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BR 278: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

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Comments: A perspective changer.

Insights that resonated: 

(1) Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste” is a recent read that I’ve thought about a lot. It is fascinating to dig into the history of a place. I’ve had some insight into the institution of slavery in the United States. But, there’s nothing like the kind of insight a seasoned reporter brings.

It was particularly powerful for me as she draws parallels to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany and the treatment of Dalits in India. She makes the case that calling this “racism” is a simplification. Caste systems go deeper than that.

Stories about caste in India always sadden me. That’s not just because of the heartbreaking stories. They remind me of our collective stupidity and our unwillingness to learn from experience.

Most Indians – regardless of caste – were treated horribly by the British during the years of the British occupation. And, yet, despite all the shared humanity that helped us get through that experience, we didn’t take those lessons forward.

(2) While Isabel Wilkerson focuses on these 3 caste systems, the truth is that caste exists everywhere. Just like other popular western exports, a caste-like hierarchy based on skin color has become the most popular kind around the world. But, there are other systems too. When I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 months, the dominant caste was Muslim for example. And, if you’ve traveled around the world without a western passport, the global immigration system will never fail to remind you about the importance of the color of your passport, your accent, and the color of your skin.

(3) At its heart, caste systems are about pecking order. We attempt to establish pecking orders wherever we go. Then, we go to crazy extents to maintain them.

This isn’t just true about nations. It is true about any human group. It is likely such pecking orders exist where we work – some function is the equivalent of the “dominant caste” and does all it can to preserve its status.

(4) It is hard to empathize with groups below the pecking order if you haven’t been there. That’s part of the human condition too. Reading stories in Isabel Wilkerson’s book is one thing. Experiencing it every day is another.

We live in the San Francisco Bay Area. This place likely has more immigrants per square foot than most places on the planet. And, yet, even in a place where we are not the lone outsiders, we experience situations that remind us of our status in the hierarchy.

This week, it was getting honked and told to “get out of the way” in a parking lot as we were unloading our bikes and kids. Last week, it was being told what to do in a car wash. We have a long catalog of these experiences. It is nearly always an older white/caucasian man who assumes he has the authority to tell us what we should do and how we should behave.

If this is our experience in the Bay Area, I can only begin to imagine the daily slights many others who are lower in the hierarchy experience. It is enough to drive you crazy.

And, yes, the frequency and intensity of these daily slights have likely gone down – on average – in the past decades. But, they’re still around.

(5) It takes a lot to see through false narratives of those who seek to use it for their gain. As Seth beautifully described, identity is often used against us.

We can hope for mature responses from time to time (this one warmed my heart).

But, I don’t see any way out of pecking orders and caste system. I think it is a side effect of our fallibility.

(6) While I don’t believe we’ll ever live in a world without arbitrary hierarchies, I do hope for progress toward that ideal. In a few years, the US will have as much of its history without slavery being legal as it spent with that institution.

I hope we’ll cross many more such milestones and move closer to a world where we spend more time thinking about what we have in common vs. what is different. Over time, maybe we’ll extend that to the plants and animals we’re blessed to share this space with. Before it is too late – at any rate.

The only way that will happen though is if we construct the kind of society that doesn’t gloss over our past. Our history is full of bloody wars and cruelty toward each other for arbitrary reasons. We have much to learn from all that bloodshed and suffering.

The more time we spend understanding our past, the more we will be able to understand the imperfections in our culture/community/country in the present.

No culture or country is perfect.

The problem is when we think we are.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Money · Technology

BR 276: On the clock by Emily Guendelsberger

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Comments: Emily G spent 2 months each in an Amazon warehouse, an AT&T/Convergys call center, and a McDonalds and compiled her experiences and observations in a fantastic book.

Insights that resonated: The one idea that I kept coming back to was a recognition of the privilege in my life. I get to get a steady paycheck solving puzzles that are sometimes challenge, occasionally difficult, but never hard. However, the average hourly worker’s life is the exact opposite – an unsteady paycheck and a hard job.

There are many memorable anecdotes that will stay with me – customers throwing coffee and sauce at McDonalds, getting hourly pay deducted for a bathroom break at Convergys, chugging free pain medication at Amazon, Amazon colleagues doing a DIY root canal at home to avoid missing work and paying a dentist, among others.

It made me ponder the effects of global trade and technology while also considering the possibility of Universal Basic Income.

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.