3. SHELF it · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology · Sales

BR 289: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

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Comments: Will makes 2 simple points – (1) storytelling makes us human and (2) all story arcs rhyme with the hero’s journey. Use it to tell your stories better.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) “We organize much of our lives around reassuring ourselves about the accuracy of the hallucinated model world inside our skulls.”

(2) The 5 part story arc is: (i) Introduce hero with a system of control, (ii) Hero sees evidence that system of control doesn’t work, (iii) Hero is challenged significantly, (iv) Hero faces a reckoning, (v) Hero emerges changed and in control.

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies

BR 288: Will by Will Smith, Mark Manson

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Comments: My book of the year. Raw, vulnerable, thoughtful, and insightful.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) Internal confidence comes from insight and proficiency”

(2) “It is easy to be a good student when you know your teachers love you.”

(3) Will’s success as a rapper, then television actor, and then movie star had all the ups, downs, and challenges you’d expect. The common thread – outside of the usual doses of luck – was a sometimes-ridiculous amount of drive and grit. Will and his loyal team (many of whom have worked together for over 20 years) get an A for effort.

I also appreciated the refreshing honesty and vulnerability about his insecurities. The first few chapters of the book felt like it could have been written as an explanation to what might have driven that infamous Oscar slap.

I came away with many reflections about the nature of fame and success and the trade-offs that come with it.

3. SHELF it · Business · Leadership · Management · Technology

BR 286: Amp It Up by Frank Slootman

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Comments: An interesting insight into the psychology of a 3 x successful tech CEO – Kevin Slootman scaled Datadog, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) “Years ago, I used to hesitate and wait situations out, often trying to fix underperforming people or products instead of pulling the plug. Back then I was seen as a much more reasonable and thoughtful leader — but that didn’t mean I was right. As I got more experience, I realized that I was often just wasting everybody’s time. If we knew that something or someone wasn’t working, why wait? As the saying goes, when there is doubt, there is no doubt.

(2) There’s a lot of upside to be unlocked by just being operationally excellent. Build good strategy and then spend disproportionate amount of energy creating a great operational cadence that helps your team/organization execute well.

2. BUY it! · Business · Psychology · Skills

BR 287: Making Numbers Count by Chip Heath and Karla Starr

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Comments: Another Heath Brothers classic – interesting research put masterfully together to make a simple point -> take the time to think about how we use numbers to make a point. There’s a lot of upside to getting it right.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) A million seconds is 12 days from now. A billion seconds?

32 years.

That difference surprised me as it wasn’t what I expected. A billion is significantly bigger than I had imagined.

We don’t have an intuitive understanding of big numbers. The implication is that we need to make the effort to always put numbers in context for the people we’re presenting to.

(2) Some “translations” that resonated:

The fastest human, Usain Bolt, would be beaten in a 100m dash by a Rhino by 2s and would be close to a Chimpanzee. he wouldn’t be close to a Cheetah or an Ostrich.

If cows were a country, they’d be #4 in Carbon emissions. They emit more than Saudi Arabia or Australia.

Apple market cap wealth is greater than 150 out of 171 countries. (or at least was – until recently :-))

If California were a country, it’s GDP would be more than all but 5 countries in the world.

Six sigma is 3.4 defects per millions. That means baking 2 decent chocolate chip cookies every day and going 37 years before baking one without a defect.

If everyone ate as much meat as a person in America, we would need to use every bit of land on the planet and add an extra Africa and Australia to meet the demand 

Imagine your (US) tax payment is visualized as employment over the course of a year. It would mean working 2 weeks for social security, 2 weeks for Medicare and Medicaid, 5 days on national debt, 1.5 weeks for Defence, then most of the rest of the year would be government payroll, 6 hours for “SNAP” (Nutrition assistance), 12 minutes to National Parks, and 2 mins to NASA.

Translations make abstract numbers accessible.

(3) Florence Nightingale was a data wizard (more in the book ;-)).

3. SHELF it · Business · Design

BR 285: The Secret Lives of Customers by David Scott Duncan

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Comments: This book attempts to bring the idea of “Jobs to be done” to life with a story about a company that lost its way as it pursued hyper growth. It was an interesting read and one that I might come back to as I figure out how to apply “jobs to be done.”

Insights that resonated: 

(1) Customers hire our products to get specific jobs done – the more we understand these jobs, the more success we’ll find building the right solutions.

3. SHELF it · Psychology

BR 284: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman

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Comments: This was an interesting read with good ideas that occasionally felt a touch long. That said, I loved the fact that Oliver Burkeman wrote this to remind us of the brevity of life and the importance of saying no to things that don’t matter to make space for the things that do.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) “Consider all the technology intended to help us gain the upper hand over time: by any sane logic, in a world with dishwashers, microwaves, and jet engines, time ought to feel more expansive and abundant, thanks to all the hours freed up.

But this is nobody’s actual experience. Instead, life accelerates, and everyone grows more impatient. It’s somehow vastly more aggravating to wait two minutes for the microwave than two hours for the over – or ten seconds for a slow-loading web page versus three days to receive the same information by mail.”

(2) “The original Latin word for “decide”, decidere, means “to cut off,” as in slicing away alternatives; it’s a close cousin of words like “homicide” and “suicide.”

(3) “Some Zen Buddhists hold that the entirety of human suffering can be boiled down to this effort to resist paying full attention to the way things are going, because we wish they were going differently (“This shouldn’t be happening!”), or because we wish we felt more in control of the process.

There is a very down-to-earth kind of liberation in grasping that there are certain truths about being a limited human from which you’ll never be liberated. You don’t get to dictate the course of events. And the paradoxical reward for accepting reality’s constraints is that they no longer feel so constraining.”

(4) “The average human lifespan is absurdly, terrifyingly, insultingly short. But that isn’t a reason for unremitting despair, or for living in an anxiety-fueled panic about making the most of your limited time. It’s a cause for relief.

You get to give up on something that was always impossible – the quest to become the optimized, infinitely capable, emotionally invincible, fully independent person you’re officially supposed to be. Then you get to roll up your sleeves and start work on what’s gloriously possible instead.” 

(5) Robert Boice, a psychological professor, spent his career studying the writing habits of fellow academics.

His conclusion was that the most productive and successful among them made writing a smaller part of their daily routine than others. They wrote in brief daily sessions – sometimes as short as 10 minutes and never longer than 4 hours – and religiously took weekends off.

They cultivated the patience to tolerate the fact that they probably wouldn’t be producing very much on any given day, with the result that they produced much more over the long term.

2. BUY it! · Psychology · Relationships

BR 283: The Power of Regret by Dan Pink

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Comments: This is a classic Dan Pink book – well researched, extremely well structured, and chock full of thought provoking notes.

Insights that resonated: Dan recently shared a summary of the book in a few paragraphs in a short “graduation speech.” My cliff notes –

(1) Foundation regrets“The first of the big four regrets is what I call Foundation regrets. Foundation regrets emerge from small choices we make earlier in life that accumulate to negative consequences later in life.

We spend too much and save too little. We don’t eat right, sleep enough, or exercise
regularly. We apply only grudging effort on the job – or, yes, in the classroom”

“Foundation regrets sound like this: If only I’d done the work.”

(2) Boldness regrets“All regrets begin when we’re at a juncture. And with this category, the juncture presents a choice: Play it safe – or take the chance? And when we don’t take the chance – not all the time, but most of the time – we regret it.”

Boldness regrets sound like this: If only I’d taken the chance.

(3) Moral regrets“Once again, we’re at a juncture. We can take the high road
or we can take the low road. And when we choose what our conscience says is the wrong path, most of us – most of the time – regret it.

We hurt others. We break our word. We degrade what ought to be revered. And while at first the decision can feel fine – even exhilarating – before long it eats at us.”

“Moral regrets sound like this: If only I’d done the right thing.”

(4) Connection regrets“These are regrets about all the relationships in our lives. Partners. Parents. Children. Siblings. Cousins. Friends. Colleagues. Classmates.
A 45-year-old woman, from the District of Columbia, offered this: “My brother died
suddenly at forty-one. I regret not saying, ‘I love you,’ more.””

Connection regrets sound like this: If only I’d reached out.

(5) That brings us to the reverse image of a life well lived.

A decent foundation – enough stability so that life is not precarious. Boldness – a chance to learn and grow and do something meaningful during the vanishingly short time we’re alive. Morality – being good and decent and just. Connection – having people we love and who love us.

Or put differently.

Do the work.

Take the chance.

Do the right thing.

Reach out.

And ignore the rest.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Technology

BR 282: The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles C Mann

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Comments: I started reading The Wizard and the Prophet after reading this post on Seth’s blog. An excerpt:

Mann has given us a deeply researched narrative, a book that will change the way you see just about everything in the natural world and its relationship with humanity. It’s about an epic struggle and mostly, about our future.

It seems to be about two obscure characters of the 20th century, but it’s not. It’s about each of us and the tools we can choose to bring with us to the future. I found myself switching camps every few minutes.

Seth called it his book of the year. It is definitely up there on my list for the year too.

Charles Mann deconstructs some of the most important issues of our time – including food, water, and climate – and contrasts two approaches to tackling these problems.

The first is the school of sustainability built on the work of William Vogt that asserts that we need to consume less and be more mindful of ecological balance. And the second is the school of innovation built on the work of Norman Borlaug that focuses on innovation as the way out.

The book is incredible thanks to the way Charles Mann interweaves the story of these two men, the tussle between these schools of thought, and the complex challenges ahead of us on issues like food, water, and climate.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) There is no perfect strategy – there are only trade-offs. Both approaches bring trade-offs and there never has been or will be a perfect answer.

(2) When we deal with complex problems that don’t have clear answers, the middle path between the two approaches tends to be the way. That’s because taking the middle path helps us find the relative best of both approaches without necessarily attaching our identity to either.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Technology

BR 281: Amazon Unbound by Brad Stone

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Comments: Amazon Unbound is the follow up to Brad Stone’s excellent first book about Amazon – “The Everything Store.” It chronicles the growth of Amazon from incredible retailer to an all conquering conglomerate. A fascinating read for anyone interested in technology.

Insights that resonated: 
(1) “It has always seemed strange to me…The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” | John Steinbeck

An amazing starting quote.

(2) I was repeatedly blown away by Jeff Bezos’ propensity to invest in new and interesting bets. There are a number of occasions where his best and brightest share conversations with him that led to their deployment into a completely new and unproven bet. These bets went onto become billion dollar companies. But, the intentionality with which Bezos went after these – both in deploying high potential talent and staying close to it in the early days – was telling.

(3) The book drove home how much Amazon culture just resembles Jeff Bezos. The drive and intensity of the company mirrors Jeff’s drive and intensity.

(4) Brad also spent time on how wealth changed Jeff – leading eventually to the failure of his marriage. Extreme wealth and celebrity are very hard to handle.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Design · Psychology

BR 280: Competing against Luck by Clay Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, David Duncan

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Comments: Competing Against Luck is intended to be an introduction to the “Job to be done” framework. It was an interesting read – however, it was less sticky than I hoped.

Insights that resonated: 

How do you figure out the job to be done? It involves asking 5 questions –

  1. What progress is that person trying to achieve? (Functional, social, emotional)
  2. What are the circumstances of the struggle?
  3. What obstacles are getting in the way of the person making progress?
  4. Are consumers making do with imperfect solutions or cobbling together hacks?
  5. How would they define what quality means and what trade-offs are they willing to make?