#Booknotes: Range

Range: Why Generalist Triumph in a Specialized World
By David Epstein

Overview:

If you’ve been trying to excel at something and have been burning the midnight oil to hit the 10,000-hour mark, Range might make you reconsider your approach. In domains where patterns repeat and feedback is both rapid and accurate, what author David Epstein calls “kind” learning environments, you can develop useful intuition through deep and narrow practice to solve problems that have clear boundaries and stated goals, much like Tiger Woods does in golf or Garry Kasparov did in chess. Specialists rein in the worlds of medicine and sports.

The trouble is that many of the areas where we work and encounter challenges don’t look like a game of golf or chess. Patterns vary. Feedback is delayed. Successful outcomes can be hard to detect. In these more uncertain, unfamiliar scenarios, what Epstein calls “wicked” learning environments, a deep and narrow approach does not get us the best results.

There are implications for how we teach, how we approach our careers, and who we hire to staff our teams. Just consider this: Nobel laureates are 22 times(!) as likely than their non-Nobel-winning peers to participate in the arts as an amateur actor, dancer, magician, or other type of performer.

As Epstein says, “Facing kind problems, narrow specialization can be remarkably efficient. The problem is that we often expect the hyperspecialist, because of their expertise in a narrow area, to magically be able to extend their skills to wicked problems. The results can be disastrous.”

Notes:

  • Kind Problems and Wicked Problems
    • Gary Klein research into intuition or naturalistic decision making
      • He studied firefighters and first responders
      • Those experts got very good at seeing patterns in their domains
      • Golf and chess are similarly kind domains with clear boundaries to the kinds of problems that need to be solved
    • Kind learning environments
      • Patterns repeat over and over
      • Feedback is extremely accurate and usually very rapid
      • Kind environments support 10,000 hour style learning with engagement in a particular activity with the goal of doing it better.
    • Daniel Kahenman did research into wicked problems
      • His first project was in the assessment of Israeli military officers. His predictions were awful.
      • Wicked domains have unclear rules
        • Patterns vary
        • Feedback is delayed, inaccurate or both.
    • Klein and Kahenman co-authored a paper saying that experience created expertise but it depended on the domain
  • How specialists fail
    • From Greg Duncan, education economist “Increasingly, jobs that pay well require employees to be able to solve unexpected problems, often while working in groups.”
    • Patterns
      • Chess players can memorize a board in a few seconds (they see common set of patterns that they use to make decisions), BUT if you show them pieces in random locations they are lost
      • Same for all of us! Try memorizing random words versus words in sentences
      • Experienced tax accountants do worse than novices at applying new regulations – “cognitive entrenchment”
      • Kepler looked for analogies for what he was seeing with planets – light, smell, heat, soul/power/spirit, magnetism, currents, broom, balance scales,
      • Functional fixedness – the tendency to consider only familiar uses for objects
    • Jayshree Seth when at Clarkson University – stick with in an area she knew she did’t like but already started , even thought she wasn’t that far in. Sunk Cost Fallacy.
    • Broader
      • Nobel laureates are 22 times are more likely to participate in the arts as a amateur actor, dancer, magician or other performer
      • An average adult today would have scored in the 98th percentile on a standard IQ test one hundred years ago.
      • BUT narrower specialization is making it harder for student to apply abstract concepts outside of their area of study (see James Flynn/NZ)
      • “Fermi problems” – back of the envelope problems that estimate big problems. The point is to show how someone thinks rather than an exact solution.
      • “Far Transfer”
      • Dedre Gentner – “our ability to think relationally is the reason we run the planet,” find surface analogies.
        • Adding one analogy improves problem solving by 3x, adding two analogies improves even further
        • Ambiguous Sorting Task – combination of domain (economic bubbles) and deep structure.
        • Laboratory research – Diverse teams with varied backgrounds that presented their unsolved problems to each other
      • Curse of the “inside view” from Tversky and Kahneman
        • The more inside knowledge you have, the worse your estimates end up (VC/construction/entertainment)
      • Einstellung effect – tendency for problem solvers to employ only familiar methods even if better one are available.
      • BCG created an analogies database to help consultants with engagements
      • Outsider Advantage
        • Eli Lilly posted problems for outsiders to try and figure out. The site is now called InnoCentive.
        • Harvard research from Karim Lakhani showed “The further the problem was from the solver’s expertise, the more likely they were to solve it.”
        • “[big things happen] when an outsider who may be far away from the surface of the problem reframes the problem in a way that unlocks the solution.”
      • Napolean needed to preserve food for troops, science failed, foodie Nicolas Appert solved the problem
    • Outsiders make better use of specialist information. They also use laggard information in new ways.
      • Gunpei Yokoi at Nintendo committed to use technology that had already become cheap, even obsolete, in new ways to create their first electronic problems.
    • Eduardo Melero and Neus Palomeras – 32,000 teams at 880 different organizations – high uncertainty domains benefited from individuals that worked with a variety of technologies and more likely to make a splash.
    • Alva Taylor and Fredric Wertham – examined comic book industry, “When seeking innovation in knowledge-based industries, it is best to find one ‘super’ individual. If no individual with the necessary combination of diverse knowledge is available, one should form a ‘fantastic’ team.
    • Forecasting
      • Richard Tetlock – Good Judgment Project
        • General public volunteers outperformed experts by at least 30%
        • His team was so good they shutdown all other teams
        • Teams are 50% more accurate than individuals
    • We Can’t Put Things Down
      • Navy seaman ignore order to remove steel toed shoes when abandoning ship
      • Fighters pilots fail to eject from disabled planes
      • Karl Weick called it “overlearned behavior.”
      • Rather than decisions, keep “hunches held lightly.”
    • There is a difference between the chain of command and chain of communication
      • Himalayan mountain climbers–5,104 groups–found that teams from countries that valued hierarchical culture got more climbers to the cummit, but also had more climbers die along the way.
    • Less Is More
      • A study of young musicians found that exceptional players generally came from kids who started later and had fewer structured lessons
    • Teaching
      • Desirable difficulties – make learning challenging, slower, and more frustrating creates short term frustration and better in the long term
      • Hints short circuit learning
      • Distributed practice – create spacing between learning sessions
      • “For knowledge to be flexible, if should be learned under varied conditions.”
      • “Desirable difficulties like testing and spacing make knowledge stick. It becomes more durable. Desirable difficulties like making connections and interleaving make knowledge flexible, useful for problems that never appear in training. All slow down learning and make performance suffer, in the short term.”
    • Match Quality – degree of fit between the work and who the person is.
      • English and Welch college graduates switched more often than the later choosing Scottish students.
      • People who randomly switched jobs were happier than those who stayed
      • Teachers that switched schools were better at helping students.
      • Herminia Ibarra – “We discover possibilities by doing, by trying new activities, building new networks, finding new role models.” We learn who we are in practice, not in theory. “I learn who I am when I see what I do.”
      • “Outsider artists”, non-formally trained artists; reminds me of “self-published authors”
      • Howard Finster “Trying things is the answer to find your talent.”
      • “Facing kind problems, narrow specialization can be remarkably efficient. The problem is that we often expect the hyperspecialist, because of their expertise in a narrow area, to magically be able to extend their skill to wicked problems. The results can be disastrous.”
      • Oliver Smithie – bring new skills to an old problem or a new problem to old skills

The Three Business Books You Need To Read From 2019

I know I am making a big promise in the headline, but stay with me on this one. There are several reasons these three books can help narrow down your “I’m behind on my 2019 reading” list.

In this post, I’ll share some good sources I use every year to help with choose what I read, tell you why these books are good selections and give you a few reasons to pick up each one.

The Sources

I mentioned in a post earlier this week that we are in the heart of the “Best of” Season. Everyone is posting their favorite things of the year. I love it. You get to see what is important to people. With these curated lists, you can see if there are themes that arose out of the past year.

In the world of business books, there are a handful of outlets that I watch each year to see what they are recommending when the year closes. Let me share each of them and tell you why you should pay attention.

First, Porchlight Books (the fine folks formerly known as 800-CEO-READ) are in the 13th year of the Business Book Awards. Some of you know that I spent several years working there and starting the Awards program is one of the things I am most proud of. Last week, they announced their longlist with forty books across eight categories. In December, they’ll announce their category winners and at their New York City gala in January, they’ll crown their Business Book of the Year.

Going on even longer has been the Strategy + Business Best Business Books feature, now in its nineteenth year. The publication from PwC and its partners keeps seven categories, selecting three books for each category and choosing one title in each as their TopShelf pick. The category winners are generally curated by industry experts, as seen in their choices of Bethany McLean, James Surowiecki, and Sally Hegesen to serve this year.

Given the headliners, many consider The Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award to be the most prestigious. The judging has a nice Trans-Atlantic feel with the awards ceremony alternating locations between New York City and London. The visibility also comes from the £30,000 in prize money given to the winner. Their format is to start with a 16 title longlist announced in August, the six title shortlist shared in September, and the winner celebrated in December.

Amazon has a comprehensive set of year-end selections. These are picked by a set of editors at the company. They choose 20 books across a range of what they call “business and leadership books”. Their list is always good balancing bestsellers and practical problem solving. Already this year, they named Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac as their business and leadership book of the year.

In the world of small business, I want to mention the list that comes from Leigh Buchanan at Inc. Magazine. She covers business books for the magazine and she often write articles that look ahead to upcoming book seasons, or as she did earlier this month, she wrote an eleven title Must-Read list for entrepreneurs in 2019.

The final list is from Bookpal, a West Coast best book retailer. They have the newest awards program, The Outstanding Works of Literature (OWL) Awards, which they started in 2017. There are five categories from their OWL awards that fit into the world of business books and on their longlist, they nominate five books for each category.

Each of the lists above have different flavors. FT McKinsey is global and conglomerate. Strategy + Business is corporate and smart. Amazon plays it straight to the core of the business book category. Inc. Magazine leans toward small business. And Porchlight digs deep into their indie bookstore roots. Bookpal highlights books across the breadth of categories they sell.

The lists also have things in common. They are created by people who care about the business book category. They are journalists, booksellers, academics and business leaders who all believe they have a stake in helping readers find the best titles.

Intersections: A Meta-Analysis of The Lists

Personally, I always find myself drawn to the spaces between. With the common interests and divergent preferences, I always want to know where the business book lists intersect. A good book is a good book. And if multiple groups see that, there is something worth paying attention to. Looking at the intersections between those lists was particularly interesting this year.

Using the longlist from each group, the six groups recommend a total of 102 books. The majority of those books, 80 titles or 78% of titles, only appear once across the five lists. That represents the wonderful variety in both what these entities believe is a book that will appeal to a business audience and what represented a good book among what was published in 2019.

There were 19 books that appeared twice on those five lists. I am not sure I have pattern or conclusion I can draw from those. Porchlight nominated twice as many (or more) books and they are the common partner in 13 of the 19 titles that were selected twice. When you look at the other half of those pairs, they are evenly spread among the other five lists. The categories of those 13 books are also spread across general business, economics, current events and narratives. I believe this set of books shares the same effect of judges’ preference, as can be seen in the single titles.

This is where it gets interesting.

There were no books that were appeared on three of the lists.

There were no books that were picked by four lists.

And there were no books that were chosen by all six lists.

That leaves us with only three titles that were chosen by five lists. That’s where I want to focus the rest of the attention.

[If you’d like to see all the titles and some of the analysis, I have put all the data in a Google Sheet that you can find by clicking on this link.]

The Three Titles For 2019

Let’s start with the books:

  1. Loonshots: How To Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcali
  2. Nine Lies About Work: A (Freethinking) Leader’s Guide to the Real World by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall
  3. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

As I said, these were chosen by four different arbiters of business books. The last bit of analysis that I’ll share is that each book was chosen by a different combination of those five players. So, there was no voting block of perspective that led to these three titles.

I’ll admit there is randomness and probably pattern bias in trying to focus on these three titles. I am not going to try to justify these picks with any statistics or additional analysis. Let’s just say that the bubbling up of these three books is convenient.

It’s handy that there are only three books with such overwhelming support. Anyone can get these three titles and be through them between now and the end of the year. If that sounds hard, go read my essay on How To Read A [Business] Book.

Another convenience is this small group of books touches on the three things we should always be working to improve. First, we always need to put some focus on ourselves and Range provides an interesting thesis for how we should position ourselves in today’s world. Next, we always need to be working on how we work with others. Nine Lies pushes hard on some commonly held wisdom and turns it on its head. Finally, I don’t know anyone who isn’t touched by change and doesn’t need a way to bring new ideas and approaches into the world. Loonshots addresses that.

After I saw the broad agreement on these three titles, I decided to dig into each of them again. I’ll be posting reviews on each one of them between now and the end of the year. I hope maybe you’ll read along. When I share more about these books, I’d love to hear what you thought of them and how they helped you.

Update (11/26/19): I added the longlist selections from Bookpal’s OWL awards to the year-end lists for this article. They also chose the three common titles are well.

#Author Booknotes: Hit Makers

The Book

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction
By Derek Thompson
Penguin Press, 2017

Overview

A staff writer for The Atlantic, Thompson pulls together a slew of fascinating stories and anecdotes to try and explain what makes things popular. The trick with a book like this is there is no singular way that phenomenon reaches critical mass. So, in that way, the overview approach to the material works well, as it does in magazine articles. The downside is that the variety dilutes the utility of a strong throughline or highly actionable advice. If you read it like you are going to move through lots of material and that will find nuggets to inform your worldview, you’ll be satisfied when you’re done.

My Notes

  • We like what we are familiar with.
    • Exposure (or repeated exposure) is one way we get more familiar
    • The impressionist painters we know today all came from a single collection.
    • James Cutting, at Cornelll, found you could change preference just by showing students obscure paintings with a higher frequency.
    • Music publishers in Tin Pan Alley agressively pushed new music to musicians playing in clubs in New York City and gather feedback about what to further promote.
    • Music prediction services like HitPredictor or SoundOut can explain part of the success of some songs, but exposure and airplay also play a huge factor.
  • The familiar needs to be balanced with the new
    • Industrial designer Raymond Loewy called this “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” – MAYA
    • “People like a challenge if they think they can solve it. [Claudia Muth] calls this moment where disfluency yields fluency the aesthetic aha.”
    • Example four chord music, cable news focus on headline topics with endless viewpoints, Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature needed new and known songs
  • The balance can be found in patterns
    • The longest time to create surprise with the fewest number of musical notes is BBBBC-BBBC-BBC-BC-D
    • Rhetorical devices like epistrophe (repetition of words at the end of the sentence), anaphora (repetition at the beginning of the sentence), tricolon (repetition in short triplicate, and my favorite antimetabole (AB;BA – do onto others as they would do onto you)
  • This leads us to another pattern – STORY
    • Joseph Campbell’s ingredients: inspiration, relatability, and suspense
    • “…[T]ake twenty-five things that in any successful genre and you reverse one of them. Reverse too many and you get genre confusion. Invert all the elements, you get parody. But one strategic tweak? Now you’ve got something that is perfectly new.”
  • Popularity is always being shaped by choice, economics and marketing
    • Industrialization is followed by the rise of fashion
    • “Distribution is a strategy to make a good product popular, but it’s not a reliable way to make a bad product seem good.”
    • Researchers Balaz Kovacs and Amanda Sharkey found that winning awards actually produces lower ratings from readers
      • Possible cause – higher expectations for those titles
  • Randomness
    • Duncan Watts studies information cascades
      • Everything starts at zero
      • And 1 in 1000 is still 1 in 1000 and very hard to predict
    • Al Greco calls the entertainment business “a complex. Adaptive, semi-chaotic industry with Bose-Einstein distribution dynamics and Pareto law characteristics with dual-sided uncertainty.”
    • Virality is a myth; broadcasters that share with millions make the difference in hits
      • “Items spread wider and faster when everyone can see what everybody else is doing.”
    • Sometimes it is not really about the product, but that someone “buys” popularity of the product.
    • Even people who produce lots of product can’t predict what will be a hit (i.e. Vincent Forrest on Etsy)
  • “Ideas most reliably spread with the piggyback off an existing network of closely connected and interested people.”
  • “The paradox of scale is that the biggest hits are often designed for a small, well-defined group of people.”
  • “Artists and teams produced their most resonant work after they had already passed a certain threshold of fame and popularity. Perhaps genius thrives in a space shielded ever so slightly from the need to win a popularity contest.
  • Random facts
    • One percent of music artists earn eighty percent of all recorded music revenue.
    • Music companies use Shazam to see where songs are being searched and find small places to launch into bigger markets
    • NBC uses 40-40-20 test for new programs
      • 40% of people say they are aware of the show
      • 40% of that (16% of total) say they want to watch it.
      • And 20% (3.2% of total!) of that say they are passionate about the new show
  • FX’s Nicole Clemens: “I am looking for a 90 hour movie. It is a Trojan horse for a deeper question: Who is the character becoming? What is he or she going to do next?”
  • Kat Kamen, first head of merchandising at Disney: “The art of film is film, but the business of movies is everywhere.”

Book Review – Five Star Billionaire

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I have this long-term desire to find good fiction that takes place in a business setting. When you find the workplace in a story, the boss is mean or the characters are depressed or someone has cheated another out of something they deserve. Business and greed are a good pairing, but I would like to see stories with less suffering.

I just got done reading Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw. I got this book after seeing a review describing it as a good portrait of modern life in China. White Tiger by Aravind Adiga did a good job of that for modern-day India.

One of the main characters uses personal development books to learn the rules of the go-go world of 21st century China. The chapter titles read like self-help tomes: “Move To Where The Money Is”, “Choose The Right Moment To Launch Yourself”, “How To Achieve Greatness.” I’ll admit this pulled me in.  Aw’s observations describing Shanghai and rural Malaysia also drew me into the book.

The narrative is an intertwining story of five loosely connected characters who all want more, are at different stages of getting it, and the circumstances that intervenes. Those circumstances are slow to develop across more than 400 pages and the book loses momentum early in the book. I stayed with it though, because I wanted to see how it turned out.

For me, Five Star Billionaire is sad book about the tragedy of growth, greed and everything we’ll do to get what we want. Others will disagree and see instead the power of motivation to change your circumstances. Both exist in this book.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking.

Book Review: The 5 Love Languages

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I heard about this book from a friend about a year ago. They asked me what my love language was and I didn’t know.

I appear out of touch not having read a book that sold 10 million copies and just celebrated its 25 year anniversary. I posted a couple shorter reviews on Instagram and Facebook and there was a warm response from fans of the book. They atested to its power in their relationships

Chapman believes we each have a way we like to receive love:

    1. Words of Affirmation
    2. Acts of Service
    3. Receiving Gifts
    4. Quality time
    5. Physical Touch.

They are all important but each of us has a strong preference toward one language. It’s one of those situations where the way we express ourselves in the world is often the way we want attention shown on ourselves.

Each chapter has a good narrative for how these love languages play out in a long term relationship. Chapman uses stories from his counseling practice. He describes the interactions that couples have before they understand each other’s language and what happens afterwards.

The book is simple and that makes it easy to talk about. That same quality also makes me a little skeptical. The book feels like the observations of a long time counselor and those are valuable, but I kept wondering if the framework would hold up to more substantial research. I wonder how the Love Language framwork overlaps with Myers-Briggs personality testing. An online search will unovered I am not the first to wonder this but the answers vary widely from site to site.

Chapman himself is a Southern Baptist pastor. You’ll find a layer of generic Christian tone throughout the book. I wasn’t bothered by it but a few times when he veers a little towards doctrine rather than science.

I give this one a could rating, maybe with a nudge toward should if you want to be ready for when you are asked your love language.

P.S. My love language is physical touch. Hugs, anyone?

What I Read – April 2018

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Non-Fiction

Stick with It by Sean Young – The book has all the components of a great business book, opening with strong frameworks to think about change.  From there, he pushes back on the recent popularity in “habit” books but there isn’t enough contrast for me to see what is different about his approach.  The framework started to feel familiar. The stories are good, but I found him repeating material in places. I really wanted to like it more than it did. Could.

Fiction

The Mighty Thor: Thunder In Her Veins by Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman – I just finished reading Aaron’s run on Star Wars and decided this would be a great place to follow him to.  I loved it. Jane Foster lifts Mjolnir and takes up the mantle of Thor. This first volume finds her trying to keep peace in the Nine Realms as she battles Loki, Odin and the cancer killing her mortal body. Must.

What I Read – March 2018

Non-Fiction

Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller –  The premise of Attached is that there are three ways people engage around intimacy – Secure (50% of us), Anxious (20%), and Avoidant (25%).  And the trick is what happens when these styles interact with each other. This is book is interesting but is short on utility; felt like a long magazine article that got turned into a book. Could.

Great At Work by Morten Hansen – Through a 5000 person study asking bosses, peers and the the individuals themselves, Hansen believes he has found a set of strategies and tactics to improve your performance in the workplace. Here are four lessons that caught my attention:

    1. We are always balancing focus and effort. The best performers focus on a smaller number of priorities and then obsess, scoring 28% higher than the next closest group that does more and stresses about the added commitments. Ways to apply – focus on an industry, cull the number of projects, learn to say no.
    2. High achievers find a way to bring individual passion to their work and purpose that serves the broader community. The study found passionate people in all jobs and industries. It also found purpose in highly creative to the most low paying positions (hospital janitors score among most purposeful). The best result came from individual who had BOTH.
    3. When leading groups, maximize debate among team members, reach selected action and foster team unity toward end goal. Make it safe to speak up, ensure everyone is heard and get everyone behind the final decision.
    4. Collaboration is not magically better. It only makes sense when it is effective and creates value towards an end goal. Top performers find that balance and fully commit or they say no.

I give Great At Work a Must.

The Million-Dollar One-Person Business by Elaine Pofeldt – Pretty standard book for starting a business.  Pofeldt is a journalist and she is reporting on the current scene. Could.

Fiction

Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews – I have been reading business fables and parables ahead of a new project I am working on. The book came out in 2002. I wasn’t familiar with it until recently. The main character, David Ponder, hits a rough patch in his life and has a George Bailey moment of crisis. In this version, Ponder is sent through time to visit famous figures at pivotal moments in history to receive words of advice. The opening scenes are rushed but the rest of the book works. Could.

 

Graphic Novels

She-Hulk: Deconstructed by MarikoTamaki and Nico Leon with Dalibor Talajić – Jennifer Walters aka She-Hulk attempts to return to a normal life as a lawyer after the events of Civil War II. Their treatment of someone struggling with PTSD is matched so well with the green monster. It’s all there – anger, fear, lack of control, remorse, consequence, exhaustion.This is one of the best story arcs I have ever read in a graphic novel. Must.

Other

Launch Podcast by John August – August is the author of a new middle-age novel called Arlo Finch and the Valley of Fire. He is also the co-host of the Scripnotes podcast and the screenwriter of many movies you know – Go, Big Fish, Charlie’s Angels. Launch tracks the journey of the book being published from finding an agent to copyediting to visiting the printing plant in Virgina. The podcast is a fun overview of the whole process. I think even publishing people will enjoy hearing the story told through the eyes of an enthusiastic first time author. Should.

Black PantherMUST for all the reasons.

Meru – Amazing documentary on Netflix about three men’s attempt to be the first to ascend a peak in the Indian Himalayas. My wife and I sat on the couch amazed when it was over. Must.

What I Read – February 2018

Non-Fiction

Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss – This is my favorite book by Ferriss. Drawing from his podcast, he compiled a list of interesting questions that he asked a set of interesting people. Here is a sampling:

  • What books have you gifted the most to other people?
  • What are some unusual habits you have?
  • What $100 purchase has most improved your life?
  • What would you put on a billboard?
  • What is your favorite failure?

That structure made the book a page turner for me. I have a file with 12 pages of notes I took while reading the book. Must

Radical Candor by Kim Scott – Scott spent time at the world of startups, Google and Apple University.  Radical Candor is her take on the most effective way to manage and communicate with employees. I liked it. There are some solid frameworks for people to us. I was reminded of Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and the needed combination of compassion and honesty. My takeaway is asking new employees to tell their life story by starting early in the childhood and looking for moments of change; those moments often illuminate values that are important to them. My only critique would be that it felt long and a little heavy on explanation.  Should for any manager, Must for new managers.

Spiritual

Don’t Be A Jerk by Brad Warner – This is a brave book. Brad chooses to translate and paraphrase the first section of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, the definitive work of the founder of Zen Buddhism. The book covers the first twenty four chapters with each fascicle getting a short introduction, the paraphrased material and a further expansion. This is also a wonderful book because it covers Japanese history, ancestors back to India, the attempts at translation, and he shares his path of learning Zen. I have been practicing for seven years and the book felt like an advanced class on my Zen Center. Must (and there is follow-up called It Came From Beyond Zen!)

Graphic Novels

Star Wars by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday and many amazing others – This series started after Disney bought Lucasfilm and turned the comics over to its previous acqusition Marvel.  Aaron envisioned the series as a running sequel to Star Wars (IV). I have read the first five volumes and it is outstanding. Luke is lost and searching for traces of the Jedi. Leia and Han don’t get along. Vader is trying to find the lucky kid who destroyed the Death Star. There is no shortage of themes to explore and new characters to sprinkle in. The trade paperbacks to a rare outstanding job of pulling together crossovers into solid story arcs. Read them in this order: Skywalker Strikes, Showdown on Smuggler’s Moon, Vader Down, Rebel Jail, The Last Flight of the Harbinger, Yoda’s Secret War, The Screaming Citadel, Out Among The StarsMUST! 

Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen, Kev Walker, Marc Deering and Antonio Fabela – I heard buzz about the Aphra title and it didn’t live up to the hype for me. Aphra is a thinly veiled female version of Han Solo with (yes) a Wookie and (evil) droids. My real objection is my personal preference to read stories about heroes that are trying to make their world a better place; Doctor Aphra is not that. Skip

Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart Volume 1 and Volume 2 – I like Riri Williams. She’s smart. She is African-American. She has opinions. Tony Stark is hanging around as a amorphous AI. We get a “figuring out how to be a superhero” storyline, reminding me of Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel.  It got weird though when she took over a country without any complications. Wished there was more that defined her as a unique character, from the genius persona. Could/Should.

Other

Altered Carbon – I read a few early reviews for the new Netflix series and wondered if I should watch.  I ignored the critics, watched and I am glad I did. Yeah, there is the violence and nudity, but the story is interesting and complicated and it moves fast across the ten epsiodes. Ignore the reviewers if you like sci-fi (and watch after the kids go to bed). Must.

Lorne Stories from WTF podcast with Marc Maron – I am fascinated with Lorne Michaels and the makings of SNL. If you haven’t listened to the show, Maron tried out for SNL, and fixated about it for years. Most of these interviews took place before Maron finally interviews Lorne Michaels for the show. The most interesting thing about listening more than twenty people talk about Lorne is how much their stories are reflections of who each of them are as people. Should.

What I Read – January 2018

I haven’t posted any entries to my What I Read series in about six months. The main reason is I was doing an enormous amount of research on my #happier project. I didn’t want posting my source material to give away the pieces I was working on. To kick things off again, I am going to share several books I read.

  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor – This was my favorite book, mainly beacause it took a “business book” approach to the topic. Achor focused on how managers could work with employees better using the happiness research. Must
  • The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky – This book showed me the depth of the research that has been done and convinced me I need to read more.  The pitch for this book is “Happiness is hard to maintain, but here are the reliable things you can do to improve your overall happiness.” Must
  • Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson – From the book – “To put it in a nutshell, love is the momentary upwelling of three tightly interwoven events: first, a sharing of one or more positive emotions between you and another; second a synchrony  between your and the other person’s biochemistry and behaviors,; and third a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care.” Must
  • Thanks! by Robert Emmons – Emmons is the leading researcher on gratitude and gratitude is one of the most reliable ways to become happier. Recognize the benefit, acknowledge receiving it and return the favor. Should
  • Happier by Tal Ben Sahara – Out of his many books, this one is the best at covering the research and some different mental frameworks for happiness. He also does a good job of drawing on prior applicable research in things like self-esteem. Should
  • The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith – The author was headed in the right direction but didn’t land it. I am still recommending it because this topic of finding purpose and meaning to so important for everyone. Could
  • Solve For Happy by Mo Gawdat – I don’t agree with everything that Gawdat says but the chart on page 134 is worth the price of the entire book. Could

Emotions Chart - Mo Gawdat

What I Read – May 2017

Non-Fiction

The Crowdsourceress by Alex Daly – I’ve supported over 140 crowdfunded projects. I love everything about kickstarting stuff and is what lead me to this book. Alex has built a creative services agency for creators needing help launching projects.  The book is the collection of her knowledge having launched 60+ projects. The case studies focus on a handful of her most successful ones. This book is a Should for creators just getting started with crowdfunding and with building skills in the world of marketing. The appendix has everything from sample email newsletters and questions to expect in press interviews. For the rest, this is probably a Skip.

 

Startup of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha – I remember when this book came out in 2012. I liked the concept of bringing startup principles to managing career.  The book does a good job on that front. It pushes a little too much on LinkedIn specifically and some strategies that I think are only available to set of people with substantial resources. Could if you know startups, Should if you don’t.
Three things I learned:
  1. Brian Uzzi’s research into Broadway musicals showed creative teams with both people who have worked together before AND new members are more successful. That group with strong and weak ties boosted creativity and has enough existing trust to support the work.
  2. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson sums up our flaws in decision-making with three mistakes: we overestimate threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimate resources. A study of 700 executives showed that it boiled down to one yes-or no question: Can I tolerate the outcome if the worst-case scenario happens?
  3. “The fastest way to change yourself is to hangout with people who are already the way you want to be.” They draw on the research of Nicholas Christakis snd James Fowler (see Connected) that shows how easily you can catch the emotional states of your friends, imitate their actions, and literally absorb their values.
How to Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick – I am a multipotentialite. I knew it from the first time I heard Emile talk about it. Her book is a exploration of what is it like to work with the desire to explore many things – the problems, work models, and how to be productive. The book was helpful in describing the condition but I left wanting a little more surprise. I feel like I still have the same amount of uncertainty around working with lots of interests. Help! Could.
Three things I learned:
  1. Do any of these labels resonate with you? -> multipotentialite, polymath, renaissance person, jack-of-all-trades, generalist, scanner, puttylike
  2. Multipotentialite superpowers include idea synthesis, rapid learning, adaptability, big-picture thinking, and relating & translating. This reminds of the Symphony skill from Dan Pin’s A Whole New Mind.
  3. Emile suggests four work models:
    • Group Hug (one multifaceted job)
    • Slash (job/job/job)
    • Einsten (one job to enable other passions)
    • Phoenix (Career->Career->Career…)
The Captain Class by Sam Walker – Walker went through an elaborate process to determine the best sports teams of all time. He wanted teams that dominated over the course of years and his follow-on efforts where to find out what made the difference. He ruled out great players, great teams of players, great management, great coaches, and big bags of money. Walker thinks it is great captains. That makes it an interesting book because only the most stalwart sports fans are going to know these figures. This also creates an interesting question about whether individuals with these qualities have perceived value in today’s major sports. Could.
Walker’s Seven Traits of Elite Captains
  1. Extreme doggedness and focus on competition
  2. Aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules
  3. A  willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows
  4. A low-key, practical , and democratic communication style
  5. Motivates others with passionate nonverbal displays
  6. Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart
  7. Ironclad emotional control

Graphic Novels

Black Panther Volume 3 by Ta-Nehisi Coates and company- Great and real end to the story arc. Must.

Mockingbird Volume 1 by Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk – This was fun. I like the attitude throughout. Must.

What I Read – April 2017

Non-Fiction

So you want to publish a magazine? by Angharad Lewis – I love this sorts of books. You could read a Dummies How-To but this is written by a fan for a fan.  Lewis gathered wonderful interviews with indie magazine publishers. The book has a strong European flavor, but it doesn’t take away from the lessons taught. If you are interested in the magazine business, this book is a Should.

TED Talks by Chris Anderson – No one knows how to do compelling presentations better than TED. Somehow, that knowledge got mangled and the book ended up confusing and kind of boring. So many strange decisions about what Anderson thought the reader would want to hear – what to wear? traps to avoid? Make eye contact? This should have been a master’s class in public speaking and feels more like a basic “Presentations for Dummies” title instead. Skip.

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans – Design is the key word.  The authors believe there is huge value in bringing design principles to finding your life’s work.  Try stuff. Be curious. These are antidotes to how fixed we get in our mindset when we want to move or need to move to something else. The book is well done and provides exactly what is needed to deliver on the promise. I’d point you to this one if you need some help figure out what is next. Should.

Spiritual

The Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines Translated by Edward Conze – This is the text that established Mahayana Buddhism and is foundational to Zen. I read it as a part of a class  Must for Mahayana Buddhists.

Graphic Novels

Saga Vol 4, 5, and 6 – Yes. Yes. Yes. Must.

Old Man Logan Volume 3 by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino- I am sucker for Wolverine playing the Ronin in Japan. This book seems to best storytelling the combination of his past and present from the new series. Still just a Should for me.

What I Read – March 2017

Non-Fiction

Search Inside Yourself by Chande-Meng Tan – Tan created a mindfulness based program at Google based on the Emotional Intelligence framework.  His approach takes the teachings one step passed Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and bring in some stories and practices from Buddhism. Tan also brings the science and research that has been conducted on these practices, which gives the strict business applications more justification. I liked alot about the book, but the structure made it hard for me to moved easily through the book and tie it all back together. That also makes it hard for me to describe why you might like it…because you might. Could.

Unshakeable by Tony Robbins with Peter Mallouk – This is the shorter version his 2014 book Money: Master The Game. If you need convincing on index funds, the right kind of financial advisor, and allocation diversity, read the book. If you are looking for the next level of detail or advice, get the other book. Could.

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer – This is a beautiful book, written with deep care and deep thought for both word and idea. Palmer writes about the work to find our life’s work. After reading the first essay, my wife handed the book back to me and said, “This is heavy.” She’s right. He asks you to take care and look deeply at your life. Find the threads, honor the limits and work in a vocation that expresses your true self. Should.

Graphic Novels

Old Man Logan Volume 0, Volume 1 and Volume 2 – After the original eight issue run in 2008, Marvel brought the story line into an ongoing series in 2015 and those have been released in four collected editions. I read the first three volume and they are good. The storyline quickly uses time travel to move Wolverine back into the current Marvel time line. He starts to track down all of his past enemies, only to find they may not be his enemies. The whole series has this feel of looking again at common Wolverine tropes from another angle. As I said it is good, but it never captures the originality or quentessial nature of the original run of Old Man Logan. Could.

Black Widow Volume 1 by Mark Waid and Chris Samee – This reboot is kind of interesting. New villian, return to the Red Room, and lots of spycraft. The art for me to was rough and tough to follow, made me want to skip through the story. Wished for me, won’t be continuing on with the series. Could.

What I Read – February 2017

Non-Fiction

Whiplash: How To Survive Our Faster Future by Joi Ito and Jeff Howe – Not sure. The authors lay out nine concepts that define the age we live in. The concepts are set up to be provocative with a “this vs. that” format. All of the concepts are good. Pull over Push. Systems over Objects. Some of the stories are interesting, but it is not always clear how they support the main concept.  I am not sure the main concepts are always compellingly explained as important. The book is certainly a nod to the MIT Media Lab and I like hearing about the Lab more than I expected. The book though was a mixed bag for me. Could.

Dear Data: A Friendship in 52 Weeks of Postcards by Giorgia Lupi and Stefanie Posavec – This book collects the mail interchange of two data designers over the course of a year. Each week, they asked a question, collected data and created a representation to send to the other.  The postcards feel more artistic than graphic. Watching the project evolve and seeing their follow-up commentary adds the right amount of context. The book is fun and inspiring. Should.

Fiction

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Narrated by John Lee – I was looking for a book to match with my trip to India in January. The title won the Booker Prize in 2008 and it kept showing up on my radar around books about India and books about entrepreneurship. I chose to go with the audiobook edition, which worked very well given the book is written in first person (and that I can’t read in cars). The protagonist, Balram Halwai, is writing a letter to the Premier of China about his life story and what the Premier could learn from an entrepreneur like himself. The 21st century description of the caste system, bribery, loyalty, and globalization in India resonated with him. I could see glimmers of what Adiga describes. Strangely, the core of the story felt a little hollow to me but the circumstances that drove the story forward were fascinating. Should. 

In-Between

Life of the Buddha by Ashvaghosha, Translated by Patrick Olivelle – This is an epic poem of the Buddha’s life that was likely written in the first century CE. The official translation runs from his birth through the enlightenment. It is a good, but formal version of the story. Should.

Graphic Novels

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet  – Book Two by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and Laura Martin – The story continue and T’Challa fights to see what is going on in his crumbling country and starts to see what must be done to save it. Must.

Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven – I needed to read the original run to be ready for the movie. It’s dark and sad, but it’s Wolverine and it suits him. Must.

 

What I Read – January 2017

 

Non-Fiction

Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen – In this 2011 book, Collins’ points his research practice at emerging companies. The question was how do start-up deal with the uncertainity, chaos and luck during their first decade. Collins with Morten Hansen use the paired approach, comparing 10X companies to their less successful comparables. They found a steady pace, small bets before big ones, consistent strategy, and a healthy dose of “productive paranoia”. The sum of the findings advocates greater discpline and how that discpline creates shapes outcomes in a world with luck, both good and bad.  Must.

Graphic Novels

Ms. Marvel Volume 6 – The book continues its amazing run. Things get more complicated and the consequences more severe. This book takes place during Civil War II event and the influence comes in and goes back out. Must.

What I Read – December 2016

Non-Fiction

The Revenge of Analog by David Sax – This is a strange one. On the one hand, this book was written for me. I collect Moleskines and Field Notes. I bought a Poloroid camera so I could try out Impossible Film went it came on the market. I supported a number of board games that have been launched through Kickstarter. Our Holiday card in 2014 was eight pages of newsprint from Newspaper Club. Sax does a good job reporting this continuing phenonomen of indie, on-demand, analog creation–old forms finding new life with improved or revived technologies. The trouble was that I knew many of these stories well. I subscribed to Stack. I purchase Monocle. I’ve scouted the Amazon Books stores. I am not sure I could have written it, but it needed a little more (and I can’t believe I am saying this) fanboy amazement at what has happened and what more is possible. Could if you already get analog, Should if you want to understand.

Long Story Short by Margot Leitman – I like short books on storytelling, but this one didn’t click for me. The stories from students in Leitman’s classes were interesting but I am not sure her approach to the mechanics of storytelling gave me a new take. Could.

The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly – I have been reading Kelly’s work for a long time. We chose Out of Control for The 100 Best. There were a few high points but this one didn’t have enough surprises for me. It felt a little too abstract, some of the concepts were mushing in how they could overlap and that I had heard these many of these riffs before. Sadly, Could.

Graphic Novels

Hellboy Volume 1 by Mike Mignola and John Bryne – This is a collection of the first two story arcs of Hellboy. We get the origin story and lots of people tell him he is not doing what he was meant to do. I have always wanted to read this title and I wasn’t disappointed. Must.

Special YA Edition from Ethan Sattersten

My son Ethan is a reader.  Since he started tracking in June, he has finished 50 books. I asked him to share his favorite series of the year.

Keeper of the Lost Cities Series by Shannon Messenger -Sophie is a normal human girl in high school at the age of 12 with Yale trying to accept her. Normal, right? But Sophie can hear minds and one day she meets a boy named Fitz whose minds she can’t hear. Sophie is sucked into a worlddo different than her own. She also isn’t who she thinks she is. I love books that have two things: adventure/fight scenes and mystical legends with a twist (courtesy of the author).   This series has a lore that will make you crave the next book. Must – books in the Series include Keepers of the Lost Cities, Exile, Everblaze, Neverseen, Lodestar and two more planned but unreleased titles.

Keys To The Kingdom Series by Garth Nix – This is the story of Arthur, a kid who is given a key by Mr. Monday. The strange events start to occur. I don’t want to spoil it (and it’s hard to explain anyway). I like these books because of the epic battles and reality bending physics. That     WORTH IT. I kinda play up the book series I love, so bear with my fan boying. Check it out! MUST – books in the Series include Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday, and Lord Sunday.

Skulduggery Pleasant Series by Derek Landy – Stephanie Egley is an average 12 year old living in Ireland until her uncle’s unusual death. At the reading of his will, , she inherits all of her uncle’s royalties and riches, and Stephanie meets a strange man wrapped in a scarf. From there, her life and destiny are changed forever.  This story known as The Dead Bestseller brings you to a world that could easily be a single plot for every typical hero arc there ever was or will be, all in this seven book series. Warning: There are many deaths in these books of important characters or not) Should – books in the Series include Skulduggery Pleasant, Playing with Fire, The Faceless Ones, Dark Days, Mortal Coil, Death Bringer, Kingdom of the Wicked, Last Stand of Dead Men, The Dying of the Light, and a planned release in 2017.