To read or not to read..or what to read? (#6)

"Please Russell-san, no more read book" were almost the first words uttered to me by Toshiyuki Muraoka (Mick-san) when I first started working with him in 1999. Mick-san is in the photo above, taken in China this year during one of our rare chances to work together again.

In 1999 he quickly grasped that I'd read a huge amount but that my back bore limited scars of experience. Over the years, this phrase has echoed as I've coached others. Most recently it flooded back as I listened to John Shook for 4 hours across 2 days at a recent conference. In all that time he made only one brief mis-step, admonishing the audience when a show of hands revealed that only three attendees had read Eric Ries's "The Lean Startup" book. 

He was, albeit fleetingly, visibly annoyed. A reaction that jarred with me because of the sheer number of books a lean enthusiast COULD read, like an infinite menu. In one 2 hour session alone the speaker made reference to 20 different books. Mulitply this by 10 sessions and you've got an expensive trip to Amazon.

We have to be careful about reading I think. We can't read all of the good books and hold down a job, raise a family, get things done and squeeze time in for a beer.

So how to choose? Which are the best? Who is the arbiter?

Well, it depends. Mick-san above offered the correct countermeasure for me as he knew that I needed to practice and get my hands very dirty. Besides, he was limbering up for 14 long months of kicking me (metaphorically) around factories until I learned to think and do sensibly. For many, reading the right book offers the comfort of structure and process to compliment their intuitively good thinking. For others it broadens thinking and cracks paradigms. Some just like to read a little before they sleep!

My conclusion is that there are no best books, just books that are best for you, at this moment, to fill the gap you have. Below are the 4 books that have appeared at just the right time to develop me over the years.

Luecke got me excited about leadership whilst Shingo introduced me to scientific thinking. Dennis joined some functional dots and Hytner confirmed my suspicions. All of them at just the right time.

For the moment I favour books like this one by Henry Marsh.  "Do No Harm"is the blueprint for the few books I now have time to read, an honest appraisal of an undoubtedly successful career that forgoes the successes to root around in failure. Perhaps humility does come with age. 

The small section from Marsh's book below shows a professional bravery that, I suspect, few possess. It's a shame more retiring CEOs don't write in this vein. If you know of any who have, please let me know.



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