The 4-Hour Work Week (Ebury Digital, 2011)

Escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the new rich

I bought this book by Timothy Ferriss around 6 months ago at the start of a sabbatical.  The title was catching and held the promise of a new lifestyle and the enormous possibilities of building a business online and becoming very rich.

I am embarrassed to admit that I found this book a frustrating read, despite it being a best seller.

I won’t go so far as to say that it was a waste of time, but I constantly had to force myself to push on through a monologue about a wonderful vacation style life, in an attempt to find and understand Tim’s deeper message.

Others might find it easier to relate to a lifestyle of motorcycles, ball room dancing, kick-boxing and more.  These are not things I personally value very highly (although I’m game to try them out!), but I accept that for some this is Nirvana and I respect that totally.

So what is Tim saying in the book?  There are three main elements:

  1. Start with defining your purpose.
  2. Eliminate time wasting activity.
  3. Automate your business. Liberate your mode of working (through taking mini-retirements and filling the void left).

Each of these are valuable contributions and there is plenty of good practical advice.   I particularly like the concept of a mini-retirement – the traditional “retirement” at the end of a corporate career always seemed to me to be very wrong indeed.

Tim’s message is that you need to live life.  This is good stuff.

My only problem with his philosophy is that he somehow seems to view work and life in some sort of conflict, hence the need for a new “balance”.  His section on eliminating time wasting activities left me with the impression that you need to work frantically to compress the nasty bits into as short a time as possible (4 hours a week) which frees you to do anything you like in the remaining time.

For myself, separating work and life is not as simple.  I therefore prefer thinking about work life integration, and perhaps that is what Tim actually wants too and I missed it in my interpretation.

I believe that everyone has a fundamental desire to work and to find real satisfaction and fulfilment in what they do.  I would therefore not advocate a 4 hour work week at all.   Instead I would suggest a changed perspective in which you integrate your professional activities with your personal goals, talents and passions.  In my own model you thereby work full-time and are better for it because you enjoy every minute.


The Element: How Finding your Passion Changes Everything (Penguin, 2009)

There are many examples of famous people who succeeded by finding their element, whether it be in the arts, sciences, social involvement or any other worthwhile human endeavour. The interesting thing is that in many respects the structures of formal society seemed stacked against these individuals being able to find their true creative talents. It took someone or some special circumstance to trigger the discovery of their element, that special space where they could be immersed in creative and innovative endeavour.

Society by default seems to work against people finding their element. For example the inappropriately designed education system that rigidly focuses on a hierarchy of subjects, standardised assessments and the deliberate segregation of materials into subjects can prevent development of the skills needed by society as a whole. Ken shows that in order to find our element we need to break free of the constraints imposed by contemporary society and education systems; and find our creative spirit “outside the box” so to speak.

I enjoyed this book; it is rich in the diverse examples provided and is presented with just enough humour to be entertaining and serious at the same time. The book gets easier as Ken builds the foundations. Ken ends this edition with a thought provoking plea for us to think differently about the challenges of population growth in a world of limited resources; a scenario that demands the most innovative solutions possible from each of us who have been able to find their element.

Essential Scrum: A Practical Guide to the Most Popular Agile Process (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2012)

What is Scrum?   How do you improve alignment between your software products and customer requirements in a way that is  sustainable, responsive, cost effective and agile?  How do you take your process oriented project culture and implement agile methodologies?   How risky is this transition?<!–more–>

Agile practitioners claim that Scrum is less risky than plan-driven management.  Most executives unfamiliar with Scrum are sceptical but prepared to give it a try, provided they understand and buy into the underlying philosophy.

This book will help you educate your team and your manager about Scrum and agile processes, in a way that is easy to understand.   Corporate IT, product managers, software developers, and executives can benefit from Scrum; but also need to buy into the philosophy and recognise that a cultural shift might be required in the way they work.

Executives familiar with project management can start with Chapter 3 which explains the differences between plan driven development and agile.   Plan driven development makes more sense when the problem is well defined, predictable and unlikely to undergo significant change.  Agile is most suited when the definition is weak, unpredictable and there is continuous change.
Chapter 1. Introduction

Part I. Core Concepts
Chapter 2. Scrum Framework
Chapter 3. Agile Principles
Chapter 4. Sprints
Chapter 5. Requirements and User Stories
Chapter 6. Product Backlog
Chapter 7. Estimation and Velocity
Chapter 8. Technical Debt

Part II. Roles
Chapter 9. Product Owner
Chapter 10. ScrumMaster
Chapter 11. Development Team
Chapter 12. Scrum Team Structures
Chapter 13. Managers

Part III. Planning
Chapter 14. Scrum Planning Principles
Chapter 15. Multilevel Planning
Chapter 16. Portfolio Planning
Chapter 17. Envisioning (Product Planning)
Chapter 18. Release Planning (Longer-Term Planning)

Part IV. Sprinting
Chapter 19. Sprint Planning
Chapter 20. Sprint Execution
Chapter 21. Sprint Review
Chapter 22. Sprint Retrospective
Chapter 23. The Path Forward

Getting results from software development teams (Microsoft Press, 2008)

Have you recently been asked to be part of a software team? Or to manage one as a team lead or project manager? Wonder what makes software teams different – after all most software projects fail don’t they? The people are smart, they get on with the work, so what’s the problem?

I got hold of a copy of this book at a time when I realised that there is something especially challenging about managing software projects. My background at that stage was engineering, so I had a good grasp of project management in an engineering project environment. I needed to understand what was different about software projects.

The book is written for software project managers and addresses some of the unique challenges and approaches to managing teams in the software environment.

The book was published in 2008 which is a generation ago in the world of technology! In the last 4 years we have seen a shift towards agile methodologies, so if you are looking for an update on the latest agile practices this book is probably not your best reference.

If you are starting out or in transition into managing software projects this book will certainly be a good reference. Much of the material is at an introductory level so it makes an easy read.

Launch: An Internet Millionaire’s Secret Formula to Sell Almost Anything Online, Build A Business You Love, And Live The Life Of Your Dreams (Morgan James Publishing, 2014)

Jeff Walkers “Product Launch Formula” is an eye opener to the psychology of selling online. In this book Jeff describes the essence of his approach with several examples of how it has been successfully applied. The book is admittedly also a teaser to take his $2000 training program – a strong clue as to why Jeff is a millionaire!

Many software product managers finish development and then release their product with a press release and some “hope” marketing. They can expect better results if they follow a proper launch process.

Marketing specialists are already familiar with the importance of developing brands; whether through social media or as a result of content marketing. But converting these loyal followers into buying customers is not automatic, you need a system; a formula.

This is not really a book for corporate marketing, nor is it likely to be very useful in converting a B2B sales funnel. It is written for the entrepreneur who is looking to sell an information product using the web.  But even if your role is corporate B2B, you should read it nevertheless because the trends will impact buying patterns of everyone.

The future of all marketing is becoming clearer at the intersection of psychology and repeatable process.

And yes, the formula works, after all I bought the book didn’t I!

The Weekly Coaching Conversation (Productivitydrivers, 2014)

Coaching is not a recipe that you do as part of your management responsibility,   you need to <em><strong>become</strong></em> a coach when you are a leader. There are four types of managers, according to Brian Souza:

<em><strong>Micromanager, Nice-guy Manager, Do-it-all Manager, Coach</strong></em>

(I will add a few dodgy manager types of my own: – <em>The abdicated manager, the cat herder, the “in over his head” manager, the corporate politician, the “me myself and I” manager, the teflon “what does he actually DO?” manager).</em>

Especially when leading professionals, <em><strong>Coaches</strong></em> are recognised as the most effective.  Coaches engage with employees by earning their trust.  Trust is earned by taking an interest in your team members and investing your time in them.   Trust is earned through believing in people on your team.
To become a coach you need to invest in your own personal development.  When you change your behaviour you will change the behaviours of those who follow you.

If you are fortunate to work for a “role model” coach manager then you should make the most of the situation.  If you don’t work for a coach (and at Executive Level true coaching from other Executives can be rare),  then intentionally engaging the services of a professional coach can be a very good investment in your professional career (and  your life).

Portfolio Life: The New Path to Work, Purpose, and Passion After 50 (Jossey-Bass, 2006)

Corbett describes how to build your portfolio of activities to successfully make the transition from full time work to a fulfilling lifestyle that clarifies and pursues new goals, including vocational, recreation, family, personal development, community service and more.

While this book is aimed at those approaching retirement, the principles are equally valid for finding balance and fulfilment in your working life even as you reach the peak of your career.

When you reach 50 you might still have 40 years productive living ahead, as you transition out of work this is the season to rekindle your dreams, pursue your passions and find a vocation that is fulfilling without being all consuming.

If you are recently retired, you will learn that your experiences are certainly not unique; and Corbett has a wealth of good advice and encouragement for you to make the most of this time; a time full of opportunity and potential.

Leading in a Changing World: Lessons for future focused leaders (TomorrowToday Global, 2015)

Graeme Codrington held a workshop with our executive team a few years ago at the Zimbali eco-reserve off the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast.  As a technology company we were looking for the inspiration to tackle the changing world of work head on.  The shifts in the demographics in our company were coinciding with the explosion of information and the growing ubiquity of technology.   The workshop was a great success and I was delighted to learn recently that Graeme has partnered with Keith Coats to write a book about leading in this changing world.

The leadership models of the past and the old command and control structures are becoming more and more irrelevant in the changing world of information work.  Leaders are struggling to reinvent themselves for this new information fuelled workplace,  where “leadership” is no longer vested in the authority of hierarchy, nor even or in ones knowledge or experience.

The next generation of successful leaders will find leadership deep within themselves, within their interactions with a global network and their ability to see a clear future vision while reinventing themselves continuously in an ambiguous and ever changing environment.

If you are interested in preparing for leadership in the technology revolution then this book is really worthwhile.