#ShiftReads: From our bookshelf to yours…

As we head into Spring, the Shift team shares some of the writing that has inspired and challenged us in our working lives. From redesigning the welfare state to the power of collective intelligence, we hope one of our #ShiftReads will inspire you too.


Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World, by Geoff Mulgan

Reviewed by Nick

Theme: Human and machine capabilities working together to drive social progress

I was surprised by how much I loved this book, not because I wasn’t expecting it to be intelligent and thought-provoking, which Geoff’s writing always is, but because it is hugely relevant to the challenges that we face as a team that works on complex, systemic social problems like child obesity and youth mental illness.

The potential collective intelligence of the civic and social sectors is extraordinary, but mostly untapped. Unlocking this is the biggest and most important challenge of our generation. We must aggregate our intelligence and therefore our impact or we will never come close to overcoming the defining problems of our day, like climate change and inequality. This book provides practical ideas and examples that will help us challenge the siloed, competitive status quo and rebuild a different organising model and culture, full of collective awareness, action, asset-building and impact.


Radical Help by Hilary Cottam

Reviewed by Immy

Themes: Relationship-centred design; capabilities approach; radically rethinking the welfare state

When we first embarked on The Relationships Project together, David Robinson recommended that I read Radical Help by Hilary Cottam and I’m so glad that he did.

Radical Help charts a series of bold experiments by the team at Participle, each of which redesigns a part of the welfare state. The golden thread running through each of these experiments is relationships: each experiment leveraged relationships to support users to realise their capabilities and define their goals.

One of the key challenges with this approach is that it’s not easy to scale. By its very nature, Radical Help requires reflexivity, adaptability and customisation. This doesn’t sit easily within the target-driven culture that currently dominates the way the public sector is run.

I was really inspired and excited by this book for a number of reasons:

  • It really clearly articulates the benefits of a relationship-centred approach, not only for ‘patients’ but also for staff on the front line
  • Despite the challenges of measuring something that is based on a responsive process, Hilary and the team rigorously evaluated each and every experiment
  • Hilary is a force to be reckoned with and a really inspiring role model

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in service design, the welfare state, or relationship-centred design. It’s refreshing, ambitious and intuitive all at the same time and lit a little fire in the pit of my belly.


Essays and tweets by Seth Godin and Umair Haque

Reviewed by Ben

Themes: Marketing; sales; work; life; purpose and more; the economy; polemical musings on the state of the world and what living a good life might mean

I started following both on Twitter in about 2012 when I was beginning to reconsider my corporate career – both from a political standpoint and from an ever-growing desire for life-long learning – and have continued to follow them since.

Seth Godin’s written an absurd number of books, and runs the ever popular AltMBA. His writing is clear and concise, consistently offering actionable suggestions to support innovation and personal development. Colleagues at previous roles got used to (bored of) me emailing tweets from “my sage” Seth Godin to colleagues following conversations about everything from meetings to strategy.

Umair Haque is a little more challenging. He’s exceptionally political and barstorm-y. However, when I was trying to work out what I wanted from my working life, his clarity of vision – about the ills of our society and how they could be improved – really resonated. I’m also taken by someone who so regularly, and readily, calls bull**** on public figures, political parties and the news.


Look out for #ShiftReads on Twitter for more writers and writing that are getting the Shift team scratching our heads. Or get in touch to let us know what you think we should read next!