“Culture Fix” by Colin Ellis

Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work from Liverpool, UK born author Colin Ellis is the latest entry in an ever growing library of books addressing the subject of organizational/corporate culture. It is difficult to conceive of a work more comprehensive and well-rounded on this subject; Ellis leaves no stone unturned in his appraisal of what it takes to implement and nurture a business culture that satisfies its participants and maximizes their potential. Ellis’ success in this area comes as no surprise; he boasts over three decades of familiarity with this subject and has a well-established reputation as a leading voice on the subject thanks to countless speaking appearances and previous books. Culture Fix doesn’t waste readers’ time with trite observations they can arrive at on their own or rephrased from other works; Ellis has a common sense yet individual approach to the subject apparent throughout the entirety of this book.

MORE ABOUT COLIN ELLIS: https://www.colindellis.com/books/culture-fix

Ellis has a slightly off the cuff manner defining the book that makes for an inviting reading experience. It isn’t so casual as to lose its focus, but his relaxed style helps bring to life what might be a dry subject for some readers. His preface for the book has this quality present stronger than anywhere else in the book and lays out the general goals he hopes to achieve without ever belaboring them for the reader. The book’s structure centers six pillars of culture Ellis believes are essential to observe if an individual or organization hopes to transform their culture into a vibrant atmosphere encouraging creativity, contentment, and productivity.

He has put a great deal of research into reinforcing his ideas but it never overwhelms his own voice. The secondary materials, instead, complement Ellis’ own ideas and conclusions and he never overlooks documenting them for those who intend on further reading. The straight forward approach he takes towards presenting the aforementioned pillars incorporates both quantifiable ideas about culture with Ellis’ own personal views in a fully integrated way. You will never feel like his voice overtakes the work, but Ellis’ talent for making his voice a part of the reading experience is critical for the book’s success.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Culture-Fix-Create-Great-Place-ebook/dp/B07YCXW7CH

Culture Fix is not a brief gloss job, but it has lean economy eschewing useless digressions and sideshows. The book’s individual sections within each “pillar” are never lengthy or wordy and the brisk pace Ellis maintains throughout the work sweeps readers along. Culture Fix isn’t a book demanding to be read in a traditional fashion; its structure gives readers the flexibility to drop in and out of the text as they wish and need without undercutting the book’s value for readers. It’s the latest achievement in Ellis’ long career and reinforces his status as one of the most insightful voices heard on this subject. He understands the concept of culture and its many implications with thoroughness and imagination only a handful of his contemporaries equal and his latest work proves this. Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work is one of the best books of its type published in recent memory.

Kim Muncie

The Messenger: The Songwriting Legacy of Ray Wylie Hubbard

Ray Wylie Hubbard may not be top of mind to casual Country/Americana music fans, but he certainly influenced a slew of the musicians making that music today.

It seems rather appropriate then that Hubbard’s peers and acolytes would come together to explain his musical brilliance in writing. The Messenger, though not the best book to explain the life and career of Hubbard (that one would be his own 2015 memoir, A Life… Well, Lived), it does a pretty solid job of explaining his appeal by those who know him best. Chronicled by Brian T. Atkinson, the book collects an army of interviews from friends, peers and followers; folks like Bobby Bare, Steve Earle, Ben Kweller and Chris Robinson, among many, many others. But the most touching tributes come in the forewords, by longtime pal Jerry Jeff Walker and relative newcomer (at least compared to Walker and Hubbard) Hayes Carll. One of the best stories recounted here is the 1973 live version of Hubbard’s “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother,” covered by Walker on his live album with a shout out to the song’s author in the intro, a move that brought a lot more attention to Hubbard’s own work.

The book covers his early years, playing folk music in college as part of Three Faces West, and his evolution to a folk/country singer songwriter on par with Walker, Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark. Like his memoir, The Messenger is pretty frank about his substance problems drawing a clear distinction between his pre- and post- sober career.  A strong book, paired nicely with A Life… Well, Lived, this latest entry in the Hubbard library is further proof of just how influential his music remains today.

The Messenger: The Songwriting Legacy of Ray Wylie Hubbard/Hardcover, 272 pages/Texas A&M University Press/2019

Kris Oestergaard explains Transforming Legacy Organizations

Kris Oestergaard’s Transforming Legacy Organizations is a short book brimming over with information. It has an ambitious aim. Oestergaard studies how long-standing companies with deep histories are able to compete with modern start ups if they are willing to embrace innovation, encourage a culture valuing its principles, and commit themselves towards overcoming whatever perils may obstruct their vision for future development. His examination is well rounded. There are no extended sidebars or useless personal reflections. He maintains a conversational tone throughout that makes the book’s ideas accessible for a broad-based readership. Transforming Legacy Organizations is a brisk and informative read.

I found his construction of the book to be one of its strongest components. Oestergaard builds Transforming Legacy Organizations in a coherent fashion by laying out a thesis of sorts and roadmap for readers during the book’s introduction whilst also serving us notice of the general template for what follows. Oestergaard does not fill the book with one pronouncement after another lacking substance to back his assertions but, instead, buttresses his claims and ideas with solid research that never overwhelms the reader. Transforming Legacy Organizations is not a scholarly work, but it is informed by a thorough reading of what has been written about innovation in established companies and advancements made over the last decade. It is current and forward looking throughout the entirety of the book.

YOU TUBE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O25lr6ZIe-M

The first section of the book concerns itself with what legacy organizations must do to prime themselves for innovation. Oestergaard stresses the need for awareness – even long standing successful companies can benefit from examining what other, perhaps younger and smaller, companies are doing in this realm. Self-awareness is key as well. A clearly delineated purpose is essential for success and defining goals leads to a greater chance for realization. He faces the specter of bias – personal and institutional – and how our predispositions towards new ideas can often subvert our forward progress. Once again, he backs his ideas in this area up with detailed existing examples – his writing on Amazon’s evolution illustrates his ideas in clear fashion.

The second half of the book looks at what Oestergaard deems the “immune” systems in a company’s workforce, overall structure, and societal that can undercut an organization’s efforts pursuing innovation. He acknowledges human nature’s natural wont to embrace stability and the status quo over pursuing innovation and change, better the devil you know than the one you don’t, but Oestergaard sees this as a potential fatal flaw in an organization’s approach. If legacy organizations desire continued growth and relevancy, it is essential they avoid such stumbling blocks. He lays out a clear path for doing so after looking at how these immune systems manifest themselves in a company’s structure.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Transforming-Legacy-Organizations-Established-Innovation-ebook/dp/B07SNGX9CG

The final portion of the book begins by revisiting an example Oestergaard writes about near the book’s beginning – the “extra razor” and how it relates to optimizing innovation. Gillette added new razor blades to their shaving products in the belief it provided more comprehensive results for customers who shave, but Dollar Shave Club entered the commercial picture, simplified the product by reducing the number of blades to a minimum and sold their product at low cost to the consumer. Proctor & Gamble responded with their own club, but the belated response came only after they realized they were facing a huge new competitor.

He delves into how companies can augment innovation by exploring digital and emerging AI platforms\ vehicles citing General Electric’s efforts as a prime example illustrative of his point. Organizational culture hacks are also discussed as a critical tool in facilitating augmentation of a company’s innovative ambitions. The third tier in Oestergaard’s discussion of implementing an ongoing vision for innovation is how this aspect of a company’s purpose can benefit from mutation – more specifically, how bold ideas about new company structure and technologies can open up thrilling new avenues of potential. His discussion of the subject is, once again, laden with many well chosen examples illuminating his point. Kris Oestergaard’s Transforming Legacy Organizations has something for everyone interested in the subject and those in business leadership positions will find it rewarding to return to this book again and again.

Kim Muncie

Risk: Living On The Edge by Michael Tenenbaum

The financial information pertaining to risk factors alone are what help pack Risk: Living On The Edge full of vital history in the age of mass data and tells some great stories involving the rise of it all in chapter 3, and that’s one of its more fascinating parts early on for me. The information in the stories are key to getting interested in the following chapters in the book from where I’m standing, and these financial situations involving numbers find the right placing. But there’s so much more to give this book five stars for, chapter 3 is only where it starts to take off.

ABOUT THE BOOK: https://riskthebook.com/

The adventures of Michael Tenenbaum are another story within the story altogether and that’s where it achieves most of its praise-worthy content once a little prepared for it in the early chapters. This isn’t some quick scan of information, it’s the opposite, filled with a maximum wealth of exciting and informative literature on the subject. And one of first-hand accounts from an actual risk taker of global status. You get just as much on Tenenbaum himself and it’s a long but economical read with an enormously satisfying approach to a subject not everyone thinks about.

I couldn’t set it down once I got into it, but it can be read chapter by chapter like anything else, it’s just worth mentioning that it reads pretty- fast and easy for its length. You never have to back track to guess where something is going, it moves freely through each chapter, so it takes its own risks in that department, but it has no lumps to be found in the process. I could use a whole series of this from Tenenbaum, but it could be asking too much because it really leaves no variable facts uncovered but who doesn’t like updates either.

If that isn’t enough it’s full of ways to stay informed on risk measures of just about any kind while you learn about how and why it’s important to manage risk at any cost and in any situation. It’s a lot of great information and it’s told in a way that takes right inside the mind of the author who’s lived everything he’s written about with Co-Author Donna Beech. You get the accounts of a risk taker himself who shares what he’s learned by way of world travel to some of the most dangerous places and situations to be in. GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44321487-risk

You also get the angle of what he’s learned as he’s gone, and that is where Tenenbaum shares a magnitude of unembellished facts that not only entice on the subject but would fascinate the novice or even the curious and send them away happy they read it. This book will please any and every reader who buys it, and you can’t say that about everything going out to shelves and devices these days. Tenenbaum writes a book to be compared to that of any on the dangers and benefits of risk taking for everything it is worth.

Kim Muncie

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years By Robert Dean Lurie (Book)

There have been numerous books written about Athens-based R.E.M. dating back to the mid-1990s, but few seem as personal as the latest entry from former Athenian Robert Dean Lurie.

The book strength is also, at times, its biggest weakness. The author, who moved to Athens, GA in the ‘90s, in part thanks to its burgeoning music scene, inserts his own narrative into some of the book. And while it can be a little distracting at times, overall, it’s these personal anecdotes and detailed descriptions of living in that college town that allows it to stand out among all of the other R.E.M. bios that came before it.

Another big advantage, along with having the hindsight to be able to look back on the band almost a decade after they dissolved, is that Lurie focuses a bulk of the book on the band’s founding and first few albums. He ends the narrative in 1987, before the band leaves their indie label for Warner Bros on a track that would bring them global stardom. By focusing on the early years, he can hone in on what made the band so unique at the time. Through interviews with the band’s college friends, many who knew the members before R.E.M. came together, Lurie is able to piece together a detailed, insightful and thoroughly exhaustive narrative of the band at its founding and slightly before.

Begin The Begin may not be the first book on R.E.M., but it’s a crucial read for anyone looking to understand R.E.M. and how they were able to create such a massive impact on modern American music.

Begin The Begin: R.E.M.’s Early Years By Robert Dean Lurie /Paperback, 288 pages/Verse Chorus Press/2019

Brandon Siegel – The Private Practice Survival Guide

One of the keys to making “self help” books, especially those of a decidedly professional nature, successful for readers is personalization. It is one thing to, essentially, consume a multi-hour lecture in text form, no matter how well composed, if there is no personal element present in the author’s presentation. It is quite another thing, however, to feel drawn into the life experiences that helped shape their philosophy and carried them to success in their chosen profession. Such experiences make us feel like we are part of something alongside the author and we connect with them in ways we cannot with otherwise dreary academics who approach the problem from an intellectual point of view alone. Brandon Seigel’s The Private Practice Survival Guide understands this quite well and, after only a few pages in, perceptive readers will possess a strong sense of the man behind this text.

ABOUT WELLNESS WORKS: https://www.wellnessworksmp.com/about/

The primary theme underlying the entirety of the book is the necessity of self-empowerment in achieving professional goals. The necessary change begins and ends with you alone. One of the earliest ideas in the book many readers may find compelling and thought-provoking is Seigel’s take on the idea of “exchange” – his insight into how this often constitutes much more than financial interaction is something many of us, myself included, often forget in our desire to accumulate, pay bills, plan ahead, and so on. Here, as elsewhere, Seigel lays out his concepts and ideas in a succinct yet conversational style that feels like a man truly invested in helping his readers reach their ambitions rather than a distant author enumerating ideas for his reading audience.

Seigel shares a number of stories along the way to help illustrate points he is trying to make but does so with brevity and style. These moments never threaten to overwhelm the book. The text likewise encourages self-anabasis at every turn via a variety of methods as a way of clarifying aspects of one’s self or defining attributes of your business in a concise, focused way. There is literally no part of this topic he fails to touch on. Seigel’s work explores why private practices often fail in great detail and through his own personal experiences, obstacles private practitioners face in establishing, maintaining, and growing their business, as well as other key subjects for consideration in setting up private practice – sexual harassment training, billing, and how to organize an effective and responsive Human Resources department.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Private-Practice-Survival-Guide-Journey/dp/1643399373

The Private Practice Survival Guide is a thoughtful and insight volume that, like many entries in this genre, has application to our everyday lives, not just the professional side of things. Brandon Seigel has incorporated a vast wealth of experience into a vision for how to set out on your own, fulfilling your professional ambitions, and reaching the multitude of goals such individuals often harbor inside. This well written book is a work readers can return to over and over as an invaluable reference for effective approaches to commonplace issues for entrepreneurs of all kinds.  

Kim Muncie

Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-Of-Age Comedies From Animal House to Zapped!

Given today’s current sensitivities around, well, just about everything, it’s hard to image even a third of the movies profiled in Mike McPadden’s fantastically entertaining encyclopedia of teen comedies, Teen Movie Hell, ever being made. But for those who grew up in the ‘80s trying to catch a glimpse of nudity via scrambled cable movies on channels you didn’t subscribe to, or their slightly more watered down cinematic siblings on basic cable shows like USA’s Up All Night, this book serves as the bible of raunchy comedies we never knew we needed until now.

McPadden and his contributors take an almost scholarly approach to dissecting the appeal of these mostly-low budget T&A filled comedies. Though they reach back to the 1960’s to start the evolution of these movies, the bulk were gifted to us via Ragan’s greedy Me, Me, Me era of the 1980s. The majority of Teen Movie Hell is made of an alphabetical listing and review of the most seminal and in some cases, under the radar also rans – of teen-focused ranch coms, from 1988’s After School (aka Private Tutor: Return to Eden) to 1978’s Zuma Beach.        

Sprinkled throughout are some positively impressive essays about the films from this era, specifically Kat Ellinger’s The Ellinger Code: Teen Sex Comedies in the Age of #MeToo and for All Eternity and the importance of abortion as a real topic being introduced to teens for the first time via Fast Times at Ridgemont High in Wendy McClure’s strong essay The Free Clinic Isn’t Free.

Teen Movie Hell is so much more than a guide to the golden era of teen movie raunch (although that’s definitely, thankfully a part of it). But it stands as a brilliant look at a different time from authors who were the prime targets of those movies, giving a part nostalgic, part cringe-worthy tour of a time period in cinematic history that will likely never be revived.      

Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-Of-Age Comedies From Animal House to Zapped! By Mike “McBeardo” McPadden/ Paperback, 360 pages/Bazillion Points/2019 / Facebook / Domain

Christina Reeves & Dimitrios Spanos – The Mind is the Map

Christina Reeves and Dimitrios Spanos, co-authors of The Mind is the Map: Awareness is the Compass and Emotional is the Key to Living Mindfully from the Heart, bring a personal touch and considerable intellectual firepower to the aforementioned work. It is a condensed and focused book, clocking in at less than three hundred pages, and their tight aim on promoting a system oriented approach to realizing human potential likely means the effects of this volume will resonate for years to come with its readers. Despite delving into their own experiences to help push their take on living mindfully and expanding the possibilities of human consciousness, The Mind is the Map avoids bathos or any self indulgence.

Some readers will take a hard pass on the book’s relentless optimism. Reeves and Spanos alike often make it sound like their proposed design for living is within the realm of possibility if an interested party puts their plan into action. The book lacks significant respect for the psychology barriers often obstructing us from “living mindfully”, though they do pay some lip service to this reality. Despite the inherent optimism present in this work, Reeves and Spanos do not shirk the difficult self-examination necessary for achieving the goals outlined in The Mind is the Map; any objections I have center on the idea they believe it is possible for everyone. I am not convinced. Nonetheless, one cannot help but admire how they explore their aims with such completeness. It is obvious from the first few pages Reeves and Spanos alike immerse themselves in their point of view and they make their case with the conviction of a zealot, yet never preach to or hector their target audience. Their style is best described as exhortative, but it isn’t strident.

Despite the obvious knowledge Spanos and Reeves bring to the table, derived from personal experience and reading, The Mind is the Map never bogs down with academic stiffness. The authors, instead, structure the book more as an exchange between them and invite the reader to listen in without ever resorting to direct address. The prose style of the work has a relaxed air, conversational without ever seeming blasé, and the language remains accessible throughout while still challenging readers. I do have some objection to their reliance on posing questions for the reader throughout the entirety of the work, but I realize this is an essential component in framing the book’s arguments and its importance in demonstrating the sort of approach they believe interested parties should take regarding self-investigation.

This is a worthwhile read for anyone, particularly those with pre-existing grounding in these ideas, but I concede it will not appeal to everyone. No matter. The Mind is the Map is a thorough dive into a topic central to human experience and doesn’t often fall back on cliché; instead, Spanos and Reeves engage with the subject in a realistic way from the outset and discerning readers will recognize that from the start. I believe, furthermore, that they will find a lot here if they stick with the work through its conclusion.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Mind-Map-Journey-Discovering-Treasure/dp/173220540X

Kim Muncie

Joan Kuhl – Dig Your Heels In

This is, unfortunately, a timeless book. I say unfortunately because there shouldn’t be a need for Joan Kuhl’s Dig Your Heels In: Navigate Corporate BS and Build the Company You Deserve in these presumably enlightened times. You would think that our modern age and society would have long since put out to pasture the workplace/professional inequality that has bedeviled women since time immemorial, but you would be wrong to believe so. Kuhl’s book and the personal experiences she shares between its covers makes clear how many of these issues are systemic and remain prevalent, though perhaps less overt than half a century ago thanks to an increased willingness from women to speak up and some laws and regulations in place to discourage such conduct. Kuhl’s book confronts these problems head on and offers solid advice for women on how to contend with these problems when they arise.

AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Dig-Your-Heels-Navigate-Corporate/dp/152309835X

She writes with startling clarity and doesn’t mince or waste words when addressing the multiple ways workplace bias and inequality manifest themselves. Dig Your Heels In isn’t an extended work bloated with repetition or filler material and Kuhl’s presentation emphasizes an easily digestible format for her readers. This is the hallmark of an experienced writer – Kuhl has other publications to her credit and her authorial savvy is evident on each page. Despite the assertive title, the book doesn’t beat drums and call on women to storm boardrooms and offices across the land. Kuhl is never so crass. The book, essentially, promotes a simple message implied by the title – stand your ground and don’t be afraid of negative perception because dignity and professional respect is worth more than the opinion of those who do not value your efforts through no fault of your own.

As mentioned earlier, Kuhl relates her personal experiences dealing with this issue and the vulnerability of such a move further endeared me to the book. It also gives an added air of authority to her thoughts and instruction for readers – she has “been there” rather than offering a work based off research and others experiences alone. There is definitely a “how to” element defining this work, but it never undercuts its inherent quality. Instead, the instructional aspects of this book provides readers, particularly women, with an essentially step by step structure for approaching these problems in their own workplace while still exploring all of the potential pitfalls and misgivings they may experience and feel along the way.

ABOUT JOAN KUHL: http://joankuhl.com/

Perhaps one day future readers or societal observers may look back on a work like this as a relic from a more complicated and less open-minded era. I definitely would like to believe that day will come. Dig Your Heels In, for now however, is intensely relevant to challenges women continue to face in their careers and professional lives, but Kuhl never talks down to the reader, holds us above those experiences, and doesn’t allow her ideas and writing to turn into a broadside against the male gender. She has, instead, produced a work any intelligent and thoughtful reader will respond to.

Scottie Carlito

Ira Kaufman & Velimir Srića – The World is Broken, We Need to Fix It: Path to Strategic Harmony

The most notable facet of this book, for me, is its lack of a dogmatic or partisan point of view. Ira Kaufman and Velimir Srića’s The World is Broken, We Need to Fix It: Path to Strategic Harmony acknowledges and examines the many challenges humanity faces nearly twenty years into the 21st century, but it never latches onto a particular school of political thought, but rather takes a broad-based humanistic approach. The book’s introduction lays this out with a clearly written and authoritative tone, but there’s never a hint of hectoring or preaching in the book’s “voice”. Instead, they sketch out the work’s thesis and prepare readers for what is to come.

The authors do an exceptional job early on of fleshing out the book’s central idea of “strategic harmony”. Some may greet the idea that what we think, do, feel, and hope for is a simplistic framework for restructuring the world as we know it today and realizing genuine change, but the writers build their case convincingly without ever viewing the world and their ideas through “rose colored glasses”. Moreover, they often back up their argument with well-chosen research further buttressing their arguments. Again, it is a hallmark of this thoughtful work just how well delineated such moments are and it strengthens the book as a whole. Even those readers who either disagree or remain skeptical will acknowledge the passion and, above all else, the intelligence behind Kaufman and Srića’s presentation.

RELATED ARTICLE: https://thinkcatalytic.com/our-shattered-world-the-business-challenge-91bbda2577b2

I like how the writers preface each chapter with well chosen epigrams from a variety of source and how they systematically dismantle a series of what they deem to be “myths” in our modern society without ever taking on a sour tone. The main body of the work goes on to break down each of the author’s underlying ideas without ever immersing the reader in a wealth of needless detail. Some of the terminology they adopt, words like “catalytic” and “catalyzers”, are not inaccessible to the casual reader – rather they illustrate how the proposed values should be synthesized into a multi-threaded approach towards transforming every aspect of our modern world. They provide, at key points, illustrations further elaborating on their ideas and many readers will find those helpful.

They bring the book to a satisfying conclusion by decisively tying the aforementioned threads together. Everything matters – the economic, socio-political, political, technological, and they note how their ideas can and will, if pursued, reshape each of those elements. The same lack of hectoring or high-handedness present in the beginning of this work remains strong at its conclusion and demonstrates the overall balance characterizing Kaufman and Srića’s style. Despite being a relatively lengthy work, even readers with a cursory interest in the challenges faced by humanity today will find The World is Broken, We Need to Fix It: Path to Strategic Harmony an illuminating read, but those who are truly engaged with those challenges will take a step further – they will find this book to be essential reading and return to it again and again.

Mindy McCall