My Favorite Business Novels

I was hanging out with a group of my coaching clients last week and made an off-hand remark about how much I enjoy business novels. What is a business novel? A business book focused on a specific category of business learning, packaged as a novel- or novella-length story.

Here are my favorites:

  • The (New) One Minute Manager – I first read this book in the late 80s and I think it holds up well. This is a short parable to help you learn the basics of situational leadership and giving effective feedback.
  • The Goal – I read this around 1997 when I was running the manufacturing execution system for Micron Technology. One of my internal customers, a process engineer, strongly suggested I read this book to learn more about how they approach cycle time reduction on the manufacturing line. This is a novel that conveys fairly complex mathematical and systems engineering concepts in a digestible way. You don’t need to understand the math to apply most of the principles. tl;dr: (1) find your bottleneck, (2) improve it until it is not your bottleneck anymore, (3) goto step 1.
  • The Deadline – This book is one of a small few that I would suggest every aspiring software development manager, IT manager, or project manager to read. I think he modeled his book a bit on The Goal, but who cares: it covers great concepts in traditional project management. Worth it even if you are an agilista.
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a TeamAlmost made the list: Death by Meeting. Patrick Lencioni’s books are most-reads for aspring senior managers and executives.
  • The Phoenix Project – In the same family as The Goal and The Deadline, we have a protagonist thrust into a difficult new role and seeking a path to success and enlightenment. This time the subject area is the modern IT field of DevOps.
  • The Adventures of an IT Leader – I haven’t finished this book yet, but I know it will make the list. This time the protagonist (why do they always have to be men?) is thrust into a CIO role without having a technology background. I plan to use this as one of my textbooks for a class on IT management this coming fall at WOU.

Thursday Things

What I’m Playing

  • Doug and I are deep into vehicles, guns, and more in Advanced Squad Leader. Progressing this far has opened up many doors for us (scenarios and campaigns) and we plan to play Blitzkreig in the West starting next week.

What I’m Reading

  • I read The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and it was good, not great. I liked the conversational tone and the history of past mass extinctions, but I expected more details and treatment on the possible next extinction.
  • I read about a third of In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs. I picked through a few that were interesting to me and enjoyed it, though it didn’t blow me away. Some of the stories gave more insight into the person than any connection to the song, which was great for people I knew of (Shawn Colvin) and not so interesting for ones I didn’t.

What I’m Watching

  • While Julie is away I’ll pick movies off my IMDB watch list that I doubt she’d like to watch and check them out from the library. This week it was La Dolce Vita, a movie I honestly didn’t expect to like. I watched the Criterion Blu-ray edition and enjoyed every minute of it. There isn’t much of a plot, but the filming was superb – the black and white reminded me of Ansel Adams contrast quality. Things I didn’t know but learned watching this:
    • I thought I had a defective DVD because of a terribly synced audio track, but then I learned that Fellini would loop over new audio in post-production for just about all of his dialog. I guess it is something you just deal with as a viewer, but it was distracting at times (mostly when they were speaking English).
    • Paparazzo is a character in this film, playing a freelance photographer who specializes in capturing candid photos of the rich and famous. Ever wondered where the term paparazzi comes from?
    • Nico is in the movie, essentially playing herself.
  • I finished Ozark last week on Netflix and highly recommend it if you enjoyed Breaking Bad.

The Grind of Training and Goal Achievement

Back in late May I decided to run the Canby Dahlia Run half marathon. It had been three years since my last half and I needed a goal to work towards over the summer. I use Trello to track short- and long-term goals, and my half-marathon goal looked like this:

I chose a 9 minute pace because that was the pace I’d shot for in the prior four half marathons I’d run. As I get older, running the same pace should be a good thing, right? I adopted the exact same training plan I’ve followed in prior years.

Looking back at my training, which started in June, I did not miss a single training day. The closest I came to cheating was the final 4×400 that I did with my friend Greg out at Salishan. We didn’t go to a track but just used my time-based interval tracker. I’m confident I was hitting my 400 distance with each of my intervals.

Things started degrade in mid July. On 7/16 I did a 10 mile run and barely achieved my pace goal, running 9:13. I fell at the 9.8 mile point on a small wooden bridge and tore up my ankle, knee, hip, and elbow. Almost 45 days later my ankle is still healing. I then did a 12 mile training run on the Keuka outlet trail with a friend and we ran a 11:21 pace, well below my target. This was fine: I just wanted to hit the distance goal, and this was a comfortable pace for my friend (who, by the way, has run over 200 marathons). I had a great 8 mile tempo run on July 26, running 8 miles at an 8:39 pace, slightly ahead of goal. Then things went sideways on my long run: another outlet trail run for 14 miles. Someone stole my water and food drop at the 7 mile point, and I somehow beat up my legs and toes even more. The trail (mostly smooth grade, easy running but not the same as pavement) impacted me more than expected, though insight it was probably good training. Average pace: 9:55. Color me worried.

It is now August and I’m back in Oregon, and I attempt a 6 mile tempo run and only make it 3.5 miles and run an 8:55 pace. At this point I’m thinking I’ll be lucky to finish the half marathon, let alone run under a 9 minute pace. Still, I stuck to my training plan and pondered possible root causes.

Back in July I started intermittent fasting of the 18/6 fashion: either skipping breakfast or drinking my own version of bulletproof coffee. Around August 10 I came to the obvious conclusion that this is a stupid idea on run training days. Depriving myself of calories the morning of a long or tempo run is a sure way to make sure I fail. My 12 mile long run in downtown Portland on August 12 looked better: a 9:44 pace but with good splits in the low 9s during the final 3 miles. Everything started to look a bit better.

Last Saturday I ran the half marathon and started with better-than-expected splits in the 8:45 range during the first 4 miles. I was feeling so good that I pulled away from my running partner and decided to run at whatever pace felt comfortable. Three miles later Runkeeper is telling me that I’m averaging 8:30 miles, which I did not believe. Looking back I ran splits of 8:09 and 8:07 for miles 5 and 6. This is like making a huge deposit in your checking account; I had a lot of room for slowing down and still meeting my 9 minute goal. I was able to sustain under 9 minute pace for the rest of the race, even the uphill portions in miles 9–12. I finished with a PR time of 1:52:09.

I didn’t write this article to show off my PR; I wrote it to convey the importance of grinding through preparation and training. I had already essentially given up on the original goal and just committed to finishing. The end result exceeded my expectations.

Wednesday What’s Up

What I’m Reading

What I’m Playing

Lots of gaming in the past week!

  • I played Vietnam 1965–1975 with Allen and I think we got through the intro scenario with most of it played correctly. This game is good enough to keep exploring, maybe culminating in a full campaign game before too long.
  • I played some lighter games like Liar’s Dice , Jump Drive, and Eye to Eye.
  • I taught two new players how to play Pax Renaissance and we even started a second game. This game is not for everyone but I’m enjoying exploring it. And reading the card flavor text.
  • My weekly Advanced Squad Leader playing continued this week with another run at tanks and guns and infantry with the Meat Grinder scenario.

What I’m Listening To