Best Summer Reads 2018

2 August 2018 | Think­ing in New Ways

It’s ele­men­tary: “The more that you read, the more things you will know,” said Dr. Seuss. “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” August and Sep­tem­ber are great months to exhale and do some mind-stretch­ing via a few great books. Here are five 2018 releas­es that I high­ly rec­om­mend, pre­sent­ed in alpha-order by the authors’ last names.

Driverless BookIf you’d like to fore­sense what it will be like to dri­ve in the future…

Our Dri­ver­less Future: Heav­en or Hell? by Rutt Bridges (@RuttBridges) [linkUK] [linkUS]

Bridges does a bril­liant job of paint­ing a word pic­ture of what our cars, roads, and lives will look like in the future. To use our own Nextsens­ing words, the author uses “fore­sens­ing” to pro­vide a detailed pic­ture of a future world that hinges on “elec­tric Shared Autonomous Vehi­cles” (eSAVs). What’s that? Before he defines the con­cept, he does a stel­lar job of lay­ing out the prob­lem we now have with too many cars and trucks on too few roads — with most of them spew­ing plan­et-harm­ful pol­lu­tants into the air. Bridges uses pho­tographs, charts, and oth­er graph­ics to sub­stan­ti­ate his points, as well as many foot­notes. He jumps over the cur­rent fas­ci­na­tion with dri­ver­less cars and shows that hav­ing more and more vehi­cles, even dri­ver­less, will not solve the real prob­lem of how to get every­one to where they want to go in a time­ly manner.

Dri­ver­less tech­nol­o­gy can be the key to con­quer­ing con­ges­tion — but not if pri­vate own­ers just sub­sti­tute dri­ver­less vehi­cles for their cur­rent cars and con­tin­ue com­mut­ing alone. That won’t take a sin­gle car off our high­ways. And since dri­ver­less cars can oper­ate while emp­ty — cir­cling the block to avoid park­ing fees or dri­ving across town on an errand while you’re at work — it would like­ly increase the num­ber of vehi­cles on our already over­bur­dened roads.”

Thus, the need for eSAVs. Says the author, “The future of pub­lic tran­sit is dri­ver­less pool­ing ser­vices.” Think of Uber or Lyft con­vert­ed to dri­ver­less but also tied to a social net­work that allows peo­ple to hop to wher­ev­er they desire in a short time.

In Chap­ter 5, Bridges pro­vides “A Day In Your Dri­ver­less Life,” which gives the read­er a sense of what per­son­al and pub­lic trans­porta­tion could be all about. He talks about how every­one would reg­is­ter for an eSAV account, how one will pay with your smart­phone, how ser­vice will be 24/7, how some rides might actu­al­ly be with­out any cost, how eSAVs will be mul­ti­lin­gual, and how the rout­ing to your des­ti­na­tion will be reli­ably min­i­mal, time­wise (unless you pre­fer a spe­cial route). Bridges also pro­vides a visu­al glimpse of what an eSAV might look like. Lest you think that this is all blue-sky ver­biage, Bridges moves in the next chap­ter to the “nuts and bolts” of mak­ing an eSAV sys­tem work.

The author does such a good job, it’s hard for the read­er not to say “sign me up” by the end of the book. Says Bridges: “What if pub­lic tran­sit pro­vid­ed door-to-door ser­vice, was as fast as dri­ving alone, and arrived in about three min­utes, any time of the night or day, with­out the restric­tions of fixed routes or sched­ules? What if your ‘dri­ver’ knew the loca­tion of every acci­dent and bot­tle­neck and auto­mat­i­cal­ly rout­ed you around all of them? Rather than our cur­rent fleets of lum­ber­ing, half-emp­ty bus­es, imag­ine flex­i­ble, adap­tive fleets of vehi­cles made cheap­er, safer, and more effi­cient by being elec­tric, dri­ver­less, and shared.”

Bridges is a vision­ary, but one who is will­ing to sup­port his vision with ample details and con­vinc­ing log­ic. This book is well worth the ride.

A-Team BookIf you are over­due for a per­son­al disruption…

Build an A‑Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learn­ing Curve by Whit­ney John­son (@johnsonwhitney) [linkUK] [linkUS]

Seems to me that the best busi­ness books are chock full of mem­o­rable sto­ries, ones that tie to the author’s the­sis. Whit­ney John­son excels at this skill. From the stir­ring sto­ry about the longevi­ty of the com­pa­ny that pro­duces the WD-40 lubri­cant to the near-the-end sto­ry of the vice pres­i­dent at LinkedIn who agreed to go “back­wards” in his career in order to broad­en his hori­zons, the author is a pow­er­house of mem­o­rable sto­ries and mem­o­rable lines. But what is the book about? At the high­est lev­el, it is of course about build­ing a great work team. But it is so much more than that, as John­son believes in the prin­ci­ple of “per­son­al dis­rup­tion.” As she explains: “In Build an A‑Team, I lay out a frame­work for engag­ing and moti­vat­ing employ­ees by under­stand­ing and man­ag­ing their indi­vid­ual learning.”

John­son is an imag­i­na­tive author. She draws links between Cap­tain James Cook (explor­er and car­tog­ra­ph­er) in the 1700s and the future-fic­tion­al James T. Kirk of the Star­ship Enter­prise. Kirk always opened the tele­vi­sion show by cit­ing the mis­sion of the “Star­ship Enter­prise” to “go where no man has gone before.” Notes the author: “This is what peo­ple want on the job: to bold­ly go where they haven’t gone before. To ven­ture into unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry. To take them­selves and their com­pa­ny where they’ve nev­er been.” Via this tech­nique of telling sto­ries, draw­ing con­clu­sions, and trans­lat­ing them into work­place appli­ca­tions, John­son pro­vides both an uplift­ing book and one that can be uti­lized the minute the read­er gets back to the office. And I believe this book is just as valu­able for a first-time man­ag­er as it is for a sea­soned CEO.

Because John­son is decid­ed­ly for con­tin­u­al human devel­op­ment, she is able to assert and then defend points such as this: “Hir­ing for poten­tial rather than pro­fi­cien­cy is the foun­da­tion for build­ing the A‑team.” Yet the book goes beyond sup­port­ing her ideas in text. I read all of these five books via a Kin­dle read­ing device; in her ebook, she pro­vides links to pod­cast inter­views with author­i­ties who can attest to the wis­dom of her argu­ments. Through­out the book, John­son is clear, blunt, and com­pelling. For exam­ple, she urges man­agers to hire “where oth­ers aren’t,” such as “inter­nal can­di­dates, care­givers return­ing to the work­force, or mil­i­tary vet­er­ans.” Then she pro­vides a detailed check­list of what to ask dur­ing a job inter­view so as to increase the prob­a­bil­i­ty of both the per­son and the com­pa­ny suc­ceed­ing in the future. In her book, she shows how to man­age a new team mem­ber over the first year, and she argues that every man­ag­er should be a “CEO”: a Chief Encour­age­ment Officer.

This is an opti­mistic book well-root­ed in sto­ries about real peo­ple, such as:

Jim Skin­ner, for­mer CEO of McDon­ald’s, is a good exam­ple of such a “pawn.” Skin­ner com­plete­ly lacked the stan­dard CEO cre­den­tials. He did­n’t have an MBA — he nev­er even grad­u­at­ed from col­lege. His first job was flip­ping burg­ers. But over four decades, he was able to assume a vari­ety of roles that even­tu­al­ly led to the C‑suite. When his pre­de­ces­sor stepped down due to health prob­lems, he got the top job. McDon­ald’s did well dur­ing his tenure, but Skin­ner’s most endur­ing con­tri­bu­tion may be his empha­sis on tal­ent development.

I sim­ply must cite from her clos­ing pages this quote from writer Anne Lam­ott. In so many ways, it cap­tures the spir­it of this book: “If we stay where we are, where we’re stuck, where we’re com­fort­able and safe, we die there. We become like mush­rooms, liv­ing in the dark, with poop up to our chins. If you want to know only what you already know, you’re dying.” John­son wants you, your team, and your com­pa­ny to grow. Start by read­ing this book.

Invisible BookIf you don’t know whether your dig­i­tal self is up to speed…

Reveal­ing the Invis­i­ble: How Our Hid­den Behav­iors Are Becom­ing the Most Valu­able Com­mod­i­ty of the 21st Cen­tu­ry by by Thomas Koulopou­los (@TKspeaks) with George Achillias (@thibetian) [linkUK] [linkUS]

Your behav­iors, in the dig­i­tal world and in the real world, are being cap­tured at unprece­dent­ed rates and then stored and ana­lyzed in vast ware­hous­es that have become dig­i­tal gold­mines,” write the authors in the third para­graph of the book. “You are being bought and sold to the high­est bid­der, whose objec­tive is to not only under­stand you but also to pre­dict your behav­ior. We are giv­ing up who we are, and our most inti­mate moments, in an invis­i­ble exchange for the abil­i­ty to use prod­ucts, ser­vices, and apps that promise 24/7 knowl­edge, con­nec­tiv­i­ty, effort­less con­sumerism, and hyper-per­son­al­ized experiences.”

As soon as I read that, I was hooked to read all of this intrigu­ing book.

The authors are both adept at telling mem­o­rable sto­ries, but their real tal­ent lies in get­ting you to stretch your mind to the real­i­ties of a world with a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion and with a grow­ing data­base of infor­ma­tion about all of us. I admit it: I dropped my jaw when they not­ed the vast amount of infor­ma­tion about each of us that is accu­mu­lat­ing in the cloud. Put anoth­er way, each of not only has our indi­vid­ual bod­ies to take care of; there’s also a “dig­i­tal self” that is out there, tied to our names, our per­son­al iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­bers, our pur­chase his­to­ries, and our social net­work. The prob­lem? Say the authors:

Sim­ply put, our dig­i­tal-self­’s veloc­i­ty is much faster than ours. While you stand still, your dig­i­tal-self is zip­ping along at light speed gath­er­ing, con­nect­ing, sim­u­lat­ing, and mak­ing deci­sions that are pret­ty much invis­i­ble to you. What this means is that your dig­i­tal-self can do much more in any inter­val of time than you can. Ulti­mate­ly this is why your dig­i­tal-self can make pre­dic­tions about what you will do before you do it. It’s already ten steps ahead.

They say this because the increas­ing use of Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (AI) means that what you do in the future is, to a great extent, pre­dictable — based on what you have done that has been dig­i­tal­ly tracked. Yet, this book is an hon­est bro­ker for what is hap­pen­ing now, and it fore­tells the future. That is, you may take some deep gulps when you read the sto­ries and sta­tis­tics in this book, but you may also find some opti­mism welling inside you as you press toward the end. Talk­ing about the fail­ures of Kodak and Sears to keep up with their cus­tomers, the authors assert, “Sim­ply put, a loy­al brand is one that under­stands your behav­iors and their con­text well enough to be able to antic­i­pate and respond to your pref­er­ences and build mean­ing­ful and per­son­al­ized expe­ri­ences.” Which is to say that the very best com­pa­nies of the future will use your dig­i­tal-self to delight your real self.

This is a book about cri­sis and oppor­tu­ni­ty, which lays out the poten­tial per­ils and promis­es of an ever-larg­er dig­i­tal world. Please make sure you do not skip the Appen­dix: it is an amaz­ing list­ing of all the kinds of data that could be tied to your dig­i­tal self. Think­ing about this almost-over­whelm­ing list, I read and reread a pas­sage from their final pages. The “invis­i­ble” dig­i­tal part of our lives must be man­aged prop­er­ly for the ben­e­fit of all of us. A greater dig­i­tal future is unavoid­able: “We do not so much choose to enter the future as we are absorbed by it, swal­lowed whole. The choice is not in find­ing a way to avoid or delay it but rather to be observers or active par­tic­i­pants in shap­ing it to our benefit.”

Metrics BookIf you’d like a bet­ter per­for­mance report…

The Tyran­ny of Met­rics by Jer­ry Z. Muller (@jerryzmuller) [linkUK] [linkUS]

As I write this, I am try­ing to think of any job or pro­fes­sion that does not embrace some form of per­son­al mea­sure­ment. But what hap­pens when mis­mea­sure­ment wreaks hav­oc for the firm or the peo­ple who work inside it? Jer­ry Muller was cer­tain­ly spot-on to iden­ti­fy this prob­lem as it has grown, and his book is a gem. Muller will grab your inter­est ear­ly and fast.

Used prop­er­ly, mea­sure­ment, as we’ll see, can be a good thing. So can trans­paren­cy,” he writes. “But they can also dis­tort, divert, dis­place, dis­tract, and dis­cour­age. While we are bound to live in an age of mea­sure­ment, we live in an age of mis­mea­sure­ment, over-mea­sure­ment, mis­lead­ing mea­sure­ment, and counter-pro­duc­tive mea­sure­ment. This book is not about the evils of mea­sur­ing. It is about the unin­tend­ed neg­a­tive con­se­quences of try­ing to sub­sti­tute stan­dard­ized mea­sures of per­for­mance for per­son­al judg­ment based on expe­ri­ence. The prob­lem is not mea­sure­ment, but exces­sive mea­sure­ment and inap­pro­pri­ate mea­sure­ment — not met­rics, but met­ric fixation.”

Writ­ten in a style that reflects deep and clear think­ing, with ample humil­i­ty, this small book deliv­ers to the read­er an entire­ly new per­spec­tive on what­ev­er kinds of per­for­mance reports you or your team live with. Muller is an his­to­ri­an who saw first­hand how met­rics can be a very mixed bless­ing. As depart­ment chair at his col­lege, Muller was soon trans­port­ed far from his aca­d­e­m­ic dis­ci­pline: “Soon, I found my time increas­ing­ly devot­ed to answer­ing queries for more and more sta­tis­ti­cal infor­ma­tion about the activ­i­ties of the depart­ment, which divert­ed my time from tasks such as research, teach­ing, and men­tor­ing faculty.”

But this book is not any kind of per­son­al rant. It is one of the best writ­ten argu­ments I have seen on any sub­ject, pro­vid­ing case stud­ies of the woes of met­ric fix­a­tion in acad­eme, med­i­cine, polic­ing, the mil­i­tary, busi­ness and finance, and even phil­an­thropy and for­eign aid. He shows, time and again, how a reliance on num­bers can destroy any enter­prise that, instead, needs a high lev­el of per­son­al judge­ment to oper­ate at peak efficiency.

I men­tal­ly applaud­ed when I read his asser­tion that sim­ple­ton pay-for-per­for­mance schemes inside com­pa­nies can be both lim­it­ing and destruc­tive. Regard­ing the med­ical pro­fes­sion: “There is now a large social sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture on the impact of pay-for-per­for­mance and pub­lic per­for­mance met­rics in the Unit­ed States, the Unit­ed King­dom, and else­where,” he writes. “What is quite aston­ish­ing is how often these tech­niques — so obvi­ous­ly effec­tive accord­ing to eco­nom­ic the­o­ry — have no dis­cern­able effect on outcomes.”

As Muller notes, “There is noth­ing intrin­si­cal­ly per­ni­cious about count­ing and mea­sur­ing human per­for­mance.” And I sus­pect the rea­son such mea­sure­ment is done so poor­ly at so many lev­els is because not enough peo­ple have read this book!

Muller has done exem­plary work here, and it is even more impor­tant as the dig­i­tal age makes numer­i­cal mea­sure­ment that much eas­i­er to imple­ment. Chap­ter 15 on the “Unin­tend­ed But Pre­dictable Neg­a­tive Con­se­quences” of met­ric fix­a­tion should be required read­ing in every ele­men­tary man­age­ment sem­i­nar. How­ev­er, do this only when paired with his “When and How To Use Met­rics: A Check­list” (Chap­ter 16). He ends Chap­ter 16 with these words:

In the end, there is no sil­ver bul­let, no sub­sti­tute for actu­al­ly know­ing one’s sub­ject and one’s orga­ni­za­tion, which is part­ly a mat­ter of expe­ri­ence and part­ly a mat­ter of unquan­tifi­able skill. Many mat­ters of impor­tance are too sub­ject to judg­ment and inter­pre­ta­tion to be solved by stan­dard­ized met­rics. Ulti­mate­ly, the issue is not one of met­rics ver­sus judg­ment, but met­rics as inform­ing judg­ment, which includes know­ing how much weight to give to met­rics, rec­og­niz­ing their char­ac­ter­is­tic dis­tor­tions, and appre­ci­at­ing what can’t be mea­sured. In recent decades, too many politi­cians, busi­ness lead­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, and aca­d­e­m­ic offi­cials have lost sight of that.

Pro­found. Do not miss this book!

Ambition BookIf you’d want to know more about what women know…

The Ambi­tion Deci­sions: What Women Know About Work, Fam­i­ly, and the Path to Build­ing a Life by Hana Schank (@hanaschank) and Eliz­a­beth Wal­lace (@lizardwallace) [linkUK] [linkUS]

It start­ed with a small reunion din­ner in New York in 2012, all women. Schank and Wal­lace (good friends since col­lege days) were in their 40s and, as they attest ear­ly in the book, fac­ing a spir­i­tu­al cri­sis. At one din­ner with the two authors and one oth­er woman, this became the talk of the table. “Then the three of us won­dered,” the writ­ers begin, “Do you have to have a fam­i­ly to be suc­cess­ful? What, exact­ly, is suc­cess? Is it climb­ing to the top of your career? Is it climb­ing to the top of your career while also being mar­ried and hav­ing chil­dren? Is it climb­ing to a mid­way point in your career and then say­ing screw it, this isn’t actu­al­ly what I want­ed to do, and piv­ot­ing to some­thing else that tru­ly makes you happy?”

Those ques­tions ulti­mate­ly led to a sur­vey (via inter­views) of as many of their soror­i­ty sis­ters from North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty as they could man­age. By the end of their research they had spent time with 43 women who were in their soror­i­ty at North­west­ern between 1989 and 1993. The authors had had no con­tact with most of the women for more than 20 years.

This was no geo­cen­tric study. “Our col­lege friends are geo­graph­i­cal­ly diverse, span­ning five coun­tries and twen­ty-one [US] states.” Yet, the authors make no pre­tense that the book rep­re­sents the think­ing of all women every­where. How­ev­er, I see the book as a break­through for three reasons.

  • First, it is a book about “real women.” By that, I only mean that the group of women in this book were nei­ther princess­es or nation­al pres­i­dents. The sur­vey deals with women who dealt with and spoke about the work world most of us would know well.
  • Sec­ond, because of their inter­view tech­nique, the authors were able to divide the women into four cat­e­gories, four dis­tinct career paths that could help guide the think­ing of today’s col­lege women. The four cat­e­gories come across as nat­ur­al, easy-to-under­stand and help­ful options for any woman (at least, to this male).
  • And that’s my third rea­son for lik­ing this book enor­mous­ly. This book could be a real eye-open­er for any male man­ag­er who has only a stereo­type of women inside the com­pa­ny. The book excels at show­ing how women, just like men, can have dif­fer­ing val­ues as they grow and evolve. Men read­ing this book should gain a far bet­ter way to think about the women that they super­vise and work with as team mem­bers — although I doubt the authors wrote it as any kind of instruc­tion guide for men. And, most impor­tant­ly, women man­agers will, too!

What you will find in this book are case stud­ies, women who typ­i­fy the cat­e­go­ry being dis­cussed. The women pre­sent­ed, in every case, have impres­sive and mem­o­rable sto­ries to tell. Then, at the end of each major chap­ter, Schank and Wal­lace pro­vide “Here’s what we know about” the cat­e­go­ry being stud­ied, such as “High Achiev­ers.” These sum­maries are extreme­ly help­ful as both mark­ers of the read­er’s jour­ney through the book and as easy-to-remem­ber sum­maries of what makes each cat­e­go­ry distinct.

Please do not think that this is a sim­ple sur­vey-and-sort kind of book. It’s much more per­son­al, and Schank and Wal­lace make sure that the sub­ject of ambi­tion serves as a touch­stone for each of the cat­e­gories. Just as they tack­le the ques­tion of what suc­cess is, they do an equal­ly fine job help­ing the read­er to under­stand exact­ly what ambi­tion is, while allow­ing that the women who do not aspire to be CEO are not with­out ambi­tion, as there are mul­ti­ple forms of that trait in peo­ple. The authors also dis­cuss how mar­riages and part­ner­ships and rais­ing fam­i­lies can affect deci­sions about careers. They even talk about how the expec­ta­tions of par­ents can com­pli­cate the choic­es a woman makes.

Tour de force” is often overused when talk­ing about books, but what they have done with this book is to allow the read­er (female or male) to explore so many top­ics that for too many peo­ple are unex­plored. Toward the end of the book, the authors make a great state­ment about the lives of every­one: “While none of us had become Bey­on­cé, Sheryl Sand­berg, or Con­doleez­za Rice (sur­prise! No one turned out to be a plat­inum record­ing artist, the COO of Face­book, or sec­re­tary of state!) their sto­ries were far from bor­ing — and every one of them res­onat­ed with our own expe­ri­ences.” Far from bor­ing. That, in my view, is what all of our lives should aspire to; and this book, with a keen and wise focus on 43 women, was at all times far from boring.

Joseph PistruiJoseph Pistrui (@nextsensing) is Pro­fes­sor of Entre­pre­neur­ial Man­age­ment at IE Busi­ness School in Madrid. He also leads the glob­al Nextsens­ing Project, which he found­ed in 2012.

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