BR 109: Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

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

Comments: A very very compelling book built off the research of Anders Ericsson. Must read. Enough said.

Top 3 Learnings: There were many many learnings I took away from the book. Here are the top 3 that come to mind –

1. Deliberate practice is everything. EVERYTHING. Deliberate practice is what differentiates the average from the greats. It’s not just about 10,000 hours. It’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that makes the difference.

2. Over time, deliberate practice changes the constitution of our brains. When we look at top performers and say they are ‘different’, we are actually spot on. They are different because their practice has developed that particular part of their brains. So, in short, we are probably born with similar capabilities but the hours we spent developing our craft/ability is what separates us in the long run.

3. It’s all cumulative. Ability accumulates over time. And, there’s no such thing as talent.

4. So how does a kid become a genius? The typical genius starts very early and is egged on by her  parents (not pushed, but egged). As she grows up, she develops the necessary intrinsic motivation that comes from experiencing success. That’s generally the beginning of something very special..

Great book. Must read. Go get it. You won’t regret it.

BR 108: Inside Apple by Adam Lashinsky

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

Comments: I read this thanks to many favorable reviews and I walked away feeling a bit let down. I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

It’s definitely a very interesting book and describes the inside workings of Apple very well. Just didn’t think it was amazing.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Integrity. And here, I refer to Apple, the company. There is a certain ‘wholeness’ to everything Apple does. And their approach to communication, design showcases this from time to time. It’s one message and it’s always well delivered. That’s very hard to do in a big company.

2. Organizing the company around functional lines wherein you don’t need to ‘move up’ to management if you want to do better.

3. Maybe the whole purpose of the status quo is to change it. Change is the only constant in nature. Apple broke all traditional management beliefs and practices and became wildly successful. The nice thing here is that they lived their mission – to change the status quo.

And, of course, it will fascinating to see how Apple fare without Steve Jobs at the helm..

BR 107: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

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

Comments: I am fast becoming a Michael Lewis fan. I loved the 2 movies his books inspired ‘The Moneyball’ and his fantastic article on Vanity Fair detailing the Irish bubble. ‘The Big Short’ was recommended to me by a colleague as a great book on the financial crisis.

This book takes a look at the unique characters who actually saw the collapse of the financial system coming and details the trials, tribulations and change they went through before and after the crisis.

Great book. A Dan Brown-esque page turner for those with an interest in understanding how we got to the biggest financial crisis since the great depression.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. ‘There is a fine line that divides investing and gambling.’ Not a new learning but the whole book’s essential synthesis was re-learning this concept.

2. The concept of rating agencies like S&P, Moody’s, Fitch and the like are broken. They are easily fooled by the smarter investment bankers far too often.

3. It’s amazing how badly broken the financial system was/is. When we pause for a moment, the financial system doesn’t really create anything. Yet, it accounted for 40% of the US economy in 2007. Banks essentially went from organizations that helped provide capital to businesses to profit generation machines. Sprinkle generous amounts of greed and take away any sense of principles/values from the dish and you can see the recipee for disaster.

And one more..

4. It’s amazing how each of the ‘outliers’ who actually saw the crisis coming was, by all accounts, a weirdo in his own right. Even the smartest people out there drank their own kool aid and got deluded in the mass hysteria.

BR 106: Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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

Comments: This is a legendary book. It should be in the ‘BUY it!’ category but I didn’t put it there for a few reasons –

1. The book is written a bit like a research thesis with very little synthesis. There are hundreds of great lessons, great stories of outcomes from experiments with the kind of insights that you would expect from Nobel laureate. That said, it could have benefited by having a writer help synthesize the many takeaways.

2. The other more personal issue I had is that this book, while comprehensive, felt slightly late in the game. I have been going down the path of understanding the mind and behavior over the past year and found that many of his insights had already been covered by other researchers.

3. It’s not a book that I would recommend to other’s who aren’t math geeks/knee deep in the subject. It is a rather geeky book and I realize not everybody would enjoy it.

4. I found it very difficult to get through. It really depends on why you read books. I generally read books with 2 things in mind – what can I apply in my life? And are there any stories I can use for my blogs, learnings etc?

While I did find a few great stories from the book, it took a lot of effort to figure out what is applicable. The ‘so what’ question wasn’t easily answered. Again, a real researcher’s book. Lots of great content. Just not that easy to discern the applicability in my point of view.

Top 3 Learnings: There were many learnings I took away from the book. Here are the top 3 that come to mind –

1. Our judgments and decision making are always extremely biased. There are too many biases to keep track of and biases are almost always unavoidable. The best thing we can do is to accept these biases that we do have and remind ourselves that we are biased when making big decisions. Just this act of acceptance and awareness could save us a lot of pain.

2. Be careful with trusting experts who use their ‘gut’. Essentially, expertise can be trusted in fields wher the natural behavior is recurring and predictable. The stock market, for example, is one of those fields where the ‘gut’ or ‘expert intuition’ or Kahneman’s system 1 doesn’t work.

3. We have 2 selves – the experiencing self and the remembering self. And, when it comes to experiences, we are almost fully dependent on the remembering self. At the end of the day, if our memory of an experience is great, we remember the experience well.

And what do we remember? We remember the peak and end of an experience. As long as the peak and end are good, our memory of an otherwise bad experience could end up being great!

BR 105: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

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

Comments: Deciding which category to put ‘The Geography of Bliss’ in was not easy. I eventually went for the ‘Buy it!’ category because it isn’t really a must read but, my god, I can’t think of any book that I have enjoyed reading more than this one.

Eric Weiner, a ‘grump’, journeys the world searching for the secret to finding happiness and chronicles his learnings from his travels. He has a wonderful sense of humor and his great writing style makes the book very hard to put down. (I listened to the book and he makes for a great narrator too!)

Every year, I pick a book to gift friends and family on their birthdays. This is my new ‘gift’ book. Loved it!

Top 3 Learnings: For a change, I decided to pick out passages as they are so well written!

1. “Money matters but less than we think and not in the way that we think. Family is important. So are friends. Envy is toxic. So is excessive thinking. Beaches are optional. Trust is not. Neither is gratitude.”

2. “Part of positive psychology is about being positive, but sometimes laughter and clowns are not appropriate. Some people don’t want to be happy, and that’s okay. They want meaningful lives, and those are not always the same as happy lives.”

3. “Attention’ is an underrated word. It doesn’t get the… well, the attention it deserves. We pay homage to love, and happiness, and, God knows, productivity, but rarely do we have anything good to say about attention. We’re too busy, I suspect. Yet our lives are empty and meaningless without attention.

My two-year-old daughter fusses at my feet as I type these words. What does she want? My love? Yes, in a way, but what she really wants is my attention. Pure, undiluted attention. Children are expert at recognizing counterfeit attention. Perhaps love and attention are really the same thing. One can’t exist without the other.”

Also, here is my take on attention