The Allure of Physical Books

May 31, 2016

TsundokuSee also here

I made an attempt to move over to ebooks a few years ago, mainly in the hope of realising some more space (I literally have hundreds of physical books, many from when I was an academic).

However, over time, I’ve realised that I really prefer physical ones (except for travel). I was curious why this was so and Michael Hyatt has given 8 reasons:

1. Ebooks Are out of Sight and out of Mind

2. Ebooks Engage Fewer Senses

3. Ebooks Make It Easier to Get Distracted

4. Ebooks Result in Less Retention and Comprehension

5. Ebooks Feel Too Much like Online Reading

6. Ebooks Are More Difficult to Interact With

7. Ebooks Are More Difficult to Navigate

8. Ebooks Provide Less Satisfaction in Finishing

My current approach is to read a new physical book through a local library (which also helps keep it going, so that’s a win-win) to see how good it is. If they don’t have it in stock it’s easy and cheap to request it (even for quite technical books eg through inter-library loans). In fact through the British Library you have access to most books that have been published (at least in the UK).

I’ve found in practice that having my own copy is now not that important and I now only buy a few ‘exceptional’ ones (ie ones that have a large and lasting impact on me).

However, I wonder if this is also generational. I was brought up on physical books but for someone brought up on ebooks (and digital media in general) it might be quite different.


How Likeable Are You?

May 21, 2016

3059358-inline-i-5-how-to-know-which-skills-to-develop-at-each-stage-of-your-careerClick to enlarge

When I first saw this I thought it was a bit simplistic and naive but after thinking about it a bit more (in the context of my own and colleague’s careers) I’m now thinking it could be right!

That being said, I think the ability to ‘get things done’ is probably key.

There’s supporting info in the original article here.

Success in School and/or Life

May 8, 2016

A recent provocative article from The Book of Life is well worth a read and here are some extracts:

We want to do well at school for an obvious reason: because – as we’re often told – it’s the primary route to doing well at life.

Few of us are in love with the A grades themselves – we want them because we’re understandably interested in one day having a fulfilling career, a pleasant house and the respect of others.

But, sometimes, more often than seems entirely reassuring, something confusing occurs: we come across people who triumphed at school – but flunked at life. And vice versa.

This leads on to some general remarks on schools:

This helps to explain the many bad habits schools inculcate:

– They suggest that the most important things are already known; that what is is all that could be. They can’t help but warn us about the dangers of originality.

– They want us to put up our hands and wait to be chosen. They want us to keep asking other people for permission.

– They teach us to deliver on, rather than, change expectations.

– They teach us to redeploy ideas rather than originate them.

– They teach us to expect that people in authority know – rather than letting us imagine that – in rather inspiring ways – no one is really on top of what’s going on.

– They teach us to trust that they have our largest, best, life-long interests at heart; without letting on that they are merely interested in our achievements in a very parochial and narrow obstacle course they control. They can’t save us and were never incentivized to do so.

– They teach us everything other than the two skills that really determine the quality of adult life; knowing how to choose the right job for us and knowing how to form satisfactory relationships. They’ll instruct us in Latin and how to measure the circumference of a circle long before they teach us those core subjects: Work and Love.

ending with

That said, it isn’t that all we need to do to succeed at life is flunk school. A good life requires us to do two very tricky things: be an extremely good boy or girl for 20 years; and simultaneously never really believe blindly in the long-term validity or seriousness of what we’re being asked to study.

We need to be outwardly entirely obedient while inwardly intelligently and committedly rebellious.

That’s quite a big ask but a thought-provoking one none the less!

The Usefulness of an Authorised Projects List

April 28, 2016


Mark Forster has written a number of books on time management and productivity. I’ve recently read his latest, Secrets of Productive People. I particularly like the way he challenges some of the myths or at least sayings that you often hear on these matters. One rather simple but key point is that it’s often tempting to take on more than you can actually expect to do. One suggestion he makes for handling this is coming up with an Authorised Projects List.

There are basically two reasons for the list, one a positive one, and one a negative one

The positive is to keep you aware of all the calls on your time so that you can ensure that each project receives adequate attention.

The negative is that a project is as much about what you are not going to do as about what you are going to do. The list therefore keeps you focused on the projects on the list and stops you from deviating onto other “bright ideas”. You should not allow yourself to put any task on your to-do list which doesn’t relate to one of these projects.

The Authorised Projects list also helps you to avoid over-committing yourself. If you want to introduce a new project you need to be able to demonstrate what projects have ceased or have been weeded out in order to make room for the new project.

I’ve found this quite helpful. Firstly it forces you to think through what your major projects actually are (a useful exercise in it’s own right) and then, when a new idea pops up, to cross check whether it’s on the list.

This is related to the powerful concept of firmly and clearly saying ‘no’ to opportunities, which crops up in many different business circumstances. See, for example, ‘Saying No Effectively‘.

Listening Completely

April 27, 2016


“When people talk listen completely. Don’t be thinking what you’re going to say. Most people never listen. Nor do they observe. You should be able to go into a room and when you come out know everything that you saw there and not only that. If that room gave you any feeling you should know exactly what it was that gave you that feeling. Try that for practice.” – Ernest Hemingway

Well I did try that for practice and found it incredibly hard! On the topic of listening better, and from a previous post:

“Very few people are good listeners. A good listener listens slowly to what is being said. He does not jump ahead nor does he rush to judge nor does he sit there formulating his own reply. He focuses directly on what is being said. He listens to more than is being said. He extracts the maximum information from what he hears by looking between the words used and wondering why something has been expressed in a particular way. It is active listening because the listener’s imagination is full of ‘could be’ and ‘may be’ elaborations.” – Edward de Bono

It’s pretty clear why only a few people are particularly good listeners, it’s quite an art and, along the way, requires a lot of practice (or perhaps even a natural inclination).

As a very modest indication of progress, I now occasionally ask myself during conversations ‘am I really listening or just waiting for a chance to speak?’. It does actually make a difference!

Corporate and Personal Amnesia

April 15, 2016

From the BBC Business News site:

Britons today change job more frequently than workers in much of the rest of Europe and, as the economy improves, that churn rate increases. Young workers move jobs much often than older workers did.

But there’s a hidden cost.

Each time someone leaves their job, a chunk of the organisation’s memory leaves too. How, then, do you run complex systems, see through long-term projects, or avoid past mistakes?

Short-term contracts and outsourcing reduce the appetite for learning company or product history. And when job losses land, even more knowledge is lost.

This is a problem that has always existed of course but perhaps, with higher churn rates, it’s more serious than previously or perhaps the consequences are potentially more far reaching (global). I remember there was much talk on this subject over 15 years ago, when I was involved the the relatively new field of ‘knowledge management’.

The article gives some interesting and quite varied examples, including:

  • City firms – in 20012 the churn rate for one was 28%, higher than McDonalds.
  • Her Majesty’s Treasury – “the vast majority of Treasury staff had never been through even a recession, let alone a banking crisis.”
  • Nuclear weapons – “for years after the end of the Cold War, policy and expertise became less of a priority; collective memory leeched away as more and more people retired.”

Then there’s the problem of “preserving the institutional memory in the age of email and texts”.

Last year an official review of government digital records concluded that existing systems had not worked well. Most departments, it said, “have a mass of digital data stored on shared drives that is poorly organised and indexed”.

Historian Prof Sir David Cannadine, who was involved in the 2009 review of the “30-year rule” on the release of official papers, goes further.

Speaking at the British Academy in March, he said poor preservation of electronic records from the late 1980s to the early 2000s meant that often, when you looked for documents, “there’s nothing there”.

This latter point applies to my personal information as well. It’s dotted around in emails (in addition, I don’t always systematically save attachments), various databases (Evernote, Devonthink etc) as well as different types of notes/documents (Scrivener, Tinderbox etc) and mind maps (iThoughtsX etc). I could always try to interconnect them but you have to be careful that the time taken to do this (and keep things updated) may easily outweigh any advantages.

I think I’ll try and get back into the habit of writing one page monthly personal reviews. These won’t obviously capture everything (sometimes small events turn out to lead to bigger than anticipated consequences) and lots will remain in my head but the very process of just thinking about things is likely worth the time invested and hopefully provide a helpful and useful ‘memory’.

Handling Email

April 14, 2016

I recently sent a message to someone and got this interesting automatic reply (I have omitted details for obvious reasons):

Thank you for your email.

I am currently away from the (omitted) until the (omitted).

If you would like to make a booking please email (omitted).

To ensure that I’m not overloaded with emails on my return I have chosen to have all emails I receive whilst I’m away deleted. If it is important can I suggest that you resend it on my return. Many thanks for your understanding.

Surprising but probably quite efficient!


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