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 X.com, 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 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.

BR 195: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

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

Comments: First, I hope you get the audible version. The narrator makes a special book feel extra special. In some ways, that’s what this book is all about – feelings. It is about the feelings that go into building something special. Nike founder Phil Knight takes us on a wonderful adventure. In doing so, he shares things he did well and things he wished he hadn’t done. For example, he does a couple of downright wrong stuff (ethically). But, somehow you forgive him. You forgive him because of his authenticity and because you feel you might have done the same in that situation.

This is a book about Nike. But, really, it is a book about spirit, care and the joy of the pursuit. Very heartfelt and beautifully written.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Businesses are about money just as a body is about blood. You need it to operate but life is so much more than that. And, business IS personal.

2. You measure yourself by the number of people who measure themselves by you.

3. The art of competing is forgetting that competition exists.

Book notes here.

BR 174: The Outsiders by William Thorndike

outsiders, ceo, management

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

Comments: This is a very good book on the border of priorities 2 and 3. I debated pushing it down to priority 3 as I find myself becoming a tougher rater over time. The more books I’ve read, the harder it is to find new insight that truly changes the way I think. This book does a great job bringing together a few really good ideas. However, playing devil’s advocate again, I wonder if a long blog post / research paper would have sufficed.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Counter intuitive results require counter intuitive moves. Outsider CEO’s were most defined as they zigged when their opponents zagged.

2. CEO’s can spend their time (their most valuable resource) doing 3 things – investor relations, operations, or capital allocation. The outsider CEO’s spent most of their time on capital allocation, little on operations and almost none on investor relations. Nearly every one of them adopted some financial instrument that was under used – e.g. buy backs, mergers, acquisitions, etc.

3. They ran lean central teams and often hired strong COO’s who complemented their strengths.

Book notes here.

BR 170: How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big, Scott Adams,

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

Comments: I debated about whether this should be a priority 1 or priority 2 book. I went with priority 1 because I think this book mixes personal experience with provocative ideas and a solid collection of “good life” principles that I’ve found true. I also love (and try living by) Scott’s experimentation based approach to life.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Goals are for losers. Focus on building systems that will last. E.g. instead of trying to lose 10 pounds in 6 months, focus on building a system of exercising 3 times every week.

2. Collect skills like a crazy person. Every skill you collect doubles your chances of success. Greatness is often a collection of mediocre skills.

3. Experiment away your way to a great life. Failure is an important part of experimentation

Book notes here

BR 168: Mastery by Robert Greene

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

Comments: A Robert Greene masterclass. Lovely mix of biographical stories wrapped within a compelling framework. A lot of the stuff isn’t new. But, the combination is potent.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Mastery is a culmination of years of intense deep work. There is no easy way.

2. Apprenticeship is both awesome and dangerous. On the one hand, your learning curve speeds up with great mentors. However, very few mentors turn out to be large minded enough to “let go” – it is the typical bad parent problem all over again

3. Developing emotional intelligence is a useful tool to make sure your mastery gets the credit it deserves. This section spoke to me. I assumed I had high EI but had learnt from a relationship that that wasn’t the case. This chapter taught me one simple but critical lesson – stop listening to what people say. Instead, listen to what they do.

Book notes here

BR 167: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

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

Comments: If you have any interest in technology whatsoever, this book is a must read. Awesome awesome 140 odd year journey starting from when Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace conceptualized the modern computer.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. History favors writing about the individual but great innovations were always made by teams that worked incredibly well with each other.. and almost always built upon the good work done by many others.

2. A collection technology change makers have been at the intersection of the arts and sciences (e.g. Steve Jobs). The big learning here is that diversity of skills, interests, etc., are really productive. The greatest tech innovations have come about when diverse minds came together.

3. Artificial intelligence has always been two decades away.. (;-))

Book notes here

BR 157: Mandela’s Way by Richard Stengel

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

Comments: A nice read on Nelson Mandela’s life. I took away a few nice stories and the quote – “courage is not the absence of fear but the realization that there are things more important than fear.” Mandela really lived that quote.

I was hoping for more depth, however..

Top 3 Learnings: 

1. Mandela really had to change with the times. He was a revolutionary of sorts at first and, as he grew, he became the peacemaker. His 26 years in prison were fundamental to that change..

2. He repeatedly demonstrates the power of choice. He even alienated those who supported him by adopting a peaceful political stance following his release (which was negotiated in fairly contentious circumstances). He chose not to lead with anger.. and what a great choice that turned out to be.

3. Mandela always was a charismatic change maker. He had his way even in prison – that leadership streak never left him. As he matured, he just chose to channel it differently. Once he’d made that decision, however, he put in extraordinary effort to make it happen. For example, he learnt Afrikaans to understand his then-enemy and made friends with the guards. In doing so, he expanded his capacity to understand people differently. He no longer saw his captors as the enemy. Instead, he realized they were men just like him and understood where they came from. He went on to embrace their sport – Rugby – and used the world cup to unite the country in 1995 (Cue: The movie Invictus).

Book notes here.

BR 151: Things a Little Bird Told Me by Biz Stone

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

Comments: This book is another one of those really good books I’d recommend to anyone interested in technology. This is Biz Stone’s story and thus, in large part, his narration of important parts of the Twitter story.

It feels sincere and heartfelt and, that is, from what I’ve heard, what Biz Stone is all about.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Opportunity is manufactured. As Biz Stone did not train in the traditional sports, he was well behind sporting level in his high school. As he really wanted to play sports, he started a high school lacrosse team. Since everyone who signed up was a beginner, he was on a level playing field and  had a great time.

2. Constraints are great. When Steven Spielberg was shooting jaws, he wanted to create a realistic model of a shark so they could film it attacking people for all the scary scenes. However, this was going to be very expensive and beyond their budget. Faced with this constraint, Spielberg had a new low budget idea – shoot it from the point of view of the shark under water.  And guess what? Way scarier!

Twitter did well with constraints as well, of course. 🙂

3. Pick opportunities based on what inspires you. Biz Stone lives this idea. He left university because he got an inspiring opportunity to apprentice in a creative agency. He then left Google even though he had millions of dollars worth of stock options to vest because he wanted to continue working with his former boss and friend, Evan Williams. It’s a great story and it obviously works out for him. But, the thing to note is his incessant positivity and his habit of zeroing on the things that really matter.

Book notes here.

BR 147: Alex Ferguson – The Autobiography by Alex Ferguson

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

Comments: For some reason, Sir Alex Ferguson fell a bit in my opinion after reading this book. I am still in awe of the man’s ability and achievements and the relentless spirit that he possesses like many greats to keep winning. However, I felt like this book contained one too many pot-shots at ex-players, e.g. Roy Keane. While he asserts a couple of times that he doesn’t carry grudges, his actions seem to say otherwise.

No doubt an incredible manager who will go down as one of the greatest ever. I think he would have gone down as THE greatest ever if he had won another European cup.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Pay attention to the little things. Ferguson and the United staff always paid detailed attention to a potential new signing’s family background, attitude, reputation and mental make up. He believed these signs were a very useful sign of success aside from what the player did on the field.

2. Focus on the infrastructure. Fergie invested incessantly into the United infrastructure – the youth team, the training facility, the medical facility, etc. These undoubtedly set the stage for generations of success.

3. Change is the only constant. He is one of those who truly understood the meaning of “what got you here won’t get you there.” Football teams work in cycles and he ensured he was constantly and proactively bringing change about. He was relentless – both after victory or defeat.