In late 2021, I read Design for Safety by Eva PenzeyMoog, and after telling my manager about it, she read it too. It left such an impact on both of us that we wanted to share it with the rest of the Scotia Digital team, so we started up a dedicated book club just to discuss digital product and design.
As of this month, the book club has been running for one year. It’s one of my favourite things about my current role, and it was something that arose organically — my manager and I liked Design for Safety THAT much. (Seriously, it covers a vital and urgent topic in product design.) Now that the book club has been around for a year, I want to talk about what we do to maintain its momentum, and how you can apply similar methods to running a work-focused book club of your own.
Take advantage of existing platforms to build interest
When my manager and I first decided to start the book club, we knew that we needed to spread the word quickly and efficiently. The best way for us to do that was to promote it at our monthly Community of Practice (CoP) meetings. The CoP meetings are a natural platform for this, since during these meetings we have multiple people presenting, and we also share announcements about promotions and new hires.
Spreading the word like this doesn’t need to be too fancy; we normally create a PowerPoint slide, and ask the meeting host to include it in the final presentation deck. Bonus: since we have multiple such communities at Scotia Digital, this affords us multiple opportunities to promote the book club.
Where possible, we also try to make sure that the books we choose are easily available in electronic formats. This allows us to distribute copies of the books with our meeting invite, so people can download and read our selected books at their convenience.
Most importantly, Scotia Digital provides its employees with an annual learning and development fund, which can be used towards things like conferences, workshops and other professional development activities. Since the books we choose are so closely linked to topics like product development and UX design, they’re eligible for reimbursement through the fund. And if there’s one thing I think most people like, it’s essentially getting books for free.
Focus on quality, not quantity
From the very beginning, we decided to focus on only four books a year: one per quarter. We’re busy. Our teammates are busy. Everyone has tons of meetings to attend, no matter what department they’re in. Having a quarterly schedule showed that we respected our colleagues’ limited time. It also conveniently mirrors the rhythm of most business activities, which I think reinforces the idea of such discussions being a valid form of professional development.
Speaking of which, the four we chose for 2022 were:
- Design for Safety by Eva PenzeyMoog
- Product Management for UX People by Christian Crumlish
- How to Future: Leading and Sense-Making in an Age of Hyperchange by Scott Smith and Madeline Ashby
- Orchestrating Experiences: Collaborative Design for Complexity by Chris Risdon and Patrick Quattlebaum
Our next book will be Futureproof: Nine Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation by Kevin Roose.
Recognize that reading is not the end goal
Here’s the plain truth: A lot of people who attend our book club meetings don’t actually read the books we choose. Do not be discouraged by this.
That’s because the reading itself isn’t the end goal — learning and adopting new practices is. And if my colleagues prefer listening to me and others talk, and absorb the information that way, that’s just as good! I’ve found that as long as at least two or three people have read it, that’s enough.
Eventually, as we describe the book to others, quote key passages, or try to connect the text to real-world examples of how tech affects people on a daily basis, enough people chime in with their own experiences that a fruitful discussion occurs. And it’s that real experience of building bridges and discussing useful exercises and workshop ideas that’s just as important as words on a page.