This time of year, a common question faculty members hear is, “So what are you doing this summer?” For most of us, summer includes course preparation and a chance to dive into our fields in a way that isn’t possible during the school year. And that usually means – a lot of reading! Below, we rounded up a handful of recommended books with reviews by faculty. Feel free to post your own book recommendations in the comments section below.
Angela Duckworth, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, published her most accessible writing on the subject of grit in May of this year. Soon after its release, the book was #3 on the New York Times list of bestselling nonfiction.
In Grit, Duckworth presents a clear understanding of her personal passion and life goal: how to understand and develop the characteristics that make up personal achievement. On one level, I found the book to be an easy read as the writing is direct and filled with interesting stories of “grit paragons.” However, the book should not be considered a time-to-work-on-the-tan beach read. Grit is an important, thought-rattling work that should be sipped and savored for its nuanced examination of personal achievement. In a sentence, Duckworth’s theory is “Talent x effort = skill which leads to skill x effort = achievement.” Effort builds skill and makes skill productive. Grit, the engine behind personal effort, is comprised of two components: perseverance and passion.
Jay Price and I hope to apply some of the idea-provoking offerings of Duckworth’s book to our longitudinal study of grit on the Nichols campus.
Superbosses: How exceptional leaders master the flow of talent by Sydney Finkelstein
Reviewed by: Dr. Len Samborowski
This book is assigned reading for MGMT 485 Leading Strategic Initiatives this fall. Finkelstein uses the prism of “Iconoclast, Glorious Bastards, and Nurtures” to illuminate the multi-hued actions that color modern business success. Eighteen “superbosses,” among them: Lorne Michaels, Ralph Lauren, Larry Ellison, Bill Walsh, Alice Waters, Jorma Panula, and Julian Robertson, are cited as examples of top executives who have inspired, driven, or intimidated their companies to excellence and high profits. The book will provide students with current case studies of distinctive business leaders. We will use these case studies to examine the course’s academic pillars of planning, organizing, leading, and evaluating.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg
Reviewed by: Jean Beaupre
Why do students sit in the same seats in each class? And come to think of it, why do you park in the same spot every day? Habit, says Charles Duhigg. In The Power of Habit, Duhigg presents a mix of scientific research and real-life anecdotes to explain how habit deeply impacts behavior – including why some people successfully lose weight while others falter, why some advertising campaigns are effective while others are a waste of money, and generally, the incredible influence that our habits have in all aspects of life. He describes habit as a repeating cycle of cue > routine > reward. By understanding what triggers a habit (cue), and what is motivating us to repeat it (reward), Duhigg asserts that we can in theory establish healthier and more productive habits (routine).
Drawing on diverse examples from Febreze to the Montgomery bus boycott, the book is fairly relatable, with a little bit for everyone. At times, the stories are broken up in a way that can be distracting, but overall, Duhigg gives readers a lot to think about in their own lives and organizations. It has certainly made me think about how habits are formed in the classroom, and how we might use the power of habit to improve teaching and learning. And perhaps resist popcorn in the dining hall.
I was reading an article in Fortune Magazine recommending business reads for the summer, and the final paragraph indicated if you could read only one of the books, read this one, so I did! Duhigg is also the author of The Power of Habit (see above!) which I read last summer and remains on the New York Times bestseller list. I enjoyed the author last summer, and also figured getting some tips on being smarter, faster and better could not hurt.
It’s a fast and enjoyable read that uses anecdotes to demonstrate the proposed principles. My favorite topics addressed were motivation and team dynamics. Motivation is a challenge for all of us at some point, and the author suggests that motivation increases when we have a sense of control and choice in our given circumstances. Many examples are used, but the example of student motivation improving when they are given more choice struck a chord. Next, he discusses that the most effective teams have a sense of psychological safety, and when a team feels this way, innovation is encouraged best by combining old ideas in new ways. The anecdote used to describe this principle was Disney’s writing and production team for their smash hit Frozen. The movie was months away from release and they still did not have a strong ending, and how they used old ideas to create a new and powerful ending was an approach any team could use.
While these were my favorite chapters, the other topics are worthwhile and include: goal setting, focus and the creation of mental models, decision-making strategies, and absorbing and using data in an effective manner. There are many books on productivity, but this one was different in that it makes the reader assess their behaviors of productivity and how they might change, rather than providing a “take these steps” to be more productive.