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BR 107: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

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

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.

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BR 101: Screw It, Let’s Do It by Richard Branson

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

Comments: A good book that gives great insight into the personality of one of the iconic businessmen of our time.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Entrepreneurship begins with initiative and a deep deep desire to take action and change things.

2. The most important leadership trait – authenticity. You can only be yourself. Be the best possible version..

3. When attempting to change things, a general irreverence helps a great deal. And a great support system (family and friends) to support you when you fail is vital because the irreverence regularly results in steep falls!

Good book. Definitely worth a read..

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BR 96: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

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

Comments: This book tells the story of one of the greatest entrepreneurs of this generation complete with the many ups and downs that were part of the journey. It helped me understand what made Jobs the man he was and gave me tons of learnings along the way.

Top 3 Learnings:

I learnt that the best way to learn from books about great men is to understand their strengths. Here is a list of strengths I feel Steve GOT –

1. Relentless strength focus (resulted in someone who was not balanced by any stretch of the imagination. But bloody good at what he did.)

2. Focus on top performers – Johnny Ives is a great example. The moment he discovered Ives, he made sure Ives reported to him directly!

3. Intersection of technology and creativity – This, of course, was his speciality.

4. Balance between design and engineering – Concurrent designing and engineering meant that the teams worked with each other. And, unlike other CEO’s, he gave Design first priority over engineering!

5. Shipping – All his greatest projects involved some amount of rework. But, when they shipped, they were generally perfect!

6. Simplification and simplicity – One button on the iPhone. What more can I say?

7. Finding great talent – From Wozniak and Lasseter to Ives and Cook. A great talent spotter.

8. Understanding Technology and Art. “Art takes discipline and technology takes creativity”

9. Marketing IS the product. All his products had their marketing built in. He cared. And it showed.

10. Negotiation – I’m unsure if anyone else would have been capable of single handedly disrupting the music industry. And let’s not forget his negotiations with Disney.

11. Showmanship. In this, he was probably without peer.

12. Marketing – He learnt a lesson early from his mentor Mike Markula. A great brand must impute i.e. demonstrate it’s greatness in everything it did.

13. Understood  natural materials – Really understood the intricacies of metal, plastic and glass and applied it on the iPod, the iMac, the iPhone and in all the Apple Stores.

14. Importance of Environment – His workplaces had to be well designed. They had to present fantastic collaborative working environments. See NEXT, Pixar and the new Apple complex.

15. Surrounding himself with people that complemented him – Tim Cook was a great example. In his final act, he surrounded himself with persistent folk who managed him.

16. Saying No. How else could he simplify the way he did? He also focused Apple’s energies on few products but made them world class.

(Of course, he was not a role model for many things – e.g.: relationships, diet and the like. But, I couldn’t help marveling at the list of things he was good at.)

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BR 95: Gandhi – An Autobiography by M K Gandhi

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

Comments: This is a fascinating book. I actually had no idea where to place this book. It didn’t seem to fit in any of the category. I decided to eventually place it in the ‘Shelf it’ category simply because this is a fascinating read and you won’t regret having this on your bookshelf.

However, it is of course likely to have extra significance if you are Indian as you will probably relate to the story that much better. Every time I think  of Gandhi, the word ‘fascinating’ comes to mind. I wouldn’t do a lot of what he did simply because it wouldn’t be part of my make up. He was definitely one of a kind. A real throwback to a different time, and generation.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Every experience of Gandhi’s was equated to an ‘experiment’. He was always experimenting.. an ultimate lesson in the ‘leaner’ mentality. Again, the word fascinating comes to mind.

2. He was capable of a tremendous amount of introspection and focus on what he could control. No wonder he is considered a supreme example of someone who acted within his circle of influence.

3. Gandhi was a fascinating man. Fascinating again. There’s no other word for it. Read it and tell me otherwise.. :)

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BR 90: The Second Coming of Steve Jobs by Alan Deutschman

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

Comments: A fascinating read. I hardly ever wanted to put it down.

The book helps give a clear picture of the genius that is Steve Jobs. Jobs is portrayed as the bright icon (which he is!) but it is also interesting to understand what makes the man the icon that he is. Also, the book takes us through the years before the success of Pixar when he struggled with himself following his ousting from Apple in 1985. The only caveat here is that the book was published in 2000. So, it doesn’t take us through his period of illness, the iPhone, iPad etc. It is more of an insightful deep dive into the complexity of his personality and the roots of his genius..

Top 3 Learnings:

1. This book clearly brought to mind the quote – ‘The brighter the picture, the darker the negative’

2. Steve Jobs took a lot of the credit for Pixar when the real creative genius was John Lasseter. Where Steve Jobs was incredible was his negotiations with Disney and his decision to take Pixar public right after the release of Toy Story. The interesting thing to note here is that Steve had close to nothing to do with the success of Pixar as an animation studio. He was kept busy with NEXT (which was a failure) and every time he tried to get closer to Pixar, he was literally pushed away by the Pixar team, which were moulded in John Lasseter’s image. However, Steve’s big ticket was, of course, his initial investment of 10 million.

It reminds me of a learning I had when playing poker with friends. The first big win gives us ‘cushion’ to experiment and try new things. This ‘cushion’ and increased experimentation allows us to take some big risks which have a higher chance of reaping dividends as the number of people who take that risk are lesser (how many would have had 10 million spare change in 1985 to invest in a group of animators?).

3. As great as the man was as an innovator and a visionary, I don’t think I would have been happy working for him. At the end of the day, he was yet another insecure over achiever..

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BR 83: Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman by Richard P Feynman

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

Comments: Richard Feynman narrates the story of his very interesting life. This is an exceptionally smart, extremely curious scientist who, aside from being a Nobel Prize winning Physicist, is also a part time drummer, painter and the like.I think there are a few nice things to learn from this book – especially Feynman’s strait jacketed approach to everything in life and his knack of figuring out a way to have fun.

A fun read.

Add on Mar 16, 2016: Years after reading this book, I’ve come to appreciate it more over time. What has stuck with me is Feynman’s learning focused approach to life. He was a master at picking up skills thanks to his openness and childlike curiosity. That idea is one that has stayed with me.

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BR 72: When Fish Fly by John Yokohama

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Comments: This is a very inspiring book – in a non traditional sense. It is John Yokohama’s tale of how he transformed an ordinary pike fish market in Seattle to ‘World Famous Pike Place Fish’. If a person can transform a fish market (let’s face it, the image that comes to mind isn’t particularly pleasing) to something so amazing, it makes you wonder as to whether any complaints about work are justified.

A true story about being proactive as John Yokohama talks us through his process of growth after a conversation with to a consultant friend who promises to turn his ordinary fish shop around. He shares the various challenges, difficulties and moments of pride.. he does it very sincerely and the book is definitely a nice and often, heartwarming read.

Many takeaways. I have written about one that struck me here

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BR 59: Made in America by Sam Walton

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

Comments: This book was a fun read from start to finish. Sam Walton is insightful, humorous and entertaining all at once. He takes us through the entire Wal-Mart story with great pride and passion. I could almost feel him talking me through the story despite the fact that I read the book.

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BR 44: Thomas Alva Edison – The Scientists and Inventors series by David Allen

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Comments: A story of arguably one of the greatest inventors that ever existed. What made this man formidable was his appetite for the extraordinary combined with canny business sense. A decent book – just not one I’d be in a hurry to read.

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BR 33: Great inventors and their inventions by David Angus

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Comments: I think it’s a book to read just to broaden horizons and understand how some of the things we tend to take for granted first came into being. It has lots of short bios of many great inventors like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Alva Edison, The Wright brothers etc and takes us through their struggles as inventors and their eventual success.

Interesting read. There are better biographies out there though.