1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · History · Money

BR 269: Debt by David Graeber

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: There are a few special books that change our perspective by telling us the story of our past. “A Splendid Exchange” and “Guns, Germs, and Steel” do so from the lens of trade and conquest. “The Accidental Superpower” views the past from the lens of changing superpowers. “Sapiens” does so from the lens of human evolution. And, “Debt” does so from the lens of… well.. debt.

With every one of these books, we may not agree with everything the author says. That’s expected when you’re attempting to synthesize thousands of years of human history. But, these books are worth reading because understanding what came before us helps put into context what we’re experiencing today.

And, every once in a while, they also helps provide clues about what might lie ahead. History doesn’t repeat but it often rhymes.

Insights that resonated: 

1. The notion that money began because of barter is a myth. Barter is simply a logical sounding story made up by economists. To understand money, we need to look at credit/debt.

2. It is fascinating how there were similar arcs of progress in different places around the world. As different as these people and places were, there were still strong similarities in the way civilization progressed.

3. While luck plays a massive role in our lives (determines ~70% of our outcomes by my estimation) today, that role was even arguably larger (>90%) in the past. If you were born in the wrong family, you were stuck, screwed, or likely to die a brutal death.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Fiction

BR 268: Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Ender’s Game from the point-of-view of Bean. If you haven’t read Ender’s Game, I’d start there. If you have and liked it, you’re likely to love this too.

Insights that resonated: None – just an engaging read. :-)

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Fiction

BR 265-267: The Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Growing up as a Hindu in India, I listened to many fascinating mythological tales with supernatural beings, incredible powers, and such. This work of fiction aims to make sense of it all with a fascinating and believable tale. Very well crafted.

Insights that resonated:

1. The central insight was about the importance of being as principled as possible. That, in turn, means striving to apply those principles 100% of the time. There were many cases where the hero (Shiva) had a strong cause to bend the rules or make exceptions. But, he refused to do so – winning the respect of his followers as a result.

2. Provide the framework for discussion and let people arrive at solutions themselves.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Management · Technology

BR 264: No Rules Rules by Erin Meyer and Reed Hastings

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: A helpful insight into Netflix’s culture – which is unique even by Silicon valley standards.

Insights that resonated:

1. Optimize for high talent density and attract + retain this talent by paying top-of-market. Do this in cash – not with bonuses, RSUs, etc. There are thus no stock cliffs at Netflix – it is the manager’s duty to keep ensuring the employee is continually paid top-of-market. Employees are encouraged to do their own research as well – e.g. interview elsewhere and come back with a competing offer to ensure the manager has the right data.

2. Netflix is a high performing sports team, not a family. One practice that drives this hope is “the keeper test.” Every 6 months to a year, every employee is encouraged to ask their manager – “if I had an offer to leave Netflix, would you fight to keep me?” If the answer is yes, all is well. If no, then the employee is paid a generous severance. If in between, it is a chance to receive helpful constructive feedback and course correct. It helps that this is not done in isolation – candid feedback is a big feature of the culture at Netflix.

(I’ve thought about this practice a bunch since and think it would be helpful across companies with different cultures.)

3. After optimizing for high talent density, provide near complete freedom and responsibility for creative roles – no control processes (e.g. expense, procurement, etc.) and complete decision making power. This comes with the responsibility to do the right thing for Netflix.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Money · Psychology

BR 263: Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

Category: 2 – BUY it! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: This is an interesting book because it isn’t about how to invest or how to think about money. Instead, I describe it as a book that is about how to think about thinking about money. It is a collection of stories and anecdotes that you’ve likely heard of before and that provide food for thought. And, it can either be a light heavy read depending on how you’re feeling.

I walked away with a list of questions that I intend to work through in the coming days. It made me think. And, for that I’m grateful.

Insights that resonated:

1. Our savings = Our earnings – Cost of essentials – Cost of our ego (all expenses related to looking good)

2. Manage your money in a way that helps you sleep well at night. 

3. Luck and risk in complex systems explain outcomes better than deliberate action. Respect them. Then do what you control. 

4. The key with compounding is to not interrupt it. 99% of Warren Buffett’s net worth came after his 50th birthday, and 97% came after he turned 65.

5. Luck and risk in complex systems explain outcomes better than deliberate action. Respect them. Then do what you control. 

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Leadership · Management

BR 262: Team of Teams by Stanley McChrystal

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: I enjoyed reading this book. General McChrystal starts out with a lofty aim – to prove that he had a better approach to management than the traditional hierarchical org chart. I’ve read a few books that have attempted to propose better alternatives. This one sounded the most promising based on his experiences leading the Special Ops force against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

This would be a category 2 book (“Buy it!”) if you’re interested in management and/or the military.

Insights that resonated:

1. Focus on leverage instead of efficiency.

2. My summary of what I took away below –

I read “Team of Teams” by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and co. recently. The book makes the case that rigid organization structures – the legacy of the assembly line – need to be replaced by a more flexible model – a “Team of Teams.”

The book makes the case that rigid organization structures may have worked in a world where we dealt with complicated problems. But, they don’t work in today’s world characterized by complex interactions and rapid technological changes. And, it is inspired by the experiences of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s experiences leading the Joint Special Operations Command against Al Qaeda in Iraq.

I was skeptical as this is a topic many have attempted to tackle with limited success. But, the book came highly recommended and I think it justified the recommendation. I was positively surprised at the clarity of thought and found it applicable.

The book makes 3 recommendations to move from rigid organization structures to to a “Team of Teams” –

1) Shared consciousness: Replace attempts at blocking information based on access and seniority and embrace broad and open sharing of as much information as possible. The more shared the context, the better everyone on the ground will be able to operate.

2) Decentralize decision making: Once you’ve provided the context, enable folks on the ground to make decisions and strategic calls. They likely have more information than their leaders and any attempt at gaining approval will slow people down.

3) Gardener leaders instead of chess players: Rigid organization structures invoke the image of leadership as skilled chess players. They concoct amazing strategy and the pawns on the ground follow orders. In a team of teams, leaders act more like gardeners – tending to the system and organizational culture – and enable teams to be quick and decisive.

Management systems are hard to change. The assembly line model, as an example, has stuck around for more than a century. But, the book does a good job explaining that the days of celebrating efficiency are over.

We need to spend more time thinking about effectiveness and leverage.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Philosophy · Psychology

BR 261: Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Fooled by Randomness is classic Nassim Taleb in that it is insightful and provocative. It just didn’t hit the heights of “Skin in the Game” in terms of what I took away. Perhaps it is because I had given a lot more thought to the role of chance in our lives – the topic of this book.

Insights that resonated:

1. We habitually underestimate the role of chance in our lives.

2. On randomness and stoicism.

“Having control over randomness can be expressed in the manner in which one acts in the small and the large. Recall that epic heroes were judged by their actions, not by the results.

No matter how sophisticated our choices, how good we are at dominating the odds, randomness will have the last word. There is nothing wrong and undignified with emotions—we are cut to have them. What is wrong is not following the heroic or, at least, the dignified path.

That is what stoicism truly means. It is the attempt by man to get even with probability. Stoicism has rather little to do with the stiff-upper-lip notion that we believe it means. The stoic is a person who combines the qualities of wisdom, upright dealing, and courage. The stoic will thus be immune from life’s gyrations as he will be superior to the wounds from some of life’s dirty tricks.”

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Leadership · Management

BR 260: What You Do is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: There’s a lot to like about Ben Horowitz’s book on culture. His first book was just a tough act to follow.

Insights that resonated:

1. Culture – what you do is who you are.

2. Choose virtues instead of values -> Values are what we believe. Virtues are beliefs that we pursue or embody.

3. The amount of communication required in a relationship is inversely proportional to the amount of trust in it.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Leadership · Management · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology · Skills

BR 259: The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: I think this book is a good place to start if it is one of the first books you read about leadership and culture. Dan Coyle pieces together many wise notes – the importance of vulnerability, psychological safety, sharing appreciation, etc. – with a collection of good stories. It just didn’t work for me.

Insights that resonated: Trust in a team is proportional to psychological safety.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Entrepreneurship · Leadership · Self Improvement

BR 258: Reboot by Jerry Colonna

Category: 2 – BUY it! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: This isn’t a “how to” lead book. It is a “here’s what leading technology companies looks like” from the perspective of a CEO coach. This book will resonate a lot more with you if you have an interest in tech start-ups. For everyone else, it may be a category 3 (“shelf it” for later book). I still believe it is one of those that you have to include on your bookshelf because I believe the central premise of the book is important – better humans make better leaders.

Insights that resonated:

1. Better humans make better leaders.

2. Heartbreak is universal. True grit is not only having your heart broken – but it is also managing to keep that heart open despite the losses.

3. What if being lost is part of the path? What if we are supposed to tack across the surface of the lake, sailing into the wind instead of wishing it was only at our backs? What if feeling lost, directionless, and uncertain of the progress is an indicator of growth? What if it means you’re exactly where you need to be, on the pathless path?

4. I took a few writing courses in college. The extraordinary poet Marie Ponsot would talk about the crow sitting on your shoulder saying things like: “That sucks,” ”How could you write that?” and “Are you kidding me?”

Diminutive, chain-smoking Marie would jut her tobacco-stained finger into the air, punctuating every word: Shoot. The. Damn. Crow.

5. One day, the Tibetan teacher Milarepa left his cave to gather firewood. When he returned, he found that his cave had been taken over by demons. There were demons everywhere!

His first thought upon seeing them was, “I have got to get rid of them!” He lunges toward them, chasing after them, trying forcefully to get them out of his cave. But the demons are completely unfazed. In fact, the more he chases them, the more comfortable and settled-in they seem to be.

Realizing that his efforts to run them out have failed miserably, Milarepa opts for a new approach and decides to teach them the dharma. If chasing them out won’t work, then maybe hearing the teachings will change their minds and get them to go. So he takes his seat and begins teaching about existence and nonexistence, compassion and kindness, the nature of impermanence.

After a while he looks around and realizes all the demons are still there. They simply stare at him with their huge bulging eyes; not a single one is leaving.

At this point Milarepa lets out a deep breath of surrender, knowing now that these demons will not be manipulated into leaving and that maybe he has something to learn from them. He looks deeply into the eyes of each demon and bows, saying, “It looks like we’re going to be here together. I open myself to whatever you have to teach me.”

In that moment all the demons but one disappear. One huge and especially fierce demon, with flaring nostrils and dripping fangs, is still there.

So Milarepa lets go even further. Stepping over to the largest demon, he offers himself completely, holding nothing back. “Eat me if you wish.” He places his head in the demon’s mouth, and at that moment the largest demon bows low and dissolves into space.


When dealing with the toughest challenges – the kind that involves the demons inside of us – brute force turns out to be a blunt instrument. Acceptance, kindness, and a willingness to open our hearts and minds to the learning ahead of us enable us to make the progress we seek.