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Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Canada

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Filtering by Category: books

Designing for Behavior Change

Chris Campbell

If you've tried changing something you to do to be healthier, you've probably used an application or device to assist you. What was once an obscure and fringe market is now mainstream. A whole range of tools and techniques are now available to help you change your behaviour. Being able to keep track of what you do and how things change over time is one of the best ways to develop the habits that you want to have.

Devices like Fitbit and applications like Lift make a big difference in my development and maintenance of different behaviours. It's fascinating to get a glimpse into how to design to change behaviour. In Stephen Wendel's comprehensive, research-based book, Designing for Behavior Change, he gives a solid overview of the most effective ways to make change happen. While it may be too detailed for someone who is casually interesting in the topic, I found it very interesting. If you are doing just about anything were someone needs to take action, it can provide great advice for creating interactions that result in achieving goals.

One of the refreshing parts of the book is in how there is an ethical component. Behaviour change can be seen as a way of manipulating people, but Wendel comes back to developer responsibility often. Those who create software need to be ethical in how they help people change. The book isn't targeted at someone who is making the next Farmville, but someone who is working to make the world a better place.

The casual writing is interspersed with colourful diagrams reinforcing the ideas in the book. It's a great place to start if you are working on a project where you need people to act. It is a productive way to find practical methods for honing the process that you'll follow to get started. If you need to go deeper, it provides a comprehensive overview of the research in the field, so you can explore the ideas and research in greater depth. While I don't have any immediate plans to develop something, I have a deeper understanding of how the tools that I love work now.

The Pleasures of Baking Bread

Chris Campbell

Loaf of BreadOne of the most enjoyable things that you can do is bake a loaf of bread. It's basic and nourishing and provides a little bit of magic in your day. I hadn't really made a loaf of bread outside of a bread machine and over the past year I've been thinking a lot more consciously about what I'm eating and trying to make more food at home. After listening to the audiobook version of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, I didn't really want to eat the heavily-processed bread that I've been eating for a long time and I found the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and purchased a baking stone and pizza peel, mixed up a batch of dough and made my first boule. It was easy and delicious and since I started a few weeks ago there has always been fresh bread in the house. People used to live like this and it's sad that so many of us have opted for prepared and processed foods over things that can be made simply at home.
Overall it's great to think more consciously about food and cooking and there is a lot of great local food around which means that now through the food in the house we're a lot more connected to what has grown around here. My favourite dough is the Light Whole Wheat and my favourite loaf is the Batard. The dough is also amazing as a base for pizza or garlic cheese fingers.
The brilliance of the method outlined in the book is that you mix up the dough in a plastic container (without kneading), let it rise for a couple of hours and then put it in the fridge. Then you take out the dough, cut off a 1 pound ball (which you can do 4 times), shape it, let it rise and then put it in the oven, so you're never really more than 2 hours away from a loaf of hot, fresh bread from the oven. It is simple and beautiful. Now I look forward to the feeling of dough stuck to my fingers. My more complicated short-term goal is to make Montreal Bagels based on the recipe in the book. Once I do that I will feel like a real cook.

The Myths of Innovation

Chris Campbell

With his second book, The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun takes a different approach to the subject. With The Art of Project Management, he provides a detailed and very useful guidebook to navigating the difficult world of managing people and projects. The Myths of Innovation is built (quite logically) around a series of relatively common myths about innovations and innovators. While I thought that I knew about the myths, the power of the story often remains even when you know that it's not true and Berkun manages to puncture the myths, while explaining the appeal. We all love a story about the bold lone inventor who had a brilliant idea that changed the world, but we don't like hearing about the failed inventions or the team of people who painstakingly followed the many dead-ends in the development of the product. Berkun shows how our love of a good story can make us miss what is important in creating anything. You need hard work, a willingness to follow your instincts, determination and being able to keep working even though many of your ideas will fail or will not be accepted.

The book is well-organized and entertaining with an extensive and annotated bibliography that can keep you reading for years. The concepts are covered clearly and extensive web links throughout the book allow you to find a broader context online as a springboard for more exploration. Berkun also drew on the experiences of innovators that he talked with and via a survey. While the book is casual and fun, it has a solid foundation based on research and experience. You can read it from front to back as I did, or jump around without getting lost. It's also a book that will be good to revisit for relevant stories and perspective as the challenge of trying something new starts to bog you down.

While much of the book debunks myths, it's also encouraging as the underlying message is that dedication and working together with people is essential for innovation to take place. It's the combination of all of the right factors that allows things to succeed and not merit or genius or luck. It's a call to action against complacency and conventional wisdom and it will hopefully get people to become more aware of what they are doing and the possibilities and opportunities that often exist in front of you if you're willing to see them.

The book boldly concludes by asking if innovation is inherently good, which made me think a lot about how our views of what we do and what we use evolve. I no longer use a pda, but a combination of tools that include a laptop, a cell phone, the web, and notebooks and pens. Progress and innovation doesn't mean more tiny devices or new things, but the innovative use of what is appropriate and what works.

The Art of Project Management

Chris Campbell

The Art of Project ManagementScott Berkun is my favourite writer of essays on managing people. Through the essays on his site and his essential PM Clinic mailing list, you can seek out, find and share advice on the best ways to manage people and successfully complete projects. He's now written an amazing book, The Art of Project Management, that collects and distills years of experience and knowledge into an entertaining and comprehensive package. I feel as if I've taken a whole course in project management.
While I have some experience in managing projects, much how I do things is shaped by experience and trial and error. In reading the book much of what is said seems to be simple and common sense, but it's amazing how often we don't do the things that make the most sense. What is so valuable about the book is that it helps to understand why some things work and some things don't. I recognized many of the situations in the book and wish that I'd had the insight that I gained from the book when I was dealing with those situations.
The book is divided into three major sections: "Plans", "Skills", and "Management" and within each section there are a series of examples and processes for dealing with all of the stages that a project goes through. Within my context I'm thinking of how this all can be applied to filmmaking, but the context of the book is software development. What strikes me about reading the book is how similar the processes are. I've done both software and film development, so I've seen it up close, but I didn't realize that so many of the issues exist no matter what size the team is or what creative enterprise you are working on.
The philosophical core of the book is built around people and dealing with them. While some more manipulative techniques are described, there is always a warning about the short and long term risks of using those strategies. There is a refreshing candour and a lack of dogma in the methods described. I've read many books that excite me at first, but the ideas and philosophy are often more appealing than the practical application of the ideas. Berkun manages to strike a perfect balance between a management philosophy and a pragmatic approach. The book will definitely help you make things happen and get things done. You may also have more time to enjoy your work and your life.
While the book is well-written and structured, it feels like a nice long talk with someone who is being completely honest about the way things work. It's the talk that you have with someone that shapes your whole professional life. The moment when you figure out that you can do a good job, treat people with respect, and not waste too much time and effort on things that won't work. I'm going to keep the book close to my side and refer to it often.
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Blink

Chris Campbell

BlinkHow quickly can you figure something out? Apparently if you're good at it, you can tell with very little information very quickly. Malcolm Gladwell explores rapid cognition and what you can figure out without really thinking about it in Blink. It's remarkable how people can "thin slice" and look at minute (but significant) amounts of data and make decisions. Evolutionarily it makes sense that we have this ability to see small signs that could indicate danger and allow us to react, but generally most of us are not in life-threatening situations, but we still thin slice the data. One thing that I think that I'm good at thin slicing is a film. I'll generally know if I'll like a film within the first few minutes or even seconds. The title sequence and style of shooting or music will be enough. Why is that? For me I think that it is attention to detail. The story and feeling have to be just right with a film and if they get it right at the beginning, it almost always continues through. If they're sloppy at the beginning of the film, they'll probably not be careful with the rest of the film.
Thin slicing works with people as well. I usually can tell if I like someone right away (as I think most people can). How many times have you heard or thought "I don't know what it is, but I don't trust that person..." Some people can even tell if a couple will stay married based on a few minutes or even seconds of observation. Gladwell gives both positive and negative examples of when making a choice in the blink of an eye can save a life or end one. So many things in the world are tenuous, random and fragile and understanding how our brains work and how quickly we can know is a step toward making the world a better place. It's fascinating to think about how just the right amount of data can enable us to know something without even consciously understanding why we have the feeling that we're right.
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