I’m Reading: “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning: 1947 Cover

I have certain books that have sat in my “I must get around to reading that” list for a very long time.

Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” is one of the books from that list.

In this book Victor Frankl talks through his experiences in the Concentration Camps during the Second World War and from those experience how he developed a school of psychological therapy.

It’s a book of huge insight that is derived from the most awful situation. This isn’t a morbid book, or even a bitter one, it’s full of gems that each of us can apply to our normal lives, but it is full for dreadful details.

A few quotes that struck me, although I hesitate to use them, because each one stands within a context for which the overall meaning may be missing by taking them out of that context:

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

“So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

“I shall never forget how I was roused one night by the groans of a fellow prisoner, who threw himself about in his sleep, obviously having a horrible nightmare. Since I had always been especially sorry for people who suffered from fearful dreams or deliria, I wanted to wake the poor man. Suddenly I drew back the hand which was ready to shake him, frightened at the thing I was about to do. At that moment I became intensely conscious of the fact that no dream, no matter how horrible, could be as bad as the reality of the camp which surrounded us, and to which I was about to recall him.”

“Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone.”

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.”

“It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future.”

“The salvation of man is through love and in love”

“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.”

For me the greatest thought is one that I already knew, but one I need to continually relearn and that is that I have control over my response to situations and that in that response is my strength. I don’t have control over the situation, only my response to it.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I’m reading: “Wainwright: The Biography” by Hunter Davies

For lovers of the English Lake District there are a set of seven hand drawn and hand written guidebooks which have become synonymous with the hills and mountains of the region – The Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells by A. Wainwright.

Wainwright: The Biography

For a long time the author of these books was little known and the books published by a small publisher using the printing capabilities of the local newspaper.

The first of the guides was published in 1955, it wasn’t for another 11 years, in 1966, that the seventh and last was available to buy. During that time the books grew in popularity, but A. Wainwright remained a little known figure.

The strange thing was that Alfred Wainwright was quite well known in his local community, not for the books, but because he was the Borough Treasurer. This is a role which required him to attend civic functions and interact with the public. Apparently few people put A. Wainwright and Alfred Wainwright together as the same person.

Since their publication climbing the 214 hills documented in the Pictorial Guides has become a target for many, myself included.

This biography isn’t really about the guides it’s about the man who wrote the guides.

A man who came from Blackburn, a Lancashire mill town, but fell in love with the beauty of the Lake District.

A man who we all know as silver haired and old, not as someone with red hair, which he had for most of his life.

A man who had a difficult home life, much of it his own creation.

A man who scrapped the first hundred pages that he created because he preferred a fully justified writing style to the left justified one he’d started with.

A man who preferred low living and high thinking to high living and low thinking.

A man who became frustrated by the popularity of the Lake District, a popularity that he had a significant role in creating.

A man who despite being quoted as saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” rarely went out in poor weather and didn’t wear specialist mountaineering equipment, preferring instead to wait until the weather improved before venturing out.

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A page from the Pictorial Guides

A man who didn’t appear on the television until the 1980’s when he was well into his 70’s and around 30 years after the first guide was published.

A man who never learnt to drive and did much of his work by public transport.

A man who closely guarded his privacy, yet put a self-portrait in each of the guides.

The guides are masterpieces but I’m not sure how much I would have connected with the man. There are all sorts of lessons in his life about dedication and sticking to the task for the long run, but those things come at a high price.

It was great to learn something more about the man from the writing of Hunter Davies who knew him.

I’m Reading: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

There’s some literature that is assigned the category “children’s books” sometimes that limitation of audience is appropriate, but often the constraint deprives adults of wisdom and delight, that’s the case with the Jungle Book.

I’m approaching my sixth decade and haven’t interacted with Mowgli since my children were small and the Disney remodelled characters filled the screens. I don’t remember reading the Rudyard Kipling books as a child so when an audiobook became available for £0.99 I decided that it was time to meet the original characters.

We always enjoys the Disney Jungle Book and watched it often, but the original characters are multi-layered and deeper because of it.

I was surprised to find out the Kaa was really an ally of Mowgli’s. I loved the wisdom of Balloo. Mowgli is more cunning than a cartoon allows. All in all a great read/listen.

More “children’s” books will be going on the list.

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Rudyard Kipling

I’m Reading: The English and Their History by Robert Tombs

Do you know your history?

I thought I knew something about British and English history having previous read a couple of books on the subject, but there’s always more to learn.

The English and Their History is an epic, the paperback has 1024 pages, and not something I would normally get the chance to read, so I employed the technology and listened instead. Stephen Thorne’s rendition is 45 hours and 31 minutes long! That must have been quite a reading session.

The book is described as the “first full-length account to appear in one volume for many decades” which pretty much sums up a book that starts in the 5th and 6th century AD and finishes quite close to the current day. It’s amazing to think that the name England – or, rather Englalond – is over 1000 years old.

The English are an interesting breed, regarding themselves as a nation that occupies a land, neither of which are easily described and rarely universally agreed upon. I regard myself as English, but my ancestry is more complicated than that which is evident in a surname that derives from Flanders, but I’m quite typical of many English people. We are surrounded by nations with a much more definable heritage and identity, but we are mostly comfortable with our variety.

The land around me is littered with battle locations, each of which could have significantly changed the nation that we call England today. Not far away is a river where the Romans created a strategic fortification near a crossing, surrounding it today is a small town that was mostly built from the rocks used to build those fortifications. Those Romans are long gone, but their impact is still visible. Within walking distance the buildings of the industrial revolution have been redeployed to new uses that disguise their former significance; a call-centre now occupies the space where weavers would work the cotton from America. Around those building is a community that is only their become of the British Empire and the cross-continental connections that it created.

I say these things to highlight the effects that English history is still having today. As I listened to The English and Their History I was struck by how many times I could relate attitudes and biases today to things that happened hundreds of years earlier. The Brexit debate has so many parallels in our history that it’s amazing that anyone was surprised by the outcome of the vote.

I was also struck by the impact that my own history had on my own thinking processes. Pick any of the labels that I give myself and the history behind it impacts upon what that label means. As a northerner I have a certain perspective on a north-south divide that has existed for hundreds of years. As a protestant I am impacted by the shift that this nation took under the rule of Henry VIII. As an office worker I know the impact of the industrial revolution and the creation of companies.

That, for me, is the power of studying history, understanding myself and understanding others. The 45 hours I spent getting a better understanding of myself and others is already yielding a high return.

I’m reading… My Morning Routine

My Morning Routine is a site that asks people about their morning routine, as simple as that, but I really like the insights.

Some of my fascination with this site is pure nosiness, I like to know what other people get up to, there, I’ve said it.

The major part of my fascination comes from experiences in my own life where I’ve let my morning routine get in a mess, once I was in a mess I realised how important routine was, especially in a morning. Since then I’ve tried to drive a set routine for most mornings and that’s really helped.

There are a couple of other aspects of the site that I like. Firstly, most of the insights are from women, My Morning Routine is not a site dominated by middle-aged white men. Even though I am a middle-aged white man even I can have too much of them. Secondly, many of the people would only be recognised in their own field, they’re not universally famous, or even recognised, they’re not ordinary, but they aren’t celebrities either.

I thought about writing my own version of one of the My Morning Routine posts, but instead decided to highlight some of the intriguing answers that people give to the standard questions:

David Kadavy

I am not a morning person. This is exactly why first thing in the morning is my most critical creative time. Research shows that your off-peak times are the best for insightful thinking, so my one goal in the morning is to make the most of that still-slightly-groggy time.

Arianna Huffington

Yes, I treat my transition to sleep as a sacrosanct ritual.

First, I turn off all my electronic devices and gently escort them out of my bedroom. Then, I take a hot bath with epsom salts and a candle flickering nearby; a bath that I prolong if I’m feeling anxious or worried about something. I don’t sleep in my workout clothes as I used to (think of the mixed message that sends to our brains) but have pajamas, nightdresses, and even T-shirts dedicated to sleep. Sometimes I have a cup of chamomile or lavender tea if I want something warm and comforting before going to bed. I love reading real, physical books, especially poetry, novels, and books that have nothing to do with work.

Mike Vardy

I am a night owl, so my bedtime is usually around 1:00am these days.

I have a specific evening routine I carry out as well so to help me wind down my day and start the next one with a sense of direction; part of my evening routine is writing down My 3 Absolutes for the next day.

Erin Loechner

I start my morning with a simple prayer: Lord, help me see. That’s it. Nothing fancy. I find it offers me the precise amount of perspective I need throughout the day – I’m always repeating it in my head!

The statistics page is interesting, 30% of the people are 6am risers with 30% of them in bed for 10pm. 30% of them have had their current routine for more than 3 years. 60% of them check their phones immediately.

I’m reading…Tom Peters

Tom Peters is a writer on business management practices, I suppose you could call him a motivational speaker but that term has become so clichéd I’m not sure you would understand what I meant by it.

Tom is very active on twitter, he’s written over 60,000 tweets:

But the thing I love about Tom are his PowerPoint presentation decks. They are the most remarkable things. He publishes the slides that he uses at events and has also compiled a master copy called The Works while has over 50,000 words in it. A recent one from December 2016 comes to over 108 slides and obliterate many of the design rules that our modern corporate slides abide by, but the contents are thought proving and challenging:


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design-rules


women


whoever-tries-and


At the beginning of this post I said that Tom was a motivational speaker, but I also said that you may misinterpret what I meant by that, this is what I mean: I love to read through Tom slide decks because they motivate me. They motivate me to be a better leader. They motivate me to see that things can be better. They motivate me to keep trying new things. They motivate me to keep seeing new things. They motivate me to adjust my priorities.

Every time I sit in a dull, pointless meeting Tom’s words about meetings ring around my head and make me determined that we are going to do better next time:

Prepare for a meeting/every meeting as if your professional life and legacy depended on it. It does.

Most of Tom’s material is highlighted through his blog which I subscribe to via Feedly to make sure I don’t miss out. His most recent post on collected quotes has some gems in it.

I’ll leave the closing thoughts to Tom himself:

I'm reading…Steve Denning

Steve Denning’s bio on Forbes, where he writes, says:

I write about radical management, leadership, innovation & narrative.

I consult with organizations around the world on leadership, innovation, management and business narrative. For many years I worked at the World Bank, where I held many management positions, including director of knowledge management (1996-2000). I am currently a director of the Scrum Alliance, an Amazon Affiliate and a fellow of the Lean Software Society. I am the author of the Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling and The Secret Language of Leadership.

I really enjoy most of what Steve writes, but there are two areas where I especially appreciate his thought provoking articles:

The World’s Dumbest Idea

The title of these posts come from a quote by Jack Welsh in which he refers to the idea of maximising shareholder value as “the world’s dumbest idea”.

The original quote come from the FT in which Welch says:

“On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world,” he said. “Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy … Your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products.”

So why is it such a dumb idea? To radically over-simplify Denning’s writing the answer is that is reduces innovation and ultimately reduces the value of an organisation by bleeding it dry. An example of where this occurs is share buybacks:

The resources spent on share buybacks are resources that could otherwise be spent by the organization on innovation or compensating workers for their gains in productivity.

What’s the alternative? That’s summarised by another quote from Peter Drucker:

“There is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer.”

I’ll leave you to read if your interested.

Some posts:

Agile

I work in IT and the Agile movement has had a massive impact on the way that we now work.

We used to work on massive projects that regularly resulted in failure. These projects were managed through waterfall plans that were regularly late and over budget. We needed a different way of working and in 2001 a group got together in Snowbird, Utah. The result of this gathering was the Manifesto of Agile Development and the ignition of a massive change across the industry that it still, in many ways, in its infancy.

Denning isn’t a software developer, he approaches Agile, as a mindset, from the perspective of leadership and management. In 2012 he called Agile “the best-kept management secret on the planet”.

The following video is the best summary that I’ve seen, it even starts with a summary of the talk itself:

Some posts: