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Building Better Business Book Club 

Reading, sharing insights, getting recommendations, staying informed.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

When I started reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott, I expected it to open my eyes to new techniques in general, and new ways of thinking about providing information to others in particular. It is a book that has been talked about for some time as a good leadership manual. I’m afraid that, for me, it was disappointing.

When I started the book, I recognised the author had realised, since its first publication, that the language she had chosen was easy to misinterpret. I’ve made that mistake many times, too. The problem she had identified was that “Radical Candor” can be interpreted by those who have not read the book as meaning “to be direct to the point of rudeness”. Of course, that is not her intention. Thinking back to some of the people who have recommended the book to me, I now wonder if they were recommending it as a justification of their style rather than as a work that had adapted it.

Radical Candor is a strong, conceptually robust, idea. The purpose of the book is you demonstrate to people how to be both clear, direct and effective. The basic idea is relatively easy to grasp for anyone with experience working with groups of people. Scott uses examples from Google, Amazon, Apple and other organisations, some from direct experience and some reported. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that the examples are used, in my opinion, to excess. The point is made, and then made again and again. After the first few chapters, I found that extraordinarily wearing and I drifted into skimming through the remainder of the book. I’m sure I missed some gems and insights, but began to sense that they were the proverbial needle in a haystack.

When you come across a cracking book, one that draws you in and encourages you to turn the page, it is often full of stories. In those books, the stories lead you on and take you from illustrating one idea to giving it further colour and depth. In Radical Candor, my sense was that the stories merely reiterated the same point.

All that said, it is worth reading this book to get an understanding of the model Scott has developed and how it can be useful in thinking about our interactions. This underlying model is a very useful reminder. Scott asks us to think about two dimensions, caring for others, which can be low or high, and challenging directly, which can also be viewed on the same low to high scale. When both are high, you find Radical Candor. When care is high, but direct challenge is low, you find ruinous empathy; when challenge is high and care is low, there is obnoxious aggression; and finally, when both are low, there is manipulative insincerity. When we have an understanding of how to get the best from people, there’s something we should always try to improve.

On this point, I think much of the value of the book can be found in this video where the author describes (in a few minutes) the most important messages the book has to bring.

These are important ideas. Communication is such a key part of life, and it needs our attention and effort to improve. For some, this book will be a key part of that.