This formidable book has a lot going for it: it rides the crest of a number of waves that are very much ‘of the moment’. Its essence is the application of knowledge about neuroscience to the HR discipline, and it follows hard on the heels of some recent literary successes in the field of the brain and the way we process our thoughts and actions (one thinks of Steve Peters’ “The Chimp Paradox” and Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” as examples). Anyone enthused by these and other recent publications cannot fail to be interested in Hills’ recent addition to the genre.
Choosing to review a book like “Zen and the Art of Making a Living” is an act of bravery, if not bravado: it is such a Big Book in every sense. I hope, therefore, that I can capture just a little of its essence in this c.900 word review without diminishing its value and gravitas.
In a world where sound-bites and wikis cater for our every information need, why would anyone want to read a large, challenging and discomfort-inducing tome (this last adjective refers to the disquiet that comes from having the basic tenets of modern life challenged)? – the answer is that this book makes you think; will make you feel slightly uncomfortable and will probably change your perspective on the world (of work particularly, if not the whole entity).
Books on talent and people development are – for me – always likely to please, simply because of the importance of the subject. We should all be interested in personal development, shouldn’t we?!
This book is therefore the latest in a large number that tackles this subject. In truth, although talent is very much at its heart - as you'd expect from the title! - I think this is really a useful guide around the topics of organisational development and the management of change. Given that, it is practical and grounded in delivery; in the pursuit of excellent HR practice; even if it does not particularly say anything new.
This book has credibility, intrigue and is a window on the world we live in. This much we learn from the opening dedication - "we dedicate this book to the alchemy of relationships, curiosity and serendipity" - and the fact that the Forward is written by Richard Barrett. Indeed, it is Barrett who describes the text as an "encyclopaedia of understanding about what it takes to build the neural pathways of an organisation."
At the heart of its 31 chapters, the book is essentially about authenticity; about the shift from product-based reputation to service- and people-centric reputation ... as a former consumer-goods marketer and now occupational behaviourist, this is core-reading for me! And, it is about the 'how' of what we do at work, in support of all the normal goal-setting and performance-management tools and techniques already embedded in the organisation.
The theme of this book is the change in leadership approach introduced by a Retired US Submarine Captain in order to get away from the blind obedience that results from a highly-directive leadership style, typical of the armed forces. His experience turned a poor-performing unit into a leading performer measured by a number of relevant indicators.
The key message of the book is that “Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control, and creating leaders rather than forging followers”. This is the author’s essential tenet, and it is something he terms ‘the leader-leader model’.