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BR 170: How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams,

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

Comments: I debated about whether this should be a priority 1 or priority 2 book. I went with priority 1 because I think this book mixes personal experience with provocative ideas and a solid collection of “good life” principles that I’ve found true. I also love (and try living by) Scott’s experimentation based approach to life.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Goals are for losers. Focus on building systems that will last. E.g. instead of trying to lose 10 pounds in 6 months, focus on building a system of exercising 3 times every week.

2. Collect skills like a crazy person. Every skill you collect doubles your chances of success. Greatness is often a collection of mediocre skills.

3. Experiment away your way to a great life. Failure is an important part of experimentation

Book notes here

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BR 168: Mastery by Robert Greene

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Comments: A Robert Greene masterclass. Lovely mix of biographical stories wrapped within a compelling framework. A lot of the stuff isn’t new. But, the combination is potent.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Mastery is a culmination of years of intense deep work. There is no easy way.

2. Apprenticeship is both awesome and dangerous. On the one hand, your learning curve speeds up with great mentors. However, very few mentors turn out to be large minded enough to “let go” – it is the typical bad parent problem all over again

3. Developing emotional intelligence is a useful tool to make sure your mastery gets the credit it deserves. This section spoke to me. I assumed I had high EI but had learnt from a relationship that that wasn’t the case. This chapter taught me one simple but critical lesson – stop listening to what people say. Instead, listen to what they do.

Book notes here

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BR 167: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

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Comments: If you have any interest in technology whatsoever, this book is a must read. Awesome awesome 140 odd year journey starting from when Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace conceptualized the modern computer.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. History favors writing about the individual but great innovations were always made by teams that worked incredibly well with each other.. and almost always built upon the good work done by many others.

2. A collection technology change makers have been at the intersection of the arts and sciences (e.g. Steve Jobs). The big learning here is that diversity of skills, interests, etc., are really productive. The greatest tech innovations have come about when diverse minds came together.

3. Artificial intelligence has always been two decades away.. (;-))

Book notes here

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BR 157: Mandela’s Way by Richard Stengel

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Comments: A nice read on Nelson Mandela’s life. I took away a few nice stories and the quote – “courage is not the absence of fear but the realization that there are things more important than fear.” Mandela really lived that quote.

I was hoping for more depth, however..

Top 3 Learnings: 

1. Mandela really had to change with the times. He was a revolutionary of sorts at first and, as he grew, he became the peacemaker. His 26 years in prison were fundamental to that change..

2. He repeatedly demonstrates the power of choice. He even alienated those who supported him by adopting a peaceful political stance following his release (which was negotiated in fairly contentious circumstances). He chose not to lead with anger.. and what a great choice that turned out to be.

3. Mandela always was a charismatic change maker. He had his way even in prison – that leadership streak never left him. As he matured, he just chose to channel it differently. Once he’d made that decision, however, he put in extraordinary effort to make it happen. For example, he learnt Afrikaans to understand his then-enemy and made friends with the guards. In doing so, he expanded his capacity to understand people differently. He no longer saw his captors as the enemy. Instead, he realized they were men just like him and understood where they came from. He went on to embrace their sport – Rugby – and used the world cup to unite the country in 1995 (Cue: The movie Invictus).

Book notes here.

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BR 151: Things a Little Bird Told Me by Biz Stone

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Comments: This book is another one of those really good books I’d recommend to anyone interested in technology. This is Biz Stone’s story and thus, in large part, his narration of important parts of the Twitter story.

It feels sincere and heartfelt and, that is, from what I’ve heard, what Biz Stone is all about.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Opportunity is manufactured. As Biz Stone did not train in the traditional sports, he was well behind sporting level in his high school. As he really wanted to play sports, he started a high school lacrosse team. Since everyone who signed up was a beginner, he was on a level playing field and  had a great time.

2. Constraints are great. When Steven Spielberg was shooting jaws, he wanted to create a realistic model of a shark so they could film it attacking people for all the scary scenes. However, this was going to be very expensive and beyond their budget. Faced with this constraint, Spielberg had a new low budget idea – shoot it from the point of view of the shark under water.  And guess what? Way scarier!

Twitter did well with constraints as well, of course. :)

3. Pick opportunities based on what inspires you. Biz Stone lives this idea. He left university because he got an inspiring opportunity to apprentice in a creative agency. He then left Google even though he had millions of dollars worth of stock options to vest because he wanted to continue working with his former boss and friend, Evan Williams. It’s a great story and it obviously works out for him. But, the thing to note is his incessant positivity and his habit of zeroing on the things that really matter.

Book notes here.

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BR 147: Alex Ferguson – The Autobiography by Alex Ferguson

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Comments: For some reason, Sir Alex Ferguson fell a bit in my opinion after reading this book. I am still in awe of the man’s ability and achievements and the relentless spirit that he possesses like many greats to keep winning. However, I felt like this book contained one too many pot-shots at ex-players, e.g. Roy Keane. While he asserts a couple of times that he doesn’t carry grudges, his actions seem to say otherwise.

No doubt an incredible manager who will go down as one of the greatest ever. I think he would have gone down as THE greatest ever if he had won another European cup.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Pay attention to the little things. Ferguson and the United staff always paid detailed attention to a potential new signing’s family background, attitude, reputation and mental make up. He believed these signs were a very useful sign of success aside from what the player did on the field.

2. Focus on the infrastructure. Fergie invested incessantly into the United infrastructure – the youth team, the training facility, the medical facility, etc. These undoubtedly set the stage for generations of success.

3. Change is the only constant. He is one of those who truly understood the meaning of “what got you here won’t get you there.” Football teams work in cycles and he ensured he was constantly and proactively bringing change about. He was relentless – both after victory or defeat.

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BR 143: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

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Comments: A very powerful insight into the one of the greatest entrepreneurs of this generation. It is symbolic that Bezos wanted to call Amazon “Relentless.com” because that is exactly what he is – relentless. Incredibly smart, incredibly driven, incredibly well read, and incredibly determined – a one in a billion combination.

A very inspiring story – there is a lot to learn from this book and from Bezos’ studied and researched style. I loved it. Must read for anybody interested in technology.

Top 3 Learnings
1. Bezos banned PowerPoint in Amazon’s meetings. Instead, he uses 1-6 page memos called narratives. He believes people can hide behind bullet points but it is impossible to not have clarity of thought if you are forced to write full sentences. He is absolutely right, of course. I’ve been using narratives in various projects and it means more thorough preparation than ever before.

2. As Bezos’ grandfather once taught him, it is harder to be kind than clever.

3. This learning isn’t so much from the book as much as it is as a synthesis on the man. The description that comes to mind when I think of is Bezos is “driven learning machine.” Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Larry Page are examples. What’s amazing about these people is, aside from their penchant for learning, they are not afraid to take very big swings. It’s an awe inspiring combination and is a reminder that success isn’t a flash in the pan. As they illustrate, it’s a habit.

Book notes here

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BR 142: Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

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Comments: If you love technology, you will find this book very interesting. It felt a bit gossip-y in that it focused a lot more on the dynamics of a handful of people who were responsible in building Twitter. You come to learn how Twitter nearly imploded multiple times but, against the odds, survived to change the world.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. A strong board of directors is a key in every company as in life. It is very important to have people who have a long term interest in you who are then willing to call bullshit on your decisions and occasionally, guide you to move to a better place.

2. Complexity, conflict, clash of egos, etc., are not the words that come to mind when you think of the glory of a start-up’s journey to success. They’re part and parcel of the journey, however. And, it is worth remembering that no good comes without significant pain and learning. The book explores the path of these multi millionaires who all learnt some very tough life lessons in the process.

3. Twitter was founded by a bunch of geeks who saw it as a way of connecting with people. These weren’t people with strong social bonds or relationships. They understood the power of technology in helping people like themselves find connection. I thought it interesting that Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in the process of getting back at the girlfriend who dumped him. Scratching your own itch is a very powerful reason to build a company that changes the world.

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Philosophy · Psychology

BR 119: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor.E.Frankl

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Comments: Man’s search for meaning is as sincere and heartfelt a book you will find. It’s one of those books that is a must read simply because it teaches us what it means to be human.

The story details the experiences of Dr Frankl in Nazi concentration camps and his observations about life and the importance of meaning.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. We are often told that the essence of life is the pursuit of happiness. Frankl’s experiences taught him otherwise. In his experience, it’s meaning that makes life worth living..

2. There is an incredible paragraph on love by Viktor Frankl. It’s one of those that reminds us of the importance of love in this world, and the special place it holds in our life.

3. Success and happiness will ensue if we keep doing the right things. At the end of the day, we will be successful only because we forgot to think about it. Here’s the link to that incredible paragraph.

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BR 107: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

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Comments: I am fast becoming a Michael Lewis fan. I loved the 2 movies his books inspired ‘The Moneyball’ and his fantastic article on Vanity Fair detailing the Irish bubble. ‘The Big Short’ was recommended to me by a colleague as a great book on the financial crisis.

This book takes a look at the unique characters who actually saw the collapse of the financial system coming and details the trials, tribulations and change they went through before and after the crisis.

Great book. A Dan Brown-esque page turner for those with an interest in understanding how we got to the biggest financial crisis since the great depression.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. ‘There is a fine line that divides investing and gambling.’ Not a new learning but the whole book’s essential synthesis was re-learning this concept.

2. The concept of rating agencies like S&P, Moody’s, Fitch and the like are broken. They are easily fooled by the smarter investment bankers far too often.

3. It’s amazing how badly broken the financial system was/is. When we pause for a moment, the financial system doesn’t really create anything. Yet, it accounted for 40% of the US economy in 2007. Banks essentially went from organizations that helped provide capital to businesses to profit generation machines. Sprinkle generous amounts of greed and take away any sense of principles/values from the dish and you can see the recipee for disaster.

And one more..

4. It’s amazing how each of the ‘outliers’ who actually saw the crisis coming was, by all accounts, a weirdo in his own right. Even the smartest people out there drank their own kool aid and got deluded in the mass hysteria.