Friday, April 29, 2011

Competition: Win a copy of the Decision Book

The kind people at profile Books have given me a copy of the Decision Book to give away to a lucky reader of Insidebooks.

Just tell me how many models of strategic thinking does the book write about?


Please email me the right answer at and I will pick a winner and be in touch about getting the book to you.

Clue: read the cover ;)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

book review: The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler

The Decision Book is not the usual book I would dive into as it contains a series of management models that are designed to make you work, think and interact better.

But because it is presented in such an easily digestible way with illustrations making the short descriptions of the management models more understandable there are high chances this book will be absorbed and prove to be useful.

The cover blurb offers fifty models for strategic thinking and because of the sheer volume there are some things served up that mean very little to you but others do go in. I picked out seven over the course of my reading and some of those have sunk in the brain and should help me in the future.

Also worth mentioning is the interactive nature of the book and the encouragement given from the authors to the reader to make up their own models and to take some lessons from the book. Pages at the back left blank for your own scribbles and jottings are part of the process of kicking off that dialogue.

Making decisions, particularly big ones, is never something easy but this book points out that many other great minds have struggled with how to make the right choices in the past and it is possible to learn from their experiences.

Life is too random to be defined by models but coming to a problem with a strategic mind is bound to be better than spinning a bottle and hoping it provides you with the right answer.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A response to Tristan

I've never been a great fan of hospitals and when asked one of my answers is that I struggle with the concept of a largely artificial community.

What I mean by that is the way that you are forced by circumstance into a situation with other people that you might avoid if you had more freedom.

In these communities of circumstance sometimes people can become confused about reality and it is exactly that scenario that Mann is writing about in Tristan.

A rather eccentric writer is holed up in a sanatorium and he falls for a woman who has been pushed to the brink by a difficult child birth.

The woman, who is described in angelic terms, finds the author amusing and interesting and through him discovers that not everything the doctors have told her she cannot do are bad for her.

As she plays the piano and Tristan and Isolde rings out in the sanitorium she finds some solace and provides the writer with the strength to tell her husband some home truths. Sadly they come too late.

Apart from reflections on the story what you are left with here are thoughts about the connections that can be made quickly and deeply between patients and the calming abilities of nature.

At moments you can picture the sanitorium as clearly as if you were flicking through a brochure on the place.

More soon...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A response to Death in Venice

Death, as the title suggests, comes in Venice. That is a fact the reader knows from the outset but what sort of death is a more interesting question.

Death of a dream, a romantic ideal, as well as death in the literal sense is being described here.

But before I get into that just a quick comment on the description. This has not been an easy story to read because it doesn't flow. There are times when you wonder if something suffers from being too literary in style. That said you grasp what is going on here but it could have come across better.

What is said concerns Gustave von Aschenbach a writer who has headed off on holiday to get a break from his writing routine in Munich.

He becomes fixated and obsessed to a degree with another guest, a young Polish boy, who he can not reallu understand or makes any great connection with over his stay. But the dream of his beauty, the romantic ideal that the young man represents takes over Aschenbach.

Takes him over so much that despite his almost priviledged position of knowing about the plague in the city he fataly drops his guard and allows his obsession to derail him.

More to come from the other couple of stories in this collection, tristan and Tonio Kroger, over the next two days...

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Decision Book: post VII

The final dip into the Decision Book is a chance to note how thinking of the past has been gently challenged by the experiences of the present.

The old 80/20 model set out by Vilfredo Pareto at the start of the last century had not only become established thinking but a model that was so widely accepted that the idea the 80% might have some value to rival the 20% something that seemed highly unlikely.

But back in 2004 the editor of Wired Chris Anderson came up with the Long Tail model. Using the internet the point of the model was that the 80% of goods beyond the core 20% will eventually be sold and have more value than the core goods.

The long tail has now become something to drop into conversations as a justification for backing what might have seemed like risky bets in the past. The problem is that in that 80% there are surely degrees of quality and right at the end of the tail it must be a fairly lonely old time.

A review will follow later this week...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

Hope the bunny brings you some books as well as chocolate

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Decision Book: post VI

In the final couple of posts from the Decision Book the focus moves onto using management models to understand other people better. In the next two posts I will pick out a couple I liked.

The first is The Maslow Pyramids model which in a nutshell looks at the basic human needs and then adds on top of those, pyramid style, the aspirations that are optional but nice to have.

So we all need to have food, a place to sleep, security and social relationships but let's face it we'd like to also add to that recognition, with its money and fame, and self-actualisation.

What it seems to make you think is that sometimes we can take for granted the essentials in our chase for the elusive wealth that is not perhaps that vital.

More next week..

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Decision Book: post V

One of the things people say as a cliche is to live in the present and not in the past. But there has to be a careful balance struck between being stuck in the past, or as The Decision Book describes it being caught in a memory-driven model, and the future.

There are also real dangers becoming a dreamer hoping that the future turns out better than the present or the past will leave you failing to make the right decisions in the here and now.

Not easy to get that balance right but the book is good at highlighting the dangers of both a memory and a future dreamer model.

There will be more posts about this book throughout the month with a chance for a lucky insidebooks reader to win a copy of the book.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Decision Book: post IV

The second section of the Decision Book, which is where the next couple of posts draw their inspiration, looks at how you can understand yourself better.

Cognitive dissonance are not two words I use that often. But they are ones I will remember now because it describes an interesting idea. How can you carry on doing something that you know is wrong with self justification is what those two words describe.

"How can we overcome this dissonance? Either by changing our behaviour or our attitude."

Not an easy thing to do.

There will be more posts about this book throughout the month with a chance for a lucky insidebooks reader to win a copy of the book.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Decision Book: post III

Setting goals is one of the most oft couple of words that you expect anyone talking about personal development to say.

The Decision Book contains the advice that goals should be challenging but also achievable. if you set a goal too high then it can have a demoralizing effect.

The example given is of running a marathon. I like running and might well want to run a marathon one day but more achievable goals of running more regularly and further distances are needed first.

It's like setting out to read 100 books a year having been nothing more than a casual reader before. You won't know how to pace yourself or recognise the danger signs that you are falling behind. Not that I have ever reached 100 books but just getting to 80 plus last year was a challenge.

There will be more posts about this book throughout the month with a chance for a lucky insidebooks reader to win a copy of the book.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thoughts at the halfway point of Lineman Thiel and Other Tales

This short book contains three stories that the blurb on the back describes as being typical and influence by the German romantic movement.

That influence seems to be most clearly seen in the response of the characters towards nature with nature playing more than a backdrop role.

In the first story the iced over lake plays a crucial role in deciding the fate of the sailmaker and his wife. They are portrayed as earthy and greedy but sympathetically so compared to the grandmother who lives with them hoarding her coppers and silver in a box.

The idea of living for now and enjoying life is contrasted with the decision to wait. Ultimately both approaches are wrong.

Then the title story starts with poor lineman Thiel finding comfort from widowhood then a second marriage to a bullying wife in the woods in his hut next to the train track.

His life could carry on with his wife bullying him but you sense that as she turns her temper on the son the linesman had with his first wife the clock is ticking for their relationship.

A full review will follow on completion...

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Decision Book: post II

Another post from this highly informative book. This model looks at the project portfolio matrix.

if you think of your life as a project, or a particular aspect of it in that way, it is useful to try and prioritize activities.

Cost and time are the two examples of potential sides of a scale that can be used to measure whether or not something is useful to a project.

For me it is often a question of time that dictates my decision, particularly around reading.

There will be more posts about this book throughout the month with a chance for a lucky insidebooks reader to win a copy of the book.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Thoughts at the half way point of the The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

A woman kills a reporter and then turns herself into the police. It's an interesting way to start a story and you want to know why she pulled the trigger.

Boll starts with the crime and then works backwards describing what led Katharina Blum to get to a stage where murder seemed to be an appropriate response.

It seems strange that this quiet and diligent house keeper should find herslef in trouble and the start details how her friends are motivated to rush to her side to support her. But as the days leading up to the killing are detailed it's clear that underneath calm outward appearances not all was going well.

Blum is involved with a criminal who spends a night with her before escaping police capture. It is for this initial crime, aiding and abetting a felon, that Blum is involved with the police.

But the press starts to create havoc and the seeds for the reasons for Blum to murder a reporter start to be laid down.

A review will follow on completion...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

book review: Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki

"There were not many, barely three pages. Doro's final set of comments began on the the third page. He could cope with her comments now too. He put all the pages in the correct order. And then? He would be done."

Big ideas don't have to be told in big books if the writing is as skillfully delivered as here in Next World Novella.

A professor wakes to find his wife has died of a stroke in the evening and he takes in the shock of the situation reading through the last notes that she was editing. As she usually edited his reports it is his material she was found slumped over.

But the work that Schepp finds his wife Doro was concentrating on is an old story that he wrote years before and never published. The story about a drunk who hangs out in a bar lusting after a waitress mirrors the professors own fixation with a waitress in a bar he stumbled into one afternoon after eye surgery.

What becomes clear is that the wife knew about the affair, at least the dream of an affair that was harboured by her husband, and it drove a wedge between them.

One of the promises they made was to enter the next world together and to hold each other's hands as they swam across the lake of the dead to try and reach the land in the distance on the other side. That promise is ruined by the secrets Hinrich kept from his wife.

That story contains enough food for thought but the way the novella ends leaves you with the distinct impression that even near the end all it would have taken is for Hinrich to have shown a bit of notice and the love would and could have been rekindled. Failing to listen and failing to notice are the real crimes of the lutsful professor.

The Decision Book: post I

When to make a decision is a rather useful thing to think about. Everyday we face the need to make decisions but the challenge is perhaps to think about the right way to respond to them.

The Decision Book is a collection of different models for strategic thinking and one of the first you come across in the How to improve yourself section is about the way decisions should be timed.

Referring to the Eisenhower Method, coined by the former US president, he talked about the need to determine which things were critical and which could be delayed or deferred, which will help determine the priority of a decision and as a result help you work out how long you should take to make it.

There will be more posts about this book throughout the month with a chance for a lucky insidebooks reader to win a copy of the book.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Decisions, decisions...

It's sometimes strange that you can be sent a book that seems to resonate because of a stage you are in your life or thought process.

So it was within a week or so of the Decision Book arriving for review that my working life was turned upside down and my company division found itself up for sale.

At a time like this the one thing that you can be sure of in a time of great confusion is that decisions are going to have to be made.

Decisions that will have a massive impact on the next stage of my life both work and home as I consider a new commute, working for a new company and numerous other changes to my life.

I will be using the Decision Book this month to help crystallise that thought process and thanks to Serpent's Tail am in a position to provide one lucky reader with a copy.

Keep reading for further details...

Monday, April 04, 2011

Plans are changing

Having got stuck into Next World Novella the plans for the month have now changed and I'm going to be reading mainly German authors.

It makes more sense to try and keep the theme of the month something that relates to my TBR pile, which includes a few German authors, as well as giving me an excuse to get some more Gunter Grass under my belt.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Time to catch up on the TBR pile

April is going to be a month of catching up with some of the books I have been sent or requested. So there is no overall theme for this month other than hopefully getting on top of the to-be-read pile a bit.

Starting with the beautifully produced Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki from Peirene it's the chance to dive headfirst into something that should be thought provoking.

From there it's going to be Laikonik Express by Nick Sweeney and then from there hopefully some other new writers.


Friday, April 01, 2011

The month in review - March

Crime writers seem to enjoy delivering stories that come in at the 300 page mark and so the month's reading was slower going than I'd hoped. There were some good things consumed and some books were taken off the to-be-read pile but there still remain a fairly large number of crime stories and thrillers to be tackled later in the year.

March reading:

The Terrorists by Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo
Parallel Lives by John Tagholm
The Long Good-Bye by Raymond Chandler
The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka by Josef Skovorecky
Talking about Detective Fiction by P.D. James
The Suspicions of Mr Wicher by Kate Summerscale
Headed for a Hearse by Jonathan Latimer