What I've Been Reading

Check out my thoughts about some of the articles, books, and other items I've been reading. 

November 21, 2018
Here are my thoughts on books I've recently read.

The History Manifesto makes a compelling argument for the application of history to address ongoing challenges. In the process, the book describes trends in the study of and scholarship on history--a broad focus resulting in work looking at bigger issues considered over longer time frames, and a more narrow focus ("microhistory") with decidedly shorter time frames. The authors argue we need both, but it's really the former that offers perspective and insight that other practitioners (e.g., economists) cannot. 

In Courageous Communication, Maryanne Dersch exhorts nonprofit organizations to "get off the attention treadmill" while jettisoning their preoccupation with trying to be all things to all people. Instead, their leaders should strive for authentic communication focused on connecting with true "advocates" and "allies" who support their organizations over the long term. I cannot find any fault with Dersch's argument, as it echoes my experience (less extensive than hers) in working with nonprofit organizations. I was confused by the mention of "codependence" in the title--particularly seeing how her subsequent use of the term throughout the book at best seemed incomplete based on what I've read about and experienced with codependency. That said, I imagine that nonprofit organizations seeking guidance in the marketing and communications arenas would benefit from reading this book. 

October 15, 2018
I've finished reading Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of HistoryI noted earlier this year (July 13, 2018) that very personal interests attracted me to this book. Yet it's an excellent case study of how individuals with noble and not-so-noble goals can create stories around events to suit their individual goals.   

I've also begun to read Helio Fred Garcia's The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis. Look for a full review here when I'm done reading it. 

October 2, 2018
Motivated by a negative experience at a meeting of a group I frequently attend, I revisited the subject of parliamentary procedure. I had invested time in studying its inner works in the 1980s and 1990s, but very little since then. 

I've decided to apply for membership in the National Association of Parliamentarians. To that end, I need to pass a qualifying exam based on material covered in Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief. I've finished one pass through this work, and plan to review it again in preparation for the exam on October 29. 

September 21, 2018
Nature follows its own rules and norms. Mankind’s activities shape them, for the worse.  We experience the visible impacts of climate change every day. In the wake of such changes, more leaders recognize they can no longer fight nature if they hope to build healthy, vibrant organizations. Instead, they best mimic how it works if they are to succeed in the long term.

Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World helps leaders tackle this challenge. If you're jettisoning outdated ways of doing and being in organizations, it's worthwhile. If you're looking for ways to use natural processes as models, it's also invaluable. 

The author, Dr. Kathleen Allen, draws on extensive consulting experience. That track record does not merely add to the credibility of her recommendations. It also results in an engaging, practical, and readable work. 

Allen inspires us with her picture of the new, generous organization. She elevates the discourse around transparency, interdependence, diversity, resiliency, and authenticity. She imbues them with the gravitas they merit as linchpins of truly forward thinking 21st century organizations. 

Allen has divided the book into eleven chapters. The first nine outline specific characteristics of the natural world. These serve as starting points for key shifts in organization and leadership. I cannot imagine a clearer, more accessible way to present such material. Science written for non-scientists devolves into technical detail. Such minutiae often lay beyond the understanding of many readers. Allen deftly avoids this fate. 

I also applaud Allen’s decision to conclude each chapter with questions. They're designed to help leaders and their teams to think about what they’ve just read. I assume she’s used these same questions in her work with clients. That said, I was unclear how a reader might move from the questions to actual implementation of ideas that come up during related discussions. Perhaps a companion workbook (or Allen’s next book) could establish a broader platform to help readers act on the fruits of their discussions. 

Allen sprinkles references to relevant literature covering leadership, organizational behavior, and organizational design. She provides a comprehensive list of these references as a bibliography. This section is a boon to practitioners as well as academics, as the latter could assign the book to MBA or doctoral students with full confidence in its relevance to scholarly literature. 

Allen might have mentioned The Biomimicry Institute in her bibliography.  It’s an excellent source of information on principles she addresses. I also would have found an index helpful. At times I wanted to refer back to concepts when they were first introduced, rather than when I encountered them later in the work.  

These are minor quibbles, however. In short, I wholeheartedly recommend Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World. It’s valuable to leaders recognizing that the “same old, same old” no longer works. It's valuable to leaders attempting to rethink why and how they operate. Finally, it's indispensable to leaders inspired by the norms of nature to do something different and better for themselves, their people, and their organizations. 

September 4, 2018
I recently finished reading three books.

First, I reread Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. I couldn't help but feel inspired and moved as I soaked in its plea to teachers to connect with themselves so that can, in turn, serve students better in the classroom. I consider the book a must for any teacher, regardless of whether they work in K-12 or higher education. 

Second, I completed The New Retirementality by Mitch Anthony. It's a plea to rethink how we think about retirement, in advance of actually launching into that phase of our lives. While Anthony's a financial planner, the book ranges far beyond that area to consider the myriad issues and opportunities each of us will face in due time. 

Finally, I perused Aruna Apte's Humanitarian Logistics. This work, undertaken by my colleague at the Naval Postgraduate School, initiated scholarly exploration of the subject that first emerged in conjunction with responses to natural disasters in the first decade of the 21st century. Defined as "the special branch of logistics which manages response supply chain of critical supplies and services" (p. ix), it maps out research opportunities that in turn can help practitioners to improve their efforts in the field. 


August 5, 2018
I recently read French Lessons: A Memoir, by Alice Kaplan. She discusses her embrace of the French language and culture, which provided a new identity to fill a void in the culture in which she was raised. The descriptions of intersections between her Jewish upbringing, family life, and academic career particularly resonated with me. 

I also read "Pedagogy of the Distressed," an often-cited article that outlines one college instructor's personal evolution as a teacher. She began by focusing on "showing students how smart, knowledgeable, and prepared she was (p. 654)" In time, she focused more narrowly on the needs students, as she came to see each one "as a live volcano. . .a walking field of energy teeming with agendas (p. 659)" It's an instructional and inspirational read for anyone who teaches at the university level.  

July 25, 2018
I recently finished reading Meet and Grow Rich, which aims to be a primer on how to establish a successful MasterMind group. There's good material in the first part of the book, especially how it differentiates between different kinds of groups. Attracting members committed to your specific purpose is vital for success, the authors argue. I'm hopeful that the upcoming new edition of the work delves more into how technological developments since the first edition (published in 2006) have helped to strengthen MasterMind groups. 

July 13, 2018
I recently finished reading Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking. It's a wonderful, inspiring read about an artist (primarily a musician) who's unapologetically living a public, authentic life and using social media in support of that. She truly wants to connect with fans and others in meaningful, substantive ways. Her experiences in doing so haven't always been positive, as she's dealt with her fair share of abuse online. Nonetheless, she models how to meld the personal and professional in ways that can't fail to inspire people like me who I continue to grapple with such challenges. 

I've started to read Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History. It's a deep dive into a single event in the early 20th century that has had a significant impact to this day on Jewish history. My interest in the book was piqued for two reasons. First, my master's thesis explored French Catholic antisemitism in the late 19th century in response to the outbreak of pogroms in Russia in the 1880s. Second, I've been delving into my family's roots in Russia. I'll share more when I complete the book. 

June 18, 2018
I've finished reading Doug Levy's new book for public information officers (PIOs), The Communications Golden Hour. Check out my review here

Check out my notes on Time for Success: A Goal-Getters Strategy.

June 6, 2018
Check out my notes on The Power of Intention

May 20, 2018
I finished Irving Yalom's Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death. It's a deceptively easy read but communicates powerful points about dealing with our mortality from a secular perspective. It helped me enormously to make further sense of my father's death in 2015 (and the loss of my job that followed shortly after it). 

May 15, 2018
See my notes on Alex Osborn's Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving

May 11, 2018
See my notes on George Leonard's classic work, Mastery

May 10, 2018
See my notes on The Power of Focus.

May 9, 2018
See my notes on Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude, which I first read many years ago and recently revisited. 

April 6, 2018
I've reviewed possible core texts for a course I'm teaching on communications campaigns this summer at University of San Francisco, where I am a faculty member. To learn more about the course, go here

The first, Strategic Public Relations Management, offers a comprehensive look at what's involved in creating an effective campaign with an emphasis on research options and methodologies. Anyone without a grounding in that area (or who simply wants to brush up on skills) would find it invaluable for that reason alone.

Developing the Public Relations Campaign offers a different approach to the same topic. What it sacrifices in depth of treatment of any one aspect of a campaign it more than makes up for in terms of the breadth of its coverage. I'm confident that my students would be able to develop a campaign after reading this book. That's why it will be required reading in my course. 

March 16, 2018
Trying to figure out what's happening politically, culturally, and socially in Europe--and how to use that insight to better understand U.S. developments? Then you'll want to read Rethinking the Twentieth Century, a work by the late Tony Judt (in partnership with Timothy Snyder). As a dialogue between two eminent historians, it's an engaging and thought-provoking look at some of the broader issues at play today. For an even deeper dive, I'm now looking at another one of Judt's highly regarding works, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. More will follow once I complete the book. 

February 5, 2018
Charging an hourly fee for professional services limits income. You only have so much available time. Instead, sell the value you deliver or impact you have to reap greater profits.

That’s the premise of Breaking the Time Barrier. This short ebook outlines the main tenets of this value-based sales approach. This story of two fictional graphic designers explores fundamental marketing challenges. These zero in on difficulties posed by selling one’s services based on price alone. One graphic designer offers an alternative. She highlights benefits to vendors and clients alike that a focus on value provides. That is, exploring value

1. Creates trust. You show interest in understanding a client’s problems. You craft a solution tailored to meet their specific needs.

2. Fosters alignment. You probe for major client problems and goals. This clarity fuels mutual understanding of desired outcomes.

3. Helps your client to better evaluate vendors. When service providers focus on value they deliver, they showcase their abilities. In turn, they differentiate themselves from vendors who compete based on price alone.

4. Frames your solution as an investment, not an expense. When you highlight the value or impact of your service, the client sees it as an investment. In contrast, a price-based focus becomes an expense in the client’s eyes.

5. Inspires action. A focus on results generates energy and enthusiasm. In turn, the client wants to act.

6. Allows your client to make an informed business decision. The value-based vendor offers options with distinct prices. Clients choose among them. They’re clear about the trade-offs involved.

7. Establishes a trust partnership. Once the client’s investment manifests in real value or impact, the vendor becomes a trusted partner. The relationship flourishes. Other opportunities develop.

In short, vendors selling value come up with ways to serve their clients. In the process, they redefine their work. They explore ways to differentiate themselves and their services.

This transition from a price-based to values-based approach is not an easy one. It begins with a transformation in how you as a vendor see yourself. You aim to build mutually beneficial relationships rather than manage one-off engagements. It’s more demanding and, the authors of Breaking the Time Barrier conclude, much more rewarding for all parties.

Breaking the Time Barrier doesn’t break new ground, as works like Alan Weiss’ Value-Based Fees offer more in-depth treatment of similar issues. Nonetheless, by offering a compelling case for values-based sales via a parable, it offers an invaluable addition to the literature that’s no doubt contributing to its positive word of mouth online.   

January 20, 2018
I'll start with a new book, Impromptu: Leading in the MomentAs a professor of management communication and leadership/communications coach and consultant, I immediately sought out this book based on its title. By highlighting the prevalence of impromptu speaking opportunities, the author (Judith Humphrey) has identified a critical change and with it has mapped out concomitant skills and aptitudes individuals must master to thrive. The book overall offers a quick read with short chapters designed to serve as an ongoing reference. Humphrey covers a lot of ground here and that's a strength. 

That said, some chapters covered territory (e.g., the scripting template on pg. 98, how to handle questions and answers) that undoubtedly will be familiar to experienced communicators, Toastmasters, and others who've spent time looking at other books in the field. I wish Humphrey had mentioned some of these books (I'm thinking specifically of Roger Ailes' You are the Message and Thomas Montalbo's The Power of Eloquence) which would benefit the reader seeking additional insight. Her argument overall is sound, although the dichotomy between prepared and impromptu speeches is often fuzzier than the reader might conclude. To that point, many of her main points could just as well apply to occasions when formal presentations are required. 

These latter points aside, Humphrey has delivered a worthwhile book bound to be helpful to professionals seeking further insight into the complexities of communicating in our times.

Go here to view a list of books in my library. 






























Last updated November 21, 2018

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