BR 129: The Start-up of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

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

Comments: Good career book and potentially useful for those reading career books for the first time.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Follow your passion is bad advice. The biggest reason for following your passion being irrelevant advice in this day and age is that your passion could be for an industry that might not exist in 10 years. The rate at which industries are being disrupted means that, even if it does manage to survive the next ten years, it’s unlikely it’s going to be anywhere as lucrative or attractive as it is now.

2. Who you know is what you know. Reid and Ben argue that the network is truest fastest source of information.When you look at it that way, having a deep network in the field you’d like to be in is critical because news will likely reach you much faster than via conventional sources.
The use for this is with all sorts of career moves of course. You get to hear of job openings before they exist, and so on.

3. Beware keeping optoins open. We’re often told to keep options open but Reid cautions against it. Making a decision may reduce your options in the short run but increases your options in the long run.

There’s never a right time. Even if you make a wrong decision, you can make another decision to correct it.

BR 128: Free by Chris Anderson

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

Comments: Interesting book, especially for those who are interested in the impact of “free” on business and industry.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. The world is moving from scarcity to abundance in most aspects of life. As a result, the structure of the world and business has undergone a fundamental change. A 100 years ago, all the top 100 companies in the world were involved in manufacturing. Now, the percentage is down to 30%.

The moment an industry moves from transmitting atoms (boxes) to bits – free becomes inevitable. So, if the industry is competitive (and we can argue that the Internet has resulted in more competition than ever before), then prices will keep going down till it just covers cost.

2. The important thing for companies is to adapt their business model to incorporate free as an integral part of their model. Free is here to stay.

Examples –

– The popular freemium model wherein businesses give a basic product for free and charge for premium usage

– Microsoft went through the DABDA curve in its reaction to Linux operating systems. While it initially began with the lens of competition, the end result was an acceptance that there is a place for open source in the market. Small companies would rather go open source as its free while big companies would pay money to minimize risk.

– Google’s strategy for information markets – 1) take whatever you are doing, do it for free 2) hook users in and generate scale 3) charge for valuable information Search and Gmail are easy examples. Another such example is Goog-411 – free voice help which is part of Google’s investment into a voice search engine.

– Music – 90% of money is made by bands is in concerts! So digital piracy (or free) helps the band find willing fans

3. The importance of corn – rice, wheat and corn have always been considered the key crops. Rice is high on protein but difficult to grow, wheat is low on protein but easy to grow, and corn is both. Since corn is the most efficient converter of water and sun light into starch, we use corn for more than we can imagine.

More than 25% of the products in a super market are derived from corn. In fact, soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, the boxes they are packed in, and even the compounds that the super markets are built with are  based on corn. A great example of corn power is in a chicken nugget. From the feed of the chicken, to corn oil, to the golden color and smell – nearly every aspect of it is derived from corn.

The big reason corn and food have gotten expensive over the past few years is that corn began being used for the production of ethanol for fuel. This has truly tested the limits of corn.

That was a really cool insight.

(Book notes here)

BR 127: The Price Advantage by Walter L Baker, Michael V Marn, Craig C Zawada

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

Comments: I read this book thanks to preparation for a project at work. Really good book on pricing written by pricing experts from McKinsey & Co. and makes for a good read.

Pricing moonlights as a seemingly boring topic but is at the heart of understanding profit levers in a business.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Pricing is the single most powerful pricing lever in business. A 1% increase in price for an average fortune 500 company results in an 8.4% increase in profit (!) versus a 1% increase in volume (around 3%). If you care about being profitable, you need to care about pricing..

2. There are 4 components to understanding pricing and I’ve tried to describe these in terms of questions you need to ask yourself-

  • Market dynamics: Am I market leader? What sort of pricing conduct does our market have? How can we instituionalize good pricing conduct. (Aggressive price wars result in irreversible negative consequences)
  • Company strategy: What is our pricing strategy? Do we invest in a best-in-class pricing organization and invest in having  great market and industry analytics? Do we understand our position in the industry via value maps?
  • Transactions: Do we monitor how pricing is carried out in practice? Are our sales people watching for profit vs revenue? How does our pocket price distribution look? (Pocket price is the eventual price for a project following all discounts, rebates, etc.)
  • Pricing infrastructure: Do we have IT and enabling systems that support our pricing organization

3. There’s tremendous areas of opportunity in the organization. A few points critical to good pricing are –

  • Solid market information so you understand your cost and benefit in relation to the market
  • Sales data to understand “pocket price” i.e. what is the net price you receive on your products.
  • Pricing infrastructure for your sales team to understand what are good practices and what aren’t

BR 126: Anything you want by Derek Sivers

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

Comments: Really simple, quick and breezy read. Again, my rating is likely biased by the fact that I am fully aligned with Derek’s way of looking at the world. He’s another one of those who walks his talk and I find him very inspirational.

Top 3 learnings:

1. REALLY understand what you want. It’s very easy to get caught up in a rat race where you end up chasing things you don’t really want. In Derek’s case, he made many decisions – to give up a large portion of what he made to charity, to not own a house or car.. He realized he’s very happy where is and doesn’t “need” too much more. And, he wanted to stay that way..

My sense here is that we often lose touch with our soul as we grow/progress. Keep checking in with very simple questions – is this what I want? Am I really happy?

2. Small can be brilliant. Derek made CDBaby class by attempting to always keep it small, but world class. The funny paradox – the less you need or aim for money, the more of it comes. (true of many things in life)

3. The best way to delegate is to share your thought process with your team. They need to always know the answer to “What will ___ do?” – not by just cataloguing answers to every possible question but by understanding the principles behind a decision.

Derek did this at CDBaby by getting all his employees together every time they had a question and then answering it by describing the principles and thought process to all. He then made sure they documented the answer.. Over time, the number of questions reduced and new employees had a “hand book” to understand the CDBaby.

A note of caution – delegate but do not abdicate/ delegate but keep control. Derek’s abdication resulted in his employees instituting a profit sharing scheme that went against his principles. A chain of events followed leading to Derek selling CDBaby.

BR 125: Willpower by Roy Baumeister

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

Comments: Seriously brilliant book by the grand daddy of Willpower research. Top draw research that has changed the way we look at will power and self control.

Highly recommended.

Top 3 learnings:

1. Will power is like a muscle. There is only so much reserve we have until we recharge. That reserve is what we tap into for various activities in a day – primarily in the categories of resisting temptations and doing things that we don’t want to do that are generally good for us.

For example, we extract will power out of this reserve to resist a delicious chocolate snack as well as to keep patience while interacting with a frustrating co-worker.

2. Ego depletion is a serious issue. The depletion of this will power reserve results in ego depletion. Ego depletion is interesting – all of a sudden we lose self control and hit the “what the hell” effect. As a result, we suddenly irrationally indulge. So, if we hit ego depletion while on a diet, we suddenly go on a crazy binge.

Ego depletion explains why important people often make really stupid decisions in their personal life – sex scandals, etc. Decision making plays havoc with will power and ego depletion results in indulgence.

So, how do we prevent ego depletion? a) Food at regular intervals as glucose is critical to will power b) Sleep – the only long term recharge available!

(Ego depletion is what is referred to in the quote “things will look better in the morning”)

3. The best use of will power is to form habits.

Let’s take an example – I want to exercise every morning before I get to work. It’s not sustainable to keep using will power every day as I’ll start the day with very little in reserve. Instead, I ought to use the will power to create a cue, habit and reward to create a sustainable exercise habit. Once this is done, I won’t have to worry about exercise since it becomes an automatic process.

This explains what successful people do well. They use their will power reserves wisely to create great habits!

(See our learnographic for a summary)

BR 124: The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

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

Comments: I really enjoyed “The Icarus Deception.” I am sure this rating comes with a few biases – I am a huge fan of Seth’s work. I love Seth’s blog and I am very appreciative of the fact that he’s taken the time to respond to many of my questions to him and even read and comment on my blog every once a while. He walks his talk.

The Icarus Deception meant a coming together of many interesting concepts for me. His explanation of work we do as “art” resonated as well as many really inspirational learnings on “the infinite game.”

This is not a step-by-step sort of book. Very high level and conceptual. And, very inspiring if you are aligned with Seth’s world view.

Top 3 learnings:

1. “Art is an attitude, culturally driven and available to everyone who chooses to adopt it. Art isn’t something sold in a gallery or performed on a stage. Art is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another. Most painters, it turns out, aren’t artists after all – they are safety seeking copycats.

Art isn’t something that’s made by artists. Artists are people who make art. ”

2. While the differences between work and play are widely documented, the differences between the  “finite” game and the “infinite” game are not.

The finite game theory assumes that life is a series of finite games with winners and losers. There is pressure to be the “one.”

The infinite game theory has a different purpose – the purpose is to help other players play better! It isn’t about winning and losing but about the joy of playing. The wonderful thing about the infinite game is that you avoid the manic highs or lows.. The privilege is in playing.

3. Seth’s advice to his younger self.

“But the one thing I wish I had known then was that whatever happens, things are going to fine in the end, that the pain is part of the journey, and that without the pain there really isn’t a journey worth going on.

No, it doesn’t all work, but you always get to dance. Win or lose, you get to play. I would tell myself not to put so much emotional baggage on every project and every interaction. The goal is to keep playing, not to win.

At the end of a project, the end of the day, and the end of the game, you can look yourself in the mirror and remind yourself that at least you go to dance.”

More on

(The only trouble with sharing Seth’s learnings is that I am forced to quote them. That’s because they are so well written that any paraphrasing makes it less crisp and meaningful. A great example of where I’d like to be as a writer.)

Add on Mar 16, 2016: Seth’s advise to his younger self about  getting rid of what he termed the “manic high” and focusing on playing the infinite game is an idea that has stayed with me.

BR 123: The Millionaire Upgrade by Richard Parkes Cordock

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

Comments: This book was a real disappointment. I hardly ever put in books in the someday category but exceptions had to be made. I decided to listen to it as I was eager to get through a short book on a flight. I did.. And I was disappointed by the insight.

Perhaps this is a consequence of having read many great books on  career and entrepreneurship (So Good They Can’t Ignore You comes to mind), I found the book’s advice rhetorical – “follow your passion”, etc.

Top 3 learnings:

I’m going to pass on this for this book.

BR 122: Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert

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 and almost makes it to the “Buy it!” list. The trouble I had with it is that there is no structure and this makes it rather difficult to absorb in the audio version. Some really really good insights, though.

Top 3 learnings:

1. The best way to sustain happiness is to do something in intervals. So, if you have access to something amazing, do it in intervals e.g. a fancy meal every few weeks vs every day.

2. We greatly underestimate 2 big factors in our judging of our experience – the strength of our personal immune system and our ability to project our current feelings into the future.

As a result, we underestimate how well we will cope with most kinds of adversity/loss. And, we make very poor predictions of how we will feel after an experience

3.  Surrogation (i.e. making a judgment based on someone else’s experience) is a very interesting technique to gauge happiness. We like  thinking we are unique but in reality, we are not. So, the best way to judge if you will be happy after a decision to ask others who’ve been through the experience. There is a certain wisdom in the crowd.