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BR 140: Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson

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

Comments: This is a really fast paced, fun book with many simple but actionable insights on how to live a happier life. Improv acting sounds very fun and Patricia Ryan Madson distils 12 principles for us to follow and incorporate into our lives.

I enjoyed the book and interviewed Patricia too – she was everything I’d imagined her to be after reading her book.

Top 3 Learnings

1. Life is no different from an improv act. You can make all the plans you want.. but you just have to learn to improvise to be happy.

2. Patricia cautions us against over preparation. Often, we overdo the amount of preparation and forget to be human and fallible.

3. Notice your gifts. Every day, we use and consume things that have been made with a lot of effort by others. It is only when we learn to notice these gifts and become more aware of our blessings do we get better at improv and thus, life.

Book notes here

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BR 131: How will you measure your life? by Clayton Christensen

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

Comments: I wish I had gotten to this book sooner. Clayton Christensen has such a thorough and clear thought process that reading this book is like embarking on an interesting intellectual journey with him.

This book is all about “how” to think rather than “what” to do. It has inspired some immediate changes in my life and I’m sure will continue to do so.

I loved it. I’m sure I’ll be sharing stories from the book for a long long time.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Be careful about viewing indiscretions in terms of marginal cost i.e. maybe I’ll do it just this time. You might think you are making allowance for an extenuating circumstance but life is just a series of extenuating circumstances. No athlete starts out with doping in mind.. it happens one bad decision after another. We can’t commit to 99% of an idea. It’s 100% or nothing.

2. Don’t look products as something people buy. Look at them as things people rent to get a job done. Ikea doesn’t win because it has the most amazing furniture. It wins because people hire Ikea for a quick, painless, cost effective way of re-decorating a home.

Similarly, great relationships involve asking yourself – why would my partner hire a husband/wife in this situation? This way, we focus on empathizing with what the other person wants rather than giving them what we think they should want.

3. Be careful about outsourcing your capabilities – Capability = Resources (what) + processes (how) + priorities (why). Dell began outsourcing small parts of manufacturing to Asus.. and 16 years later, Asus was manufacturing the whole computer. Asus soon started it’s own line of computers and Dell could do nothing since it had outsources it’s capabilities.

It’s important to think of this in terms of our kids. If our kids are constantly raised by someone else and learn processes and priorities from someone else, whose kids are they?

Add on Mar 16, 2016: This book changed my life. Up there with Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits.

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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.

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BR 120: Authentic Happiness by Martin E.P. Seligman

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

Comments: Martin E.P. Seligman is the father of positive psychology and his book lived up to expectations. I didn’t find it “ground breaking” and that’s thanks to having read many a happiness book that builds on Seligman’s ground break findings.

The only miss is the lack of a “framework” in the book. I remember it as a collection of great anecdotes, many of which I’m sure to write about. I’ve always maintained that great books give you a framework in which to remember the key learnings – e.g. the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey.

Top 3 Learnings

1. Two groups of school kids were studied for their happiness level. Group I involved the geeky kids who studied hard, attended various classes after school and played hard. Group II involved the “cool” kids who hung out in the mall. It was found that the geeky kids tested happier on every aspect except one – they thought the kids in the mall were happier.

What an awesome story.

2. Optimism is an acquired trait based on the 3 P’s – Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization. Optimists don’t believe a bad event is permanent, pervasive and that the world is “out to get them.”

3. Expressing anger and negative emotions does NOT help – contrary to popular belief.

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BR 119: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor.E.Frankl

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

Comments: Man’s search for meaning is as sincere and heartfelt a book you will find. It’s one of those books that is a must read simply because it teaches us what it means to be human.

The story details the experiences of Dr Frankl in Nazi concentration camps and his observations about life and the importance of meaning.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. We are often told that the essence of life is the pursuit of happiness. Frankl’s experiences taught him otherwise. In his experience, it’s meaning that makes life worth living..

2. There is an incredible paragraph on love by Viktor Frankl. It’s one of those that reminds us of the importance of love in this world, and the special place it holds in our life.

3. Success and happiness will ensue if we keep doing the right things. At the end of the day, we will be successful only because we forgot to think about it. Here’s the link to that incredible paragraph.

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BR 105: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

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

Comments: Deciding which category to put ‘The Geography of Bliss’ in was not easy. I eventually went for the ‘Buy it!’ category because it isn’t really a must read but, my god, I can’t think of any book that I have enjoyed reading more than this one.

Eric Weiner, a ‘grump’, journeys the world searching for the secret to finding happiness and chronicles his learnings from his travels. He has a wonderful sense of humor and his great writing style makes the book very hard to put down. (I listened to the book and he makes for a great narrator too!)

Every year, I pick a book to gift friends and family on their birthdays. This is my new ‘gift’ book. Loved it!

Top 3 Learnings: For a change, I decided to pick out passages as they are so well written!

1. “Money matters but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.”

2. “Part of positive psychology is about being positive, but sometimes laughter and clowns are not appropriate. Some people don’t want to be happy, and that’s okay. They want meaningful lives, and those are not always the same as happy lives.”

3. “Attention’ is an underrated word. It doesn’t get the… well, the attention it deserves. We pay homage to love, and happiness, and, God knows, productivity, but rarely do we have anything good to say about attention. We’re too busy, I suspect. Yet our lives are empty and meaningless without attention.

My two-year-old daughter fusses at my feet as I type these words. What does she want? My love? Yes, in a way, but what she really wants is my attention. Pure, undiluted attention. Children are expert at recognizing counterfeit attention. Perhaps love and attention are really the same thing. One can’t exist without the other.”

Also, here is my take on attention

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BR 100: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

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

Comments: Fitting that the 100th book review would be about one of the best books I have read.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Emotions trump logic ANY day! The relationship between the two is akin to a rider atop an elephant. If the elephant (emotions) decides to go some place, the rider makes up reasons to go to that place.

2. We all have natural thresholds for happiness. Some have higher thresholds – that’s natural. What that means is that our happiness levels fluctuate between a range. And it gives us a simple goal –  stay on the top end of the range!

3. Everything in moderation..

4. Little things done daily have huge impact on our happiness. Keeping a journal, reflecting, counting our blessings etc

I really could go on. This is one of those books that you will never regret reading. A true masterpiece. Go get it.

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BR 60: The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho

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

Comments: A very interesting book. If you have an interest in the mystical, this is definitely a good book. This the real life story of Paulo Coelho going on a pilgrimage (on the Camino trail) along with a ‘guide’. Along the way, Coelho faces many a test, fights many a force and learns lessons for life. It was a tad too mystical for my taste but it had some good learnings. But, I had a few very interesting learnings from it –
1. A quote that said something to the nature – ‘Why do we try to convince people – do we do it because we feel convincing more will make it true?’
2. And a lovely line about the importance of dreaming – “We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.”
3. The idea of “fighting the good fight” that has stuck with me.

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BR 49: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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Comments: The Alchemist is one of the best selling books of all time and it isn’t without reason. Very touching, very metaphorical yet, very real. The book tells the journey of a Spanish sheperd who decides to follow his dream of finding a treasure. This is fraught with complications, of course, as it requires him to go to the pyramids and as a result, cross the Sahara desert. And that journey is one that changes his life..
(Saying any more would spoil the plot if you haven’t read it)

This is one of those books that deserves to be right on top of your priority list. I remember being SO excited to finish listening to this book (especially thanks to the fascinating narrative) that I finished the book in 2 sittings  – the 2nd of which involved forsaking sleep so I could get to the end of the story.

My favorite quote – “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

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BR 47: The 7 Habits of highly effective people by Stephen R Covey

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

Comments: The 7 Habits is the best book I’ve read – judging by its impact on my life. It’s not a book to be ‘read’ – it’s a book to be ‘studied’. I liken it to a manual that gives you a new way of thinking about life. And your approach can make all the difference in the world. You can look at it as a book wherein you expect to find a cool concept or two to apply, and that’s what you’ll find. You can look at it as a book you’re reading JUST because a few others recommended it and expect to find nothing amazing, and hey, guess what – that’s what you’ll find.

Or you can read it expecting it to give you ideas that will change your life, and that’s exactly what you will find.

In this book, I found many a framework which has helped me think about life. The guiding framework of moving from being a kid -> being a “teenager” of sorts (independence) -> being an adult (interdependence) was powerful. Lots of very meaningful stories and tons and tons of wisdom.

These are 3 things that changed within me post reading the book –

1) Got me started on changing my mentality to one that believed in abundance and hence, gradually took me away from the ‘envy’ path to the ‘happiness’ one.
2) Got me to write my own set of principles to live life by and follow them.
3) Got me to start ‘responding’ to every situation rather than ‘reacting’ to it by drilling in the concept that I had full control over my response to any problem.

And lots more – but these are probably the 3 biggest areas of impact. Give the book a chance and I’m sure you’ll never regret it!

Add on Mar 16, 2016: Many years since I studied this book, all of what I’ve written here still holds true. An incredible book.