Photo by blhphotography, “Explore #280,” Shared via Flickr Creative Commons
When I asked for summer reading recommendations, I started to panic when no one sent me books about wildfire. People were sending me books about … people. I had been reading titles about people. So had my team. Would the list be relevant to you, a community wildfire resilience practitioner? Yes. People sent me books about behavior change, cultural fire, communication, crisis, and how to be more efficient because of the “C” in FAC: Community. We need to know about wildfire science, but we also need to know about people, how to talk to them, how they work, how we work. So, although I was thrown for a loop at first, I’ve since embraced our people-centric summer reading list and hope that you will too. Without any further ado:
The Resilience Dividend
by Judith Rodin
Recommended by Porfirio Chavarria
“The Resilience Dividend” offers great case studies of communities building resilience, examples of resilience in action, and failure. Creating a “culture of preparedness” is one takeaway that resonated with me. I see it in the actions that we all are talking about. First responders can’t be everywhere at once, and they typically can’t be there the moment crisis hits. Response is by definition a reactive action. Preparedness, on the other hand, is something we can all learn and teach, like giving people the tools to make decisions during a crisis. Preparing individuals, communities and cities is a key component to creating resilience.
I especially appreciated the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management’s website, something highlighted in the book. It offers an open-source toolkit on how to make your own “72-hour” website. Here’s one quote from the website that is highlighted in the book, and resonated with me and my work: “We believe in connection, not catastrophe. Actual emergencies look more like people coming together than cities falling apart.”
Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing Change for Good
by Nedra Klein Weinrich
Social Marketing: Changing Behaviors for Good
by Nancy Lee and Philip Kotler
Recommended by Annie Schmidt
Both books are great at talking about how we need to change behavior in order to make an impact. I liked them both — but they are pretty expensive! If you want more of a step-by-step guide (complete with workbook pages), then “Hands-On Social Marketing” is for you. If you want more in-depth examples and case studies, complete with solid research, then you would like “Changing Behaviors for Good.”
Forgotten Fires: Native Americans and the Transient Wilderness
by Omer Stewart
“Forgotten Fires” is the best overview of the ways Native American people cared for their communities, plants, animals and human well-being with purposeful fires across the United States. The author carries the reader from coast to coast, presenting accounts of interesting fire practices from many cultures. If you’re like me, you’ll get about halfway through the book and say to yourself, “OK, I get it. Native Americans used expert controlled burning just about everywhere.” Yet at the same time, you’ll stay glued to the pages to find out the full story. Interesting aside: This book took decades to publish. Check out the forward to learn why.
by Chip and Dan Heath
“Switch” helped me put the ideas that were swirling around my head into words. The simple metaphor of “the elephant” (the emotional mind), “the rider” (the rational mind), and “the path” provide a simple checklist of the necessary conditions for a person or group to take action. The take-home message is that social change happens when both the rational and emotional portions of people’s minds are aligned and the path is clearly laid out for them to follow. The detailed examples and stories illustrate how to go from metaphor to action. The ideas in “Switch” constantly seep into my everyday work, which I guess is the best testimonial for the book.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
It’s no secret. You have too much on your plate, it’s stressing you out, and you’re not as effective as you could be. (How did you even find the time to be reading this right now?) Maybe this book can help.
First, stop whatever three or four other things you’re trying to do right now and just read.
This book will help you think about how to get the right things done. It’s about “making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.” It’s also about making proactive choices. McKeown tells us that “Essentialism” has been the key to success for people like Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Warren Buffett and Steve Jobs.
To begin with, you need clear priorities (not as easy as it sounds). If you’re not sure what your priorities are, start by addressing that problem. Especially if you manage people at work, establishing clear and simple values, goals and priorities for your organization or team can change everything. Then refer again and again to those priorities when faced with a decision about how to spend your time and energy.
Warning: Don’t bother to read this book if you’re unable to accept that you can’t “have it all,” and that trade-offs are a real and inherent (not necessarily negative) part of life.
Following McKeown’s advice can make tough decisions less stressful. (Gosh, can I really afford to take time off to go on vacation with my family? Should I commit to going to that conference?) It can also make you a better leader, employee, spouse and friend by freeing you up to focus on the tasks and relationships that are most important.
If you’re too busy to read the book, you might want to listen to this podcast starting at about the 6-minute mark (actually, I haven’t had time to thoroughly check it out yet).
Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity
by Margaret J. Wheatley and
Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed
by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Patton
I had the great pleasure of collecting short readings to support a Network Builder’s Club workshop this spring. This involved me gathering several titles and a big stack of sticky notes on a Saturday and reveling in discovering little jewels to pass on to the participants. I’ve selected two titles from those that I mined to recommend as summer reading:
“Who Do We Choose To Be?” had the distinction of not just one or two stickies noting nuggets of wisdom, but nine sections that I flagged as critical ideas to pass on in the workshop. Among my favorite ideas explored was “Restoring Learning to Decision Making; Unshaken Confidence, Unquestioned Humility; and Depending on Diversity.” Sprinkled among these chapters are quotes and lists about concepts like: “Challenges for leaders of social change.” This book will inspire you to reflect on your humanity as the basis of your leadership and challenge you to bring the best of yourself to the real and serious threats facing our world today.
The first page of “Getting to Maybe” declares, “This book is for ordinary people who want to make connections that create extraordinary outcomes.” It offers principles to guide a journey of change, like “relationships are key to understanding and engaging with the complex dynamics of social innovation.” Packed with advice on how to approach change-making, this book asks the reader questions that will leave you thinking, “How do social transformations begin? And how do social innovators connect to possibility?” Pick up a copy to find out.
Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well
by Douglas Stone and Shelia Heen
When perusing books that could help me encourage more conversations about using failure as stepping stones toward success, “Thanks for the Feedback” caught my eye. I will say that the title does the book a disservice, as when most people think of feedback, they think of concrete moments when you know you’re getting feedback. Like a performance review, or a graded term paper. But really, this book is about digesting intentional feedback (like, “We’ve decided to stop funding your project…”), indirect feedback (as in, “What did she mean by that?”), feedback from a result (think structure loss from a wildfire), a lack of feedback and everything else in between. Two things that I think most apply to our realm of work are:
- The authors make a sound argument for better separating our personal identities and worth from our performance. In their words, “our ability to metabolize challenging feedback is driven by the particular way we tell our identity story.” With the Fantastic Failure blog series, each author has a striking combination of professional humility and personal confidence that allows them to honestly reflect on a failure in a non-self-deprecating way. I think this is a critical mindset for anyone, but especially for anyone working on a wicked problem.
- You know when you’re talking to a resident about clearing vegetation, but all they want to talk about is all of that smoke that your last controlled burn put out? That’s sidetracking. Two people, talking at each other about two different things, during supposedly the same conversation. The book offers great tips on how to navigate that unproductive, but oh-so-human, habit. Think Thanksgiving: Person one: “You forgot to buy gluten-free stuffing! You never think of me when you’re planning meals.” Person two: “Well, you’re never around to help with the kids or your mom, so I’m juggling it all!” Important issues, two different conversations. Sidetracking. Don’t do it. Or more realistic, know when it’s happening and how to mitigate it.
Lastly, since most FAC practitioners work with people, I’ve got to make a plug for what the authors call an “appreciation deficit.” When people don’t get as much appreciation and affirmation as they need in order to be able to process grittier feedback productively, they’re in an appreciation deficit. I think our culture breeds appreciation deficits at pretty incredible rates. Think about that the next time you give constructive criticism to your teammate, partner or local resident. How might they hear your suggestion better if you first (and then continually) cultivated a relationship of trust and appreciation with them?
Get Inspired! Orion Magazine
Recommended by Michelle Medley-Daniel
My final recommendation for summer reading is not a book, but a quarterly, ad-free publication: Orion Magazine. With articles, photography and poetry that illuminate nature, culture and place, these are not one-time reads to leave in the seat-back pocket on your next plane ride. I still refer to issues from 2005, when I first started my subscription. I find that there is always something new to discover as I flip back through the pages. Orion brings readers essays and poetry by Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollen, Derrick Jensen, Sherman Alexie and other great nature writers. This magazine will expose you to new ideas and leave you with an increased appreciation for our beautiful world.
Have another recommendation? Share it in the comments section below!
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