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You read lots of books... so what?

After posting a #humblebrag on LinkedIn yesterday about the number of books I've read in 2021 there were quite a few questions that came up in the comments, such as:

  • What's your top 5 recommendations? / Which is the must read? / 1 recommendation and 1 top re-read?

  • What have been the main lessons learnt?

  • What's on the list for 2022?

  • What is your motivation to keep reading?

  • Did you sacrifice something else to achieve this?

Being objective, these seems to all stem from a similar place and end with a similar curiosity - along the lines of 'yes...and?'

This is totally fair, and I appreciate the nudge to be more thoughtful in my posts, rather than simply a photo of a stack of books.

So in an attempt to reflect and answer some of these curiosities...

Main lessons learnt

  • There's more than one way to skin a cat - the world is full of ideas, examples and stories of how people have failed and succeeded. Digging into some of them expands your outlook and broadens the possibilities you become open to.

  • Reading a book can be done in lots of different ways - speed reading, time-boxing, skimming, summarising, drawing, listening, watching are some common options. The more you read, the more you find what works for you and the easier and quicker it gets.

  • Retention of information doesn't happen by magic - discussing a book with others, writing or drawing your own review, or even better experimenting with the ideas and concepts yourself is what makes content stick.

  • You don't need to suffer on your own - whatever challenge or problem you're facing, chances are that someone has experienced it before, worked through it and documented the experience. Google search is your friend!

  • Talking about books turns some people off - not everyone is a reader and will switch off very quickly if you start referencing material you've enjoyed.

  • Some books are duds - 1 simple idea dragged out over 200 pages is not cool. Recommendations are always better (see below).

  • Our learning journey is never done - we can educate ourselves on ANYTHING we want. How cool is that!!

  • Research and empirical evidence ALWAYS makes a stronger case than a simple idea.


To the point about sacrifice, no, I don't believe so. We don't lose anything by making time to read, we gain. 10 mins a day is something we can all re-allocate if we choose to.



It's simply impossible to pick one book given the range of topics, and having no idea about what's important for you, however, my top 10 from 2021 -

If you're interested in organisational change:

  • Thinking in systems - by Donella H. Meadows is a fantastic primer to help understand systems, identify traps, find places to intervene, and guidelines for living in a world of systems (visual summary)

  • Organise for complexity - by Niels Pflaeging talks expertly to the complexity of work and how do deal with this productively. This is a highly visual book which makes it more appealing for me.

  • Corporate Rebels by Joost Minnaar & Pim De Morree is compelling and inspirational when thinking about making work more fun (visual summary)

If you're interested in people and teams

  • Resourceful Exformation by Francis Laleman - playful language, curious images, this book provides a unique insight into the stunning ideas of one of the great facilitators of our generation

  • Artful Making by Rob Austin & Lee Devin - A thought provoking view on what managers can learn from how artists and theatre productions work (visual summary)

If you're interested in software:

  • Accelerate by Nicole Forsgreen, Jez Humble & Gene Kim - imagine taking 4 years of research from 200 organisations providing over 23,000 survey results and turning this into a narrative on how high performing software makes organisations better. That's what this book does (visual summary)

  • Team Topologies by Manuel Pais & Matthew Skelton - an effective, humanistic approach to designing and building software (poster)

If you're interested in agile

  • Applying Scrum with Kanban by Andy Hiles - a must read for any budding practitioner wanting to understand and apply Scrum and Kanban. Super easy to read and digest.

  • Rethinking Agile by Klaus Leopold - another highly visual book, telling the story of how Klaus helped a large organisation become more agile.

If you're interested in coaching:

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear - Whilst not a book about coaching directly I found the ideas and understanding it provided on how we form (and un-form) habits to be super useful to my practise as a coach. (visual summary)

NB. This list does not mean that the other books are not worth reading, but these are my standout titles.


Initial reading list for 2022

  • Coaching the Team at work by David Clutterbuck

  • Humble Inquiry by Edgar Shein

  • Deep work by Cal Newport

  • Leader by Katy Granville-Chapman & Emmie Bidston

  • Results by Jamie Smart

  • Invisible women by Caroline Criado Perez

  • Diversify by June Sarpong

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