An Easy Decision: a book review.

I may not have decided to read this book, but the publisher sent me an uncorrected proof of Decisive and asked me to read it and review it if I liked it. I did read it, though I read everything else on my nightstand first and was slow to pick it up. The concept didn’t excite me, but when I finally read the book I found it really helpful. This is everything you want in a business/self help book. Chip and Dan Heath are humorous, well-researched and have plenty of examples (mostly from the business world).

The Heath brothers are the authors of Switch and Made to Stick. Chip is a professor at the  Graduate School of Business at Stanford, Dan is senior fellow at Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE). In Decisive they put forward some principles which will help us make better personal and business decisions. Too many people ‘trust their gut’ when making decisions, but that is not reliable. Others are more rational in decision-making, making lists of pros and cons; however such lists are still vulnerable to confirmation-bias. We skew our results toward the desired outcome (even if we are unaware of it). The Heaths help us get past our own subjective biases/  The acronym WRAP summarizes their suggestions and provides the organization for this book: Widen Your Options, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, Prepare to be Wrong.

The Heaths help us Widen Our Options by avoiding narrow-frame decision making. Often when we make decisions we frame it as an either/or or as a choice of ‘one.’ The Heaths get us to think about whether or not we could really do both/and, consider the costs to the outcome of our decision, multitrack decisions (allow multiple people/firms to work towards a solution and synthesize the best parts of eac)h, and to look for people/organizations which faced analogous problems and learn their solutions.

By Reality-Testing Assumptions the Heaths help us bypass our confirmation bias. Too often we seek out advice which re-enforces our own point of view. Chip and Dan suggest  giving due consideration to opposing opinions. They also want us to “Zoom out” and consider the situation from the “outside” and “Zoom in” and give the details a closer look. They also suggest that we don’t jump face first into the unknown. We should conduct a small test and evaluate the results before we leap.

Attaining Distance is all about not being caught up in the moment. The Heaths warn against short-term emotions and how they impact decision making. We tend to like what we’ve been exposed to and have an aversion to loss.  This biases us toward the status quo. When we look at our situation from an observer’s perspective we get beyond the emotional impact of our situation and can make a more reasoned decision. Likewise, we are not hoodwinked by too-good-to-be-true promises when we stick to our principles and honor our core priorities.

Preparing to Be Wrong,  involves us thinking through our decisions and developing contingency plans in the case of failure. It also means managing risks. Decisions that result in too much of a gamble should be avoided, but “trip-wires” can alert us to when we’ve gone to far, and where we should redirect.

I found these insights helpful and this book made me want to read the Heath’s other books. The book was a quick read and there were lots of business examples. I give this book ★★★★☆

Thank you to Crown Business for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Parenting with Intent: a book review

What are your intentions as a parent?  Rearing up a child is not something that just happens.  It is hard work and without some thoughtfulness you will never take steps to raise your kids right. Counselors Sissy Goff, David Thomas and Melissa Trevathan have walked with a number of families through their ministry, Daystar Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee.  They know that good parents are mindful about what they want their children to become, but they also are attentive about being the sort of parents who can provide nurture and consistency, model spiritual health, and take responsibility for their family. In Intentional Parenting they offer their insights on how we can be better parents.

Intentional Parenting by Sissy Goff, LPC, David Thomas, LMSW, and Melissa Trevathan, MRE.

Goff, Thomas and Trevathan  take turns writing each of the twelve chapters of the book which are designed to encourage parents to attend to what parenting does. They challenge parents to be intentional, patient, grown-up, balanced, consistent, playful, connected, encouraging, spiritual, merciful, and hopeful. If this seems like hard work and pressure, the final chapter dispels the notion: “Being a Free Parent.” In that chapter, Trevathan avers that our experience of God’s grace is what sets us free to parent our children and trust God with the results.

Too many parenting books tell you how to get your kids to behave or succeed. That isn’t really the focus of this book, (though  they’re not urging us to turn out ill-behaving failures either). Instead their book focuses on what God does in and through us as parents.  In the opening chapter (“Being an Intentional Parent”), Thomas argues that parenting has more to do with our own growth than our ability to turn out good, productive children:

If we are willing to consider that God designed parenting more for our own sanctification and transformation than to shape our children’s lives, we open ourselves up to movement, growth, and maturity. If we consider that God designed parenting as a place where men and women could come to ask hard questions, engage deep heartache, and find renewed hope–a place where people can grow in the range and richness of new possibility in their lives–then there is much room for maturity of heart (p.10)

What follows in this book is an explication of this point. Each author, in turn, challenges us to be the parents we long to be.  If we are to parent well, we will need to grow in patience, because let’s face it, our kids are slow and the act of parenting does not feel very efficient.  Being a ‘grown-up’ parent means that to parent well, you will have to face your past and the things that shaped you as a child (and parent).  And yes balance and consistency will need to be cultivated to do it well.  But ultimately the glory of parenting is when you get to pass on  joy, hope and freedom to each child. If I have a well behaved child, but my parenting style impedes my kid understanding God’s grace, I failed as a parent (and a human being!).

This book is full of  challenging advice from some seasoned counselors. But it is not preachy. Goff, Thomas and Trevathan are excited about what parenting does in us as we seek to love and nurture our children.  Their excitement is infectious. I give this book 4 stars!

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review through BookSneeze.


The 5 Love Languages of Children: a book review

In the Evangelical tribe I grew up in, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman provided the idiom to talk about how each us receive and give love.  Because of our unique personalities and family of origin, we each have modes of expressing love which is particularly meaningful to us. For some it words of affirmation. Others feel particularly loved when you spend quality time with them.  Giving and receiving gifts is another ‘love language.’ Others feel loved through physical touch or acts of service.  My love language is gift giving (so keep them coming ;P ). Chapman’s original book has helped countless people understand their own love needs and how to best express love to their mates (and other loved ones) whose ‘love language is often different from their own.

The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell

I don’t typically read ‘spin-off’ books. The fact that there is a Love Language book for singles, men, children, teenagers etc, seems a little too much like “Chicken Soup for the Cat-Lover’s Soul.”  It is more of a marketing ploy than something you expect to say something new. But then I am the father of three very different children and thought that The 5 Love Languages of Children would provide me with some insights on how to love my children well.  I was pleasantly surprised by what I read inside. This is a great book.

While Gary Chapman and his co-author, Ross Campbell, M.D.,  say that it is impossible to identify a primary love language for kids under the age of five, and warns that love languages can change at various stages, I gained some appreciation for the uniqueness of my three year old needs and some understanding of my five year old. My two-year-old son is still a mystery.

Chapman and Campbell devote the first half of this book to describing the five love languages and how to recognize them in your children. In the last half of the book they describe how to discipline children, foster learning and help children manage their anger by responding to them in ways which ‘fill their love language’ when we give direction or correction. They also discuss some of the unique challenges of responding to a child’s love language for single-parent families and how modelling love languages in marriage helps your children.

This is a quick read with a lot of  insight.  Every involved parent loves their children (hopefully!); however not every child feels their parent’s love. This book helps parents understand their children and offers sage advice on how to nurture them in love.  My oldest daughter seems to have a primary love language of Quality Time and loves it when you spend time with her.  My almost four year old, I would guess has a preference for acts of service. She loves it when you do things for her in a way that her independent older sister never did. This helps me respond with greater patience when she has me help her with something she is quite capable of. And of course Chapman and Campbell also encourage parents to nurture your children to express each of the love languages to others.

But the most important chapters for me would be the chapters on discipline, learning and managing anger.  My kids are unique with different personalities and I have learned that what works with one kid will not work with the others. Certainly there is a lot I still need to discover about my children but like the original Love Languages book, this gives me some words to talk about it.

I recommend this book to parents. It may be a spin-off but it delievers the goods. I give this book four stars. : ★★★★☆

Thank you to Moody Publishers for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Taking Care of Bidness: a book review

Most of the books I review on this web sight are explicitly Christian and reflect on theology, ministry or Christian formation. This book does none of those things. The publisher sent me this book with a note that explained that while this book is not a Christian book per se, the author Lee Cockerell has spoken at several pastor’s conferences.  Certainly a book which promises to help us ‘deliver sensational service’ has something to teach pastors and ministers. Am I right?

But another reason for reviewing The Customer Rules: The 39 Essential Rules for Delivering Sensational Service is that my day job is customer service. I work on a sales floor of a local  hardware store and spend my days trying to not just meet, but exceed customer expectations.   Lee Cockerell was the vice president of operations at Walt Disney World, and has held executive positions in both Marriott and Hilton Hotels.  With a lifetime of success in the hospitality industry, Cockerell has a wealth of advice about how to ‘wow’ customers with consistently excellent service.

This is not a how-to-manual or a technical business book directed at upper management.  Cockerell is laying out principles of success which can be applied by anyone no matter what  their job title or status is. After all, customer service is not a department (rule #1), it is the responsibility of the whole organization.

Essentially most of the thirty nine rules can be summarized as exhorting us to be diligent in our work and to treat customers as we would want to be treated. This means attending to their needs (and wants), listening to them,  not arguing with them or telling them no,  but anticipating their needs and offering the best solution when problems arise.  Cockerell also encourages cleanliness and good personal hygiene. That is advice we should all follow.

But is this the sort of book which has something to teach ministers about how to minister well?  I  am skeptical when pastors and church leaders tout the  latest leadership fad or business principle (remember fractals?). Yes of course we can learn about systems and hone our administrative skills when we read business books ( a guilty pleasure of mine), but we need to be careful that we are not trusting technique over the Spirit’s leading. And business has its own teleology. When an author like Cockerell writes about satisfying customers, he is hoping that this will increase your profit margin. The telos is the bottom line.  The telos of the Christian life is to be transformed into the image of Christ and to participate in the life of the Triune God.  Or as the Westminster Catechism says it: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  Taking a customer service book and applying it to ministry uncritically,  runs the risk of missing our proper teleology (never mind our understanding of what people are and what they must do to be saved).

But most of Cockerell’s advice is widely applicable to anyone because in his view good customer service is basically being a good human being. Politeness, generosity, empathy and care are his prescription for success. We can all benefit from some of his reminders.  Not that any of this is particularly revolutionary (most business books dispense similar advice). I give this book three stars.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

I AM AN INTROVERT!!?: a book review

I just finished Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and while I was reading I loved to talk to everyone about how introverted I am. I mean everyone: family, friends, co-workers, complete strangers. Anybody and everybody.  And not many of them believed me either. After all, in any given group, I am easily the most obnoxious person in the room. I am boisterously social, and love public speaking. These are not really introverted traits.  On the other hand I can just as easily pass up social gatherings for a quiet night reading, I am highly self reflective  and love listening to people’s stories. I have a little of both in me.

Cain’s term for someone who is both and extrovert and an introvert is ambivert. I am not sure that, that describes me, but extroversion and introversion exist on a continuum. You will not find a pure extrovert or introvert; yet we have our tendencies toward either pole. In Quiet, Cain draws on a broad range of research  about introversion. She describes in these pages the “man of contemplation” (which contrasts with the extrovert, “man of action”).   In praise of introverts, she describes the gifts introverts bring to the table in a world that often holds up the charismatic extrovert up as the ideal.

Cain describes this ideal of extroversion as a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the likes of Dale Carnegie, self help guru of public speaking and author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, the self-help section of your bookstore had more to do with character development. Today positive,  gregarious  go-getters (i.e. Tony Robbins) help you get ahead in life and “be successful,” often dispensing advice on relationships and public speaking.  However  this growing cultural preference for extroversion overlooks what introverts bring to the table.  Independent thinkers who work alone come up with technological breakthroughs; think tanks produce group think.  This isn’t to say that introverts do not need extroverts to help them get their ideas across, but sometimes the creative process demands a more singular vision than a communal process allows.

In part two Cain describes the biological and psychological factors which make extroverts extroverts and introverts introverts. Children who are hypersensitive to outside stimuli tend to grow up to be more introverted .  However temperament is not destiny and introverts can function highly in a variety of jobs which are traditionally seen as more extroverted roles (i.e. sales, public speakers, etc.) That isn’t to say that these “roles” do not take their tole on introverts but by providing space in their schedule for introverts to ‘recharge,’ they are able to take on roles and functions which serve them in pursuing their passions.

In part three of this book, Cain examines the Asian-American experience as an example of a culture who’s ideal is not extroversion. She tells the stories of various first and second generation Asian-Americans and their struggle to navigate  America’s extroverted culture (especially in regard to academics and business).

In her final section, Cain turns her attention to how extroverts and introverts relate to one another, when and how much introverts should act more extroverted,  and how to cultivate and challenge quieter kids in their development.

This book was great throughout. Susan Cain makes a compelling case that introverts bring essential gifts to the table. In one section of the book she describes how risk-adverse  introverts knew that the crash of 2008  was coming while the extroverted “Men of Action” charged on full speed ahead.  The introverts had thoughtfully weighed the evidence while the extroverts didn’t stop to think. But there voice wasn’t heard because they didn’t assert themselves the way extroverts do. Clearly we need the gifts of both extroverts and introverts in our communities.She also talks to introverts about managing social anxiety and fear of public speaking.  Cain has had to face her own fears of public speaking but with practice and preparation she has become more comfortable and successful at it.

Cain offers her book to introverts and those who love someone who is an  introvert. Certainly that describes us all. However I liked this book because it helped me get in touch with aspects of my character which are more introverted. Even if I’m still the most obnoxious person in the room, I give this book 5 stars ★★★★★

Thank you to Random House for providing me acopy of this book through the Water Brook Multnomah Blogging for Books program. This is my honest review.