I can be a slow reader, when the material is right (or, more accurately, wrong). It took me all of three years to read Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy; the Greek bit was particularly hard going, and I am basically a linear-man….start at the beginning and read through to the end…..so couldn’t skip it. Other stuff can take almost no time to read….The Little Prince, for instance…or Jonathan Livingston Seagull (probably the most surreal thing I’ve ever read) which took a few hours, if that. It’s not just about the length of a book. If the content is tosh I’ll stop reading immediately regardless of how short the book is or how highly recommended it is (same with films, but that’s another story). If the content is captivating, then I can race through regardless of the length. There are some intermediate cases, where it takes a while to get into the material (like Clockwork Orange, or Science Fiction), but once in tune…..this has now happened with Winston Churchill’s The Second World War. I got over half way through the second volume in one weekend.
Winston was clearly a man for his times. Earnest and sincere, immersed in the military detail, but always with an eye to the big picture and the long view. His sense of the resolve and fury of the British people is palpable, and permeates the story he tells. There has been much talk of Britishness and what it means to be British. And what we should insist is taught in our schools about being British. This story, as told by Winston, captures the essence. The key thing about Winston was his understanding of both strategy and detail. He knew what needed to be done, and followed through to ensure the detailed appropriate processes were put in place. Both of these elements (big picture strategy, and detailed processes) are required for effectively moving forward and changing things.
Changing Things. Not just reacting to change, although we need to know how to do that, too. Actually deciding that Change is required, and bringing it about, is much more difficult…to do, and to teach. Above all it requires almost inhuman honesty about all aspects under consideration (and no one likes to contemplate how what they have been doing, possibly for many years, is no longer fit for purpose…or, perhaps, never was). Real, important Change requires such honesty….and big picture strategy…..and detailed analysis…..and constant reappraisal…..and…..courage.