1. Read ASAP! · Business · Career · Skills

BR 228: The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto

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

Comments: This is my second review of this book after a first read ~7-8 years ago as it felt like I was reading this for the first time. I decided to re-read this book as I was getting some feedback about a lack of clarity in a couple of strategy documents I presented at work. This book made a marked change in my outputs in the second half of the year by simply pushing me to commit to rewriting once I put the ideas down. It is book I’m going to be reading again.

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. “For the average business or professional writer, producing more literate memos and reports does not mean writing shorter sentences or choosing better words. Rather, it means formally separating the thinking process from the writing process, so that you can complete your thinking before you begin to write.”
  2. As a consequence of the above learning, expect to break up with the first draft. The challenge – “Once you put ideas in writing, they take on an incredible beauty in the author’s eyes. They seem to glow with a fine patina that you will be quite reluctant to disturb.”
3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Creativity · Entrepreneurship · Leadership · Management

BR 226: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull

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

Comments: This will be a fun read if you are a Pixar fan. I enjoyed Ed Catmull’s narration of the Pixar story as most other versions I’ve read focus largely on the genius of John Lasseter (who, as expected, is a key character in this book too). I think my rating for the book was tainted a bit because of the news around John Lasseter’s sexual abuse allegations. :-(

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. For all the care you put in artistry, visual polish doesn’t matter if you’re not getting the story right.
  2. Drawing well requires us to learn how to see. The difficulty with drawing is that we let our mental models of objects get ahead of us and get us to jump to conclusions. So, we lose track of what is actually on the page. Art teachers teach students to conquer this by getting them to draw an object upside down or by asking them to drag the negative space around the object – both of which don’t require mental models.
    This is applicable to problem solving. Don’t just look at the problem. Look at the context/situation around it. In Pixar, a scene could sometimes only be fixed by looking at the entire story or preceding scenes.
  3. If there is more truth in the hallways than meetings, you are in trouble. For managers who go out of the way to prevent surprises, get over it.
2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Creativity · Marketing · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology · Relationships

BR 221: The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath

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

Comments: I love books by Chip and Dan Heath. While this book didn’t resonate as strongly as Decisive (their previous book) did, I thought it brought together lessons on a very important topic, Great moments are what we remember in this life. Understanding how these get made is, thus, as important a lesson as any.

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. A formula for excellent mentorship: High expectations + Assurance + Direction + Support
  2. Responsiveness is the key to strong relationships. It means you are attuned to the other person. The idea that physicians ask patients “what matters to you” revolutionized children’s healthcare in Scotland.
    Do we understand what matters to the people we care about? (Deep questions, thus, are a great way to get to know people.)
  3. In the short term, we often choose to fix problems over creating moments. In the long term, that backfires. Moments are not a means to the end, they are the end. They are what we remember in the end.
3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship · Technology

BR 220: Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham

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

Comments: Hackers and Painters was an interesting read. This is unvarnished Paul Graham from before his Y Combinator celebrity days. His writing has been a lot more controversial of late. But, in this book, he shows up as a compelling writer sharing his notes on a wide variety of topics – from education to hacking to design to programming languages.

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. The least sophisticated users tell you what you need to simplify and clarify while the most sophisticated users tell you what features you need to add.
  2. School was created as a means to keep kids busy while adults did work. (I’ve thought of this from time to time since I first read it)
  3. The difference between design and research seems to be a question of new versus good. Design has to be good while research has to be new. These two paths converge at the top – the best design surpasses others by using new ideas and the best research solves problems that are not only new but worth solving.
2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Career · Psychology · Self Improvement

BR 214: The Right and Wrong Stuff by Carter Cast

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

Comments: I am a biased reviewer here as this is written by one of my favorite Professors and a good (wise) friend. But, I think this is an important book and one everyone should have on their bookshelves. We all think about and talk about careers. We also talk about folks who are successful and folks who aren’t (or those who have derailed). This book brings together a lot of wisdom around what makes and breaks careers and packages it nicely.

Top 3 Learnings:

  1. Brilliant careers derail due to a variety of reasons. But, the biggest among them is a lack of self awareness that blinds a person to their tendency to overdo their strengths.
  2. 3 strengths/traits that accompany great careers – initiative, the ability to build positive relationships and a combination of perseverance and drive.
  3. The right stuff formula: (Job Skills + Industry Knowledge + Operational ability) x (3 Distinctive strengths/Derailers). This is a nice summary. Start with hard skills, industry knowledge and the ability to get stuff done. These are table stakes. Differentiate based on everything else.
3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Creativity · Entrepreneurship · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology

BR 210: Hunch by Bernadette Jiwa

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

Comments: This is a really easy and fun read. Bernadette Jiwa makes the case that we all have it in us to be insightful. We just have to learn to notice more. It’s one of those positive books that you could just pick up and read on a Sunday afternoon and walk out feeling optimistic and better.

Top 3 Learnings: 

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of the hunch in today’s data driven world. Noticing is the key to finding breakthrough ideas in everyday experiences.
  2. Cultivate curiosity, empathy and imagination to be in touch with your hunches.
  3. Empathy is feeling with someone. Sympathy is feeling for someone.
1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · History · Technology

BR 209: The Master Switch by Tim Wu

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 category 1 or 2. On the one hand, this book is very focused on the history of information empires in the United States. But, on the other, information empires are THE dominant corporations in today’s world. So, this book become a must read. :)

Top 3 Learnings:

  1. Every information industry (phone, radio, film, tv, internet) has seen a struggle between open versus closed / decentralized versus centralized. Every one of these started out with hackers and hobbyists and then became the home of large monopolies.
  2. What we think is a by product of what we read and who listen to. Free speech and a marketplace of ideas are not as dependent on the values of a place as much as the structure of the information infrastructure.
  3. This isn’t as much a learning as much as a note that I remember so many stories from the book. The story of the creation of hollywood, the rise, fall and rise of AT&T, CBS, etc., still give me goosebumps. A hat tip to Tim Wu for a wonderfully written book.
3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Skills · Technology

BR 200: Inspired by Marty Cagan

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

*This is a really nice read if you are interested in Technology Product Management. I’d move this to “BUY It” in that case.

Comments: A really well written and well organized book that beautifully lays out the art and science of product management.

1. The job of the product manager is to discover a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible.

3 Steps to Building Products –

1. Is there a real opportunity?
2. Figure out what to build (build the right product) – is there enough evidence that it is valuable, useful and feasible?
3. Build it (building the product right).

2. Replace PRDs or Product Specs with a prototype. The majority of the product spec should be the high-fidelity prototype, representing the functional requirements, the information architecture, the interaction design, and the visual design of the user experience.

3. Fear, greed and lust. People buy and use products largely for emotional reasons. In the enterprise space, the dominant emotion is generally fear or greed. In the consumer space, the dominant emotions get more personal. If I buy this product or use this Web site, I will make friends (loneliness), find a date (love or lust), win money (greed), or show off my pictures or my taste in music (pride).

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research

BR 196: The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

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

Comments: I think I might have called this a “Priority 1” book if it wasn’t for business school. This was a very good refresher on how to think about predictions and data. As the ultimate data geek, Nate Silver does a very good job introducing us to the world of prediction and statistics.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Sometimes, predictions change the nature of the thing. If everyone is using an app that predicts highway x will have lesser traffic, everyone could end up on highway x.

2. Bayesian approach was to make a small prediction and keep improving on it. Probability was seen by Laplace and Bayes  as a step toward progress. Bayes theorem is concerned with conditional probability. Think probabilistically. Require you to accept that your subjective representations of the world are not truth.

3. Terrorist attacks are similar to earthquakes – high uncertainty. However, when you plot frequency and destruction wrought by terrorist attacks on a double logarithmic scale, it is a straight line!

The broken windows theory was embraced in the US despite limited scientific evidence perhaps because it is easier for police to imprison a 16 year old with drugs than solve a difficult crime.

Israel has taken the opposite approach – it treats small acts of terror as normal but has worked hard to eliminate large threats. Israel’s power law distribution curve looks different from what you might expect – due to their strategic choices.

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship · Sports

BR 195: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

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

Comments: First, I hope you get the audible version. The narrator makes a special book feel extra special. In some ways, that’s what this book is all about – feelings. It is about the feelings that go into building something special. Nike founder Phil Knight takes us on a wonderful adventure. In doing so, he shares things he did well and things he wished he hadn’t done. For example, he does a couple of downright wrong stuff (ethically). But, somehow you forgive him. You forgive him because of his authenticity and because you feel you might have done the same in that situation.

This is a book about Nike. But, really, it is a book about spirit, care and the joy of the pursuit. Very heartfelt and beautifully written.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Businesses are about money just as a body is about blood. You need it to operate but life is so much more than that. And, business IS personal.

2. You measure yourself by the number of people who measure themselves by you.

3. The art of competing is forgetting that competition exists.

Book notes here.