BR 207: Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Elon Musk’s book has a compelling narrative, a great inherent story and is very well written. It is not for everyone. However, if you are interested/intrigued by Elon Musk and/or have an interest in entrepreneurship, space or clean energy, this is a fascinating read.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. I found it fascinating to see how Musk kept buying himself career credit to do the next thing. His first tech company was a internet 1.0 version of Yelp meets Google Maps that exited for >$300M. This, then, gave him capital and credibility to work on, which became PayPal. That, in turn, led to SpaceX.. And he chanced on Tesla because he was known to care a lot about clean energy.

2. Elon is a suitably weird/crazy, gifted person whose drive matches his considerable intellect. That said, he’s had to make some really big sacrifices to get to where he’s gotten to. He sees his mission as one that will save human kind (we care a lot about legacy as human beings) and his skills and experiences have positioned him beautifully for it. It isn’t for everyone. But, it is nevertheless inspiring to see him work toward what matters to him – even if his style occasionally is occasionally cold and un-empathetic.

3. I love Elon’s focus on first principles. His desire to understand the key drivers is phenomenal. The way he disaggregated the cost of a rocket’s components to get to understanding how over priced rockets are was, again, awe-inspiring.

No book notes. I treated this as a light read. 🙂

BR 206: Don’t Make me Think by Steve Krug

Category: 2 – BUY it!* (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)
*A category 1 – Read ASAP book if you ever attempt to design a website. I still put it in category 2 because we’re all web design consumers (and, hopefully, creators?) now. 🙂

Comments: Awesome design book.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. Where possible, stick to design conventions. We are creatures of habit and design conventions go a long way in helping us understand what we should do next.

2. Always prioritize user testing. Simple, continuous, lightweight user testing beats heavy research done every once a while.

3. The question to ask isn’t – what does the average user like? There isn’t an average user.
The question to ask is – Does this feature with these items and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?

Book notes here.

BR 205: Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg

Category: 2 – BUY it!* (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Solid book. Lots of great stories and a compilation of powerful principles.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. A combination of many interesting studies and a long research project at Google determined that there is one attribute that all high performing teams share – they all enable psychological safety.

2. In all, it remains an intriguing thought: if you want to build a successful company, you should not seek to attract the biggest rock stars. Instead, a loyal orchestra of employees will perform better – provided there is a dissenting tone every once in a while, to keep everyone focused.

3. I found this story incredibly inspiring

Tetsuro Toyoda was visiting NUMMI (a plant in Fremont California that is a joint collaboration between Toyota and GM). He saw Joe, an assembly line worker, struggling to install a taillight. He kept imploring him to pull the Andon cord and stop the assembly line. After many attempts – “Joe, please,” Toyoda said. Then he stepped over, took Joe’s hand in his own and guided it to the andon cord, and together they pulled. A flashing light began spinning.

When the chassis reached the end of Joe’s station without the taillight correctly in place, the line stopped moving. Joe was shaking so much, he had to hold his crowbar with both hands. He finally got the taillight positioned and, with a terrified glance at his bosses, reached up and pulled the andon cord, restarting the line.

Toyoda faced Joe and bowed. He began speaking in Japanese.
“Joe, please forgive me,” a lieutenant translated. “I have done a poor job of instructing your managers of the importance of helping you pull the cord when there is a problem. You are the most important part of this plant. Only you can make every car great. I promise I will do everything in  my power to never fail you again.”

Next day, a dozen pulls happened. And in a week, a hundred. It still cost a lot but given the responsibility, employee motivation increased. Most productive GM plan. Absenteeism decreased from 45% to 3% and productivity soared. NUUMI was legendary.

Book notes here.

BR 204: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: This is a book that takes 6 parts of modern life and shows you how they were fundamental in making modern life what it is. It changed how I saw the world.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Most innovations occur in the adjacent possible. Few make seemingly impossible leaps. The popular theory is the genius theory of innovation. But, there are plenty of high IQ individuals. If there is a common thread, it is that they worked at the intersection of multiple fields. Ada Lovelace could see the future of computers as she lived at the edge of science and art. Staying within the boundaries of your discipline can enable incremental improvements – which are critical to progress. But, to make leaps, we have to travel across borders – sometimes geographical to be in a different environment and sometimes conceptual. These time travelers often have hobbies and interests in varied fields. This is one of the reason “garages” have such a symbolic role in innovation as these are peripheral spaces.

2. The power of accurate measurement of time is that measuring time is key to measuring space. Every time we glance down at our phone to find our location, we’re triangulating between at least 3 of 24 atomic clocks that tell us our location based on the measurement. And, these clocks have been made possible by scientific advances that led us from astronomy (sundials) to dynamics (pendulums) to electromagnetics (quartz) to atomic physics (atomic clocks)

3. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. Instead, he invented something more powerful – a process of innovation. He brought together diverse teams, built the first global supply chain, mastered the art of public relations and product launches, embraced experimentation and incentivized his teams with stock options. This is a model that continues today.

Book notes here.

BR 203: Payoff by Dan Ariely

Category: 2 – BUY it! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Payoff is a short book that is both simple and powerful. If you love Dan Ariely’s work and/or behavioral economics, you will enjoy this book.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. We tend to underestimate the power of goodwill in building motivated teams and work environments. If there’s one thing you take away from this book, it is that appreciation and goodwill are more powerful incentives than any financial incentives (assuming people’s pay covers basic needs).

2. Purpose matters over pleasure. Understanding why we do things goes a long way in helping us stay motivated.

3. As humans, we care a great deal about legacy. We’ve had a big fascination for life after death since the time of the pharaohs and that fascination continues today.

Book notes here.

BR 202: How to Design Cool Stuff by John McWade

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: This is a beautifully designed book – as it should be. 🙂 It has lots of interesting examples that demonstrate what is good design and what is bad design. I took away a fair number of tips – but I did miss principles.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. Colors such as yellow, orange and red are warm colors while colors such as blue and purple are cool colors. Cool colors point to professional settings.

2. Breaking images into multiple pieces can be very powerful. Scale: magnifying small pieces can greatly improve perception of importance. Similarly, Cropping images is a powerful tool. A small part of the image can tell a much more powerful story than the rest of the image.

3. Add a photo to the graph. If sales of strawberries, put a strawberry photo behind

Book notes here.

BR 201: Statistics, 4th Edition by Freedman, Pisani, Purves

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: This is a Statistics textbook. So, it definitely isn’t for everyone. However, if you are interested in Statistics, it is an awesome book. Lays out concepts with a ton of clarity.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. Let’s say you are tossing a coin.
The law of averages says nothing about an increased likelihood of a tail after 4 rows of heads. Instead, it says that – as you keep increasing the number of tosses, the chance error as a percentage of tosses keeps going down.

2. Regressions ONLY deal with associations or correlations. An increase in x is associated with an increase in y.

3. A test of significance gets at the question of whether an observed difference is real (alternative hypothesis) or just a chance variation (null hypothesis). The observed significance level is the chance of getting a test statistic as extreme or more extreme than the observed one. The chance is computed on the basis that the null hypothesis is right. Small values of p are evidence against the null hypothesis – i.e. the observed difference is real.

Book Notes here.


BR 200: Inspired by Marty Cagan

Category: 3 – SHELF it* (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

*This is a really nice read if you are interested in Technology Product Management. I’d move this to “BUY It” in that case.

Comments: A really well written and well organized book that beautifully lays out the art and science of product management.

1. The job of the product manager is to discover a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible.

3 Steps to Building Products –

1. Is there a real opportunity?
2. Figure out what to build (build the right product) – is there enough evidence that it is valuable, useful and feasible?
3. Build it (building the product right).

2. Replace PRDs or Product Specs with a prototype. The majority of the product spec should be the high-fidelity prototype, representing the functional requirements, the information architecture, the interaction design, and the visual design of the user experience.

3. Fear, greed and lust. People buy and use products largely for emotional reasons. In the enterprise space, the dominant emotion is generally fear or greed. In the consumer space, the dominant emotions get more personal. If I buy this product or use this Web site, I will make friends (loneliness), find a date (love or lust), win money (greed), or show off my pictures or my taste in music (pride).

Book notes here.

BR 199: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: I rarely re-read books but decided to re-read this during my end-of-year break as I’ve come to appreciate how wise this book is. It delivered, again. I’d spent most of my first reading in the first half/personal victories portion of the book. This time, I spent more time in the public victories. So much to learn, do and build.

Top 3 Learnings:
1. To know and not to do is not to learn. Beautifully drove home the point that I haven’t “learned” nearly as much I say I have.

2. Seek to understand and then to be understood. In the spirit of knowing and not doing, this has become an important part of “engagement” theme this year. I am still too impatient too often.

3. Seeking win-win requires a combination of courage and consideration.

Stephen Covey’s masterpiece is so good that it makes the “Read ASAP” list twice. 🙂

Book notes here.

BR 198: Einstein by Walter Isaacson

Category: 3 – SHELF it (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: I understand this book wouldn’t be for everyone. However, if you have any interest in science and the life and works of Albert Einstein, I’d suggest taking your time reading this one. The middle portion might get a bit boring. But, the end is worth it. Walter Isaacson takes his time to develop Einstein’s character. And, by the end, you realize that the time taken was completely worth it.

I began reading to understand Einstein the genius. And, I finished understanding Einstein, the wise human being. 🙂

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Einstein’s genius wasn’t about his brain but how his mind works. He was the true example of endless curiosity. You can imagine him as a kid lying sick and wondering about how the compass works and then wondering what it might be like to travel alongside a wave.

2. The most striking thing about Einstein was his wry detachment and equanimity. He never took himself or his work seriously. He may have blown hot or cold with his family when he felt confined. But, otherwise, he was a passionate and caring man who was adored by his colleagues. They hosted a wonderful 70th birthday ceremony where they spoke more about his character than his work.

He used his old age to defend the rights of those who were young and to use the luxury of his reputation to pursue his field theory. However, over the years, he relied more on complex math than the physics that had made him great. A part of his resistance was his now quaint refusal to accept quantum mechanics.

3.Is everything alright? “Everything is alright. I am not.” – he said to his secretary on his last day at the institute. 🙂 His “wry detachment” is evident.

Book notes here.