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 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 191: Be Prepared by Gary Greenberg, Jeannie Hayden

be prepared

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

Comments: A really fun book that I’d recommend for all prospective Dads.

Top 3 Learnings:

I’m going to aim to come back to this after I put it in action. 🙂

BR 181: Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Anders Ericsson, peak, performance

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

Comments: Peak is the culmination of the life’s work of a legendary researcher – Prof Anders Ericsson. Prof Ericsson has single handedly changed our understanding of performance and expertise. It is a lovely read – well written and flows beautifully. The only reason I have it as a category 2 is because author Geoff Colvin did a good job of bringing Prof Ericsson’s research to the mainstream with “Talent is Overrated.”

Top 3 Learnings:

1. There is absolutely no evidence for innate talent beyond a few physical advantages in certain sports. The dark side of this is denying kids the opportunity to get good with very little evidence (think Outliers).

While the average IQ of scientists is higher than the average person, there is no correlation between IQ and scientific productivity. Richard Feynman, one of the most brilliant physicists of all time wouldn’t make it to MENSA with his 126 IQ. Researchers have suggested that the minimum requirements for performing capably as a scientist are around 110 – beyond which there is little or no additional benefit. It is unclear if this requirement is one to succeed as a scientist or to do the writing and admission tests required to get a PhD.

Similarly, for some sports, one could speculate about some minimum talent requirements – e.g. some basic physical traits such as height and body size. Beyond that, however, practice trumps everything else.

We might be born with preference for music over sports, for example. But, that counts for little if we don’t practice it.

2. Our body literally changes with deliberate practice. The key difference between deliberate practice and purposeful practice is a teacher. Having a teacher who has been through what we’ve been through changes everything.

3. The focus when we perform deliberate practice is not on knowledge, but on skills. That will be key in making deliberate practice applicable in education.

Book notes here

BR 177: Deep Work by Cal Newport

deep work

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

Comments: I love Cal Newport’s thought process and approach to excellence and the idea of optimizing life for “deep work” is one that has stuck with me.

This book approaches the “Deep Work” idea exhaustively. I’ve put this as a priority 2 book simply because it is important you ease into this as this is more a “how to” book and requires the context before you buy into the hows and whats. The first step would be to read “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” by Cal Newport and then read this.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. The quality of your life is likely directly proportional to the amount of time you spend in deep work. A deep life is a good life.

2. Attention residue is the biggest problem with small distraction. Our brain takes time to switch between tasks and this task switching drains us.

3. A deep work approach to life requires you to make hard choices on what you spend time on. The point isn’t so much about whether something you spend time on gives you benefit. It is understanding everything we give up. Understanding trade-offs are critical.

Book notes here.

BR 176: High Output Management by Andy Grove

high output management, andy grove

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

Comments: I finally got to reading this book thanks to Ben Horowitz publishing his foreword on his excellent blog. I read and loved the book and can see why Ben had such wonderful things to say. This book deserves its legendary status because it was one of the first examples of an incredible practitioner taking time out to share his wisdom and learning.

I nearly put this book down as priority 2 as Ben Horowitz outdoes this book with “The Hard Thing about Hard Things.” Other books have since lifted some of Andy’s insights and made them more commonplace. However, I decided against that as Andy Grove’s no nonsense style and piercing insights earns it a place among management classics.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Management by outputs – the reason we have “OKRs” or “Objectives and Key Results” as a unit of measurement across all top technology companies

2. Training is the leader’s job. The less the subordinate’s task relevant maturity, the moer the leader should spend time structuring and training the subordinate. Customers should not pay for a poorly trained employee.

3. Meetings are a vital management tool. Don’t waste time criticizing them. Instead, prepare hard and make them worthwhile.

Book notes here.

BR 173: The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett

user experience, UI, UX

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

Comments: This is a user experience book that attempts to structure how you build tools (in this case, websites) that result in a good user experience.

Top Learning: Book notes here (it is the sort of book I might come back to when I’m designing a website)