Professional Beach Reads

I was watching the waves crashing on the beach this past Thanksgiving while talking to my son. We were talking about work and the challenges of management, decision-making and leadership.  He told me about a book he had just read called Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath.  With the incredible luxury of WIFI and Kindle, it was in my hands within minutes…and I had my perfect “professional beach read.”
While I was relaxing and recharging, Decisive became my companion. It was entertaining, thought provoking and inspiring.  It insinuated itself into my relaxation as a way to rethink challenges that would be waiting for me when I returned home.
As coaches, we encourage leaders to step back and reflect, but everyone has to find their own way to do it successfully. For me, a professional beach read is like floating aimlessly on a raft and seeing where I end up…without a specific end goal in mind, but open to possibilities and connections.
So, as we set out on another summer, hop on board and consider the possibilities of your own professional beach read and see where it takes you.  Hopefully, you too will return, recharged, inspired and with some new strategies in your tool box.
Beach Read I – recommended by Rory Gilbert
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Heath, Chip; Heath, Dan), The Crown Publishing Group, Kindle Edition
In Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Chip and Dan Heath provide some staggering statistics about how poor our decision-making is: everything from career choices (50% of teachers quit within 4 years, 40% of senior level hires are pushed out or quit within 18 months) to business decisions (83% of mergers and acquisitions fail to create value for stakeholders), to retirement saving, relationships, food choices…you name it. They then challenge us:
“When it comes to making decisions, it’s clear that our brains are flawed instruments. But less attention has been paid to another compelling question: Given that we’re wired to act foolishly sometimes, how can we do better?” (Heath, Kindle locations 80-83)
The Heath’s premise is that our decision-making processes are flawed and better processes such as exploring alternative points of view, recognizing uncertainty and searching for evidence that contradicts our beliefs can help us improve our outcomes.
They explore four “villains of decision making” and recommend strategies to overcome them.  The villains are: narrow framing – seeing limited options – this or that; confirmation bias – seeking out data that confirms our initial opinion or belief; short-term emotion – that limits our ability to have perspective; and over-confidence – trusting your own ability to predict the future.
And the rest of the book is about how to counter these villains. They provide a simple formula and then specific suggestions that are practical and immediately applicable.  Two of my favorites:

  • Watch out for limiting options – when we hear “do I want this or that…” start thinking about how to combine this and that and/or what else can you do. Don’t succumb to a forced choice – open up the possibilities!

How do I use this? I have a tendency to get really excited about new projects.  Usually, I am asked – do you want to take this on or not?  I always want to say yes…it sounds like fun, I am confident I/we can do it.  Over time, I have learned to find people to help me reality check my excitement.  All I can see is the possibilities glimmering in front of me.  I now have a kitchen cabinet who gets me out of “the spotlight effect” and answers my question, “what am I not thinking of?”
The Heath’s propose: “What if we started every decision by asking some simple questions: What are we giving up by making this choice? What else could we do with the same time and money?” (Heath, Kindle Locations 688-690)

  • Consider the opposite – try to gain perspective and overcome confirmation bias – they discuss the value of “the devil’s advocate,” and also talk about the challenge if people get too polarized. One of their suggestions to reduce polarization is to ask folks from different points of view, “What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer?” (Heath, Kindle Locations 1483-1484) Now, the exercise is about looking at variables and possibilities rather than just maintaining a position.  This strategy enhances cooperation, understanding and mutual commitment to the best outcome.

And there are more…I keep getting excited about another one and another one…so I think I just better suggest, read the book!  It is fun, enlightening and entertaining.
Beach Read II – recommended by Jill Bachman
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World- and Why Things Are Better Than You Think (Rosling, Hans; Ronnlund, Anna Rosling; Rosling, Ola), 2018, Flatiron Books
While this title may not grab you as a “professional beach read”, it did turn into that for me. The book is intelligent, humorous, easy to read, and chock full of aha moments. Rosling, who collaborated with his adult daughter and son on the book, is Swedish, and dedicated much of his life to understanding the important trends in the world. Educated as a physician, he practiced in evolving third world countries. He was also a statistician, academic and public speaker. At a very early age he developed liver issues, coping with hepatitis C throughout his life. In 2017, he died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 68, one year after being diagnosed. He was driven to complete this book before his death.
Rosling starts your journey with an introduction about sword swallowing, a mini-discussion of chimpanzee logic (there is none, really, just randomness), and a series of questions (the Gapminder Test) about the state of current world conditions. I was woefully disappointed in my score, as I view myself as someone who “keeps up” with things like poverty, hunger, global warming and other “light” (ha!) beach read topics.
He then presents the reader with a series of “instincts” which he believes are the basis of our gross misunderstanding of the world. Taken together, these 10 instincts create a powerful set of approaches to help us behave more thoughtfully and effectively. The instincts are the Gap Instinct, the Negativity Instinct, the Straight Line Instinct, the Fear Instinct, the Size Instinct, the Generalization Instinct, the Destiny Instinct, the Single Perspective Instinct, the Blame Instinct, and the Urgency Instinct. Each of the instincts is developed with his real-life examples, some heartbreaking in their “missing the boat”. He concludes the book with chapters titled Factfulness in Practice, and Factfulness Rules of Thumb. I loved his quote near the end; “When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems- and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better.” (Rosling, Kindle location 3316.)
Two of the instincts that I find myself frequently “defaulting” to are the negativity instinct and the urgency instinct. The negativity instinct, he claims, is especially bad because “The loss of hope is probably the most devastating consequence,” (Rosling, Kindle location 876), keeping us from taking action on a situation. He suggests that we learn to keep two ideas in our head at the same time, something like, “This is a tragic situation AND here is something that can be done about it.” Another idea is to expect bad news, so that you don’t get caught off guard when bad things happen.
The urgency instinct is a problem, he claims, because “When we are under time pressures and thinking of worst case scenarios, we tend to make really stupid decisions.” (Rosling, Kindle location 2893.) To counteract an urgency impulse, stop and name it as a call/demand/expectation to take immediate action. Question just how urgent the situation really is. The truth is, those situations are rare today. Be wary of drastic action. How many times have you responded urgently to something, only to create a worse outcome for yourself? If someone is trying to convince you that you need to act now, insist on more information. What will happen if you decide not to act NOW. Will the sale come again? Can the issue really be solved in a heartbeat anyway? Recognize that the manipulative use of fear is often behind the call to urgency in order to get us to respond.
 In today’s dramatic and media-driven climate, a book that suggests that many things we thought were awful are actually improving has naturally generated critical responses, challenging that Rosling was a Pollyanna, and a confused statistician. IMHO, whether or not you agree with those criticisms, Rosling performed a valuable service with this book, giving us tools to think and respond much more deeply about the state of the world and our own lives.
We’d love to hear from you and learn more about your favorite beach reads as we all head into the summer ready to be re-energized.