Top 5 Books of 2015

As 2016 begins, here are my favourite books of last year.

       Follow David’s board 2015 Top Books of th Year on Pinterest.

Feel free to share any you think I should read.

On Learning in Landscapes of Practice

I just finished my first read through Etienne Wenger-Trayner, Mark Fenton-O’Creevy, Steven Hutchinson, Chris Kubiak, and Beverley Wenger-Trayner’s new edited collection, Learning in Landscapes of Practice: Boundaries, identities, and practice-based learning (2014).

I’ve long been a fan of Etienne Wenger-Trayner’s theoretical and anthropological work on learning. I owe my colleague Barbara Berry a debt of gratitude for telling me about this book and for pointing me to Wenger-Trayner’s recent lecture on the content of this book.

This book is essential reading for anyone who espouses “social learning” in the industry learning and development community. Unlike many current popular approaches, Wenger-Trayner et al. offer ideas that are practical and, at the same time, based thoughtful, seminal scholarship on learning.

Wenger-Trayner et al. offer those of us who work with organizations comprised of diverse groups a whole new vocabulary and approach for facilitating change and enabling people to work at, across, and through boundaries in the organizational and societal contexts.

Professional coaches will find value the ideas on identity in social landscape

People in the higher education sector should pay attention to this text because in several places it at addresses classic challenges that universities face like students’ transition into and through higher education, and, more importantly, the tricky relationship between academic learning and work. This book would be useful for student services specialists, academic developers,  and university administrators alike.

The chapters in this book on systems convening will interest experience designers and design researchers who practice strategic design or systems design with large groups  and use methods like design charettes or other community engagement approaches. I wonder whether the framework of ideas that Wenger-Trayner et al. present around identity, multimembership and boundaries might also extend current perspectives on product and service experience design by adding a sociocultural dimension to the list of factors to consider when designing an experience or interaction. Also the landscape framework may offer systems and service designers new ways of thinking about ecosystem mapping as considering multimembership and circulating regimes of competence might reveal new value flows and relationships.

Service Innovation Handbook (Kimbell, 2015)

Lucy Kimbell’s Service Innovation Handbook offers different value than most popular texts on service design. Like classics in the field like This is Service Design Thinking or Experience Design,  Kimbell grounds the book in rich case studies and particular how-to methods, including templates and worked examples. But what differentiates Kimbell’s text is that she prefaces the case studies and methods sections with solid, rich evidence-based introductions to the theory and research underlying service innovation. In particular, Kimbell doesn’t shy away from addressing service-dominant logic, boundary objects, or progressive approaches to outcomes and assessment. 

 Another useful feature of the book is that it focuses on the very front end of service innovation. It shares some similarity to Terry Pinheiro’s The Service Startup:Design Gets Lean, but Kimbell’s methods are more thoughtfully interconnected and less complex. Like the dSchool’s Make Space, Kimbell’s methods include how-to equipment, but she also included a work example for a sample case that threads throughout the text.  

Kimbell’s blend of theory, cases, and methods is a key strength and reminds me of Sam Ladner’s Practical Ethnography or Andrew Hinton’s Understanding Context.

But a copy for your methods shelf and one to share with design clients who want to go all in.

What is your favourite handbook on service innovation or design? What is your prefered blend between theory, cases, and methods?

Top 5 Books of the Year

I read voraciously.

I’ve collected the top five books that made the most impact on me professionally and personally in 2014 on a Pinterest Board.

Here they are in no particular order!

Follow David’s board 2014 Top 5 Books of the Year on Pinterest.

What book made the most impact on your professional work this year?

On Collective Genius

Collective Genius presents ethnographic studies of innovation in leading organizations including Pixar, Volkswagen, eBay, Google.

The range of case studies the book addresses is one of its main assets. Readers’ curious about how Pixar makes animated blockbusters or how Google handles its need for massive storage city will enjoy the deep and rich descriptions.

At the heart of the book is a  framework of principles that capture the interpersonal and organizational conditions that make innovation possible:

What I like most about the book is how it blends rich description from formal case studies, evidence and concepts from academic research, and practice principles and frameworks that managers and leaders can adapt and experiment with at work.

Service designers and design thinking consultants will find the frameworks in Collective Genius useful tools for taking stock of the organizational cultural practices. The principles might enable cross-functional innovation teams assess the conditions and readiness for innovation work. As you may have noticed, the ideas of creative abrasion, creative agility and creative resolution share some similarities to Roger Martin’s ideas on abductive reasoning in The Opposable Mind.

Leadership team coaches, particularly those interested in advancing models of co-creation of value with stakeholders will appreciate the discussion of principles and paradoxes that underlie high performance collaboration.

Learning and development professionals interested in social learning should pay attention to the case studies on Volkswagen and Pixar. The Volkwagen case addresses how to create community amongst siloed, fragmented units, and to instil collaboration towards a common purpose. The initial Pixar case, which opens the book, explores how Pixar enables exceptionally creative workers with diverse skill sets to work together a common shared purpose and to enact shared values. The book will challenge the learning and development community’s focus the psychology and behaviour of the individual work.

Next step in my coaching training journey

As I’ve written before, I am pursuing an Associate Certified Coach (ACC) professional coaching credential from the International Coach Federation.

As part of my journey so far, I’ve completed 60 hours of coaching training with Essential Impact and I have been coaching some amazing, creative people in my spare time.

Thanks to my long commute, I’ve been devouring some tremendous books on leadership team coaching and coaching practice from the UK and Australia. I’m compiling highlights and will post soon. Watch my Pinterest board for highlights.

Here is what I know so far:
1. Coaching is one aspect of the service I offer clients in my day job. The area that I specialize in is leadership team coaching in educational and creative organizations.

2. Leadership team coaching complements the other two foci of my professional practice: service and learning design. I’ve come to recognize that many organizations not only need design service but also need to design learning and development interventions to implement new services.

Curious about coaching and my approach? Get in touch… david at

Service design and organizational change


I’m drawn to creative people and to organizations seeking to design systems and solutions, to implement them, and to effect change.

Through my work, I’ve become aware of the gaps between developing coherent strategy, a kernel, as Richard Rumelt suggests and the endless complexity of implementation. Without strong shared commitments, teams dissolve into coalitions, people reenact learned habits, and conversations turn prematurely to the IKEA-instruction sets of implementation.

Service Design: Insights from Nine Case Studies offers an interesting collection of service design project descriptions, methods and interviews surrounding a public transit service design initiative in Utrecht, Netherlands. A recurring theme in the collection is the challenge of achieving consensus and buy-in from stakeholder organizations, particularly in the early stages. Co-creation and visioning workshops were among the most successful ways of bringing people together and moving forward. Reading the project reports persuades me that leadership team coaching offers a powerful set of tools for facilitating collaboration amongst design firms, client organizations, people and users, and other stakeholders.

Planning demands that teams step out of time and context and park egos and agendas, at least momentarily, to envision shared futures.

As another example, Kronquist et. al describe the challenges of aligning all the factors to “go all the way” and implement service design innovation. To create an innovative pharmacy required significant commitments amongst the pharmacy brand, the individual pharmacy owner, and the employees and customers.

What are your insights about initiating successful service design collaborations?

10 Things I’ve Learned About Coaching in 10 Hours of Practice

I am currently pursuing an ICF ACC coaching credential. I have completed 60 hours of training with essential impact, and I am now in the process of accumulating my 100 practice hours. Get in touch with me if you would are interested in a conversation.

1. Notice when you are in a conversational cul-de-sac and bring it to the coachee’s attention.

2. Offer the coachee choices and let her decide which topics to address.

3. What are the limits of non-directive coaching? How can processes and exercises be woven into the coachee’s experience? My hunch is that the coachee must design the experiment himself.

4. Some coaches are obsessed with contracting and re-contracting. My approach is more organic. The contract is a touchstone to return to to assess progress rather that an absolute determiner of success or failure.

5. Flaherty is right when he talks about three levels of conversation:

Level 1: Single conversation to build or sharpen competence
Level 2: A more complex conversation over several sessions
Level 3. A profound and longer conversation intended to bring about fundamental change
(Flahrety, 2010, p. 116)

With most coachees so far, the conversations have been about practical day-to-day challenges rather than transformative challenges.

6. I’ve aligned myself with Essential Impact’s non-directive coaching approach, and I see clear resonances with Jenny Rogers’s perspectives on developmental coaching. I’m struggling to position myself within particular coaching theories, particularly those that align with psychology and neuroscience.

7. Coachees have consistently demonstrated creativity, determination, vulnerability, and resourcefulness.

8. Committing to a coachee demands that I set aside any squeamishness I have about emotions or about the conversation venturing in different aspects of the coachee’s lifeworld. We were taught to “coach the whole person” and, more often than not, the tensions or obstacles people are grappling with run like veins throughout one’s

9. People come to understand coaching by experiencing it first-hand. Most people leave expressing positive statements. It easier to demonstrate than it is to explain.

10. People want value from the coaching experience, and some struggle with setting a course for themselves. They may look to me for structure.

Coaching for pragmatism with emotions?

My coaching collaborators are helping me recognize that my bias as the coach is towards the pragmatic. My coachee may want to sit with his affective truth for a while and unearth cognitive roots: “I feel…because…” Usually I resist going into that pasture because I aim to keep the focus foward-looking.

Clearly there is a core tension around affect for me in coaching practice. I am not against emotions and affect — they interest me intellectually and coaching is helping me be more aware of them in myself. But I cringe when coaches lead with questions about feelings.

Thinking about this brings me back to Silvan Tomkins, who I read at UBC, and some remarkable passages in Shame and Her Sisters :

For me, talking with emotion and affect is one kind of interpersonal interaction in which I vary from many people.

If one ideal in coaching is mutual freedom of expression (Flahrety) than not only do I have an obligation to let the coachee explore affects and emotion if that is where a person wants to go, but I must invite coachees to intervene when I push too hard to the practical.