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Category: Reading (page 1 of 2)

On Relationships and Reading Pre-Read Books

Donald Miller - Blue Like JazzI like it when my wife reads books before I do. Curiously, she underlines and makes notes about many of the same passages I would. And she often highlights sections I wouldn’t (at least on a first reading), which helps me learn.

Right now I’m re-reading Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. I read it several years ago but was thinking about it again after reading Scott Berkun’s new memoir last week. Scott’s book is about his family relationships, and most significantly about his relationship with his father. I’d remembered Donald Miller mentioning his father–who left the family early in young Donald’s life–in Blue Like Jazz.

In light of reading these two books, I’m thinking a lot about my role as a father, a friend, and a mentor. I have lots of opportunities to talk with and advise students and graduates at LCU. With nine children, I get lots of opportunities to parent. But I think I need to seek more relationships with my professional peers (academic work tends to be isolating) and seek out a mentor or two.

Reading, of course, can bring a kind of mentoring. But I also need some relationships with people I can see and talk with. I’m grateful for Scott Berkun and Donald Miller for helping me become aware of this.

Book Review: The Ghost of My Father by Scott Berkun


When I recommend a book, it may be that I’ve learned something from it that I think others will also find valuable, or maybe it was an enjoyable diversion, or maybe the author’s experience and wisdom offered some insight that helps me become a better person. In nearly every case, I can say, “This was good; you should read it.”

I’ve read Scott Berkun’s books on project management, public speaking, and his year with WordPress (and without pants). I’ve recommended them all. I trust Scott as an author.

This new book, however, is different. I’ve finished it and I’m conflicted.

Here Scott tells the story of his family and his search for acknowledgement and affirmation from a distant father. His experience, sadly, is shared by far too many.

It is a profoundly introspective and painful book. I felt a deep sorrow as I read through the first two chapters, hoping the family would find some resolution and reconciliation. I won’t spoil the conclusion.

If you want a cheerful family story with unexpected quirky and sunny anecdotes, look elsewhere. In this book, Scott Berkun invites the reader into his journey in an honest and vulnerable way. You’ll probably find yourself, as I did, turning the pages and reflecting on your relationship with your own father, and–if you’re a parent–thinking hard about how you relate to your children.

I suspect the process of writing the book, though difficult, proved cathartic for Scott and led to insights that helped him grow. He mentions a couple of moments when his brother Todd offered wise advice that brought clarity and even changed the way he approached his relationship with his father.

So what’s the value of this for those courageous enough to enter into the Berkun family story, and why am I conflicted about recommending it? This is not a book for everyone. For some it may evoke too many unpleasant memories and emotions about family. It’s a very personal and intimate story, and you’ll have an emotional response to it. For this reason, it may simply be too painful to read.

But there’s a good chance you’re trying (or have tried) to understand your own story. The questions and challenges posed in this book may mirror your own. And it may give you the courage to explore those questions within your family. If you see aspects of yourself in the characters presented in the pages, you may also determine you need to make changes for the benefit of those around you.

If you’re interested in more of this sort of writing, but perhaps with a more redemptive outlook consider Donald Miller’s Father Fiction or Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Father and Son: Finding Freedom.

Scott’s written an FAQ on his blog, which gives some helpful background to the book.

Summer Reading: Four (no, Five) Business/Marketing Books I’m Recommending


Since I’m not teaching over the summer, I usually have more time to attack the pile of books that accumulates during the year. It’s not that I don’t have other things to do (like making pictures or running to Ethiopia a couple times), but at least the teaching gig is off my plate for a few weeks.

So far I’ve read four books that you might like:

  • Go Tell It by Jim Killam and Lincoln Brunner. I’ve reviewed it here. Currently the Kindle version is on sale for $1.99–a ridiculous bargain.
  • Launch by Jeff Walker. Normally I’d steer away from a title like this (Internet marketer reveals his biggest secrets! Act now!) but Michael Hyatt recommended it. I’ve been following Michael Hyatt’s blog for years and trust him so I gave the Jeff Walker book a shot. My verdict: it’s solid. Lots of good marketing advice if you have a product idea (or don’t) and want to start or grow an online business.
  • Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl. Tim helps authors do book launches the way Jeff Walker helps business types do product launches. Both Jeff and Tim say the number one thing you can do to grow your business/book: build your email list. Even if you’re not an author (yet), the advice in Tim’s book is very similar and complementary to what you’ll find in Jeff’s book.
  • Platform by Michael Hyatt. I’ll admit I was a bit of a dummy on this one. Michael offered a great package of pre-launch incentives with the book and I didn’t bite. So now, two years later, I’m finally buying it and reading it. Again, some similarities to the other two books I just mentioned but a bit more breadth and a little more hand-holding for beginners. Michael is writing to authors, creatives, and others who want to sell a book, idea, or product, and he gives tons of practical recommendations.

I also started The Poverty of Nations by economist Barry Asmus and theologian Wayne Grudem but gave it away to a friend, so I’ll need to get another copy. The book offers a comprehensive but concise overview of the reasons why some countries prosper and others languish in poverty, making dozens of practical policy recommendations that will help elevate those countries.

The book is written at a high level–the policy recommendations need to be implemented at a national level for real change to take place–but there’s a lot of learning here for those who’d like to join the conversation. One takeaway: that Fair Trade coffee you’re buying? It’s not helping anyone become less poor.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Buy This Book: “Go Tell It” on Sale for $1.99


The Kindle version of James Killam and Lincoln Brunner’s nifty Go Tell It is on sale at Amazon for $1.99.

I liked this book so much I reviewed it on my blog last month and on the Amazon site. Seriously, just get it.

Don’t Be Boring–Tell a Story (Please)

No more boring church newsletters or dull missions presentations, OK?

If you’re in missions or church ministry and need to communicate to others the importance of what you do, please check out Go Tell It, a new book by veteran journalists Jim Killam and Lincoln Brunner. It’s a simple and practical book on storytelling through writing, photography, and video.

It’s good stuff that will help you tell your story and move people to action–I wrote a quick review of it on Amazon.

EXTRA CREDIT: After you read Go Tell It, pick up the Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick.

Dan Pink “Guest Lectures” at Lincoln Christian University

Dan Pink "guest lectures" at Lincoln Christian University

Reading good books is a great way to learn and improve your life (and the lives of those around you). Getting a chance to chat with a book’s author? Even better.

This semester, business administration students in my Marketing II class at Lincoln Christian University read Dan Pink’s To Sell Is Human, and we thought it would be cool to have a conversation with Dan about the book. I was part of the launch team for TSIH in the fall of 2012 and emailed Dan a few weeks ago to see if he’d be open to Skyping with the class. He agreed and we “met” today for Dan’s guest lecture. Here’s a recording of our conversation.

Dan has written a number of bestselling books that I’ve read and continue to recommend to my students and friends interested in business, work, career, and motivation: A Whole New Mind, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, and Drive.

If you’re interested in learning more about To Sell Is Human, I’ve reviewed it and written a summary that you may find helpful.

Many thanks to Dan for doing what he does and making himself available for LCU students today.


Free summary of Dan Pink’s “To Sell Is Human”

Dan Pink - To Sell Is Human - reviewed by Michael Gowin

Last year I participated on the launch team for Dan Pink’s nifty new book To Sell Is Human (Amazon link). As a member of the launch team, I received a galley copy to review. Dan makes the convincing case that everyone is in sales now, and he shows you how to navigate the new world of sales. I think it’s an outstanding book.

I created a 16-page summary of the book, which I passed along to the other members of the launch team and now use as a handout for my students at Lincoln Christian University. The students in my Marketing II class are reading TSIH as a textbook this semester.

The summary is available as a Google Doc here. Print yourself a copy then make sure you get Dan’s bestselling book.

Government as a Character in Harry Potter and The Hunger Games

Hunger Games

If you’ve read the Harry Potter or The Hunger Games books (or seen the movies), you know that the protagonists in those series have to contend with the “powers that be.”

For Harry and his friends, it’s the Ministry of Magic, which mostly serves as an obstacle to the young wizards’ efforts to defeat Voldemort. Katniss, on the other hand, is fighting a more sinister and systemic evil: government itself.

Here’s an intriguing comparison of the role of government in the two series. Interesting how the latter may mirror many Americans’ attitudes now.

Peter Blair – “Remember Who the Real Enemy Is”

Two Books I Hope You’ll Read This Month

The potential for future strife, in my view, involves maximizing acquisition and application of knowledge. We will see both institutionally (nations, businesses, enterprises) and individually a chasm grow between those who can readily use knowledge and those who cannot. That strife will be both internecine and international. We need to stop teaching people irrelevant content which can be acquired in seconds when needed, and start teaching them how to learn, so that knowledge acquisition is natural and lifelong. — Alan Weiss

My students at Lincoln Christian University are winding down the fall semester. Like students at schools all over the country, they’ll have about four weeks of vacation before the spring semester begins. So what to do with all that unstructured time?

How about this: keep learning.

Just as consultant Alan Weiss asserts, your ability to constantly learn is a competitive advantage, and one that doesn’t depend on any school or classroom.

With that in mind, here are two books you could read over the Christmas break that have the potential to pay dividends throughout your life:

Dan Pink, recently named by Thinkers50 as one of the top 15 business and management thinkers in the world, wrote the first American business book in manga, the Japanese comic book style. An instant bestseller, it offers career advice for young and old alike–and it has a pretty cool trailer (below).

Johnny Bunko trailer from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

Richard St John’s book offers similar advice but from a different angle. After being asked the seemingly simple question “How do you become successful?” by a young teenage girl, he set out to find the answer. Ten years, 500 interviews, and reams of data later, 8 to Be Great tells you what successful people do–and you can do what they do. Here’s a summary of the book that Richard St John gave in a TED talk (below).

Both books are fun, easy to read, and undeniably helpful. You can read Dan Pink’s book in 90 minutes–it’s a comic book, for crying out loud. Richard St John’s can be read in a couple of sittings, so you have no excuse to not read them both.

I’m encouraging my children to read them. In fact, my thirteen-year-old daughter has already read Johnny Bunko and we’ve had some good conversation about its lessons.

I wish these books had been available when I was 20. If you’re in college now, please do yourself a favor and read them. You’ll get a 20 year head start on me.

Bonus assignment if you finish these: Seth Godin’s Linchpin.

Book Review: “The Year Without Pants” by Scott Berkun

Can you name a company that hires employees without formal interviews and instead gives prospective job seekers a real assignment to see how they deal with it? Or a company that has a headquarters but whose international workforce hardly ever works there? Or that requires every new hire to spend their first weeks at the company working in customer support?

It’s the same company that hosts nearly 73 million blogs, and the platform on which this blog runs: WordPress.

Scott Berkun, a former project manager at Microsoft and now an author of some fine books, wanted to find out more about what it would be like to work at an organization with an entirely distributed workforce. So he spent a year as a team manager at WordPress and then wrote a book about the experience. Hence The Year Without Pants.

I’ve read Berkun’s books on project management and public speaking, and am a regular reader of his blog. He’s typically insightful, provocative, and funny. When I saw that he’d be doing a book on WordPress, which I’ve used for about seven years now, I figured it would be worth the read.

What: The book is structured chronologically, running from the initial arrangements that led to Berkun’s hire through end of his year+ of employment with WordPress. Berkun offers a look at the dynamics of his team and the projects on which they worked, as well as how that work and the team fit into the larger WordPress structure. There’s also some reflection on larger management, culture, and leadership issues as well as Berkun’s thoughts on “the future of work” in a world where a computer and an Internet connection can link almost anyone anywhere in the world.

Audience: Anyone who wants an inside look at how WordPress works as an organization, project managers, and HR and business types who are curious about how a distributed workforce can really get stuff done. I’d also recommend it for anyone who wants to do better at leading teams–you’ll get the vicarious experience of watching Scott Berkun lead his team and get a glimpse at the thinking and motivations behind his decisions.

Nuggets: Here are few bits that I underlined (well, highlighted on my Kindle version).

No technique, no matter how good, can turn stupid coworkers into smart ones. And no method can magically make employees trust each other or their boss if they have good reason not to. (p 29)

Product creators are the true talent of any corporation, especially one claiming to bet on innovation. The other roles don’t create products and should be there to serve those who do. A classic betrayal of this idea is when the IT department dictates to creatives what equipment they can use. If one group has to be inefficient, it should be the support group, not the creatives. If the supporting roles, including management, dominate, the quality of products can only suffer. (p 38)

Every tradition we hold dear was once a new idea someone proposed, tried, and found valuable, often inspired by a previous tradition that had been outgrown. The responsibility of people in power is to continually eliminate useless traditions and introduce valuable ones. An organization where nothing ever changes is not a workplace but a living museum. (p 76)

Morale isn’t an event; it’s the accumulated goodwill people build through work together. (p 206)

Application: After reading the book, I decided to try an experiment in one of my Lincoln Christian University classes. The marketing class is working on a project in teams. In the past, I’ve always met with each team to check on their progress and address problems. For a class with four teams, this meant scheduling multiple meetings with each team–a significant logistical challenge at the end of the semester.

For this class, I asked each team to select a project manager. Instead of meeting with all of the teams, I’m meeting only with the project managers. So far this has created two improvements: fewer meetings and more collaboration. Instead of scheduling four meetings with four teams, I have one meeting with the four project managers. And the teams are sharing ideas more than I’ve seen in the past. The semester isn’t over yet, so the plan could still flop but I like what I’m seeing so far.

This upcoming spring semester, I have two of my LCU students working on a human resource management independent study. I’ll have them read The Year Without Pants as one of their texts. I also want to use more project management ideas in future classes, passing more responsibility along to the students with the hope that it better prepares them for life after LCU.

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