Saturday, October 8, 2016

Mindfulness, Resilience and Positive Intelligence (Book Review)

I got a copy of Positive Intelligence at the recommendation of a leadership coach. After having done the “Saboteur” quiz on the Positive Intelligence site, I wanted to learn more about the his approach. While the book gets at some of the concepts I've seen in other places, the approach is worth exploring.

The positive intelligence framework is that we have within us Saboteurs, which hold us back, and a Sage, which helps us explore possibilities. While the anthropomorphism initially made me feel a bit awkward, there is some power in ascribing non-productive reactions to a part of your thought process, and giving it a name. The book explains techniques to both be more attentive to, and thus able to suppress, your saboteurs, and also how to “strengthen” your Sage, so you can treat setbacks as opportunities more readily.

Some of the basic themes of Positive Intelligence may sound familiar if you’ve spent any time learning about team leadership, but Chamine’s way of modeling them adds an interesting and compelling twist. Saboteurs are reminiscent of the concept of “survival rules” that I first learned about while reading one of Jerry Weinberg’s Becoming a Technical Leader. Like survival rules, saboteurs are useful in certain circumstances, but have negative effects when you misapply them. Chamine describes how each Saboteur manifests themselves in terms of how you feel, act, and how others may perceive you. He then describes techniques to become more aware of them so that you can take a step back and act appropriately.

In short, this is a book about mindfulness and resilience, both very useful concepts that are very difficult to apply. Even if you feel like you have a basic appreciation of the how to be be more mindful and resilient, reading about them again, and considering a slightly different approach to achieving them can’t hurt.

While it has a business focus, you can apply what you learn to both personal and work situations. The author also explains how to apply the model and techniques in individual and team contexts. And while not about Agile, the book also left me with some ideas for activities to use in Sprint Retrospectives, which are after all, a practice teams use to be more mindful and resilient.

Positive Intelligence is a rather quick read (but you will want to take notes and mark pages), which mixes discussions, stories, and practices, so you can apply what you’ve learned. The book also makes frequent references to resource on the companion website. If you feel that negative reactions are holding you back, even subtly, this book is worth a read.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tribe: A Multi Level Discussion of Community

Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging is a book about the seemingly unlikely combination of community and war. It covered a lot of ground, and as such left me with a bit unsure of what Junger wanted his readers to take from it. But perhaps that’s his point: community and interdependence is a complex issue that works on many levels. You may not agree with all of Junger’s conclusions, or simply have a lot of questions, but since he has a number of references in the back, you have to tools to explore his sources more deeply.

Because of diversity of the topics in the book, Tribe got me thinking about quite a few things in ways that I hadn’t expected. The book opens with a discussion the realization that modern society seems to be at odds with the intrinsic values that “self-determination theory” describes, and how the values of tribal societies support mental (and physical) health in both direct in direct ways. With a mix of history, quotes, stories from his experience, and analysis, Junger makes a compelling argument for why we need to think about why we lost some of these values from early societies and how to get them back.

This book could simply be a discussion of how our society lacks the values and social interactions of traditional tribal societies, and how we reintegrate that sense of community into our modern lives. But the book goes into the interesting direction of describing how we often do create these kinds of “tribes” when faced with adversity. He draws examples from times of disaster and war, and the bulk of the book discusses how how the disconnect between the majority of society behaves and how groups work together in combat situations can get in the way of veterans reintegrating into society.

The book alternates between the macro problem of how to help veterans (and others who do difficult, traumatic work on our behalf) feel part of our society, and the micro problem of how we, as individuals, can maintain connections and responsibility. While a bit disorienting at first, the combination makes sense in the end, as developing a community is something that works at all levels of scale.

A recurring, underlying, question, throughout the book is “why is it that we work together best, when things are at their worst, but abandon good principles and practices when things get better?” Junger explores this in great detail in the context of war and disaster. On a seemingly more trivial level it also happens in the context of projects; I’ve often seen the best collaboration happen when a team is faced with a project in crisis. The irony is that, if they’d had the same kind of collaboration — at a less intense level — earlier in the process there would be no crisis. We’d all benefit from thinking about why we don’t realize the values of community, collaboration, and interdependence until we are at a crisis.

Tribe is a book about many things that will likely get you thinking about society, how you fit into it, and how you’d like to fit into it, and is worth the short investment of reading time, though be forewarned that it may lead to a greater investment in thought.