What a wonderful account of the most important industrial labs in history: far-ranging telephone networks, transistors, amplifiers, information theoryWhat a wonderful account of the most important industrial labs in history: far-ranging telephone networks, transistors, amplifiers, information theory, error-correcting codes, satellites, C, Unix, fiber optic cables, and many more inventions that completely shaped the 20th and 21st century. It has almost everything: scientific depth, vivid accounts of the peculiar characters, and how the culture became such a stronghold for innovation. The only thing that felt was missing was a better account on Bell Labs' demise, as well as what happened when ideas were integrated into the greater AT&T....more
I couldn't put this down. A fantastic account of our transition from organic energy sources (horses, mules, oxes, ..) to fossil fuels to electricity. I couldn't put this down. A fantastic account of our transition from organic energy sources (horses, mules, oxes, ..) to fossil fuels to electricity. Taking detours at each level into lighting (which takes you into whaling, and the Canadian invention of kerocene), a deep account on the steam engine (and the insidious effects of patents), why we ended up with combustion engines when steam and electrical engines seemed just as likely at the time (it's hard to imagine that the technologies weren't far from each other at the time, because after 100-years of innovation, of course the combustion engine is far ahead). The last few chapters on the energy crisis we have today as a function of climate change. A book that appealed to me with the right mix of biographical content of innovators, inventions, science, and using history as context to talk about the present and future....more
No, it's not a typo for moonshot—a loonshot is "a neglected project, widely dismissed, its champion written off as unhinged." Whereas the author definNo, it's not a typo for moonshot—a loonshot is "a neglected project, widely dismissed, its champion written off as unhinged." Whereas the author defines moonshot as: "An ambitious and expensive goal, widely expected to have great significance." The author walks us through numerous historical examples of the successful cultures that have pulled off numerous loonshots. It's worth noting that this book is not about creating a creative environment from scratch (startups are all about loonshots), but rather, about creating a high-risk, creative environment within an existing organization (or beraucracy).
To me, the most important take-away from the book is that organizations need to create two distinct cultures to strike a balance between nurting loonshots __and__ rewarding franchises, i.e. incrementing on and maintaining what's already there. A good example is at Bell, where in the Labs the transistor was invented while the franchise received enormous care as well, by expanding the existing telephone network and all the other maintenance that comes with operating such national infrastructure. You have your soldiers, those who maintain and increment, and you have your artists, the people seeking to make the step-change. Both are critical, but many organizations reward one more than the other, and doesn't create an environment where they can co-exist in harmony. One reason is that at some magical point, the incentives in an organization shifts towards career-preservation rather than taking risks. You __will__ need to seperate these groups to some degreee, since fundamentally the culture that rewards either need to be distinct. However, you also need them to co-operate, otherwise, you end up with a Xeroc PARC that's too isolated for its own good.
> People responsible for developing high-risk, early-stage ideas (call them “artists”) need to be sheltered from the “soldiers” responsible for the already-successful, steady-growth part of an organization. Early-stage projects are fragile. “Although military officers became avid for a new development once it had thoroughly proved itself in the field,” Bush wrote, they dismissed any weapon “in embryo”—as they did with radar, with the DUKW truck, and with nearly every early innovation, which almost always arrives covered in warts. Without a strong cocoon to protect those early-stage ideas, they will be shut down or buried, like Young and Taylor’s early discovery of radar.
A good example is Jobs in the 80s versus Jobs in the 2000s. Jobs in the 80s created serious hostility with the team at Apple that worked on incremental additions to their already successful products. Meanwhile, Jobs was working on the Macintosh project. Jobs learned later in his life, upon his return to Apple in the 2000s, to see the value in both his artists (Jony Ive) and soldiers (Tim Cook). The author offers the analogy of phase transition repeatedly in the book: what you are aiming for is not purely ice, not purely water water, rather, the elegant phase in between where the water is 0 degrees with patches of ice in it. An example was the development of the radar, at first the pilots ignored it, but the feedback made it back to the scientists who made it easier and easier to use until it became far superior to their eyes.
Bahcall adds a few useful extensions to the now-developed loonshot idea. E.g. the "Moses trap", where you have one leader that is the source of the majority of ideas. The right people who nurture loonshots see themselves more as gardeners of a culture that fosters loonshots, rather than the source of them.
> ...the ones who truly succeed—the engineers of serendipity—play a more humble role. Rather than champion any individual loonshot, they create an outstanding structure for nurturing many loonshots. Rather than visionary innovators, they are careful gardeners. They ensure that both loonshots and franchises are tended well, that neither side dominates the other, and that each side nurtures and supports the other.
The author also distinguishes between "product type" loonshots, e.g. launching commercial jet planes across the Atlantic, and "strategic type" loonshots, e.g. management strategies to cut costs to make tickets cheaper....more
Chounaird has always despised businessmen, and then he became one.. the book is his memoir of his unlikely journey to owning a billion-dollar company.Chounaird has always despised businessmen, and then he became one.. the book is his memoir of his unlikely journey to owning a billion-dollar company. He's certainly an icon of what we need (but are depressingly unlikely to get..) much, much more of in the 21st century. Some is memoir, but most of the book are various environmental discourses on topics such as the importance of organic cotton farming, repairing instead of buying, and taking care of what we have left of the planet....more
If you've read Charlie Munger's Almanack this is the book you deeply crave in its wake. Shane's done a wonderful job over the past few years making meIf you've read Charlie Munger's Almanack this is the book you deeply crave in its wake. Shane's done a wonderful job over the past few years making mental models approachable through FS.blog. A mental model is a way to look at a problem through a certain lense: an economist will look at a problem one way, a biologist another, and a statistician yet another. Learn the big ideas from the big disciplines and you'll be able to twist and turn problems in interesting ways at unprecedented speeds. His blog already documents a subset of models, but in this book Shane goes in even more depth with rich examples of each under the umbrella of 'General Thinking Concepts', e.g. Occam's Razor. This is the first in a 5-part series: the encyclopedia of the big ideas from the big disciplines. One that I hope to be recognizable on bookshelves around the world. You owe yourself this book....more
You know that occasional, elusive thought of something you should do? Like taking out the trash? But instead of doing it, you replace it resentment. WYou know that occasional, elusive thought of something you should do? Like taking out the trash? But instead of doing it, you replace it resentment. Why am I always the one taking out the garbage? In an instant, you conjure up a reality where your inaction is wholly justified: They need to pull their share of the responsibilities and take out the trash more often. In this new reality you've created, the resentment feeds on itself as you wait for them to do it. But they don't. Because they can't read your thoughts.
This book is about these moments of self-deception, big and small. That when we start deceiving ourselves, we influence those around us to do the same. It's honestly a lot more work to reproach someone for not taking out the garbage than just doing it (or talking about it).
When there's a disconnect between our sense of what's right and what we do, we engage in what the book coins as 'self-betrayal.' If we don't pay attention to these moments of self-betrayal, we easily drift into our own, self-serving stories. The idea is not new. You can summarize it as "assume good intentions", "default to the most respectable interpretation," or fundamental attribution error: What would have to be true for this person to act this way? However, it goes in much more depth with the profound effect it has on the environment around us to follow and not follow this common-sensical advice. That it's much harder than we give it credit for, but that we can be better at catching ourselves.
It's told as fiction, similar to The Goal, or 5 Dysfunctions of a Team. It's an easy read, with a robust and applicable takeaway. Definitely comes highly recommended....more
Upon closing this book, I immediately changed the charities I support and increased my donations. It left me with the empowering feeling that donatingUpon closing this book, I immediately changed the charities I support and increased my donations. It left me with the empowering feeling that donating can be a very real alternative to doing good in the 'traditional ways', e.g. working directly for those in need or humanitarian organizations. For every $3,600 donated to protect people from malaria with bed nets, you (statistically) save a life. For every $100 you donate to the rainforest, you save an acre or 260 tons of CO2 (the average North American is responsible for about 20 tons per year, so if you donate $8 right now to Cool Earth you're, statistically, CO2 neutral). If you've been hesitant to donate due to concerns with where your money ends up, the Effective Altruism movement thoroughly analyzes charities to maximize impact. The author is the hyper-rational economist type, laying out e.g. why donating consistently will save more lives than becoming a doctor in a first world country. That donating now will compound at much higher rates than an index. I've significantly reduced my meat intake over the past two years for environmental reasons, but the (again, hyper-rational) author lays out how donating $5 to the right charity to save rainforest (Cool Earth) will offset your meat intake if the environment is your primary concern (donate more, and you can go carbon negative to offset air travel, too). It gets a little too quantitative at times which I'm sure will set off some people.
Drucker is the OG management educator. Firmly believing that managers can get better through self-education. He wants us to treat management as a skilDrucker is the OG management educator. Firmly believing that managers can get better through self-education. He wants us to treat management as a skill to be honed, not as a natural gift. Something that I think it still widely believed, but that I bet was much more widely believed in Drucker's hey-day, in the mid-20th century. I've always wanted to read Drucker, and finally someone on my team directly recommended this. It's written in a fantastic style that makes it clear where many of the management gurus of today have their strongest influence from. He advocates many of the management principles that are brought to light again in new forms, e.g. through Dalio's Principles.
He advocates for keeping a diary of all the big decisions you make, admant it's the best way you get to know yourself better. It's also one of the earliest examples I've seen of talking about doubling down on your strengths, and working around your weaknesses. I like how Dalio puts it: for every weakness, you have four options. Turn it into a strength, find someone else to do it, change what you're going after, or ignore it. Of course, ignoring it is the default option we'll do until we're made aware of the weakness—but it's not a real choice once it's surfaced.
> One should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. And yet most people—especially most teachers and most organizations—concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones. Energy, resources, and time should go instead to making a competent person into a star performer.
I am still not sure how I feel about completely ignoring weaknesses. I feel that I have been able to get some weaknesses to a manageable level. I recognize they will not be strengths, but I think some at least need to be at some critical threshold to not drag everything else down. If you talk like shit to people, at least work on getting to a somewhat civil level of communication instead of just putting yourself in a position where you don't have to talk to people. That seems unrealistic. You may never become the best communicator, but you need to raise it to a critical level in order to be effective. I like to think that every team, individual, group, department, and company at any one point has a switch (weakness) that needs to be addressed. It can take a while to figure out what the next one is, but this search is key. You can also be proactive about looking for weaknesses that may occur in the near future.
Another interesting tidbit from the book is the distinction between a 'reader and listener':
> The first thing to know is whether you are a reader or a listener. Far too few people even know that there are readers and listeners and that people are rarely both. Even fewer know which of the two they themselves are. But some examples will show how damaging such ignorance can be.
I wonder if it's the right abstraction level to attack the problem at. Some people like to sit and brood on problems for a while beforehand, others prefer to do that with other people. This seems more akin to many of the attributes associated with introverts and extroverts, than really readers and listeners. One of my absolute favorites is the distinction between a decision-maker and an advisor:
> Do I produce results as a decision maker or as an adviser? A great many people perform best as advisers but cannot take the burden and pressure of making the decision. A good many other people, by contrast, need an adviser to force themselves to think; then they can make decisions and act on them with speed, self-confidence, and courage. This is a reason, by the way, that the number two person in an organization often fails when promoted to the number one position. The top spot requires a decision maker. Strong decision makers often put somebody they trust into the number two spot as their adviser—and in that position the person is outstanding. But in the number one spot, the same person fails. He or she knows what the decision should be but cannot accept the responsibility of actually making it.
This vocabulary was immediately useful to me, and have sparked some fantastic conversations on the team.
A closing note from Drucker to ponder:
> Organizations are no longer built on force but on trust. The existence of trust between people does not necessarily mean that they like one another. It means that they understand one another. Taking responsibility for relationships is therefore an absolute necessity. It is a duty. Whether one is a member of the organization, a consultant to it, a supplier, or a distributor, one owes that responsibility to all one’s coworkers: those whose work one depends on as well as those who depend on one’s own work.
This book is so short, about 70 pages, and has a couple of fantastic points (these were the main ones for me). I recommend skimming through it. Seems like this would make an annual re-read for me....more
What a fantastic story. You can tell that the author has immersed himself deeply in the brothers, their family, and the places they spend their time. What a fantastic story. You can tell that the author has immersed himself deeply in the brothers, their family, and the places they spend their time. It is the story of how hard work, discipline, and inexhaustible trial and error is what created the first heavier-than-air flight, not a flash of genius or wealth of equations.
It is filled to the brink with great stories of chracter and grit. The Wright brothers started out as bicycle mechanics, back in a time where bikes were seen as the new evil. "What are kids going to turn into if they ride their bikes around all day instead of reading books?" Through 10 years of toil and experiments, they built the first machine capable of human flights that could fly at hours at a time. Other attempts in the past had focused on heavy motors and power, while the brothers thought the most important thing would be to get the control mechanics right. They'd practise first without an engine at all. The more hours they could get in the air with the controls, the better they'd become at flying. It wasn't just a feat of engineering, the brothers thought, but also of learning to operating something no-one had ever controled before.
Through their invention, they became famous. In the wake of the industrial revolution, there was a feeling in America of "all the things that could be invented have been invented." The Wright brother certaintly contributed to rekindling this excitement for innovation. They never took their mind off of improving the machine. When they returned home to their hometown and there was a parade, they slipped in and out of their workshop to attend various parades, but worked throughout the day. When they were to show the machine in front of 1000s of people including most of the US Senate, the weather was poor, and they decided to cancel it. What an anthisesis to sunk cost.
One of my favorites from the book is when one of the brothers was asked what he thought about the airship: "The airship has reached its limit but the flier was stlll filled with potential."...more
If you've looked for a foray into Game Theory, this is it. It walks through a bunch of important ideas in Game Theory, from auctions to equilibrium inIf you've looked for a foray into Game Theory, this is it. It walks through a bunch of important ideas in Game Theory, from auctions to equilibrium in games. This book is filled with models that you can apply in many contexts, introduced through approachable examples—although, some chapters are easier to get through than others. Working my way through my highlights in the book is already proving rewarding, but it's definitely dense in information (but not in language). Don't read this as a before-sleep-pass-out-book. This is a wide-awake-and-ready-to-stop-and-think book. A good one at that....more
This is to Systems Thinking what The Five Dysfunctions is to management: A peachy piece of fiction, packed with applicable lessons in the most enjoyabThis is to Systems Thinking what The Five Dysfunctions is to management: A peachy piece of fiction, packed with applicable lessons in the most enjoyable format you can imagine. While other systems thinking books are somewhat dry, this one is filled with life, even romance, and well-grounded in reality. While five stars normally for me would mean 'life-changing,' in this case I can't resist because of a rare and wonderful balance between enjoyment, levity, and insight. This type of book, to me, is way better than crime fiction or fantasy. I wish business fiction was a genre with endless options.
In The Goal, a dysfunctional manufacturing plant is transformed after the protagonist has a chance encounter with his physics professor in an airport lounge. Through an unlikely rekindling of the relationship, the professor shows him simple systems thinking principles that are gradually incorporated at the plant. These principles completely transform the site. Through continued improvement, it turns traditional accounting and productivity practices upside down and soon outperforms all other plants in its industry.
If you're bought into the whole idea of learning to think in mental models, as Dalio describes in Principles or Munger in his Almanack, you'll love this book to see how it's applied in action. If not, perhaps this story will show you the usefulness of it in an entertaining, light-hearted fashion. The book will give you some hope that a hopeless situation can be turned around with a little ingenuity....more
Brutally honest book by someone with serious experience from the field. It’s pragmatic, honest, credible, and invoragtingly subjective. It’s not a claBrutally honest book by someone with serious experience from the field. It’s pragmatic, honest, credible, and invoragtingly subjective. It’s not a classic business book. The stories are real stories from a real company. Patty thinks about Netflix in an refreshingly integrated way. When the company faced an 8-month deadline to get on the next Wii cycle (or would have to wait 2 years), the recruiter who hired the engineers for the team felt it was as much her celebration, as that of the engineering team. Patty doesn’t allow anyone to walk the halls without the ability to regurgitate the mission statement at once; no matter what department they’re working in.
She challenges the classical incentive thinking of rewarding though perks, bonuses, and stock options. The ultimate incentive is to do great work, with incredible people. That’s a classic Silicon Valley cliché, but Patty brings a brutally honest perspective:
2001 we had to lay off a third of the company. The dot-com bubble had burst, and the economy had gone bust with it, and we were on the brink of bankruptcy. It was brutal. [..] And yet everyone was much happier. I was carpooling to work with Reed one day, and I said to him, “Why is this so fun? I can’t wait to get to work. I don’t want to go home at night. We’re working so hard, but it’s great. What is it about what we’re doing?” He said, “Let’s figure it out.” Our first big realization was that the remaining people were the highest performers, and it taught us that the best thing you can do for employees is hire only high performers to work alongside them. It’s a perk far better than foosball or free sushi or even a big signing bonus or the holy grail of stock options. Excellent colleagues, a clear purpose, and well-understood deliverables: that’s the powerful combination.
Certainly, as you can feel from this excerpt, ‘working hard’ is a quality, too. I find that this quality is typically over-glorified, and this book is no exception to that. The team-building strategy employed at Netflix is heavily skewed towards seniority. I find it’s extreme that there’s little to no talk about building talent from interns and new grads. In my experience, with the right attitude, environment, and compounding rate of learning they can get to this level incredibly quickly, with unparalleled enthusiasm.
Radical condor is a large topic in the book. With it, the environment becomes much more stimulating. The trust that comes with it is invaluable for extremely productive debates:
We were combative in that beautiful, intellectual way where you argue to tease out someone’s viewpoint, because although you don’t agree, you think the other person is really smart so you want to understand why they think what they think. That respect for one another’s intelligence and genuine desire to discover the bases of colleagues’ views drove intense mutual questioning and kept it mostly productive and civil, if often quite colorful.
It leads you to ask powerful questions like:
“How do you know that’s true?” Or my favorite variant, “Can you help me understand what leads you to believe that’s true?”
Patty preaches open decision-making. If you don’t make them in the open, people will spin their own destructive stories. Netflix’ execs schedule open debates of top-of-mind topics in front of the entire company. That’s the next level of AMAs.
One of my biggest takeaways from the book is the mantra of “always be hiring.” If you’re seeking the talent density that Netflix does, you can be more picky if you’re always on the lookout. In the people you’re hiring, she points out, seek especially the capacity builders; those who can support new people. Whether that’s management, or technical vision.
“Knowing when it’s time for people to move on goes hand in hand with bringing in top performers with the skills you need. They are two sides of the same coin. If you are not great at hiring high-talent people, then you cannot truly be comfortable letting good people go. You will never be good at one without the other and will never be good at building a high-performance team.”
This is so simple, but profound. If you’re not excellent at bringing in incredible talent, it becomes easier to lower your bar. Input and output go hand in hand.
Overall, Powerful is packed with real advice from an industry veteran. I would’ve liked more balance in the book of what didn’t work at Netflix. That would’ve added to its credibility, since it paints a rose-coloured picture of Netflix’ culture. This is an especially actionable read for anyone who cares deeply about developing the environment and team around them. Recommended....more
This is a book review turned rant. I often hear 'good memory is useless with technology' or 'memory techniques are tricks, but wouldn't add value to mThis is a book review turned rant. I often hear 'good memory is useless with technology' or 'memory techniques are tricks, but wouldn't add value to my life'. I think both of these are wrong. I've been spending this Christmas understanding more about memory because I think there's significant leverage in being productive with these techniques.
I have varies situational checklists. If I am about to buy something, I ask myself simple questions such as "Would I buy this again if it broke?", "Have I wanted this for more than a month?", "Does this replace something I already have, or does it add a new need?" and "If I get this, will I have to resist the urge to get 10 other things to go along with it?". I have checklists for making decisions: "What would change my mind about this decision?", "What alternatives have been seriously considered?" and "What can we do to get our feet wet, without jumping in heads first?". I have lists of the mental models, principles and cognitive biases that I use on most problems I face: inversion, second-order effects, black swans, survivorship bias, antifragility, conditioning, fundamental attribution error, and so on. I have a 20+ point checklists for reviewing code.
The problem with these lists is that they're stored in an app on my phone. I only run through them on occasion, despite finding value every time I do. It's difficult to condition myself to use them as often as I'd like. In the middle of a discussion, it's disruptive to pull up a list on your phone and work through it. With a memory palace, I can install these checklists in my head to run through at any point in time.
I've started doing this since reading the book and it's provided the impetus to finally adopt memory palaces into my day-to-day. I don't have many of them yet, in fact, the only one is a subset of my list of mental models, principles, and biases. I've built this on a couple of streets in the city I grew up in. I start the memory palace in the parking lot of my kindergarten. There, I see a bunch of people doing headstands. It reminds me to attempt to invert the problem. On the sidewalk, I see a bunch of domino pieces falling. This prompts me to consider second-order and third-order thinking. I look over the fence, inside the kindergarten. There's a tall, blue tower and I see a monkey throwing carrots. That means I should think about what the incentives are in the problem at hand. Do the incentives of the systems line up with those of the individuals? I keep walking and see a massive, exponentially shaped slide, thinking of compounding. Soon enough a black swan jumps out, causing me to think of Taleb's black swan. I see clocks on the pavement and I think of whether everyone is operating on the same time-scale, or if the disagreement is formed because some are thinking on a 1-month time-scale, and others on a 1-year time-scale? I see a barbell, think of antifragility. A plane, and think of survivorship bias. I have about 20 mental models and biases incorporated in this model so far.
This may seem slow, but in fact, I'd be able to name all of the models in seconds. It's extremely fast to run through this list. Adding new models is only getting easier, too.
Remembering numbers and card games isn't particularly useful for me, but these are just easy-to-evaluate tests for a competition format to test how productive someone is with memory palaces. They don't do the techniques justice. As you use these techniques more and more, it becomes easier to form mental images to build palaces. I'm only a week in, and I'm already building small palaces for the books I'm reading and vocabulary I'm currently learning. This makes it easy to go through it when you aren't reading the book.
Fundamentally, as a result of reading this book and other resources on memory, I've come to think of a brain as a data structure with the following strengths:
* Great at building associations * Extremely visual and spatially oriented * Good at appending, poor at updating, mediocre at recall
Boiling memory down to these limitations makes it easier for me to understand why palaces are so useful. The brain is poor at lists and numbers unless packaged into visual, spatial and associations—for which the memory palace is a fantastic technique. If you think of building memories in terms of these strengths, it makes a dramatic difference.
I like the book because it has a compelling narrative. The problem with it is that it doesn't go deep enough into how to use memory day-to-day, despite my hypothesis that it is useful in day-to-day life. Adopting these techniques is hard work, don't read the book if you don't see any use for it. But if you do, this is a fantastic place to start. Something I found incredibly surprising is that we used to be much better at remembering than we are now. In ancient greece, they had perfected these techniques to remember. Before the printing press, getting your hand on a book was rare. When you did, you made sure to memorize as much of it as possible. With Gutenberg, we had the first wave of suppressing the importance of memory. The second wave came with smartphones and the Internet, where everything seems to be just seconds away. I certainly agree that this changes things in terms of what we need to remember, but I feel that strategically applying these techniques would yield great results. I look forward to see if I'm still using them months and years from now....more
The main takeaway from this book is a mental model for 6 different types of thinking, how they complement each other, and that each problem deserves tThe main takeaway from this book is a mental model for 6 different types of thinking, how they complement each other, and that each problem deserves to be viewed from at least these 6 angles. It’s a quick, easy read and I recommend it for this alone.
In the Six Thinking Hats, de Bono advocates for running meetings in a fashion where everyone performs the same type of thinking, ‘wears the same hat’, at once. By default, people will simply put on the hat they have the strongest propensity for, without calling it out, creating time-wasting arguments. The hats are: Healthy pessimism (black), forward-looking optimism (yellow), creatively generating new ideas (green), gut-feeling and emotion (red), and returning to the facts (white).
While the author suggests incorporating the ‘hat vocabulary’, for many teams this will be a stretch and seem silly. This is a common criticism of the book, but it doesn’t invalidate the method. I often see it play out that people wearing the ‘black’ hat and ‘yellow’ hat clash, because it’s not clear they are fundamentally attacking the problem in complementary ways. The person with the black hat might think the person with the yellow hat has rose-coloured glasses on, and the person with the yellow hat might think they’re counter-productive and negative. You need both of these to get meaningful things done, and I find it useful to have a way to classify the thinking—even if I wouldn’t use the vocabulary directly (although I do think in this vocabulary).
The format suggested is that the entire group will wear one hat at a time, only using that type of thinking. Each individual will add something with this type of thinking, then move on to the next. This can surface a lot of information in a short time, and it ensures that everyone is on the same page as to what angle the problem is being approached from at any given time. Some may excel under different hats, but now that’s recognized, rather than always saying that Susan is negative, and that Bob spends too much time in Lala-land.
One key take-away I had was that often in “Western-thinking”, as de Bono calls it, we argue primarily with the black (criticism) and white hats (facts), masked over a red hat (emotion and intuition). We all have an intuition as to how we think something should be done—but we have an aversion to talking about a ‘gut feeling’, without any evidence (white-hat). With this type of thinking, the red hat solves the problem by clearly letting people express their intuition about a problem so it’s not a hidden in agenda when wearing all the other hats....more
After reading "Decisive" about how to improve decision-making, I wanted to dive more into how to find the problems worth solving: "identifying the truAfter reading "Decisive" about how to improve decision-making, I wanted to dive more into how to find the problems worth solving: "identifying the true problem facing an organization often proved to be the most difficult challenge that leaders face." One of the main takeaways from the book is that if you spend the majority of your time zoomed out, focusing on the high-level, you'll lose the nuance and texture when zoomed in. Staying close to the front lines and doing the necessary ethnography is key to identify problems: "I worry about what my people aren't telling me." Car satisfaction scores are 90%, yet only 40% re-buy the same brand. The high-level looks great, but there are cracks when you zoom in. Think about it: How often when you go to a city you've been to before do you go out of your way to book the Airbnb you gave a 5-star review last time? Do you not try to see if you can do a little bit better? How often does that happen around you?
We have to consider that all information we receive has been filtered. In an organization, we often play a game of Chinese whispers where information is lost along the way, people's agendas are added, and incentives get mixed up. If you keep yourself close to the front-lines through embedding yourself in the work occasionally, you'll have access to non-filtered information. Your intuition is important, and it's honed close to the work, you can then step back and look at whether the problem is worth solving. "With intuition, we discover, with logic, we prove." Even the most shrewd number-wizards will have trouble seeing the delicate patterns in numbers alone. Use your own intuition, and listen to that of the people around you.
Small problems proceed, and they compound into catastrophes. The better you become at seeing issues before they become problems, the less reactionary you become. As an example, the author describes Rapid Response Teams that are called to patients on often nurse intuition. This reduces the death rate by 20%. What's your equivalent of a Rapid Response Team? Another useful technique I've always needed a name for is 'chair flying': Close your eyes and imagine what's going to happen. Are you ready? If you're about to embark on a camping trip and you're afraid you've forgotten something, sit back, close your eyes and play the weekend—you may very well realize you've forgotten a tarp for the rainy scenario you envisioned.
I liked this book because of its high focus on being proactive and the rich stories scattered throughout to support the book. I've seen people plant the right seeds months before a problem surfaces, making it an almost non-event. It's tough to recognize this, but I do think you have to be incredibly suspicious if someone's perpetually a fire-fighting hero in your organization. That's visible and easy to give credit to, but how many of these problems could've been prevented if they'd had their ears and eyes more open to be more proactive?...more
Do you have one of those moments in your life that had a disproportionate impact on your life? This book about how to create those moments for yourselDo you have one of those moments in your life that had a disproportionate impact on your life? This book about how to create those moments for yourself and others. The Heath brothers, authors of Decisive, have done it again—what an absolute pleasure. Especially the first two chapters on elevating experiences and creating moments of insight were absolutely excellent.
As the other Heath books, the structure is straight-forward. It dissects these moments into three broad categories: (1) Elevation of an experience where you build peaks, or break the script, (2) Insight, where you allow people to trip over the truth or help them stretch to gain knowledge, (3) Pride, by recognizing others and setting up work through small milestones that can be celebrated, (4) Connection by deepening ties through experience and developing a shared meaning with a group.
(1) Elevation. How do you elevate an experience? There’s a hotel somewhere in LA that has stunning reviews. It costs about the same as the Ritz Carlton and Marriott, yet it’s not a fancy building with a marble lobby or anything remotely resembling those hotels. What they do have that those hotels don’t, is a Popsicle Phone. By the pool, there’s a red telephone. If you lift the dial, you can order your popsicle to the pool—for free—from the hotel staff. People cannot stop talking about how incredible this is. It elevates an already great vacation experience with a simple, cheap gesture from the hotel found nowhere else. This hotel obsesses over creating small moments for their guests.
Intuitively, they know about the peak-end principle: People tend to forget the duration of an event and remember the worst or best moment, as well as the ending. In this case, you remember the Popsicle Phone, and how they lead you out the door and wished you a pleasant journey home—but not the average beds.
A highly interesting airline satisfaction study showed that, based on revenue, it’s 9x as valuable to focus on raising people’s average experience (5/10) to an amazing experience (9/10), than it is to focus on raising negative experiences (2/10) to an average experience (5/10). People develop much more loyalty to you if you can give them, even inconsistently, an elevated experience. How many restaurants do you keep coming back to because you’ve had one or two truly excellent experiences? How influenced are you by the Halo effect on subsequent visits?
This chapter reminds me of a story from my dad I’ll never forget. He once came home from a business trip and told me how he’d stayed at the same hotel as the last time he went. When he came to the hotel after a long day of travel, they’d had cold Coca Cola waiting for him in the room. They knew, because he’s ordered it at the restaurant at the last visit, that it was his favourite drink. I don’t doubt he’d go out of his way to come back here. That’s so simple to do.
In this chapter they described the “pit-to-peak” methodology. How can you turn a “pit” moment, into a peak? Kids hate MRI machines. In fact, they hate it so much that 80% of them have to be sedated. One engineer who built MRIs saw this on a visit to a hospital, how afraid the kids were of this machine and its rumbling, he decided he wanted to transform the experience. How could he turn this shit experience, into a peak experience? He transformed them into canoes and pirate ships and told the kids a story about how they had to lay perfectly still and explained the sounds with stories. The kids loved it so much that some asked: “When can we do this again?” Sedation rates went down to 27%. Whenever you lose trust, how can you boomerang back with more trust?
(2) Insight. In this chapter, the authors explain how people come to moments of insight. They call the first chapter ‘tripping over the truth’ which comes with a phenomenal story. In villages in Africa, an organization wanted to teach the importance of hygiene. They’d tried multiple times to introduce toilets, but it just didn’t stick. It wasn’t clear what the advantage was. An organization tried something new, to get the villagers to ‘trip over the truth’. They’d come to the village and ask: “Where do you shit?” and get them to point it out, walking around the village. Slowly, a crowd gathered, and the volunteer would keep asking questions: “Do you shit here too? How many people shit here?”. The volunteer would end up in a public square of the town with most of the village gathered there and draw a map of the village in the dirt. With yellow chalk, he asked the villagers to put it where they shit. More chalk, more shit. After he’d ask: “What about when it rains, where do you shit? If you’re feeling ill, where do you shit?”, soon, the entire village drawn in the sand was covered with chalk. The villagers were flustered. The volunteer would ask for a glass of water. “Would you drink this?”, they’d nod. He’d take a hair and dip it in some shit nearby, and put it in the glass. “Would you drink this?”, no of course not. “How many legs does a fly have?” Six, “Do you think it carries more shit than a hair?”, crowd nods, terrified. “Do you eat the food a fly lands on?” At this point, the villagers start asking: “How do we fix this? It’s disgusting? What’s going on?” At this point, the villagers are so primed for the problem that they would adopt a solution in an instant. What shit-walk can you do, to motivate the importance of a problem? It’s much more effective to highlight the importance of the problem to motivate, than offer the solution to a problem that someone may not see as clearly as you.
Another chapter under Insight is “stretch for insight”. This especially applies to mentors, where you should set high standards + provide assurance + direction + support to help them stretch, to acquire insight. This may put them in difficult situations, but with the above, you not only put them in situations just at their capability—you also assure them that they can get through it.
(3) Pride. What moments of pride do you create for those around you? Do you (1) recognize when they’ve done something fantastic, do you (2) set up milestones to celebrate, and do you (3) practise courage to do something amazing to make it part of the routine, and celebrate the act of courage? 80% of supervisors say they express plenty of appreciation, but only 20% of employees agree with them. These small acts can have a massive impact.
(4) Connection. A fascinating study introduced in this chapter looked at what’s more important, passion or purpose. Passion is individual, purpose is shared by a team. People with high passion, high purpose, perform in the 80th percentile. People with high passion, low purpose, perform in the 20th. People with low passion, high purpose perform in the 64th percentile. If you lead a team of people, this should make you stop and think. Are you leverage the massive leverage a clear purpose has? If you ask on your team what the purpose of their work is, do they all know? Have you ever seen people with high purpose, but low passion, have output (I have)? When a story was read for life-guards about the importance of their job, they signed up for 45% more volunteer hours than when told a story about how the skills they were learning would help them in their career.
In this chapter is also introduced the idea of “Responsiveness” and how it deepens relationships. There are three facets to this: (1) Mutual understanding, (2) Validation, and (3) Caring. A heart-breaking story in this sub-chapter tells us about a school in bad shape. For parent-teacher conferences, only 11% of parents attended. There was no investment from the parents, because they felt no investment from the school. There was little investment from the school, because they felt no investment from the parents. A vicious cycle. Under new management, the school went to each home and asked them questions that leverage these principles of responsiveness: What future do you see for your child? How do you think the school should approve? This is hardly new, but a good mental model for how to phrase the questions of importance. Parent-teacher conference attendance went up to 73%.
When you create shared meaning through responsiveness, you develop a purpose. This is as close as you get to a panacea when it comes to productivity. It’s also important to note that this chapter focuses a lot on how ties are deepened through adversity. If you go through something with a group of people, you’ll feel closer to them. The harder it is, the deeper the ties with them will be.
Read this book and start creating these moments for the people you care about. Set yourself up to create these moments, too. Break the script, elevate, turn pits into peaks, create shared meaning, and always think about what the Popsicle Hotline is for whatever you’re doing. This book equips you with a fantastic vocabulary for talking about these moments you’ve always known were there, but have never quite dissected....more
What a gem. Ben just became one of my favorite historical characters, and the answer to the question: "Dead or alive, who'd you want to eat dinner witWhat a gem. Ben just became one of my favorite historical characters, and the answer to the question: "Dead or alive, who'd you want to eat dinner with?" What really stood out to me is his rigorous pursuit of self-improvement, before there was anyone talking about the topic. A buddy shows him electricity and before you know it he's getting science medals for running around with a kite in a thunderstorm. On the side, he came up with a stove that was much more effective than any other at the time. Controlling a major American newspaper of the time, he used it to raise public issues and make Philadelphia one of the first cities with a university, hospital, paved roads, and street lights. He goes through this ridiculous regime where he'd note down "12 virtues" (don't eat too much, don't talk about yourself unless it enriches the conversation)—found that it didn't work to just write them down and follow them. Instead, he basically creates a spreadsheet in a book he carries with him all the time of whether the 12 virtues were honored that day, introducing them gradually. Respect Ben, that's sweet. It's remarkable how scientific and modern his thinking was in the 1700s, a humbling read—and definitely one to be re-read. The language is more modern than you might think, and while I definitely encountered fair share of words that were new to me—it's generally very readable. Some chapters didn't interest me too much about e.g. his participation in the war against the French, on a re-read I'll likely just skip these paragraphs. It's well worth it for all the gold packed in between....more
What a phenomenal book. Who would've thought we could learn so much from a field that could not be further from our life: hostage negotiation. In the What a phenomenal book. Who would've thought we could learn so much from a field that could not be further from our life: hostage negotiation. In the end this is a book about listening. It's a book about making people feel listened to. This is a compilation of secret weapons that works like black magic when put into practise. Read the three first chapters, try it, and I promise you will not be disappointed....more
Ego Is The Enemy starts off with a strong testament: The type of people who tend to succeed early, tend to be the same kind of people who are in dangeEgo Is The Enemy starts off with a strong testament: The type of people who tend to succeed early, tend to be the same kind of people who are in danger of ego taking the predominant voice in their actions. As your body of accomplishments grow, your ego may follow, installing itself in you as an arrogance. Arrogance is often confused with power and self-confidence, both by the person, and by people around them. Ego is a soothing voice. It's comforting. Pursuing great work, in arts, business or sports is a terrifying endeavor. Ego will justify not doing so, reminding us of our past great accomplishments. Replacing our uncertainty with self-absorption. It will tell us exactly what we want to hear, when we want to hear it. This is extremely dangerous. Instead of sitting with our heads down, and getting work done, the ego will lead us in the direction of the work that is more public. More easily recognized. It will take all the short term leaps it can.
But what does ego know? The ego was built by accomplishments that predated the strong ego. It doesn't know anything about accomplishing success. Instead, it provides us with a great recipe for how to ruin it. Ego is what causes Kanye to go from the medium that built his ego, music, to fronts he's convinced he can succeed in. Fashion. Arguably one of the most competitive, chaotic industries in the world. Kanye is convinced he can succeed here, but he is not. He is letting his ego carry from one accomplishment, to the other. It is not the rational, heads-down, humble, self-aware self that is driving this, it's the ego. Talent, skill and confidence is not rare. Humility, diligence and self-awareness are.
When let the ego subdue, you will fall into traps of accomplishment. Research shows that goal visualization is important, but at a certain point our brains start to confuse it with actual progress. When I read this, it terrified me, because I am working on a project that has high complexity, high risks and high uncertainty. I spend a lot of time talking with people, collecting information, but how much am I confusing the action of explaining my goal, talking with people, with actual progress? How do I know the difference between the two? Am I talking to them because I want to show them this great project I will do? Am I having the meeting for validation of the ego, or am I having it because I legitimately need information?
Ego actively prevents us from getting better. We know about unknown-unknowns, we know about known unknowns, we know about known-knowns. What people often leave out, are the unknown-knowns. These are our assumptions. Our stereotypes. Our biases. This is our most dangerous vice. The ego completely ignores this. How will we turn anything upside down, if we cannot question our assumptions?
Holiday describes the dangers of passion. There is a survival bias present in the world of passion, where we see all the successes that come from it, but not the order of magnitude of failures that lie behind each success. They are invisible. It doesn't surface when someone takes a loan in their house, maxes our their credit cards and uses all their SO's savings to chase an idea. It surfaces when that succeeds, but never when it fails. This is the other side of the medal of passion. The ego loves passion, because it's a blindfolding tool it can use.
The book touches on the issue of money: by default, we will always want more. If we don't set ourselves a target, getting more is the easiest path forward. But money comes with significant downsides. You may accumulate habits on the hedonic treadmill that causes you to not rely on this money. This means you may have to say yes to things in the future that you don't actually want to do. You need targets and metrics, not constant accumulation of money, which usually follows from increasing accumulation of expectations from other people. At this point, you've said yes to money over your own freedom. Find poise, not pose.
What is the ego? Holiday is not referring to the Freudian ego. He uses the term to describe the part of you that is always striving for recognition. The part of you that always has an excuse. The part of you that prevents you from getting done what you need to get done. It's not a power that corrupts, that would be too simple. Instead, it is a force that fragments. It closes options. It mesmerizes. It clouds your mind, and puts blindfolds on you. It decreases your perspective. It makes you see what you want to see. Ego is the default choice, because it's soothing. That is precisely why we must be cognizant of it, and counter-balance it. In every situation, ask yourself who is acting. Is it you, your goals, your vision, your long-term accomplishments, and your confidence? Or is it your ego?
Ego is the enemy. That is a sentence I'll repeat to myself after reading this book. This is an extremely important book that I believe I read at the right time. I'm extremely grateful for this book, which is only something that happens every 20-40 books I read....more
In a book that takes the form of a letter to his son, Coates takes us through an autobiographical journey through his upbringing in the rough neighbouIn a book that takes the form of a letter to his son, Coates takes us through an autobiographical journey through his upbringing in the rough neighbourhood of West Baltimore. He paints of picture of a childhood centered around fear. One of hopelessness: If half of your brain is constantly pre-occupied with how you're going to navigate the maze home from school, the wildlife of the school yard and keeping tack of the complex social hierarchies of the ghetto—how can you fathom what long-term good education can do to you? Long-term doesn't even exist as a concept. If you see no successful examples around of people reaching for the Dream, enabled by education, what motivation is there? Why would you feel the slightest sense of motivation in the classroom? The "jail of other people's interest", as Coates puts it. Living in this world, the white children on TV whose biggest problem is how to kiss the most popular girl seem to live in a parallel universe.
This is one of the most moving books I have read. The stories are capturing. The perspective is much needed. Everyone must read this book....more
This is the best book I've read on leadership, building organizations and spending your time on the most important tasks for your team.This is the best book I've read on leadership, building organizations and spending your time on the most important tasks for your team....more
This is a great book on a subject I've thought a lot about in the past. It introduced some new mental model that are useful. It got me to think about This is a great book on a subject I've thought a lot about in the past. It introduced some new mental model that are useful. It got me to think about a lot of interesting things. My reason for not giving this book the fifth star is that it's not completely grounded in reality always. It advocates for always focusing on one thing in work, and embracing the chaos that results in—but lacks examples of what that looks like and how to deal with the problems of saying nos. Is it really true you should never stray from your one thing? Can't that occasionally lead to something great? If everyone is focusing on their one thing, and no-one is helping each other, is that really scalable and sustainable? These questions I would've liked to see processed in the book. That said, the usage of the Pareto principle, the mental model of nested goals, why having big goals are important, that saying yes is saying implicitly no, etc., are all explored in great depth....more
The average human forecaster is no better than a monkey throwing darts. Evolutionarily, we've developed a simple three-dial system for making decisionThe average human forecaster is no better than a monkey throwing darts. Evolutionarily, we've developed a simple three-dial system for making decision: Do I see a huge dangerous predator? Yes, run. Maybe, stay alert / run. No, relax. Whenever we do venture into predictions, it's with a vague vocabulary filled with rubbery words: may, soon, highly likely, unlikely, .. The statement "Greece may default in the near future" really doesn't mean anything: may is completely uncertain, and the near future could be a year, decade or tomorrow depending on who you ask. If the medium for predictions is ambiguous English, how are we supposed to evaluate and therethrough make anyone accountable for their predictions?
However, aggregate a large enough sample of average dart throwing humans and you'll get a much more useful result. If you have enough people guessing the weight of an ox, the average will run quite close to reality. People all come with different backgrounds, biases and bits of information that they boil down to a single number. Combine enough of those numbers, and a remarkable amount of information is captured in the final average. This is exactly how a stock market works, oodles of traders push new information into the stock.
This strategy can be applied just as well to your own predictions. Instead of thinking twice to take another angle, think 12 times, even better 100 times—become your own supplier of diverse views, and aggregate these views. As new information submerges, update your predictions, but only move them little at a time. Super forecasters think in probabilities, not three dial notches, and they're excellent distilling facts into numbers. What sets them apart is their ability to see through confirmation bias, and consider as many angles as they can possibly find. They're experts at bias awareness and balance. They grunt at the smell of false dichotomy. They don't substitute questions for whether they'd do it, but absorb the full context to understand whether the person the prediction question is about will do it. Their growth mindset is what makes this possible, they refuse to believe that everything cannot be learned through hard work—versus a fixed mindset, where you think your only job is to reveal skills you were born with.
When an effective forecaster look at a new problem, they start with a baseline. It's easy to get primed by an inside perspective here, but a super forecaster always start from outside. Vietnam and China border dispute? Look at history and see how often it's happened in the past, rather than compiling only from information available right this week which is subject to the availability bias. They don't go incredibly deep into one branch of an issue, but rather develop a nuanced, broad perspective. Ferme predictions are a weapon of choice, breaking a problem into many that can each have a reasonable probability associated with it. They know that the aggregation will result in a reasonable prediction. After developing an outside perspective, they'll dig inside and come back up merging the two into their final prediction.
Super forecasters do remarkably in groups, effectively aggregation of aggregations. This is how Nate Silver works too, and 2-level (or even higher) of aggregating can be remarkably effective. They're aware of groupthink: that consensus should not be confused with having found the best possible solution. Friendliness may not spur enough diverse opinions. Chaos is an accepted reality among them, and they understand that the further into the future we venture the more we invite chaos and unpredictability. Taleb, the author and Kahnemann all agree it's unreasonable to predict anything 10 years out. Predictions excel in the 3-18 month range, as longer it becomes subject to the butterfly effect and it becomes more like a seasonal weather prediction than anything. When the book discusses chaos, it takes a detour into Prussian war strategy where localized decision power was always maximized. The higher ups would compose the overall plan, but the field generals would make the final decisions. The vision was shared, but the execution was up to the people with the most information. The famous quote here being "plans don't survive contact with the enemy".
The author does a good job throughout of applying what he's preaching, questioning what he's saying and arguing against it....more