The first book that I'm going to give to my learning and technology team is Rework, by the guys from 37Signals.
288 concise pages - or less than 3 hours in unabridged audio format. We need more books to be this good and this short.
37Signals is best known for its simple, cloud based project management tool Basecamp.
I'm a Basecamp client, and have been using the tool productively for a few years now. If you have ever had to do a project with MS Project, or solely by e-mail and spreadsheets, than you will appreciate the simplicity, elegance, and flexibility of Basecamp.
The founders of 37Signals developed Basecamp to manage their own internal projects, only then realizing they had a service on their hands that other small teams would find useful. Basecamp requires no support from your central IT organization, no local hardware, and no expertise in project management. You can be up and running with a free 30 day trial in 60 seconds. Plans start at $24 a month.
Basecamp is not just a product but also a philosophy. Less features well done are better than many features that complicate a product. Offer services that are lightweight and agile, and resist the urge to meet the needs of every customer. Let your customer outgrow your product. Basecamp is the physical (or digital?) manifestation of the philosophy of work that 37Signals is selling in Rework. The company prides itself on keeping operations lean, costs down, working arrangements flexible, and paid marketing to a minimum. If you work for 37Signals you don't attend many meetings, don't write many strategic plans, and don't give many internal presentations. You are expected and encouraged to carve out quiet time for productive work, to share your work product early and often, and to be open to criticism.
What you are not expected to do is work insane hours, sacrifice family or sleep time, or set unrealistic deadlines or goals.
It could be that 37Signals got lucky with Basecamp, and are falling into the fallacy of assuming that their work culture is an optimal culture because it produced Basecamp. The other products from 37Signals, Highrise (contact tracking), Backpack (Intranet), and Campfire (code sharing) have not enjoyed nearly the same level of success as Basecamp.
We know from Leonard Mlodinow's book, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, that we all under-estimate the role of chance in our successes and failures. Nor is the advice in Rework particularly original. Experts like James O'Toole have long been recommending more flexible and less hierarchal workplaces.
What is different about Rework is that the founders of 37Signals are pitching their ideas at a level that can work with small teams on the sorts of projects and tasks that we all do. Anyone in charge of rolling out and supporting new learning technology services will benefit from reading Rework. You don't need a top-down re-org or permission from your leadership to make our products and team interactions more like those of 37Signals. We are all in some measure complacent in meeting cultures , reliances on committees, and the putting off of "shipping" new services until that mythical time the platform meets everyone's needs.
Rework should provoke a good discussion of how your team does things differently from how the team at 37Signals approaches tasks. In the end you may not decide to adopt all of the recommendations in Rework, but I guarantee that this book cause you to take a hard look at how your group operates.
Any Basecamp users want to jump in on the service? What do you think about the idea of writing a short book like Rework that spells out your work culture philosophy and the thinking behind the services you offer?
When I was in 9th grade (in 1984) I subscribed to 4 car magazines: Motor Trend, Car & Driver, Road & Track, and & Automobile. Today, my fondest dream is to own zero cars and to rent an occasional Zip Car (preferably a Prius, Volt, or Leaf) whenever the need for driving should arise.
Reading "Engines of Change" was a good reminder for me about how important automobiles once loomed in my worldview. At some point my passion for cars was replaced by a passion for computers and technology. At 14 I thought I wanted to be an automotive journalist, and 42 I'm very happy to work at the intersection of education and technology (and to be driving a minivan - slowly).
I'm betting that my story, one of a shift from a love of automobiles to a love of computers, is not unique. How many teenagers who once spent time changing spark plugs and reading car magazines morphed into building PCs and hanging out on computing message boards? I have this theory that today's computer geeks were yesterday's car enthusiasts - and that is why today's Apple new product announcements are so much more exciting than the new model car launches.
Ingrassia takes us back to a time when new cars really mattered. He profiles 15 cars that have had a large impact on American culture. These stories are all engaging and well-told, and in learning about the Model T or the Corvette or the Mustang or the Honda Accord we also learn a great deal about the times in which they were introduced. This is not a book about the "15 best cars of all time", rather Ingrassia is interesting in describing the cars that had the biggest cultural impact.
Ford's Model T literally changed how American society was organized, as an affordable mass produced automobile was a prerequisite to a rural to urban migration and a mobile society. The Honda Accord was the first Japanese car to be built in a U.S. factory (in Ohio), and ushered in a long-term transition away from UAW dominance and the decline of The Big 3. The Chrysler minivan (a Lee Iacocca encore after bringing to life the Mustang) killed the traditional station wagon, empowered a new generation of soccer parents, and eventually led to Mercedes Benz's disastrous and short-lived purchase of Chrysler.
Ingrassia is a terrific writer, and is also the author of the excellent Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road to Bankruptcy and Bailout-and Beyond. I hope that Ingrassia's next project is about the only cars that really excite me now, cars that run on electricity (although his chapter on the Prius in Engines of Change is excellent).
I think that there is a huge market of computer geeks (and educational technologists!) just waiting to buy our first batter powered car, as soon as the technology improves and the costs come down to a point where electric cars are nearly competitive with gas powered vehicles.
The world, or at least my world, needs more high quality concise books. Bryson's new Shakespeare, from the Eminent Lives Series, is one of the genres better examples.
The Modern Library Chronicles is another imprint with some excellent texts. To quote from their page:
"Modern Library Chronicles feature the world's great historians on the world's great subjects. Lively, accessible, and brief (most under 150 pages), these authoritative short histories are designed to appeal to general readers as well as to students in the classroom".
Wonderful, sweeping economic history of the world by one of my favorite writers (Bernstein also wrote "The Birth of Plenty"). These "big" history and "big" thought books are a great antidote to the short time frames and disposable knowledge of our blogging and information overload world. Helps to have a long-term framework to understand our own material lives. Excellent counterpart to Friedman's The World is Flat.
Fascinating extension of the evolutionary psychology framework. Argues that our brains have evolved in often "klugy" ways, meaning that evolution favors what works (and what comes first) and not what is optimal. I learned a good deal about things like memory, emotions, and perception...and now I know why I can be so dumb sometimes. Well written....a fun read.
Fun book from the NYTime's Magazine Consumed column...delves into the world of "murketing" - the new method of connecting with consumers who are immune to traditional mass marketing. Some interesting connections on how we could "market" educational technology.
You will never go into someone's house or office in the same way again. A psychologist who pioneered the field of personality research based on peoples stuff.
The author, a physicist at Cal Tech, is among those rare academics who both write beautifully, and can manage to make complex explanations understandable. This book definitely changed how I understand some fundamental aspects of my life and the lives of those around me, as getting a handle on randomness and probability (which again, our brains don't seem to be built easily to accomplish), helps illuminate some of the fundamental errors in judgment that I seem to make all too often.
Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein covers many of the same studies and experiments, and then puts a public policy slant on the conclusions. I'm finding in these sorts of books that the same academic studies and examples pop-up time after time, which is good as it takes me about 5 times to get them straight. Where Sway helped me understand why I'm susceptible to make bad decisions, Nudge helped me understand how I can use the principles of "choice architecture" to influence events and decisions. Both worthwhile reads for folks like us who have a vision of education we are trying to implement, both in terms of why people do things the way they do, and some "libertarian paternalistic" ways to shape decisions and actions.
The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman, Rom Brafman is a sweet, short popularizer of the current social psych and behavioral econ research.
The original academic and body of research that Gladwell based his best-selling "Blink" on. Gigerenzer experiments on "fast and frugal" decision making have many implications for situations we face all the time in our lives - I just have not quite worked out if I'm so easily swayed and nudged (see below), and my mental probabilistic machinery is so poor (again see below) when I should trust my gut feelings and when I should do the opposite.
Report Inappropriate Content