Category Archives: Book review

11 lessons about innovation from the New York Times

The BBC Newsroom. Currently peaceful. And sometimes less peaceful.

Whilst doing some research at work on innovation within the Publishing industry, a colleague of mine found a leaked report from the New York Times from March this year (the full article is at the end of this page).

At 94 pages, it’s a must-read for anyone within Publishing. I took 11 key points from the document:

  1. (page 16) Hallmarks of disruptors… number 4: “Initially inferior to existing products.” This is so true. Almost every time we work on a new innovative project, there will always be someone criticising that product A does things better, or product B is more comprehensive. The answer is twofold – firstly, you can have something more superior, but it will take a lot longer and cost a lost more money; and secondly, it’s part and parcel of developing something new. Remember Twitter’s outages? Remember how basic Facebook looked?
  2. Only a third of NYT readers visit the homepage. Just think of the effort in designing the homepage! Google is great at providing users links directly into articles, and users share articles not homepages. This is the proof. Continue reading 11 lessons about innovation from the New York Times

My 2013 Favourites for Gadgets, Books, Apps and Industry Awards

At the end of every year, I’ve listed my highlights of the previous year. See the post from 2012 with links to previous years. Here are some of the highlights from 2013:

Favourite New Gadget

An unflattering photo wearing Google Glass
An unflattering photo wearing Google Glass

There are several contenders from 2013. After 4 years with my previous work laptop, I took the plunge and went for a new convertible tablet/ laptop, the Dell XPS 12. It’s good, in fact the speed is still as fast as the latest laptops in the office, but my original intention was to stop using my paper notepad, and the XPS with the touch screen just can’t replace it. If you are looking for a decent laptop and have the budget available, I recommend the XPS – but keep a paper pad close by.

I also swapped from my iPhone 3GS (or as I preferred to call it, my “iPhone Classic”) to a Samsung Galaxy S4. I prefer the Samsung to Apple in every area except the lack of the red underlining for misspelled words, and that alone is almost a showstopper.

Continuing the Google theme, in December we bought Google Glass at work, and I’ve used them as much as possible. Google Glass is the future without a doubt, however I think it’s a generation (of users) too early. After watching colleagues and some customers struggle to use them in the office, it’s fascinating to watch my kids use them so naturally.

The prize for my favourite between these three? Sorry to wimp out, but it’s a tie between the laptop and Glass.

Favourite Book

I don't agree with all of it, but it's still my favourite read of 2013
I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s still my favourite read of 2013

I’ve been fortunate to read several good books this year. Removing the fictional titles (I rarely read fiction but my ex-manager at Endava guaranteed I’d like a particular author so much that he’d pay for the books if I didn’t like them), here is my 2013 reading list:

  1. The Intention Economy, Doc Searls
  2. The Tao of Twitter, Mark Schaefer
  3. Search Engine Optimisation: An Hour a Day, Jennifer Grappone & Gradiva Couzin
  4. The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson
  5. Total Recall: My Unbelievable Life Story, Arnold Schwarzenegger

I recommend all of them.

The Tao of Twitter provided inspiration, and results, of higher levels of engagement on Twitter.

I’ve recommended the SEO book to everyone I’ve met this year who has shown interest in natural SEO – it’s written in a simple, friendly manner with practical suggestions on almost every page.

The Arnie book caught my eye at Heathrow airport on one of my business trips this year. If you’re unsure about the book, just read the back cover – you’ll be surprised how much he’s achieved in his life.

However the award for my favourite book goes to Doc Searls. I didn’t like (or perhaps a more appropriate word is ‘appreciate’) some of his earlier work such as The Cluetrain Manifesto, and even in The Intention Economy I didn’t agree with all parts of the book (my major criticism is his firm view on open source – why isn’t his book open source if he believes in it so much?) If you need some inspiration for corporate digital transformation, this book will offer it. At Endava we are working with large consultancies who list The Intention Economy as mandatory reading for their senior directors.

Favourite iPhone/ Smartphone App

I’ve had to rename this since defecting to Android!

Strava is still my favourite. It’s the best cycling app available, mainly due to it’s implicit gamification. I sent them some suggestions for improvements which they implemented within a few weeks, so a big “Thank You” there.

A very close second is OneNote. I like how I can create a note in OneNote and it appears on my computer in OneNote. It’s quick to use, and comes with the Microsoft Office stack, so there’s no additional app to install such as EverNote.

Favourite Award

The Top 100 Digital Agencies Report 2013 – Endava came 17th

A huge well done and thank you to the team at Endava for ranking us as the 17th largest agency in the eConsultancy Top 100 Digital Agencies. The award was presented for our 2011/12 accounts due to Endava’s financial year finishing after the Econsultancy entry deadline, and so next year is likely to look even healthier.

As well as the Econsultancy, Endava also won a number of other awards which we are also very proud of.

 

This is likely to be my last post of 2013, so I wish you and your family a wonderful festive season, a Merry Christmas, a Happy & Prosperous New Year, or just some good old-fashioned time off.

Digital Media reading recommendations for October

People

Arianna Huffington
Arianna Huffington – how to harness (and monetise) content in the digital world

I like reading autobiographies to understand what makes people tick and how they meet their aims. (Incidentally I have ‘Drive’ on my reading pile at home at the moment). The Guardian website has a great article on the daily routines of history’s most creative minds. It’s very interesting, and in itself it’s a summary of the book Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey.

SEO

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a skill that everyone in Digital Media should understand. I try to brush up on my SEO skills every couple of years, so I’m halfway through SEO: An Hour a Day. I’ve read a few SEO articles and wanted a book which I could concentrate on without distractions. It’s comprehensive and approaches SEO correctly – i.e. from a business goal point of view and not ‘I just want to appear higher in Google results’.

One of the best SEO articles I’ve read online was from Jeff Bullas. It only takes a few minutes to read, and it’s very worthwhile.

Twitter

The Tao of Twitter is the best resource I’ve read about how to use Twitter. It was easy to read in a couple of days. I then went back through the book with a highlighter pen over all the simple hints and tips. Thoroughly recommended.

Publishing

And finally, I read an academic white paper called “RIPTIDE: What Really Happened to the News Business”, subtitled “An oral history of the epic collision between journalism and digital technology, 1980 to the present”. It’s over 120 pages and has taken me a couple of months to read (I have too many distractions when reading a PDF).

If you have any interest in content publishing – digital or traditional, you’ll like this paper. Some of the biggest names on the Internet and business contributed to the white paper, include Sir Martin Sorrell, Eric Schmidt, Arianna Huffington, Tim Berners-Lee, Dick Costolo, and the list goes on. The paper was produced in September 2013, so it also covers Jeff Bezos purchasing The Washington Post.

A highly recommended read, full of nostalgia and incredible business deals.

Photo courtesy of World Economic Forum on Flickr

Book review (and much more): The Intention Economy by Doc Searls

The Intention EconomyOn 6 October 2009, Endava hosted an event for all the Premier League Football clubs (and a handful of European ones too) called Football Club Website of the Future. It was to mark the end of the transition of the IMG Digital team over to Endava.

We had a number of high profile speakers at the event including some of the Premier League clubs, IMG, Facebook, and Deloitte, who produce the annual Deloitte Football Money League report.

At the event I gave the introduction/ welcome presentation, and discussed two key concepts based on the experience moving from IMG to Endava:

  1. Football clubs have unrivalled levels of loyalty – a fan might change clubs once in their lifetime, compared to moving around financial services companies every few years.
  2. Technology trends in the marketplace.

The technology trends became a regular part of all our future presentations and events. As I look back on the various industry conferences we’ve spoken at or hosted, I can see how they developed from the Football Club Website of the Future event.

The first trends we highlighted included the following:

  1. Content won’t be free for much longer. Content overly relies on the advertising model as a source of funding. In the future, users will pay tiny amounts per page or function (such as a web search on Google, etc.) and there will be a central ‘agency’ for distributing these micropayments back to the content author.
  2. The web needs an SSO (Single Sign On) system to be the single method to log on to all websites with the same username and password (or another form of authentication such as facial recognition or text message). Facebook Connect had been launched for little under a year when we hosted Football Club Website of the Future, and I thought it was a brilliant first attempt at a web-wide sign on system. However, I didn’t (and still don’t) think Facebook is a trusted brand that I would use for everything across the web. I wouldn’t use it for my tax returns, share dealing, pensions, and so on. I would want the SSO system provided by a fully trusted organisation such as Visa, Mastercard or HSBC. It probably wouldn’t be a government or a dotcom company.

These trends have evolved, and I’ve started documenting them in much more detail since reading The Intention Economy by Doc Searls.

I was recommended to read The Intention Economy by a client when we travelled to Romania to show them one of Endava’s delivery centres (where the project management, development and testing is executed). At dinner one night I went through some of the trends, and the client asked whether I’d read The Intention Economy. I hadn’t even heard of the book at the time. The client said that many of the trends ran parallel to Doc Searls’ thoughts.

When I returned to the UK I bought the book within an hour of landing.

When I started reading the book, it was a strange feeling. It was like someone reading back to me some of the presentations I’ve been giving for the last four years (only he is infinitely more articulate and structured!)

The book covers a dozen or so different topics for the future under the banner as a customer-centric economy. These include the Single Sign On concept above, the unsustainable advertising bubble, cookie tracking, modern legal contracts, so-called loyalty schemes, big data, ownership, and the core of the new economy: VRM.

I first reported about a VRM tool (it was a mobile app) that I’d seen on holiday in Israel last summer. I called it a personal CRM tool at the time, which Doc Searls calls VRM, for Vendor Relationship Management.

The concept of VRM or The Intention Economy is simple – we are constantly being pitched stuff all the time – buy this, buy that, this is why you need this or that. However technology should enable us to say “I want this thing, who wants to match the price I’m willing to pay?”

The example in the book is landing at an airport and entering into your VRM system “I want to hire a car, with 5 seats, and can hold 3 large suitcases, and I want to pay $x for 6 days”. Searls calls these ‘personal RFPs’ (Request For Proposals). After submitting this request, the hire companies will return a result with offers.

I don’t agree with everything in Doc Searls’ ecosystem.

He highlights the overuse of cookies, i.e. tracking technology. Although the use of cookies has become too much – his example is the top fifty childrens’ websites installed a total of 4,123 cookies seems extreme. These cookies are then used on other websites to make the advertising more relevant. However cookies are mainly used to track behaviours, not individuals.

The chapter on online loyalty is over simplified for the real world. I often give an analogy that website personalisation [via the use of cookies] is the online equivalent to an old fashioned shopkeeper who recognises customers when they walk into their shop. This is a good thing – I like how Amazon knows about me and recommends relevant products.

Whilst I completely agree with Searls’ key point that the advertising industry has become a huge bubble that now sustains such a large industry, it is necessary. If there was no advertising, customers simply wouldn’t know about new products or services. There needs to be a balance. In June last year I posted an article about Tencent in China, who have revenues of $1.5bn per quarter – not from advertising:

I find it fascinating that whilst most US/ UK B2C digital offerings are focussed on advertising models, especially Facebook and Google, Tencent are earning money from subscription models and e-commerce.

Why isn't The Intention Economy owned by Creative Commons?
Why isn’t The Intention Economy owned by Creative Commons?

Doc Searls is the editor of Linux Journal, so he is a strong advocate of open source. He puts his case for open source in the book, however it’s unbalanced and I see the software industry from the opposite side of the fence, where vendors do want to earn profit from selling software. He then moves on to discuss why Creative Commons (essentially open source Intellectual Property). At the end of that chapter I agreed with his thoughts on this, and decided so change some of the content strategy on this blog – make it more open and not hold back on personal thoughts. However, The Intention Economy book is copyright!

It’s a shame that Searls doesn’t have any retail experience. Although he cites a number of conversations with CEOs of huge retailers, they are completely biased towards their own model (e.g. of not having loyalty schemes) rather than providing a balanced argument.

The Intention Economy is the best business/ technology book I’ve read for a long time. I thoroughly recommend you read it. The style of the writing with lots of short chapters, and an opening argument and closing ‘so, then’ closing argument makes it easy reading.

Most importantly though, Doc Searls gets across how companies need to get back to customer centric organisations. The current organisational trend is that branding and marketing and advertising and other departments within an organisation are becoming more distant from paying customers, even during the recession.

We need to reverse the trend and put the customer first. This can be accomplished through changing corporate culture (making senior managers physically meet customers in their own environment) and systems such as VRM.

I’m delighted to see large organisations begin to do this. At the Visa conference last week, before I’d finished reading The Intention Economy, I could see how the CEO and CTO were discussing key concepts from the book – putting customers first.

2012 favourites

For the last couple of years (2011 and 2010) I’ve listed my highlights of the previous year. Continuing the tradition, here are the highlights of 2012.

Favourite new gadget

iPlayer on the Xbox is simply superb. You don’t need the handset at all – just switch on the Xbox, use Kinect to fire up the iPlayer app and choose a programme, and then it’s voice activated from then on. It’s also the only way to watch programmes in HD on iPlayer.

Battlefield 3 has been my favourite game of the year so far, although I haven’t played the latest Call of Duty Black Ops 2 yet.

I installed Windows 8 at the start of the year on a Virtual PC and liked it a lot. Some of the staff at Endava are using it as their primary operating system. I haven’t done that yet because I haven’t had the time to spend a couple of days transferring everything from Windows 7 to 8 – backing up, restoring and all that.

However I have moved over to Office 2013. It’s super stable (I’m still using the Preview release)and there’s a few new features (such as opening and working in PDF documents) and it’s just ‘nicer’ to use.

Favourite book

I started reading Bear Grylls’ autobiography Mud, Sweat & Tears, and couldn’t put the thing down. I don’t read particularly quickly, but three days after picking it up I’d finished it. It’s one of those books where you wish it was longer. Bear has had a remarkable journey so far, and I share some of his values – the outdoors and Scouts being prime examples. Definitely worth a read.

Chris Hoy’s autobiography was also enjoyable. I received some feedback about last year’s favourites all relating to cycling, so I won’t go into any more detail about the book here!

Favourite iPhone app

Continuing the don’t-mention-cycling theme, Strava is my favourite app of the year. It’s brilliant. Strava records all your cycle journeys, split’s them into ‘segments’ such as a stretch of a single road, or even a mile long set of roads, and then compares all the cyclists (or runners) who have travelled that segment. It turns your commute and weekend rides into an addictive competition.

After Apple completely messed up maps, there was a void left with free, decent, mapping apps and after my summer holiday to Israel where I found M8, it’s my favourite app for car journeys.

Favourite award

I’m truly honoured to have won Sitecore Site of the Year for the second year running. This year’s award went to The Open, and I know how hard the team at Endava work on the site both year-round, and during the event. A huge well done to all the team.

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Fake reviews

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There was a great article in the Sunday Times last week about fake reviews on the Internet. Some senior figures at well-known book publishers have been writing positive reviews on Amazon and other sites using false names, and were uncovered by a Sunday Times investigation.

I don’t have a problem with the fake reviews – we’ve had product packaging for several years that hasn’t been entirely honest. And how many times have you been to see a film that received fantastic press reviews that you thought was a waste of time? I do have a problem with using a fake name, especially on Amazon where you can use a nickname instead.

Walk along any market and listen to the traders explain how their products, whether it’s fruit, clothing or pretty much anything else, are the best on the market.

It’s natural human instinct to promote one’s own work, especially where sales are involved. If I wrote a book, I’d definitely ask friends and family to review the product online, and I would hope that those closest to me would be more favourable.

This is one of the issues I have with LinkedIn recommendations. The only people who write the recommendations are friends and colleagues who will always give a highly biased view of an individual. People who recommend others on LinkedIn don’t include any of the negative aspects of the person they’re reviewing, so I don’t see why we expect any difference from a publisher who is trying to sell a book.

 

2011 favourites

Last year I wrote about my 2010 favourites and it was one of my most viewed posts of the year. So I thought I’d repeat it for 2011 too – and there’s a clear theme running through these favourites!

Favourite new gadget

One of the things I’ve really got involved with in 2011 has been cycling. It started in February when I was out of breath going up a local (yet very long and steep) hill, then got to June where a group of friends rode the BHF London to Brighton. I then started riding into work (13 miles, from North West London to the City). 

Three rear wheels later, thanks to the Holloway Road, I decided to go for a new bike. My £27 eBay investment (see below) had had its day after almost 1,800 miles between May and December. 

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However my favourite gadget wasn’t the new bike, it was the base layer clothing. Base layers have been around for a few years and despite some literally freezing motorcycle journeys, I hadn’t used one until cycling this winter. They are fantastic and if you get cold easily, try wearing them under your clothes. There you go, a favourite gadget that doesn’t run out of batteries!

Favourite book

Without a doubt, it was Lance Armstrong’s autobiography. It’s a very easy read that is very emotional about someone’s battle with cancer, from denial through to winning the Tour de France afterwards. Thoroughly recommended.

In second place was Alan Sugar’s autobiography which was several times longer than Armstrong’s, but just as enjoyable. 

Favourite iPhone app

I’ve started using Barclays Boris bikes to travel around the City if the meeting is only one or two tube stops from the office. So the BarclaysBikes app is really handy, showing how many bikes and spaces are at a specific location. The AR (Augmented Reality) view is genuinely useful to find the nearest bike.

A close second is the updated LinkedIn app. The previous version never seemed to work without wifi. The latest app is excellent for looking up contacts after a meeting or even in the middle of a meeting when we’re discussing a mutual ex-colleague.

For outside work, the Geocaching app is excellent. It shows the three nearest geocaches and makes a spare hour disappear quicker than you can say “Where on earth would someone have hidden it around here?”

Favourite award

Without a doubt, I was extremely proud of the team to receive to a Sitecore Site of the Year award this year for our work with Cadbury.

Cadbury__endava

 

Holiday news

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This week I’ve returned from a fortnight’s holiday and for what was always considered a ‘quiet period’, there was a lot of news in the technology world:

  • Apple’s Steve Jobs stepped down. Earlier this year I read the book ‘From Good to Great’ where one of the requirements of a great company over a good, high performing company, is that the former is able to lose key individuals and still grow successfully. There have been many good companies but when a key person has left, the company has lost it’s way. Apple is currently the best of the good companies, and only time will tell whether it’s one of the greats. 
  • Eric Schmidt gave a great speech highlighting two key factors – the UK has invented so many high tech products, yet has been unable to commercialise them, and secondly the dwindling number of students studying maths and science. Both are sad positions to be in, and the second one is the worrying trend which needs to be addressed.
  • HP have bought Autonomy. I’ve never come across a company that so few people know what they do (Autonomy, not HP). 30,000 people a week probably sit in White Hart Lane wondering what their shirt sponsor does. As for the actual aquisition, I agree with Tech Market View that it’s another sad day for British enterprise, and Eric Schmidt’s words above simply echo our lack of commercialisation – why can’t the UK create companies that buy US companies?
  • Google buying Motorola was a complete shock. The cynic in me thinks that Google bought the cheaper company, to spark Microsoft’s interest in buying Nokia, which would eat up a huge amount of Microsoft’s cash reserve and put it in a weaker position. Quite why any company would want to buy a handset provider – customers are extremely fickle and disloyal in the mobile market, and Apple are going from strength to strength. Oh, and there’s the subject of huge investment required to knock the iPad off the top perch. 

There was some good news while I was away though, I finished reading Lance Armstrong’s autobiography and whilst I won’t do a full book review like usual, I thoroughly recommend it. I couldn’t put the book down and ended up reading it in four days – not an easy task when you go on holiday with four kids.

Weeknote #1 – losing weight and launching a new chocolate bar

Weeknotes seem to be the new compromise between micro-blogging (aka Twitter) and full on blogging. Take a look at Weeknote – it’s quite a neat site if you have something to say but don’t want to be constrained to 140 characters.

Marc Holmes and others have started adopting a nice approach to their blogs, by including a weeknote every errrrrr…. seven days, so I thought I’d try it too. So here goes for the last week:

  • Launched The Race Season on SpotsVStripes – a new campaign as part of Cadbury’s sponsorship of London 2012. A very addictive set of Flash games. And a new chocolate bar (the Race Bar – try it and let me know what you think). Here’s the TV advert:
  • Found an excellent new utility for capturing tall web pages as images.
  • On a personal note – last week was officially the first time it cost more than £20 to fill up my motorbike. I’m not complaining too much, considering a bottle of water at Euston station costs £1.50 (that’s 20p more per litre than petrol).
  • Using Timely more and more for writing loads of tweets in one session, then letting them ‘go live’ over the course of the week.
  • Finished reading Lord Sugar’s auto-biography, loving virtually every word of it. Worst of all, I didn’t have another book ready to start reading, so I’m back to the Metro each day. Another reason to use the bike more!
  • Read a couple of good articles – one which said that in the US most Internet shoppers are pretty affluent; the second is debating whether we’re in a second dotcom bubble.
  • I got my data back from a faulty hard disk.
  • Learnt what the word undecillion means during a session on IPv6. (10 to the power of 36).
  • A fair amount of cycle rides (two sessions of 20+ miles) and a 2.5 run around the block. All in the aim of completing this year’s London to Brighton quicker than last year and being a stone lighter at the same time.
  • Watched that match

Book review: Alan Sugar’s Autobiography

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I’ve been extremely lucky recently with some book recommendations. I’ve been recommended a number of titles including “Who Moved My Cheese?”, “Tipping Point” and “When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead”.

Both my father (coincidentally a “Happy Anniversary” to my parents today) and brother-in-law have been reading Alan Sugar’s autobiography recently – called ‘What You See Is What You Get’ and they kept saying I should read it. My brother-in-law was first to finish it, and I read it cover to cover in under a fortnight. I just couldn’t put the thing down. For the first time ever, I missed my tube station on my way home from work!

Sugar is incredibly frank in the book. He regularly refers to a number of his suppliers and customers as tossers, wankers and other similarly colourful adjectives. He is completely transparent when it comes to costs and profit margins in certain deals, and just as open to boast how he screwed over a number of retailers at certain points in history.

Sir/Lord Alan Sugar’s early years are just as interesting as his recent political appointments. I found it fascinating how he watched road workers digging up lumps of wood in the 1950s that burned really efficiently and so he sold them to his neighbours. He bought a batch of radios that didn’t quite work, so he setup a production line at home to tweak a single component in each radio to enable them to work. One night all his stock was stolen from his rear garden, so he build a concrete out-house. Self-made? Quite literally.

At the start of one of his chapters he explains how a psychotherapist would have a field day with him. That’s an understatement. He switches from this openly caring fellow to admitting he was bored senseless at the lunch table with the Queen (not sure if he would have been knighted after being so open with his encounters with royalty).

His time as the owner of Spurs is interesting because up until that point, he’d made his fortune simply by buying cheap components, assembling them and selling them – making a good profit along the way – how simple could a business be. Suddenly at Spurs he was juggling mega-personalities – Venables (my opinion of him has changed), George Graham, Jürgen Klinsmann, Darren Anderton (my opinion of him has only been reinforced), the list goes on.

Personally I found the chapter on Sir/Lord Sugar describing his encounters with other Premier League chairmen and their negotiations with Sky the most interesting. I’ve had the fortune to work with some Premier League chairmen, and after building up my impression of Sugar via the first few chapters, I couldn’t imagine someone more opposite to the chairmen I know. So when he describes the meetings, I found myself cringing at some of the tales.

Sugar is hugely opinionated (one of the reasons we all like The Apprentice so much). Despite most of the country disliking Gordon Brown, Sugar joined his team at Brown’s lowest rating. He sacked Venables. In fact, he sacked a lot of people. This all sounds terribly negative, and is balanced in the book by acknowledgements of making many of his employees very wealthy in their own right.

Before reading Baron/Lord Sugar’s book, I read Jerry Weintraub’s autobiography. Both are self-made, hugely successful businessmen with the same culture and principles to help guide them through life. OK, Jerry is American and naturally a lot more brash. Sugar is typically English and keeps repeating “Bloody hell, I grew up on a council estate in Clapton, and here I am doing blah” – eating with the Queen, 4 prime ministers, TV celebrity, floating his business on the stock market – the list just goes on and on.

What’s nice about Baron/Sir Sugar’s book is the level of detail. At first, 600 pages seems too long. But like many well written books, the pages just whizz past and your detailed knowledge of the author becomes deeper and deeper. 

A thoroughly enjoyable, addictive book. Especially if you’re a psychotherapist.