Book Reviews - Symposium Learning

August 31, 2022

Reading Time: 4 minutes

1.    How did I come across this book?

I picked up this book in the local library together with 2 crime novels the day before my holiday. It is a short book which I read on the return flight from Milan in just over 2 hours. The title and the content linked with the much larger essay of Shoshana Zuboff The Age of Surveillance Capitalism on which I laboured over for most of 2021. The title remind me of the fictional story of The Circle by Dave Eggers.

My interest was to engage with a work of literature addressing key questions of the modern workplace separately from the non-fiction sphere. For example, George Orwell 1984 offers a critique to 1948 society and its aspirations. A work of fiction allows emotions and empathy to play a crucial role and helps the reader to connect with the heroes and the villains, identifying a right and a wrong rather than processing balanced arguments of pros and cons.

2.    Does it keep its promise?

Yes, it does.

The start candidly asks the question that we, readers, really want answered: “so what kind of things did you see?”, “what’s the worst thing you ever saw?”

The voyeurism which is at the core of the production of shocking and morally questionable videos and content on social media is activated.  We want to know what is hidden from us when we surf the platforms and this is why we have selected this novel. We want to know why it is hidden and how the decision is taken.

The answer is even more shocking that I imagined – the protagonist, a gay woman Kayleigh, is swallowed by her reality as content moderator to such an extend she wont be able to see the changes in her own perception, understanding and interaction with reality.

3.    Take away that won’t spoil your reading

For those of us savvy with call centre environments the description of how KPIs are set and enforced is very familiar.

The daily target is the review of 500 content pieces per person per day, there is a QC process and a score to achieve of no less than 90%.

Consider a shift of 8 hours x 60 mins = 480 mins of work – this makes each single content review approx. 96 sec –approx. 1 min and 30 secs – plausibly the average length of videos that are served to us in most social media platforms.

Now, consider the time available to a moderator to decide if the content is to be kept or removed.

There is research behind the book. At the end of the novel the Hanna Bervoets shares the lists non fictional books and articles used.

For Irish audience, an article published by Tommy Meskill on RTE websites refers to the appearance before the Oireachtas Joint Committee and the term “horrible lucid dreams” perfectly reflects what Hanna Bervoets has depicted in this short novel.

4.    About the author

We had to remove this post is Hanna Bervoets’s first book translated from Dutch into English. It has been translated in 18 other languages. The original title “Wat Wij zagen” literally translates into “What we saw”.

Her education includes a Master in Journalism and Research – skills which are evident in this novel but that do not shade the epistolary style.

Reading her website I am encouraged to read more of her novels as those contemporary topics like self-definition in climate crisis, mental health and “the way (scientific) change and new technologies reshape human relationships and behaviour.” Her novels “often combine literary narratives with science fiction themes and fantasy tropes, always with strong queer overtones”

An author who is collecting numerous awards.


5.    What others are saying about this book

Goodreads give it a 3 out of 5 starts and it is tag under “Horror” as well as Adult and Queer.

The Guardian finds it laboured. I admit that as my plane was approaching Dublin airport I was able to shim through some pages without losing too much sense of the work or content. Arguably I have lost intensity to be fully engrossed in the revealing closing scenes. The Guardian review offers the readers some of the insights on how content is moderated “ for example, does a video featuring two dead kittens count as animal cruelty, if they’re already dead at the start of the clip?” as well as sharing example of the mental health problems experienced by Kayleight and her colleagues. I do not agree with the closing remarks that the novel “offers little in the way of psychological acuity” On the contrary, it shows that the damage lived by the main character is yet to be fully processed by her refusal to get help. It provides a vivid insight how insidious the danger of exposure to violent images and content can truly be.

The New York Times defines it a triller – honouring Goodreads tag as Horror. Like the Guardian it offers some spoilers on the training received by the content moderator – training that discloses the rational behind what can be left rather than removed. Because the challenge is that – it is already live and the question is for how long more. Work conditions are defined as brutal  which is a adjective I do not remember been used in the book and, as I express above, the practices of KPIs enforcement, bathrooms breaks and QC practices are far too familiar and adopted in other centre where Emotional Labour is required by operators.

August 30, 2022

Reading Time: 3 minutes
  1. How did I get to this book?

During the month of November 2021, as I struggled to close what has been a very busy year, this book appeared in my own Kindle library and, seeking motivation, its promise renewed its appeal. Searching through my Amazon Kindle orders I discovered that I have had this book in my e-library since February 2018. Aside from the title and the overall concept – which is clearly laid out in the caption The 6 habits that will transform your life before 8AM – little of it has remained in memory, therefore reading it again gave me a great sense of novelty and enthusiasm.

The expectations were clear – I wanted to connect to a writer who could make explicit and shared the challenges I was facing: life stress of a working parent augmented by a pandemic, climate crises and conflict.

  1. Does it keep its promise?

The book gave me exactly what I was seeking – words to described the feelings that were running scattered in my mind.

Did I ended up following the the Morning Miracle 30 days Life Transformation Challenge? No

What does the book promise? Discipline, Clarity and personal development as core element of a fulfilled life. It begins with a letter to the reader and a declaration of intent “There is at least one thing I know we have in common: we both want to improve our lives and ourselves.”

Inspiration comes from the session on visualisation and positive thinking: not a new idea in new age thinking but Hal Elrod brings it back to contemporary working lives.

“By waking up each morning and practicing The Miracle Morning you will begin each day with extraordinary level of discipline (the crucial ability to get yourself to follow-through your commitments), clarity (the power you’ll generate from focusing on what’s most important), and personal development (perhaps the single most significant determining factor in your success)”

  1. Take away that won’t spoil your reading

The Miracle Morning habits are Six “Life SAVERS”: silence, affirmations, visualisation, exercise, reading and scribbling.

To complete in 1 hour, each morning, before the “rest” of your day begins. The books discussed the misfortune of the snooze button, the benefit of running and the therapeutic wellness of writing and reading.

The most impressive observations are about the GAP focus: when we focus on the gaps in our performance we injure our self-image and create feelings of not been good enough. The Gap Focus affects everyone – also the high-achievers – those who keep pushing themselves to be better and in the pursuit of excellence. 

Elrod articulates very clearly the challenges that limit one’s own confidence and self-belief. He describes the daily ritual of visualisation as the antidote – when visualizing of one’s goals and desires we correct the negative impact. He quotes Marianne Williamsons : “There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’ t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.” (A return to love, M Williamsons – on Amazon)

Elrod asks about GAP Focus: “is it hurting or helping you?” and reflect that “it is almost impossible to maintain an accurate assessment of ourselves and our progress” (p. 118). The habit of journaling does help to create a structure approach to recognise and manage the feelings that GAP focus can bring.

I am already a believer in journaling and I took the time to really reflect how easy is to visualise the gap and negative outcomes – for example how nobody will be interested in reading my reviews – so that I am prepared for failure and disappointments. This change in perspective, visualizing success and how I would feel as a consequence of reaching my goals is something that I will be actively practising.

  1. About the Author

Har Elrod, is a role-model: someone who has overcome extraordinary adversities and realised his life vocation: to share his own realisation with humanity.

He is someone who has not stopped at “Base Camp” or even at “Camp 1” of his career and pursuits – he progressively sets new goals. The summit of his life journey and mission remains a work in progress.

We learn quite a bit about Hal Elrod in the first pages book – his success in sales and of the life changing car crash which guides his desire to be an example rather than an influencer.  He shares the pictures of the crashed car and of himself lying in the hospital bed. On his website we learn he is a cancer survivor. The message is load and clear: “if I can do it, so can you”.

Aside from these biographical details, however, we know little – marital status, family ties… where did he study? who influenced him?

  1. Other reviews and comment

The book and its fame are supported by a large social media group with more than 56K followers on Instagram.

The book received 4.5 starts on an Amazon rating but no traditional Guardian or FT review are available on a quick Google search.

August 29, 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes
  1. How did I get to this book?

Books come to us in a different ways: mostly by recommendation. I take recommendations from friends, reviews on newspapers, HBR and some podcast. I also like to browse airport’s bookstores and pick a best seller.

Often the title promises to answer a question I might be pondering about.

2. Does it Keep its promise?

Many books follow a standard format: say it, say what you said and say it again. The objectives are clearly stated in the opening remarks and in most business genre books the synopsis are good summaries on how performance and management strategies will be affected. Not all, however, deliver on the promise.

3. Take-away that wont spoilt your reading

I will share some take-aways that I will attempt to implement in the course of my training and management courses. Some will work, some wont. This is the beauty of learning.

4. About the Author

Is the author an expert in the field? Does s/he have direct lived experienced? What else is relevant to know so to position the book in the correct context?

5. What others are saying about this book

References to other book reviews or commentaries will be given, especially when the book was a referral. The aim is to ensure a broad understanding of the book and its contribution.

What else….

Find your book

Find here first titles review Performance Management News, Articles and Advice (

June 2, 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Can a 20-years-old guide still be actual and provide insights that resonate with modern managers? Indeed, it can! Leadership skills for women delivers over 90 pages of exercises and ideas that will help all aspiring managers, women as well as men, to achieve valuable self-knowledge to boost their career.

The authors foreword anticipates this as a “book to read with a pencil” (p.vii): thought out its pages it guides the readers from the discovery of the qualities that make people leaders to the learning of key skills, via the unique challenges and opportunities that leader face, with direct consideration to women managers.

The workbook opens by listing the characteristics of the effective leader: values intuition, ethical believes and great listening skills are what differentiate a leader from a follower.

Of great insight are the 2 core leadership styles that can be recognised in leaders: the “Quite style”, that divides in The Supporter & The Perfectionist and the “Outgoing Style” which includes The Director and The Motivator – simple and easy to follow indication of characteristics and preferences that can be observed and reflected upon.

The statement “your attitude as a leader will set the pace and the tone for your employees” (p.10) sets the expectations high and the authors suggest that conflicts raising directly from the private sphere will lead to stress to trickle in the business life affecting one’s own effectiveness as a leader.

Management evolves around “planning, organising, staffing and controlling” (p. 13) and those four basic functions are essential to both man and women to become effective leaders.

It is not until page 15 that the authors begin to address unique challenges that women leaders face: by listening the stereotypes the readers are guided to truthfully ask themselves if they have engaged in such stereotype and what resolutions could be taken to change perception. Accepting that some of the challenges are differently worded today, I have wonder if the stereotypes are still actual despite the semantic. “Women are too picky” or “women are difficult to work for” are surely some two I have found myself confronting.

The workbook reads easily and it can be completed in 2-hour setting or over a few sessions, depending on what the reader is really searching for.

Insights on team players types (p.24), values as motivators (p.27), time management (p.37) create an active workbook. The reader can get fully involved by naming individual team member, list traits that makes them difficult and then work out effective resolution techniques such as coaching and feedback (p. 51)

Very Interesting the notion to use Positive Anger in conflict resolution and the proposition that women, being raised to “be nice”, are directly challenged in using this technique. The ethics that guide “raising girls” continue to resonate in most contemporary discussion around women leadership. The benefits of leadership that the authors provide e.g. leading a more interesting life thanks to the ability to travel, could be modernized in a new edition by including closing pay-gap and increase equality in participation, without decreasing the great insight offered by this useful workbook.


Boost your career with new techniques and skills.

Marilyn Manning and Patricia Haddock

Kogan Page – Better management skills


96 pages

ISBN: 0749427310

Interactive Worksheets

Further Reading

Available on Amazon

June 2, 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A concise and straightforward workbook for those who intend to become a mentor in their workplace. The easy to follow content and chapter breakdown, provides friendly worksheets to complete during the reading and allow the aspirant mentor to begin reflective work on own motivation, belief on what mentoring is and create of next steps towards further education

The book opens with the idea core to mentoring is the development of latent abilities, in those named as the mentees: listening, exchange of knowledge, skills and opportunities are essential to a constructive and efficient mentoring experience.

G.Shea suggests that a good friendship, where effective listening and support has occurred, should be considered a real mentoring relationship. Allowing for Informal as well as short-term associations, mentoring is about development, interchange of viewpoints and encouragement towards a professional and winning behaviours.

Most of all mentoring is about going the extra mile:

“Most of us have known many good and competent teachers (…) The fortunate ones among us have also encountered teachers who have lit a spark within us, who opened new vistas and dimensions before us, who touched us deeply and who awakened and encouraged our potential” (page 23)

Some key points for effective mentoring

  • Focus on what is done following the mentor’s help, rather than how
  • The desire of the mentee to be independent is essential
  • The empowering mentors may just involve in good listening which will allow the mentee to find the solution by him/herself.

Without doubt mentoring is a path to change and Shea reminds its reader of 5 key bullet points of change management (page 37) which include: share vision, time, behaviour adjustment, coping and internalisation of the change.

The workbook prompts to the different ways listening, the most essential aspect of mentoring, occurs. Mentoring requires active listening, respectful listening, listening for feelings, listening for motivation.

Mentors are to refrain from giving advices: if during the conversation the mentee retorts with “Yes, but…” the mentor must halt and reflect on how the relationship might be shifting towards problem-solving or coaching rather than remain in the constructive area of mentoring:

Mentoring is a reciprocal, mutual relations between equals working together: the mentor will have a gaining relationship by sharing his/her own motivation openly with the mentee.

When mentoring as a manager more care in the disclosure of objectives and a plan to revision must be discussed: this will ensure that seniority will give assurance of competence and not of become a measure of performance expectations, which can be covered by other aspects of the relationship.



Gordon F. Shea

Crisp Publication Inc.


77 pages

ISBN: 0 7494 – 0881 -2

Interactive Worksheets

Available on Amazon

Further Reading

June 2, 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The book is perfect for those interested in learning about Situational Leadership without having to address extensive Occupational Psychology theories and data.

Written as a dialogue that reminds of the Socratic method, Dr. Paul Hersey characters are modelled on “two giants in the field – Frederick W. Taylor, the father of scientific management (Task Behaviour) and Carl Rogers, who opened new horizons in interpersonal relations (Relationship Behaviour)” – page 126

The key themes are addressed in the dialogue and further expanded in explanatory sub-chapters.

The model of Situational Leadership has been adopted since the late 1970s and, as the title suggest, leadership is not be intended as a fixed skillset that a manager and leader can apply. Leadership is the ability to modify and interpret the situation, more specifically the requirements and readiness of the followers, and adjust the management style accordingly. This flexibility is well explored in Chapter Four Selecting Appropriate styles –

Rogers: You got it…and, you know, after a while, I could predict that Taylor would treat me differently depending on the job we had to do, how much a knew about it, and how much I wanted to get it done. (page 54)

Of extreme value is the chapter that covers Performance problems and more specifically performance discipline. The basic suggestion is that the modern negative connotation of discipline as a corrective measure has evolve from what used to be a more positive and constructive use of the term disciple “A disciple is a learner” – page 114.

Time, an essential factor in performance and management must allow for variation of circumstances, motivations as well as company goals. It is the role of the manager to evaluate correctly if there are events which can negatively impact performance.

“When people’s performance declines, the intervention needs to be made with a leadership style that is appropriate for their present readiness.” (page 115)

The model was first created by Dr. Paul Hersey in collaboration with Ken Blanchard and it was introduced as a “life cycle theory of leadership” in 1968. The two theorists subsequentially developed independent streams of the model. Dr. Paul Hersey founded the Centre for Leadership Studies which offers courses and certification to deep dive into the content and application of the Situational Leadership theory. Dr. Blanchard has also actively engaged with the model and created SLii© model and the Blanchard Training and Development Inc. (Companies).

Criticism of the theory are not address in this original volume, which in fact frames itself as presenting a model rather than a theory of Leadership “A model, on the other hand, is a pattern of already existing events which can be learned and therefore repeated”.


Dr. Paul Hersey

Wilson Learning Edition

Centre for Leadership Studies


127 pages

ISBN: 0446513423

Prologue and Post Prologue

The Story, the Background, The epilogue

June 2, 2021

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A. Montgomery is an awarded author, Harvard Business School Professor and Director in boards of two Fortune 500 companies. The content of the book is educated by her experience in running the Harvard’s Entrepreneur, Owner, President Program (EOP). Written with accessible language that uses minimal commercial jargon, the book clearly covers what set out in the contents outline: it explores what are the key responsibilities of a strategist and how to differentiate between strategizing and creating business models. Using approachable case studies such as IKEA, Gucci and Apple, Montgomery concludes the book by sharing an inspiring poem by Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day” (1992) which poses the question

“Tell me, what is it your plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

The aim is clearly outlined at the beginning of chapter 1: “My ultimate goal is not to ‘teach strategy’ but to equip and inspire you to be a strategist, a leader….” (p.5) The book is suitable as a bright read for a business owner, as an introduction to higher management responsibilities or for entrepreneur searching for inspiration while embarking in new ventures. It is not a workbook or a guidebook: it provides limited, but effective, diagrams and a very good FAQ appendix (which reminds of the usefulness of SWOT!).

Key points stressed throughout are

  • Leadership and strategy are inseparable (p.12)
  • Strategy is more than an aspiration (…) it’s a system of values (p.133)
  • Strategy can be a simple motto that translates the key purpose of the company: be unique
  • The strategist is not a super-manager: s/he employs a team key people with the correct specialisation and know how
  • Communications enables success

During the reading, Montgomery invites her audience to answer many questions, reformulated clearly on the final chapter (p.133)

  1. What does my organisation bring to the world?
  2. Does that difference matter?
  3. Is something about it scarce and difficult to imitate?
  4. Are we doing today what we need to do in order to matter tomorrow?

The Strategist has the responsibility towards its own firm as well as its own community; the purpose and values it brings and offers must be the most essential moments of considerations. The Strategist is responsible to define what a company is, what it exists to achieve. I recommend this book as a good introduction for Senior Managers to the concepts and mind-set that guide strategizing versus the more customary business planning approach.



Cynthia A. Montgomery

HarperCollins Publishers

(May 7, 2012)

208 page

ISBN: 9780062071019

Frequently asked Questions

Recommended Reading

Alphabetical Index

Available on Amazon