Dystopia, Bees and the fascinating world of Habits

This week I’ve read a couple of books which are both interesting in their own unique ways. So instead of dilly dallying, let me get straight on with what I thought about this weeks reads…

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Laline Paull – The Bees (3)

For a decent number of years now I’ve been a fan of dystopian fiction.

Some of my favourite books are descriptions of dystopia such as Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and Ray Bradbury’s brilliant Fahrenheit 451.

These novels whilst different and unique in their own particular ways tend to also have a decent amount in common…

They often have totalitarian societies which whilst trying to pretend they are perfect and protect this perception have fundamental flaws.

They have an underdog hero who fights for freedom whose story reveals the truth about the world they live in.

and

They provide a prism in which to view our own world by articulating ideas which often seem strangely prophetic (especially when you read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451).

“The bees” follows a lot of the ‘rules’ of Dystopian fiction.

However instead of focusing it’s gaze on an imagined future or alternative reality it tells the story of a bee and the society it’s part of (the title of the book, as titles go, is pretty literal!)

Laline Paul describes the world of the bees through the eyes of Flora 717, who whilst born into the lowest ‘caste’ of bee society manages to experience much the hive (and the outside world) has to offer as well as inciting change.

I enjoyed “The bees”.

It’s well written, pacey and provides a fresh take on the dystopian genre.

The concept allows the author to explore many ideas. The “Hive mind”, a society where compliance is required to function well but ‘state sponsored’ violence is rife and the various ways the bees who are viewed to have more authority control the rest are interesting.

I also like the way the Flora the central character (at times ‘hero’, at times ‘anti-hero’ although I’m not sure whether Bees can be described as either!) interacts with other animals (especially the description of Spiders as the most mercenary “information brokers” I may have ever read about!)

Now whilst I enjoyed the book it fell short, in my opinion, of being an absolute classic.

The concept, whilst unique and inventive, meant that I struggled to emotionally identify with the characters and whilst parts of the book moved with appropriate pace there were certain sections which felt a little laboured.

However if you’re a fan of dystopian fiction and want to read an interesting story which provides a fresh take on the Genre….”The Bees” is worth a look.

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The power of Habit – Charles Duhigg (4)

As I write this we’re in mid January.

The time when new year celebrations seem like a long time ago and for many of us the time when the resolutions we made in good faith only a couple of weeks ago start to slowly slide away. (my ‘dry January’ whilst not a complete failure yet is already slightly damp!)

Now my (very) amateur interest in social psychology means that I’m aware that willpower is only a small part of the puzzle when it comes to taking on more longer term sustainable positive behaviors….

The reality is that for most of us the habits (both constructive and, erm, not so constructive) we have made part of our lives have much more of an impact than temporary constructs like willpower.

However can our personal habits be changed? and are habits not only prevalent in individuals but also our organisations? and what are some of the key drivers when society as a whole ‘changes it’s habits’?

In this book Charles Duhigg answers many of these questions and more…

The book uses both positive examples of how habits can be changed (using Olympic swimmers and Civil Rights leaders as examples of the power of habits) and providing stark examples of what happens when organisations fall into ‘bad habits’ and ignore the implication (the example of the part bad organisational habits had in the Kings Cross Fire¬†was an interesting insight how a ‘not my job guv’ attitude sometimes has drastic implications in the real world).

Whilst there’s plenty of practical knowledge within the pages of this book the author, Charless Duhigg, understands the power of a good story and “The power of habit” is full of tales of the impact of habitual behaviour interspersed with decent amounts of research.

I learnt a number of things from this book…

Firstly about how habits happen and why if you want to change habitual behaviour you need to understand the three components of this behaviour (Cue, Action and Reward)

Secondly why sometimes changing certain habits (Duhigg describes these habits as “keystone habits”) can have a massive impact in many other parts of your life.

and

Thirdly (and I wasn’t expecting this from a book about Habits) how the bucketloads of information we provide to organisations every single day are used by these organisations to intelligently (but a little scarily) understand so much about us that they can predict what we might need or want with pretty impressive (but again also a little scarily) accuracy.

Also, the book in it’s final chapters tries to answer an interesting question.

Are we responsible for our habits?

and

Is there a difference between the man who kills his wife whilst asleep and the gambling addict who loses every penny of her families money due to addiction?

I enjoyed “The Power of Habit” a lot.

It has insight, is an interesting read and provides practical tips of how we can all swap some of our less positive habits for ones which might help us more.

So, there’s the books I’ve read this week…..

What have you read? Have you got any books you’d recommend? Have you read either of these books and what did you think of them?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

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