The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

I’m of mixed mind on reading Margaret Atwood in grade school. She’s clearly a literary powerhouse, and I love that she is enjoying such public success. The shows created from Alias Grace and The Handmaids Tale are excellent. The books they are based on are full of wit and wisdom and she’s clearly a talented author.

When I was in grade school her books were required reading. My boyhood memory of reading the books was a bore and a chore. There was so much I didn’t understand reading the books, and the approach they took shaping characters and developing plot was different from the books I had read previously. The books challenged my thinking and made me grapple with my understanding of the world and how it worked. Trying to understand the thought experiment of being a woman under the control of an oppressive government and strict social order was challenging. I think it was clearly the challenge I needed because I found it a bore and a chore. I needed that in my life. I wish I could say I came away from my first encounter with Margaret Atwood’s writing an enlighten and wise young man. That didn’t happen. Don’t blame Atwood.

I wish there was a better way to introduce her work so I understood what I was getting into. I suppose dropping someone into the experience and watching to see what they get out of it is reasonable. I regret my first experience with Atwood was of boyish impudence and not more open to the wisdom in the writing.

I just finished reading The Testaments, and I found it a lovely experience. The same challenges faced me. It was a stretch for me to think through what it would be like to be a woman under such harsh and cruel conditions. I hope I can collect a small amount of the experience to learn from and inform my decision making and empathy towards others in the future. If reading Atwood makes me a more well rounded and considerate person, well you can certainly blame Atwood for that.

I read an interview with Margaret Atwood as she was working on this book. It was interesting to hear how she was taking in feedback from her readers and working to respond to their desires. Her readers wanted to know what happened after The Handmaid’s Tale. The Testaments is an answer to that request, carrying on the storyline. Atwood also spoke of the pressure she felt in writing this novel. Given her success with her work over the years, and recently turning some of it into very popular shows, to add to her collection of work has as much potential for risk as it does for reward. Unless it’s excellent, it’s a potential disappointment. It was lovely to read this book and realize that it was not disappointing, and reminded me why I enjoy reading Atwood’s work.


What you do is who you are – Ben Horowitz

I first encountered the writing of Ben Horowitz through his book The Hard Thing about Hard Things. That book came to me when I was going through a challenging time in my company, and it helped me. Partly it was the stories Ben told that made me glad I was not in his shoes. I realized my situation could be a lot worse. It was also the concrete and practical suggestions that I could make use of in the moment. So when I saw a new book by Ben, I purchased it immediately.

What you do is who you are is focused on the things you can do to build an excellent work culture, or rescue one that is not excellent. Through the same combination of story and tactics Ben describes some of his experiences and identifies the lessons he learned along the way.

The core message of the book is a simple one; that your team will do what you do, more often that do what you say.

The members of your team make hundreds or thousands of decisions each day that impact the culture of your business, and the experience of your customers and your team. You need to be intentional about what you do and how you describe your choices to give you team a roadmap to follow.

“Do I have to be on time for that meeting? Should I stay at the Four Seasons or the Red Roof Inn? When I negotiate this contract, what’s more important: the price or the partnership? Should I point out what my peers do wrong, or what they do right? Should I go home at 5 p.m. or 8 p.m.? How hard do I need to study the competition? Should we discuss the color of this new product for five minutes or thirty hours? If I know something is badly broken in the company, should I say something? Whom should I tell? Is winning more important than ethics?” – Page 3

There were lots of quotes that touched on things I knew to be true, just provided in a very well written, tidy example I could cite and remember.

“Culture is not like a mission statement; you can’t just set it up and have it last forever. There’s a saying in the military that if you see something below standard and do nothing, then you’ve set a new standard. This is also true of culture—if you see something off-culture and ignore it, you’ve created a new culture.” – Page 5

I really appreciate the humility and wisdom that inform Ben’s writing. He somehow manages to sounds wise and familiar at the same time.

“If you manage a reasonably large organization, you can be absolutely sure of one thing: at any given moment, something somewhere has gone terribly wrong.” – Page 238

If you’re responsible for culture at a company, or you’re working to improve the culture where you work, this is a great read.

Link to Amazon – What you do is who you are



i finished reading “maverick” by ricardo semmler. it’s a pretty fantastic read and opened my eyes to new possibilities about how work can get done. my current office environment is a good example of modern office culture. we have open office spaces, each week a group of my team gets together and makes decisions about how the company should run, and we have free coffee, organic fruit deliveries every week, office snacks, etc. i was impressed to see a vision of corporate culture that didn’t feel corporate in this book, but focused on how to get work done. the vision of the author was getting out of the way of the people doing good work. something i’d like to do more.

at the start of the book, you have to get your head around the time it was written in, and take some of the comments with a grain of salt “You might not need a secretary!” (who has a secretary anymore) but a lot of the core principles, of finding ways to educate the people on the ground, making the decisions every day – give them the training and information to make good decisions and you’ll provide incredible value and meaning to the team you work with.

a lot of the advice and examples are targeted towards large factories, and don’t apply to a small web shop, but overall there are some great ways to rethink what you do. some specific examples are the way decisions are made. rather than pushing all the information up the organizational structure through reports, decision making practices are pushed down the organizational structure, so people on the front lines – doing the real work – can make the decisions. i love this idea, and want to find out how to bring this into our company more.

if you work at a company, or run one – this is a great read.

Maverick on wikipedia

thanks to Carl Smith for the recommend at owner camp.