Thursday, 31 March 2016

What I've been reading - January

As part of studying for the DBA I'm reading more books at the moment and thought I'd have a go at writing up a short summary each month on what I've consumed.

Let's start with January's haul...and hopefully in the months to come I will catch up a bit...

Two books this month on stories.

In "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"  Joseph Campbell explores the world of mythology and introduces us to the "Monomyth".  In essence all the varied stories from different cultures and traditions reduce down to a similar core.  Our hero of the tale ventures forth from their normal life into a supernatural world where they encounter challenges that they must overcome before the triumphant return bearing "the ultimate boon".  Different supporting cast appear or not and variances such as whether the return is assisted or is an escape are there but at the core we have the same basic structure to the story.   I found it very interesting to encounter so many mythologies that I had not come across before along with some familiar tales.  I was familiar with Jonah's exploits with the whale but previously unaware that the Eskimo's have a tale of the Raven that enters the belly of a whale. Not always an easy read (phrases like "and other concupiscent incubi of the rout of Pan" seeing me reaching for my Chambers app) but an enjoyable one.

"Morphology of the Folktale" by V Propp provides an astonishingly detailed framework for categorising pretty much ever significant aspect of a story and encoding it in a specific notation.  To take but one example the notation and analysis distinguish between the various ways that the hero of the tale "acquires the use of a magical agent" - was it directly transferred to them, or maybe it was pointed out to them, or fell into their hands by chance, or appeared of its own accord, or was consumed by them, or made for them, or sold to them, or seized by them, or (if it is an animal) places itself at their disposal.   These different possibilities all have their own encoding building up to a notation for the whole tale.   Here is one example showing how each step of the myth is encoded and builds up to a single "phrase" for the whole tale so you get the idea...

An impressive piece of work but of the two books I'd recommend Campbell's book as the more engaging.

"Obliquity: why our goals are best achieved indirectly" by John Kay offered a complete contrast. The essence of the book is that the best way of achieving what we want may not be to directly aim for it.   Think for example of a business that wants to increase revenue and profits.  It could focus on measuring and reporting those figures or it could identify something else that would drive the desired outcome.   I recently read about a company that had decided to focus its energies on being a great employer and creating an environment and culture that put employees first.   The argument being that great, happy employees provide good service to your customers.   Great customer service retains existing business and attracts new clients as well.  Result... increased revenue and profits.

The final one for this month is "The Shift: The Future of Work is already here" by Lynda Gratton.   I'd heard Lynda talk on this topic a couple of years ago at a London Business School event so it was good to take some time to read the book to build on what I had heard already. In the book she lays out a range of possible scenarios for the future world of work and how we may be operating.  Done through a series of scenarios detailing the lives of fictitious workers of the future various possibilities are brought to life.   She argues that we will see shifts in work increasingly play out.  One of the most significant I thought was her suggestion that we will need to achieve serial mastery.  General skills, knowing a little about lots of things won't count for as much as detailed mastery.  Given the rate of change and also the length of time people will be working however they will also need to be able to shift into other areas over time developing mastery in one area and then another.