Holiday: time to do some in-depth reading

I’m just back from a great, relax holiday. Apart from having good quality time with my family, holiday is also a great time to immerse myself in some books. Instead of the quick information gathering I normally do by scanning my twitter timeline, quick-reading blog posts, and some more in-depth articles from time to time, I really focused on a single book for a couple of hours. Reading books really helps me to practice my ability to focus (which is necessary in today’s distraction culture – being offline helps a lot by the way) and, if I read the right books, is very interesting and inspiring.

In this post I just want to share two of the books I read during my holiday, they are very different, but both interesting and inspiring in their own way.

Small Giants


The tagline of “Small Giants” by Bo Burlingham basically says it all: “companies that choose to be great instead of big”. In the book Bo Burlingham describes 14 companies that he selected to be examples of what he calls “small giants”. These small giants are businesses with soul, with mojo (as he calls it). These companies do seven things to generate mojo:

  • Their founders and leaders do not accept the standard menu of options, they recognize the full range of choices they have about the type of company they can create. They question the usual definitions of success in business and imagine possibilities other than the ones all of us are familiar with.
  • Their leaders have overcome the enormous pressures on successful companies to take paths they have not chosen and do not necessarily want to follow. The people in charge have remained in control. The author emphasizes here that private ownership is key, later he states that it is possible to do the same with publicly owned companies, but explains that it is more difficult.
  • Each of these companies have an extraordinary intimate relationship with the local city, town, or country in which they do business. A relationship that went well beyond the usual concept of “giving back”.
  • They cultivate exceptionally intimate relationships with customers and suppliers, based on personal contact, one-on-one interaction, and mutual commitment to delivering on promises.
  • They have unusually intimate workplaces. They care for their people in the totality of their lives.
  • These companies have come up with an impressive variety of corporate structures and modes of governance. Some of them created their own management systems and practices. My interpretation: they also innovated and continuously improved their way of working, not just their product.
  • Their leaders have passion for what the companies do, they love the subject matter. They have deep emotional attachments to the business, to the people that work in the company, and to its customers and suppliers.

All these concepts are explained in the book with examples and stories of one or more of the 14 selected companies. This book is an easy read with a lot of stories that inspire and invite you to keep on reading. I really liked the book, it is different, thought-provoking, and inspiring!

The principles of Product Development Flow


One of the other books I read was “The principles of Product Development Flow – second generation lean product development” by Donald G. Reinertsen. This book was a whole different cup of tea. In the introduction the author already states it: “I aspire to write books with more content than fluff”. He definitely achieves this goal: it is not a business novel, not a collection of stories of successful companies, but a book with a high density of information organized in 175 principles.

What I like about the book is that it takes (and shares) lessons from many different fields. The key idea sources are lean manufacturing (of course one of the main sources, but it goes way beyond that), economics, queueing theory, statistics, telecommunications networks, computer operating system design, control engineering, and maneuver warfare. Lessons from all these fields are applied to the subject of product development and lead to principles that describe how the product development flow can be influenced.

What I also like is the design of the book. Because of the focus on principles the applicability of the book is quite broad. It doesn’t eliminate the need for thinking, but it helps to think more deeply about your choices. After reading the book you will be able to understand and explain why things like Scrum (or other agile approaches) improve software development processes a lot in comparison to some other approaches. The book does barely mention the term agile by the way. I think that’s one of it powers: it focuses on grounded principles that can be applied (and yes, that will lead you to what some people will call an agile process).

This book really inspires to focus on the the things that really matter, to not measure and act on proxy variables. It conveys a mindset of having proper economics reasons for everything you change (and thus improve) in your product development process. I will definitely use this book as a reference in the future.
Please let me know in the comments what recommendations you have for me to read next!

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    […] in his book “Small Giants” that “choose to be great instead of big” (my review). I like the gist of that book: focus on being great in every area of the business, grow only when […]

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