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BR 179: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

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

Comments: Malcolm Gladwell is a masterful writer and weaves together many stories into a compelling book that asks us to rethink our traditional ideas of what constitutes an advantage.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. You may be better off being a big fish in a small pond. More people get discouraged and depressed being average at a top institution.

2. David and Goliath was a mismatched battle. As a slinger, Goliath actually stood no chance.

3. There is such a thing as a desired level of adversity. That’s how character is built.

Book notes here.

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

BR 149: Moneyball by Michael Lewis

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

Comments: Another Michael Lewis masterpiece. I saw the movie before I read the book. The book was really interesting. Many of the baseball terms and statistics went a bit over the head as I’ve never watched baseball. However, the story and insight were fantastic.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Value is created when you understand market inefficiencies and exploit them. In the case of baseball, the whole player measurement system was flawed and based on the look of a player rather than statistics that actually contributed to the team. Billy Beane simply went ahead and used these inefficiencies to cause a revolution in the way players were scouted.

2. If you HAVE to do a deal, you are doing to pay too much for it.

3. My favorite insight was Beane’s approach of building a baseball team rather than a collection of players. For example, Beane and his team identified that a play off team needed to score 900 runs to qualify for the play offs (if I remember right). So, they went about building a team that would score the runs together building on each other’s strengths. Focus on the whole, not on the parts. Don’t replace players.. Replace their statistics with one or more players. Top draw insight!

Book notes here.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Technology

BR 128: Free by Chris Anderson

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

Comments: Interesting book, especially for those who are interested in the impact of “free” on business and industry.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. The world is moving from scarcity to abundance in most aspects of life. As a result, the structure of the world and business has undergone a fundamental change. A 100 years ago, all the top 100 companies in the world were involved in manufacturing. Now, the percentage is down to 30%.

The moment an industry moves from transmitting atoms (boxes) to bits – free becomes inevitable. So, if the industry is competitive (and we can argue that the Internet has resulted in more competition than ever before), then prices will keep going down till it just covers cost.

2. The important thing for companies is to adapt their business model to incorporate free as an integral part of their model. Free is here to stay.

Examples –

– The popular freemium model wherein businesses give a basic product for free and charge for premium usage

– Microsoft went through the DABDA curve in its reaction to Linux operating systems. While it initially began with the lens of competition, the end result was an acceptance that there is a place for open source in the market. Small companies would rather go open source as its free while big companies would pay money to minimize risk.

– Google’s strategy for information markets – 1) take whatever you are doing, do it for free 2) hook users in and generate scale 3) charge for valuable information Search and Gmail are easy examples. Another such example is Goog-411 – free voice help which is part of Google’s investment into a voice search engine.

– Music – 90% of money is made by bands is in concerts! So digital piracy (or free) helps the band find willing fans

3. The importance of corn – rice, wheat and corn have always been considered the key crops. Rice is high on protein but difficult to grow, wheat is low on protein but easy to grow, and corn is both. Since corn is the most efficient converter of water and sun light into starch, we use corn for more than we can imagine.

More than 25% of the products in a super market are derived from corn. In fact, soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, the boxes they are packed in, and even the compounds that the super markets are built with are  based on corn. A great example of corn power is in a chicken nugget. From the feed of the chicken, to corn oil, to the golden color and smell – nearly every aspect of it is derived from corn.

The big reason corn and food have gotten expensive over the past few years is that corn began being used for the production of ethanol for fuel. This has truly tested the limits of corn.

That was a really cool insight.

(Book notes here)

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.

2. BUY it! · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology · Self Improvement

BR 121: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

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

Comments: Great research put together by an excellent writer. It is the equivalent of a Dan Brown-esque page turner for the psychology genre.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. We are creatures of habit – every one of us – much more than we realize. Habits are the “efficiency” unit of our brains and almost everything we do comes down to the habits we have in place. Luckily, these habits can be shaped and broken. Great people are just by-products of great habits.

2. A habit is a combination of a cue, an routine and a reward. e.g. To form an exercise habit, the cue could be leaving your clothes near your bed, the routine is exercise of course and the reward could be a cup of coffee!

3. There are some habits that are critical – called keystone habits. These are habits that influence almost all other habits. For manufacturing companies like Alcoa, safety was found to be the keystone habit. For humans, it has been found to be exercise.. (this has inspired me to no end to change exercise routines from 2-3 times a week to 5 times a week).

1. Read ASAP! · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology

BR 116: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely

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

Comments: Another Dan Ariely masterclass with very practical information about cheating. Very useful for us when we define “trust” systems as well as in our lifelong quest to manage ourselves.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Most people, when given a chance, cheat just a little bit. The reason for the “little bit” is that we work hard to stay consistent with our self image of being honest, straightforward people. But, at the same time, we find it hard to resist easy gains when we feel we cannot be found out.

2. Any reminders of ethics and responsibilities completely removes this cheating element e.g. students who were asked to recollect the ten commandments before heading into this experiment did not cheap. Similarly, signing honor codes etc at the start of the document prevent all cheating.

3. Every little act of cheating gives rise to more. In a fascinating set of experiments, it was found that people who fear fake brands or rip offs were more likely to cheat and view the world with a more suspicious lens that people who didn’t. This was a big insight for me.

Essentially, the cost of fakes and illegal downloads goes far beyond reducing profits of the companies involved.

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

BR 110: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

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

Comments: It hammers home a simple idea and really demonstrates the power of a (simple) framework in making ideas stick. Only downside is that it can occasionally be repetitive – but, maybe, that is the point. :)

Top 3 learnings:

1. Start with Why

2. Start with Why. Then move to the ‘how’ and the ‘what’.

3. Start with Why. Always explain your purpose.

I have been working on implementing this in everything I do. It hasn’t become habitual yet but I’m hoping it will become soon. A simple, really powerful idea.

There are lots of other little lessons from the book that I could list in the top 3 learnings but I fear diluting what I really took away from the book.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Self Improvement · Skills

BR 109: Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

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

Comments: A very very compelling book built off the research of Anders Ericsson. Must read. Enough said.

Top 3 Learnings: There were many many learnings I took away from the book. Here are the top 3 that come to mind –

1. Deliberate practice is everything. EVERYTHING. Deliberate practice is what differentiates the average from the greats. It’s not just about 10,000 hours. It’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that makes the difference.

2. Over time, deliberate practice changes the constitution of our brains. When we look at top performers and say they are ‘different’, we are actually spot on. They are different because their practice has developed that particular part of their brains. So, in short, we are probably born with similar capabilities but the hours we spent developing our craft/ability is what separates us in the long run.

3. It’s all cumulative. Ability accumulates over time. And, there’s no such thing as talent.

4. So how does a kid become a genius? The typical genius starts very early and is egged on by her  parents (not pushed, but egged). As she grows up, she develops the necessary intrinsic motivation that comes from experiencing success. That’s generally the beginning of something very special..

Great book. Must read. Go get it. You won’t regret it.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Novel Concepts and Interesting Research · Psychology

BR 106: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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

Comments: This is a legendary book. It should be in the ‘BUY it!’ category but I didn’t put it there for a few reasons –

1. The book is written a bit like a research thesis with very little synthesis. There are hundreds of great lessons, great stories of outcomes from experiments with the kind of insights that you would expect from Nobel laureate. That said, it could have benefited by having a writer help synthesize the many takeaways.

2. The other more personal issue I had is that this book, while comprehensive, felt slightly late in the game. I have been going down the path of understanding the mind and behavior over the past year and found that many of his insights had already been covered by other researchers.

3. It’s not a book that I would recommend to other’s who aren’t math geeks/knee deep in the subject. It is a rather geeky book and I realize not everybody would enjoy it.

4. I found it very difficult to get through. It really depends on why you read books. I generally read books with 2 things in mind – what can I apply in my life? And are there any stories I can use for my blogs, learnings etc?

While I did find a few great stories from the book, it took a lot of effort to figure out what is applicable. The ‘so what’ question wasn’t easily answered. Again, a real researcher’s book. Lots of great content. Just not that easy to discern the applicability in my point of view.

Top 3 Learnings: There were many learnings I took away from the book. Here are the top 3 that come to mind –

1. Our judgments and decision making are always extremely biased. There are too many biases to keep track of and biases are almost always unavoidable. The best thing we can do is to accept these biases that we do have and remind ourselves that we are biased when making big decisions. Just this act of acceptance and awareness could save us a lot of pain.

2. Be careful with trusting experts who use their ‘gut’. Essentially, expertise can be trusted in fields wher the natural behavior is recurring and predictable. The stock market, for example, is one of those fields where the ‘gut’ or ‘expert intuition’ or Kahneman’s system 1 doesn’t work.

3. We have 2 selves – the experiencing self and the remembering self. And, when it comes to experiences, we are almost fully dependent on the remembering self. At the end of the day, if our memory of an experience is great, we remember the experience well.

And what do we remember? We remember the peak and end of an experience. As long as the peak and end are good, our memory of an otherwise bad experience could end up being great!

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

BR 104: Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

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

Comments: We are going through a golden age in understanding human behavior. And Dan Ariely’s research and book are definitely at the forefront of this shift in understanding. A very good book.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Conventional economics assumes we make logical rational decisions when, in reality, we exhibit repeated predictable irrationality.

2. I was astounded at some of the research on the placebo effect i.e. when medical treatments were substituted with ‘fake’ treatments that had equal (if not better) effect in terms of patient well being because the patients thought they had  been treated.

3. While the ability to choose gives us some happiness, choices do not. In fact, choices are amongst the biggest causes of unhappiness that exist.

Fascinating book. I’m well into my journey into modern behavioral economics and understanding. If  I had begun my journey with this book it would have been priority 1. A great book nevertheless. It will keep you intrigued and entertained..