1. Read ASAP! · Entrepreneurship · Self Improvement

BR 160: What To Do When It’s Your Turn by Seth Godin

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

Comments and Learning: 

First, I have to acknowledge that the rating for this book is VERY biased. Here’s why –

1. I love Seth’s blog. I think it is the best blog out there. When I sit down to write out my blog post for the day on ALearningaDay, I just try to make it worthy of Seth’s blog. I fail on most days and succeed on some. I’m just hoping I’ll increase the percentage.

2. Seth is everything he talks about. As a result, I feel like I know him well even if we haven’t met. So, I think of his work as an extension of himself.

3. Seth has been an enormous ALearningaDay cheerleader. And, in this book, he’s been generous enough to share an ALearningaDay post on page 97.

I think of this book as similar in style to “The War of Art” – it is a book you can pick up whenever you need inspiration and you will not be disappointed. It is also a much better paper book because it has a lot of images that makes reading it really easy.

It is written in the style of a collection of some of his best blog posts. And I love that. It won’t take you more than 2 hours and it is well worth it. Check it out. :-)

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship · Leadership · Management · Technology

BR 152: The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

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

Comments: If you are, even in the slightest, interested in running a company of your own someday, this book is an absolute must read. This is probably the closest any book will come to being a “CEO how-to” manual.

It is a book I will revisit from time to time.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Leadership is about 3 things – the ability to articulate an idea so people follow you (The Steve Jobs attribute), the ability to be ambitious for the team and not for yourself /to have the right kind of ambition (the Bill Campbell attribute) and the ability to achieve the results you articulate (the Andy Grove attribute) – I’ve never heard leadership spelt out as clearly.

2. The purpose of an organization chart is to facilitate communication. The closer people are on an organization chart, the more they will communicate. (Such a simple idea but one I’d never understood.)]

3. A few money quotes –

The amount of communication required in a relationship is inversely proportional to the amount of trust there is.
‘Managing by numbers is like painting by numbers. It is only for amateurs.’
‘The hero and the coward feel the same. They just do different things. People who watch you judge you on what you do not what you feel.’
‘Hire for strength, not for lack of weakness’
‘Embrace the struggle and remember – the hard things will always be hard things.’

Book notes here.

3. SHELF it · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Entrepreneurship · Technology

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

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

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.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship · Technology

BR 145: In the Plex by Steven Levy

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

Comments:  I really enjoyed the book. I find Google, as a company, awe-inspiring and this book gave great insight into why Google functions the way it functions by giving an insight into the genius that is Larry Page. Sergey Brin is painted as the dependable supporting act. It is a great read if you are a technology enthusiast.

We can’t all be like Larry Page. But, what I found amazing about him is that he is a learning machine. He has clearly learnt how to learn and goes on accumulating expertise and understanding of a broad array of topics. Great entrepreneurs demonstrate that ability – I’ve seen the same trend in the books about Jobs and Bezos. They were/are learning machines.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Larry Page is exceptionally smart. That’s one of those things that just strikes you when you read this book. He is probably as high IQ as it gets and just thinks on a whole different level. To really understand Google, you have to understand Larry Page. Google is Larry Page’s machine learning project – he wants to shove as much information into this machine and then make sure they use it make humanity smarter/better.

2. Both Sergey and Larry built Google by constantly asking “why not.” Google has practically reinvented the idea of an office by making it similar to a lovely university dorm. Larry refused to have customer service staff and instead suggesting replacing it with support forums where users helped each other. They did their IPO differently, they did email differently –  by consistently asking “why not.”

3. A bit tangential – people fantasize about college drop outs who go on to become billionaires. It is telling that the billionaires who are talked about are drop outs from Harvard college (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg), or in this case, from the top computer science P.hD program in the world at Stanford university.

2. BUY it! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship · Leadership · Management · Technology

BR 143: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

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

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

3. SHELF it · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Entrepreneurship · Management · Relationships · Technology

BR 142: Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

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

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.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Entrepreneurship · Self Improvement

BR 136: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

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

Comments: SO inspiring.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. The “resistance” is the most toxic force on the planet. It’s an internal force of nature that thwarts us every time we try to move from a lower to higher place – when we want to start a new venture, work on a piece of art, or embark on an education of any kind. We move forward when we learn how to fight our resistance.
2. Art is the most noble thing we can set out to do. An artist believes the best lies ahead and constantly works on imagining and creating this future and thus taking the human race forward. This is opposite to the fundamentalist who tries to destroy to take us back to the basics as it is his belief that the best existed in the past.
3. Being an artist is all about behaving like a pro. That involves showing up every day, working on your art relentlessly, listening to feedback, ignoring critics, not taking failure personally, and exhibiting humility and patience.
It’s very hard to just talk about 3 things that I learnt from this book. It is so inspirational.. and Steven Pressfield is such an accomplished writer that attempting to say it in anything but his own words doesn’t do it justice.

Book notes

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Entrepreneurship · Philosophy

BR 126: Anything you want by Derek Sivers

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

Comments: Really simple, quick and breezy read. Again, my rating is likely biased by the fact that I am fully aligned with Derek’s way of looking at the world. He’s another one of those who walks his talk and I find him very inspirational.

Top 3 learnings:

1. REALLY understand what you want. It’s very easy to get caught up in a rat race where you end up chasing things you don’t really want. In Derek’s case, he made many decisions – to give up a large portion of what he made to charity, to not own a house or car.. He realized he’s very happy where is and doesn’t “need” too much more. And, he wanted to stay that way..

My sense here is that we often lose touch with our soul as we grow/progress. Keep checking in with very simple questions – is this what I want? Am I really happy?

2. Small can be brilliant. Derek made CDBaby class by attempting to always keep it small, but world class. The funny paradox – the less you need or aim for money, the more of it comes. (true of many things in life)

3. The best way to delegate is to share your thought process with your team. They need to always know the answer to “What will ___ do?” – not by just cataloguing answers to every possible question but by understanding the principles behind a decision.

Derek did this at CDBaby by getting all his employees together every time they had a question and then answering it by describing the principles and thought process to all. He then made sure they documented the answer.. Over time, the number of questions reduced and new employees had a “hand book” to understand the CDBaby.

A note of caution – delegate but do not abdicate/ delegate but keep control. Derek’s abdication resulted in his employees instituting a profit sharing scheme that went against his principles. A chain of events followed leading to Derek selling CDBaby.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Entrepreneurship · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Self Improvement

BR 124: The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

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

Comments: I really enjoyed “The Icarus Deception.” I am sure this rating comes with a few biases – I am a huge fan of Seth’s work. I love Seth’s blog and I am very appreciative of the fact that he’s taken the time to respond to many of my questions to him and even read and comment on my blog every once a while. He walks his talk.

The Icarus Deception meant a coming together of many interesting concepts for me. His explanation of work we do as “art” resonated as well as many really inspirational learnings on “the infinite game.”

This is not a step-by-step sort of book. Very high level and conceptual. And, very inspiring if you are aligned with Seth’s world view.

Top 3 learnings:

1. “Art is an attitude, culturally driven and available to everyone who chooses to adopt it. Art isn’t something sold in a gallery or performed on a stage. Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another. Most painters, it turns out, aren’t artists after all – they are safety seeking copycats.

Art isn’t something that’s made by artists. Artists are people who make art. ”

2. While the differences between work and play are widely documented, the differences between the  “finite” game and the “infinite” game are not.

The finite game theory assumes that life is a series of finite games with winners and losers. There is pressure to be the “one.”

The infinite game theory has a different purpose – the purpose is to help other players play better! It isn’t about winning and losing but about the joy of playing. The wonderful thing about the infinite game is that you avoid the manic highs or lows.. The privilege is in playing.

3. Seth’s advice to his younger self.

“But the one thing I wish I had known then was that whatever happens, things are going to fine in the end, that the pain is part of the journey, and that without the pain there really isn’t a journey worth going on.

No, it doesn’t all work, but you always get to dance. Win or lose, you get to play. I would tell myself not to put so much emotional baggage on every project and every interaction. The goal is to keep playing, not to win.

At the end of a project, the end of the day, and the end of the game, you can look yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that at least you go to dance.”

More on http://www.alearningaday.com/2013/02/on-infinite-game

(The only trouble with sharing Seth’s learnings is that I am forced to quote them. That’s because they are so well written that any paraphrasing makes it less crisp and meaningful. A great example of where I’d like to be as a writer.)

Add on Mar 16, 2016: Seth’s advise to his younger self about  getting rid of what he termed the “manic high” and focusing on playing the infinite game is an idea that has stayed with me.

4. SOMEDAY it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Entrepreneurship

BR 123: The Millionaire Upgrade by Richard Parkes Cordock

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

Comments: This book was a real disappointment. I hardly ever put in books in the someday category but exceptions had to be made. I decided to listen to it as I was eager to get through a short book on a flight. I did.. And I was disappointed by the insight.

Perhaps this is a consequence of having read many great books on  career and entrepreneurship (So Good They Can’t Ignore You comes to mind), I found the book’s advice rhetorical – “follow your passion”, etc.

Top 3 learnings:

I’m going to pass on this for this book.