Swashbooking, Arrrr!

Swashbooking? Huh? (In fact, I often mistakenly say “Bookswashing” – does that help any? No? Ok, so let’s start with the history of the word.)

In April 2009, software tester James Marcus Bach and his brother James set themselves a reading challenge with a few simple rules, most notably, a 6-minute timebox per book! You can hear about their rules and what they came up with on YouTube in their 13-hour marathon, but in this blog I will simply tell you about how we adapted it for use in communities of practice.

Ah, but about the name… From James’ website: “This website is dedicated to a certain lifestyle of mind. I call it intellectual buccaneering. I call myself a buccaneer-scholar.” So I imagine him growling “Arrrr!” from behind his eyepatch, when he named this game “Swashbooking”.

Swash-what? Ah, it’s an old word, and I found a lovely description of it recently in a historical novel set in the 17th and 18th centuries:

“This place used to lie beyond the edge of the city,” Daniel explained, “and bloody-minded young men would come here to practice at sword-play, or even to fight. This was more than a hundred years ago, when it was the fashion to have a wee shield on the left hand— a buckler. The sound of rapiers swashing against bucklers could be heard from far away, when they fought. Young men of that mentality came to be known, in the vernacular, as—”
— Neal Stephenson: The System Of The World
(Kindle Locations 12464).

Over time that word did what words in English tend to do… it morphed, adapted. Until, in the 20th century, we spoke of sword-wielding heros (and the films that featured them) as Swashbucklers! So, one mystery solved. Swish… arr! Swashbooking!!

I first encountered swashbooking at the AgileCoachCamp Germany, when Jurgen ‘Mentos’ Hoffmann announced a session called “read 6 books in an hour”. Yes! Finally! A way to solve my book backlog problem!! Marc Bless also attended and blogged about it.

Since then I’ve used it with a community of practice in a business: a mix of 7 developers and testers reviewed a list of books, in order to pick one for a new Agile book reading group. As the books circulated around the conference table, so did flipchart pages, where we captured our notes, which were later put on the internal wiki. In the end, the readers formed small groups around two different books, and everyone was able to pursue what interested them.

The next time I came across it was once again in conjunction with Mentos… this time, a graduate of our new ScrumMaster Work-Study program called our local Agile community together for a Swashbooking session. But you can imagine, that name means even less in German… so he came up with the lovely “Buchstrudel” instead!! I love it! They published their notes on the web (in German).

This Christmas, the idea finally intersected with our book backlog: Ilja and I spent about 90 minutes on our livingroom floor, swashing a handful of books (and one e-book). The original plan was to decide which coaching books to throw out… well, no success on that score! But I discovered one gem sitting hidden on our shelves (now a staple coaching reference on my desk) and “The Speed of Trust” which I now can recommend with confidence. In fact, I immediately designed a worksheet on trust for my clients from a chapter in that book! Our rules: timed, 7 minutes per book, we each read all the books and kept notes, and then at the end we shared our notes and drew conclusions. I kept my own notes on my PC, and also captured our conclusions at the end (this helps me think :-). You can see my notes on Goodreads.

What will you swash first? How about that stack of books on facilitation you’ve collected?

  • Gamestorming
  • Innovation Games
  • Leading from the Back of the Room
  • The Ten-Minute Trainer: 150 Ways to Teach it Quick
  • The Skilled Facilitator
  • The 9 Disciplines of a Facilitator

Oh, wait … that’s MY stack of facilitation books! :-) Well, here’s a booklist suggested by the members of the Stoos Network… just in case you don’t have your own stack of unread books! ;->


Comments (2)

  1. Hi Deb,

    thanks a lot for your post! It’s definitely something I will try when I find some time. (After I read all my new untouched books.) Or wait. Maybe I better start with swashbooking first ;-)


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