Book Review of Switch – Making Change When Change is Hard

Switch.jpgLet’s face it – change is often hard.  And it is most hard when the status quo has been working for us.  Nobody likes to give up strategies that have been working for us.  And this is the key issue for organisational change – what is good for the organisation can sometimes get in the way of what is comfortable for the individual.

Dan and Chip Heath look at this in depth in Switch.  What I liked most about this this book was the ways to create change that they broke down and classified (see in attached picture.

They begin by looking at the mental aspect of change (they call this the ‘Rider’) and how to get people to understand the need for change, and the ways that can undertake it with ease.  Then they look at emotions (the Elephant) – which let’s face it, often trump our logical responses (you know another chocolate is no good for you don’t you, but who can resist?).  Appealing to emotions can prompt that visceral need for change and can build excitement for change. Finally they look at the small things – how to create a pathway for change to make it easier.  We often under-estimate how powerful a small behavioural change can be.  If I sleep in my gym gear, it’s so much easier to get up and go to gym in the morning. There was nothing complicated about that solution – just clever.  A small change can make a big impact.

The Heath brothers suggest that often you will need to work through all three of these aspects in order to be successful.  Some challenges might only need to consider one.

As usual, there are lots of clever and entertaining examples, and further steps that I don’t have time to outline here.  But this was a pretty enjoyable non-fiction read, and certainly one I can see myself referencing over and over.

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Book Review of This Census Taker

census takerChina Mieville’s mind works in beautiful and mysterious ways, although this wont be among my favourite of his novels.

This Census Taker – a book I listened to first on audio and then read because I felt I must have missed stuff – has an intensely bleak setting and emotional tone.  The premise is engaging – but doesn’t really go anywhere leading to an unsatisfactory resolution.  It’s the kind of journey where you just have to appreciate the scenery because the destination just isn’t the point.

We start with a young boys who lives in a remote location, up the hill from a small town.  His mother is emotionally mute, although has taken pains to ensure he can read and write.  She occasionally tells him stories of places she lived before this.  His father though, is a figure of real fear and mystery.  He is a key-maker, but his key are far from ordinary.  They are like magic – opening up opportunities, trouble and the darkest desires of those who commission them. He has a predilection for brutally killing small animals and throwing them down a ‘rubbish hole’ a natural geographical feature on the hill which blocks view of anything thrown into the hole.

We begin the text with the boy’s claim that his father murdered his mother – and claim that initially comes out that his mother murdered his father.  It’s the first of many hints that our narrator nay be unreliable, and that his childish mind and remembrances (he is telling the story in his adulthood as a census-taker) may not be quite right.

With no evidence, while some people believe his claim, the boy is left in his care, treading carefully around a man he doesn’t understand.  Some of the townfolk initially ostracise him, but eventually it appears his particular skills encourage them to seek him out again.

One day, a census taker appears and provides a sympathetic ear to the boy, who pours his heart out to him.  We are left questioning, which man is more dangerous? (And, is he or the boy the census-taker of the title?)

So much is left unanswered in this book.  I like the sense of mystery – but I also like my mysteries to be solved – or at least solvable.

Book Review of Big Little Lies

BLLI avoided reading this incredibly popular book for quite some time, assuming it might be pretty average chick lit written only for mass appeal.  But I have to admit, I listened to this on audio and was completely spellbound.  I listened to it every moment I could and towards the end actually found myself sitting and doing nothing just so I could listen.

There are probably two reasons for Liane Moriarty’s success with this novel.  The first is with clever storytelling.  The blurb will tell you the book focusses around a death at a school trivia night, and this is true – but there is plenty  of drama in the lead up to this, and Moriarty cleverly capitalises on this by revealing just a little bit of detail at a time. the story of the months before the trivia night is interspersed with the interviews and investigations after the fact.  Every little tidbit gets your brain going – who died and how?

Secondly, there are actually some incredibly serious issues at play here – the foremost of which is violence against women.  You’ve probably heard about this already.  And also the difficulties of class, family and divorce.   So no, not as light as I thought it was.  And more importantly, Moriarty seems to actually have something to say about all of these issues.  All are dealt with in complex ways, and believable ones.  The characters in this novel could have been incredibly two-dimensional, but they’re not.  There is a kernel of emotional truth in all the choices that they make.

I’m glad I finally got to Big Little Lies.  If you haven’t yet, I would definitely recommend it.

Book Review of Autumn by Ali Smith

autumnAli Smith’s Autumn is a lyrical novel, but also a puzzling one.

Part of her Seasonal series (followed by the now released Winter), each of the novels is touted to deal with “time and how we experience it”.  This explains the non-linear narrative utilised in this novel.

The central focus here is the relationship between Elisabeth, a young girl (and at other times in the text, a young woman) and her neighbour, an elderly man called Daniel Gluck. Gluck is an exceptional kind of man – one who encourages Elisabeth to see the world in new ways. It is the central relationship of Elisabeth’s life – one that shapes her career and her future relationships.

Threaded through it all is ponderings on feminism, literature, art and Brexit – and how it could be signifying a shift to a more xenophobic world. Things no doubt high on Smith’s list of priorities and concerns in the world around her today.  It jumps around a lot – and we fins out more about Elisabeth than we do Daniel, who remains a somewhat mysterious figure.

I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it was intriguing and thought-provoking.  Much like her beautiful writing, Autumn takes things that appear mundane, and lifts them to a whole other level.

Book Review of Character Strengths Matter

character strengths matterThis is a really good primer for anyone wanting to become more familiar with the 24 VIA Character Strengths.  It gives a good outline of each, discussing them in depth as well as how they manifest in over- and under-use. It even does a good job of making you more excited about some of what might appear are the more ‘tame’ character strengths such as prudence of humility, showing how necessary and beautiful each of these are. Each character strength is accompanied by one or more short pieces to help in the reader’s consideration of them – sometimes a poem, or an extract from literature, a speech or an article. There are also five straight-forward and sadly unimaginative tips for developing each, and while not exciting these are achievable and relevant.

The end of the book is a collection of interesting articles about applying these and working with them in different areas.  Certainly will be a useful one to have on the work bookshelf.

Book Review of the PROPSER School Pathways for Student Wellbeing – Policy and Practices

PROSPERThis is another work read recommended to me by a Wellbeing expert. Although I’ve been using Seligman’s PERMA model in my own work, PROSPER is similar although makes a few other elements concrete such as the need to teach resilience.

This is a very clear discussion of all the elements with some basic ideas for implementing each.  There are helpful even helpful hints for making and implementing policy around student wellbeing at your school.  A really useful read for anyone working in this area or looking to learn about PROSPER as a model in schools.  Nothing earth-shattering or new, just a good clear reference guide.

Impressed Book Review of The Interestings

meg-wolitzer-interestings-MFBSMeg Wolitzer is incredibly easy to read – and in fact The Interestings is responsible for so many late nights in the last week.  But don’t make the mistake of thinking that all books with pacy and punchy narration are slim on content.  The Interestings is an insightful study of a group of friends who meet at a summer camp for young artistic types – and their changing relationships over the course of their lives.

Jules is on scholarship, and feels largely like an imposter at the camp.  But when she is invited to join the cool crowd in TeePee 3, she finally finds a niche that will last a lifetime.  She begins acting in comedic roles, a passion that lasts into early adulthood.  Ash and Goodman are wealthy twins, and Ash soon becomes Jules best friend and fellow actor.  Goodman is troubled and dangerous – and ends up disappearing from their lives after crossing boundaries that should not be crossed. Jonah is the son of a legendary folk singer, hiding secret trauma.  And Ethan… awkward overweight Ethan is the most talented of them all and his adolescent animation Figland is destined to become one of the most popular television shows of all time.

Over the years they dynamic of the relationships change and grow and sometimes warp. Family and money cause fractures but also heal.  Some truths are hidden but still all are bonded by those summers, and by friendships that saw them through the most difficult of times.

A wonderful read, with no dull moments.  Just perplexing, beautiful and complex stories of love and friendship.