As a software engineering coach part of my job is to help teams become more effective. To this end, it is sometimes useful to employ concepts from self-help books, but I don’t always enjoy reading these, they often stretch a few insights into endless anecdotes.

The Blinkist app really helped me with this dilemma last week; I managed to cover the key insights of 40+ books in just a few days. Good job Blinkist.

During this self-help binge, I noticed a few ideas being repeated in a wide variety of books, especially the more core principles.

Here are a few insights that struck me as reoccurring, as well as the books they came from:

On being effective:

  • The best way to be more effective is to focus only on highest impact things next. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (First things first), The 80/20 Principle, The 4-Hour Workweek and others.
  • Be more productive by doing only one thing at a time. The Pomodoro Technique, Getting Things Done, The Principles of Product Development Flow and others.
  • Define a simple system of prioritised queues with small work items to visualise and manage work. Getting things Done, The Principles of Product Development Flow, The Pomodoro technique.
  • Have goals: define explicit goals and values and measure your progress against them. Most of the productivity books I read have this idea in some form; I liked what Challenging Coaching said on it.

On becoming a better thinker / communicator:

  • People inherently don’t make rational decisions/predictions – be aware of your innate cognitive flaws. E.g. we are intuitively bad at stats. Thinking, Fast and Slow, The Black Swan, Predictably Irrational.
  • Practice can make hard things automatic and frees your mind up to innovate. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Outliers, Mastery.
  • A story with a protagonist and an antagonist is the best format for conveying information in presentations, specifications, etc. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, User Story Mapping.
  • Surround yourself with people you can learn from. Mastery and many others.

On adapting and learning:

  • Managing well entails putting frequent, lightweight, honest feedback mechanisms in place at various levels. The One Minute Manager, The Lean Startup, The Principles of Product Development Flow, Challenging Coaching and others.
  • Build small versions of your product first and get feedback from early niche, adopters. The Lean Startup, Crossing the Chasm
  • Become good at adapting to change quickly, or die. The Innovator’s Dilemma, Who Moved My Cheese

On finding opportunities

  • Build and contribute to your professional network; it’s a more secure structure than a company. The Tipping Point, Coffee, Lunch, Coffee, Never eat alone
  • The Internet and social media have opened up marketing for a bigger variety of products. The Long Tail, Purple Cow

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Jacques de Vos


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