Monday, December 30, 2019

My Top Five Blog Posts of 2019

I've been posting these Top Five lists at the end of every year for the last seven years. Over those seven years, a handful of posts have come to dominate them. Their popularity, it seems, feeds on itself, with more and more people accessing them every year (probably in part because I keep promoting them through these Top Five wrap-ups at the end of each year).

So, for this year I decided to do something different. Here's a look back at the five posts on this blog that received the most page views in 2019 -- excluding those that have appeared on previous Top Five posts.

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1. Glimpses of World History by Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru was the first prime minister of democratic India. His daughter was Indira Gandhi, the woman who succeeded him as prime minister and was eventually assassinated. But as the pages of this remarkable book open, those things haven’t happened yet. The book is a collection of letters, written in 1931-33, when Indira was between 14 and 16 years old, and her father was serving time as a political prisoner.

Partly to help keep his mind active and partly to help his daughter develop an appropriate appreciation for world history, Nehru wrote these letters without notes or other reference materials, relying primarily on his own knowledge and beliefs of what had created and shaped the world around him -- thousands of years of history, from the beginnings of civilization, to the aftermath of the First World War and the initial stirrings of the Second.

And throughout all the letters in this long book, I think it is important to remember that, whatever the reader’s own political and economic beliefs, the words he is reading are the simple and straightforward prose of a loving father writing to his daughter.

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2. The Chief Detail Officer

In a linked TED talk, Rory Sutherland persuasively makes the case that organizations don't spend enough time working on the small stuff. That, in fact, there is a bias in most organizations that big problems have to be met with big solutions--solutions that have to be conceptualized by powerful people and executed with lots and lots of money.

Sutherland doesn't claim that approach won't work in some situations, but he comes out stridently for a different approach, embodied by something he calls the Chief Detail Officer, the CDO. This isn't the person responsible for coordinating all the details. It is the person responsible for finding small things that cost little that have tremendous impact and making sure they are done right and consistently.

I've seen the need for such an approach myself, and can cite at least one circumstance when some small detail meant a great deal to one of my association members.

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3. Closing the Office vs. Working From Home

Unusual winter weather and the changing nature of our technology and connectivity expectations causes me to first rethink and then abandon my association's "office closing" policy.

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4. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

It's one of the many "mini term papers" I tend to offer up, free of charge, to desperate freshman English majors the world over.

My overall theses: This is a story of a boy becoming a man, and the changes he has to go through in order to make that transformation. The boy is named John Grady, and there is an exchange between him and a criminal in a Mexican prison that pretty well describes the difference between boys and men.

The world does not often test the bravery of a young boy. But as he grows and begins to make his way in it, it will test him, and if the boy passes the test, he will no longer be a boy. Regardless of his age—and John Grady is sixteen—if he can stand up to world and hold his own, he is a man.

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5. Closing Time by Joseph Heller

Closing Time, in case you didn’t know, is Heller’s sequel to Catch-22, and I feel pretty much the same about it as I did about Catch-22. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll read it again.

It is a book written by an older generation and, I fear, for an older generation. Heller constantly plays with the cultural touchstones of his generation, naming one of his characters Strangelove, and including a curly-haired writer named Vonnegut in several scenes. And like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, Closing Time's protagonist seems to move through time throughout the course of the novel.

It gets confusing, and much would probably be revealed on a close second read. Surely someone (if not Heller himself) has diagrammed the novel, and such an exercise would undoubtedly reveal that the protagonist is both the cause and effect of the novel’s action, with effect probably preceding cause in at least one situation. At least things feel that way.

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My thanks to everyone who has been reading what I've been putting up here. I hope you plan to stay engaged in 2020.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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