I’ve come across two other reviews of this book which both sum it up rather well and identify how surprising difficult I’ve found reviewing it. Director magazine commented that:

We’ve all spent long days on training courses only to emerge with little more than a single useful piece of paper with one idea on it. This book is a little like 50 of those pieces of paper pulled together in one place.”

An Amazon UK reviewer I can identify only as Dream Diver meanwhile drew these conclusions:

I think the clue that this book is just a compilation is in the title. The author perhaps couldn’t make a decision on which model was best. May be useful for MSc student who needs a simple guide to identify the many models of strategic thinking. As a Complexity thinker I personally think it shows the frailty of depending on models in real world situations.” 

To this reviewer, The Decision Book is a classic example of a book that some will love and cherish and others may not see the point of: it depends what the individuals in question are looking for, how much of it they hope to discover when they find it – and, I guess, how many training courses aimed at Director magazine readers they’ve been on! It also reminded me that models are a double-edged sword – a theme we’ve hardly left untouched on this blog – although the possibilities of over-simplification and the importance of remaining conscious you’re working with a model don’t, judging by the Instructions for Use, escape the authors.

Divided (at times, it seemed a little arbitrarily (into four sections – How to Improve Yourself, How to Understand Yourself Better, How to Understand Others Better, How to Improve Others – it’s a book that I felt will appeal most to those attracted to ‘visual thinking’: most models get a two-page spread, one page devoted to a diagram, although there are exceptions. The Black Swan model, for example, includes a small picture of a black swan and admits it’s not actually a model.

This impression was confirmed by discovering the authors’ book-supporting blog, which “explores the great world of visualized thinking”. The blog doesn’t include any of the book content, and – quite rightly – name-checks Jessica Hagy’s This Is Indexed blog, which has been in our own blog-roll almost since the outset. The 50topmodels blog is more light-hearted than the book, and seems a happier marriage of medium and content, although its wit, for me, lacks the ‘edge’ of some of Hagy’s index card diagrams. Where the latter sticks to “black pen on lined card” as a consistent aesthetic, the authors’ more colourful, mixed media collage approach left me reflecting that less can be more – or at least more punchy.

Back at the book, this worked best for me as a combination of lucky dip and what I can only think of as a gateway drug. As a verbal thinker, some of the models left me wanting more a description, either of the way of using the model or the benefits of doing so. While several of the models where already very familiar, my first reaction to some of the others wasn’t to whip out a pencil, or sit down with a friend for feedback, but to google for more about the model. Or to rifle my bookshelf for other places I’d come across the same ideas presently a little less gnomically (sometimes less is just … less). The glimpse of The Bourdieu Model (which the rendering makes more ‘what your tastes say about you’) sent me back to Simon Reynolds’ Retromania, a rather philosophical exploration of how popular culture has become less experimental, forward-looking or ‘radical’. In it, discussing what he calles ‘Subcultural capital’, he introduces the idea as:

[…] Pierre Bordieu’s theories about taste and class, which explore how aesthetic preferences help us distinguish ourselves from others. The simplest, shallowest version of this is where taste becomes a form of social display. So bands, just like individuals, select their influences to create a flattering impression, or situate themselves within the ever-shifting landscape of hip. But the Bourdieu view is more than a little reductionist and cynical.”

Intrigued enough to fire up Google, I find the makingisconnecting.org website – another website built around a book, this time by David Gauntlett – where a download extract gave a deeper analysis:

As a use of the idea of social capital, though, it is the most depressing of the models, as its focus is only upon the middle and upper classes making sure that their spheres remain exclusive. Although distinct from economic capital, and operating in a different way, it is inseparable from it. Here, social capital is another tool in the armoury of the elite, deployed to ensure that the ‘wrong’ kind of people don’t enter their circles (Bourdieu, 1986, 1992). Most models of social capital picture it as a force binding groups together in a way which is basically lovely for the people concerned; the sweetness only turns sour – revealing the ‘dark side’ of social capital – when we judge that the group in question may have unsavoury intentions towards other people, as in the Ku Klux Klan example above. Bourdieu’s model seems to involve little warmth anywhere: rather, social capital is just a nasty exclusionary device – although its users would see it as neutral and rational.”

Not as snappy or to the point, I grant you, but I’ve now stumbled across an interesting book that explores creativity, concepts of engaged citizenry and social media to add to my reading list. In the meantime, what my shoes say about me may or may not have changed (rather ageing Birkenstocks, for those that need to know.)

I got the impression that, for the authors (one Swiss, one Finnish), I probably fall into someone who would – in their words – read this book ‘the European way […] Europeans tend to begin by acquiring theories, then doing something. If they then fail, they analyse, improve and repeat the attempt’. (Americans, apparently, roll their sleeves up and go for trial and error.) I was glad to see that different styles of reader were recognised, but I wasn’t sure my approach was down to me being European. My MBTI profile (INFP – not an included model, presumably for copyright reasons) and an outlook that combines a degree of scepticism with a desire to understand in depth, struck me as more relevant than bloodlines. (I also pictured my Anglo-French mother, who would have dived straight in.)

Hence my indecision about the book: no offence to the authors, but it’s not this reviewer’s thing. For me, it left me thinking “Yes, but” too often. But for you, it may be just what you’re looking for. (And if you’re not the “Yes, but” type, you might also enjoy the Yphrum’s Law posting at the author’s blog.)

Individual reactions may also depend on how different people feel about the whole idea of samplers. The book reminded me of the rijstaffel – a huge collection of Indonesian side-dishes served as a ‘pick and mix’ feast that was actually a Dutch colonial invention. For me, rijstaffel is visually impressive (its origins, after all, lay in a desire to show off the riches of the colony), but works more as a way of discovering two or three Indonesian dishes that work well for me – and that I’d like a bigger portion of next time. For some people, the variety, diversity and ‘dip in, dip out’ approach is what makes rijstaffel special. If you’re the rijstaffel type, this might be just the strategic thinking book for you. Other customers might want to supplement it by browsing the bibliography and firing up their smartphone. Horses for courses, and models for situations. As they say on Big Brother, you decide.

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