1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Philosophy

BR 271: The Socrates Express by Eric Weiner

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Comments: Eric Weiner makes philosophy and great philosophers accessible. This book is a must read for anyone who is curious about the life and work of great philosophers. Eric brings together a witty travelogue, stories about the lives of great philosophers, a summary of their work, and insights about his attempts at applying their lessons. It changed how I thought about philosophy and philosophers – I’m grateful.

Insights that resonated: 

1. Nearly every great philosopher made their impact by sharing powerful observations about the world and the human condition. They had their own distinct style and approach to making these observations. Some did it with a lot of emotions, others with characteristic pessimism or self deprecation, and so on.

Socrates, however, was unique in only leaving behind a method. Socrates’ legacy isn’t about what he wrote. In fact, he wrote almost nothing. Everything we know about him is thanks to his student Plato,

His legacy, instead, is defined by his approach to thoughtful conversation – the “Socratic method” that relies on questions to spur critical thinking.

It is a powerful way to think about legacy. A legacy that is defined by the how instead of the what.

2. Stoics are not pessimists. They believe everything happens for a reason, the result of a thoroughly rational order. Unlike grumpy Schopenhauer, they believe we are living in the best of all possible worlds, the only possible world. Not only does the Stoic consider the glass half full; he finds it a miracle he has a glass at all—and isn’t it beautiful? He contemplates the demise of the glass, shattered into a hundred pieces. and appreciates it even more. He imagines life had he never owned the glass.
He imagines a friend’s glass breaking and the consolation he’d offer. He
shares his beautiful glass with others, for they, too, are part of the logos,
or rational order.

“Joyful Stoic” is not an oxymoron, says William Irvine, a professor
of philosophy at Wright State University and a practicing Stoic. He ex-
plains: “Our practice of Stoicism has made us susceptible to little out-
bursts of joy. We will, out of the blue, feel delighted to be the person we
are, living the life we are living, in the universe we happen to inhabit.” I
confess: that sounds appealing.

3. Adversity anticipated is adversity diminished

4. The sound of the true is drowned out by the noise of the new.

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

BR 269: Debt by David Graeber

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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.

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Leadership · Management

BR 254: The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger

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Comments: This book is to corporate leaders what “Shoe Dog” is to sports entrepreneurs and “The Hard Things About Hard Things” is to tech entrepreneurs. Surprisingly candid, incisive, and insightful. A phenomenal read – the sort of book that should be mandatory reading in every graduate school of business.

Top 3(+) Lessons: 

1. There’s a wonderful story about how Bob got Roy Disney to waive off a lawsuit against him early in the book. The lawsuit was a culmination of years of perceived slights and pent up frustration against the Disney board and leadership. Bob gave Roy the title of Chairman Emeritus, a small consulting fee, and an office at Disney. While folks criticized Bob for bending over to Roy’s demands, Bob shared that most people just want a bit of respect. And, in difficult situations, it is so important to not let our ego get in the way of that happening.

2. I love how straightforward Bob is through the course of the book. There is no false humility. He believed he deserved to be CEO, hated that he was made to go through the ringer for it, and made it count when he got the chance.

3. That said, he also demonstrated a lot of patience as he went through a series of changes and acquisitions before getting the job. He was 54 when he finally became CEO.. and, boy, did he make it count.

4. “Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. You may become the greatest manufacturer of trombone oil in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of trombone oil a year.”

5. There was an incredible anecdote about how he pulled the plug on the Twitter acquisition on the sunday before the deal was announced. “It just didn’t feel right” – he’d earned the right to trust his gut by then.

6. When faced with expected internal resistance about Disney+, he convinced the Board to change all executive bonus agreements to a rating decided by him on how much they were contributing to the shift to streaming. Another brave move.

 

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

BR 249: Alchemy by Rory Sutherland

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Comments: Book of the year. It’s impact on me was as follows – every time I hear someone say “that makes sense – should work” or something similar, I stop in my tracks and remind myself that things that the idea that things that make sense should work is a falsehood.” Alchemy has put in a reminder as strong as any that things that work don’t need to make sense and that a dash of alchemy is often what we need to solve problems. In that sense, its impact on me was profound.

Top 3 Lessons: 

1. The opposite of a good idea is often a good idea. The most successful supermarkets post recession were either really cheap or really expensive. Luxury brands work. So do mass market ubiquitous ones.

2. The Earl of Sandwich asked for a type of food that would allow him to eat without leaving the gambling table. The sandwich since has received mass adoption. But innovation happens at the edges. Not for the average user.

3. Why do we have reason? So many animals have survived just fine without it and evolution doesn’t plan for the future and predict reason will be necessary for us to send someone to the moon. One interesting theory is that we developed reason as a way of justifying our actions to others – a necessary investment in a legal and PR department in a highly social species.

It is honestly really hard to bring this down to a top 3.

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

BR 246: The Diet Myth by Tim Spector

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Comments: A must read. Tim Spector is a geneticist who does a fantastic job tackling the many myths that surround nutrition. This is a book I’ve recommended in every conversation about diet since.

Top 3 Lessons:

1. There is no perfect diet because it is an interaction between the person’s gut microbes and the food. Everyone reacts to different things differently.

2. Focus on natural, plant based, foods, Milk and food with living bacteria (yoghurt, cheeses), etc., are recommended. You won’t go wrong with diet that worked for your grandmother. Everything is best in moderation.

3. Avoid artificial/synthesized food, vitamins, and antibiotics.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Fiction · Technology

BR 239: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Comments: Ready Player One was a fun and riveting read that I’m sure I’m going to revisit. The book has a lot of references to 80s pop culture that I didn’t get – it still was that good. Great fiction transports you to a different world – and, as I was reading Ready Player One, I felt fully immersed in the world created by Gregarious Simulation Systems.

It changed my point of view on Virtual Reality from a skeptic to someone who believes it is likely to change how we think of life on this planet. It also inspired me to read more fiction.

1. Read ASAP! · Career · Leadership · Management · Self Improvement

BR 237: Great at Work by Morten Hansen

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Comments: Morten Hansen kicks this book off sharing that he thinks of this book as the work accompaniment of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (he also has 7 work principles). As someone who thinks of the 7 Habits as the best book I’ve read, this is a bold claim. But, and here’s the best part, his book lives up. I found it insightful, useful, and applicable. This book was part of my end-of-year reflection and will be a big part of my “get better” themes for 2019. And, it is a book I wish I had when I started my career.

First 3 principles:

  1. “Do less, then obsess.” In sharing the difference between the South pole expeditions of Robert Scott and Ronald Amundsen, Morten Hansen makes an interesting point on focus. Amundsen focused completely on one form of transportation – dogs – while Robert Scott struggled with five.
  2. “Redesign your work for value.” Cutting priorities isn’t enough. We need to obsess about value. Value = Benefits to others x effectiveness x efficiency.
  3. “Passion + Purpose.” Purpose is when you make valuable contributions to others or society that you find meaningful and doesn’t do harm. Purpose asks what can I contribute while passion asks the opposite. Match both.

Every principle resonated.

1. Read ASAP! · Career · Marketing · Skills

BR 236: This is Marketing by Seth Godin

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Comments: “Marketers help drive change for the people they serve. Change happens with trust and tension.” All of Seth’s work drives home a few vital points – if we seek to drive change for people we serve, we are marketers. And, in the long run, our ability to be good marketers comes from consistently acting in a way that wins trust. And, we win trust by behaving in a trustworthy manner in whatever we do.

In many ways, Seth’s book was a “1 – Read ASAP” before it even showed up at my table because Seth has won my trust through years of daily writing on his excellent blog. His brand shines through. I expected it to change how I think about marketing.. and it did.

Finally, in the spirit of being targeted at an audience, this book is for fans of Seth’s blog. And, it delivers if you are one. :)

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. The famous adage about people buying a hole versus a drill still misses the point. People don’t buy the hole, they buy the shelf, cleanliness, and eventually the satisfaction of being clean. People buy experiences.
  2. The symbols and logos you use are part of your brand – a set of expectations. Brand is a set of associations that people care about.Direct marketing involves measuring everything. Brand doesn’t. Refuse to measure brand marketing – you should only do it if you are willing to be consistent and patient.People associate frequency with trust. Don’t change ads or what you’re communicating when you are tired. :) (Question for myself – what is my brand? What are the consistent messages?)
  3. In the 1960s, legendary salesman and coach Zig Ziglar used to sell pots and pans. The standard approach for a salesperson at the time was to hit a new town, sell as many pots and pans over the course of a day, and drive out to the next one. However, Zig did it differently. When he picked a town, he moved in for a few weeks. He made sure he got the early adopters his colleagues got on day one. But, then, he stayed long enough to make friends, organize dinners, and get to know the community. As his behavior was so unusual, he began winning the trust of the folks on the other side of the chasm until he’d successfully sold his wares to anyone in the town who had a need for them. The magic of Zig’s approach was to intentionally commit to being patient to make the change he sought to make.
1. Read ASAP! · Career · Leadership · Parenting · Psychology · Relationships · Self Improvement · Skills

BR 233: Non violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg

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Comments: Simple, profound, life changing. Someone I know describes this as “algebra” for communication – a must read for anyone who communicates (i.e. all of us). I think that’s a great description. Putting this book to action will be my top focus in 2019.

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. Keeping observation and evaluation separate in our thinking and communication is one of the hardest things to do. There’s a time to observe and a time to evaluate – almost never a good idea to do both at the same time.Words like always and never communicate evaluation. Communicating observations can be powerful.
  2. I feel is often misused when we use it so say things we think. “I feel I’ve been mistreated” or I feel misunderstood or I feel you..
  3. We don’t know how to communicate needs. :) empathic listening is all about listening to feelings and needs.
1. Read ASAP! · History · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology

BR 230: Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb

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Comments: Albert Wenger has a great post explaining why you should read “Skin in the Game” that sums up my thoughts. Nassim Taleb is a brilliant jerk and it comes through in the book. There are moments of brilliance that make it well worth the experience and then there are moments when you are left shaking your head at his desire to pick fights and insult people for the sake of doing so. Albert also makes a great point at the end about reading books from folks we may not always agree with – “This is a good moment to point out that we should all seek out writers with whom we disagree at least some of the time. If we only read books by authors where we agree with every one of their tweets, why bother? What are we expecting to learn? Too many times we are letting our emotional reaction to something an author has said or done stand in the way of engaging with their arguments. Taleb certainly provokes a strong reaction at times, but by all means read “Skin in the Game” nonetheless.”

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. When someone says it is good for you when it is also good for them and when they don’t face downside, it isn’t good for you.
  2. Better fences make better neighbors. It is easier for people to like each other as neighbors than roommates. Interventionists keep trying to get people to not act sectarian when being sectarian is in our nature. Better to use that to keep groups and design systems that encourage us to work with each other. (Powerful implications in management and life)
  3. Loss aversion doesn’t exist (big statement!). The flaw in psychology papers is to believe that the subject doesn’t take any other tail risks anywhere outside the experiment and will never take tail risks again. The idea of “loss aversion” have not been thought through properly –it is not measurable the way it has been measured (if at all mesasurable). Say you ask a subject how much he would pay to insure a 1% probability of losing $100. You are trying to figure out how much he is “overpaying” for “risk aversion” or something even more stupid, “loss aversion”. But you cannot possibly ignore all the other present and future financial risks he will be taking. You need to figure out other risks in the real world: if he has a car outside that can be scratched, if he has a financial portfolio that can lose money, if he has a bakery that may risk a fine, if he has a child in college who may cost unexpectedly more, if he can be laid off. All these risks add up and the attitude of the subject reflects them all. Ruin is indivisible and invariant to the source of randomness that may cause it.