What happened here? Duhigg's last book, The Power of Habit, was a really tight, focused examination of the psychology of goals and habits. It had a coWhat happened here? Duhigg's last book, The Power of Habit, was a really tight, focused examination of the psychology of goals and habits. It had a coherent thesis that each chapter related to and built on. Smarter Faster Better, however, feels like an unconnected dump of ideas.
The sales pitch is that the book will tell you how to become better (and smarter and faster) and more productive. When you look at the table of contents, you see that each chapter addresses a productivity topic, like motivation, goal setting, working in teams, innovation, et cetera. Cool! However, once you get into the chapters, you see that they're just a collection of concepts loosely related to each chapter title. The chapter "Teams" isn't a broad overview of teamwork, for example. It's mostly about one concept --psychological safety. It would be more accurate to title the chapter that. Likewise, the chapter on motivation is really a chapter on Caroll Dweck's growth mindset. As such, the book's broad promise of teaching you how to be better in these areas falls short. Instead you get lessons on very specific phenomenon.
That said, Duhigg is still a really great writer and he communicates these often complex ideas masterfully. His roots as a reporter are clear to see, as he couches every lesson in multiple true stories that illustrate the concepts. This works much better than, for example, simply recounting the methods and hypotheses of a lab study. He really has a way of making the material understandable and entertaining.
I just wish it were a little more focused and unified....more
Finished #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso. I'm really not sure what this book is trying to be. Mostly I guess it's a biography about Amoruso, who went fromFinished #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso. I'm really not sure what this book is trying to be. Mostly I guess it's a biography about Amoruso, who went from running an eBay store selling vintage clothing to the CEO of a highly successful, online clothing retailer. And for sure, she has an interesting rags to riches story. My favorite parts of the book were her describing how she spazzed her way through various ideologies and crises in her teens and early 20s before becoming obsessed with selling clothing online. And then how that blew up into a successful company despite the fact that she barely finished high school, much less got an MBA or had any traditional business experience. It's a justifiably inspiring and sometimes entertaining story.
But then we come to the other stuff in the book. Amorouso feels the need to share what got her where she is and how you too can be a #GirlBoss who marches to her own beat and wears leather pants to the board room or something. Nothing she has to share is pretty obvious stuff. This ranges from the banal and obvious (work hard, take care of customers, believe in yourself) to the vague (be fiscally responsible, hire good people) to the slightly cringe inducing (her whole set of recommendations on how to prepare for an interview or how to handle getting fired).
I just don't know who this self-help stuff is supposed to be for. Young adults who are encountering these vague concepts for the first time, maybe? Regardless, Amoruso and the book would have been better served by trying to inspire readers through her quirky story and obviously intense spirit. There's good stuff in there that shows more than it tells. Trying to be a business guru sharing how-tos and advice didn't work nearly as well.
Also, I really hate the hashtag in the title. But that's probably on me....more
Sometimes it's good to read something outside your area of expertise and comfort zone. WHAT VIDEO GAMES HAVE TO TECH US ABOUT LEARNING AND LITERACY isSometimes it's good to read something outside your area of expertise and comfort zone. WHAT VIDEO GAMES HAVE TO TECH US ABOUT LEARNING AND LITERACY is first about the academic study of learning and education, second about linguistics, and a distant third about video games. I'm only knowledgeable about one of those things, but I still got a lot out of it.
The author, James Paul Gee, is as of now a 67 year old linguistics professor at Arizona State University and he essentially writes what the book's title promises: an exploration of what good game design suggests for improving classroom education. He explores how the way players tackle new identities is similar to what they need to do to learn from texts and classroom lessons, for example. He explains how video games take players through tutorial levels illustrates the best kind of contextual learning of new material. He describes how cultural norms and models of "good" behavior vary from group to group the same way they do in some video games. He describes how learning and problem solving in video games is distributed and social in nature, just like how it is in real life but unlike how it usually is in classrooms.
Gee, by his own admission, came to appreciate video games late in life and that colors some of his discussion of games. All his examples are dated at this point and there's little perspective on recent changes in the gaming landscape, such as casual games, mobile games, or serious games. As such, you shouldn't come looking for any examination of games as a larger cultural force or a discussion of how their design has evolved. Gee is firmly focussed on the topics of pedagogy, often viewed through the lense of linguistics. The terms and models he uses are highly academic and usually took careful reading on my part to grasp. But Gee spell is all out if you're willing to pause and mouth the words to yourself when needed.
So while not for a casual or general audience, it's a book that's full of interesting ideas that I may take and borrow from, especially as they relate to identity, roles, social learning, and communication in video games. But what you won't get is a recipe or checklist approach for gamifying learning or any other activity. It's all theory and very little practice. I wouldn't go so far as to say I enjoyed the book, but I am glad I read it....more
Here's something else I'm starting to notice about these many of these books: their hook is that they take some conventional wisdom and flip it.
For GHere's something else I'm starting to notice about these many of these books: their hook is that they take some conventional wisdom and flip it.
For GIVE AND TAKE by Adam Grant, the flipped wisdom is that you get ahead by snatching opportunities at any cost, competing with other people, and doing what it takes to come out ahead of the other guy or gal. Instead, Grant argues that while being a "taker" can get you places and geing a "matcher" can help you tread water, the most successful people in life and business are actually "givers." They give of themselves and help other people succeed. They form networks and relationships that benefit not only themselves, but others. They build credibility, trust, and favor through generosity instead of a ledger full of favors made and owed through a pro quid pro attitude.
That established, Grant spends the bulk of the book explaining WHY being a giver has benefits in various contexts, such as professional networks, talent management, influencing people, and politics. He also calls out the difference between being generous and being stupid or gullible. There are, for example, chapters on how to avoid being taken advantage of ("the doormat effect") and how to be scrupulous and savvy about with whom to invest your limited largesse. I appreciate this for the practical angle and not stopping at the high concept level.
Stylistically, one thing that Grant really leans into is storytelling by way of biography. Each chapter typically weaves in three or more stories about people who exemplify the points Grant is trying to make. Typically this is hallmark of good nonfiction writing since we are more likely to pay attention to, understand, and even believe arguments when they're framed as a story or narrative. But I did find that Grant did go overboard with this approach at times. He often repeated himself and spun his wheels narratively when he should have just gotten out with his point or excised an anecdote entirely for the sake of readability.
Still, Grant does have the benefit of being an industrial-organizational psychologist --like myself-- at a prestigious school --nothing like myself-- and it shows. In with the anecdotes and biographies are references to scientific research about motivation, influence, power, talent development, and more. I just wish he had mixed them in at a slightly different ratio. Of all the books I've read so far in this experiment, GIVE AND TAKE is probably the one that I'll aim to emulate the most....more
One thing I like about this book is that it’s got a clear, unambiguous purpose: to provide a new framework for how the employer-employee relationshipOne thing I like about this book is that it’s got a clear, unambiguous purpose: to provide a new framework for how the employer-employee relationship should work in “this new digital age.” Well, at least for some employees, like knowledge workers and managers. And at least for some companies, like high tech companies and others that have a lot of different functions. At least the ones operating in certain environments where talented employees are at a premium and have options for changing employers.
I get the feeling this is going to be a theme with all these books: they are myopic to some extent in that they assume that every business is like the ones they know about. Or, to put it another possible way, they focus on the type of business and industry they’re familiar with and don’t branch out into things they’re not experts on. Either way, The Alliance seems to be talking almost exclusively about technology companies like LinkedIn (of which the first author was a cofounder), Amazon, Facebook, and the like.
But at least within those boundaries, the book focuses sharply on two concepts: the use of “tours of duty” and how to leverage employees’ social networks. Tours of duty are essentially formal job rotations so that employees learn new skills and perspectives, but baked into the culture and operations of the company and available for anyone who wants one or more. Leveraging social networks –or “network intelligence to put it in a fancier way– involves having the courage to let employees network in the first place, and then building formal structures and systems in to encourage it and extract work-related information from the experiences.
What I like about this book is that it’s very prescriptive. It leans away from inspirational stories in favor of bulleted lists of things to do or experiment with. Lots of stories are included –especially from LinkedIn– but they are used to illustrate points and they don’t dwell on any biographical details that don’t serve that purpose. As I said, it’s focussed and tries to be practical and usable. I appreciate that.
What I don’t like is that the lessons and recommendations aren’t evidenced based at all. They are, in fact, planted (not so) firmly in the soil of anecdote and "it stands to reason” types of arguments. References to studies supporting the efficacy of the book’s recommendations are not to be found, so when building our own evaluations of them we’re left to insert familiar psychological biases based on how they make us feel, how familiar the situations they evoke feel to us, how much they reinforce our pre-existing beliefs, and how easy to understand they are. This, I suspect, will be a common criticism of similar books in my reading list....more
This is a book that might be inspirational for a large wedge of women, but practical for probably only a small sliver. It’s a book about the issues thThis is a book that might be inspirational for a large wedge of women, but practical for probably only a small sliver. It’s a book about the issues that women face in the workplace and how to “lean in” to them in order to overcome them. Sandberg makes heavy use of autobiographical elements to discuss topics like a leadership ambition gap (women don’t tend to aspire to leadership roles as much), the greater value placed on modesty and reservedness and likability in women relative to men, the greater lack of risk taking in women, and the over reliance on mentors.
These are, of course, legitimate issues in the workplace. Sandberg isn’t making this stuff up and she provides plenty of references to research that illustrate her points. Mostly in the “A study by X found that Y percent of women experienced Z” variety that keeps things nice and simple, though. There’s no discussion of theory or technical terms, though she did drop the phrase “stereotype threat” at one point even is she got the definition wrong in a pretty fundamental way. There isn’t any attempt at understanding why some of these problems developed or models about how to change them. It’s just “Here’s an unfortunate thing. This thing sure is a pain in the ass, right?” But I guess that’s not the kind of book Sandberg is interested in writing.
What she did seem to want to write is more of an autobiography, though to be fair it’s only a partial one that focuses on her later career. And to continue being fair, it’s a pretty good one. Sandberg’s writing is solid and moves along well and the autobiographical parts are always firmly tethered to a point she’s making instead of allowed to roam freely across the page. She’s an interesting person who has led an inspiring life.
And I think that word “inspire” is where most of this boko’s value lies. It raises thoughts about issues that Sandberg faced (and continues to face), which will encourage readers to find parallels in their lives. Some of those readers –probably women working in large companies or technology startups– will be inspired by what Sandberg says and may try to emulate what they think she has done. And that’s a good thing, obviously.
I just have to wonder how transferable this inspiration is to people working outside of Sadnberg’s bubble. She no doubt worked hard in her life (way harder than I have, I’m sure) but she’s also had benefits that a lot of other people haven’t had –access to education, a good home to grow up in, and opportunities to work in high tech. And most of her discussion centers around her experiences at Facebook, Google, and similar firms. I don’t fault her for that –I admire her, in fact. But one has to think that advice about aspiring to leadership, attributing your success to internal factors, and claiming your seat at the table are a lot less practical to those in very different situations....more
“Follow your passions” is really, really dumb career advice.
That’s the central tenet of SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU by Cal Newport. This book is att“Follow your passions” is really, really dumb career advice.
That’s the central tenet of SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU by Cal Newport. This book is attention getting precisely because it flies in the face of the “follow your dreams” pap that every coming of age story and after school special has fed us. It pries at the part of our mind that thinks that kind of advice is frothy, empty, and worthless. It addresses the question of “But what if following my dreams is likely to make me broke, homeless, and a complete failure in every other area of life?“ As the saying goes, "Look for a job doing what you really love and you’ll never work a day in your life because nobody is hiring for that.”
That established, the balance of Newport’s book focuses largely on developing what he calls “career capital.” It’s not sexy or inspiring advice. Work hard, he says. Get good at things other people value, he says. Adopt the attitude of a craftsman who deliberately practices to master a skill. That accomplished, Newport then advises the reader to then spend that career capital on work assignments and jobs that maximize freedom and autonomy. Get the fun (and important) assignment, negotiate a 30-hour per week schedule so you can do fun stuff on the side, or demand the funding you need for some fascinating research project. Finally, Newport explains how developing and marketing a personal mission in life so that you can stay on track with all this.
This is interesting, but at the same time I think Newport still manages to lose sight of reality a few times –or at least the reality that people unlike him will face. The book seems to assume that the readers can acquire career capital simply by setting their minds to it, despite show stoppers like poverty, lack of opportunity, and the like. And even ignoring that (or accepting it and instead speaking mostly to those lucky enough to avoid those pitfalls) the book seems to ignore a lot of what probably goes into developing career capital. Yes, mastering a body of knowledge and refining skills is important, but other factors probably play a role as well. You have to network, for example. You have to identify opportunities and go after them. You have to stay abreast of changes. You have to compete with co-workers or others in your field. That stuff is all just kind of glossed over.
Some of the things I think I can take from SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU is that Newport certainly crafted a sturdy hook on which to hang this book by being contrary to prevailing advice. It has a focus in that way and it provides a structure. Newport is also a very academic writer (he’s a professor, after all) and he makes sure that he provides outlines, summaries, conclusions, callbacks, and other tools that the reader can use to keep track of where he/she is in the series of arguments the book presents. It’s also interesting that he frequently reports things that he read in articles or saw in televised interviews as if he were directly quoting the person from an interaction he had with them. Not dishonestly –he always makes it clear what the source is– But more stylistically. I mean, I didn’t know you could do that, or that it was cool to do so....more
I hate this book and I suspect that the feeling is mutual.
Zero to One is a bunch of thoughts about entrepreneurs and startups by Peter Thiel, co-foundI hate this book and I suspect that the feeling is mutual.
Zero to One is a bunch of thoughts about entrepreneurs and startups by Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay Pal. The book doesn't have a central thesis or framework like many other business advice books. Rather, each chapter is more or less self contained set of thoughts about how someone starting a company should to go from "zero to one" (create something new where nothing like it existed before) instead of "one to two" (iterating on something or copying some existing service or product). There's a chapter on the 1999/2000 dot com boom, there's a chapter where Thiel shares his contempt for competing in an open market, a chapter on company culture, and more.
It's a bunch of nonsense that leans more towards being a polemic than a business advice book. It's mainly Thiel looking down on what he sees as the problems of the business world and trying to convince you that he has all the answers to problems nobody else has even thought of. This is super aggravating, since he is so partial to misstating an opposing point of view and making strawman arguments. He does it, for example, in the chapter about competition and monopolies where he brushes aside the generally accepted definitions of monopolies and competition and instead hacks them into new shapes to fit his arguments.
My biggest "this is BS" realization came with the chapter "You are not a lottery ticket." This was his examination of Malcom Gladwell's "luck plays a role in success" idea from the book Outliers. Thiel says that the serial entrepreneurship of a handful of people --many of them rich from previous successes or otherwise privileged-- is grounds for dismissing the role of luck or good timing in success. It's a dishonest and self-serving examination of the topic that ignores the fact that Outliers (and the work it was based on) all account for motivation and ability as well as luck. It's the worse, lazy, anecdotal, self-serving kind of thinking.
And once you realize that Thiel is out to misattribute, redefine, and cherry pick anecdotes in order to prop himself and his arguments up, you see it everywhere and you can no longer take anything he says at face value. He claims, for example, that nothing but information technology and communications technology have evolved much since the 70s. Which has to be untrue. We have made crazy advances in all kinds of fields --medicine, astrophysics, chemistry. I mean, are all those Nobel prizes undeserved? Thiel doesn't have the desire to research outside of his own world and so just makes proclamations that support his thesis at the moment.
Another example of Thiel just saying something to make it true: "This is why physics PhDs are notoriously difficult to work with --because they know the most fundamental truths, they think they know all the truths." (pg 104). Uh, . I could see an author making the same point by telling a story about a physicist (or some other scientist) he once worked with and found to be a pain in the ass. Then saying "people like Dave tend to..." Another writer may talk about the Dunning Kruger effect or about research showing how expertise in one field biases you in others. But no. Thiel is all in. He's too impressed with his own insights to do anything but write them down and move on.
Really, this is the work of a crank. It's more coherent and better written mechanically than a messageboard screed, but it's still the work of a crank. On page 96 he equates hipsters with the unibomber and religious fundamentalists. He's serious. The book has nothing to offer but platitudes and advice that's impossible to actually act on. ...more
In this book, researcher and online game lover Nick Yee sets out to explore how the barriers between our online and offline personas tend to blend. DrIn this book, researcher and online game lover Nick Yee sets out to explore how the barriers between our online and offline personas tend to blend. Drawing on scientific research done by himself and his colleagues, Yee explores how the assumptions, prejudices, habits, and modes of thought that drive our offline behavior also influence us in massively multiplayer online games. He also looks at the flipside: the influence those games have on how we think and behave even after we step away from them.
What I appreciate about Yee's book is that his arguments are soundly rooted in research and science from fields like psychology, sociology, and communications study. Arguments are put forth and backed up. Yee also liberally uses blocks of quoted text from "The Deadalus Project," a long-term survey of massively multiplayer online game players that provided anecdotes and research questions for much of his work. There's a lot of interesting stuff here both for psychologists and for gamers. For example, I liked the chapter on how cognitive biases held over from real life drive supersitious and rituals in video games like doing a little dance before opening a World of Warcraft treasure chest in hopes of getting better loot. Or how the science of stereotyping interacts with people's treatment of suspected Chinese gold farmers. It's nice to see someone talking about the research that's happening in these realms, and Yee is in the special position of speaking to research that he himself did.
So Yee delivers on his promise, but I can't help feel that the scope of the book is a little limited. Owing in large part to the makeup of people participaint in the Daedalus Project, the book is really just about MMORPGs in general and World of Warcraft and Everquest in specific. There's no discussion of other gaming juggernauts like the Call of Duty games, Minecraft, or The Sims, even though it seems like a lot of the same principles would apply. For example, in one chapter on how recent MMO game design favors players being able to solo a game without asking other players for help or information, Yee could have strengthened his thesis by pointing to the success of recent games like Rust and Day Z, which while they are not MMORPGs they do harken back to the hardcore days of Everquest and Ulitma Online in all the important ways that he discusses. And in other chapter Yee talks specifically about how virtual reality could be used to introduce new gameplay mechanics like controlling two avatars at once, and I found myself muttering "You mean like in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons?" to my Kindle. Though this might also be due to the fact that the writing and publishing schedule for books makes such references too contemporary to include, the fact remains that Yee never steps outside the bounds of MMORPGs even when it would strengthen his arguments to do so.
Still, if you're willing to focus on that area, it's a good book --very readable, very relatable, and very interesting in many places....more