First, Break All The Rules

Book Review: First, Break All The Rules by Gallup

My career as a people manager started several years ago at Amazon. Folks way smarter than I am developed Amazon’s best practices and processes how to lead people. After reading the “First, Break All The Rules” book, I can certainly say that they were inspired by it in many cases.

In the ocean of management literature, this book challenges the “conventional wisdom”. Or how authors define it – widely accepted management practices and beliefs that prioritize uniformity and correcting weaknesses over individual strengths. Authored by Gallup, the book is the culmination of decades of research, summarizing the essence of what makes great managers and what great managers do differently.

One of the book’s most interesting insights for me was its detailed exploration of the twelve questions that gauge the emotional engagement of employees. These questions serve as a practical toolkit for managers, offering an understanding of what drives satisfaction and performance in the workplace. The answers on these 12 questions help a manager to see an employee’s perspective on four key areas: “What do I get?”, “What do I give?”, “Do I belong here?” and “How can we all grow here?”.

The book also provides clear definitions of what is talent vs skill vs knowledge. Talents are defined as naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Skills are the steps of an activity; these are capabilities that can be learned or acquired through training. Knowledge encompasses the facts and lessons learned, including both factual knowledge (know-what) and experiential knowledge (know-how). This framework helps differentiate the innate abilities (talents) from what can be taught or developed (skills and knowledge), emphasizing the importance of leveraging natural talents in the workplace.

Many ideas and methodologies about employees emotions I found in the book are used in some way of form in modern workplaces. And this is good. I believe that is more effective to identify the few emotions you want your employees to feel and then hold managers accountable for creating these emotions.

Awarding “First, Break All The Rules” a 5 out of 5, I recommend it as an essential read for those who want to dive deep into people managers main job – how to convert talent into performance.

The Shorter MBA

Book Review: The Shorter MBA by Niel Thomas

I decided to read this book to understand a usual scope of a MBA course. Probably, when the first edition of this book was published, it was relevant but not anymore. Most of the information in the book is outdated. Approaches of people management and self development have changed, marketing strategy has evolved. The world is simply different now.

The book has a good structure but the content does not go into details and examples provided by the author are not applicable in a modern business environment. The strongest part of the book, from my perspective, is financial analysis. Maybe, the book could be more useful for a person who is just starting their career and requires basic knowledge about business operations. For everybody else, it will be a lot of repetitive things that a business manager sees in their day to day professional life.

So, this is the first book that I do not recommend for reading. Overall, 3 out of 5.

Reading List 2024

The time has come to have a look back on reading during 2023 and create a new list for the upcoming year.

In 2023, I read 14 books with 5 837 pages in total. There was around 10% YoY growth in the number of pages in comparison with 2022.

For 2024 I selected 12 books so far and tried to cover following themes:

  • People Management and Performance Management
  • Preparations for GMAT exam and MBA course
  • Networking and relationship building

Leadership and new skills

  1. First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently
  2. High-Performance Coaching for Managers: A Step-by-Step Approach to Increase Employees’ Performance and Productivity
  3. GMAT™ Official Guide
  4. The Shorter MBA
  5. Principles: Life and Work
  6. Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues
  7. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business
  8. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It
  9. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds
  10. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World


  1. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity
  2. Romanland: Ethnicity and Empire in Byzantium

Immunity to Change

Book Review: Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey

There is no doubt that change is difficult. Both for organizations and individuals it requires conscious efforts, dedication, commitment and time. And even when you have all that, a success is not a guarantee. Why it is like that? Not enough resources thrown in by management? Not good enough educational materials? Or there is something more that prevents changes to be adopted smoothly?

To answer on this question the authors of Immunity to Change book first explain a model of a mental complexity. The book explains the mental complexity not as a summary of skills and knowledge but as a “object-subject” relationship between individuals and their believes system. The more complex an individual mind is, the more freely it can operate with the one’s believes, ideas and frames. A more complex mind acts as an object towards believes, ideas and frames and able to transform them or create new ones. A less complex mind is a subject of believes, ideas and frames and can act only in the limited context dictated by accepted believes and ideas.

It was quite fascinating for me to learn about this model and how it can be applied to myself and others to calibrate and discover where are we according the model. In the next chapters, the book addresses the question “Why change is difficult?”. The authors show that we are “immune to change” because it protects our certain values and assumptions that are “threatened” by a change we are trying to adopt. The outcome of our “immune system” actions is our behaviors contradicting to a committed goal, i.e. a change. We end up acting (or not acting) in a way that prevents implementation of the change.

Most part of the book provides a coaching framework that can be used by individuals and organizations to overcome the “immunity to change”. The book gives multiple examples of actual coaching situations and how the authors employed the proposed coaching framework to achieve progress. In the last part, the authors give a detailed instructions how to use the framework, track progress and organize a coaching process.

The obvious question for me is how to use the coaching framework and what problems to concentrate on. After reading this book, this is my next step – use the framework for myself and uncover my own “adaptive challenges”.

Overall, this is a great book, 5 out of 5.


Book Review: Loneliness. Human Nature And The Need For Social Connection

On June 25th 2010, Softbank’s Chairman & CEO Masayoshi Son has presented SoftBank’s Next 30-Year Vision. He tried to build the corporate vision working backwards from the answer on the question: “What would be the saddest thing in a human life?”. And the answer was: “Loneliness”.

Over the next 30 years and beyond that, technologies will change, new businesses will rise and fall, astonishing achievements in AI will surprise us. But the fundamental human desire to love, to be loved and to be needed are not going to change. As long as our species inhabit the Earth, the need for companionship and social connection will be around.

I recommend you to read Softbank’s vision here, as it truly thinks big. I don’t know any other company who even tried to outline something similar to it. 13 years passed after the publication and many things predicted by Masayoshi-san became a reality.

I have started to think about a concept of loneliness after I watched this video from Kurzgesagt. Our societies around the globe are on the path towards more isolation and lack of social connections. Coming back to Japan again, there is an appointed Minister of Loneliness from 2021. And Japan today is the projection of Europe 20-30 years from now.

Why loneliness is a very sad thing for humans and how does it affect us? The book Loneliness gives a detailed answer on this question. The first part explains how loneliness impacts physical and mental health, it shares details from different researches to demonstrate impact of loneliness on executive control, ability to self-regulate and etc.

The second and third parts of the book shows how social cooperation works in the nature and Homo Sapiens societies and why it is extremely beneficial for both society and individual to be cooperative and collaborative. It proves one more time that we are truly social animals.

The book has a lot of explanations of various experiments and research in social studies and behavioral psychology. I highly recommend the book to anybody how interested in learning more how to deal with loneliness. Overall, 5 out of 5 book.

The Promises of Giants

Book Review: The Promises of Giants by John Amaechi Obe

I don’t remember exactly when I became interested in leadership and what makes good leaders. The more I reflect about these topics, the more I come to the conclusion that leadership is about commitments and investments into others. It is not about taking but about giving. And about other million things. So, get lost is easy in the leadership, hence, we need some common guidelines that we can use as foundation.

The author of The Promises of Giants has so inspiring life story that it can be used by Netflix to produce an excellent 10 episodes TV show. Even more inspiring how focused he is to the success of others. “The Promises” outline a list of commitments that a person should take to create a foundation to be a great leader. And I believe that such format of promises, instead of rules or recommendation makes a lot of sense.

Very often leadership is seen as a “command and control”, old power style. But innovation, diversity and inclusion cannot be created by an order. They can be only nurtured by contributions of many. So, a promise to yourself will do better and more kind.

The book consists of 14 chapters and every chapter covers one promise – timely feedback, vigilance towards biases, commitment to success, responsibility for the culture and etc. Some of the promises resonated with me more than others. For example, the whole concept of seeing yourself as a giant who can accidentally harm others was an eye opener. It made me start to observe my behavior more vigilantly because I could be “a giant” to somebody without even knowing that.

Another chapter that was a good insight for me was a “I Promise to Be Present, and Not Only When i Need You”. I want to give others the best of me and have a high quality interactions during a short time we are together. But I need to commit to such approach. The method “Preparation, Orientation, Behavior” I will start practice in my interactions with others.

I highly recommend the book to everybody, 5 out of 5.

Emotional First Aid

Book Review: Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch

Emotional Intelligence or EQ is an essential skill for a people manager. Probably, leaders of the past did not pay much attention how they manage own emotions and emotions of others. But the leaders of the future have to have this skill to be true leaders.

As a people manager, you do not deal with constant flow of win wires and success stories. People experience failure, feel guilt and suffer from imposter syndrome. And you have to deal with this too. I have started to think, how I can be better to help others to “heal” and overcome “emotional damage”?

A good leader don’t have to be a mental health professional, but they should know simple methods of emotional first aid. This is how I came across the book Emotional First Aid by Guy Winch. Every book’s chapter covers one of the common causes of psychological “cuts” – rejection, loneliness, guilt, rumination and etc.

The book covers these emotional wounds in the format of analysis of root causes and suggested treatments. The treatments are made in the format of self reflection exercises, mindfulness methods and etc. In the end of every chapter there is an assessment how to understand if the one needs professional mental health support.

I cannot say that the book provided to me great insights. Most of the suggested treatments are pretty simplistic in their nature. But it was useful to learn the structured approach and gain some additional knowledge about research in psychology and therapy.

Overall, the book will be useful who is not familiar with the emotional intelligence or who want to structure their knowledge about mindfulness. 4 out of 5.

Book Review: Concentration

Book Review: Concentration by Kam Knight

It is necessary to work not 12 hours a day, but with you head.

Steve Jobs

Let’s imagine that you are in control of your calendar, you are proficient in the skill of time management and you manage distractions around well. There is still a finite amount of time you can concentrate and stay focused on a task. Also, there is a finite amount of hours in a day. So, the only option is to improve your concentration skills and do it for a longer periods of time. And it is not easy.

The issue here is not that we are lacking concentration, but with a subject where we apply it. When we pay attention to something, we make a conscious (or unconscious) decision to be aware of that something, while tuning out everything else. And it is easier to pay attention to a social media content than on writing an essay.

So, how do I divert my attention and awareness to a task and keep it for a long period of time? This was the main question I tried to answer and came across the book Concentration by Kam Knight. While there is no quick fix for this issue, I have learnt some new interesting techniques.

The book starts with explaining the concept of awareness and defines what have impact on one’s concentration. Verbal thoughts, visual images and physical feelings. The largest part of the book is a collection of concentration training exercises. It includes exercises for both mind and body.

It was really surprising for me to discover that major part of the techniques have a lot in common with meditation and mindfulness. The book talks about visualization, calming the one’s internal dialogue, retrieval and etc. All these things are well known instruments that are a foundation for every meditation practitioner.

But, like in a good video game, these techniques are easy to learn but hard to master. Constant conscious effort is required to implement concentration training in daily routine and push the limits every day day by a millimeter. I have selected several tools that I will try to adopt and test if I will see an improvement.

Overall, it is a great book, even if it is a compilation of well known practices. I highly recommend it for everyone who is interested to improve their concentration skills. 5 out of 5.

Nudge: The Final Edition

Nudge: The Final Edition by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Humans decision making process was always fascinating me. Why do we choose what we choose? How much rationality and how much emotions are involved in this process? Behavioral economics is a science that tries to answer on these questions and Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in Economics Science for his research in this area.

The authors of “Nudge” have taken the next step and tried to apply the same scientific findings to build more efficient decision making mechanisms. They called it “choice architecture”.

Humans are extremely biased and are not following the most rational behavior as economic theories suggest. I.e. in many circumstances our immediate choices are not aligned with our own long term goals. Hence, people have to be “nudged” into a proper direction.

This create an ethical dilemma – how much of a “nudge” should be allowed and/or built into “choice architecture” not to be considered as exploitation? The authors introduce methodology they call “paternalistic libertarianism”. In short, it means to build decision making mechanism in a such way to protect freedom of choice. But help people to make the most efficient decision at the same time.

The book provides a number of examples from different areas of our modern society – pension system, organ donation, money savings and etc. The authors analyze biases that may impact humans behavior and propose recommendations for “choice architects” how to improve the system.

The most interesting example from my perspective is the analysis of Swedish pension system and how people behavior has changed over the last 20 years after original pension reform. The story proves one more time that “nudge” is required. Otherwise, people just fail to take an action on time.

Overall, the book provides good overview of how to incorporate nudges and shares interesting examples of actual implementations. But, many things in the book are outdated and too well known today. My recommendation is to read Thinking Fast and Slow instead.

Check out my other book reviews!

2023 Reading List

Let’s summarize how 2022 looked from reading perspective.

Thanks to GoodReads I have some data – I was able to finish 15 books with 5198 pages in total. I think it is a pretty good result.

For 2023 I have selected books below and tried to cover following themes:

  • Public Speaking skills improvement
  • People management and leadership
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Historical non-fiction

Leadership and new skills

  1. Concentration: Maintain Laser Sharp Focus and Attention
  2. The Promises of Giants
  3. The Art of Public Speaking: The Original Tool for Improving Public Oration
  4. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds
  5. Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking
  6. Advanced Grammar in Use with Answers
  7. Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts
  8. First Break All The Rules
  9. Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
  10. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
  11. The 48 Laws of Power
  12. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection


  1. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945
  2. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
  3. The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914