adrienne Maree Brown. A new one. A digression from my normal reading, recommended in a conversation during the week. Glad it was.

Creative Facilitation. Johnnie Moore and Viv McWaters. This is an update, and for me an accompaniment to “Unhurried at work” which I mentioned last week. Short and clear with great insights. A valuable pleasure to read. 

Talk. The Science of Conversation. Elizabeth Stokor. If we want to repair what we’ve broken rather than pretend we can replace it, we need to talk. This is a scientific look at how we communicate through talk. Much to reflect on that we can learn from.

Critical Path. Buckminster Fuller. One of those people, like Rachel Carson, who we should have listened to at the time, but whose message was just too inconvenient. As powerful now as it was then.

December 20

The Craftsman. Richard Sennett. Beautifully researchred and written, this has been a major source of my thinking on the idea of modern artisans.

What is Biodynamics? Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was a genius whose thinking touched everything from education to farming. It may be a hundred years old, but the thinking is as fresh as next year’s growth.

The Practice. Seth Godin. In my view his best yet. Takes his previous work, updates it, and wraps it into things we can all do. Excellent.

November 20

Cynefin. I’ve followed Dave Snowden for years, and his clarity of thinking has always been something to lean on. This book, published for the Frameworks 21st Birthday, adds real texture and I have found it to be a real bonus. Highly recommended.

How Spies Think. David Omand. Intelligence analysts have to think dispassionately and critically under stress. Lessons for us all here.

October 20

When more is not better. Roger Martin. I’ve always been a fan of Martin’s work on integrative thinking, and this is a welcome addition. although focused on America, it applies to most developed economies, and certainly the UK. It’s a forensic and excoriating appraisal of the path we are following, and a call to action – with ideas for action.

September 20

The Essentials of Theory U. Otto Scharmer. I read Scharmer’s original year ago, and this revision is welcome. It is sharper, clearer and more usable. I think though you need to do the work of reading the original first to get the depth, but if you have, this version is valuable.

Wilding. Isabella Tree. I read this right after “Braiding Sweetgrass” and they make fine companions. I found it a real provocation around the nature of ecosystems, and particularly the concept of “Shifting Baselines” – what we compare where we are right now to before. The fact that this is a privileged couple does not detract in the slightest from their courage in what they are doing.

August 20

It must be beautiful. Graham Farmelo. There is much less of a gap between science and spirituality than we commonly assume. This book bridges this gap in a very engaging way.

Braiding Sweetgrass. Robin Wall Kimmerer. There is also less of a gap between science and indigenous wisdoms than we might think. This beautiful book looks at them side by side in a moving and beautiful way.

July 20

Dialogue. The Art of Thinking Together. William Isaacs. Another re-read. A more structured approach to the conversatons around human ambition that we seem to have mislaid the art of in business.

The View Through the Medicine Wheel. Leo Rutherford. I’ve long found the challenge to my puzzler trained mind posed by shamanic wisdom productive. This well written book is a pleasure, and in parts could as easily be an introduction to Quantum thinking.

Manifesto for a moral revolution. Jacqueline Novogratz. A very readable account of the development of the Acumen Fund, the lessons learned along the way, and a framework for going forward in any sector. As we shape Humpty 2.0, much to learn from this I think

Green Swans. John Elkington. From the man who brought us the “Triple Bottom Line” a fresh view into what regenerative capitalism could mean beyond what has been captured by Corporates as a “get out of jail” accounting convention.

Overheating. Thomas Hylland Eriksen. A look at globalisation from an anthropologist. Lots of new insights as to how serious this is.

Power of Pull. John Hagel III and John Seely Brown. Another re-read of this seminal work on how small changes can bring things to us rather than us chasing them.

June 20

The View Through the Medicine Wheel. Leo Rutherford. I’ve long found the challenge to my puzzler trained mind of shamanic wisdom productive. This well written book is a pleasure, and in parts could as easily be an introduction to Quantum thinking.

The Square and the Tower. Niall Ferguson. I’m re-reading this excellent book on networks, hierarchies and the quest for power because it seems to speak to our current situation and puts them in context. We have been here before.

Conversational Intelligence. Judith Glaser. Just starting this, inspired by an excellent presentation at the conference, and my increasing conviction is that our loss of skill in “non business” conversation is at the root of many of the challenges we face.

The Opposable Mind. Roger Martin. Another one I’m rereading. How to harness opposites. “The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each”

Awakening the Heroes Within. Carol Pearson. I find archetypes a good way of thinking about the forces present in change. This is a good overview.

Trickster makes this world. Lewis Hyde. A closer look at the trickster – the archetype of sudden, disruptive change. Seems approporiate.

May 20

Overheating. Thomas Tylland Ericsson.

April 20

Authentic Swing. Steven Pressfield. A reflection on the writing off his first published book “ the legend of Bagger Vance”. An hours read with many insights on the disciplines, pleasures and pains of working for yourself.

Who do we choose to be?. Margaret Wheatley. About rethinking what we’re doing as leaders, and entertaining the possibility of better.

Transcend. Scott Barry Kaufmann. Rethinking Maslow for the modern era.

The Alchemist. Paulo Coelho. Because it’s one of my favourite ever books in times of uncertainty.

March 20

Radical Uncertainty. Mervyn King and John Kay. An entertaining and thought provoking book on the nature of uncertainty. Written (just) before Covid, they had pretty good timing.

Chaos Imperative. Ori Brafman. A compelling look at how we can handle what appears chaotic, with great examples from multiple areas. Serious reading.

Future of Coaching. Eti Heinzig. A long overdue and provocative examination of coaching. Coaching has gone mainstream, but from being an almost insurgent occupation thirty years ago, much of it has not native, and supports the way we work instrad of challenging it. This is a good read for anybody who includes coaching in their portfolio of skills.

February 20

Uncharted. Margaret Heffernan. A beautifully written and provocative challenge to our relationship with technology.

A world without work. Daniel Susskind. A thought provoking examination of the real impact of machine learning and artificial intelligence. will you be enabled, or replaced?

Learning from the Octopus. Rafe Sagarin. Notionally, a look at what we can learn about security from biology. Much more than that. I love this book.

Cognitive Dominance. Mark McLoughlin. A neurosurgeon who found himself blinded by fear writing about it. Humbling, and maybe the most important book I’ve read for insight in the last twelve months.

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