6 things to read in the Christmas wind-down

Are things starting to wind down as Christmas approaches? You know: the office gets empty of people and full of tinsel (fire regulations permitting, of course). The emphasis is more on finishing the communal tub of Celebrations than the to-do list. There’s that end-of-school-term vibe, when every lesson becomes a quiz, game or the first half of some retro-tastic film (in my case, it was always Labyrinth for some reason).

We know the feeling – and that it’s not really the time to try and embark on a trailblazing new project. So, to save you staring at an inbox where nothing’s going to arrive (except out-of-office messages), here’s a few suggestions of things you can usefully read.

These are some perennials of our bookshelves: things that make for helpful primers, or that we frequently reference in passing. Reading any of them would be a good investment of time – a great way to make the most of that pre-Christmas quietness.

Orwell: Why I Write

Self-reflection, pithiness and a side-order of championing democracy – plus it’s only, like, 2 pages long. Can’t be bad…

‘Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another.’

The Cluetrain Manifesto

This was the book about ‘the digital revolution’ back at the turn of the century. And there’s still lots to learn from its central premise that ‘markets are conversations’. But it’s not on our list because we see it as some kind of internet gospel. It’s more just that it’s interesting and instructive to revisit it, 15+ years on, and reflect with curiosity on its analysis and insight. Always intriguing to see how some things have dated, while others look really prescient – and useful to consider the big principles of internet, culture and social interaction.

From Arrogance to Intimacy

We often give this book to new starters as a way to quickly familiarise themselves with the world of public engagement and ‘active democracy’. It’s a great, short summary of lots of good thinking about the importance of citizen involvement in government. Also has plenty of useful stuff about digital in particular (including the principle, which we’d entirely endorse, that ‘what’s wrong with democracy can’t be fixed with a new app.’)

The Toyota Way

‘Lean’, ‘agile’ and similar methodologies have really been gaining ground the last few years, which is great to see. We’re big fans of lean approaches and have been trying to embed them into our thinking since the early days of Delib. And our starting point was to get the whole team studying this book (perhaps the ‘original’ book on lean processes). Now, staring at a literal factory production line for 8 hours isn’t something that applies directly to our work – and probably won’t to yours, either – but we’ve found the principles incredibly helpful. Try it: you’ll be reading about car parts and suddenly you’ll start seeing all sorts of ways to make your organisation radically more efficient. And, soon, ‘genchi genbutsu’ or ‘little up’ will become part of your vocabulary and you’ll be wondering how you ever ran things otherwise…

A Technique for Producing Ideas

You can finish this whole ‘book’ in about half an hour. But it packs a huge amount of brilliant, really practical instruction into its few short pages. It’s an invaluable little guide – especially for anyone who says ‘oh, I’m not creative’. It prescribes a practice – one that you can literally practise – for thinking about things in new and different ways. It’s so straightforward that you’ll probably put it down and think ‘surely, that’s just common sense’ – and yet, for many people, it will be brand new information. And it codifies and clarifies the ‘technique’ into a few simple steps that will help it stick in your head – and you’ll find yourself using it all the time. To be honest, by the time you’ve read this ‘summary’, you could probably have read the actual book. So just go do that!

East of Eden

No, it’s not a business book but I read it for the first time this year and totally loved it so I’m putting it on my list. And you know what? I daresay it will challenge you and possibly inspire you and generally leave you less likely to be OK with simply letting the world drift on by. And even if it doesn’t do those things, you can just be fascinated by the striking characters, gripped by the intriguing plot or revel in the fantastically crafted and lyrical sentences. Seriously, this book is great.