Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings: How to Get By Without Even Trying

Sarah Cooper’s book 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings, is very much a fun, and funny book, which, is also surprisingly useful and relevant. Part satire, part social commentary, it reminds us of people and situations we’ve been in and gives us the opportunity to laugh at others and ourselves. If you’ve been in any medium to large size organization (or had to interact with one), you’ve seen most of these “tricks” in action, and you’re likely to want to share select items with others, laugh out loud, or perhaps wistfully imagine life where these things didn’t happen. But the book offers more than just the opportunity to mock your corporate colleagues. After having a good laugh, you have the opportunity to think about why some of these tricks, — especially the ones that sound so reasonable — make you cringe when you see them in action. And that thought process can lead to better collaboration.

Let’s start by taking a step back (see tip # 3). All of the items Cooper mentions are things that really happen, and they don’t always make you cringe. The answer is (Imagine this on a slide by itself — tip # 53): “Context.” While you’ve probably seen all of these techniques be presented as part of a collection of meeting tactics and mechanisms. When you are doing these things for the right reasons, with the interests of the group in mind, most of these tricks in the book can be useful. It’s when you do them to win an argument, suppress ideas, or just because “it’s what you do” that the techniques become cringe worthy. If reading this book makes you more self aware of how you appear in meetings, you’ll get extra value. Though the humor value is more than enough to justify getting the book.

After you read Cooper's book (and I do suggest that you follow her advice and get a copy for yourself as well as a copy or two for a colleague), think about the meetings you've been in and the ones you are about to be in. Consider if they are useful, and have only the right people. Some are. Many aren't. I suggest getting a physical copy of the book, because having one in the office (and perhaps on the table during certain meetings) will help people keep their jobs in perspective.

Sara Cooper captures the essence of useless meetings with humor and uncanny accuracy.
100 Tricks is a fun, entertaining read in the spirit of Dilbert, which will amuse you, help you get through a demoralizing day at work, and surprisingly, help you think about how to do better.

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.