My #BookDNA 2019 – The Adult Gap Year Edition

Just as the last minutes of 2019 ticked by, I had my head in a book. In 2019, I read 156 books total. It was difficult to narrow down the list of books to five non-fiction and five fiction titles. I do not start the year with a predetermined number of books I challenge myself to read or even have a specific topic or set of books I desire to read. Rather, I let the book pick me – and then, when the time is right, I read the book. Some books lead me to pick up other books because of a reference made by author or because the title is similar or a natural continuation of a topic and / or narrative.

2019 was a year of personal and professional growth. My #BookDNA reading list was dominated by titles and topics to support my research. However, it was not all work and no fun! Perhaps because this past year was my self-proclaimed adult gap year, certain memoirs and biographies called out to me – the selection includes: Life Undercover by Amaryllis Fox, Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser, Home Work by Julie Andrews, Janis: Her Life and Music by Holly George-Warren, Carrie Fisher: Life on the Edge by Sheila Weller, A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama and trump by Lonnie G. Bunch III.

Give yourself, a friend, or a family member the gift of a good book. We do not have to completely disengage from the craziness of the physical world and social media – rather, we can find respite and perhaps, even understanding and fresh perspectives in books. We can be anyone. Do anything. Learn about any topic.

Without further ado, here are the books that stood out for me in 2019.

Non-Fiction

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown - You do not need to have read any of Brown’s previous books to understand and put into practice the teachings of this book. I highly recommend reading this book and consider how you armor up for work and how others might be doing the same. Leadership is not about an executive title. Leadership resides in all of us at various times in our lives.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker - This book is valuable for anyone exploring how communities of practice, interest, and activism may meaningfully come together at the right place and at the right time for a specific purpose. The insights in this book are not only valid in in-person meetings, but also within online community and collaboration environments. A community manager should be well-versed in conflict-resolution and this is one book (with actionable insights = tools) you should have in your toolbox.

The Age of Heretics by Art Kleiner - Being a change agent is not easy. The bruises and scars are hard won and often not visible to others. It can be easy to feel like you are all alone battling for change, but you are not the first one to walk this path. In this book, discover the power of questioning the status quo.

The Good Fight by Liane Davey - Conflict facilitation is a much-needed skill as more of our work and communication moves from the physical space to the digital space. Surrounding yourself with people who look and think like you is not the answer for a healthy workplace, whether or not the work is conducted online. Read this book and discover how you might unravel the myths of workplace confusion with healthy tension, conversation, and collaboration.

Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy by Amy C. Edmondson - No matter how smart you are or how talented you may be, you cannot achieve success on your own. Teamwork does not have to be a draining and dreaded experience, but an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Perhaps the time is near when individuals are no longer recruited, but successful teams are acquired, and individuals who can plug-and-play or function with various project teams are prized over the lone wolf.

Fiction

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer - A fictional story about the actual Lee Miller and her time in Europe during WWII. This is a self-discovery journey about a woman who changed her career multiple times to suit the world where she existed, but at what cost?

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon - I had to get the taste out of my mouth (so to speak) after the disappointing end of Game of Thrones and this book did the trick. This book was complete with beautiful prose, a gripping plot, and magical characters you will grow to love.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker - If you enjoyed the 2018 best-seller, Circe, you will enjoy this feminist perspective of what happened after the battle of Troy.

Arm of the Sphinx by Bancroft (Book 2 of The Babel Trilogy) – I included Book 1 in my 2018 BookDNA list and the sequel does not disappoint. I cannot rush this book…instead I savor every morsel of detail and dialogue. There are just too many lessons in this trilogy. Can’t wait to complete the trilogy in 2020.

The Toll by Neal Shusterman - I included the first book of the trilogy in my 2017 BookDNA list and the second book in the 2018 BookDNA list. I was sad to see this story end, but of all three books, this book took more risk and the payoff is spectacular. This is a cautionary tale of what might become of humans in a world where we become complacent due to technological advances.

Honorable Mentions

Walk, Climb, or Fly: Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace Wilderness by Leigh Durst - Forget all the workplace personality tests that box people into a set of traits and offer little insight into how to get along with and work alongside people with other strengths and weaknesses. This book is a roadmap for understanding how you work and how you may best communicate and collaborate with others.

Books of the Decade

Fiction

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

The Arc of the Scythe Trilogy by Neal Shusterman

The Themis Files Trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel

The Fifth Wave Trilogy by Rick Yancey

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

Non-Fiction

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown (Anything by Brown in the past decade, but this book is my favorite and will be added to my seasonal re-read list too!)

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

What will I be reading in 2020?

As an independent researcher / consultant involved in digital literacy and digital leadership / organizational transformation projects, I stay-up-to-date with current trends and published research, but I find the most valuable insights occur when I reach beyond my comfort zone and read about biology and urban planning. I have several such books in my BookDNA reading queue, so that I may consider how such insights might help revolutionize or evolve ecosystem / organization design. But, just as I find inspiration from science and architecture, I derive greater creative inspiration from science fiction / fantasy. Who knows? Perhaps this is the year, I finally complete my own work of fiction.

What will YOU be reading in 2020?

I want to know! I share many of the books I am reading on Instagram and Twitter. Follow #BookDNA and tag your own recommendations.

Friday Five: BE Disruptive

The word ‘disruptive’ carries a lot of baggage. To some, it may be viewed as a positive characteristic or condition, but to others, the characteristic is less than flattering and the condition is avoided at all costs. I hear the term thrown around a lot – and not just amongst the technology and marketing / communications folks, but across the cultural sector where I now work. Just this week, at various talks and meetings I attended or articles I read, I kept a manual count of the times ‘disrupt’ or ‘disruptive’ were mentioned – 57 times (perhaps this is low for the martech/comms sector, but high for cultural sector)! Yet in each of those instances, the speaker or writer did not expand on what it meant to really be disruptive. How might you disrupt? Why do you disrupt? When is the right time to be disruptive? What do you do when thrust into disruption? Case studies often cite the good outcomes of a disruption mindset or condition, but quite often gloss over the bad and the ugly stages of the collateral damage that occurs during disruption.

The recently published book, The Disruption Mindset by Charlene Li answers what is needed to foster, participate, and benefit from having a disruption mindset. I had the pleasure of reading a copy of the book before it launched this week, and I found it the most instructive book on disruption that I have yet to come across. Through a series of stories, Li outlines the characteristics and conditions of and for disruption. Too often, the term ‘disrupt’ is associated with fear of chaos, but what Li has shown through well-researched case studies, is that structure and leadership accompany successful disruptive characteristics and conditions. Each chapter is complete with actionable, pragmatic ways to practice disruption. The featured stories are of some of the large tech organizations we are all familiar with (or think we are), but there are examples of disruption in other sectors that also get their day in the sun. I was pleasantly surprised to read about Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and the chronicles of Max Hollein’s career leading up to his current position as Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is often difficult to position stories of disruption within technology organizations to academic or cultural organizations because these sectors find it difficult to relate to stories from Silicon Valley.

Although this is a stand-alone publication, Li builds on previous research. I guarantee that you will have quite the ‘must-read’ list once you complete reading, The Disruption Mindset. This book has earned a spot on my #bookdna list and will most likely be a book I reference often in the months and years to come. I have already purchased copies for my museum teams because the insights closely align with the action research findings from the ‘One by One’ Project.

To get you just as excited as I am about this book, check out this week’s Friday Five list:

Friday Five: Dark Forest Theory

When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to be a space architect. I would draw all kinds of structures for planets in galaxies far, far away. I was also a girl who was afraid of everything – things most kids did not worry about. I was scared of climate change, of cancer, and…of alien communication. Perhaps scared is not the only emotion I had when thinking about life on other planets. Mixed up in that fear was curiosity. I would stare at the stars and try to will intelligent life to talk to me. Ah, the imagination of a child. Aliens never did speak to me. Not exactly. Through science fiction I could explore close encounters of the third kind.

Science fiction brings me immense joy. When I need to rid my brain of swirling thoughts and the daily insanity of work, I open up a science fiction book or binge one of my favorite sci-fi television series, like Battlestar Galactica. I live vicariously through the scientists and humans filled with wanderlust traversing the universe. Immediately, my brain clears – I feel ready to tackle any issue or perceive problems from new angles.

The Friday Five series was meant to help me jump-start writing for myself again. Over the years, writing has been a job required in my work and PhD life. The act of writing hasn’t felt fun because I had lost my voice and no longer to able to write for myself about the subjects that sparked joy inside me. I am halfway through my adult gap year and while my external writing commitments have not diminished (if anything, the quantity of what I have to produce is greater), I am beginning to locate and use my voice – in a more mature and focused way.

When I select a new book to read, I don’t simply choose the next book on my (very) long list of to-read material. The book selects me. I open myself up to want to explore a topic and have always found the right book to satisfy that hunger at the right time. I have tried to take this approach when selecting the material for this Friday Five series. I let the topic or theme come to me. And when it does, damn – everywhere I turn, there is no reference material!

The spark that lit my curiosity for the ‘dark forest’ theme came in Seb Chan’s Fresh & New e-newsletter - please subscribe to this newsletter. Seb Chan is currently the Chief Experience Officer at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne. I have never before paid money to receive content from a single individual, until I subscribed to Seb’s e-newsletter and I guarantee this is brain food you will want to consume. In the most recent newsletter (#24 Listening & Clubs and Listening Clubs), Seb Chan introduces the ‘dark forest’ theory as a way to consider the museum’s role. He says:

When people in the cultural sector talk about museums or libraries as aiming to become ‘town squares’ or similar, I wonder if they are missing a trick. A town square is where only the loudest voices can be heard. Perhaps a town square is not what is needed, but an ecology of smaller niches where smaller voices thrive? And the institutional role lies in being a facilitator of the connections between niches?

What is the ‘dark forest’ theory and how might it help us answer these questions? The questions posed by Seb Chan are not particular to museums. Here are five resources to help you unpack and consider ‘dark forest’ theory:

I have always thought consuming and writing sci-fi would make me a better critical thinker. Perhaps after you have had time to consider the resources shared this week, you will be more inclined not to brush off sci-fi as a nonsensical genre, but as a way to open our minds to consider new perspectives and unlock our immediate ecosystems.

Friday Five: Thinking about context

Of all the things rattling around in my brain, I keep coming back to ‘context’ – what is it? How do I ensure what I am researching, writing, and packaging is created with the end user or consumer in mind and not overly influenced by my own agenda? Here are five of the resources I have consumed this week to challenge how I unpack and examine ‘context’:

  1. Podcast: #30 Collaboration and Competition with Margaret Heffernan via The Knowledge Project, released March 13, 2018
  2. Tweet:This is such a thought-provoking piece @MikeJonesPhD! One of the things I keep grappling with is – what context? What and whose context do museums bring/not bring, what do we foreground and what do we forget? We can’t go back, but what are we taking forwards with us? And why?” By @SFKassim August 8, 2019
  3. Article: Tristram Hunt and the de/recontextualisation of museum artefacts by Mike Jones
  4. Book: (actually a research study – #longread) Relevant repositories of public knowledge? Perceptions of archives libraries and museums in modern Britain by Bob Usherwood, Kerry Wilson, and Jared Bryson
  5. Video: To design better tech, understand context (TEDGlobal 2017)

Friday Five: How would you define leadership?

As part of the One by One fellowship, I am exploring the following research question: How might we locate leadership by exploring the value of a digital hub / commons as a site for shared skills development? ‘Leadership’ is a term that means many things to many people. Here are some of the resources I am using to help me unpack the characteristics and actions of a leader.

  1. Podcast: MWI: The Twenty-First-Century General, with Dr. Anthony King – this podcast explores the concept of ‘collective command’.
  2. Tweet:Courageous leadership is a practice. We have great free downloads and resources on our Dare to Lead hub. Stay brave, awkward, and kind.via @Brene Brown – July 19, 2019 - I have found these resources to be extremely helpful as I explore the competencies and capabilities of a leader, as well as, those competencies and capabilities that may be achieved by anyone when enabled by a great leader.
  3. Article: Why Digital Leadership Rocks the Boat by Robin Knowles – this article explores how three distinct waves of disruption may be forging a new breed of digital leaders.
  4. Book: The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin - this book is a favorite and a resource I consistently tap when exploring the competencies and capabilities of leaders.
  5. Video: What is Servant Leadership? by Agile at Barclaycard – this video explores the concept of ‘servant leadership’ as a key enabler of agile principles and practices.

How would you define leadership? What makes a great leader? Please share your go-to resources for characterizing leaders.

Friday Five: Social Trust

This semester, I am teaching Museum Informatics at the Harvard Extension School. Informatics is one of my favorite courses to teach – we cover data collection and use, visualization, and tech ethics. Teaching helps me focus my thoughts, talk through new ideas and theories, and explore various uses of technology application. I am also forced to confront and remain curious about the dark side of technology. With the release of Netflix’s The Great Hack and other news / media events, there is no escaping these conversations.

Rather than point fingers and lay blame, I desire to learn more about the behaviors and motivations of the people on the receiving end of false news and highly influential communications. This has led me down the path of exploring the concept of ‘social trust’ – So, here are my top five thought starters of the week:

  1. Podcast: The Hidden Brain – July 22, 2019 (51 mins): Facts aren’t enough
  2. Tweet: @RyanHoliday – July 24, 2019: “Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.”
  3. Article: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, Cornell University
  4. Book: Social Contract Theory by M. Lessnoff
  5. Video: The Great Hack (doc) on Netflix + Bonus: (Wired UK) Netflix’s The Great Hack skewers Cambridge Analytica, but misses the real targets