Saturday, April 10, 2021

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload (Cal Newport)

Many people's hours at work are spent triaging cluttered email inboxes, trying desperately to get it under control. “Work” for some has become synonymous with the number of emails that are sent out over the course of a day. Emails fly around at all hours of day and night in an attempt to keep up with customer inquiries, internal questions from colleagues, and simply reading the latest memo from the CEO.

Author Cal Newport argues that your work shouldn’t be defined by your inbox but that it should be simplified, diversified, and process-oriented. His book, A World Without Email: Reimagining Word in an Age of Communication Overload, addresses his philosophy for better, more productive, and more meaningful work. The book is broken down into two parts: The first focuses on the problem of workplace communication and the second on solutions to fix and improve office work and productivity.  Newport argues that part of the shift in how we work starts with us and part of it also lies with the team that we work with. He suggests ideas such as dedicated email response time, “deep work”, and more focused meetings as three solutions that can be incorporated.

People in office life and knowledge economy jobs would do well to read this book and hopefully adopt some of Newport’s suggestions to make their work life better and more efficient.

MY RATING - 4

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Lost Village (Camilla Sten)

It's so rare for authors to write horror novels anymore whose name is not Stephen King. There are always countless mysteries on the shelf, but the amount of true horror books is quite small. Camilla Sten's The Lost Village is done really well and keeps the reader guessing until the last few pages.

In 1959, the residents of an entire Swedish village simply vanished. All that was left was a single body stoned in the town square and a newborn baby crying in a school. In present day, Alice Lindstedt travels to this village for two reasons: to make a documentary and to try to discover what happened to the villagers, some of whom were her grandmother's family. Almost immediately, Alice and her crew become the victims of sinister happenings as they look for the truth.

The Lost Village is extremely creepy, with some truly frightening moments. Sten's choice of parallel narrations between "then" and "now" is also very effective. I really liked this one! But take my advice -- read it with the lights on.

MY RATING - 4


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Digital Nomads: In Search of Freedom, Community, and Meaningful Work in the New Economy (Rachael A. Woldoff and Robert C. Litchfield)

In Digital Nomads, authors Rachael A. Woldoff and Robert C. Litchfield focus specifically on the creative class that has relocated to Bali in recent years to hone their craft. Many of the transplants, often only in Bali for short stays before hopping off to another destination or back to their country of residence, work in a freelance or entrepreneurial space and have exited corporate life due to lack of fulfillment, stress, or a host of other reasons. Many are of the Millennial generation, although the authors introduce us to individuals who are older who were early adopters of the nomad lifestyle.  The authors discuss the tribal-like support of these individuals for each other, many of whom talk about working with “the right types of people” and having the “right types of support” in their professional and personal lives.

Digital Nomads is well-written and balanced, focusing on those who are successful through merit, as well as those who faked it and partially made it in Bali. You may end up laughing a bit at some of the Millennial stereotypes being played out and cringe a bit at some of the Western cultural expectations that nomads bring to Bali, but you will learn a lot about the jetset lifestyle these individuals are living.

MY RATING - 4

Monday, March 15, 2021

Anxious People (Fredrik Backman)

Someone runs into a bank and attempts to rob it. They then take hostages in a nearby building. Sounds like all the makings of a blockbuster action novel, doesn't it? But Fredrik Backman's Anxious People is just the opposite -- you think you're getting one thing, but it turns out to be quite different.

You may know Backman as the author of a little book called A Man Called Ove. His books do not rely on plots so much as they do character studies -- Backman is a master of characterization. In Anxious People, a group of strangers are attending an open house for an apartment when they find themselves in the middle of a hostage situation. Only this isn't your normal crime scene. None of them is really who they appear to be, including the bank robber. Add to that two police officers who do things you would not expect them to, and you have a book that is nowhere near what I thought it would be.

I found a few parts of Anxious People bogged down with details, but that doesn't get in the way of what it is -- an unexpected tale of compassion, empathy, and forgiveness with characters you won't soon forget.

MY RATING - 3.5 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Where is My Office?: Reimagining the Workplace for the 21st Century (Chris Kane)

Advances in technology have made it easier for many workers and their employers to operate in a remote environment. While some employers were early adopters of flexible working, many others were cool to the concept and clung fiercely to the idea of a fixed-desk, fixed-office location. COVID-19 has changed the paradigm of many working arrangements and has shown that remote and flexible working arrangements can be a successful, if not essential, part of workplace office strategy.

Author Chris Kane dives into office life in his book, Where Is My Office?, coming from 30 years of experience in corporate real estate with Disney and the BBC in England. He pulls from his personal experiences with blending technology in the workplace and provides models of how office life can merge flexibility, remote capability, and the security of a fixed suite (for those who need it). In doing this, he shows that the modern workplace needs to be adaptable, take up a smaller footprint to save costs, and be more efficient to serve a plethora of work styles and arrangements.

Kane divides the book into two parts. Part one discusses corporate real estate and provides a technical, high-level background into how corporate real estate works for many. Part two dives into his experiences in revamping how the BBC operated as it modernized its operations and transitioned its broadcasting to digital. Kane discusses the logistics and the challenges that needed to be resolved in order to execute the modernization.

Where Is My Office? is a useful book for those in C-level, operations, or facilities leadership who are thinking about how their companies should operate in the post-COVID landscape and just how the office of the near future should look, feel, and operate.

MY RATING - 3.5

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Walking with Ghosts (Gabriel Byrne)

Gabriel Byrne's Walking with Ghosts is definitely not your standard memoir or autobiography. In fact, I came away from it not really knowing much more about Byrne than when I started. 

This book is set up in a nonlinear fashion with Byrne telling vignettes in an almost stream-of-consciousness style. Some vignettes are funny and others heartbreaking. Because they're not written in any particular order and are rather short, the reader never really gets to fully immerse themselves in Byrne's life story, which in my opinion, is a detriment.

However, Byrne's poetic writing is second-to-none. He has a way with language where the reader can picture the setting and story in their mind's eye. I just wish the stories he tells had a little more depth to them.

MY RATING - 3

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The CEO Test: Master the Challenges That Make or Break All Leaders (Adam Bryant and Kevin Sharer)

In The CEO Test,  Adam Bryant and Kevin Sharer compile a list of effective strategies that they feel will help any leader or executive navigate their position. The book is described as the “authoritative, no-nonsense insider’s guide to navigating leadership’s toughest challenges…” Bryant and Sharer interview several CEOs from major companies, who share their strategies and secrets that have helped them become successful.

The book identifies seven tests: Strategy, Culture, Team-building, Transformation, Crisis Management, Listening, and Leadership. Within those seven tests, the authors outline various pitfalls that can derail any leader and share some strategies to help them succeed. At times, their advice sounds contradictory or confusing, such as their ingredients for leadership; at others, the advice is sound and helpful, particularly in crisis management.

The only ingredient missing from the recipe list of “leadership” for effective CEOs is the ability to perform miracles. While the book offers some clear guidance on effective communication being necessary, it offers little more than a few empathetic remarks to help CEOs better understand the needs of today’s workers. Also missing are examples where the CEO fails in one area but succeeds in another and why their failings in the first place had little to do with the CEO themselves. In some cases, the “failure” of the CEO is less at their feet and more a product of not being able to spin up a miracle when one was needed.

MY RATING - 3