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The Review Man

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The Salterton Trilogy
Robertson Davies
Effi Briest (Penguin Classics)
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First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently - Curt Coffman, Marcus Buckingham This book is a complete waste of time.

Let's begin with the rather unfortunate title: First, Break All the Rules. It's too bad that the book didn't actually outline those rules we're supposed to break. Now I'm wondering whether it's okay to show up to work in track pants. (Hey, it's a rule!) Also, doesn't the title imply that successful managers should also break the rules set forth in this book?

Speaking of rules, they aren't any better than the misguided title. Select for talent? Define correct outcomes? Focus on strength? Find the right fit? These are just buzzwords. Come on—what manager in their right mind wouldn't make hiring talented employees a priority? Who would deliberately go about setting the wrong outcomes? Does anyone go into work and say to themself, "Hm, I think I'm going to try to find the wrong fit for my employees and for my talents today"? I don't think so.

The only remotely useful piece of advice is to focus on the good. It's all too easy to get bogged down in negativity, which certainly can't make your managerial job any easier. But do we really need a half-pound of corporate buzz-speak to relay this message?

I also have a problem with the book on a conceptual level. It seems to adpot what I'll call the 'Malcolm Gladwell style of writing', where an author attempts to link multiple seemingly disparate ideas in grand, Earth-sized connect-the-dots fashion. This type of thinking is attractive; after all, wouldn't it be awesome if there really were one key trick that all of the world's greatest managers used? Sure, it'd be nice, but it's a nearly impossible job. The world's greatest managers no doubt do some things similarly, but they also do many things very differently. And with all the different managerial styles out there, wouldn't it be more efficient to emulate a manager you admire, rather than searching for some secret trick that'll magically fix your job?

Of course, Buckingham's book is also a complete cash grab. Why else would he have released a sequel about 'finding your strengths'? What, there wasn't enough space in this book to address it? And how about another book Buckingham has released, called The One Thing You Need To Know? Oh, so now there's only one secret? Apparently he couldn't be bothered to explain it here. That's the mark of a shameless cash-grabber. (And let it be known that I most certainly did not pay for this book. I worked at a bookstore and read it for free. I'd say it was a perk of the job, except this book is in no universe a 'perk'.)

I can't recommend First, Break All the Rules. The title is paradoxical, most of the content is buzz-speak supported by the flimsiest of 'statistics' (if you can call them that), and the book spends its time searching for a secret that most likely doesn't exist. Put down the book, keep the cash in your wallet and get to work instead—your employees'll thank you.