Books in February 2019

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Call Them By Their True Names
Rebecca Solnit

I haven’t read Rebecca Solnit before this, but I’m glad that’s no longer true. This is a collection of essays from the last 5 years, and the themes revolve around politics, environmentalism, bias/exclusion, and the justice system. It was refreshing to read from an unfamiliar category, and Solnit’s writings were urgent, current, and engaging. Her disdain for President #45 was obvious, rightfully so, and such a delight to read about and nod along to. 

I found these particularly interesting: 

New and old SF, the effects of gentrification, and the tragic story of the killing of Alex Nieto

Preaching to the choir as a way to build influence and strengthen solidarity through a more robust debate of beliefs and convictions; seeing the other side as the audience to reach out to and making compromises to that effect sometimes results in a dilution or betrayal of values.

(Goodreads)


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Predictably Irrational 
Dan Ariely

I have read a lot on cognitive biases and norms, even when their names and their origins sometimes escape me. (It is one reason why the academic life is not for me.)

Ariely’s book relates the various experiments conducted to test and validate some of these strange cognitive challenges that so often colour our perceptions and influence the way we behave. 

Price of zero / free: Similar price reductions may induce different behaviours, when one of the reductions results in a zero-cost price tag. 

Social norms vs market norms: Money changes the way we think about things. Behaviour may be better encouraged by appealing to the social eager-to-please animal in us.  

Distrust: Once earned, perpetuates itself.

The rational and the aroused: We are different selves when aroused, and the both of us make very different decisions. 

Dishonesty: When the conditions are willing, people cheat but only to a certain extent. This extent is influenced by social influence and perception, and our “internal honesty monitor”. We treat different transgressions differently - appropriating office supplies does not set off an alarm, but appropriating $10 from the petty cash is likely to. However, our honesty or value monitor can be triggered by the mere suggestion or memory of ethics.  

(Goodreads)


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Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
Derek Sivers

This is such a short read that it felt like a cheat book. But it wasn’t intended to be; I only realised that it was that short after I borrowed it from the online library and started reading it. 

What’s pretty amazing about this book is how compact but thorough and insightful it is. Derek Sivers founded CD Baby, an independent music distributor in the 90’s and 00’s and this is the story of what happened and his thoughts/lessons on what worked and what didn’t. A similar memoir (if this can even be called that) would had run into a substantial tome. 

Do what’s right, do what you love until you don’t. Know your customers, empower your employees (but maybe keep an eye on any profit-sharing scheme). 

(Goodreads)


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Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It
Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik

Highly readable, and oh-so-relevant. It is an eloquent book, and the authors have included tons of examples to illustrate their points.

We are living in a world of complexity, where activities, processes and transactions involve a network of actors interacting with one another within a web of interconnected systems. Our systems are tightly coupled, which introduces dependency and opaqueness. Which, you can imagine, can go south very quickly. 

Clearfield (perfect name for a book like this, no?) and Tilcsik articulated measures that we can take to increase transparency and reduce errors in our thinking and perception, which ultimately will improve our decision-making and guide less biased actions.

SPIES, premortem, and predetermined criteria: To ensure that decisions are based on facts, and can withstand objective validation and scrutiny.

Diversity: Because just the presence of difference is enough to change how people think (more skepticism, less comfort zone).

The “stranger” or outsider: To provide diversity in opinion, and introduce more objectivity and innovation in problem-finding and problem-solving.

Slack and transparency in systems: These can be designed.

Get-there-itis: Diagnose, do, evaluate, adapt. Do not spend all your time time in the task zone.

(Goodreads)

Books in January 2019, Part 2

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Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick: People, Probabilities, and Big Moves to Beat the Odds
Chris Bradley, Martin Hirt, Sven Smit

After marking the book as read in Goodreads, I paused for a bit before choosing not to rate the book. It wasn’t a bad book; on the contrary, I enjoyed most of it!

The Power Curve and the supporting data were persuasive and illuminating. The book no doubt held some actionable insights for business executives. I have been a witness to some of the scenarios raised in the book, and it’s always nice to find camaraderie.

However, I decided against rating the book, because I didn’t know how to rate it. My reading of the advice in the book was mostly theoretical — yeah it all made reasonable sense, but I didn’t have the expertise nor the experience to judge the quality.

I find business strategy fun to read, and the more I read, the easier concepts become to grasp. That is probably obvious, but the acknowledgement of this has made me more patient and effective in pursuing information and knowledge that are beyond my familiar domains.

So, no stars yet.

(Goodreads)

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Disney U: How Disney University Develops the World's Most Engaged, Loyal, and Customer-Centric Employees
Doug Lipp

This book is about Disney University, its conception, learned lessons about its employee training principles and strategies.

The book offered practical advice on how to apply Van France’s (Disney University’s founder) four circumstances: Support, innovate, educate, and entertain, to create a customer-centric culture.

Each of these were accompanied by accounts of how they have worked in the Disney context.

I found that the best bits of the book were these stories about the theme park, and I wished there were more of them.

The best barometer of how well and effectively this has worked is probably measured by the actual experiences of park-goers.

I have only been to Disneyland in Tokyo. On that visit to TDL, I had thought that it would be just another visit to a theme park. On the walk from the train station to the park grounds, I felt viscerally the difference in mood as I neared the park. People started putting on character headgear, and every park-goer I saw had something Disney on them.

The park was immaculate; everyone had a smile on; and the atmosphere was jolly, full of wonder, and maybe even a little magical.

I had a great time.

(Goodreads)

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Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design
Kat Holmes

I had read fantastic reviews about this book online, and had nodded furiously at the Microsoft’s inclusive design principles. I was super ready to love this book.

And in spite of these ridiculous expectations, I liked the book. It read a little repetitive and dense in parts, and I think some rereading and practical application in the near future would anchor some of these ideas and concepts better.

I also found the book immensely helpful, especially the summary blurbs at the end of most chapters.

Inclusive design is more than just meeting accessibility standards. Exclusion is more ingrained and is more pervasive than I realised.

Awareness shows the way to action. The first step to inclusion is to recognise where exclusion appears. Then we can mindfully resist, and purposefully create.

(Goodreads)

 
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The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking
Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschäppeler

Ah, I remember this book, but I don’t really remember much of it. Oops.

If you want context and better examples, this is not the book for you. The models here are better illustrated elsewhere, and this reads more like an expanded index at the end of a book.

(Goodreads)

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Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the creator of NIKE
Phil Knight

I love a good memoir, and this is one.

I have not finished this book, but seeing that I’m counting down the hours till I continue reading, I’m about 500% sure that the book would be done before February rolls around.

I like NIKE. I wear my Cortez everywhere, and it was fun to read about its origins in the book. I applauded (in my mind) the good sense of Blue Ribbon Sports employees when they shot down Knight’s name suggestion of Dimension 6.

I’ve heard the origin story of the NIKE logo somewhere else, but to read about it again here gave better context around the 35-dollar fee.

I’m looking to the rest of the book!

(Goodreads)

 

Books in January 2019, Part 1

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Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behaviour
Jonah Berger

Social influences are pervasive.

Think you’re above conformity? Think that other people are easily swayed, but, oh gosh, not you! Studies have known that that isn’t true. We are much better at and prone to mimicry — both emotionally and behaviourally — than we’d like to believe.

The book is essentially one concept for several chapters, but it is an easy and short read. And the studies are fun to read.

(Goodreads)

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Educated
Tara Westover

Everyone’s all over this book. And it’s an amazing/inspiring story; Westover only set foot in a classroom at the age of 17, and she now has 2 PhDs.

I like the book, and found it an entertaining read.

However, I think what amazed me more than Westover’s tenacity is her family’s incredible luck at defying death. There were a lot of accidents in this book.

Psst, Bill Gates wrote a great review about the book, which he loved.

(Goodreads)

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Brainstorm: Detective Stories from the World of Neurology
Suzanne O’Sullivan

I went through a phase of reading neurology books. This one, told through patient stories, is centred around epilepsy.

I was surprised to learn that there were so many kinds, and that they all manifest very differently! My understanding or exposure to it is (fortunately, I guess) through media, and so I only know about seizures, convulsions, stiffening body, eye rolls… The patient stories were fascinating — no doubt the writer chose the more unusual ones — and reading them made me fear (and fear for) my brain a little bit.

Medical advances have come a long, long way, but the brain has also been very imaginative in coming up with new mysteries.

(Goodreads)

What I Read Last in 2018

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This is going to hurt
Adam Kay

This was mostly a-laugh-a-page. Highly entertaining, and a great look into the NHS in the UK.

Not all fun here, and some stories recounted here were heartbreaking. And much kudos to the medical professionals who deal with these amid the crazy, crazy hours.

(Goodreads)

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Subscribed
Tien Tzuo

So. Subscription model is the next big revenue model, or rather, it already is.

Good book for getting up to date on the model, the shift from product to subscription, examples of who have implemented it (well and not so well), and the various business and operational considerations involved.

Jessica Lessin, co-founder of The Information on advertising (as quoted in the book): “I still believe it’s much safer to build a business that doesn’t need any advertising to subscribers. Doing so forces you to focus 100% on your value to your readers.

While the quote was made in reference to the media industry, I’d like to think that it’s applicable and well worth emulating across all industries.

(Goodreads)

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Bad Blood
John Carreyrou

Absolutely enjoyed this. Could not put this down. Couldn’t had asked for a better book to end the year and start a new one.

Still aghast at the amount of conceit that went on, and at the toxic culture at Theranos.

How easy is it to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes? Terrifyingly, you seem to only require a strong belief and a forceful personality. Facts and evidence — they are merely inconvenient truths.

(Goodreads)