1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Psychology · Self Improvement · Skills · Sports

BR 227: The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

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

Comments: Awesome book by a former national chess champion and child prodigy who then became a Martial arts champion. The depth of insight in this book blew me away.

Top 3 Lessons: Going to go with my top 5 instead :)

  1. Investing in loss. The gifted boxer with a fabulous right and no left will get beat up while he tries the jab. And, the excellent soccer player with no left foot will be significant less effective while she invests in it. And, yet, investing in loss is the only way forward.
  2. Amateur chess coaches start by teaching their students opening variations. Students learn by memorizing the “right” openings and by avoiding problematic ones. Expert chess coaches, on the other hand, start with the lowest amount of complexity. They start with just three pieces on the chess board – king and pawn versus a king. Then, they might substitute a pawn with a bishop or rook.

    Piece by piece, expert coaches build an understanding of the power of each piece and a comfort with space on the chess board. Over time, they add more pieces to the board and build their student’s understanding of the game from first principles.

  3. It is Chen’s opinion that a large obstacle to a calm, healthy, present existence is the constant interruption of our natural breathing patterns. A thought or ringing phone or honking car interrupts an out-breath and so we stop and begin to inhale. Then we have another thought and stop before exhaling. The result is shallow breathing and deficient flushing of carbon dioxide from our systems, so our cells never have as much pure oxygen as they could. Tai Chi meditation is, among other things, a haven of unimpaired oxygenation.
  4. A woman was about to cross the 33rd street in New York City. As she was about to cross, she looked the wrong way and took a step forward. But, a bicyclist she didn’t see swerved and narrowly missed her. She fell.

    Instead of taking a step back to the pavement, however, she began screaming at the bicyclist. This turned out to be an unfortunate error as a taxicab followed the bicyclist a few seconds later and hit her.

    There’s a saying that it takes at least 7 consecutive mistakes or unfortunate occurrence for a plane crash to occur. And, we’ve all likely witnessed downward spirals of varying degrees of severity. For example, we see it frequently in sports when talented sportsmen fall apart once they make a mistake on a big stage.

    In all these spirals, it is not the first mistake that counts. Instead, it is when we get caught in the emotions of the moment – anger, annoyance, fear – and refuse to move on. That’s when we commit the second, third and the costly fourth mistake.

    It is much easier to write about avoiding downward spirals than it is to do it – especially if you are given to bursts of emotions. But, in these critical moments, the only way out is to recognize you’ve made a mistake, stop, take a few deep breaths and snap out of the emotion as quickly as possible.

  5. “Learners and performers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are aggressive, others are cautious. Some of us like questions, others prefer answers. Some bubble with confidence, always hungering for a challenge, while others break into a sweat at the notion of taking on something new. Most of us are a complicated mix of greys.We have areas of stability and others in which we are wobbly. In my experience the greatest of artists and competitors are masters of navigating their own psychologies, playing on their strengths, controlling their tone of battle so that it fits with their personalities.

    I have found that in the intricate endeavors of competition, learning, and performance, there is more than one solution to virtually every meaningful problem. We are unique individuals who should put our own flair in everything we do.”

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Career · Leadership · Parenting · Psychology · Self Improvement

BR 218: Mindset by Carol Dweck

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

Comments: This is a seminal work. The concept underlying this is the same as in Marilee Adams’ book – Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. However, this makes the case for a growth mindset by adding a ton of well researched examples and a lot of scientific rigor.

Mindset is central to how we approach things. And, we always have a choice between fixed mindsets and growth mindsets.

The belief that people/adults cannot change wreaks a lot of havoc in the world. Here’s hoping more folks read this book.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Companies are better off reminding manager’s about Growth mindset first before doing any kind of training.

2. The best environments combine challenge and nurture. They involve high standards in an environment of trust.

3. Praise children for effort, not ability. When a child does something fast and perfect, Carol says – “sorry that was so easy and a waste of your time.”

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · History · Politics

BR 215: The Bad Samaritans by Ha-Joon Chang

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

Comments: A perspective changer. I was aware of the IMF, The World Bank and the World Trade Organization thanks to social science classes in middle school. But, I had no idea of the role they play in (arresting) the development of developing nations.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Every developed country rose to power thanks to protecting infant industries via imposing tariffs or protecting patents. But, they’ve sold the idea of free markets to the world so it is impossible for countries developing right now to do it. The US was the most protectionist country in the world until the Second World War and grew the fastest. Britain and the US had tariffs as high as 50%.

2. This is particularly because the IMF, World Bank and WTO (i.e. the bad samaritans) are run by developed countries and only offer aid in exchange for policies that suit developed countries. It is very hard for poor countries to out-negotiate the rich countries in Geneva given paucity of resources.

3. In the first few years after 1900, multiple books described the Japanese as lazy, care free and emotional people. Similarly in the 1800s, the British and French described Germans the same way.
Economic development often creates the culture it needs. Hard work, time keeping, frugality often follow economic development.

Book notes here.

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · History · Novel Concepts

BR 212: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

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

Comments: A game changing book. It is long, dense and takes a while to get through. But, my oh my, it is worth it. I love books that look at all of human history through various lenses. This one tells the story of Homo Sapiens and beautifully weaves in all that is ugly, beautiful and miraculous all at once. It is the best book on history that I’ve read. A perspective changer.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Fiction. Thanks to language, we were able to speak about abstract concepts and/or fiction. It is one of the unique aspects of our language and mental ability. This enables us to create myths and stories (religion, nationalism) that enables us to cooperate flexibly in large groups. These creative myths and stories dominate our life today – countries, religions and businesses are all myths that we buy into. And, it is this fiction that enables us to cooperate with each other.

Human to ape, we don’t differ by much. However, in groups, the difference is massive thanks to this ability to believe. “In 2011, The UN asked Libya to adhere to human rights. Of course, the UN, Libya and Human rights are all fictional.” :)

2. Agricultural revolution. The agricultural revolution is the world’s greatest fraud story. We didn’t domesticate plants. Wheat, Maize and Rice domesticated us. Domesticated comes from the Latin word domus which means at home. It is humans who stayed at home. And, not just ate – began eating a diet that wasn’t anywhere as nutritious since it lacked variety, had to work very hard to keep these plants happy and suffer if pests or the weather attached them. But, it helped us with one metric – multiplication. More people could be supported by agriculture under much worse conditions.

3. Industrial revolution and energy. The industrial revolution has really been about our ability to convert energy into forms we can use. Steam engine then oil enabled us to mass produce and ship raw materials around the world. The prime example of this is farming – especially animal farming. We mass produce animals like never before, subjecting them to horrible conditions that deprive them of all emotion or sensory stimulation. Like slavery, such cruelty is borne, not out of hate, but out of indifference.

Book notes here

1. Read ASAP! · Bio/Autobiographies · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Philosophy

BR 211: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

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

Comments: Wonderful book. Trevor Noah has a fascinating story to tell and tells it artfully. It is a classic stand up comedian’s book in many ways – he tells his stories and follows them up with piercing insight into the human condition. The book gave me insight into life in the ghetto in a way no book, movie or video ever managed.

Top 3 Learnings: Instead of 3 learnings, I’ll share 3 of my favorite quotes from the book (it was hard picking just 3) –

  1. “People thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelungu — the things of white people. So many people had internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom: ‘Why do this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?’
    ‘Because,’ she would say, ‘even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.”
  2. “It’s easy to be judgmental about crime when you live in a world wealthy enough to be removed from it. But the hood taught me that everyone has different notions of right and wrong, different definitions of what constitutes crime, and what level of crime they’re willing to participate in. If a crackhead comes through and he’s got a crate of Corn Flakes boxes he’s stolen out of the back of a supermarket, the poor mom isn’t thinking, ‘I’m aiding and abetting a criminal by buying these Corn Flakes.’ No. She’s thinking, ‘My family needs food and this guy has Corn Flakes’, and she buys the Corn Flakes.”
  3. “When you shit, as you first sit down, you’re not fully in the experience yet. You are not yet a shitting person. You’re transitioning from a person about to shit to a person who is shitting. You don’t whip out your smartphone or a newspaper right away. It takes a minute to get the first shit out of the way and get in the zone and get comfortable. Once you reach that moment, that’s when it gets really nice. It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rich we are. All of that goes away.”

Book notes – quotes in this case – here

1. Read ASAP! · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · History · Technology

BR 209: The Master Switch by Tim Wu

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 category 1 or 2. On the one hand, this book is very focused on the history of information empires in the United States. But, on the other, information empires are THE dominant corporations in today’s world. So, this book become a must read. :)

Top 3 Learnings:

  1. Every information industry (phone, radio, film, tv, internet) has seen a struggle between open versus closed / decentralized versus centralized. Every one of these started out with hackers and hobbyists and then became the home of large monopolies.
  2. What we think is a by product of what we read and who listen to. Free speech and a marketplace of ideas are not as dependent on the values of a place as much as the structure of the information infrastructure.
  3. This isn’t as much a learning as much as a note that I remember so many stories from the book. The story of the creation of hollywood, the rise, fall and rise of AT&T, CBS, etc., still give me goosebumps. A hat tip to Tim Wu for a wonderfully written book.

Book notes here

1. Read ASAP! · History · Novel Concepts · Technology

BR 204: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

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

Comments: This is a book that takes 6 parts of modern life and shows you how they were fundamental in making modern life what it is. It changed how I saw the world.

Top 3 Learnings:

1. Most innovations occur in the adjacent possible. Few make seemingly impossible leaps. The popular theory is the genius theory of innovation. But, there are plenty of high IQ individuals. If there is a common thread, it is that they worked at the intersection of multiple fields. Ada Lovelace could see the future of computers as she lived at the edge of science and art. Staying within the boundaries of your discipline can enable incremental improvements – which are critical to progress. But, to make leaps, we have to travel across borders – sometimes geographical to be in a different environment and sometimes conceptual. These time travelers often have hobbies and interests in varied fields. This is one of the reason “garages” have such a symbolic role in innovation as these are peripheral spaces.

2. The power of accurate measurement of time is that measuring time is key to measuring space. Every time we glance down at our phone to find our location, we’re triangulating between at least 3 of 24 atomic clocks that tell us our location based on the measurement. And, these clocks have been made possible by scientific advances that led us from astronomy (sundials) to dynamics (pendulums) to electromagnetics (quartz) to atomic physics (atomic clocks)

3. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. Instead, he invented something more powerful – a process of innovation. He brought together diverse teams, built the first global supply chain, mastered the art of public relations and product launches, embraced experimentation and incentivized his teams with stock options. This is a model that continues today.

Book notes here.