Recent reads and listens – May edition

Hey legend,

Here’s a small collection of books and podcasts that I consumed in May and recommend to your good self.

If you’re having trouble creating new habits or breaking current ones:

Atomic Habits by James Clear is a must read. Bonus: this week’s episode of The Long and The Short Of It unpacks some of the same ideas.

If you’re wondering what it sounds like to own your imperfections:

Tough by Terry Crews.

If you’re after practical guide to executive or leadership coaching:

The Coaching Manual by Julie Starr is a great starting place.

If you feel like a masterclass from two of my favourite creative thinkers, Debbie Millman and Seth Godin:

Checkout this interview.

That’s it for this month. If you’re feeling generous forward this email to a friend along with your completed Wordle, Quordle and Octordle just to remind them of your genius and tell them to join the list of legends that receives these posts in their inbox.

When is the last time you…

…marvelled at the sheer awesomeness of existence?

In listening to (and attempting to make sense of) some of the genius from David Whyte I was struck that us even being here on this particular day reading this particular blog post on a device that 50 years ago would’ve been considered science fiction is completely absurd and totally remarkable.

So what might change if we acted as such?

Charts, boots and opinions that don’t matter

I was recently pushed an ad that started with this question:

Do you like GANTT charts?

I couldn’t believe it. GANTT CHARTS?! Does ANYONE like GANTT charts?! What the hell is this company talking about?!

Then I thought of the project managers and detail oriented planners of the world. Those who love talking about dependencies, timelines and milestones. The brilliant, operational geniuses like my partner, who keep the rest of us honest and on track. Where would we be without them?

This fiasco reminded me that if something is not appealing to us, that doesn’t make it wrong, stupid or ineffective. It just means it’s not for us (and that is okay).

For those of you who don’t know what a GANTT chart is consider an even more basic example: Horse riding boots are for those who ride horses, not for those who don’t. The opinion of non-horse-riding humans, no matter how loud they are, is largely irrelevant.

More wisdom from improv

What if you had to make up a song on the spot with a friend about your favourite Ninja Turtle?

How would you approach it knowing there’s no time to prepare? What might you say? How would you keep people engaged without preparing a slide deck or speaker notes? What would you do when you make a mistake?

See below for a mind boggling example of said prompt (be warned: it contains expletives).

The lessons I see are many and varied. Most notably the spirit of the collaboration. It’s joyful, full of delight and has no attachment to perfect.

And while us mere mortals don’t have to do an improvised rap in front of millions of YouTubers, it does make me wonder: what if we showed up with with no scripts and no slides to our next meeting? What if we started with a prompt and proceeded to give everyone in the room equal space, time and permission to respond? What if we sought to build on each idea with as much joy as these two do, even the ones that don’t make sense?

Six questions from Atomic Habits

I recently re-read the best selling book Atomic Habits by the brilliant James Clear which resulted in all sorts of aha moments and feelings of being kicked in the stomach.

It’s the kind of book you read out loud to your partner (even though she’s waiting to read it herself if you’d just hurry up and finish) while she’s trying to go to sleep. “Ohhh, listen to THIS part…”

On top of creating sleep deprivation to said partner it inspired a habit audit made up of 6 questions.

First looking at the current state of play:

  1. What good habits do I currently have?
  2. What bad habits do I currently have?
  3. Who am I becoming as a result of these habits?

Then, looking at the ideal:

  1. Who do I want to become?
  2. What habits do I need to add to help me get there?
  3. What habits do I need to remove to help me get there?

Over to you.

What humility sounds like

“I don’t have all the answers”

“I’m curious to learn more”

“What do you think?”

“I’d love to hear your perspective on…”

“What am I missing?”

“What are you noticing?”

“I don’t know”

“Let’s brainstorm some bad ideas”

“I learned this from…”

“I’m afraid of…”

When it comes to leading, humility is a superpower not a weakness. It builds connection, collaboration and innovation.

Recent reads and listens – April edition

G’day, curious friend.

May is upon us which means it’s time for a collection of books and podcasts that I consumed in April and want to recommend to you for some noodling over the next month.

If you’re seeking some great fiction:

Migrations by Charlotte McConaughey has got you covered and will make your eyes water. If this happens in a public place as it did to me, consider making a terrible joke like “is someone cutting onions in here?” Smooth.

If you’re curious about improving relationships of any kind:

Fierce Intimacy by Terry Real has got you covered. It’s got some blemishes for sure but among them are some amazing insights and questions for being more self-aware in how you show up in your relationships.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to own/run a successful restaurant(s):

Eat a Peach by David Chang will show you, warts and all, through some amazing storytelling that leaves you thinking “this can’t be real”.

If you’re as fascinated about the future of work as I am:

Don’t miss this interview with Brené Brown and Scott Soneshein.

That’s it for this month. If you’re feeling generous forward this email to a friend along with your completed Wordle just to remind them of your genius.

A question of self-reflection

Who are you at your worst?

Because sometimes we show up in ways we’re not proud of and naming what this looks like can help us better recognise when it happens.

Said another way: when the barista takes an extra 23 seconds to make my coffee and I am convinced they’re out to destroy me, it’s more likely I’m showing up impatiently, selfishly, and self-righteously as opposed to them being an evil villain out to ruin my day.

Information that creates stories

One of my favourite Brené Brown quotes is:

“Without information we create stories.”

I’ve written about this idea before over here.

More recently I’ve been thinking that the opposite is also true: that with information we also create stories.

Given how smart all of you are, this could be the most obvious post I’ve ever written, but it has me noodling on questions like where are you getting your information from? and where are you not getting your information from?

Four tips for asking better questions

An Executive of a large global company recently asked me a great (and super meta) question after recognising the value of coaching his team: how do I ask better questions?

Here’s a version of what I shared back:

Be curious

If you remember only one thing let it be this: always be curious (ABC). The best question to ask is the one based in a genuine curiosity of wanting to understand more. It’s like improvised comedy. We can wait to hear what has been shared and then respond to the part we’re most curious about.

Ask one at a time

Have you ever had the experience of listening to an interview and the interviewer asks multiple questions at once? They’ll say something like:

“So what are you excited about right now? What are you working on? What’s capturing your attention? Is there anything that comes to mind? Because I heard you’ve been doing some kayaking, is that true? I’ve been kayaking before, it’s quite challenging isn’t it? I would love it if you could share…”

What? Where does one even start?! Instead, take the opposite approach, ask one question at a time.

Avoid binary questions

Binary questions are those that can be answered with either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and tend not to be conducive to uncovering possibility. Instead, ask open ended questions. So instead of: are you okay? Try: what’s on your mind? Instead of: Do you agree with this approach? Try: How would you solve this problem?

Don’t steal the revelation

When asking questions it is possible you’ll hear someone start to answer and try and guess where they are going. You will pre-empt their thought, revelation or aha moment. When this happens, be patient and remain silent (or throw in an “…and what else?” if you really can’t help yourself). Let them get there themselves. As the brilliant Paul Jun would say: don’t steal the revelation.

Why fear explains weird behaviour (like arguing about broccoli)

When trying to make sense of your own behaviour it can be helpful to ask the question “where’s the fear?”

It’s fear that makes us stay up till 11 pm reviewing notes ahead of a big presentation convincing ourselves “I need to practice so that I don’t make any mistakes”.

It’s fear that stops us from committing to a project or job because “what if the grass isn’t greener?”.

It’s fear that explains why you’re arguing with your partner about the size of broccoli florets or the kind of toothpaste you just purchased because you want to feel appreciated (I feel called out).

Fear explains procrastination, perfectionism, and feeling like an imposter.

Fear explains why some people give unsolicited feedback and why it can be so hard to ignore.

Fear is hard-wired into how we behave.

Knowing this, it’s worth cutting ourselves (and others) some slack, especially when it comes to the broccoli florets, which admittedly were far too big for human consumption.

Recent reads and listens – March edition

G’day, curious legend.

Somehow we’ve made our way to the end of March which means it’s time for me to send you a small collection of books and podcasts that might provoke some noodling for you over the next month.

If you ever find yourself wondering what it means to be a good human (but like, in a funny way):

How to Be Perfect by Michael Schur (creator of The Good Place and co-creator of Parks and Recreation) is a hilarious guide to moral philosophy sure to make you think.

If you’re stuck in a rut:

Awareness by Anthony De Mello might just make you question everything (in a good way).

If you’re curious or scared about what the future might hold:

Me too. You MUST listen to this interview with Jane McGonigal.

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking about regrets:

Don’t miss this interview with Brené Brown and Dan Pink.

In the meantime, keep being awesome.

Things that don’t scale

Three questions I’ve been pondering since revisiting this interview with Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky.

What if the opposite to scaling a project is humanising a project?

What does an 8, 9, and 10-star experience look like when working with you?

Where might it pay to do things that don’t scale?

PS. If this feels like a noodle you want to stir around some more in that brilliant brain of yours, checkout this week’s episode of The Long and The Short Of It.

The real skills of leadership

In 2017 bestselling author and world-renowned speaker Seth Godin wrote this viral Medium article encouraging leaders to stop calling soft skills, soft.

Instead, he proposed, we call them what they are: the real skills of leadership and human connection.

Skills like curiosity, coaching, and creativity.

Skills like decision making, storytelling, and question-asking.

Skills like empathy, enrolment, and dancing with imposter syndrome and fear.

Skills that can’t be memorised or looked up online.

Skills that everyone has the ability to cultivate.

Skills that require deliberate and intentional practice.

Seth provided language for something I had felt for a long time having worked with thousands of leaders from hundreds of companies around the world.

That the framing and importance of ‘hard skills’ versus ‘soft skills’ is increasingly less relevant.

That what our rapidly shifting world calls for is not merely people who fit a technical job description.

That what the world calls for is people who choose to lead, no matter where they are in an organisation. People who choose to practice, model, and hone these real, human-centered skills.

These are the leaders, and organisations, who will create lasting, meaningful change.

The question is: will that be you?


This piece was a guest post for ICMI Speakers Bureau and was originally published here.