Whether they’re sitting on a beach soaking up some holiday sun, or at home desperately trying to cool down in front of a tower fan, we find out what the ECI team are reading this summer!
The Tyranny of Merit, by Michael J Sandel
Meritocracy is a good thing, right? I came to this book a big believer that we should aim to build a society and workplaces where individuals can rise as far as their talent and hard work can take them. However, Michael Sandel does a great job of calling this worldview into question. Is there such a thing as a true meritocracy? And even if there is, is it a good thing? His thesis is that the playing field is never really level, we all have different starting points.
Furthermore, how do you account for luck and circumstance? Most strikingly of all, Sandel argues that even in a pure meritocracy, those who rise to the top will believe their success is entirely deserved, creating a sense of entitlement. Conversely, those who are left behind are made to feel that their predicament is of their own making, and this can drive feelings of resentment and humiliation. Sandel argues this has contributed to the recent rise of populism in the US and UK. It’s always interesting to read a book that challenges some of your fundamentally held beliefs. If nothing else, the book offers an important reminder that even those who feel they are successful within a “meritocratic” society should stay humble and appreciate the contribution others may have made along the way (be that a parent, a teacher a colleague or anyone else) and to treat all members of society with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Skyler ver Bruggen
Cry of the Kalahari, by Mark and Delia Owens
I picked up Cry of the Kalahari at the tail end of my honeymoon in Gabon. We’d just spent a week tracking gorillas and elephants on safari, so the autobiographical account of the husband-and-wife team of Mark and Delia Owens studying lions and brown hyenas in Botswana appealed. While there are lots of differences between our two experiences, they captured a similar sense of adventure. Since writing this Delia has gone on to have great acclaim with Where the Crawdads Sing which is now a major film. It is interesting reading this book to understand how the remote hardships of the Kalahari informed her later work set in the marshlands of North Carolina. The world has changed significantly since Mark and Delia lived in Botswana in the 1970s but the focus on conservation that runs through the book is possibly even more potent today than it was at the time of writing.
Atomic Habits, by James Clear
I picked this book up after failing to do my physio-recommended exercises for what felt like the hundredth time in a row. Atomic habits look at the psychology of habits and what helps us to form and sustain them. Firstly, Clear argues that too many people think massive change requires massive action which is hard to do. That means people get discouraged and end up making no change at all. His view is that regular, marginal gains compound and lead to big changes over time (see also British cycling’s 1% gains strategy!) Secondly, he moves habit formation away from the nebulous concepts of motivation and willpower. He argues that clear, practical structure is what drives us to repeat behaviours. Making habits easy and obvious, and then rewarding ourselves is what will push us into repeating behaviours. So, my physio band now lives on my office desk, I do it at the same time on set days, and I can’t have my morning coffee until I’ve done the exercises! If nothing else, the book forces you to think about the habits that you want to implement in life and how to prioritise them. I’m now three weeks post-reading and haven’t missed an exercise day – so far so good!
No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, by Reed Hastings
In between reading Tales from Acorn Wood with my 1-year-old daughter on holiday recently, I also found time to read No Rules Rules, which is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer’s book on the culture at the streaming giant. The principles they discuss were incredibly unorthodox when they were setting up the company and rejected much HR wisdom at the time. That included removing unnecessary controls from employees and a focus on marrying freedom with responsibility. A good example of that is Netflix not having vacation or expense policies. The book also looks at the theme of radical candour, rather than trying to please your boss, you give them honest feedback instead. While all of the ideas won’t be for every business, it’s a really interesting study on how they have fostered a culture of constant innovation, and what they’ve learned. The result is employees throughout the business are empowered and encouraged to think creatively and challenge what has gone before.
Travels in a Thin Country, by Sara Wheeler
I picked up this book as, while I have only been to Chile on a fleeting visit, I was fascinated by the incredibly varied geography and ecology of the country. Travels in a Thin Country describes warts and all, Wheeler’s journey from the northern Atacama Desert to Patagonia in the south over the course of several months. She brings to life the great landscapes, the people she met and the political climate after the Pinochet years. That is all enveloped in her own personal thoughts and feelings while travelling. Her account may be slightly dated, but it is a great introduction to the country, even if it isn’t a modern travel guide. My bucket list trip is to drive tip-to-tip in Chile, so the more inspiration the better!