Book Reviews

Thank you to all of you who have taken the time to provide us reviews of the book. We are humbled by the feedback…


“The work Paul and Kailash have done is significant as it debunks the myth that problems can be solved using a cookie-cutter approach and that pulling a few levers will give you a different outcome. We cannot jump over the step of understanding the current context by using a model which has conditions that don’t match what we are looking at. It seems almost counter-intuitive that using a model will give different answers for different situations – as the authors rightly point out. This is similar to eisegesis (I have a model, how do the facts fit?), for those familiar with text analysis. Paul and Kailash have produced a great piece of exegetical work. I hope that there is less proliferation of simplistic models as we embrace uncertainty and ambiguity.”

Read the full review by Adrian Bennett at Amazon.


“Paul and Kalish bring a breath of fresh air to this genre with their easy to read Heretics Guide books. Many of the decisions that businesses need to make these days are “wicked problems” – those that have no clear answer either due to their complexity or the fact that the outcome cannot be known unti the decision has been taken and the chosen path implemented. These types of problems demand a different approach. Ambiguity can scare organisations and can lead to devision or decisions made on the basis of politics or power (or not at all) which is not a good basis for sound decision making. These books are very easy to read and provide practical and easy to implement guidance and techniques on how to break down barriers, encourage dialogue and shared ownership of problems and solutions.”

Read the full review by Peter Schmidt at Amazon


“Once again, the book is an excellent read. It is more engaging and fun to read than many other business books. Both the authors have a perverse sense of humour. Both are deeply skeptical of the fads of the management consulting industry and both are great storytellers. As with the first book I now have a concise repository of a number of important and useful ideas that I can refer people to.”

Read the full review by Craig Brown at Amazon


“A refreshing, humorous, and well researched take on the hype cycle of management and innovation frameworks and why no model is a substitute for understanding context and conditions when working through ambiguity. This book’s critique on management trends is underpinned by thoughtful discussion on how we think and how we react to ambiguity; the limits this brings to problem framing, management, and effective work. I came away from this with better critical skills to assess not only my work environment but also myself.”

Read the full review on Amazon


“If you’re tired of battling the “flavor of the week” management philosophy or framework. If you’re ready to look past the checklist and standardized process to figure out how to make your organization or situation better, read The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices to see how you can survive.”

Read the review by Rob Bogue.


“This scrupulously researched, extremely readable work could impact how organizations execute projects and solve complex problems…”

Read the full review on the Foreword Reviews site


“Multi-stakeholder facilitators, wicked problem mediators, listen up! This book is for everyone who cares about how people can work together more effectively, to address the most pressing challenges we are facing today. If you work in this field, I recommend you jump right in to the third section of the book, for some tremendously inspiring case studies of this groundbreaking approach in action…. and then go back and read the first two sections, as this is (at least!) three books in one…

The paradigm shift at the heart of part one: rather than “cookie cutter” approaches that are SPOZED to “work for all” (but never do!) we can work collaboratively to create custom solutions based on real participation from everyone involved. (Old-timers may remember that this is what the field of Organization Development once did, before being taken over by the “change management” corporate consultancies…) Culmsee and Awati make a brilliant case for this; a deceptively folksy intro, full of Dilbert and Aussie humor, segues into an in-depth exploration of the various sources of cognitive bias, a fascinating debunking of the PERT myth, and a close-up look at the challenges of moving from a bureaucratic to a post-bureaucratic organization…all building up to a whiz-bang weaving together of Rittel, Habermas, Ostrom, Winnicott, and Heifetz, as they articulate the need for creating “holding environments” that build adaptive capacity.

But wait, folks… that’s just the preamble! : WHAT’S NEW HERE, is the high-tech support for taking real collaboration to scale: part two explores HOW we can create “holding environments” for building adaptive capacity, by using visual mapping practices, AND ALSO, by addressing issues of power. Again, no need to read all of this in order… if, after two chapters on visual reasoning, IBIS, and argumentation-based rationale, the esoteric comparisons of different problem-structuring methods in chapter 9 are feeling a bit too heady at the moment, SKIP RIGHT AHEAD, and by all means, DON’T MISS the last chapter of this section and the brilliant case study from the construction industry, of how to build collaboration into systems by addressing issues of power. (I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve been in among OD professionals, where everyone is lamenting how this is one of the most under-adressed issues in our field.. so PLEASE, don’t miss this chapter!!!! )

Well, this brings us to the third and final section of the book, which as I mentioned earlier is chock-full of more juicy case studies. As I said, this is (at least) three books in one… three EXTREMELY WORTHWHILE books in one… not just for those of us who are working to help the emergence of shared understanding in organizations, but also, maybe especially, for those of us who are working to help the emergence of shared understanding among multiple stakeholder groups, facing wicked issues. Given everything that is happening in the world today, I can’t think of a more timely or more useful message.”  Read the full review by R.Zubizarreta at Amazon


“…I prefer to think of myself as a ‘Heretic’ thanks to Paul Culmsee and Kailash Awati. Their book The Heretic’s Guide To Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations describes exactly what I needed to advance my problem solving abilities and help me diagram for others what I always saw as the missing elements to the puzzle.

The dynamics of group psychology fascinates me and I think Paul and Kailash’s methods for corralling problems with dialogue mapping is ideal for ‘evening out the playing field.’ Knowing that my passion for a topic and my confident tone can be misunderstood as bulldozing or intimidating, I fully recognize the value that diagraming a group’s thought process provides the opportunity to add everyone’s voice to the discussion and more importantly, it provides documentation for how the final decisions developed along the way.

I was a huge fan of both Paul and Kailash before the book was published, so I was certain I would love it from the start. Kailash and Paul’s research is impressive and presented in in a manner that anyone can understand. I found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions and was thoroughly entertained with the ‘boring’ research portion. The second half of the book is a deeper dive into dialogue mapping and after having bought the notion in the first half, I was intrigued to learn more. This over the top, totally geeky book held my attention all the way through…in fact, I liked it so much I read it twice!…”
Read the full review by Kerri Abraham on EUSP


“…Without question, this book has been the single-most useful business book that I’ve ever read. If you’re someone who frequently deals with [complex problems in your organization], then this book is a must read. It has the right amount of academic research and pop culture references to make it a fun and engaging read…”
Read the full review by Mike Ferrara on CMS Wire


“I am thoroughly enjoying “The Heretics Guide to Best Practices” and regard it as an epic contribution in advancing the state of the art in achieving shared understanding. The penmanship is remarkable and has hit a home run….

Paul and Kailash weave a rich tapestry of real-world situations and experiences to drive home key takeaways and illustrate the power of dialogue mapping. I’d also like to point out that there are significantly new observations that advance the state of the practice in organizational change. The section describing how players with dove-like behaviors can creatively interact with players with hawk-like behaviors using dialogue mapping gave me some new insights. Such an approach, when applied well, may incrementally influence an attitudinal shift in the organizational power structure and change minds so that there is greater cooperative consensus during the problem-solving process…” Read the full review by Ramachandran Iyer on Amazon


“Any book bringing together such diverse names and concepts as Daniel Kahneman, Jon Whitty, Richard Dawkins, Bent Flyvbjerg, Umpa Lumpas and the Borg, is sure to attract my attention. Kailash Awati and Paul Culmsee don’t need much introduction. Both are authors of two of my favorite blogs, eight2late and CleverWorkarounds respectively. So when these two intelligent minds decide to write a book one can expect to find an engaging and stimulating discussion.

Their new book “The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organizations” (affiliate link) is a brave and refreshing attempt at ‘shaking the foundations’ and getting people to examine the way they communicate and how they use that communication to make decisions, while attending to complex problems…”  Read the full review by Shim Marom


“I am a non-executive. I am a teacher who teaches little kids. Still I have found `The Heretics’s Guide to Best Practices’ a thoroughly enjoyable book. Surely, the book is about `The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations’. But that reality is not so different from managing complex problems in our personal lives. The difference is only in scale and scope. So don’t get carried away by the title.

Paul and Kailash view “organisations as networks of commitments”. They explain: We believe this phrase spells out an ideal of what organisations ought to be: a group of people working towards common, mutually agreed goals, via commitments that are made based on a shared understanding. Thus, the book is about people and their problems and the way to effectively deal with them (rather than run away from them) so that human/organizational “wellbeing” is balanced and maintained.

The book is written in `conversational’ style sprinkled with humor. Dialogue mapping is about capturing the rationale of conversation. The authors discuss the craft of dialogue mapping, its practice and application in great detail. So the style they have adopted for writing this book is not accidental.

Roald Dahl was not a management guru, but in this book he becomes one. Ben 10 toys can shed light on the childish behaviour of grown-ups. Paul and Kailash draw on children’s literature, toys, movies, rocket science and, of course, management gurus to make their point. The result is a highly entertaining book that educates you how to balance and maintain your wellbeing.” Murali Madhavan


“The Heretic’s Guide is so-called because it chooses to deliberately speak the unspeakable: “Best Practices” are the root cause of almost all the problems we face in delivering complex projects. They are naive approaches to resolving wicked problems – those that prove highly resistant to any attempt to coerce them into neat, little linear plans and GANTT charts because they have so many permutations and unseen elements that prevent them from being well-understood.

In exposing this problem, Paul and Kailash take you on an epic journey examining why the notion of “best practices” have such a strong hold on people, even when they do them more harm than good, and why, when you challenge the “conventional thinking” around them, you can expect to be in a whole world of hurt due to cognitive biases and a rather terrifying, slothful creature known as “the memeplex”.

However, The Heretic’s Guide isn’t all about calling out the legion of issues and problems that keep us from successfully delivering projects. It’s also about what to do to change things. In this regard, the middle third of the book is perhaps the most important (and challenging) as it gives you some tools to begin to take on the “enemies” you will face as a member of a project team who is tackling a wicked problem: Dialogue, Visualization and Shared Understanding.

This is a book I wish I had written: It needs to be read by software professionals and business managers alike as I see both groups in dire need of some “sense making” to begin to turn around the industry’s abysmal record of failure. I plan on keeping this book on my Kindle for a long while as I will be recommnending it to many customers. “ Christopher R. Chapman


“The book targets technology managers who are looking for a way to address complex problems, and plenty of software professionals (e.g., ones who want to “deprogram” their managers) could benefit from it as well. Certainly anyone who uses Compendium or, more generally, embraces IBIS as a design approach or wicked problems as a problem classification should read it. If you like Jeff Conklin’s book, then (dare I say it?) I bet you will like this one even more. To grossly oversimplify, this is like Conklin’s book but moreso: more motivation and framing of the problem type, lots more examples, 5 years more of experiences and Compendium advances, more history of where these ideas came from, and more positive and negative examples of Compendium’s utility. If that sounds appealing, you should get a copy of this book.” Scott McCrickard (Full review)


“The authors have been paying attention, and have broken free of the traditional mindsets that are increasingly stale and ineffective in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Particularly appealing is their consideration for the little guy in the organization; the common sense approach they advocate is refreshing and provides an interesting and innovative perspective on effecting real and lasting change in stagnant organizations desperately needing change but drowning in a sea of empty and stillborn initiatives propped up mostly by ineffectual platitudes and buzzy concepts. The authors’ theses are well-supported with studies and examples that cleanly illustrate the authors’ points.

Paul and Kailash give to us a book that is no-nonsense and peppered with a charming dry humor that is engaging and pleasurable to read – even for laypersons not heavily immersed or well-versed in best practices or organizational theory. The book is ideal for neophytes just getting into the subject who want to kick their careers off with innovative approaches, as well as for old war dogs who are looking to shake things up and make the most of the benefits of applying sound and meaningful best practices to their organizations.” Dux Sy  (Full review)


“If you have ever thought “I can’t believe that I’m being forced to use this methodology that is clearly wrong for this project”, then you are a great candidate for this book. Between the two of them, Paul and Kailash have read every body-of-knowledge and methodology out there, and they are unsparing in their praise of what works, and in their criticism of where the BOKs fall apart.
With their unique style and deep understanding of systems project success and failure, they bring some lesser-known approaches and tools to bear that will help you to truly become a better business analyst or project manager. The best part is that they have taken some really arcane, sleep-inducing academic work and made it understandable and consumable by us front-liners who are just trying to get our jobs done.” Ruven Gotz


“This book is for people who are tired of their internal voice telling them there is a better way to work, but not being able to explain how. If you are sick of hearing “that’s the way we do things around here”, but don’t have a good answer for how things should be, then this book is for you. Regardless of whether you are a CEO or an entry level front-line employee, the authors will help you see there are better ways to work with one another to address the ever growing nature of “wicked problems” we face in today’s hyper-competitive business world.

This book will give you the tools to explain what needs to change to get your projects moving in the right direction, to make your professional life more fulfilling, and how to go about changing the “way we do things around here” mentality. If you are happy with the status quo of your day-to-day professional life, this book isn’t for you. If you know there has to be a better way to work than what you are currently experiencing, and want to learn how to make positive change, then this book needs to be in your possession. “ Ben McMann


“The book is a great read and makes good use of some pop-culture to illustrate various points throughout the book. It gives valuable insight into how you can get shared understanding and commitment between the various stakeholders in a project. It also teaches you not to blindly apply “best practices” without modification and seeing if they really make sense in your situation. I have used one of the IBIS maps techniques discussed in the book with one of my clients and both my client and I have found it very useful.
I would definitely recommend this book if you want to improve the way you deliver projects.” Vili Bogdan


“While both Paul and Kailash work in information technology fields, this book is not about technology, or IT, and they tell you that in the preface. This book is about how to create shared understanding so that people can come to decisions while understanding how those decisions will affect other stakeholders.

Paul and Kailash have done a good job of bringing dense academic studies and methods of capturing knowledge, and presenting them in a understandable way. They bring life to the concepts and ideas through the use of stories from their own experiences that allowed me to see how the different approaches play out in real life. “ Ken Glover