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.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Entrepreneurship · Skills · Technology

BR 216: Product Leadership by Richard Banfield, Martin Ericsson, Nate Walkingshaw

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

Comments: There are few good books written on technology product management. So, I’d still recommend folks in product management to read it. However, the biggest challenge I had with this book was that it felt like a collection of quotes from various PMs around the world. I wish there had been more of a central thesis or hypothesis laid out.

Top 3 Learnings: 

1.  Product Management is the intersection between business, user experience, and technology.

Business: Primarily focused on optimizing a product to achieve business goals while maximizing return on investment
Ux: Voice of the customer and must be passionate about the customer and their problems.
Tech: Understand the stack and the level of effort involved.

2. The best roadmap is a strategic communication artifact that is focused on the big picture and conveys the path you’ll take to fulfill your product vision. Split roadmap into themes based on customer problems

3. The product leader as CEO idea is misleading. A better analogy would be the product leader as the captain of a sports team, a conductor of an orchestra, or a university professor guiding their class. Like the professor, conductor, or team captain, the product leader is an individual who succeeds only by bringing the whole team along with them, working toward a common goal.

Book notes here.

2. BUY it! · Creativity · Skills · Technology

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.

2. BUY it! · Novel Concepts · Psychology · Self Improvement · Skills

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.

3. SHELF it · Creativity · Skills · Technology

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.

3. SHELF it · Skills

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.

3. SHELF it · Book Review Actions · Book Reviews · Business · Skills · Technology

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.