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Learning without training – Books

We love learning here at =mc, as you would expect! And whilst we spend almost all of our time delivering training, we wholeheartedly believe in learning lots of things in lots of different ways. In this blog we take a look at how to learn from reading, and have book recommendations for you.

There are thousands of management and leadership books, on all kinds of topics. Reading new ideas and perspectives can be both challenging and enjoyable. Books are particularly useful if you want to take your time to digest ideas and to process information. By taking a phased approach, chapter by chapter, you can give yourself time to reflect on ideas and think them through. Books can therefore be a useful complement to other learning or training that you are doing, where you want to find out more about particular topics or from specific experts. So many books are now also available in audio formats, making them even easier to absorb if you prefer listening.

Here are some top tips for getting the most from your reading (or listening):

  • Check your sources: as with any self-directed learning, it’s important to check the credentials of the people you are reading too. Look at the author’s bio, their motivation and background – are they a credible source of information for you? What do their critics say? You’ll find these on any book-buying website in the reviews!
  • Prepare to learn: ask yourself what you hope will change as a result of what you are reading. What challenges could this help you with? What might the insights gained do for your work, or those that you work with / for?
  • Prepare for chunking: reading a whole book in one go may not be that productive. Consider how to break it up, and how long you can devote to both reading and thinking about what you have read.
  • Reflective learning: as you read along, pause to check how you are engaging with learning as a process. Are you being open to ideas or facing barriers? Is the content making sense to you, or do you have some questions for further research? What experiences and perspectives are you learning about that are different to your own?
  • Taking action: take some time after each chunk to make a note of what actions you can take. Consider how you can take key lessons away and what the benefits of these will be for you, and for others.

Finally, here are some recommendations from the team at =mc based on our recent reading:

Four Thousand Weeks Oliver Burkeman (2021) Bodley Head: This book is as scary as it is brilliant! Spoiler alert: we only have around 4,000 weeks to live a full and satisfying life. Eek! Burkeman looks at time management in a wholly different way – helping to go beyond the usual advice (don’t sweat the small stuff, get focused, be productive, use a diary and a to-do-list etc), and presents techniques suited to the modern always-on age. Some of the ideas are not totally new but this has the most up to date research of the books we have read and sets techniques in a digital age. It’s organized into manageable sections, and combines some cracking statistics with anecdotes, academic research, and Burkeman’s personal stories. This keeps it engaging and easy to pause for reflection as you go through it. Burkeman challenges us to do less not more, and to make meaningful choices over our time.  Inspiring!

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (And How to Fix It) Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic (2019) Harvard Business Review Press: This book explores leadership and gender; and the behaviours that are considered to be worthy in leadership roles. These are not new ideas per se, but this book is so clear and easy to follow it really helps you to get to grips with these issues. The author argues that more men get promoted into leadership roles because many display behaviours we think are indicators of great leadership, such as confidence, individualism and risk taking. These are seen as masculine behaviours. However, these behaviours can cause long-term problems for organisations and these very traits that then cause the leaders downfall. The book argues that we need to change our understanding of what makes a great leader; and look for behaviours such as collaboration, flexible problem-solving, mentoring and empowerment – strengths typically attributed to feminine behaviours. A key theme is how important it is not to equate confidence with competence. It argues that as leaders, regardless of our gender, it is essential that we develop behaviours that enable us to deliver, inspire and engage others. And to value these behaviours in others. For example, the loudest person in the room may not be the person we should be listening to. This is a challenge to ideas around “leaning in” and the need to display more traditional masculine behaviours to be successful. The only downside to the book, is that there are no short-term solutions. It needs a widescale shift in perceptions of leadership that then challenge the biases in leadership selection.

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism Naoki Higashida (2014) Sceptre: This is a really interesting book, and gives a great insight into living with autism. Naoki was diagnosed with autism at 5. He learnt to communicate through a homemade alphabet grid and wrote this book aged 13. It has since been translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell, who have an autistic child. It’s a short book (135 pages/2 hour audiobook) in a question and answer format, giving Naoki’s insight into some common behaviours of autistic people. It is also interspersed with some extracts of his creative writing. It challenges widely held assumptions about what it means to be non-verbal and how we can all interpret the world around us. It is only one perspective of living and interpreting the world with autism, so it won’t represent everyone’s experience. The film, based on Naoki’s book, broadens this to focus on 5 individuals around the world to widen the representation, but still does not speak for everyone. We’d love to see more follow up and more voices.

The Art of Gathering Priya Parker (2018) Penguin Random House: This book looks at what helps people to not just gather for gathering’s sake but to gather well – with meaning and purpose. After the experience of the pandemic where gatherings were restricted, this has been particularly important. Parker sheds a light on how we can get the best out of meeting with each other – both in a work and personal setting – and make the time count. If you are a manager or leader, or anyone who is required to bring people together – be it a team away day, a learning conference or a partnership innovation or planning day, this book will help you to think about key elements to consider that can make a real difference to people’s experience. Of course, it was written before the pandemic and the examples used focus mainly on face to face gatherings. Brilliantly, Parker has since added to her gathering principles to consider gathering in a digital age, and developed a series of Podcasts for the NY Times to explore these:

What colour is your parachute Richard N. Bolle (2022 edition) Ten Speed Press: This book is a must-have guide to job hunting, and was first published in the 1970s. It can help you at any stage, even if you haven’t fully committed to seeking your next role yet. It is both insightful and practical. The things it will help you with are: clarifying what you are looking for, focusing your attention, providing up to date resources, and exercises to work through. Even better, the book is updated every year, so the recommendations are up-to-date. The exercises are easy to follow and also effective in making you think about your next move. The only issue is there isn’t quite enough space – you may need an extra place to keep your notes. That said, we love an excuse to get a new notepad going!

For further ideas on how to make learning work for you, check out our advice about online learning:

If you have any questions about online or self-directed learning, then get in touch with our experienced trainers. We will help you to identify the outcomes you are looking for and how best to address your needs. Call 020 7978 1516 or email

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...