Few months ago I published a list of books that I really, really wanted to read in 2015. 2015 is finished so I can now tell you how it went.

…and there isn’t much I can be proud of. Out of the 14 books I read.. well… around 3. Not exactly 3 because in fact I read 2 books and also halves of another 2 books. At first I was really disappointed when I realized this. But after some thinking, it doesn’t look so bad any more.

  • The list was published end of May 2015, which gave me only 7 month and not the whole year. Still the 3/14 ratio sucks big time.
  • I have read few books outside the list. Apparently, new topics (e.g. user stories) got my attention in 2015 and I decided to devote more time to them .
  • I have read numerous blog posts and watched many online presentations. It seems much easier to read/watch them than read a book. You can read a blog post during a short break but you can’t (or at least I can’t) read a book like this.
  • The books on my list were mostly about “background” stuff – things which aren’t urgent but crucial in the long term (think Eisenhower method important and not-urgent tasks). It is OK I haven’t read them all as long as I go back and pick one from time to time.

Now, what has it thought me?

  • Long list of books “to read in the nearest future” doesn’t work. I still have a list of “books I want to read one day” (and it is always growing and rarely shrinking) but I do not fool myself into thinking that I will eventually read all of them.
  • Sometimes reading a book is a waste of time – it is enough to read what others have learned from it (at this point it is hard not to mention Pierre Bayard’s “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read”)
  • I have very limited time for reading books. I should pick them wisely so I do not waste it.

I will end my today’s mumblings with the quote of Stanisław Lem:

“No one reads;

if someone does read, he doesn’t understand;

if he understands, he immediately forgets.”

Enjoy reading, folks! 🙂

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink.

The book is all about motivation. It explains why the old way of carrot & stick does not work any more. And it shows the new motivation based on three pillars: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
I will not repeat what the book says, I guess you already know it from famous video (see below). All I want to say, is that even if you know the video, the book is still worth your time.

The most inspiring thing I have learned from this book, is the tiny little thing somewhere near the end of the book. It is about defining yourself with one sentence. Like, what would you like them put on your grave, or what would you like others to say about you. The author calls it a big question and it really gets big once you try to answer it. I tried and I answered it. And it explained to me why I do things the way I do, and it helped me to choose what to do next with my life. I hope it helps you as well.

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All in all, this is a great book. Doesn’t matter if you look for motivation for yourself, or you wonder how to help your team. In both cases you will learn something valuable. Read it!

When listening to talks during the last conferences I attended – ACE! Conference and GeeCON – I have noticed that there are some books which titles reappear here and then. I guess this is because they are worth reading. And I plan to read them in 2015 (omg, need some extra time for this!). I have added a short note to each of them to give you idea of what to expect of them.

  • Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow – probably the most often mentioned book. Definitely a must-read! All kinds of cognitive biases brilliantly illustrated. (BTW. Now that I’ve read the book I still have no clue what to do with this knowledge, but that is another story).
  • Dan Ariely Predictably Irrational – we are not as rational as we think. Surprised?
  • Linda Rising Fearless Change – so you have this great, revolutionary idea? Cool, but how you gonna make others see it and follow you?
  • Laurie Williams, Robert Kessler Pair Programming Illuminated – seems simple but how to do it right?
  • Teresa Amabile The Progress Principle – you can make your work place more enjoyable (for you and others).
  • Giff Constable Talking to Humans: Success starts with understanding your customers – master the interactions with humans and the sky will be your limit.
  • Brian W. Fitzpatrick, Ben Collins-Sussman Team Geek A Software Developer’s Guide to Working Well with Others – coding is a team activity, so maybe we could improve our soft skills?
  • Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams – oldie-goldie about the social side of IT work
  • Daniel Pink The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – the days of carrot & stick motivation are gone. Our motivation is of different kind. We are driven by mastery, autonomy and purpose. Read the book to find out more – you won’t be disappointed!
  • Tom DeMarco Slack – creativity can’t be rushed so you better add some slack, so it can happen.
  • Kotter Our Iceberg is melting – the fear of (inevitable) change is paralysing us, so how can we take action?
  • Chris Guillebeau The Art of Non-Conformity – be yourself and prosper
  • Ed Catmull Creativity Inc – add some creativity to the life of your organization – written by one of Pixar’s founders
  • Nancy Kline Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind – attentive listening as the key to your business and social success

Last, but not least, there are also my books. I do not plan to read them, but maybe you will. See the links below.

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P.S. You can read the follow up of this post here.

I’ve been reading “Thinking in Systems” by Donella H. Meadows recently. A good book, definitely worth my time (and yours probably as well). Among many interesting things I have found three, which draw my attention, because of some IT/programming connotations.

Big Black Box

Well, yes. A poem. It is about systems, but fits quite nicely to some of our experiences with software. So here it comes:

Kenneth Boulding (published in “General Systems as a Point of View”, 1963)

A system is a big black box
Of which we can't unlock the locks,
And all we can find out about
Is what goes in and what comes out.
Perciving input-output pairs,
Related by parameters,
Permits us, sometimes to relate
An input, output and a state.
If this relation's good and stable
Then to predict we may be able,
But if this fails us - heaven forbid!
We'll be compelled to force the lid!

You See, You Care

In the book there is a short side-story about some Dutch families. To make this extremely short, I will tell you only that the electricity bills of families in the same neighbourhood differed by 1/3. All of them lived in very similar (if not same) houses. The only difference was the place the counter was located – in some cases it was hidden in the basement, while in other cases it was somewhere near the entrance. The “basement families” paid about 1/3 more than the “entrance families”. Why? The explanation is, that seeing the counter moving caused people to think more about the energy (and money!) saving. Period.

When I read this, the bell rang in my head: information radiators! It might be, that just by looking at the status of CI jobs, or some important production metrics, we tend to care more about the products we create. Wow!

Drift to Lower Performance / Eroding Goals

Another interesting point taken from this book is about the systems drifting towards low performance:

“Drift to low performance is a gradual process. If the system state plunged quickly, there would be an agitated corrective process. But if it drifts down slowly enough to erase the memory of (or belief in) how much better things used to be, everyone is lulled into lower and lower expectations, lower effort, lower performance.”

And the “way out” of this trap, is to “keep performance standards absolute”. Avoid excuses like: “Well, we’re not doing much worse than we were last year.” Avoid lowering your standards because you are out of time. Keep them high.