Book Recommendations

My Favorite 2023 Reads

This year I read a lot of books. I have posted mostly about business/management books I read for Book Club, but I also read books with my kiddos and for fun, and so I thought I would put together my 10 favorites (in no particular order).

Kindred by Octavia Butler: poignant, disturbing, meaningful–absolutely worth reading, but was at times disruptive to sleep.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: touching, delightful, amusing, and thought-provoking in a beautiful way that helped me appreciate how far women have come in the workplace, even if we still have work to do.
The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow: a retelling of much of world history with a very unique perspective. It made me question a lot of my post-Enlightenment narrative, and ultimately what is inevitable and necessary for society to function.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt: light, lovely, a stitching of a beautiful place, loveable characters, and missed opportunities into a life of meaning. I just came away feeling hopeful about life.
Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb: literally I felt like I was walking into a picture of my mother’s life, and for that felt joy, sadness at points, and just the ambiguity that relationships are complex. Trauma lasts for generations, but ultimately what matters is love.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin: I cannot say enough about the prose of this book. It was truly lyrical. I also loved that it was set in California and Boston (specifically at my alma mater), so I literally could see places and experiences the book described in my own memories. The characters have difficult moments, but don’t we all, and did I mention the writing??? If you read no other book I recommend, read this one!
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery: at first I felt like this was a knockoff of A Confederacy of Dunces (which is a book I loved, and am glad I read, but I HATED the primary character, which rarely describes a book I like let alone love). At the onset of this book, there is a similar sort of dislike the primary character engenders. Then somehow through the course of the book your feelings about everyone flip, and there is such beauty and tragedy in it. I cried. Loved it.
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown: inspiring true story that just made me proud of what humanity can achieve. I was so glad I finally read it (have had it on my bookshelf for WAY too long).
Bittersweet by Susan Cain: lovely book about how American culture pushes positivity sometimes to the detriment of creativity, and authenticity. As someone who literally smiles when I cry, I found this book to be an interesting reflection, and I’m glad I read it. I also found the research interesting as a parent with one child far more sensitive than the other–great tips on how to respect each one’s strengths and support their development in proactive ways.
Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller: I love books that teach you something. Ostensibly this book is a biography of David Star Jordan, but truly it is a book about loss, love, humanity, and the deconstruction of our assumed beliefs. I loved it.

Those were my absolute favorites, but I also loved What Bravery Looks Like, by Laurel Braitman, Lost and Found by Kathryn Shulz, Death’s End by Cixin Liu (although the Three Body Problem remains my favorite of the trilogy), Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor, which was a fun whodunnit set in India, Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, and the Andrew Roberts biography on Churchill.

Book Club

Book Club: Measure What Matters

We have ended year one of our little book club! 12 different books around leadership, management, goal setting, organizational behavior, and systems thinking. I hope it was an opportunity for folks to think through their leadership styles and reflect a bit on how they want to show up in the world whether they are a people manager or a technical leader, at a small or large corporation, or within an open source consortium–we have such a range of folks and styles I know I have learned from so many folks. In the new year, our book club will take an alternative shape focusing less on leadership, and more on the trends happening in technology and their ethical implications. Please sign up here and recommend a book in theme if you want to participate.

Our last book of the year was Measure What Matters, which is definitely a canonical piece. Most folks enjoyed the book, although it definitely hasn’t aged all that well (looking at the outcomes of so many of the companies he highlighted as poster children of OKRs). I loved it because goal setting and accountability are core to execution and I like to be the kind of person who accomplishes things. It is definitely a US-centric book, and we discussed as a group what that “means” in other contexts, since so many of us manage global teams or at least work closely with teams all over the world. It also is light on implementation details (more on impact of where it was rolled out successfully, but not necessarily HOW to roll it our successfully, particularly now when so many of us are in a remote-first work environment and with globally-distributed teams). There was also some commentary about the fact that the book really speaks to a time with few female leaders. Sadly I think this is just the reality of the time frame and not really a critique of the book (e.g. Andy Grove’s Intel was not all that diverse–no company was 40 years ago, and that was the birthplace of OKRs).

In general though we had a great discussion on the value of these efforts: the checkpoints and discussions. Whatever systems you use for goal setting (V2MOM , OKRs, etc.) the magic is in the discussion with your teams and employees. It is in the bottoms up strategic alignment WITH upper management (it cannot just cascade down, it has to go in both directions) and it is in the discussions when you grade them with your team. I have learned so much with my team members: the folks who CANNOT handle seeing anything less than a 1, but who also didn’t quite feel like it was a WIN; those who grade themselves at .95, when they clearly didn’t do the work they said they would do; and the folks who have nailed all but one of their key results, but still feel horrible that they left anything undone. There is no right way to do this, but an engaged manager learns so much from discussing output in a framework with their employees. Too few do this, but there is no better recipe for helping someone be successful in their career than setting clear goals and helping them make progress against them to drive the objectives of the company.

Corporate-wide OKRs also help everyone see that the enemy is outside the walls, and not within. So often in my career I have seen different teams fighting over headcount or budget, but when leadership is clear about the priorities and goals, and there is transparency and visibility in who is doing what and the dependencies on each other, THAT is when I’ve seen leaders say “don’t fund me until you fund that team; I won’t have anything to do/scale/sell/etc.” Ultimately leadership is not just about vision, it is about execution, and ensuring folks execute collectively means aligning on what success looks like, and then enabling each other to get there. This book is a great reminder (even if a little light on the how-tos). Definitely read all the way to the resource section at the end with the how-tos from Google. That is the most concrete “how to do it”, and know you will have to iterate. No one company does OKRs in the same way.