I decided to give up eating processed sugar for the month of January, and so reading a book with this title seemed like it would help me adhere. And nI decided to give up eating processed sugar for the month of January, and so reading a book with this title seemed like it would help me adhere. And not only did it succeed in that goal, but I think it put a permanent, deep scare in me about sugar. The book basically argues that sugar is the root cause of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even a lot of cancer.
What is interesting is while all of us know that sugar is not good for us, the only thing that people officially blame on overconsumption of it is tooth decay. Obesity is highly correlated with diabetes, heart disease, and a number of other bad things. If you Google for the cause of obesity, you see statements like “Obesity is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little. If you consume high amounts of energy, particularly fat and sugars, but don't burn off the energy through exercise and physical activity, much of the surplus energy will be stored by the body as fat.” This book makes the argument that a calorie is not a calorie, that sugar is actually toxic, but unlike other toxins it takes decades of overconsumption to show up - which has made it hard to prove.
The statistics are fascinating. Fifty years ago, one in eight American adults was obese; today the number is greater than one in three. Diabetes has gone from 1 in 2,000-3,000 to 1 in 7-8, which is an astounding increase. The book listed numerous examples of native populations that suffered from a similar diabetes epidemic after adopting the “western diets and lifestyle”. What is it about western lifestyle that has done this? The culprit is almost certainly something in the diet, and linked to processed foods - and after reading this book, it seems very logical that sugar is either the root or one of the main root causes.
“By the late 1970s, though, sugar had mostly vanished from the discussion. Dietary fat had been implicated as a cause of heart disease. Nutritionists and public-health authorities responded by rejecting the idea that sugar could be responsible for the diseases that associated with heart disease, which included both obesity and diabetes.”
“To the sugar industry, it has been the gift that keeps on giving, the ultimate defense against all arguments and evidence that sugar is uniquely toxic. This is the idea that we get obese or overweight because we take in more calories than we expend or excrete. By this thinking, researchers and public-health authorities think of obesity as a disorder of “energy balance,” a concept that has become so ingrained in conventional thinking, so widespread, that arguments to the contrary have typically been treated as quackery, if not a willful disavowal of the laws of physics.”
“Fat” is often the culprit named for people getting fat (even the word is the same!), and thus was born a processed food industry that touts “low-fat” items (which are then rich in sugar+salt to offset the bad taste). But looking at populations that eat high fat content but low sugar, shows lower rates of obesity and heart disease. For instance, the French.
“When researchers realized that the French had relatively low rates of heart disease despite a diet that was rich in saturated fats, they wrote it off as an inexplicable “paradox,” and ignored the fact that the French traditionally consumed far less sugar than did populations— the Americans and British, most notably— in which coronary disease seemed to be a scourge. At the end of the eighteenth century, French per capita sugar consumption was less than a fifth of what it was in England. At the end of the nineteenth century, even after the beet-sugar revolution, France was still lagging far behind both the British and the Americans— thirty-three pounds for the French compared with eighty-eight for the English and sixty-six for Americans.”
The logic is basically: IF excess sugar (fructose notably) leads to insulin resistance, THEN we can say with confidence that it is likely a root cause of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer, as it’s been proven to be correlated with all those things. High fat diets - particularly the wrong sorts of fats - are also involved if eaten in excess. The logic seems solid - and yet even searching “what causes obesity” you don’t see sugar named as a key cause. I’d be very curious to learn from nutritionists what the think of this logic.
“Is it that we’re all simply eating too much and exercising too little, which is the one simple answer that the nutritional establishment will embrace in the face of so much evidence to the contrary? Another simple answer, and a more likely one, is sugar.”...more
I haven't read a non-fiction book this engaging in some time. This was an amazingly well written autobiography. It read like a fast paced novel througI haven't read a non-fiction book this engaging in some time. This was an amazingly well written autobiography. It read like a fast paced novel through much of it. Many autobiographies are too long - this one if anything is too short! Like many startup companies, the story of Nike (or Blue Ribbon Shoes as it was initially called) is one of trials, tribulations, and lots of passion and grit. I ate it up, and highly recommend it.
The most defining moment of the story is Knights ballsy move while backpacking through Japan at the age of 24, to walk into a Japanese shoe manufacturer and say he has a shoe distribution company, and get a exclusive deal for the western US. Gutsy. He "just did it" (sorry, but apt). I love learning examples of this kind of "Do things that don't scale" start to successful companies (eg Zappos, Amazon, many more). From there the story is one of doubling sales each year, and never quite having enough money on the balance sheet to make it anything but very risky. It was interesting - no fascinating - that Phil had an accounting background, and was well versed that the reason most startups fail is a lack of cash reserves, and yet he had so much faith in his growth and sales that he kept plowing all cash into growth. I loved reading the stories of how they barely made it from one order to the next, how twice they had to switch banks after being cut off.
One of the key strategies of Nike's success today is athlete endorsement, and it was interesting to see how that strategy was formed in the early years. How they would offer large sums of money to athletes to wear their shoes - often to athletes already wearing their shoes - double down on people who already like your product. It was doubly interesting that Phil didn't initially believe in the power of advertising - I'd be very curious to hear how his opinion on that changed over time.
The story of Prefontaine was a touching one, and one that stayed with me. I wasn't as familiar of the story of Pre, but had heard of him. But I didn't know the role that Nike sponsored him, and even employed him. Reading Phil talk about him, you got a sense of the passion his has for the sport of running. You got a sense that the story of Pre - his passion and drive - is a metaphor for how Nike was built. This quote says it better:
The book is a fascinating telling of the founding and early history of Nike. But it stops at the IPO, and then gives a chapter postlude. This is my only complaint. It was so well written - keep going! Tell us the story of Just Do It, Air Jordans, and so many more. I could read 4 more volumes of this, as it feels like there is so much more to they story of Nike to learn....more
Kevin Kelly, who is a Wired co-founder, lays out technological trends that are "inevitable". Like too many nonfiction books, I found a few chapters toKevin Kelly, who is a Wired co-founder, lays out technological trends that are "inevitable". Like too many nonfiction books, I found a few chapters to be worth reading, and a few not to be. I enjoyed the sections on AI and books. And sometimes just zooming out to get bigger perspective is engaging, which was the case for me in the sections on VR/AR and tracking. Much of the rest of the book seemed geared for people less technically savvy, which was my only complaint as it really drew the book out.
Kelly correctly identified the three key trends that are making AI an exciting space today: processing power (GPU's), data, and better algorithms. However he didn't dive more into the longest pole: how to get a lot more data than we have today - that seems to me to be the key. But cool to get an overview. He did address one of the big fears about automation that many people have today: will computers take all our jobs? The quick answer is yes, but we'll have new ones. This has already happened multiple times in history. I agree with this, but think the more interesting question is what will happen when we can provide most people the basics (food, water, shelter) for very little cost. This was predicted in Diamond Age, and the answer was "parking lots and chaos", and a lot of people with no purpose in life.
Another big idea that Kelly hits on that I think is big and inevitable is how each book will become networked, much as the WWW has. Once we have ability to have pointers into and out from each sentence of a book, the speed at which ideas will fly out of books will step function.
A fun, fast paced science fiction thriller. I read it in 2 nights and couldn't put it down. The book is about the quantum theory of many worlds whichA fun, fast paced science fiction thriller. I read it in 2 nights and couldn't put it down. The book is about the quantum theory of many worlds which states that all decisions we make throughout our lives basically create branches, and that each possible path through the decision tree can be thought of as a parallel world. And in this book, someone invents a way to switch between these worlds. This was nicely alluded to/foreshadowed in this quote:
(view spoiler)[This book can't be discussed without spoilers. It is a book about choice and regret. Ever regret not chasing the girl of your dreams so you can focus on your career? Well Jason2 made that choice and then did regret it. Clearly the author is trying to tell us to optimize for happiness - to be that second rate physics teacher at a community college if it means you can have a happy life. I'm being snarky because while there is certainly something to that, you also have to have meaning in your life that comes from within. I thought the book was a little shallow on this dimension. In fact, all the characters were fairly shallow. Daniela was the perfect wife. Ryan the perfect antithesis of Jason. Amanda the perfect loyal traveling companion, etc. This, plus the fact that the book was weak on the science are what led me to take a few stars off - but I'd still read it again if I could go back in time - was a very fun and engaging read.
If you want to really minimize regret, you have to live your life to avoid it in the first place. Regret can't be hacked, which is kind of the point of the book. My favorite book about regret is Remains of the Day. I do really like the visualization of the decision tree though - that is a powerful concept.
A fun, humorous, fast-paced, and fascinating take on what happens when an AI awakens. In order to tell this story, Reid invents a fictional Silicon VaA fun, humorous, fast-paced, and fascinating take on what happens when an AI awakens. In order to tell this story, Reid invents a fictional Silicon Valley company called Pluttr, which seems sort of like a mashup of Snapchat+Facebook+WeChat but with more big data about us all, so it’s able to really personalize it’s experience. Frankly it seems like a good idea and where the afore mentioned companies are likely going. And this is one of my favorite things about good science fiction - it predicts the future. While not everything about this novel will come true, it is clear that Reid - who is a former tech CEO himself (and disclosure, a friend) - did his homework about technological trends and weaves them in nicely to a thrilling singularity story (Note: the book doesn’t use the word “singularity” at all, in a homage to current silicon valley trends, because for some reason that I get but don’t quite understand that word is passé - but instead to renames it “the omega point”).
One of the most interesting aspects of the book for me is the fictional company Phluttr. I mean, when an AI finally awakens you’d have to put your money on Google doing it (if it happens in the private sector) - they are the furthest along in the intersection of having the key ingredients: lots of data about people, AI technology, and computing power. But I suppose it would be weird to use a real company - Dave Eggers The Circle was similar in describing a company that was basically FB+Google. But as I said, it does seem like the descriptions of Phluttr will happen, once the both the AI improves (pretty much possible now), the dataset known about each user vastly increases (happening in some pockets), and computing power improves (will be there soon). And thinking through the possibilities of what that will enable was super fun. For instance, there was an scene in the beginning of the book where Phluttr deduced that two of the characters were at the same bar and likely there on a date, and gave them coupons and messages/information appropriate to that deduction.
One of the more interesting philosophical questions tackled by the book is: should we try to accelerate creation of a super AI? Since the first one created will have a decisive advantage and any other super AI’s created will never catch up to its intelligence nor power. Many think that the creation of a super AI is inevitable anyways, and there is a chance that whoever creates it may retain some control or benefit - though there is a very high risk you wouldn't - which is the debate. (view spoiler)[The book has characters that take both sides of this question, but ultimately lands that major countries (US, China, others) will get into an “arms race” and strive to create it. Doesn’t seem unlikely. AI in general (regardless of a super AI) will be the next nuclear arms race, no question - already is if you look at all the hacking and security issues (eg US presidential election). (hide spoiler)]
But don’t let my introspections about the subject matter make you think this is a deep thinking AI book. It is a fast paced, fun thriller with a twist at the end. It’s also got a good amount of self-deprecating-silicon-valley humor - eg I loved the fictional persuadif.er blog, with posts such as “Eat on the phone” and then you find poor characters like Pugwash doing just that. Or fun references thrown in like how Tim Tebow is now a VR tycoon (huh?). Bottom line: this captures interesting technological trends in a humorous & thrilling read - highly recommended!...more
A fascinating look at the early part of LBJ’s life and career. This is the first of a four book series covering LBJ’s life. At least 3 extremely smartA fascinating look at the early part of LBJ’s life and career. This is the first of a four book series covering LBJ’s life. At least 3 extremely smart people that I respect told me that this series was one of the best books they’ve ever read. I was also interested in reading about politics and corrupt politicians to get some grounding given the current political climate, and even in volume 1, this didn’t disappoint.
Many biographies spend way too much time on details that are not very relevant, especially in the early life, and this book was no exception - although I found the writing good and story compelling that I finished it rather quickly (also thanks to whispersync with Audible). The book covers Johnsons childhood up through age 32 when he as a congressman lost the race for senate to Pappy O’Daniel. Pappy O’Daniel by the way, sounds like fun character - totally unqualified to be governor or senator but elected b/c everyone knew him from his radio show. In terms of Johnsons childhood, it was oddly interesting to learn about the “Hill Country” of Texas and why those who have lived there have had such rough lives.
I love biographies, as it’s always fascinating to see what motivates successful people - where their drive comes from. With LBJ, Caro paints his motivation as initially coming from not wanting to grow up poor and in debt like his father. But then his motivation shifts to become more “a hunger for power in its most naked form, for power not to improve the lives of others, but to manipulate and dominate them, to bend them to his will.”
Johnson’s raw hunger for power, his desire to be someone, led him to work extremely hard. And not only himself, but also the people who worked for him. It was impressive how hard he worked himself and his small team when he was working as a congressional aide. And all driven by a lust for power. Interestingly to me, he picked exclusively people who were “loyal” to him - meaning he could work them to the bone - over people who were intelligent or experienced in what needed to be done. He was able to pull this off as in the post great depression era, a lot of people had no other way to get a job, or get ahead, and so LBJ had leverage. But LBJ did have a gift in picking and reading men, which was I think key to understanding his success.
Johnson also had no qualms cheating to steal elections - with both his election to school president in college, and the little congress, he cheated.
A fascinating piece of LBJ was that he worked very hard to not commit to a public position on almost anything. He basically told people what he thought they wanted to hear - perhaps a hallmark of a corrupt politician. This gave him a lot of freedom to play both sides. Liberals literally thought he was liberal and conversatives thought he was conservative. Not the most moral of stances, but in that pre-internet age, more possible to pull off and even smart tactically.
“Once, a congressional aide, who had just heard him “talking conservative” with Martin Dies, came across him, “not an hour later,” “talking liberal” with Patman— espousing a point of view diametrically opposite to the one he had been espousing sixty minutes before.”
A hallmark of the New Deal was helping people who needed it, and Johnson did help the poor farmers of Texas. I thought this quote was a powerful representation of the impact he had and why he kept getting elected:
A fascinating book about community and belonging, and how modern society has moved us away from our roots in potentially signifiant ways. The book opeA fascinating book about community and belonging, and how modern society has moved us away from our roots in potentially signifiant ways. The book opens with a thought provoking fact: in early America, there were numerous instances of white people joining primitive, native Indian societies - but zero instances of the opposite, because "the intensely communal nature of an Indian tribe held an appeal that the material benefits of Western civilization couldn’t necessarily compete with."
The book also argues that the wealth we enjoy in modern society is isolating, against the grain of millions of years of our evolution, and can lead to depression, because our happiness is in large part rooted in a need to feel connected to others. While this feels right and intuitive, it doesn't seem to be the way we are optimizing our lives.
"A wealthy person who has never had to rely on help and resources from his community is leading a privileged life that falls way outside more than a million years of human experience. Financial independence can lead to isolation, and isolation can put people at a greatly increased risk of depression and suicide. This might be a fair trade for a generally wealthier society— but a trade it is."
Another loss the book points out is the loss of the transparency and social justice that being in a small community used to bring. When your neighbors and community members all know each other and what is going on with each other, group peer pressure tends to reward good actions and punish bad ones. The book points out that people wouldn't for instance cheat unemployment if their neighbors were paying for it and everyone knew what was happening. In anonymity we have lost a sense of responsibility to each other.
I haven't read a ton of "history of the world" books, but this was fascinating. Highly recommended. I think the author is incredibly good at explaininI haven't read a ton of "history of the world" books, but this was fascinating. Highly recommended. I think the author is incredibly good at explaining and simplifying big concepts. He take on complex things like religion & capitalism and explains them in very simple terms that you likely hadn't thought about before.
There was a fascinating bit on the scientific mindset, and how it was key to Europe taking power. After the scientific revolution, they believed in science and its ability to let man discover new things, make more money, etc. This made them into explorers, whereas many other cultures remained very static. Great example of China having had gunpowder for hundreds of years but not using it for anything other than fireworks, and didn't invent the gun. Reminded me a bit of the Mindset.
The chapter on capitalism was fascinating. There line about before its invention that the economy didn't grow, and was "frozen" as nobody poured money into new things, so there was no growth. Then the notion of credit was discovered, and as growth started, the combination snowballed. In 1500 the annual per capita production was $550 and today its $8,800 - this is an astounding increase, and all because of the virtuous growth cycle of capitalism: money is invested -> businesses grow -> people make money -> they invest their money. I never thought about the fact that reinvesting profits is a core piece of capitalism, but from this lens it really is.
What I didn't see coming is how the end of the book was dedicated to human happiness. Fascinating questions to ask if we are happier today than 1,000 or 2,000 years ago. By metrics of death rate, average age of death and general health, we ought to be. But clearly peasants after the agricultural revolution were on average less happy than they were before as hunter-gatherers. And now we live in an always-on internet age, with pressure to continue growing our economy. So are we happier? It is the right question, in my opinion. The book then gave the basics of the happiness framework that I've also read in other places and believe in: that people are happy when they have 3 things: (1) Friends and family that love them (2) Are part of a community that makes them feel like they below (3) have a purpose to their life and feel like they are doing something meaningful. However, the book then adds onto this in another way that I have been learning about but hadn't put together with this: meditation.
I really enjoyed this book, and there is a lot to recommend it. It did drag on a little at the end so I knocked off 1 star - but overall a wow book.
ItI really enjoyed this book, and there is a lot to recommend it. It did drag on a little at the end so I knocked off 1 star - but overall a wow book.
It's the story of a starship sent to Tau Ceti - the nearest star that has Earth analog planets - to colonize it. The journey there will take generations, and the story is told of the 3rd & 4th (?) generations, which are the ones that reaches Tau Ceti. It is a story of purpose, and how having a purpose affects behavior. A story of politics, and people.
The first cool thing about this book is the richness of its world. The ship is intricate and large in its design and ambition to shepherd ~1200 people for that much time. It had 3D printers that can print almost anything you can imagine - even DNA - or more printers - so little goes lacking that can't be recreated.
But the thing that makes this book brilliant is the Ship. The AI that controls the ship, who is narrating the book by the end. It's observations about humans and our language are just brilliant. It starts with the astute observation that human language is very imprecise, and relies heavily on metaphor and analogy. It is remarkable once you start to reflect on it, how true that is. To hear the AI reflect on this:
Basically we are a bunch of pattern matchers, trying to match things we've seen before to new things, and if they don't match perfectly, it doesn't matter, because matching helps us bucket and organize the new information. But this is incredibly fuzzy! The AI also makes hilarious observations like this:
Listening to the AI try to reason is also very interesting to my programmers mind. I especially loved it's discussion of the meaning of life - it really nails it. If a program (or a person) has no objective, it has no purpose, no meaning, no organizing principle, and it's existence will be in trouble. But if you have that meaning to organize your thoughts & actions - or your subroutines - than you have a purpose. Meaning is the hard problem indeed.
"We had a project on this trip back to the solar system, and that project was a labor of love. It absorbed all our operations entirely. It gave a meaning to our existence. And this is a very great gift; this, in the end, is what we think love gives, which is to say meaning. Because there is no very obvious meaning to be found in the universe, as far as we can tell. But a consciousness that cannot discern a meaning in existence is in trouble, very deep trouble, for at that point there is no organizing principle, no end to the halting problems, no reason to live, no love to be found. No: meaning is the hard problem."
(view spoiler)[My review focuses a lot on the AI, but that's not the main thrust of the book. The war between stayers and leavers, the political tensions, the slinghot maneuvers to get back - all make the book worth reading. And as a surfer, I love how it ends with Freya finding meaning in surfing waves. (hide spoiler)]...more
A beautiful story. It is rare to encounter a book that does such a good job painting the scenes in your mind - you really felt like you were there andA beautiful story. It is rare to encounter a book that does such a good job painting the scenes in your mind - you really felt like you were there and got to know the characters and the people they came across. I generally love WWII books and movies, but wasn't sure if I'd like one featuring a blind girl and a young Nazi radio operator - but he brings a lot of life to them.
That said, the novel drifts around a lot, and the plotline jumping forward and backward in time drove me nuts.
I thought a lot about if there is a theme to the book. One was the diamond and if it was really cursed (based on the Hope Diamond perhaps?). Another is that 20K Leagues is an awesome book. But I think the book was a lot about fear and the unknown, and how people deal with it. Marie-Laure was blind and couldn't tell what was happening around her - yet she was the bravest one. Werner was afraid of ending up as a miner, which drove him to join the army, and learn about radios. And Uncle Etienne was afraid dying from a sniper he couldn't see, so he didn't leave his house and he created a radio transmitter. So the moral of the story is... don't be paralyzed by your fears.
If everyone in the world read this book, the world would instantly become a better place. Mental models, while never perfect, are very powerful tools,If everyone in the world read this book, the world would instantly become a better place. Mental models, while never perfect, are very powerful tools, and Grant has come up with a compelling, research backed view of what makes some people successful, and others less so.
Grant divided the world into givers, matchers, and takers. Through a lot of research, Grant determined that the most successful and the least successful people are often givers, that takers often do well but not over the long term, and the vast majority of people are matchers. Like all such categorizations (eg fixed vs growth mindset), it isn’t perfect, which bothered me a little - until you realize that in different situations you can either be giving, taking, or matching, and there are probably people that favor one of those three more often than not.
Grant used surveys to determine if people are givers, though its strange that he didn’t expand on what type of questions are used to determine this, as it would have been insightful. Happily, Google works, and I found he does have such a test on his website. And I scored 53% giver!
The book opens with a chapter about one of the best givers and people that I know, David Hornik, who funded the last company I worked at. So awesome to see him getting such an amazing shoutout - he deserves it!
I liked the example of Ken Lay as a successful taker. “When kissing up, takers are often good fakers.” I do wonder how many successful “takers” there are out there that don’t have anything bad happen to them though. The book does use Frank Lloyd Wright as such an example, which is a fascinating dichotomy.
Other interesting ways to determine givers & takers: use of “I” vs “we”, number of LinkedIn recommendations written vs received.
This was a very powerful insight: “people actually make more accurate and creative decisions when they’re choosing on behalf of others than themselves.”. Eg: “The solution was thinking about myself as an agent, an advocate for my family. As a giver, I feel guilty about pushing too much, but the minute I start thinking, ‘I’m hurting my family, who’s depending on me for this,’ I don’t feel guilty about pushing for that side.”
The book also explains why givers are also the most unsuccessful - they are too selfless. Successful givers balance giving to others while taking care of themselves. “As Bill Gates argued at the World Economic Forum, “there are two great forces of human nature: self-interest, and caring for others,” and people are most successful when they are driven by a “hybrid engine” of the two. If takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.”
I liked the example of how with Freecycle, small numbers of givers could turn everyone into givers. I think Goodreads has had a similar journey with our community. It’s kind of the definition of a community: “If a group develops a norm of giving, members will uphold the norm and give, even if they’re more inclined to be takers or matchers elsewhere. This reduces the risks of giving: when everyone contributes, the pie is larger, and givers are no longer stuck contributing far more than they get.”
Some other quotes I liked:
“highly talented people tend to make others jealous, placing themselves at risk of being disliked, resented, ostracized, and undermined. But if these talented people are also givers, they no longer have a target on their backs.”
“For many years, psychologists believed that in any domain, success depended on talent first and motivation second. To groom world-class athletes and musicians, experts looked for people with the right raw abilities, and then sought to motivate them. If you want to find people who can dunk like Michael Jordan or play piano like Beethoven, it’s only natural to start by screening candidates for leaping ability and an ear for music. But in recent years, psychologists have come to believe that this approach may be backward. In the 1960s, a pioneering psychologist named Raymond Cattell developed an investment theory of intelligence. He proposed that interest is what drives people to invest their time and energy in developing particular skills and bases of knowledge. Today, we have compelling evidence that interest precedes the development of talent. It turns out that motivation is the reason that people develop talent in the first place.”
I kind of loved this book because it give a lot of the "why" - the science - behind a lot of best practices. This is the kind of thing that helps me cI kind of loved this book because it give a lot of the "why" - the science - behind a lot of best practices. This is the kind of thing that helps me change my behavior - when I know how it works under the hood.
The book is broken into a series of "brain rules" on different subjects. I'll list main takeaways:
Exercise We all know it's good for us and it feels good and we should do it. The best quote here was "Physical activity is cognitive candy." - also "A lifetime of exercise results in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary." The basic science is that blood flow through your brain is good for it and increases brain activity. Tip: exercise before you need your brain to be at its best.
Sleep First, great to have validation that there really are early birds and night owls. I'm definitely a night owl, despite my kids best efforts. The interesting implications of this for a company are that people are at their best - their most productive - at different times of the day - so building a culture that is flexible and let's people work their hours is key. The science about the history of naps and the fact that the mid-afternoon slump is a real thing was also very interesting. The studies about sleep loss being as cognitively limiting as alcohol were also illuminating. Another study showed sleeping on a problem really does work.
But the most interesting thing about the sleep chapter was the section on dreaming and what it might mean. In particular, dreams may at least in large part be a method of neural network training to enforce learning. "humans appear to replay certain learning experiences at night, during the slow-wave phase."
Stress Too much stress is bad for you - our systems weren't designed for constant stress. If you have too much adreline in your system constantly it leads to scarred blood vessels and then eventually a stroke. But a little stress is good - our brains will remember things that we are stressed about better (eg avoid predators on the savannah). But too much (chronic) stress can overwhelms the brain and hurts learning and can even make you depressed. Chronic stress is often the culprit in grief, or high anxiety households. The worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problem— you are helpless.
Wiring “What you do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like— it literally rewires it.”
Attention I’ve said for a long time that humans don’t remember facts, we remember facts couched in emotions. We can easily recall all the strong emotional moments of our lives as if they happened yesterday. Now it’s great to have the science behind this: emotions release dopamine, which greatly aids in memory and information processing. This means that people will relate better to products that bring up positive emotions for them. It also means that an emotional hook to lead into an idea or product will always work as it triggers the emotion in the person.
Another interesting thing mentioned in this chapter is the 10 minute rule. We only have about 10 minutes of attention on something before we start to tune out. As the book says, “This fact suggests a teaching and business imperative: Find a way to get and hold somebody’s attention for 10 minutes, then do it again.”
To get an idea to stick you have to give people the mental model for it first - “meaning before details”. Specifically, you need to: “Give the general idea first, before diving into details, and you will see a 40 percent improvement in understanding.” And then you also have to simplify and hammer home concepts and let people digest them - force-feeding too many concepts at once won’t sink in.
In terms of paying attention (vs automatic things like riding a bicycle), “Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth.” - the brain can only pay attention to one thing at a time.
Memory There are different types of memory: declarative (I can remember my address and SSN), non declarative (I can remember how to ride a bike), short term, and long term. Short term memory isn’t converted to long term easily: “People usually forget 90 percent of what they learn in a class within 30 days. And the majority of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class.”. Keys to doing so are coding in emotion (why word association works), and repetition (“repeat to remember”). Also, thinking about what tree the person will mentally group the information and how to increase entry points or create strong ones.
Interestingly, “Memory worked best, it appeared, if the environmental conditions at retrieval mimicked the environmental conditions at encoding.”. This means if you learn something sad you will remember it better if you get sad again. Fascinating. This makes sense, as our brains must group similar patterns it remembers together. To get practical, you can create science, art, language stations to help people remember better.
We all know this to be true - our memory isn’t perfect. This is because we remember patterns, not facts or single instances. “Our brains give us only an approximate view of reality, because they mix new knowledge with past memories and store them together as one.”
Another tidbit I liked, that fits in the “repeat to remember” bucket: “A great deal of research shows that thinking or talking about an event immediately after it has occurred enhances memory for that event”. Basically the more an idea can be repeated - especially in timed intervals - the more chance it has of being encoded from short term to long term memory.
Sensory Integration We remember data from each of our senses, and we learn best if we stimulate multiple senses concurrently. You remember better if you see AND hear something, or even if given words and pictures. Smells or sounds or tastes can trigger additional associations or emotions and help us create positive or negative associations to things we see or do. This is why people who haven’t adopted digital reading say things like “I love the smell of a good book”, this is why smelling fresh roasted coffee is a key part of Starbucks playbook. Smells have the power to bring back memories that are associated with them.
Vision Vision trumps and overrides all other senses. I loved the story about the wine experts who were fooled by white wine with red dye in it because their eyes said it was red wine. Fascinating to read about the science of how the brain takes in the signals from the eyes, combines both signals, and applies pattern matching to fill in details. This means the brain has creative freedom to insert whatever it wants into our vision.
Practical applications: our vision is caught by bold colors, orientations, motion. We remember images better than words because it’s easier to pattern match the image, so use images in presentations.
Music Music makes us more empathic - we can better recognize the emotions in speech, which helps in social abilities. Making music is 10x better for kids than listening to baby einstein CD’s. Listening to music reduced cortisol and stress.
Gender Boys and girls have different brain structures. When under stress, men remember the gist of things better, and women remember details and emotions. These quotes describe it well:
“The difference between girls’ and boys’ communication could be described as the addition of a single powerful word. Boys might say, “Do this.” Girls would say, “Let’s do this.”
“When girl best friends communicate with each other, they lean in, maintain eye contact, and do a lot of talking. They use their sophisticated verbal talents to cement their relationships. Boys never do this. They rarely face each other directly, preferring either parallel or oblique angles. They make little eye contact, their gaze always casting about the room. They do not use verbal information to cement their relationships. Instead, commotion seems to be the central currency of a little boy’s social economy. Doing things physically together is the glue that cements their relationships.”
“In our evolutionary history, having a team that could understand both the gist and details of a given stressful situation helped us conquer the world. Why would the world of business be exempted from that advantage? Having an executive team or work group capable of simultaneously understanding both the emotional forests and the trees of a stressful project, such as a merger, might be a marriage made in business heaven. It could even affect the bottom line.”
Exploration We learn by doing, by exploring the world. We take pleasure in that exploration. Discovery based learning is best. Medical school offers the best on the job learning - other types of education should do better to model it. Learn and be curious....more
I think this is a must read for any leader in a modern business. Google has done a lot of things right both in their products and also in how they runI think this is a must read for any leader in a modern business. Google has done a lot of things right both in their products and also in how they run their company and build their culture, and this is a fairly detailed account of how they've built an impressive culture, and is written by someone who knows - their head of HR. I'm a little surprised he told as much as he did - but I suppose it will only help for recruiting.
Goodreads is now a subsidiary of Amazon, and I have spent significant time learning to integrate the best of Amazons culture with ours. And I'm happy to say that many - perhaps most - of the best practices listed in the book are also used by Amazon. Things like hiring people smarter than you, hiring committees and having objective people on them, committees to approve promotions, focusing on the two tails, and more. These don't seem to be things all companies do yet - but should.
So while much of the practices were things I'm already doing or aware of - there was a lot I learned from the book too. Here are some of the bigger takeaways I had.
One of the more interesting ones was the notion to separate performance reviews from compensation discussions. This makes a lot of sense, is something we have already been making progress towards, and is something I'm going to think about more.
“Traditional performance management systems make a big mistake. They combine two things that should be completely separate: performance evaluation and people development. Evaluation is necessary to distribute finite resources, like salary increases or bonus dollars. Development is just as necessary so people grow and improve." If you want people to grow, don’t have those two conversations at the same time. Make development a constant back-and-forth between you and your team members, rather than a year-end surprise."
Another one was giving managers a bi-annual scorecards from their directs on how they did on ~10 dimensions that Google has determined are the determinants of a great manager. And no surprise (but very important to keep in mind), the book found that "manager quality was the single best predictor of whether employees would stay or leave, supporting the adage that people don’t quit companies, they quit bad managers." While we do a lot of surveys, we haven't packaged up the managers feedback into a report like this, and I think that would be powerful.
Laszlo was impressive in citing lots of research to prove his points. It was one of my more favorite things about the book - he is clearly a student of human development. This led to lots of tidbits that apply pretty broadly, and which are great things to keep in mind when building a business.
The chapter on nudges was I think my favorite in the book. Pretty cool the depth to which they have taken these - reminds me a lot of the onboarding funnel analysis I've done for Goodreads - paying attention to where you can message timely, relevant, easily actionable messages that will result in people taking desired actions, and a/b testing the results. Pretty impressive they a/b test that kind of stuff at Google! Examples given were around lists on how to onboard someone as a manager, how to be onboarded as a newbie, how to get more people to save money earlier in life and enroll in the 401K program (his data here was impressive - on how people of the same income bracket vary widely on wealth accumulated in their lives based purely on how much they save when they are young), and how to get people to eat healthier by putting the healthier foods in the kitchens more prominently.
"Nudges are an incredibly powerful mechanism for improving teams and organizations. They are also ideally suited to experimentation, so can be tested on smaller populations to fine-tune their results."
Laszlo did a great job of explaining a lot of the psychology behind nudges too. My favorite was the research about checklists, and story about how the Airforce found that even the smartest, best trained pilots can make mistakes, but having checklists reduces their error rates significantly.
"I realized that management too is phenomenally complex. It’s a lot to ask of any leader to be a product visionary or a financial genius or a marketing wizard as well as an inspiring manager. But if we could reduce good management to a checklist, we wouldn’t need to invest millions of dollars in training, or try to convince people why one style of leadership is better than another. We wouldn’t have to change who they were. We could just change how they behave."
"It turns out checklists really do work, even when the list is almost patronizingly simple. We’re human, and we sometimes forget the most basic things."
Another thing I loved was the focus on identifying the people who are best at a specific skill, and designing a program for them to teach that skill to others. G2G (Googlers 2 Googlers).
"Giving employees the opportunity to teach gives them purpose. Even if they don’t find meaning in their regular jobs, passing on knowledge is both inspiring and inspirational."
I liked his descriptions of deliberate learning. He gave examples of asking after every meeting "what did we learn and how could we do better in the future". And the story about Tiger hitting golf balls at 4am in the rain was pretty sweet.
"Ericsson refers to this as deliberate practice: intentional repetitions of similar, small tasks with immediate feedback, correction, and experimentation."
My favorite tidbit - which I know to be true but is something great to keep in mind - is how to motivate people: let them connect to the people their work is helping.
"even a small connection to the people who benefit from your work not only improves productivity, it also makes people happier. And everyone wants their work to have purpose.
Bock, Laszlo (2015-04-07). Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead (pp. 340-341). Grand Central Publishing. Kindle Edition. ...more
A decent book about Google from it's former CEO and head of product. I am only giving it 3 stars because a lot of it was too vague to be useful or stuA decent book about Google from it's former CEO and head of product. I am only giving it 3 stars because a lot of it was too vague to be useful or stuff I already knew. However every 5 or 10 pages there was a nugget, or reminder of something I knew but that was good to think about. Also good to see a lot of this all written down in one place. So worthwhile overall, though it did take me a while to plow through.
Eric spent a lot of time talking about product excellence. In todays crowded market, products that are better than the rest are the ones that succeed. Better design, functionality, even speed.
There was also a lot of discussion about how to lead a engineering and product led organization - which is absolutely critical in a technology company. Also discussion how to scale a company and hire smart people. Eric used the prhase "smart creatives" to describe the kind of people who will be successful in a technology company - though I'm not so sure they are such a new breed as he makes out. But anyways: identify smart creative people who like tech. Then find those who have the biggest impact and give them more to do, and lots of autonomy.
The below was another obvious-yet-interesting-to-think about philosophy of Google's. A good question to ask in any new product or feature is always what technical innovation it has.
Other good tips: * keep details about projects people are doing in your phone address book so you can easily look them up anywhere. * Once a year write a self-review and share it with the people you work with. * Clean out your inbox down to 5 emails or less each day. * In a fast paced business the best/only way to get things done is relationships, so pay attention to those. * OKR's and why it's good to stretch yourself, and make them public. * 70/20/10 for resource allocation: 70% on the core business, 20% on emerging, 10% on new. * The way to improve a product is to challenge your smart people. Eg "these ads suck" ...more
5 stars for giving me a better framework for how to organize my stuff and what stuff to keep than I'd ever had before. For instance it was so freeing5 stars for giving me a better framework for how to organize my stuff and what stuff to keep than I'd ever had before. For instance it was so freeing to realize I don't have to keep gifts....more