I’m reading… “Utopia for Realists: and How We Can Get There” by Rutger Bregman

Do you live in “utopia”? Looking back on the last two years of pandemic I can’t imagine that there are many of us leaping to a positive answer to that one.

Now imagine you are living 200 years ago and picture a time in the future when:

“billions of us are suddenly rich, well nourished, clean, safe, healthy and occasionally even beautiful. Where 84% of the world’s population still lived in poverty in 1820, by 1981 that percentage had dropped to 44%, and now, just a few decades later, it is under 10%.”

Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists

Is this “utopia”?

Numbers, despite the meaning behind them, rarely communicate the full story. Bregman describes where we are now not as “utopia” but as the “Land of Plenty”:

“According to Oscar Wilde, upon reaching the Land of Plenty, we should once more fix our gaze on the farthest horizon and rehost the sails. “Progress is the realization of Utopias,” he wrote. But the farthest horizon remains blank. The Land of Plenty is shrouded in fog. Precisely when we should be shouldering the historic task of investing in the rich, safe, and healthy existence with meaning, we’ve buried utopia instead. There’s no dream to replace it because we can’t imagine a better world than the one we’ve got.”

Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists

In Utopia for Realists Bregman seeks to paint that “better world than the one we’ve got” to sail to – not as some kind of mythical unachievable state, but by outlining a set of ideas that are just there on that far horizon.

What are these grand ideas? That would be giving too much away, but they are very interesting.

The ideas that are there on that far horizon have all been widely tested, some have even been implemented in some countries, and yet all of them would be regarded as counterintuitive, even counter-logical by most people. (I’m continuing my run of books that tell me I’m wrong.)

In the UK, where I live, welfare is a constant political battleground. Just this week the deficiencies in the existing system have been brought into stark relief by stories of an elderly woman riding the bus to stay warm at a time of escalating living costs. Yet others argue that we can’t afford to do any more. Bregman has a big idea for that. Bregman’s approach to this problem is certainly radical.

We live in a time when work is going through a massive upheaval. Many people have spent the last two years working from home and now the bosses are seeking a return to “normal” office life. Vast numbers of people are dreading the idea of returning to a place which sapped them of energy and required them to sit in long queues on motorways for no apparent reason. Personally, I’m getting a bit tired of seeing people saying “working from home”, while putting the “working” in air-quotes, as if somehow the many hours that people have been putting in aren’t real work. Bregman has a radical, yet tested, idea for that, and no it’s not better hybrid working.

(hybrid working is another term I dislike, it maintains the suggestion that working in an office is somehow better than working from home when for many roles the office is the least productive place for people.)

You might recognise the “Land of Plenty” but there are hundreds of millions of people who wouldn’t. They are still living on less than a dollar a day. The global community has spent billions of dollars trying to overcome this problem, Bregman puts the figure at $11.2 billion a month, or $5 trillion over the last 50 years. Yet poverty is still a massive problem and, according to Bregman, no-one really knows whether this development money has made a difference. Again, Bregman has an idea for this problem, and it’s probably not what you were expecting it to be. Another idea that is very timely and massively counter-cultural to many global governments, to the current British government certainly.

This book is titled “Utopia for Realists: and how we can get there”, having the ideas is only a small part of the challenge. Implementing the ideas is the greater part.

In the epilogue to the book Bregman writes:

“For the last time, then: how do we make utopia real? How do we take these ideas and implement them?

The path from the ideal to the real is one that never ceases to fascinate me”

Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists

He concludes with some advice to the realists and an encouragement that “more people are hungry for change”. I hope so.

This book is, in many ways, a prequal to I’m reading…”Human kind” by Rutger Bregman which uses many of the same ideas but focussed more on the personal aspects of change. We need both personal and political change if we are going to move towards that “far horizon”.

Header Image: This is Loughrigg Tarn, it’s within driving distance of my home and is a fabulous place for a swim. In the background are the Langdale fells.

A Year in Review – 2021 on grahamchastney.com

There are several ways of doing a review for a year.

I suppose I could talk about the statistics, but that seems a bit dull, just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it was any good.

If I were to do a review by the visitor numbers, I would tell you that the top three posts this year are:

As these were all posts from previous years it may suggest that I haven’t been writing this year, which I have.

The other way of looking at the last year might be to look at the posts that I’ve written and to comment on those.

Perhaps I could talk about the distinct types of post. I’ve written a few “I’m reading…” pieces, but only three. This again might suggest that I’ve only read three books this year which wouldn’t be true (that’s only counting the new books, I’ve also reread some). I tend to write these review type posts when I have something personal to say. There are so many great reviewers around that these books don’t need another one, what I try to bring is my voice.

It was fun writing about these books:

There are also the “Office Speak” posts which make me smile and provoke some of the best reactions. I hope no-one takes them too seriously.

I suppose I could talk about the where I felt provoked to write something. I particularly liked these ones:

There is one post, though, that will stand out for many years to come and that’s because it marked the end of an era for me. I’ve had a goal for several years to complete a set of mountain walks and this year I did:

This post doesn’t describe all the significance of achieving the goal, or the changes it’s made in me along the way. What it does do is give me something to look back on and remind myself that “I did that”.

Thank you for being with me on the journey.

Header Image: I’m writing this on the shortest day of the year so thought it was fitting to have a sunrise picture from my local morning walk. I’ve taken this same picture for a few years now – #fromthefencepost – it’s amazing to see the different weather and changing seasons.

I’m reading…”Team Topologies: Organising Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow” by Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais

There are a set of books that I have recommended to people more than any other. I’m a technical leader, but these books aren’t technical, they are all about designing and building teams.

The top three in this collection of books are:

I’m now pondering whether I should start with a different book – Team Topologies. It’s not that Team Topologies says anything different to the three books above, the readers of The Mythical Man Month, Peopleware and Drive will see a lot that they recognise in this book. What Team Topologies does is summarise many of the findings of these books into practical applicable structures, linking them to models and practices that others have found useful.

The basis of this book is a simple question based on Conway’s Law:

Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.

Melvin E. Conway

In other words, your systems will reflect your people structures.

The question that Team Topologies asks is this – if you reverse Conway’s Law does it work the other way around?

In Graham’s overly simplistic phrasing – if you design your people structures will you get the systems that you want?

Spoiler alert: Yes, you will.

What are those people structures? That’s the bulk of the document in which Skelton and Pais outline Team First Thinking, Four Fundamental Team Types and Three Essential Team Interaction Models.

That’s pretty much where I’m going to stop the review of the book because I don’t want to rewrite the book, nor do I want to oversimplify what they have written. This book isn’t a long read after all, it’s only 185 pages without references, etc. If you want a summary, then this graphic is a good place to begin: Team Topologies in a nutshell.

What I will say is this though, this is a book of principles and concepts, types and models, it doesn’t contain team blueprints or a team design handbook. It’s not a Haynes Manual for teams and that’s a good thing. People aren’t components and teams aren’t vehicles.

Whilst there are types of teams, each team needs to be designed in its own way because each team is different. The people within a team make it unique and the context in which that team works makes it unique. The words model and type are there to tell us that these aren’t prescriptions. Prescribing a structure to a team is a folly that will probably cause more damage than good. Looking at a team structure through the lens of a model or a type may give insights into the frustrations that a team is experiencing and from that the next iteration of a team design will emerge, but that’s different to a team blueprint or a business process reorganisation.

We’ve learnt how to do iterative design for technical systems, it’s time that we applied that same design approach to the teams that build those technical systems. What Team Topologies tells us is that this Team First approach may have even greater rewards than the effort we spend designing the technical systems.

Header Image: This is Watendlath Tarn on a beautiful frosty autumnal day. My father-in-law was born in a house just to the left of this picture.

I’m reading…”Human kind” by Rutger Bregman


I like to challenge my way of thinking about things.

We each see the world through a complex lens of learning and experiences, some of the learning has been conscious, but so much of it has been absorbed through the subconscious as we go about our day-to-day activities. As an example, I have grown up with the understanding that keeping up with the news is a good thing to do, I happen to read the same paper that my parents do, I tell myself that it’s because it does a reasonably good job of reflecting a correct worldview, but what if it’s the other way around? What if this brand of newspaper is defining my worldview? Take the idea of “keeping with the news”, why is that important to me and is it truly important? What if reading the news regularly is doing me harm?

Human kind is a book that challenges several Western European worldviews – including reading the news on a regular basis. The news isn’t its main target though, that is veneer theory and the underlying assumption that we are all innately selfish, only interested in personal gain and it’s only the veneer of society that is stopping us sliding into anarchy.

The book is based on the difference in thinking between two philosophers – Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This isn’t the first book to look at these conflicted philosophies, this is a debate that’s been going on for a long time.

Hobbes, to massively oversimplify, believed that people are basically “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

Rousseau believed that “People in their natural state are basically good. But this natural innocence, however, is corrupted by the evils of society”.

The Hobbesian argument is characterised by the novel Lord of the Flies which many of us, across western society, read and studied as children. It’s the story of a group of boys stranded on an island and the tragedy that follows. Through it we take in the Hobbesian viewpoint and adopt it as fact. This is the viewpoint that tends to dominate in Western cultures. In Human kind, Bregman investigates whether Lord of the Flies portrays the reality of what would happen by searching for a real-life example of boys stranded on an island, this he finds, and the outcome, it’s fair to say, is more Rousseau than Hobbes.

There are numerous other examples of experiments being undertaken to prove the Hobbesian perspective. Like many books of its type, Bergman, in Human kind, reviews each of these experiments and finds many of them to be wanting.

This book tells stories of television shows that are set up for dramatic conflict that are so full of collaboration that they a dull in the extreme.

There are experiments where people are supposed to have behaved like savages, naturally, where the reality was riddled with manipulation.

The Norwegian Prison system is used as an anti-pattern for most Western incarceration institutions.

There’s a fabulous story of a community peacefully subverting a march by fascists in their town, rather than engaging in the annual fight.

Therein lies the big question of this book. We treat people from a worldview, one that has been influenced by repeated affirmation, by literature, by science, a worldview that tells us that people are out to get whatever they can get for themselves. What if that worldview is wrong? What difference would it make if the opposite worldview was correct and people are generally decent, corrupted, but decent?

Sadly, we are fixated with the negative. Near the end of the book Bregman quotes Richard Curtis, film producer:

If you make a film, about a man kidnapping a woman and chaining her to a radiator for five years – something that has happened probably once in the whole of human history – it’s called a searingly realistic analysis of society. But if I make a film like Love Actually, which is about people falling in love, and there are about a million people falling in love in Britain today, it’s called a sentimental presentation of an unrealistic world.

Richard Curtis

What difference would it make to our world if we stopped spending so much time pushing people away, treating them as potential kidnappers and instead embraced them?

Imagine the impact if our default position was compassion rather than suspicion?

Bergman finishes the book with 10 Rules to Live By of which number 1 is “when in doubt assume the best” and number 7 is “avoid the news” 😉

Throughout this book Berman refers to his upbringing as a preacher’s kid and has a good deal to say about the prevalent Christian worldview, and, in several places, the words of Jesus. Speaking as a Christian, it led me to ponder how much of what I believe is more influenced by Hobbes than by Jesus. Time to do a bit more reading while asking different questions.

If you want to find out more, Bregman’s interview with Daniel Pink is a great listen:


Header Image: The autumn leaves have been fabulous this year. This is a place called Wood Close, just off the Coffin Trail near to Grasmere.

I’m reading… “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig

Imagine that our universe is just one of many universes, an infinite number of universes even.

Then imagine that if there are multiple universes that you exist in each of those universes, but it’s a different you, a you that has made different decisions and taken different paths.

Now imagine that you could look back through your life and the decisions that you have made and can travel to the universe where that version of you exists – the you that chose to stay at home the day when they were involved in a fatal car accident, the you that chose to invest in that opportunity, the you that took that job offer.

Which of those lives would you choose? What would you do differently if you could?

The Midnight Library is a thoroughly enjoyable book that explores choice, regret, happiness, significance and meaning seen through the life of Nora Seed and her encounters with the librarian Mrs. Elm.

Header Image: This is the shoreline at Silverdale on a frosty day in lockdown.

I’m reading… “English Pastoral: An Inheritance” by James Rebanks

I’ve been following a bit of a theme, focussed on the countryside. This wasn’t initially a deliberate act on my behalf it was something I fell into and then continued. It happened like this; while I was part way through listening to “Wilding” by Isabella Tree, “English Pastoral” by James Rebanks was released, having enjoyed “Wilding” and also having previously enjoyed “The Shepherd’s Life” also by James Rebanks I decided to dive in.

In describing Wilding I talked about learning from the mavericks, the people doing things differently. Rebanks is another maverick, but in a different way. Rebanks farms in the northern fells of the Lake District which is a very different context to that of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, yet both of them are trying to find a different way to treat the land on which they live.

English Pastoral is a biographical commentary on the countryside and the significant changes that have occurred over a relatively short period of time.

I was a boy living through the last days of an ancient farming world. I didn’t know what was coming, or why, and some of it would take years to reach our fields, but I sensed that day might be worth remembering.

This book tells the story of that old world and what it became. It is the story of a global revolution as it played out in the fields of my family’s two small farms.

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

For anyone in doubt, all is not well in the English countryside, and all is not well with farming. In English Pastoral Rebanks talks through the events that led him to the realisation that the ways in which we are currently farming are not sustainable, and that a different path needed to be followed.

The last forty years on the land were revolutionary and disrupted all that had gone before for thousands of years – a radical and ill thought-through experiment that was c0nducted in our fields.

I lived through those years. I was a witness.

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

We have sustainably farmed the English countryside for many generations, but in recent decades the successful farmers have been those who embraced the modern ways of mechanisation, efficient cattle breeds raised in large sheds, large fields, massive farms and extensive use of chemicals. At the same time the rest of us have become “strangers to the fields that feed us” as the supermarket has dominated our buying. Farming is now in the middle of a huge international system of food production in which productivity and efficiency are the measures of success. We each benefit from that system in relatively low cost food, but at what price?

I have come to understand that even good farmers cannot single-handedly determine the fate of their farms. They have to rely on the shopping and voting choices of the rest of us to support and protect nature-friendly sustainable agriculture.

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

Rebanks is trying to learn from the old practices that he was brought up with and to return his farm to something more sustainable. This involves rebuilding some wildness, returning rivers to less straight routes and re-establishing a farming mix that isn’t just focussed on a single product. this inevitably has an impact on productivity, but perhaps not as significant as you might expect, and even if it does perhaps that’s a price worth paying.

We have a tendency to think in terms of blueprints and models. If we see someone doing one thing and being successful at it we try to copy it. What we miss by doing this is the context in which the originator of the idea built their way of doing things. English Pastoral isn’t describing a blueprint, it’s trying to open our minds to the possible.

Having read both Wilding and English Pastoral I am left at a loss as to what to practical steps to take, personally. I am one of those “strangers to the fields that feed us”, but I’m not sure how best to get reacquainted.

Header Image: This is what the northern fells can look like, imagine farming here.

I’m reading… “Wilding” by Isabella Tree

I’m a town boy at heart. I’m not a city boy even though the place I live is called a city, it’s not a very big city and where I live doesn’t feel like a city. I’m not a country boy even though I’ve spent a lot of time in it. All of my life I have lived a town life which, for me, gives a wonderful balance of places and people. I can go to places where there are people (normally) and places where there are few people.

I have what I think is a reasonable understanding of the countryside, I wouldn’t want to claim any expertise, but I have recently been on a bit of a book adventure trying to improve my understanding of what is still the majority of England.

Wilding book cover
Wilding by Isabella Tree

Most of England’s land is cultivated, there is very little that we haven’t dug over or grazed. Having said that, even I have noticed a huge change in the way that we cultivate our land and watched the relative price of our food drop year on year. It was these two thoughts and the third thought of how this had impacted farming that lead me to Wilding by Isabella Tree.

Farming has become increasingly industrialised since the end of the Second World war in the 1940s and this has produced a society that expects food to always be available and there are now generations, including myself, who have never known food shortages. We purchase our food food from large stores and expect it to be affordable. At the same time we’ve seen a huge drop in wildlife and there’s a growing sense that all is not well with farming.

Wilding tells the story of an estate caught in the middle of the pressures of modern farming. One of the best ways to understand how we get out of a problem is to watch the mavericks and to learn from them, that’s where Wilding comes in. Isabella and her husband Charles decided that the industrialisation of farming wasn’t working and went in the opposite direction letting the wildness back in.

Wilding is the biographical story of how the Knepp Wildland was established and the impact that it has had. It’s also a commentary on the many ways in which we drive farmers to do things that aren’t good for the land on which they live and shines a light into a world that each of us are dependent upon.

Without giving too much of the story away the Knepp Wildland shows that an alternative approach for farming can, and needs, to be found. I’m not saying that Wilding can be used as a blueprint for the future of farming but there are many lessons to be learnt.

This book got me thinking and opened my eyes to see different things around me, it also set me reading other books about the British countryside…

Header Image: This farm gate features in several of my walks, either side of it are fields of grass which have recently been ploughed.

I’m reading… “Life on the Mountains” by Terry Abraham

I’ve followed the work of Terry Abraham for what seems like a long while now. He first came to my attention, and the attention of many others, when I saw the film “Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike”.

Somewhere along the line I connected with Terry on Twitter and watched as his adventures with “Life of a Mountain: Blencathra” unfolded. We watched Blencathra, the day after its debut, sat outside, in the pouring rain, at the Threlkeld Cricket Club, facing towards that majestic and mysterious mountain. I loved the dramatic mountain cinematography accompanied by the narrative of people known to the family and even some distant family members. My wife spent part of her childhood living at Threlkeld Quarry looking out towards Blencathra and her wider family has roots that stretch from Penrith to Wasdale.

In recent years Terry has been working on completing his trilogy with “Life of a Mountain: Helvelyn” which was scheduled to premiere in recent weeks, but a global pandemic got in the way of that, I’m sure it will be brilliant when it does debut.

I had wondered about buying myself a copy of Terry’s recently released book, but hadn’t got around to it, so I was blown away when a copy came through the door including a personal inscription. It turns out that Sue had a similar idea to me, but she had ordered a couple of copies and then been selected by Terry to get something personal put inside.

The book itself is both an exquisite picture book and an autobiography focusing on Terry’s journey to filming mountains.

The pictures mostly align to the story being told and beautifully illuminate the stories of wild camping and inversion chasing. Having not been up a mountain for several months these pictures are both painful and soothing. There is a pain in the lack of access, but there are soothing thoughts of great days to come. You’ll notice, below, that the inscription talks about completing the Wainwrights, I’m nearly there, another four walking days will see me finished which I thought would be easy to achieve this year, but that’s a promise I’m holding lightly.

The autobiographical words illuminate Terry’s love of the hills and of the many Lake District characters that dwell between the mountains. Although having read the book I am slightly concerned about Terry’s health and safety practices while out and about, he does like a visit to the local hospitals.

We live in a world where it is possible to know so much about people, but not really know them. Sometimes we convince ourselves that in our reading, watching and social media interactions that we have got to know someone, but it’s not the same as really knowing someone. That lack of knowing doesn’t stop us having a connection with someone and that’s how I feel about Terry, this book and other interactions have given me a connection, and my life is richer for it. His regular posting on Twitter and elsewhere are an inspiration, and so is the book.

I’m Reading “The Salt Path” by Raynor Winn

I recently found myself in an unusual place, not knowing where to turn next, because I’d reached the end of a couple of series of books. I’ve recently been re-reading the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis which has been wonderful, but the Last Battle had been and gone. I’ve also been loving the Sidney Chambers series by James Runcie, but that had recently concluded with the prequal. Then there’s been the DCI Ryan novels by L.J. Ross and they finished with a Christmas mystery (although a new one is arriving tomorrow). Like I say, I wasn’t at all sure where to go next when a birthday present arrived – “The Salt Path” by Raynor Winn.

Series of books are great because you get to go deeper with the characters, starting something completely different can be a joyous revelation of new things.

The series above are all novels, “The Salt Path” is more of a biography charting a very personal journey along the The South West Coast Path by Raynor and her husband Moth. The South West Coast Path is a 630 mile ramble from Minehead in Somerset to Land’s End in Cornwall and then on to Poole in Dorset.

I love walking coastlines, but they are hard work especially in somewhere like the South West coast where you can’t walk the beach and spend your life descending into steep valleys and then ascending out of them.

While the physical journey is part of this book, it’s not the major part. Without giving the story away I can tell you that Raynor and Moth have been through a terrible time and for most people even contemplating this walk would be madness, but in their position it feels dangerous, deadly even. Yet, when they set out I understood, absolutely, why they were doing it. The alternatives to the hike were significantly worse.

For Raynor and Moth this walk becomes a journey of discovery, a journey of redemption and ultimately a journey of new resilience.

Most of the time I don’t talk to others about the books that I read, the nearest I get is to write one of these posts, but I’ve found myself talking to numerous people about this one. There are so many anecdotes and stories that I have wanted to share with friends and family. The stories are often funny and regularly amazing. I’m not going to tell any of those stories here, because you can buy the book, and that’s what I want you to do – buy it, read it and let it impact you. This is a book that impacted me and I’m quite sure I’m not the only one.

Header Image: This isn’t Cornwall, this is Barra in the Outer Hebrides.

I’m reading… “Time and How to Spend It” by James Wallman

I really liked this book, it met so many of the criteria for a good book for me:

I like books with practical advice that is communicated as principles rather than prescriptions.

I like books with stories, we are made to remember stories.

I like books based on evidence, particularly when the author acknowledges that the evidence is indicative rather than definitive.

I’ve spent much of my life with a couple of quotations about time ringing through my head:

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Which I didn’t realise until writing this post was simply an extension of Albert Einstein’s quotation “Time is an illusion”.

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”

C.S. Lewis

These two quotations are, in some regards, contradictory. Time can’t be both an illusion and a constant ticking of minutes and yet, for me, this contradiction speaks volumes. We each have the same number of minutes in a day, that is true, and yet, each of us recognises that how we use those minutes greatly influences how we perceive our day. The spending of minutes is where this book is focused, but not where most of this type of book focus their study, on our work life and how to get ahead, this book is primarily targeted at all that time you have when you aren’t working.

James Wallman begins Time and How To Spend It with a couple of quotations:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Annie Dillard

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

William Penn

How do you spend your time? Yes, you spend a lot of it asleep and, probably, another huge section at that thing you call work, but what about the remaining minutes? Have you ever received any training on how to spend that other time? Do you know what type of activity in your free time would enrich the whole of your life? How do you avoid those times where you feel like you’ve wasted your time? How do you get the best value out of your free time? Can you really call time free?

As I look around my friends, acquaintances and colleagues I see so many different ways that people use the free time that they have. Some people appear to achieve so much and have such amazing experiences while others have little to show for the time that they have spent. What are the things that separate these two extremes? Does it matter? Well it does if we can enrich our whole life and even extend them by investing our time in particular ways.

James Wallman’s hypothesis is precisely that, apply a set of principles to spending our leisure time will greatly enrich our lives.

The reality is, though, that many of us have a very uneasy relationship with the free time that we have. A quotation from the opening chapter of the book:

“The popular assumption is that no skills are involved in enjoying free time, and that anybody can do it. Yet the evidence suggests the opposite: free time is more difficult to enjoy than work. Having leisure at one’s disposal does not improve the quality of life unless one knows how to use it effectively, and it is by no means something one learns automatically.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Why are we so uneasy, particularly now? This is a summary of the reasons that James Wallmam gives:

  • We are earning more which makes the cost of time seem higher and feel more scarce.
  • We think that busyness is status.
  • We have too many incoming messages and too many demands on our time.
  • Instead of helping, multitasking creates ‘contaminated time’.
  • We have more opportunities than ever – endlessly scrolling online, more new places to go and events to attend – and end up feeling FOMO (fear of missing out).
  • Smartphones and all of our digital devices now eat around 60% of our leisure time.
  • Leisure isn’t taught, and has become trivialised, belittled.

James Wallman likens the different ways that we spend time to the different foods that we eat, some foods being empty-calories, like all of that endless scrolling, and others being super-foods, like a walk with a close friend along a beach. The aim of the book being to teach us how to recognise and consume super-food experiences rather than flopping into an empty-calorie existence.

The structure of the book is based on an acrostic of the word STORIES with each of the letters highlighting a characteristic of great experiences:

  • Story – understanding the hero’s journey and what makes a great story.
  • Transformation – creating personal growth leads to happiness.
  • Outside and Offline – there’s huge power in being outside and away from all of those interruptions.
  • Relationships – loneliness isn’t healthy, we are made to do things together.
  • Intensity – this is about flow, which is a huge subject in its own right.
  • Extraordinary – creating a balance between novel and ordinary experiences.
  • Status and Significance – creating significance by investing in others.

With a combination of stories, evidence and anecdote each of these chapters creates a set of principles that define those super-food experiences.

I normally leave this bit until the end, but it’s appropriate here:

Header Image: Today’s header image was taken on a recent holiday when I was contemplating many of the principles in this book.

The picture was taken at the Low Wood Bay, Windermere, UK – this place has been a special place in Sue and I’s lives for over 30 years, so returning was extending an already significant story in our lives.

We are stood on a jetty from where we left our wedding reception in a speedboat. As with the day of this picture, it had been a lovely day that we would remember for the rest of our lives. There are many parts of that day that I don’t remember the detail of, but I remember the feeling of stepping into a speedboat that had been kindly decorated by the staff with trailing buoys and a Just Married poster. We kept this part of our wedding a secret, so it was a surprise to nearly everyone and the look on their faces as we zoomed off across the lake is etched into my memory.

Having taken a few picture we put out phones away and we stood and remembered, together, outside, in a kind of flow as we thought about our children, the things we had enjoyed together and the blessing of seeing them both in loving relationships of their own. We thought about some of the adventures that we had been on and looked forward to adventures to come, even the very next day. We looked across the lake at the beauty of it all and held hands.

We used STORIES to extend and enrich our story.

For a slightly longer summary of the information in the book the following is a good podcast:

I’m reading… “Nonviolent Communication – A Language for Life” by Marshall B. Rosenberg

I’m always on the look out for books that people are reading and finding helpful, interesting, entertaining, etc. Sometimes people recommend something to me, at other times I see a video or a talk by someone and decide to read their book. I found this one via a different route.

One of the subjects that I find interesting is organisational change, particularly in large organisation. The change at Microsoft since Satya Nadella become CEO has been on of the most dramatic organisational changes in recent years. I read his book Hit Refresh a little while ago and was fascinated by the definition of the organisation as a group of warring factions. What I missed from that book and only understood later on was that he had made his entire leadership team read a book as part of changing the warring factions situation – Nonviolent Communication is that book.

This isn’t a new book having been first published in 1999 based on research and experience that dates back to the 1960s. Nor is this a “Business Management” book of the type that you may expect the leader of a large enterprise to be giving out. This book isn’t a business management book at all, really, it would be better to describe it as a “tools for life” book.

As the name suggests this is a book about communication, another subject that has fascinated me for a very long time.

As the introduction to the book says:

“NVC (Nonviolent Communication) is founded on language and communication skills that strengthen our ability to remain human, even under trying conditions. it contains nothing new; all that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries. The intent is to remind us about what we already know – about how we humans were meant to relate to one another – and to assist us in living in a way that concretely manifests this knowledge.”

Nonviolent Communications – A Way to Focus Attention

In these posts I normally give a bit of an overview of the book; I’m not going to do that this time because this is a book that deserves to be read and not consumed as a summary.

The other thing I normally do is provide some personal observations; I’m not going to do that either. Many of my personal observations are very personal and require a bit longer to become part of who I am before I write about the. What I will say is that reading through this book has helped me to see a number of things that I do when I communicate that I need to change, it’s also given me some tools to make those changes.

What I will do is to say what this book isn’t. This book isn’t a how-to prescriptive manual for counselling conversation, although much of what is in the book would be helpful for those situations. Neither is it a book of listening skills, although it includes many great insights on how to be a great listener. It’s not even a manual on how to be politically correct, although some of the examples could be read that way if you were so inclined. This book isn’t just about giving good communication, it’s also about receiving it well.

I started reading this book part way through a series of posts that in my head is called “fascinating conversations”. Once I’d started reading this book I felt that I needed to finish it before continuing those posts for fear of simply adding to my catalogue of poor behaviour. I haven’t yet decided whether I will restart those posts, I probably will, but I need to change some of the language.

Having read it I can understand why Satya Nadella made it mandatory reading for his leadership team.

I’m Reading… “Humility Is The New Smart – Rethinking Human Excellence In the Smart Machine Age” by Edward D. Hess and Katherine Ludwig

Everywhere you look technology is changing how we do things and what we do. While this change already feels dramatic the reality is that it’s only just begun. There are many estimates about how significant this change is going to be, the latest one was published in the UK, this week, by the Office of National Statistics: Automation could replace 1.5 million jobs, says ONS. To be clear about the statistics here, this is 1.5 million jobs in England (not the whole of the UK or GB) and represents 7.4% of jobs. The slight irony of this report is that it is accompanied by a ChatBot which will tell you about which jobs are at risk, thus demonstrating the levels of disruption already underway.

Society is on the leading edge of a technology tsunami. Advances in artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, virtual reality, robotics, nanotechnology, deep learning, mapping the human brain, and biomedical, genetic, and cyborg engineering will revolutionize how most of us live and work. Technology will be able to learn, as well as teach and program itself. We call this next big step the Smart Machine Age, or SMA.

Hess, Edward D.. Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (p. 1). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

As with any change, we have a choice, we can either ignore it, or we can recognise it and respond. Once we recognise that a response is required the next sensible question is “how?”

  • How is the change going to impact me?
  • What skills am I going to need for the future?
  • What skills is my organisation going to need for the future?

It’s these questions that this book is speaking into by arguing that we need a new mindset and new behaviours.

They argue that the way we think isn’t suitable for the SMA:

Mental models guide our thoughts and actions and predispose us to behave in certain ways. They can help us simplify the world and operate efficiently, but they can also be limiting and destructive when they’re like concrete bunkers, blinding or repelling us from ideas, facts, or perspectives that challenge our views of the world. Many of our mental models are stuck in ideas and perceptions originating in the Industrial Revolution. The SMA is a new reality requiring new ideas and rules.

Hess, Edward D.. Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (pp. 33-34).

What’s the route to these required mindset changes? Humility:

What ultimately is needed to thrive in the coming SMA is this kind of openness to perceiving and processing the world more as it is and not merely as we believe or would like it to be. That is what’s at the heart of our definition of Humility. In the SMA, we all will have to acknowledge the need to spend less time focused on “big me” and instead balance our competitive spirit with a collaborative spirit, because critical thinking, innovative thinking, and high emotional engagement are all team sports—“big us.”

Hess, Edward D.. Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age (p. 60). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

The book then goes on to describe a set of NewSmart Behaviours that will enable us to make this mindset change and to create a posture of humility:

  • Quieting Ego
  • Managing Self: Thinking and Emotions
  • Reflective Listening
  • Otherness: Emotionally Connecting and Relating

The final section of the book broadens these ideas beyond purely personal changes and focuses on the ways in which these changes are impacting teams and the changes to the ways in which we lead the NewSmart Organisation.

Sometimes it’s difficult to summarise a book into just a few words. For me, this book is itself a summary, it’s chocked full of many interesting and valuable ideas, but isn’t sufficient for us to become NewSmart. In no way is that a criticism, I’m not sure that any book could be sufficient, reading a few pages on Reflective Listening or Quieting Ego isn’t sufficient to change behaviours that we’ve built up over decades (for some of us). Those few pages may be sufficient to get us started on our journey of becoming NewSmart which, itself, would be a great achievement. Sometimes the most difficult part of a journey is to work out the starting direction.

This book draws an a number of books that I’ve already read so there were, for me, times when I felt like I was going over old ground. Again, this isn’t a criticism, it’s great to see ideas proliferate beyond the boundary of a single book.

Humility Is The New Smart includes many Reflection Time sections and a couple of Assessment Tools I found these some of the most valuable parts of the book, taking the time to contemplate the next steps and to dig a bit deeper into the mindset or behaviour being highlighted. I contacted Ed Hess via twitter to see if these were available as a separate document, but unfortunately they aren’t. I wanted to be able to annotate my thoughts and conclusions, which isn’t easy to do in a small area in a book.

In conclusion: The world we live in is changing it’s time to get prepared, and this book gives a great summary of how to develop.

Header Image: Today’s picture is of the Blackthorn blossom which is currently brightening up my morning walk in the fields near to my house.

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