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Turn The Page!

Book20dog"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.  Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."  -Groucho Marx.

That's one of my favorite quotes of all time.  I have a dog, and I have books.  If my dog is curled up napping on my stomach while I'm reading a book, I'm in heaven.  Summer is my favorite time to get caught up on reading.  The pace slows down, and the stack of books that beckons throughout the frantic pace of fall-winter-spring is finally given the attention it so rightly deserves.  Besides a couple of enjoyable novels, I tend to pick a "theme" for my professional reading list each summer.  Last summer, I indulged in books about story-telling because I wanted to become a better story-teller.  We all tell stories, whether we know it or not.  Every time we lead a PowerPoint presentation (if we're doing it right), we're telling a story.

This year, the chosen theme is workplace civility and organizational culture.  Having just released a book on office politics, it seemed only fitting.  Another thing about me that you should know is that I never just read one book at a time.  I like to read concurrently two or three books which complement each other.  Then I play off the authors' words in my mind, as if they were in the room with me having a conversation.  My first two books for this summer's list are two sides of the same coin:

The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton, PhD

The Power of Nice by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Wow!  If the three of them ever went on a speaking circuit together, I could only imagine the number of workplaces and lives they could transform.  The basic premise of both of their books is the same:  "Mean people suck, so why not be genuinely nice?"  (Notice the adverb I added; I've not forgotten my earlier post on the subject.)  Both books do a wonderful job of mixing personal anecdotal evidence with scientific studies, with a healthy side of stories of media stars to support their approaches.

There were some recurring themes that permeated both books that deserve highlighting:

  • Power is not a dictator of treatment.  Dr. Sutton uses power in his definition of assholes, stating that to qualify as one, the "alleged asshole aims his or her venom at people who are less powerful."  Ms. Kaplan Thaler and Ms. Koval share, among six principles of being nice, that #2 is "you never know."  Those who are less powerful today may be more powerful tomorrow.  Given the flattening of power and rank by social media, that holds especially true in this day and age.  I like Liz Strauss's only rule on her Tuesday open mic nights:  Be nice.  It doesn't matter how popular your blog is; in her eyes, we're all equals.
  • Cooperation beats competition any day.  Both books mention the prisoners' dilemma, which states that over the long haul, it always pays to cooperate with your fellow prisoners than to cheat on them and rat them out.  It's certainly been true of the blogosphere.  Where Technorati makes it very hard not to pay attention to your "authority" and your "rank" among the tens of millions of blogs out there, almost all of the bloggers I've met have been warm, caring, and helpful people.  It's almost overwhelming how much bloggers help each other.  I feel like I've been blessed by dozens of "fairy god-bloggers" looking over my shoulder to grant my wish, and I feel privileged to return the favor to them whenever they ask and however I'm able.
  • "Asshole" and "Nice" are both contageous.  Acts of kindness and acts of cruelty both seem to perpetuate throughout an organization.  A smile or nice note or hug can make somebody's day, giving them to energy to share that kindness with others.  An insult, being flipped off in traffic, or a flaming email drains energy and makes people more prone to treat others poorly.
  • We're all still human.  All three of them do a wonderful job of sharing their personal triumphs and pitfalls on their continuum journey.  It's something I work on as well, as I'm sure you do.

There are many other gems and nuggets resting in the pages of both books, and I'll let you discover them for yourself.  Each book stands alone in its merits and either one is a good investment of your time; however, reading these two books TOGETHER is a great experience I would recommend to anyone.  And to be genuinely nice by sharing some link love, I need to thank Bob McIlree for recommending Sutton's book to me, and I give a nod to Franke James for indirectly introducing me to Linda Kaplan Thaler.


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Beth Peck

You make some great points here and make me want to purchase the books.

I wish I could get a creativity refresher now and again, where is that in the curriculum? :)
Only 4 weeks out and life (combined with 6 weeks of summers stats) have drained me of creativity. :(

EM Sky

"Besides a couple of enjoyable novels..."

Okay, you know I'm all about the novels. What kind of fiction do you like to read?

Tom Haskins

Great post Tim!
Your addition of the adverb "genuine" got me thinking. I wonder if people who are "nice with a side order of backstabbing" are conscious of being nice, but unaware of their dark side? I wonder if genuinely nice people are born genuine (genetics), raised by genuinely nice parents, or it's a trait they acquired later in life. I wonder if a backstabber can change to genuine? I wonder what that change would involve: feedback, practicing skills, problem solving, therapy...? I wonder if the backstabber is merely confused, damaged by abuse, lacking goals to be genuine or lazy about improving his/her character?

Thanks for taking our thinking up a level.
p.s. Beth, I just reread "The Medici Effect" to recharge my creativity. It worked for me and it might for you.

Timothy Johnson

Oh No, Beth! The MBA curriculum didn't call for a remedial course. Reread Tharp (or better yet, follow Tom's advice).

Tom - thanks for providing the springboard for the next post that I did.

EM - To be honest, my wife is my literature filter. She's a voracious reader and so I generally rely on her judgment because she knows me better than just about anyone and knows what I will like and what I won't. So... this summer's novel will most likely be The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. Past favorites have included Trigiani's Big Stone Gap, Paul Reiser's books (Couplehood and Babyhood), and James Redfield's Celestine Prophecy and Tenth Insight

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