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So, You’re Stuck In a Learning Rut?

Here are Four Books To Challenge Your Management Mindset




I was elected to lead, not to read.

~President Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Simpsons Movie



In a poignant scene where a critical decision had to be made about the future of an entire city, cartoon President Arnold Schwarzenegger utters those infamous words... before randomly calling out a numbered folder with its corresponding course of action. The Simpsons, in their irreverent way of pointing out truths, makes this observation about people in power not necessarily being the best leaders for the organisation. One such kind, is the person who does not consider the importance of constantly improving their knowledge or understanding. If you’re reading this, you’re likely the very opposite.



As leaders, the ability to absorb learning through different channels is never to be underestimated: from day to day personal experiences, lectures sponsored by professional networks, webcasts/podcasts from all over the globe, or self-teaching through immersive books. Regardless the medium, the best way to make the most out of it is to discuss its main points with colleagues, see what is and what is not applicable to your team. Particularly when the ideas are unconventional but persuasive, it lends to much discernment. So, if you believe you’re stuck in a learning rut, there’s no better fix than to pick up a recommended management book and getting right down to it!



This article recommends four books that challenge your current mindset, primarily because it presents literature with seemingly opposing hypotheses on important aspects of human resources: the concepts of “Creativity vs. Methodology” and “I vs. We”



Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving With Grace by creativity champion Gordon MacKenzie is definitely an atypical business book. After his 30-year career at Hallmark being “loyally subversive,” he worked as a consultant to a variety of rigorously disciplined organisations that considerably needed his insights: Microsoft, the US Marine Corps, IBM.



The object of curiosity is of course immediately addressed, what exactly is this Hairball MacKenzie speaks of? It’s this entangled tendency of the business to depend solely on the predominant bureaucracy and its rigid pattern of behaviour. It provides stability, yes, but no business ever sustained growth with mediocrity and an acceptance of the status quo. Orbiting it then, is what responsible corporate creativity requires; working with the Hairball’s steady gravitational pull (so you do not get launched into dead space) but at the same time, means not getting sucked in and losing all vibrancy in the process. The entire book is illustrated with thought-provoking anecdotes, doodles, and eureka moments. Not the stereotypical “How-To” read, expect more of the unmeasurable benefits that comes with exploring your own creativity in the context of being a better-balanced leader.



In contrast, New York Times Bestselling Author Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right extols the virtue of sticking to this basic tool. Mistaking simplicity for obsolescence, however, is something Gawande cautions us (especially those who have developed prowess in their profession) against. Wise words, coming from someone who knows better than most what being an expert in a high-stress situation is like; after all, being a practicing surgeon, Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, and WHO consultant can’t be that easy.



Throughout the book, he makes it plain that well-written checklists do not only break down overwhelmingly complex tasks and remind us of the to-do’s that may often be overlooked, the exercise itself of coming up with it allows for an evaluation of the focus/key steps in the process. As he puts it, “Good not try to spell out everything...instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps” which the author refers to as “the killer items.” It also helps to keep these within the limits of working memory, between 5-9 things to tick off.



Gawande continues that failures fall under either necessary fallibility (we do not have the skill nor knowledge to handle the task) and ineptitude (being equipped but not performing properly). Checklists significantly help mitigate the risk of the latter, and Gawande provides several compelling cases for it. He talks about dramatically reducing the rates of infection complications (even deaths) in hospitals within months of implementation. Beyond medicine, there’s flying the Boeing (BA) B-17, building skyscrapers, to Van Halen’s soundcheck routine being dependent on whether the venue admin read through the checklist in their contract (which included a bowl of all brown M&Ms).



Mark de Rond’s area of expertise is in team dynamics, and in one particular half-truth. There Is an I in Team: What Elite Athletes and Coaches Really Know About High Performance is built on the latest psychology/sociology research, eye-openers in his classes as a Cambridge University professor, and the years he has spent analysing high performance groups.



One core tenet is acknowledging how the very qualities in your star players make them difficult for other team members to work with and taxing for you to manage. For example, where the gifted individual’s self-confidence becomes handy when the situation calls for acting decisively, it can mean having a close-minded, domineering player. The challenge as a leader is bringing out the team’s potential and making that a business advantage.



He warns us, though, against being too concerned about maintaining harmony, as the line between consensus and complacency/conformity is thin enough to negatively impact team performance. Mark de Rond emphasizes that not only is there an I in team - it matters crucially.



Standing across the discussion on the individual’s importance, Dev Patnaik’s Wired To Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy takes a look at putting oneself in others’ shoes. Being the founder and principal of consulting firm Jump Associates, he has worked with brands such as Nike and Harley Davidson who have made their relationship with customers a critical business competency. In these companies, information about their customers is accessible easily, regularly, and experientially. Most of the time, their employees are their customers.



From a neurobiological explanation of why we’re hard wired as people to care, Patnaik shares irrefutable evidence on the tangible success that comes with reframing one’s mindset to put customer’s needs first. There are also intangible benefits in cultivating empathy in the company - a stronger sense of ethics that’s easier to promote, even a sense of greater purpose that motivates people to come to work. Now, how many books readily claim that?



Have you recently come across other must-reads? Let me know! After all, at TranZition, we’re huge fans of collective intelligence.








MacKenzie, Gordon. Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace. Viking Adult, 1996.


Gawande, Atul. The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right. Metropolitan Books, 2009.


Rond, Mark de. There is an I in Team: What Elite Athletes and Coaches Really Know About High Performance. Harvard Business School, 2012.


Patnaik, Dev. Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy. FT Press, 2009.

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