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What We're Reading Now

A Year in Review

30 December 2012

Rachel surveyed the stack of books remaining in her 'must review now' pile and reflected on some of the big ideas that shaped her thinking in 2012.

Tags: balance, brene brown, creativity, culture, design thinking, happiness, leadership, rachel read

As I write this, there are about 37 hours remaining in 2012, and by all accounts, it was a good year. I had the privilege of teaching from Moscow to Sydney (and several places in between) and the fun of celebrating with clients (like Erika Viccellio of the Charlottesville Free Clinic) when their accomplishments were recognized. In between times, it's fair to say that I read. A lot.

By now, most of the books and articles that were added to the newly-expanded Allison Partners library have been safely shelved away...sorted by topic and alphabetical by author, if you care about such things. But there's still a fairly hefty stack that I haven't been able to put away yet, and that makes me wonder. What does this peculiar assortment say about what I'm reading and thinking right now? They aren't all books I've read completely, or even all books that I like. But they do all have something to say.


It still delights me that the January 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review had a special section on happiness. There may not be any better indicator that a topic "has arrived" than when the editors of HBR put it on the cover, and I think this is a message that's here to stay for a while. Also in the happiness vein are Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know by Jill Geisler (great premise, somewhat disappointing book) and Powered by Happy: How to Get and Stay Happy at Work by Beth Thomas (somewhat cheesy premise, great book). An unexpected addition to my happiness arsenal, Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day by Andy Puddicombe is a great introduction to meditation and mindfulness, even (or especially) for those of us who can be turned off by even the tiniest dose of scolding or preachiness about such things.

There are books that came to me by way of clients and colleagues and projects that I'm working on. Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block has a model for effective dialog that complements appreciative inquiry. I'm seeing it used in some fascinating ways in a leadership program and I'm curious to see where it takes us. I was turned on to Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World by Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant by a connection of a connection and I find myself seeing links in places I wouldn't previously have imagined. (If nothing else, it's evidence that networking really works.) Some books (How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything and Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back) continue adding content to Allison Partners courses. And Life is a Choice: A Guide to Success in Life came to me from author Dr. David Washington in my capacity chairing the 2013 Virginia SHRM State Conference, a role that has enabled me to meet and work with extraordinary thinkers and HR volunteers from all corners of the state. 


Three books from the stack keep drawing me back. Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist is full of the sort of creative inspiration that can provide an almost instant pick-me-up. (And it's a book with pictures. I like books with pictures.) Brene Brown's latest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, is one whose words I savor. It's powerful stuff that resonates for me and for many other people I encounter. And although the prose isn't as elegant as I might like, Tal Ben-Shahar's Choose the Life You Want: 101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness sheds light on many (101, in fact) of the nearly imperceptible ways we shape our own lives every day.

I meant it when I wrote that I didn't like all of the books. I may be among the few introverts around who wasn't satisfied by Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I really wanted to be a fan of The Creativity Cure: A Do-It-Yourself Prescription for Happiness by Carrie Barron and Alton Barron since I support the notion that creativity and happiness are both linked and learn-able, but alas, I don't think the book delivers. (I think it just remains in my pile because I keep hoping that maybe it will.)

Last, but not least, some books herald the future. I'm looking forward to including a few excerpts from Breakthough!: Proven Strategies to Overcome Creative Block and Spark Your Imagination by Alex Cornell into the Creativity and Design Thinking course I'll be teaching at Darden this winter. Design Works: How to Tackle Your Toughest Innovation Challenges through Business Design by Heather Fraser is part of a very large stack of reference material for a new book I'm co-authoring with Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie scheduled for release next year. (Stay tuned!) And Mel's Tips for Healthy Living by Mel Zuckerman makes me think of Allison Partners retreats both past and future, all while reminding me that there is possibility around every corner. 


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Allison Partners
Dec 30, 2012

This overlooks the other books stashed in various other spots in my life, like Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness at Home on my nightstand and Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Chef on the coffee table. Or the fantastic assortment of new cookbooks I received this holiday. It’s a wealth of reading material.


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