Tag Archives: notes

January 2017 Book Club Recommendations

I believe that we must transcend. We must elevate earthly life beyond this little rock. We must release the rungs of our old paradigms and climb the ladder of progress. We must transcend, we must transcend, we must transcend.

Transcendance starts with learning.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am an obsessive reader and learner of things. I want to share my reading habit with you to inspire you to learn and transcend your old ways of thinking.

I also want you to talk about these books with me, so please comment below to discuss if you’ve read or make suggestions for future reading.

These are the books I read in January 2017. I’ve included my top-of-mind notes and comments on whether or not I can recommend the work. The must-reads are marked with an asterisk.

(Must-reads are defined, by me, as books that I will likely re-read.)

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. I will make a very small amount of money if you purchase from this post. If you don’t want me to get paid for the suggestion, Google it yourself.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine*

Given the state of affairs in this country, you are under-informed if you haven’t read this book. It was first published early in 1776 as a pamphlet and explains in simple terms why monarchy wasn’t working.

Here’s the basic rundown of the points I found most interesting:

  • The purpose of government: so society can grow.
  • Why checks-and-balances are a fundamentally flawed design pattern.
  • Why monarchies and hereditary succession don’t work.

This pamphlet helped spark the first American Revolution. Now that we are coming up to the second, it might be a good time to review it.

You can read the entire pamphlet here for free, courtesy of Google.

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb*

I’ve read this book five times in the last three years. It gives me more to chew on every time.

The, very contrarian, idea of Antifragile is that there is a certain category of things that benefit from disorder. These are often ideas, complex systems, and biological systems.

Antifragile is the philosophical manifesto of our time. It explains the underlying mathematics of everything from economics to health in simple terms. It is a long, dense book, that rewards you multiple times over on every page.

Important ideas to consider:

  • Why doctors hurt you more than they help.
  • How public financial markets are currently designed to transfer risk from corporate managers to innocent investors.
  • Why economists are almost always wrong.
  • Why higher education is not necessarily driving wealth creation in this, or any, country.
  • How to live an ethical life.
  • Why a grandmother’s wisdom is more valuable than most books written in the last ten years.
  • Fractal geometry makes for healthier spaces than Euclidean geometry
  • and so much more…

This is a must read for anybody and everybody. You should buy this book today and read it cover to cover.

The Spy: A novel by Paolo Coelho

My little brother got me a signed copy of this book. He knew that I’m a huge fan of the Alchemist so he thought I’d find it interesting.

He was right, but interesting is the extent of it.

The Spy is about Mata Hari, the famous 19th century dancer who took Paris by storm and was executed for espionage. The book’s tagline is: “Her only crime was to be an independent woman”, but the book is mostly lacking any subtle or compelling exploration of this theme.

While I find her story fascinating, I didn’t love the book. It’s boring. Mata Hari is interesting for all the wrong reasons. She uses people and lies to get ahead. Then when she gets wrongfully accused of espionage, it’s hard to feel bad for her. Frankly, I had a hard time finishing the book, and the book is pretty short.

The top critical review (3 stars) on Amazon hits the nail on the head:

I couldn’t see the point of this novel. There are some very good biographies of Mata Hari’s life and my time would have been better spent reading one of those. The novel is written as letters, and somehow I just didn’t care much by the end. In fact, her story is a fascinating and moving one…”  

You’d be better off reading classic Coelho: The Alchemist. It’s one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot of novels.

The House and the Cloud by David Stelzl

The House and the Cloud is a sales handbook for technologists interested in selling managed IT services. Here are some key lessons I took away:

  • How to pique interest initially using what Stelzl called an “Advisory Positioning Statement”
  • How to open sales meetings using a structured Value Proposition
  • How to run sales meetings that convert warm leads into recurring revenue

I certainly learned a lot about Stelzl’s tremendously effective sales process and can recommend this book to anyone working in a tech consulting role.

There are however, a number of gripes I have to mention in case David reads this and gets the chance to address them:

  1. The cover and presentation of the book is very amateurish. This is common with authors who self-publish and is the reason you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.
  2. The style of the book can be described as consultant-marketing-jargon. You have to be prety patient to get to the useful nuggets
  3. There are probably dozens of typos which pisses me off because anybody making six or seven figures should just hire a college student to proofread the book.
  4. The structure of the book also needs work. I was often confused by the organization of material.
  5. It could be at least 20% shorter.

Beyond these nitpicks, the book is excellent. I love the idea of using statistical soundbites to disarm technical questions in sales meetings. Anybody who’s closed deals before knows the importance of frame control (see Pitch Anything) and will immediately understand the significance of soundbites.

Recommend for anybody selling IT products or services.

Small Giants: Companies that Choose to be Great instead of Big by Bo Burlingham

Tim Ferriss recommends this book so often that I figured I’d give it a try.

This book is basically a collection of case studies that examine a few companies that “choose to be great instead of big”. It examines how some companies sacrifice growth in the name of other values and goals. Here are some key elements I took from the book:

  • Authenticity is important (if you want people to like and trust you)
  • Private ownership is important (if you don’t want investors pressuring you to grow)
  • Gross Margin is important (if you don’t want to go out of business)

The lessons might seem obvious, and that’s because they are. This will sound like the height of arrogance, but I had a hard time pulling NEW IDEAS from the book. Mostly because anybody who’s read business literature has already heard the ideas.

The companies Burlingham profiles are interesting. The anecdotes are funny and inspiring. The biggest value proposition of the book is the inspirational quality of the companies involved. However, the biggest lesson to take away is one that people shouldn’t have to learn:

Don’t compromise your core values in the name of growth.

Burlingham talks about small companies that focus on quality over size. He talks about how these companies have “soul” or “mojo”.

Maybe I read it at the wrong time, and perhaps I’ll read it again, but I wasn’t moved by this book like I was by the next book on this list…

Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull*

Creativity Inc. is a great business memoir by the president of Disney Animation and Pixar Animation, Ed Catmull.

Here are the things I took from this book that I will never forget:

  • Have a group of people that you can solicit candid feedback from.
  • Repeatedly iterate on your work based on that feedback to take ugly rough drafts to polished finished products.
  • Steve Jobs wasn’t always a dick.
  • What a successful merger looks like (Disney + Pixar = Success).
  • The importance of humility, egalitarianism, and communication to the creative process.
  • Be aware of second-order problems that exist after the dissolution of first-order problems.
  • Leadership can lead to problem-blindness, so be vigilant.
  • Protect the new.

This book was so good I have a hard time summarizing it. It was so good I reread it immediately after finishing it.  This has only happened to me a handful of times (The Alchemist, Zero to One)

It’s ironic that this book was so much more impactful than the last book, because Pixar has exactly the kind of mojo that Burlingham describes in Small Giants. Maybe I have a bias for lessons from people who do the things I admire over lessons from people who study the things I admire…

Zero to One*

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I’ll catch some flack for recommending this book in the current political climate. I don’t care. It’s a fucking classic.

Blake Masters and Peter Thiel put this book together based on Masters’ notes on Stanford CS183 course. It is a must read for anyone who expects to build a growth-oriented technology startup.

Here’s what you will learn from this book:

  • Why technology is more important than globalization.
  • Why monopolies are not necessarily a bad thing
  • What a secret is.
  • Start with a tiny market.
  • AI will not replace people. It will augment us.
  • Do something that’s never been done.
  • Beat the competition by providing a product that is 10x as good as the next alternative.
  • Why the United States will keep beating China (hint: we are det
  • Great startups are like cults.
  • Good heuristics for venture capital
  • and more.

If you know me, you know that my mission in life is to build a real game-changing, Zero to One technology company. This book might as well be the manual.

I love it so much, I’ll skip the affiliate link and send you right to the source material (arguably better than the book).

Click here to read Blake Master’s notes on startups from CS183 at Stanford.

In case my recommendation isn’t enough, maybe the site’s tagline will motivate you:

Your mind is software. Program it. Your body is a shell. Change it. Death is a disease. Cure it. Extinction is approaching. Fight it.

Data Engineering Teams

This free ebook from my friend, Mr. Big Data a.k.a Jesse Anderson, is a great primer on Big Data and how to build teams around it. It’s a short read and I highly recommend it for anybody curious about this trend.

Here’s what I took from it:

  • Big Data teams should be multidisciplinary
  • How to identify a big data problem
  • What a typical pipeline might look like from a tech standpoint.

Here’s the thing: don’t wait to read it. It’s really short, but it will give you an idea of what to look out for as your company grows. If you get to the point where you need to start building big data pipelines and you still haven’t read it, you’re basically burning money.

Every day you have the wrong people working on the pipeline is a day you’re throwing money into a hole.

If you are a startup founder, learn to understand the problem before you have to deal with it.

Click here to get your free copy of Data Engineering Teams today.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek*

This book has had me journalling like a madman for the last four days. Ever since I finished it I’ve been obsessed with figuring out how to clearly and concisely spell out my life’s purpose.

The gist of it is simple:

  • People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
  • How you do what you do is just proof that you really believe in your why.
  • Start every internal and external communication by reiterating why your company exists

Sinek goes into a lot more detail about his Golden Circle model and Golden Cone model. He references Apple a lot, which is great because I really admire the work they do and strive to match their dedication to quality. He also examines Martin Luther King’s leadership during the civil rights movement, the Wright Brothers, and Wal-Mart’s inspirational founder, Sam Walton.

As I write this, Start with Why is the #62 best selling book on Amazon.

Get it today.

For a quick primer on the concept, see Sinek’s ridiculously popular Ted Talk.

“What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why do you exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning?”

Bonus: He goes into how you can use his ideas while dating.

Conclusion

Do you want to know what I read every month? Leave a comment and let me know what I should read in February 😀