Archives For Book Reviews

FACEBOOK’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has received a lot of criticism for her book ‘LEAN IN’. It offers advice for working women who are expecting to have children, whether they return to work or not.  In many ways it is about having choices. She is also keen on fathers having a choice so that each set of parents make career/home decisions based on their desires and resources.

Whilst running the online sales and operations groups at Google in 2004 Sandberg became pregnant. With continuous nausea she wanted to be able to move swiftly from the car park to the office but would find herself at the far end of the car park. As a senior woman at Google it never occurred to her that pregnant women might need designated parking but now it had and she could use her power to improve it for herself and those who come after.

She shares another memory of a residential team meeting where a colleague, who had recently become a mother, was continuously staring at her phone.  The colleague said nothing but she was obviously distracted. On enquiry they found out that her mother and baby were accompanying her on trip and she was needed to settle her child. Once she shared this she was immediately released from the meeting. Part of the book is about communicating important information to the right people. Unfortunately, not all leaders or organisations know how to work with expectant or new mothers.

Sandberg quotes various studies where the men are much more ambitious and expectant of success than the women. In her experience women tend to have more self-doubt and need encouragement to ‘lean in’. A 2003 Colombia Business School study looked at the likeability of successful women.  They found that for the same person description, when the successful person was called Heidi she was not liked or trusted but when he was named Howard all was fine. The participants’ gender bias meant it was acceptable for a man, Howard, to be decisive and driven but not for a woman (Heidi). Women are expected to be caregiving and sensitive.

The central advice is for women to not mentally exit the workplace before they physically leave.  She refers to women not taking opportunities in the present because they hope to be a mother in the future. In her mind this is the time to ‘lean in’ and make progress. This leads her to talk about partnerships in parenting. She quotes various studies showing the benefits for all when fathers are involved in even basic childcare. On the theme of partnership she quotes a Fortune 500 study on CEO’s; of 28 women, 26 were married, 1 divorced and 1 never married.

Sandberg is honest about ‘the myth of having it all’ as she shares her parental failings and the guilt she feels when travelling for work and missing her family. Lean In seeks to advise women seeking career success and those with the power to make the workplace more flexible. In her opinion it’s not a career ladder but a “jungle gym”. Eventually she hopes that by “using the talents of the entire population, our institutions will be more productive, our homes will be happier, and the children growing up in those homes will no longer be held back by narrow stereotypes”.

Shirley Anstis

When Malcolm Gladwell’s book first came out it had a massive impact on those trying to understand cultural changes.The premise of this book is a desire to explain sudden massive changes in human behaviour.  It’s not that one big thing changes but lots of people make a small change which results in a change of epidemic proportions.

In order to define this Gladwell comes up with the 3 rules of epidemics. He looks at the American shoe brand Hush Puppies which went from 30 000 sales to 430, 000 in the space of a year.  The brand’s attractiveness spread like an epidemic and the turning (tipping point) from falling to rising sales came between 1994 and 1995. The change seemed to be the result of some key trendsetters making it cool and then the brand was being picked up by the fashion media, taking it to the masses.

When he explores crime figures in poor parts of New York the figures show that  within a 5-year period in the 1990’s murders dropped 64% and total crimes by almost 50%.  Although many economists and criminologists would say the fall was down to rising economic conditions, decline of the drug trade and an ageing population, none of these changes are enough to explain the dramatic change in crime.   He asserts that lots of small changes eventually made a huge difference. These little things involved cleaning up the city physically and making it clear that previously ignored low level crimes (on subways, street corners,) would not be tolerated. Eventually people felt safer and less vulnerable to crime which made them more confident and more likely to report criminal activity as they now believed someone would take it seriously.  It’s an explanation that sees crime influenced more by the environment than the individual. There are cultural thinkers who disagree with Gladwell’s analysis of that time.


Gladwell sees epidemic changes as being:

(i)    contagious

(ii)  little changes can have a big effort

(iii) change happens dramatically not gradually

This third point is what he calls ‘the tipping point’ which tries to explain how a trend can change direction quite suddenly

So what 3 rules govern this tipping point? Gladwell’s research has led him to believe that these are:

1 the law of the few (connectors, mavens and salesmen)

2.the stickiness factor

3.the power of context.

Gladwell uses Stanley Milgram’s 1960’s experiment to illustrate.  In the experiment Milgram recruited 160 strangers to get a package to one particular man in Boston he found that most people achieved this in around 6 steps (through six people). This led to the idea of 6 degrees of separation.  Surprisingly 50% of these random strangers were sent their package via 3 individuals. These 3 people are what Gladwell calls connectors, they know a wide range of people, belong to many niches and bring different people together.

So whilst connectors help to spread the message Gladwell turns his attention to the message itself. For these he uses the Yiddish word maven: mavens are people who accumulate knowledge. They absorb information about different places, prices and products and want to share it with others.

Finally he identifies salesmen as those who persuade us of the importance of the message. Through various examples he shows how we can be persuaded through nonverbal cues.

His third rule is the stickiness factor.  He uses this to explain that the message needs to stick to persuade us to do something differently.

Gladwell makes use of Philip Zimbardo’s prison experiment which showed how assigning regular people to the roles of prisoners and guards had a massive impact on their behaviour and their feelings. Changing ones situation can have a dramatic impact.  This is how context relates to epidemics.

Think of how you decided on the last place you visited or the last thing you bought, whose words encouraged you to make that choice?

The Power of Now has received rave reviews from many people in the personal development and spiritual sectors.  One of Eckhart’s biggest fans is Oprah Winfrey and he has been in conversation with her over the years. This book is more about spirituality than religion. He mainly speaks from his personal experience and from his understandings of the great texts.  Underpinning all this is a belief in a deep spiritual place within each of us that connects us to the divine.

Eckhart encourages the reader to look within and find peace and joy in being.  It is about recognising that our incessant mental noises prevent us from a stillness that can connect us to God. This helps us to be more fully present to ourselves and in the world.  If we are always thinking then we live in a world with continuous problems and conflicts that need solutions. He believes that this incessant thinking separates us from ourselves, each other and God.  Instead of us using our mind – it uses us.  If we can never switch off our mind then we are slaves to it.  Strong words when we’ve been educated to believe that thinking is good and the more we think the better.  It is a reminder too that “beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise beyond the mind”.

Eckhart points out that through our constant thinking we are always judging, commenting, speculating, worrying, comparing, whether about the past or an imagined future. Does this sound familiar?  We live in the present with continuous commentary of voices from the past. He invites the reader to listen to the incessant thinking in our head – not to judge or condemn – but simply to observe with impartiality. He calls it “watching the thinker” and this separation helps us to realise that we are not our thoughts but more than that. We are now conscious of more of who we are and our thoughts no longer dominate us.  It is in this conscious space that we can find stillness and peace within.

It is about being aware of the present moment and not being lost in our thoughts. Meditation, mindfulness and prayer can help us to let go and be present. Eckhart also suggests becoming more aware of all the everyday tasks we do and allowing that to slow us down and stay in the present.  This is better than starting our day with worry and fear.  How might it be to really pay attention to our morning routines of washing, dressing and eating? The challenge for many of us is that we are identified with our thinking and believe we would cease to exist if we stopped. He refers to this identifying with the mind as the ego – identifying with achievements of the past and projections into the future.  On a serious note he believes that if we don’t move beyond how we use our mind or how our mind uses us, we will destroy our mental health.  For him a quieter mind allows us to experience inner stillness. It gives us more opportunity to listen to our emotions and allowing them rather than controlling them. As a counsellor and having recently done a mindfulness course I can see how this makes some sense.  But I am not sure how many people can make the changes without support.  Our thoughts and emotions have been built up over a lifetime and it may take a therapist to help us separate who we are from our constant thinking. When this book came out in 1999 it was certainly ground breaking. However I found it to be quite long: it felt like I was being told the same thing over and over in slightly different ways.  Also I do believe in balance, so there are times when it is healthy to be reminiscing and times when we should be planning for the future. However the constant distraction of our thoughts means that we may not be sufficiently present in our lives.  Being fully present in our lives, in our relationships can be quite powerful. Let me know what you think.