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BR 169: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

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

Comments: This book disappointed. It could be the high expectations I’d gone in with or perhaps it was the fact that I’d read Thiel’s thinking around monopoly businesses on the internet before the book. It could also have been the mindset I was in when i was reading this book.

Either way, it didn’t work for me.

Top 2 Learnings:

1. Horizontal progress is when we take an idea that works in one place and copy it everywhere else. Vertical progress is true technological innovation (0 to 1).

2. Monopoly businesses are the best. Competition is for losers.

2. BUY it! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Entrepreneurship · History · Technology

BR 167: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

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

Comments: If you have any interest in technology whatsoever, this book is a must read. Awesome awesome 140 odd year journey starting from when Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace conceptualized the modern computer.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. History favors writing about the individual but great innovations were always made by teams that worked incredibly well with each other.. and almost always built upon the good work done by many others.

2. A collection technology change makers have been at the intersection of the arts and sciences (e.g. Steve Jobs). The big learning here is that diversity of skills, interests, etc., are really productive. The greatest tech innovations have come about when diverse minds came together.

3. Artificial intelligence has always been two decades away.. (;-))

Book notes here

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Skills · Technology

BR 162: Cracking the PM interview by Gayle Laakmann, Jackie Bavaro

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Comments and Learning: 

1. Top book if you are preparing for Product Management interviews in technology – this book was very helpful in my internship recruiting quest in the first year of my MBA

2. Book learnings here

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Creativity · Psychology · Technology

BR 161: The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

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Comments and Learning:
1. This is a very important book – designers all over have probably read this book. I think of it as a must read if you are interested in anything to do with design. I read this as I was thinking of product design.

2. If a user keeps making an error when using your product, the problem is with your product.

3. Learnings here

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

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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

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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

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BR 142: Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton

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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.