3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Self Improvement

BR 156: How to Become a Straight A Student by Cal Newport

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

Comments: I enjoyed reading this book. It had been a while since I had actually thought about academics and I love Cal Newport’s writing. If you’re going to school and if you’re generally geeky, I’d definitely recommend it. 1 line summary of the book is – be organized and disciplined. :-)

Of course, the principles don’t just apply to school.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Make sure your schedule is very well organized. Block out times for future assignments and study in advance.

2. Compile your own summary of all lectures as a pre-exam study guide

3. Take control of your own calendar. Schedule meeting such that they don’t interfere with your productive time.

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Psychology · Self Improvement · Skills

BR 144: Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

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

Comments: I think the Heath brothers are the best business book authors out there. Made to Stick was brilliant. They managed to surpass it with “Switch.” And, against the odds, they’ve delivered another great book.

As always, a perfect blend of stories, research “wrapped” in an easy-to-remember and apply framework. I’ve begun implementing the learnings from this book already and I’m sure it will go on to be a very important part of my decision making.

(Add on Mar 16 2016: Quick add more than a year after writing this post: This book did impact my decision making and I carry the WRAP framework card in my wallet. )

Top 3 learnings:

Instead of 3 learnings, I’ll share a somewhat long overall synthesis. Please ignore the formatting – this is just a copy paste. You’ll see a better formatted learnographic on http://www.learnographics.com soon. :)

The first step to decision making is understanding the difference between kind environments and wicked environments.

Kind environments – where feedback is clear, immediate, and unbiased by the act of prediction. e.g. the weather.

Wicked environments – where feedback is unclear, delayed and biased by the act of prediction. e.g. stock markets, new products introductions.

“Gut” works well in kind environments e.g. if you are well trained in chess/football, you know there are only so many different possibilities. So, your gut is an important data point.

In the stock markets, however, the gut might be a data point but doesn’t suffice.  Life is also a wicked environment. As a result, we tend to make decisions with narrow frames and overweight the short term.

We need a good decision making process to make good long term decisions. Hence, the WRAP framework –

W – Widen your options (avoid narrow frames and “whether or not” decisions)

R – Reality test your assumptions (fight confirmation bias)

A – Attain distance before deciding (resist short term influences, make decisions aligned to core priorities)

P – Prepare to be wrong (don’t get cocky about your decisions)

W – Widen your options (avoid narrow frames and “whether or not” decisions)

  1. Make sure you have at least 3 options before making a decision – and think AND not OR – can you follow multiple options at once?
    Whenever you hear a decision being prefaced by “whether or not,” it is time to reconsider.

  1. Find someone who has solved your problem.
    Sam Walton who made many Walmart decisions by copying competitors.

  2. Toggle between “Promotion” and “Prevention” mindsets.
    Circuit City’s actions in the aftermath of the 2001 stock market crash was a perfect example – they cut down underperforming stores (prevention) and also invested in new product lines (promotion)

R – Reality test your assumptions (fight confirmation bias)

  1. Tripadvisor it!  Zoom out (consider base rates) and zoom in (take a close up)
    Pick a job like you would a sushi bar on tripadvisor. Speak to lots of people and get an overall rating. Then, take a close up at negative feedback.
    Similarly, when engaging with experts, don’t ask them for predictions. Ask them historical trends and understand them to really understand your probabilities of success.

  2. Fight confirmation bias – spark constructive disagreement by considering the opposite point of view
    Alfred Sloan, legendary CEO of General Motors, refused to make decisions if there wasn’t at least one opposing point of view.

  3. Ooch before you leap
    An “ooch” is a small experiment to test a hypothesis. Approach a decision like a designer approaches a design – put together a prototype first and gather feedback.

A – Attain distance before deciding (resist short term influences, make decisions aligned to core priorities)

  1. Identify and refer to your 3 core priorities
    Take stock of what matters to you. You might decide against that expensive car if your long term priorities are to save and invest wisely.

  2. What would you advise your best friend to do? / What would a new person do?
    Intel took one of it’s biggest decisions after years of debate – getting out of memory and focusing entirely on processors – by asking the question “What would a new person do?”

  3. Try the 10/10/10 rule
    How would you feel 10 minutes from now? What about 10 months from now? And 10 years from now?

P – Prepare to be wrong (don’t get cocky about your decisions)

  1. Bookend the future – view it as a full spectrum of possibilities
    A top fund manager creates a whole range of potential future stock prices and a list of criteria that would make the upper end of the range more of a possibility. Predicting the future is impossible – viewing it as a spectrum of possibilities is realistic and guards against over confidence.

  2. Set a tripwire/trigger to review your decision
    What if Kodak, who religiously followed their 1980 report that said digital cameras would not get mainstream in the next decade, had a set a “tripwire” saying that they would review their decision not to enter digital cameras if adoption was greater than 10%? Would it have filed for bankruptcy in 2010?

  3. Create a realistic job preview
    Call centers did a much better job of retaining employees when they gave them a one day job preview taking them through the worst situations they might face. This triggered all sorts of coping mechanisms and also increased determination among the future employees.

If you were to make a quick spur-of-the-moment decision, I’d suggest a quick version of the WRAP process

W – Make sure you have at least 3 options or find someone who has solved your problem

R – Tripadvisor it!

A – Identify and refer to your 3 core priorities

P – View the future as a spectrum of possibilities and set a tripwire

The key principle – Follow and trust the process. You might fail on individual decisions. That’s okay.

Bookbytes here and learnographic here.

2. BUY it! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Philosophy · Psychology · Relationships · Self Improvement

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

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Leadership · Psychology · Self Improvement

BR 139: The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Zander

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

Comments: The reason this book is in the top rung is not because it unearths some revolutionary or novel concept. It is because it advocates a way of thinking that has the power to revolutionize our life. Stephen Covey brought to light our ability to respond to situations (instead of just reacting to them) in his chapter “Be Proactive” but Ben and Roz take it to the next level by imploring us to make finding “possibility” a habit.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Remember rule no.6. Don’t take yourself so damn seriously. I need this on a plaque. :)

2. Seeing possibility is a way of life. It’s the learning approach to life – possibility has this magical ring to it. And rightly so.. viewing everything we do from the lens of possibility may be hard work but adds so much in terms of happiness, creativity, fun, and joy.

3. When you make a mistake, say “HOW fascinating.” Again, this isn’t just a cosmetic change. It involves a fundamental change in the way we view mistakes. Hard to do.. but I’m hopeful I will be able to implement it.

Book notes here

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

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Leadership · Philosophy · Self Improvement

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.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Psychology · Self Improvement

BR 125: Willpower by Roy Baumeister

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

Comments: Seriously brilliant book by the grand daddy of Willpower research. Top draw research that has changed the way we look at will power and self control.

Highly recommended.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Will power is like a muscle. There is only so much reserve we have until we recharge. That reserve is what we tap into for various activities in a day – primarily in the categories of resisting temptations and doing things that we don’t want to do that are generally good for us.

For example, we extract will power out of this reserve to resist a delicious chocolate snack as well as to keep patience while interacting with a frustrating co-worker.

2. Ego depletion is a serious issue. The depletion of this will power reserve results in ego depletion. Ego depletion is interesting – all of a sudden we lose self control and hit the “what the hell” effect. As a result, we suddenly irrationally indulge. So, if we hit ego depletion while on a diet, we suddenly go on a crazy binge.

Ego depletion explains why important people often make really stupid decisions in their personal life – sex scandals, etc. Decision making plays havoc with will power and ego depletion results in indulgence.

So, how do we prevent ego depletion? a) Food at regular intervals as glucose is critical to will power b) Sleep – the only long term recharge available!

(Ego depletion is what is referred to in the quote “things will look better in the morning”)

3. The best use of will power is to form habits.

Let’s take an example – I want to exercise every morning before I get to work. It’s not sustainable to keep using will power every day as I’ll start the day with very little in reserve. Instead, I ought to use the will power to create a cue, habit and reward to create a sustainable exercise habit. Once this is done, I won’t have to worry about exercise since it becomes an automatic process.

This explains what successful people do well. They use their will power reserves wisely to create great habits!

(See our learnographic for a summary)

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! · Book Review Actions · Career · Entrepreneurship · Self Improvement

BR 117: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport


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

Comments: Top draw. Probably the best career book out there. Busts some really common myths and is really SO good you shouldn’t ignore it.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Follow your passion is bad advice. Working right trumps finding the right work. It is  all about “the approach” to work.

2. Adopt the “craftsman mindset” i.e. the mindset of someone who is willing to put in the hours of deliberate practice to hone their craft. Adopting this mindset means you focus your energies on being the best you can be. This, in turn, gives you career capital.

3. Once you get damn good, the chances are that you will love what you do thanks to being the craftsman. You can now also trade career capital in for more control and autonomy in your life.

Once again, top draw career book.