2. BUY it! · Creativity · Novel Concepts · Psychology · Technology

BR 232: Algorithms to Live By Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

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

Comments: Really fun, geeky, book that doubled up as being insightful and applicable.

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. Explore/exploit: Exploration early in the lifecycle is the right strategy. Kids were considered intellectually deficient. But, as researchers opened up to the idea that they were in the exploration phase of their life, it made sense. Same with smaller social networks for the elderly.
  2. Wrong lesson from the marshmellow test. University of Rochester researchers exposed kids to an adult who promised to bring them better supplies but didn’t. When those kids were exposed to the marshmellow test, they did far worse.

    Willpower is important in enabling kids to be successful. But, it is likely more important for kids to grow up in an environment where they trust the adults they grow up with. Still a small sample (28 kids) but worth revisiting the learning.

  3. Prisoner’s dilemma has a dominant strategy that is worse for everyone. Unlimited vacation works like that because everyone wants to be perceived as a little more hard working. Equilibrium is 0.
    The only way companies can get around that is by shifting equilibrium – e.g. enforce x weeks of mandatory vacation.

Book notes here.

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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.

Book notes here.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Creativity · Novel Concepts · Psychology

BR 222: When by Dan Pink

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

Comments: Dan Pink, like the Heath brothers, is a specialist at condensing tons of great research into a few digestible ideas. He does that again by bringing together a ton of great research on timing with “When.”

Top 3 Lessons: I’ve gone with 5 as there were many cool nuggets.

  1. All studies on energy show a spike in the morning, a trough in the afternoon and a rebound in the evening. This is because nearly 70% of the population are “larks” and have spikes in the morning (stays true for most of life except in our teenage years – where most of us become “owls”). The afternoon trough is dangerous – more surgery mistakes, more accidents, and lower test scores.
  2. American Association of Pediatrics in 2014 and even the CDC have issued guidance that middle schools and upward should have starting times after 830. Starting early for kids who are going through prime owl years is a recipe for lower test scores, tardiness, less learning and even more accidents.
  3. Endings matter a lot. At the end of your week, note what you have accomplished, plan the next day, and send a thank you to someone.
  4. Managers email response time to their subordinates was a leading indicator of their subordinates happiness. (Fascinating)
  5. Living in the present isn’t always great advice. Instead, life requires us to integrate our past, present and future.

Book notes here.

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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.

Book notes here.

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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.
3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Novel Concepts · Psychology

BR 208: Originals by Adam Grant

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

Comments: Interesting book with lots of anecdotes from various experiments. After a very compelling start, I felt the book lost its way a bit toward the middle.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Entrepreneurship is more about de-risking than taking risks. Keep testing the riskiest assumptions with simple experiments (We had interviewed Neil Blumenthal from Warby Parker in business school. This was a repeat of what he shared but powerful nevertheless).

2. Child prodigies rarely live up to their potential as they rarely learn to be original. Creative kids can often be trouble makers.

3. Vu ja de. So much of creativity is combining old ideas into new combinations.

Book notes here

2. BUY it! · Creativity · Skills · Technology

BR 206: Don’t Make me Think by Steve Krug

Category: 2 – BUY it!* (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)
*A category 1 – Read ASAP book if you ever attempt to design a website. I still put it in category 2 because we’re all web design consumers (and, hopefully, creators?) now. :)

Comments: Awesome design book.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. Where possible, stick to design conventions. We are creatures of habit and design conventions go a long way in helping us understand what we should do next.

2. Always prioritize user testing. Simple, continuous, lightweight user testing beats heavy research done every once a while.

3. The question to ask isn’t – what does the average user like? There isn’t an average user.
The question to ask is – Does this feature with these items and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?

Book notes here.