2021 Scrummer Reading List
Great stories told well are the best information radiators.
So every year, we share the books and podcasts that have captivated members of the Scrum Inc. team. Whether you’re looking to learn something new, challenge your way of thinking, understand how humans interact, improve your Agile skills, or are just looking for a bit of escapism, the 2021 Scrummer Reading List has something for everyone!
What Our Scrummers Are Reading This Summer...
Technology is exponentially changing our economy and there is more opportunity than at any time in history. The downside is that those on the wrong side of history will lose. Even if you only have $100 putting it into the right place will make you successful. Putting it in the wrong place will put you on the wrong side of history. Your children should read this book.
It's based on her learnings around homeschooling children and how each child learns in a different way. Many kids are told they aren't “smart” because they aren’t learning as well as others based on the style of teaching provided by the teacher. But, what she found was that there are 8 primary ways children learn (and in turn adults as well). They are actually “smart” in certain areas inherently and enjoy learning that way.
This has changed the way I look at teaching and coaching as a whole. When we have some people engaged and some not in training sessions. How we go about training development. How to best observe and cater my activities to what I perceive as their particular “smart”.
This book explores how the author used his 35 years of journal entries to create an approach to his present and future self. He identifies eight themes/categories and how they are composed to create lights; red, yellow, and green lights on the road of life. He uses these lights (experiences) to help define in his life what to stop, proceed with caution and continue forward - complete with bumper stickers. For those looking for tips on self-discovery and self-awareness, this is your read for the summer - calling all coaches!! Also, I recommend the audio version - read by the author.
This book chronicles the adventures of David & Glaudia as they trekked around the world visiting companies embracing agile ways of working and detailing how cultural differences play a role in adoption. They visited one of our training classes in Japan and then some Japanese businesses to see how the land which gave birth to many of the ideas Scrum is based on was doing when it came to reabsorbing those ideas through a uniquely American filter.
I’ve been enjoying learning more about the Civil War through the lives of the characters, author Ginny Dye, has created in the Bregdam Chronicles. The series starts out before the war on events leading up to the war, then one book per year of the war, and many after the war. There are 18 books in the series and the main characters are on both the North and the South sides to help the reader understand different perspectives.
It's so easy to be limited by our own understanding, experience, and “know-how.” To combat our own ego and unconscious bias, questioning, unlearning, and relearning are essential. This quick read (or listen) from Adam Grant acts as a reminder of the importance and thrill of not believing everything you think. If you, like me, benefit from constant reminders and tips on how to free yourself from your own limited thinking, you might enjoy this one.
If you liked The Martian by Andy Weir, you’ll get a kick out of the “Bobiverse” series from Dennis E. Taylor: We Are Legion (We Are Bob), For We Are Many, All These Worlds, and Heaven’s River. The books are packed with nerdy twists and plots along with lots of humor sprinkled throughout. I listened to these on Audible as narrated by Ray Porter. Given I’ll sometimes put a book on in the background when I’m doing a mundane task or winding down my day, I’ve listened to the set four or five times and still find them enjoyable.
In ‘Welcome to the United States of Anxiety‘, Jen Lancaster uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as the framework to explore how our stress and anxieties in all areas of life have shifted and intensified over the course of the last 50 years. As she examines topics like climate change, body image, finding connections, parenting, she tries to understand how it all got so complex, judgmental, difficult to navigate, public. This was my first exposure to Ms. Lancaster and I found the work to be not only thoroughly researched and relevant, but also SO funny and relatable to a Gen-Xer like myself. This book was heavy enough to help me generate some really great self-reflection and light enough to read at the beach. It is a thoughtful reminder to put things in perspective and calm the &#*K! down.
Extreme Ownership chronicles the experiences of former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin during the Battle of Ramadi in the summer of 2006 (a particularly dangerous period of US involvement in the Iraq War). Willink and Babin deliver a series of leadership lessons that are illustrated by their own first-hand accounts of heroism, tragic loss, and victories that share a common theme: leadership and accountability at every level are the most important factors in whether a team succeeds or fails.
The time-tested leadership principles in this book are absolutely effective in combat but can also be applied to any leadership situation in any environment. I have applied these principles in similar situations throughout my career (both before and after this book was written) and can attest to their effectiveness, and I also feel that these skills are particularly valuable when leading others through uncertainty. This is an engaging book that will compel the reader to take action to solve difficult problems.
In ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’ Karl Popper outlines his views on liberal democracy, tolerance, and the philosophy of science. He began work on it at the height of WWII in Europe when Democracy seemed to be at its most vulnerable to differing strains of totalitarianism. To Popper, totalitarian ideologies shared a common ancestor – platonic thought, and generally, the idea that history follows a predetermined set of rules that, if discovered, would help us perfectly predict the future. Popper rejects this out of hand – we determine history, history doesn’t determine us, and while we can learn from the past, we are not particularly gifted fortune-tellers.
There is a lot of material to digest here, including blistering critiques of Plato, Hegel, and Marx. I particularly enjoyed dipping into the Philosophy of Science. What does it mean to be ‘Scientific’? Learning, Popper argues, requires us to make claims that have a possibility of being wrong, that can be falsified. When people casually or seriously make predictions about the future they are often so vague that no matter what happens, they can always claim they were ‘right’, or at least, not wrong. We’ve all seen this happen in business and in life. Wiggle room, “CYA”, excuses that explain why new evidence shouldn’t change our beliefs-“Well yes, but…”. This way of making predictions teaches us little. Popper challenges us to make riskier claims- ones that have real stakes and clear conditions of success and failure, that others can replicate. Only then can we be considered scientific thinkers.
If you don’t find the time for this tome, you can still challenge yourself and your team to make predictions that have a legitimate, or even high chance of failure. Consider logging your predictions and your confidence in them, then, later, compare to reality. How often did your 50% predictions happen in a year? If you find they occurred more than 50% of the time, you might be being too pessimistic about your predictive prowess.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This story is beautifully told and incredibly deep. In the story, we meet a man returning “home” to a life he had left long behind. When he arrives, memories begin to flood back to him about when he was a boy and the challenges and adventures that he had long since forgotten. As the story unfolds wild, unbelievable, and wholly thrilling events take place and the very nature of the world is challenged.
I first picked up a copy after having been told that during the writing of the book the author called his wife, the musician, Amanda Palmer, while she was on tour and would read her his updates. Supposedly, she would listen, offer feedback, and inspire him to write more. I found the idea practical and romantic in equal measure. Getting feedback fast from the people that are most invested in your work is great. Reading a beautiful story to your partner is even better. So as part of my summer, I have dedicated time each night to reading to my wife and discussing the complex story and rich characters.
This is a book that you won’t want to put down, that you may learn from, and that you will think about often.
Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence-and How You Can, Too by Gary Vaynerchuck
GaryVee is one of my favorite online personalities and entrepreneurs. He is no-nonsense, fast-paced, insightful, and genuinely cares about people. His podcast, social media presence, and his books are all geared toward putting in the work to accomplish big things. I’m not personally entrepreneurially-minded, but when Crushing It! came out I picked it up, gave it a read, and was inspired to continue to put in the effort (even more than before). This book is a follow-up to Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion and includes review, retrospective, and follow-up on the ideas that he presented at that time.
One of the best things about the book is that GaryVee took the time to compile the feedback from the community and included it as pure examples of how different people, from different walks of life, and in different industries were able to apply a new way of thinking to their own context. As a Scrum Master and Agile evangelist, I value so deeply that he didn’t make it about him and his insights but made it about the community of practice and offered real-world examples.
It is a quick read, has great stories, and might inspire you to pursue your passions a bit more feverishly.
There are four books on my must-share list this time, two by one of my favorite authors.
Malcolm Gladwell is a simply phenomenal storyteller (his podcast Revisionist History is always in heavy rotation on my road trips). As a writer, I love his clear, concise, and accessible style. But, as a former radio journalist, I stand in awe of his use of sound, interviews, and story structure. This is why I urge you not to read these books, but to listen to them. Gladwell’s audiobooks are packed with archival tape, interviews, and insights. You hear not just what was said, but how.
My other recommendations are thanks to my continued fascination with change management and understanding the human mind.
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Talking to Strangers is a fascinating exploration of how we as humans with unknown ‘others’, told through the lens of the author's quest of trying to understand the tragic story of what happened to Sandra Bland.
The Bomber Mafia by Malcom Gladwell
The Bomber Mafia is an honest and riveting story of weapons and war that manages to avoid romanticizing either. It is the tale of revolutionary thinking in the quest to win the most tragic human endeavor that never loses sight of the humanity of the participants or the human cost of their inventions.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
To understand others, we first must understand ourselves. And we must embrace that the ideas of ‘common sense’ and ‘we all act in fundamentally rational ways’ are, well, uncomfortably wrong. As the book‘s jacket reads, “From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They’re systematic and predictable—making us predictably irrational.”
Making Sense of Change Management by Esther Cameron and Mike Green
Change management is not just a science, it’s a cornerstone of what Agile and Scrum practitioners do. So how well do you know it? Better yet, how well do you use it? This book is a massive tome is might be best described as an encyclopedia on change management theories. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the science and different approaches to figure out what works best for you and your organization(s).