With the self publishing revolution well underway, if there is one work which should be taken as a roadmap of how to go about doing it, it is perhaps Mindfire by Scott Berkun. Like both the previous books I reviewed a while ago, I knew about the existence of this one by following Scott’s blog. What makes my route to this author different from the others is that I came to his blog via one of his other books – coincidentally the first e-book I ever bought.
Scott Berkun is the author of Making Things Happen and it is a masterful study of how to do software project management well. I’ve read it twice now and occasionally dip back into it when a project I’m running is going off the rails. The reason I have been in any way succesful as a Project Manager is because I read that book. It should be compulsory reading for anyone charged with the task.
Obviously I was already a big fan of Berkun’s work, but over the past decade he has left the world of software project management behind and become a top class public speaker and an essayist. There is a distinction, even in our current day and age, between a blogger and an essayist – while many of the pieces in this book have appeared on his blog, the older craft of essay writing shines through in this work. These pieces are deceptively simple, they follow tight structures that you will hardly notice in the same way as you don’t notice the metal frame holding up the building you are in or the subtle contours in a sonnet, they are each suitably sized to get the whole of the concept in question into your brain in one helping and every one of them is a belter.
“Most days we avoid big thoughts. We stay busy with small things. Despite our wishes, we know real thinking takes us places we may not be prepared for.”
The preface, which invites you to acivate your mind, contains this small warning. The title is also no misnomer. The opening set of essays are under the section title “Gasoline”, part two is “Sparks” and the concluding set are “Fire”.
In Gasoline, we examine many aspects of what it is like to work in today’s world. What we do and how we do it. What other people do and why they do it. What it means to be busy rather than working hard or productively and creatively, the differences between wants, needs and passions. By the end of them, you can find yourself looking at the world with newly opened eyes and hungry to hear what can be done with this more open perspective on the world.
The essays in Sparks, you might expect to then be a fast and hot expansions on the earlier work. They aren’t – that is very much more the feel of the final section. While none of the essays in this book are weak, this is the least strong section. It is a set of works aimed at delving deeper into how you could use your time and creativity more directly and get better results from them. The flow through this section is a bit bumpy but none-the-less has good and enjoyable pieces in it; “Why you Must Lead or Follow” is perhaps the single most challenging essay in the book.
Fire is the meaty tail end of the meal and explores how to really get on and do. It does this by examining making mistakes (both how to make good mistakes and strategies for avoiding bad ones), how to think creatively even under constraints and how to avoid the trap of believing in a bad idea, which smart people are all too prone to.
The book itself was kickstarter funded, with offers ranging from signed copies of the book to new posts written on a topic of your choice. The amount of attention that has gone into the design of the printed edition is phenomenal, it is a physically beautiful book and nothing short of the top level a normal publishing house could produce.
The design and editorial work are what set this as a work apart from the other two I reviewed recently. There is no question, if you are going the self-published route that this is the gold standard.
For anyone interested in examining themselves and the world around them and are the least bit curious about seeing if there is a way to see a little more or a little farther then these are fine pair of giant’s shoulders to be standing on.
Loved it. Highly recommended.