Book Summary: Happiness Hypothesis


The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science

3 Big Ideas:

  1. Happiness Formula (H = S + C + V)
    • Happiness = Set Level + Conditions + Voluntary activities
      • Set Level -The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life, and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives
      • Conditions – Relationships(connection) is one of the most important conditional factors to happiness. You can never adapt if you loose connections.
      • Voluntary activities – Focus on activities that bring joy to others. Such as showing gratitude, kindness, favours.
  2. Retrain the Elephant – A strong metaphor throughout. Rider = Rational Brain Elephant = Compulsive, Irrational brain. Lasting happiness does not occur through an epiphany. It occurs through focusing on the relationship between rider and elephant, and retraining the elephant. You need to consistently act you way to change through tiny habits.
  3. Coherence is a strong theme throughout. Living coherently leads to happiness. This includes coherence between different levels of your personality, personal values, environment you live and work within, relationships you have.


  1. “Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger

  2. “Work less, Consume less, Attach less, Connect more”

1 Takeaway:

Focus on building good relationships in my life.

Relationships between myself and others, between myself and work, between myself and a greater purpose.

The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science

Big Ideas Expanded:

The brain sends bad feedback signals quicker than good. We are wired for negativity bias.

Three beliefs depressed people hold:

  1. I’m no good
  2. My world is no good
  3. My future is hopeless

Three best ways to change thought patterns:

  1. Meditation
  2. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)
  3. Prozac

A Metaphor for the mind. The rider and the elephant.


The rider and the elephant are often in conflict. The elephant usually wins.


Streetlight Effect:

You can’t change your mind(or anything else) through will power alone. You need to act you way to changes through tiny habits done consistently such as meditation and thinking habits formed through CBT

Our search for knowledge is flawed. We search for facts that confirm our position and once found we stop thinking and looking for alternatives (Conformation Bias)

Our perception of others is often correct. Our perception of self is flawed. We have significant blind spots. The ego is strong. We see ourselves through rose tinted spectacles

Naive Realism – we see the world objectively, everyone else is wrong!

Progress Principle – Joy comes through the journey towards the goal not achievement of the goal.

Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work

Adaptation Principle – In the long run, it doesn’t matter what happens to you, good or bad, you will ultimately return to your happiness equilibrium which is largely influenced by your genes. Also referred to as Hedonic Treadmill

Relationships(connection) is one of the most important factors to happiness. You can never adapt if you loose connections.

Experiences, such as going to a concert, give more happiness due to their social value. They bring connection

Voluntary Activity essential is your daily habits. Build reciprocal habits can have biggest effect. Such as showing gratitude, kindness, favours for others

Happiness = work less, consume less, attach less, connect more

3 levels of personality (McAdams):

  1. Basic internal traits (having)
  2. Personal values, goals, projects (doing)
  3. Life Story (making)

Coherence between the 3 levels is essential for happiness

3 typical responses to tragedy:

  1. Active response(taking action)
  2. Reframing (such as into a positive)
  3. Avoidance

4 types of Life Goals:

  1. Spiritual
  2. Work/Achievement – People least happy if they drive towards this goal
  3. Relationship
  4. Legacy

3 ways to manage your environment:

  1. Adapt – respond to changing environment
  2. Shape – changing the environment to suit needs
  3. Select – choosing the environment to work within

People are not computers. The technology metaphor is now so pervasive we see people at machines. And therapy as the repair shop. Our metaphors are wrong. People are more like plants

Most plants will come back to life without repairing the plant. Focus on the conditions. Fix the environment the plant(person) will naturally spring back to life. 

2 vital conditions for humans to flourish:
  1. Social connection (love)
  2. Compelling purpose or goal greater than ourselves

Vital Engagement = Flow + Meaning

Image result for vital engagement flow meaning

Coherence is important for individuals happiness. Coherence at the three levels of your personality. If you do not have coherence, it is likely you will be tormented. Without good skills to diagnose your personal system, you may struggle to find the problem You need coherence with your personal “optimisation” goal.

When you do find coherence, it may be one of the most profound moments in your life.

Items which need coherence: – Habits – Goals – Values – Work – Love

These items are always in healthy tension but importantly there needs to be coherence.

Coherence needed at all levels:

  1. Physical
  2. Psychological
  3. Social

We have an internal desire to share learning and ideas. The desire to reciprocate shares this even further and creates a virtuous cycle. Helping others succeed is hard wired into humans.

The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science

Book Summary: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

3 Big Ideas:

  1. We have so much fucking stuff that we don’t know what to give a fuck about anymore. You need to find what to give a fuck about. You must give a fuck about something.
  2. Understanding your personal values the most important challenge we all face to lead a better, happier life. “Self-improvement” is really about: prioritising better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about.
  3. Choosing to say no, to reduce options, and living with less, can lead to a happier life. This goes against our consumer, have it all, culture.


  1. “Our values determine the metrics by which we measure ourselves and everyone else.”
  2. “What are the values that you prioritise above everything else, and that therefore influence your decision-making more than anything else?”

1 Takeaway:

Happiness = Increase awareness of your personal values and lead a life in alignment with them

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Big Ideas Expanded:

Self Awareness Onion:

  1. Recognising Emotions
  2. Understanding why we are feeling a certain way
  3. Personal values: Why do I consider this to be success/failure? How am I choosing to measure myself? By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me?

Good values are:

  1. Reality-based
  2. Socially constructive
  3. Immediate and controllable.

Value Examples:

  • Honesty is a good value because it’s something you have complete control over
  • Popularity, is a bad value.
  • Value: Honesty – Metric: Express myself honestly to others

Healthy values:

  • honesty
  • vulnerability
  • standing up for oneself
  • standing up for others
  • self-respect
  • curiosity
  • charity
  • humility
  • creativity

Questions to drive self-awareness:

  1. What if I’m wrong?
  2. What would it mean if I were wrong?
  3. Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?


  • Backwards law: the more you try to be certain about something, the more uncertain and insecure you will feel.
  • Until we change how we view ourselves, what we believe we are and are not, we cannot overcome our avoidance and anxiety. We cannot change
  • If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something—anything, really—and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself. (Same message in Tiny Habits)
  • Ultimately, the only way to achieve meaning and a sense of importance in one’s life is through a rejection of alternatives, a narrowing of freedom, a choice of commitment to one place, one belief
  • We are defined by what we choose to reject.
  • Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy.
  • Consumer culture is very good at making us want more, more, more. Underneath all the hype and marketing is the implication that more is always better.Make more money, visit more countries, have more experiences, be with more women. But more is not always better. In fact, the opposite is true. We are actually often happier with less.
  • Much of the advice out there operates at a shallow level of simply trying to make people feel good in the short term, while the real long-term problems never get solved.


The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Book Summary: Knowing Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

3 Big Ideas:

  1. Common Leadership trap – Gathering knowledge but taking no decisive action
  2. Five examples of the “Knowing Doing” Gap:
    1. All Talk no action
    2. Consistency with past behaviours valued over changing, even if old behaviours are ineffective
    3. Fear prevents acting on knowledge
    4. Measurements obstruct good judgement
    5. Internal competition creates inattention to results
  3. Ineffective mental models of human behaviour by leadership reinforces the knowing doing gap


  1. IDEO on organisational design: “This is the best we can think of right now. The only thing we are sure of is that this structure is temporary and it is wrong. We just have to keep experimenting so it keeps getting better all the time.”
  2. Leadership incorrectly think: “The performance of the team comes from the sum of individual actions rather than interdependent actions. The team is greater than the sum of individual actions.

1 Impactful Takeaway:

When promoting change, make old behaviours impossible to do. To make it harder, increase the time, money, physical effort or mental effort required to do the old behaviour. Also change the daily routines so that the old behaviour doesn’t fit so easily into the day.

A simple example: Sit teams together which makes it harder not to collaborate

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action

Big ideas Expanded:

Automatic behaviour happens when people:

  1. feel pressure to hit deadlines
  2. are fatigued or burnt out, lacking mental energy to do things differently
  3. have psychological fear – When people fear for their jobs, futures or even self-esteem, they will do what they have done in the past
  4. think quick, decisive decisions are valued by senior leaders
  • Social Proof + Consistency = Automatic unchanged behaviour

Major events that enable change:

  1. Shock – There is a sharp interruption in what people are thinking, feeling and doing. There is something that states very clearly, the old precedent is no longer valued
  2. Strangle – Something occurs to make the old way of working very difficult to do. This is needed because otherwise, the shock of change will backfire and cause people to cling even more tightly to their old ways
  3. Specify – Clear and explicit behaviour expectations are set, and support provided for people to act in this new way.

Steps to drive out fear:

  1. Prediction – Give people as much information as possible
  2. Understanding – Give people the why, the bigger vision and purpose behind certain decisions
  3. Control – Give people as much influence over what happens, when, and the way they happen. Decentralise decision making as much as possible
  4. Compassion – Show empathy and listen to the concerns of your employees

Eight guidelines to limit knowing doing gap:

  1. Why – Understand the why not the how – the underlying principles and reasoning for a certain behaviour – Don’t copy/paste behaviour
  2. Teach – Ensure your senior leaders teach others – e.g. following a training course, task your senior leaders to teach that knowledge to others
  3. Reward – Value action more than plans and concepts
  4. Safety – Increase safety and allow mistakes/failures – There is no doing without mistakes
  5. Fear – Fear fosters knowing-doing gaps – drive out fear
  6. Collaborate – Promote internal collaboration not competition
  7. Measure – Measure the system – The areas that provided learning into how we are working – example, lead time
  8. Role model – Leaders must role model and value action not talk – Scrap powerpoint presentations in place of progress review

Signs your organisation is substituting talk for action:

  1. There is a belief that managers talk/plan and others do
  2. Internal status comes from being critical of others
  3. No follow ups are done to see if what was said was actually done
  4. Inattention to results – No reflection on if outcome was created
  5. People forget that making a decision doesn’t change anything without action
  6. Leaders believe that once they have said it, others will do it. They do not follow up
  7. People are promoted based upon how “smart they sound” rather than the impact of their actions
  8. Complex ideas, language and concepts are valued more than simple solutions
  9. Leaders commonly ask teams to do more planning or gather more data before they can make a decision

Consistency with past behaviour:

  • The pressure for consistency reinforces ineffective practices. People who seek new ways of working and behave inconsistently to others are viewed as confused, in decisive and even two faced.
  • Commitment to past decisions signals consistency and persistence. Often considered a desirable behaviour.
  • Humans have a “need for cognitive closure, a desire for firm answers to questions, and an aversion to ambiguity” Leaders need to become more comfortable with ambiguity. This is not intuitive.
  • Most organisations have unwritten rules of behaviour. The cultural norms are often unknown to those within the organisation. Only by acknowledging and surfacing these unwritten rules can the organisation start to change.
  • One of the only ways to significantly change the organisation is to create a new one. This helps break from the past and start a fresh.
  • An unstated assumption the higher you go in an organisation, the less mistakes you will make” – This makes senior management freeze and often become highly fearful of change. The perceived risk of losing power due to failure is greater
  • Many companies and leaders have an incorrect model and oversimplified view of human behaviour.
  • Talking about change and planning for it can suck up so much energy that by the time the organisation comes around to implementing they already have change fatigue. They cannot increase effort when it is most required in the first 90 days.

The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action


5 Mindful Writing Exercises for your Self-Care Toolkit

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” 

Ernest Hemingway



Our thoughts can often be all consuming. We can feel locked in by our internal dialogue, unable to escape.

Writing is a great way to process your thoughts, relax your mind and gain clarity. A 2011 study published in the journal of science found that students who journalled were better able to ease their anxieties.

Benefits also include:

  • Boosting self-esteem
  • Creating “Me” time
  • Relieves stress and anxiety
  • Increasing creativity
  • Letting go of thoughts

As simple as it sounds, writing can be incredibly daunting. What should I write? How should I write it? And our inner critic asks, is it good enough?

Mindful writing has been in my self-care toolkit since 2018. I’ve incorporated into my daily and weekly routines alongside meditation. I can speak first hand of the benefits listed above, especially the ability to let thoughts go by writing them down.

I have developed several different writing exercises which i’m sharing here so you can add mindful writing to your self-care toolkit.

5 Mindful Writing Exercises

  1. Become more present
  2. Examine a difficult relationship
  3. Explore Your Identity
  4. Relax physical pain
  5. Increase Emotional Awareness

Download Mindful Writing Exercises

What is a Product? Oh no! Not another Product definition

Image result for product owner

Product Backlog, Product Owner, Product Management, Minimum Viable Product. These are just a few examples of how product is referenced across agile literature.

Despite it’s frequency, one of the most common questions I’m asked: What is a Product?

This is a critical question, especially for organisations who look to become product centric, organising their teams and delivery around their core products. These organisations may establish Product Owners so it’s sensible to think, what product will these people own.

There are many definitions such as this and this. In fact, I’ve used both definitions and I even have my own definition.

However, I’ve learned that these definitions don’t really help.

It may help individuals but organisations need shared understanding to become a product centric organisation.

Reframing the question: How do we define product?

Shared understanding does not come through a definition you found on the internet, writing it down on confluence or debating your perspective.

The question requires dialogue, not debate.

In dialogue participants open themselves up to the possibility there may be a different perspective they have not considered. They listen actively and question to help the group to learn collectively. The result is a shared mental model co-created by the group.

Debate Dialogue
assumes there is a right answer – and I have it. assumes that many people have pieces of the answer and that together, they can craft a solution.
is combative – participants attempt to prove the other side wrong is collaborative – participants work together toward common understanding
I defend my own views against those of others  I admit that others’ thinking can improve my own
entails listening to find flaws and make counter arguments entails listening to understand and find meaning and agreement.
I defend my assumptions as truth I reveal my assumptions for reevaluation

From The Magic of Dialogue by Daniel Yankelovich

For leaders attempting to become an agile, product centric organisation, the first step is dialogue.

Bring your key leaders together, with a skilled facilitator, to create your shared answer: What is a Product?

Book Summary: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialised World – David Epstein

Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Tobys Rating: 5/5


3 Big Ideas:

In complex, wicked environments:

  1. Over specialisation can be harmful
  2. Diverse teams of generalists trump highly specialised teams
  3. People and groups who thrive have a set of meta-skills such as: systems thinking, sense making and pattern matching
  • “Over specialisation can lead to collective tragedy even when every individual separately takes the most reasonable course of action.”
  • “In wicked domains the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete. There may or may not be repetitive patterns and they may not be obvious. Feedback is often delayed or inaccurate.”
1 Question:
  • What does your organisation value more; specialisers or generalists?


Big idea 1 – Over specialisation can be harmful in complex environments
  • Over specialisation is effective in “kind environments” where the rules are known and there is a clear outcome.
  • In wicked domains the rules of the game are often unclear or incomplete. There may or may not be repetitive patterns and they may not be obvious. Feedback is often delayed or inaccurate.
  • In a wicked world, relying upon experience from a single domain is not only limiting, it can be disastrous.
  • It can lead to collective tragedy even when every individual separately takes the most reasonable course of action.
  • As each person amasses more information for his own view, they become more dogmatic, and they become blind to inadequacies in their thinking.
  • Specialisers find it harder to “unlearn. They are more likely to stick to familiar tools and are blind if they are ineffective. They view the world through a narrow lens.
  • A metaphor of over specialisation in action: Everyone is digging deeper into their own trench and rarely standing up to look in the next trench over, even though the solution to their problem happens to reside there
  • Example: Specialisation played a critical role in the 2008 global financial crisis. “Insurance regulators regulated insurance, bank regulators regulated banks, securities regulators regulated securities, and consumer regulators regulated consumers, but the provision of credit goes across all those markets. So we specialised products, we specialised regulation, and the question is, ‘Who looks across those markets?’ The specialised approach to regulation missed systemic issues.
Big Idea 2 – Diverse, “generalist” teams trump highly specialised teams in complex environments
  • Whether or not experience inevitably leads to expertise, depends entirely on the domain in question. Narrow experience made for better chess and poker players (Kind domains), but not for better predictors of financial or political trends, or of how employees or patients would perform (wicked/complex domains)
  • The challenge we all face is how to maintain the benefits of breadth, diverse experience, interdisciplinary thinking, and delayed concentration in a world that increasingly incentives, even demands, specialisation
  • Teams with diverse professional backgrounds are the ones where more and more varied perspectives are offered, and where breakthroughs are more reliably produced in uncertain situations.
  • Example: Rodger Federer (late specialiser) vs Tiger Woods (early specialisers
    •  While it is undoubtedly true that there are areas that require individuals with Tiger’s precocity and clarity of purpose, as complexity increases—where each individual only sees a small part of the whole—we also need more Rogers: people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress. People with range.
Big Idea 3 – These 10 skills are critical to succeed in complex environments
Prior experience is less important than having these core thinking skills:
  1. High tolerance for ambiguity
  2. Systems thinking
  3. Knowledge from many domains
  4. Ability to repurpose what is already available and connect disparate pieces of information in new ways
  5. Synthesise information from many different sources
  6. Ability to decipher patterns and extract rules
  7. Read more (and more broadly) and have a wider range of outside interests
  8. Communicate with various individuals with expertise outside of their own domain.
  9. Attack problems with insightful questions
  10. Use Sense making not decision making

People approach problems with scientific spectacles, but do not have a scientific-reasoning Swiss Army knife. They often lack the meta-thinking skills required to solve problems in complex environments.