Features list 2021 – submitting content to Personnel TodayOn this page you will find details of how to submit content to Personnel Today. We do not publish a… Comments are closed. Learning to think outside the booksOn 14 Jan 2003 in Military, Personnel Today Related posts: Previous Article Next Article Managementbooks are all very well, but when it comes to finding real answers to businessproblems, most of us would rather settle down with something completelydifferent. Paul Simpson offers an alternative reading list for HR professionalsEverynew year brings three things: a hangover, a set of new resolutions to make andbreak (even if the new resolutions are merely reheated leftovers), and aplethora of books which promise to change your life, the way you work or howyou think about the way you work.Thelast thing truly effective managers do is read books about other managers’highly effective habits. Nor do they pore over books in which the movement ofcheese, the Tao of something (usually something as far out as the Tao of theTeletubbies) or the activities of polar bear pirates hold the key to success.If it’s enlightenment and entertainment you’re after, this selection of sevenmagnificent (if unorthodox) books may have as much to say about humanresources, in its broadest sense, as the next Tom Peters opus. Let’s face it,nobody thrives on chaos, well, nobody except Attila The Hun and David Brent.AgainstOblivionIanHamiltonPublisher: VikingPrice: £20.00ISBN 067084909XThebook in a paragraphBiographicalessays on 45 20th Century poets by the late Ian Hamilton – the literary sleuthfamous for his pursuit of reclusive cult novelist JD Salinger – accompanied bya sample of the poet’s finest or most representative work. A simple, unoriginalidea inspired by Samuel Johnson’s classic Lives Of the English Poets which, inHamilton’s careful hands, works beautifully. So many of the lives (and untimelydeaths) told here echo each other.HRrelevanceEverycompany pays lip service to the need for creativity, yet this book is a tellingreminder that creative genius has a heavy price tag. Insanity, suicide,alcoholism and the perverse unpredictability of creativity are recurring themesin these lives. These poets are often confined to the margins of society inmuch the same way that, despite all the talk, genuinely creative people areoften marginalised in corporations, silently condemned for not being teamplayers – the very quality which often makes them so valuable. Thecluster of qualities which make employees creative (perseverance in the face offrustration; a high level of self-initiated, task-orientated; striving forexcellence; independence of judgement; autonomy; tolerance for ambiguity; andself-discipline in matters of work) are often exhibited in these lives. Youmight not employ many poets, but you probably do employ creative people whosubscribe to the manic highs, deep lows, and continual insecurity displayedhere – albeit in a less extreme fashion.Thebottom lineToomany companies have tried to have their cake and eat it, looking for talentedcreative people who are also model employees. As this book conclusively proves,this is one particular circle that just isn’t going to square.TheArt Of HappinessbyThe Dalai Lama and Howard CutlerPublisher: Hodder MobiusPrice: £7.00ISBN 0340750154Thebook in a paragraphItis easy to be cynical about the Dalai Lama since he’s become a poster boy forthe likes of Richard Gere, but you can’t fail to be impressed by the fact that,after almost half a century of exile and oppression, he’s still smiling. Manyleaders have been far more miserable in public with far less cause. So it’seasy to understand why psychologist Howard Cutler assumed the Tibetan religiousleader might know a thing or two about the kind of questions which collectivelycome under the heading “the meaning of life”.HRrelevanceAnybook that grapples with so many big questions (such as, why do we suffer?) willhave some relevance to human resources. And although Cutler’s slightly smarmyprose style jars, this is still a refreshing read. Much of it is not thatrevolutionary or overtly Buddhist. And while the emphasis on kindness,compassion and the importance of seeing situations from different perspectivessounds trite in summary, this is an empowering book. Part of its charm is thatit doesn’t promise any quick fixes.Thebottom lineThatultimate rarity: a book about human relations that doesn’t offer simple answersyet still makes you feel good.Catch-22JosephHellerPublisher: VintagePrice: £6.99ISBN 0-09-947731-9Thebook in a paragraphAngry,hysterically funny, debut novel published 41 years ago, but still as relevanttoday. Typecast as an anti-war novel, this is actually a satire of corporatelife – the corporation so mercilessly pilloried just happens to be the USmilitary. Yossarian, the anti-hero, is trying to avoid combat by insisting he’smad, but as soon as he applies for a discharge he’s judged to be sane, becausehe’s showing rational concern for his own safety. “That’s some catch thatCatch 22,” he says. And a colleague agrees: “It’s the best thereis”.HRrelevanceIfyou really want to know how your most cynical staff really see your company,read Catch-22 and try to see your workplace through the eyes of Yossarian, the essentiallydecent ‘hero’, forced into cynicism by his understandable desire to stay alive.InColonel Cathcart, the officer whose only innovation is to make his pilots flymore missions, Heller has created a classic corporate villain, convincingbecause he isn’t evil just so stupid and desperate for recognition he isoblivious to the fact that he’s endangering his pilots’ lives. Heller’saccount of the politicking, egotism and one-upmanship in the militaryhierarchy, although marvellously exaggerated, will ring true with most managerswho have climbed a few inches up the corporate pole.Oneof the minor charms is the horribly hilarious tale of the world’s worstdisciplinary meeting in which a pilot is told not to interrupt and then to say‘sir’ when he does interrupt.Thebottom lineYou’lllaugh, unless you’ve had all the mirth surgically extracted from your soul, andthen you’ll wonder, uneasily, if your company behaves like Heller’s US AirForce.Churchill’sBlack DogAnthonyStorrPublisher: HarperCollinsPrice: £7.00ISBN 0006375669Thebook in a paragraphStorrwas one of the UK’s greatest psychiatrists and these essays on the theme ofcreativity contain some of his finest work. His analysis of such diversepersonalities as Winston Churchill, Carl Jung and Isaac Newton is surprising,thoughtful and entertaining. Storr reminds us that human nature cannot becategorised by which planet we metaphorically come from and that not all ourchallenges can be overcome by the acquisition of the right life coach.HRrelevanceWithChurchill now officially installed as the BBC’s greatest Briton (see page 23for Personnel Today’s version), this book may enjoy a long overdue revival. Storrflatly contradicts the view, espoused by many modern books on leadership, thatthe art of leading can be reduced to a few key teachable skills. Storr’sexamination of politicians, writers and scientists suggests that the roots ofcharismatic leadership often lies in the leader’s own, often deeply flawed,personality. Churchillis portrayed as what Carl Jung called ‘an intuitive introvert’, capable of bothrare insight and an utter lack of understanding of his colleagues’ feelings –not that unrecognisable as a type in today’s business world. As a leader hefought depression (what he called his “black dog”), his own nature (hisoften rash displays of physical courage may have been prompted by his own fearthat he lacked courage) and a lack of self-esteem caused by parental neglect.Thebottom lineAttimes, this has the breadth and depth of the work of Charles Handy, the authorof such leftfield business classics as The Empty Raincoat. Next to Storr’sanalysis of Churchill, most books about leadership seem distinctlytwo-dimensional.HiroshimaJohnHerseyPublisher: PenguinPrice: £7.00ISBN 014118437XThebook in a paragraphUSjournalist John Hersey’s account of the first atomic attack (which killed100,000) will leave you moved, appalled and yet, strangely, uplifted. Followinga handful of survivors of the world’s first nuclear bomb, Hersey tells anastonishing, but never simplistic, story containing more dramatic tension thanmost thrillers and more insight into humanity than many serious novels.HRrelevanceAcalamity of such magnitude doesn’t seem so unlikely after September 11. Andmuch of the rhetoric about what might happen in such a disaster seems to bebased on the assumption that ordinary people will simply panic. Yet Hersey’sbook, while emphasising the human destruction wreaked by the dropping of theatom bomb called Enola Gay, is even more powerful testimony to the incredibleresilience of the human spirit. Theunthinkable had just happened, but after mere seconds or minutes, the survivorsturned to the urgent business of helping each other and locating relatives andfriends. Unable to rely on the authorities, thousands performed acts of immenseheroism and altruism. Only later, the immediate crisis over, did manyexperience what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder. Itwould be trite to draw a simple lesson from this catastrophe, a point the bookitself eloquently makes. Yet in an era where the very idea of the ‘common good’sounds ironic, the heroism recounted here is genuinely inspiring. The book isfull of evil, the kind of evil chronicled daily in the media, but there’s goodhere too, displayed in the deadliest, most difficult circumstances.Thebottom lineTheperfect antidote to all those books in which business leaders congratulatethemselves on their heroic climb to the top.IndecentExposureDavidMcClintickPublisher: ColumbusPrice: £10.95ISBN 0-86287-010-0Thebook in a paragraphNotto be confused with Indecent Proposal (the film where Demi Moore gets $1m tosleep with Robert Redford), this is an incredibly readable, fly-on-the-wallaccount of one of the Hollywood’s biggest scandals – Columbia Pictures producerDavid Begelman defrauds the studio yet the parent company stands by him, to thedisgust of Columbia’s chief executive and many other senior managers. In itsway, the Begelman affair is even more incredible than the recent tales ofcorporate misdeeds.HRrelevanceThehuman mechanics of a power struggle between a chief exec who wants to do theright thing and a board that would prefer a cover up wrongdoing are laid barehere. Written by a Wall Street Journal reporter, the book details theastonishing fashion in which a $10,000 embezzlement paralysed a company. Columbia,like many other corporations confronted with skulduggery, is in denial and paysfor its refusal to penalise a popular, successful yet unethical executive. Insome ways, the book is more frightening than any account of Enron because thedirectors and managers are not freaks, yet they almost wreck the company. Theevasions, the U-turns, the way the issue of dealing with malfeasance issubsumed into a wider struggle, all seem horribly plausible.Thebottom lineAchilling cautionary tale, this is a more accurate (and insightful) indictmentof US corporate life gone awry than Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.TheOfficeRickyGervais and Stephen MerchantPublisher: BBCPrice: £9.99ISBN 0563488476Thebook in a paragraph”DavidBrent is a sad idiot going through a mid-life crisis and suffering a job he’snot proud of.” Or so says Ricky Gervais the creator and player of the UK’smost infamous fictional boss. Don’t worry, the man who wants to be the RupertMurdoch of paper merchanting, or of Slough, will be back, if not for a fullseries then for a TV movie. One of the many things that makes this sitcomcompulsive viewing is that, like Fawlty Towers in the 1970s, it held up adistorting mirror to the British workplace.HRrelevanceThemotivational speech which closes to Tina Turner’s Simply The Best, the lipservice to (and fatal undermining of) policies against racism and sexism in theworkplace… the manager who has regurgitated all the business books he’s everread… these are painfully and amusingly familiar. Theterrifying truth is that, while HR departments are doing their utmost toimprove the workplace, almost every company has a manager like the Brentmeisterwho can shatter morale by saying ‘Morning all’. Hopefully, this series shouldensure that no company ever dares use Simply The Best (or, for that matter,Search For The Hero Inside Yourself) as a theme for a staff conference everagain.Thebottom lineDavidBrent is fast becoming the most famous British manager since Richard Bransonand Basil Fawlty.