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Book Review: Shift by Jeff Hull

You have to love a book that manages to use the word asymptote in a non-mathematical context.  “Shfit” by Jeff Hull, an executive coach and Jungian psychotherapist, pulls that off deftly in his description of the Asymptote of Joy (essentially, there is always more joy to be experienced). 

There are many gems in this book.  I personally loved the exercise where you hold an uncooked egg (helps you feel grounded and pay attention).  There are substantive tests to take (are you a thinker, feeler or doer?), breezy stories to read of other people’s life shifts (many examples so you’ll see yourself somewhere), meaty psychological text (for those who like their research), and an overall poetic writing style (which keeps the book accessible to leisure readers like myself).

The subtitle of “Shfit” by Jeff Hull is Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear.  Hull talks about the stages of change and gives inspiration but also practical suggestions of how to deal with the different stages.  Mixing life and career examples makes the book relevant for different challenges.  The exercises at the end of each chapter are a good reference and handy as you hit a new stage or challenge and need to refer back.

I highly recommend the book.  Early in my career, I worked at a company that used Dr. Hull for executive coaching, so I had met him briefly over 10 years ago before reading the book.  I was intrigued at the possibility that high quality executive coaching might be available to the masses.  This book does not disappoint.  It’s engaging but substantive and with enough strategies that you want it for your personal and professional development reference shelf.

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Book Review: 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam

The subtitle to Laura Vanderkam’s “168 Hours” is You Have More Time Than You Think.  Indeed, that is the thesis she carries very convincingly throughout the book.  Vanderkam tracks people’s activities by the half-hour (real time diaries are included) to demonstrate that people fritter away more time than they think.  The upside, therefore, is now that you know this, you can choose your activities more consciously and get this time back.

I loved this book.  Full disclosure: Vanderkam cited one of my coaching exercises in this book.  But I shared the exercise in the first place because when Vanderkam and I connected (thanks to Peter Shankman’s HARO!) I loved the thesis of the book.  I have used time diaries for myself since the 1990’s and have recommended them to my coaching clients for 10 years now.  Like tracking your food intake or spending habits, tracking your time is very powerful in reshaping your self-awareness and priorities.

Vanderkam tackles both work and home activity as she looks at time spent.  She offers a lot of concrete examples and practical suggestions.  If you don’t have a high degree of flexibility and professional autonomy some of the strategies may be hard to implement.  But the intended reader is likely not in that boat so this is a small downside.  The book is inspirational and a great time management and productivity resource.  It is not structured as a how-to like a David Allen or Stephen Covey book, but it delivers a deeper message:  “168 Hours” is about making conscious choices, wise and meaningful choices about what we do with our time.  It’s not about doing more, but about doing what matters.

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Book Review: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

The tagline of “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith is How Successful People Become Even More Successful.  Goldsmith asserts that successful people overlook their foibles and carry bad interpersonal habits with them as they ascend.  Invariably these bad habits become the obstacle to their next round of success.

Goldsmith describes 20 bad habits from Winning Too Much to Not Listening to Making Excuses.  At face value, these habits seem obvious and easily correctable but the book includes good anecdotal examples of otherwise top performers and how these habits can subtly interfere.  Goldsmith then offers a 7-step plan, including Feed Forward (the opposite of Feedback), which focuses on future change.

I was already a Goldsmith fan from his business magazine columns, and I can see why this book became one of his signature works.  It’s a breezy read, but comprehensive.  There will probably be 1-2 nuggets you can use immediately.  I particularly loved Is It Worth It — pausing before saying anything and asking if what you would say is worth it to say or just let it go.  I also loved how Goldsmith emphasized the interpersonal and how it’s the interpersonal skills that make or break you as you ascend in your career because the technical skills are often a given. 

I recommend “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”, especially if you are at an inflection point and open to considering making a change.  It will help you identify potential areas of change.  It will also help you manage other people, up and down, as you’ll probably have more sympathy for other people’s struggles as you identify your own.

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Book Review: Getting To 50/50

The subtitle of “Getting To 50/50” by Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober is How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All, so just in case you didn’t catch it in the title, you know exactly where this book is going.  As a working parent I’m also inspired by the stories of how others make it work, and the pedigree of the authors peaked my curiosity — Meers is a former MD at Goldman Sachs and Strober is an MD at a Silicon Valley private equity firm.

The book is not a how-to for those struggling to make the dual-career + kids formula work , but rather it’s an argument for why it’s better if you go this route.  The comments from working fathers were comforting.  The statistics throughout the book were interesting — I especially was surprised that the percentage of women who work in v. out of the home stays roughly constant across income demographics (I had assumed it would be higher as household income increases).  I was hoping for more examples of how people make the juggle work and not just reasons why you should.  The book, while comprehensive, seems more appropriate as a baby shower gift to couples struggling with the question of 2 careers v 1 or perhaps for the reading list of a college course.  For working parents who have already made the decision to go for it, there is the we-are-not-alone benefit but little by the way of practical tips.  I would have loved to see a few day-in-the-life examples of Meers and Strober’s juggle.

That said, I was glad that I read it for its comprehensive dive into what can be a very polarizing issue.  If you’re part of a working couple that is on the fence about staying 2 incomes v 1, I highly recommend it.  If you’re interested in general business/ market trends, there is enough research and statistics to placate you and it’s an important subject.  If you’ve made up your mind about making it a go and looking for tips to make it easier, you will find some but not many here — I’d save this read for when you’re questioning your decision and want the comfort that dual career + kids is a good thing.

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Book Review: Googled By Ken Auletta

If you like business stories, you’ll like Googled by Ken Auletta.  It’s a year-by-year story of Google’s rise from inception to powerhouse.  Auletta asks the requisite provocative questions on privacy, copyright, and censorship, while also highlighting Google’s great achievements to date.  It’s a fast read, yet comprehensive.

As a coach, I was struck by Google’s employment policy of giving its engineers and some of its non-engineering staff 20% of their work time for personal projects.  This engenders loyalty to management and raises the creativity of the staff, a  win-win for company and staff.  How could we adopt the 20% policy in our own life and work?

Can we take a day of the week or 2 hours per day to step back from the day-to-day grind and reset, recharge, and refresh by refocusing on something different?

Can we encourage our teams (whether we are a manager or not) to take time to step back and work differently?

Is 20% enough or too much?  What is the right frequency — every day, once a week, or monthly?  How do we best spend that time?

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Book Review: Change By Design by Tim Brown

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, writes about design thinking in “Change By Design”.   For business book lovers, this is a must for its accessible but comprehensive overview of what design thinking is and for real-life examples in a variety of companies and industries. 

For job seekers and proactive career planners, I was struck by how useful some of the design thinking strategies are to career management.  For example, in early 2000 when I used to give live career visioning workshops, I used an exercise called Prototypes, where participants would identify people with careers or lives they wanted and try to use what they knew and admired the prototype to more quickly identify what they wanted for themselves.  Brown has a whole chapter on prototyping and its importance to efficient and effective discovery of potential solutions.  Brown also covers mind-mapping, storytelling and the importance of observatiob — all of which have important career management parallels.

It’s a good mind-stretching book and accessible even for someone like myself with no design background.  I was inspired and even hopeful after reading this, as it encourages creativity and the constant pursuit of solutions.  Brown talks about seemingly intractable problems in a curious, optimistic way that begs for ideas.  If “Change By Design” inpsires you to be as curious and inventive with your career and life, it is well worth the read.

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Book Review: Who’s Got Your Back by Keith Ferrazzi

Networking and relationship-building is the theme of “Who’s Got Your Back” by Keith Ferrazzi.  Ferrazzi is a networking expert and co-author of the earlier “Never Eat Alone”.  I am a big networking proponent but with “Never Eat Alone” even I found Ferrazzi’s strategies a bit intense.  With “Who’s Got Your Back” Ferrazzi dials down the tone and makes the subject more inviting.  There are solid tips, though not much new.

One thing I absolutely loved:  late in the book, he recommends that managers get 2 pieces of feedback:  1) what is one thing I am doing that I should stop doing; and 2) what is one thing I am not doing that I should start doing?  That is golden advice and applicable well beyond management relationships to goals in general.  If you are stuck, posing those 2 questions might provide a fresh insight.

Another great aspect of the book are the accompanying resources.  Ferrazzi offers goal-setting sheets and other handouts that enable you to start your own support network.  This prompted a friend of mine to create her own Greenlight group (Greenlight is the name of Ferrazzi’s consulting company), and I have participated in her group to very positive results.  So, if this book helps you to extend yourself, meet new people and deepen existing relationships, it is well worth the time to read.

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Book Review: Escape From Cubicle Nation by Pam Slim

“Escape From Cubicle Nation” by Pam Slim is a good mix of inspiring and practical strategies for people considering the transition from employee to entrepreneur.  If you are on the fence, the opening of the book is a good summary of the pros and cons.  I particularly liked how Slim doesn’t push entrepreneurship or any one particular path.

The practical info Slim shares (how to test ideas, how to pick the right legal entity for your business) includes a good basic overview but if you are serious about launching or have launched a business you will need further resources each step of the way.  Also, while I liked how Slim called out so-called business coaches who encourage entrepreneurship but may not give a realistic picture of the financial and emotional sacrifices, I was hoping this book documented more specifics on these.  Fo example, Slim chides Internet marketers who hawk overnight success products, but how long is a reasonable wait for success?  Slim recommends several months of savings, but does that mean she thinks you can replicate your corporate income in a business after several months?  That seemed aggressive to me, while the rest of her advice was straightforward and conservative, so this issue was one major place that left me hanging.

Still, “Escape From Cubicle Nation” is a motivational read with good foundational basics.  I wanted more but only because what was shared was good, solid stuff.

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Book Review: In-N-Out Burger by Stacy Perman

If you like business books and biographies, “In-N-Out Burger” by Stacy Perman is an exhaustive foray into the Snyder family business that became this beloved food chain.  I love books like this because you can see the obstacles and hardships up close.  Sometimes there are explicit lessons and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to share in the insights.  Sometimes, it forces you to think about how you feel and where you stand in your business or career and life decisions. 

Is staying small the way to go for a business with widespread appeal? 

Is family succession the right thing?

Does promoting from within reward long-term hard work or breed insularity?

In-N-Out grew up around a time when women didn’t play prominent roles, but has this changed now for them and for the other businesses with the same history?  Or is there too much of an ingrained culture there and elsewhere for women to make inroads?  What advice would I share with my daughters seeing how much ground women need to catch up on?

If you like the food chain or are a foodie in general, this is a good read.  For the general public, it’s somewhat long and dry but it’s thorough and clearly well-researched.

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Book Review: Busted by Edmund Andrews

What happened to Patty?  I was totally left hanging, and the fact that I care is a testament to the engrossing storytelling in Busted:  Life Inside the Great Mortgage Meltdown.  Andrews is a NY Times economics reporter who covered the mortgage market and yet found himself a near bankrupt participant in the housing market collapse and subprime mortgage mess.  His firsthand perspective gives a human angle to the often faceless coverage of the housing market. 

This is an engaging read (I feel bad saying enjoyable given the very real and miserable circumstances of the author that led to this book).  It’s an important read:  a warning for people living on the edge financially; an inside look at the real consequences of lapses in judgment; some food for thought about how we (since we all are feeling the aftershocks) got into all of this housing trouble.   Busted provides a valuable inside perspective on one of the most defining issues of our time. 

Finally, Busted  is a love story.  So, special note to Mr. Andrews:  what happened to Patty?  Even a little footnote would have closed the loop!

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