Here’s a list of books that I’ve been reading. I’ll try to keep this updated as I go, send me an email if you think of one I might enjoy based on what you see below!

Queued: on my Amazon wishlist.

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

  • Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness NOTES: bought after our spring break trip through Utah (Dinosaur National Monument, Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Las Vegas).

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

  • Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life NOTES:
    I really enjoyed this book, especially the latter half that talks about life in general. Reinforced the desire for our kids to do a gap year, study to learn about life (not a vocation) and to take risks.

    • Quote: “The delegating family sends a child out and the child believes that she is free and independent, but in fact she is on a mission for her parents that must be fulfilled.”
    • Quote: “… the old WASP admission criteria actually meant something. Athletics were thought to build character – courage and selflessness and team spirit. The arts embodied the idea of culture. Service was designed to foster a public-minded ethos in our future leaders. Leadership itself was understood to be a form of duty. Now it’s all become a kind of a rain dance that is handed down from generation to generation, an empty set of rituals… Kids do them because they know they’re supposed to, not because they, or anybody else, actually believes in them.”
    • Quote: “… the worst effect of commercialization of higher education is the way that it has changed how institutions see their students. Now they think of them as “customers”, people to be pandered to instead of challenged. Grade inflation is up.. there’s a profusion of swanky new dorms, gyms and student centers…. You give your customer what they want but you don’t have any interest in their long term welfare. It is precisely because you do have an interest in your students’ long term welfare that you don’t give them what they want. You question them, and the thing you question them about the most is what they want. Teaching, said Socrates, is the reeducation of desire.”
    • Quote: “The first thing that college is for is to teach you to think. That’s a cliche, but it does actually mean something, and a great deal more than what is usually intended. it doesn’t simply mean developing the mental skills particular to individual disciplines – how to solve an equation or construct a study or analyze a text – or even acquiring the ability to work across disciplines. It means developing the habit of skepticism and capacity to put it into practice. It means learning not to take things for granted, so you can reach your own conclusions.”
    • Quote: “… he echoed your opinions back to you or forced you to articulate them for yourself. By dragging them into the light, asking you to defend them or just acknowledge having them, he began to break them down, to expose them to the operations of the critical intelligence — and thus to develop that intelligence in the first place. … The point was to bring his charges into the unfamiliar, uncomfortable and endless fertile condition of doubt.”
    • Quote: “… the purpose of college is to make you a more interesting person — a nice formulation, as long as we stipulate that the person to whom it is most important to be interesting is yourself…. Being a quadruple major does not make you interesting. Editing the college newspaper while singing in an a cappella group, starting a nonprofit, and learning how to cook exotic grains — this does not make you interesting. Interesting is not accomplished. Interesting is not “impressive.” What makes you interesting is reading, thinking, slowing down, having long conversations, and creating a rich inner life for yourself.”
    • Quote, on risk: “When Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard, was asked to name a book that she wished that all her incoming freshmen would read, she cited Kathryn Schulz’s Being Wrong, which advocates doubt as a skill and praises error as the foundation of wisdom.” Never to have failed is a sign not of merit but fragility; it means your fears have kept you from doing or becoming what you might have.”
    • Quote, on courage: “… Putting a sticker on your MacBook that says “I’m an individual” (in whatever paraphrase) does not make you an individual. Getting a piercing, growing a mustache, moving to Austin – these do not make you an individual. You can’t accessorize your way to moral courage. The choices it involves are not consumer ones. Cool furniture and hip music are perfectly nice, but they are utterly beside the point. Facebook also doesn’t count; you don’t become an independent thinker by posting quotes from independent thinkers. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you aren’t giving anything up, it isn’t moral and it isn’t courage. Stumbles, sacrifices, inner struggle, false starts and wrong turns, conflict with parents and peers — these are some of the signs of genuine article. The you know it’s real is if it hurts.”
    • Quote on gap years: “… you should also consider taking a gap year, without the “program” part. Too much structure is among the things you need to get away from — and so is the notion of being productive… How about doing something you can’t put on your resume? How about just wandering, literally or metaphorically, or holing up and reading somewhere? How about getting a lousy apartment with a bunch of friends (or a bunch of strangers who need another roommate) and supporting yourself with a part-time job? If nothing else, you’ll probably meet the kinds of people that you’d have never had a chance to otherwise… I can’t tell you the number of students I knew who did that and returned to college strikingly different people — fuller, more independent, more present in their lives and ready to cut through not only the academic but also the social bullshit.
    • Quote, on leadership: “Leadership had meaning once, among America’s elite… [they] were committed to installing what they broadly referred to as “character.” Leadership meant duty, honor, courage, toughness, graciousness, selflessness… Leadership had content… the concept made demands. It meant devotion to the benefit of others, not yourself. It called for allegiance to ideals, a commitment to the stewardship of institutions, a code of public service that was something more than a commencement afterthought”
    • Quote, on leadership: “… how about training citizens? … how about recognizing that the best leaders are thinkers? I don’t mean academics. I mean people who are capable of reflecting critically upon the organizations, and the society, to which they belong. Better still, who have the fortitude to try to put their criticisms into practice. People who possess what might be called resistant minds: who can ask questions instead of just answering them; who can figure out not only how to get things done by whether they’re worth doing in the first place; who can formulate new directions, for a business or an industry or a country – new ways of doing things, new ways of looking at things – instead of simply putting themselves at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.”
    • Quote, on service: “I’ve noticed something similar when it comes to service. Why is it that people feel the need to go to places like Guatemala to do their projects of rescue or documentation, instead of Milwaukee or Arkansas? Is it because it’s fun to visit poor people in other countries but not so fun at home? When students do stay in the States, why is it that so man of them seem to head for New Orleans? Perhaps it’s not surprise, when kids are trained to think of service as something they are ultimately doing for themselves — that is for their resumes. “Do well by doing good,” goes the slogan. How about just doing good? Why is that an insufficient goal? “Service” is a lot like “leadership,” and in fact the two are far too tangled up. Kids want to save the world, a Brown professor told me, but their idea of doing so invariably involves some form of getting to the top… The problem with “service” begins the concept itself, or at least what it’s become. The word is rooted in the Bible. Serve God, the Children of Israel are told, not Pharaoh. Serve God, Christ says, not Caesar. That is who you’re supposed to be serving with “service.” It’s about humility, not condescension. But now we understand the concept in a very different way. “Giving back,”, “giving to others”: this is the language of charity, enforcing ideas of debtor-ship, disempowerment, hierarchy, and social relations as an economic exchange. It is us versus them, rich versus poor, white versus black and brown, the server and the served. It isn’t even noblesse oblige, because there’s no “oblige,” , no concept of obligation or social duty. “Service” is a flock of middle class messiahs, descending in all their virtue, with a great deal of self-satisfaction, every once in a while, when they remember to think about it, upon the miserable and helpless…. So what is the alternative? Not charity, but justice. Not concern but outrage. Not giving 5 percent, but changing 100 percent. Not the superficial motions of volunteerism… not the palliation of social violence, but solidarity and mutual identification and working together toward a larger good that embraces us all.”
  • Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking NOTES: some repeat stuff from other books I’ve read about the mind but useful if for no other reason than a reminder of how strange our minds seem to work.
    • Quote on framing: “… Monk 1 asked his abbot whether it would be all right to smoke while he prayed. Scandalized, the abbot said, “Of course not; that borders on sacrilege.” Monk 2 asked his abbot whether it would be all right to pray while he smoked. “Of course,” said the abbot. “God wants to hear from us at any time.”…
    • Quote, on heuristics: “.. representativeness heuristic… leans heavily on judgements of similarity. Events are judged as more likely if they’re similar to the prototype of the event than if they’re less similar…. The belief in the doctrine of signatures (example: turmeric is effective in treating jaundice because they’re both yellow) was derived from a theological principle: God wishes to help us find the cures for diseases and gives us helpful hints in the form of color, shape and movement… This now seems dubious to most of us, but in fact the representativeness heuristic continues to underlie alternative medicine practices such as homeopathy and Chinese traditional medicine – both of which are increasing in popularity in the West…. [much later] The lesson here [guessing about which classmates from 20 years ago were going to really succeed academically] is one of the most powerful in all psychology. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. You’re rarely going to do better than that. Honesty in the future is best predicted by honesty in the past, not by whether a person looks you steadily in the eye or claims a recent religious conversion. Competence as an editor is best predicted by prior performance as an editor, or at least by competence as a writer, and not by how verbally clever a person seems or how large the person’s vocabulary is…. Another important heuristic Tversky and Kahneman identified is the availability heuristic. This is a rule of thumb we use to judge the frequency or plausibility of a given type of event. The more easily examples come to mind, the more frequent or plausible they seem.
    • Quote, summing up Chapter 1, Everything’s An Inference: “It’s possible to make fewer errors in judgement by following a few simple suggestions implicit in this chapter. Remember that all perceptions, judgments, and beliefs are inferences and not direct readouts of reality. This recognition should prompt an appropriate humility about just how certain we should be about our judgements as well as a recognition that the views of other people that differ from our own may have more validity than our intuitions tell us they do. Be aware that our schemas affect our construals. Schemas and stereotypes guide our understanding of the world, but they can lead to pitfalls that can be avoided by recognizing the possibility that we may be relying too heavily on them. We can try to recognize our own stereotype-driven judgments as well as recognize those of others. Remember that incidental, irrelevant perceptions and cognitions can affect our judgement and behavior. Even when we don’t know what those factors might be, we need to be aware that much more is influencing our thinking and behavior than we can be aware of. An important implication is that it will increase accuracy to try to encounter objects and people in as many different circumstances as possible if a judgement about them is important. Be alert to the possible role of heuristics in producing judgements. Remember that the similarity of objects and events to one another can be a misleading basis for judgments. Remember that causes need not resemble effects in any way. And remember that assessments of the likelihood or frequency of events can be influenced simply by the readiness with which they come to mind.
    • Quote, on the causes of behavior: “… it’s important to know that people generally think that their own behavior is largely a matter of responding sensibly to the situation they happen to be in — whether that behavior is admirable or abominable. We’re much less likely to recognize the situational factors other people are responding to, and we’re consequently much more likely to commit the fundamental attribution error when judging them — seeing dispositional factors as the main or sole explanation for the behavior.”
    • Fascinating section on the difference between Eastern and Western thought: “… Only after the context was established [a fish tank containing some fish, rocks, etc..] did the Japanese zoom in on what are the most salient objects for Americans. Altogether, the Japanese reported seeing 60 percent more background objects than did the Americans. That’s what you’d expect, given that East Asians pay more attention to context than do Westerners. The differential attention to context results in Easterners’ having a preference for situational explanations for behavior that Westerners are more likely to explain in dispositional terms.”
    • Quote, summing up Chapter 2, “The Power of the Situation”: “Pay more attention to context. This will improve the odds that you’ll correctly identify situational factors that are influencing your behavior and that of others. In particular, attention to context increases the likelihood that you’ll recognize social influences that may be operating. Reflection may not show you much about the social influences on your own thinking or behavior. But if you can see what social influences might be doing to others, it’s a safe bet you might be susceptible as well. Realize that situational factors usually influence your behavior and that of others more than they seem to, whereas dispositional factors are usually less influential than they seem. Don’t assume that a given person’s behavior in one or two situations is necessarily predictive of future behavior. And don’t assume that the person has a trait or belief or preference that has produced the behavior. Realize that other people think their behavior is more responsive to situational factors than you’re inclined to think — and they’re more likely to be right than you are. They almost certainly know their current situation — and their relevant personal history — better than you do. Realize that people can change. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, Westerners have believed that the world is largely static and that objects, including people, behave as they do because of their unalterable dispositions.
    • Quote, summing up Chapter 3, “The Rational Unconscious”: “Don’t assume that you know why you think what you think or do what you do. We don’t know what may have been the role played by little noticed and promptly forgotten incidental factors. Moreover, we often can’t even be sure of the role played by factors that are highly salient. Why should you give up belief in self-knowledge, and do so at the cost of self-confidence? Because you’re less likely to do something that’s not in your best interest if you have a healthy skepticism about whether you know what you really think or why you really do the things you do. Don’t assume that other people’s account of their reasons or motives are any more likely to be right than are your accounts of your own reasons or motives. I frequently find myself telling other people why I did something. When I do that I’m often acutely aware that I’m making this up as I go along and that anything I say should be taken with more than a grain of salt. But my hearers usually nod and seem to believe everything I say. But despite my recognition that my explanations are somewhere between probably true and “God only knows”, I tend to swallow other people’s explanations hook, line and sinker. Sometimes I do realize that the person is fabricating plausible explanations rather than reporting accurately, but more typically I’m as much taken in as other people are taken in by my explanations. I really can’t tell you why I remain so gullible but that doesn’t prevent me from telling you to carry a saltshaker around wit you. The injunction to doubt what people say about the causes of their judgements and behavior, incidentally, is spreading to the field of law. Increasingly, it’s recognized that what witnesses, defendants, and jurors say about why whty did what they did or reached the conclusions that they came to are not to be trusted – even when they are doing their level best to be perfectly honest. You have to help the unconscious help you. Mozart seems to have secreted music unbidden. But for ordinary mortals, creative problem solving seems to require consciousness at two levels.

December 2016

November 2016

  • Conversations with David Foster Wallace (Literary Conversations Series) NOTES: a bunch of writing stuff that was way over my head but makes me feel like I’m eating oatmeal with protein powder or something. Quotes:
    • … [you] will discover, in the years after you get out of school, is that managing to be an alive human being, and also to do good work and be as obsessive as you have to be, is really tricky. It’s not an accident when you see writers either become obsessed with the whole pop stardom thing or get into drugs and alcohol, or have terrible marriages.” Ditto lots of other careers.
    • “I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a sort of “generalization” of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple. But now realize that TV and popular film and most kinds of “low” art—which just means art whose primary aim is to make money—is lucrative precisely because it recognizes that audiences prefer 100 percent pleasure to the reality that tends to be 49 percent pleasure and 51 percent pain. Whereas “serious” art, which is not primarily about getting money out of you, is more apt to make you uncomfortable, or to force you to work hard to access its pleasures, the same way that in real life true pleasure is usually a by-product of hard work and discomfort. So it’s hard for an art audience, especially a young one that’s been raised to expect art to be 100 percent pleasurable and to make that pleasure effortless, to read and appreciate serious fiction. That’s not good. The problem isn’t that today’s readership is “dumb,” I don’t think. Just that TV and the commercial-art culture’s trained it to be sort of lazy and childish in its expectations. But it makes trying to engage today’s readers both imaginatively and intellectually unprecedentedly hard.”
    • “Here’s an analogy. The invention of calculus was shocking because for a long time it had simply been presumed that you couldn’t divide by zero. The integrity of math itself seemed to depend on the presumption. Then some genius titans came along and said, “Yeah, maybe you can’t divide by zero, but what would happen if you “could”? We’re going to come as close to doing it as we can, to see what happens…. And this purely theoretical construct wound up yielding incredibly practical results. Suddenly you could plot the area under curves and do rate-change calculations. Just about every material convenience we now enjoy is a consequence of this “as if.” But what if Leibniz and Newton had wanted to divide by zero only to show jaded audiences how cool and rebellious they were? It’d never have happened, because that kind of motivation doesn’t yield results. It’s hollow. Dividing-as-if-by-zero was titanic and ingenuous because it was in the service of something. The math world’s shock was a price they had to pay, not a payoff in itself.”
    • “It seems to me that the intellectualization and aestheticizing of principles and values in this country is one of the things that’s gutted our generation. All the things that my parents said to me, like ‘It’s really important not to lie.’ OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I really don’t feel it. Until I get to be about thirty and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can’t trust you. I feel that I’m in pain, I’m nervous, I’m lonely, and I can’t figure out why. Then I realize, ‘Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie.’ The idea that something so simple and, really, so aesthetically uninteresting–which for me meant you pass over it for the interesting, complex stuff–can actually be nourishing in a way that arch, meta, ironic, pomo stuff can’t, that seems to me to be important. That seems to me like something our generation needs to feel.”
    • “America is one big experiment in what happens when you’re a wealthy, privileged culture that’s pretty much lost religion or spirituality as a real informing presence. It’s still a verbal presence — it’s part of the etiquette that our leaders use, but it’s not inside us anymore, which in one way makes us very liberal and moderate and we’re not fanatics and we don’t tend to go around blowing things up. But on the other hand, it’s very difficult to think that the point of life is to double your salary so that you can go to the mall more often. Even when you’re making fun and sneering at it, there’s a real dark emptiness about it.”
  • Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life NOTES: need to re-read and actually go through the workbook parts of the book. The “write down what you feel most happy doing” and “design three possible life options” were things that stuck with me.
  • Raising Accountable Kids: How to Be an Outstanding Parent Using the Power of Personal Accountability NOTES: fast, good, not amazing. Quotes:
  • “If I don’t want my kid to text while he drives, I’d better not do it myself. If I don’t want my kid to go to R-rated movies, I should not see them, either. If I don’t want my children to speak harshly to each other, I should watch my tone. If I don’t want my kid using foul words, I might want to keep my language in check. If I don’t want my kid to complain about others, I should temper my own criticisms. If I don’t want my kid to blame, I shouldn’t scream at the ref during the Little League game. If I want my kid to get more exercise, I better dust off my bicycle and take a ride. If I want my kid to be friendly and outgoing, I should go meet the new neighbors. If I want my kid to handle money well, I need to do the same.”
  • Ask your kids what you can do to be a better day / mom…
  • “The cognitive reframing looks like this: It’s not, “Why is my kid failing in school,” it’s “What can I do to help them get their grades up?” It’s not, “When will they be mature enough to clean their own room,” but “How can I help them learn better habits?””
  • QBQ: “… every parent look behind questions such as “Why won’t my kids listen?” or “When will they do what I ask?” to find better ones—QBQs—like “What can I do differently?” or “How can I improve as a parent?” This simple but challenging concept turns the focus – and responsibility – back to parents and to what they can do to make a difference.” Similar things can be applied to kids.

October 2016

  • The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization NOTES: Another systems thinking book, took me awhile to get through it (requires you to think a lot which is one of the points of the book to start out with) but I enjoyed it. Quotes: …
  • The Road to Character NOTES: Lots of stories about great leaders in this book. I’ll likely revisit a bunch of the chapters. Quotes:
    • After a reference to a radio show that happened after the end of WWII (Command Performance) and then while watching an NFL game.. “It occurred to me that I had just watched more self-celebration after a two-yard gain than I had heard after the United States won World War II.”
    • “People who seek to serve the community end up falsifying their work… because they are not single-mindedly focused on the task at hand. But if you serve the work — if you perform each task to its utmost perfection — then you will experience the deep satisifaction of craftsmanship and you will end up serving the community more richly than you could have consciously planned.”
    • On Eisenhower: “Always try to associate yourself closely and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you.”
    • A poem, kept by Eisenhower: “Take a bucket, fill it with water
      Put your hand in — clear up to the wrist.
      Now pull it out; the hole that remains
      Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed…
      The moral of this quaint example:
      To do just the best that you can,
      Be proud of yourself, but remember,
      There is no Indispensable Man!”
    • Again on Eisenhower and war: “He saw it as another hard duty to be endured. He had learned to focus less on the glamour and excitement of wartime heroics and more on the dull, mundane things that would proved to be the keys to victory. Preserving alliances with people that you might find insufferable.”
    • On George Marshall: “This is a common trait among modest people who achieve extraordinary success. It’s not that they were particularly brilliant or talented. The average collegiate GPA for a self-made millionaire is somewhere in the low B range. But at some crucial point in their lives, somebody told them they were too stupid to do something and they set out to prove the bastards wrong.”
    • More on Marshall: “That person then, who it may be, whose mind is quiet through consistency and self-control, who finds contentment in himself, who neither breaks down in adversity nor crumbles in fright, nor burns with any thirsty need nor dissolves into wild and futile excitement, that person is the wise one we are seeking, and that person is happy.
    • Further on Marshall: “War is a series of blunders and frustrations. At the outset of the Second World War, Marshall understood that he would have to ruthlessly cull the incompetent from their jobs. He said: ‘I cannot afford the luxury of sentiment. Mine must be cold logic. Sentiment is for others. I cannot allow myself to get angry, that would be fatal — it is too exhausting.”
    • Same guy, his directions for his funeral, loved this: “Bury me simply, like any ordinary officer of the US Army who has served his country honorably. No fuss. No elaborate ceremonials. Keep the service short, confine the guest-list to the family And above everything, do it quietly.”
    • George Eliot: “When we are young we think our troubles a mighty business — that the world is spread out expressly as a stage for the particular drama of our lives and that we have a right to rant and foam at the mouth if we are crossed. I have done enough of that in my time. But we begin at last to understand that these things are important only to one’s consciousness, which is but a globule of dew on a rose leaf that at midday there will be no trace of.”
    • “… stand against, at least in part, the prevailing winds of culture. The answer must be to join a counterculture. To live a decent life, to build up the soul, it’s probably necessary to declare that the forces that encourage the Big Me, while necessary and liberating in many ways, have gone too far. We are out of balance. It’s probably necessary to have one foot in the world of achievement but another foot in the counterculture that is in tension with the achievement ethos.”

September 2016

  • Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging NOTES: lots of good people stuff in this book, quotes:
    • “This book is about why that [someone treating the author like a member of his tribe] sentiment is such a rare and precious thing in modern society, and how the lack of it has affected us all. It’s about what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty and belonging and the eternal human quest for meaning. It’s about why – for many people – war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
    • “…A wealthy person who has never had to reply on help and resources from his community is leading a privileged life that falls way outside more than a million years of human experience. Financial independence can lead to isolation, and isolation can put people at a greatly increased risk of depression and suicide.”
    • “… something called self-determination theory, which holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered ‘intrinsic’ to human happiness and far outweight ‘extrinsic’ values such as beauty, money and status…. modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones…”
    • Wow, what a prediction… “… the ultimate terrorist strategy would be to just leave the country alone. That way, America’s ugliest partisan tendencies could emerge unimpeded by the unifying effects of war. The ultimate betrayal of tribe isn’t acting competitively – that should be encouraged – but predicating your power on the excommunication of others from the group. That is exactly what politicians of both parties try to do when they spew venomous rhetoric about their rivals.” Fuck. (wrote this after the election)
    • “… Leacock relates a story about how she went on a hunting trip with a Cree named Thomas. Deep in the bush they encountered two men, strangers, who had run out of food and were extremely hungry. Thomas gave them all his flour and lard, despite the fact that he would have to cut his own trip short as a result. Leacock probed Thomas to why he did this, and he finally lost patience with her. ‘Suppose, now not to give them flower, lard’, he explained. ‘Just dead inside.'”

August 2016

  • boo!

July 2016

  • boo!

June 2016

  • The Systems Bible: The Beginner’s Guide to Systems Large and Small NOTES: impossible to summarize, the skeleton of the book is hung on capitalized and pithy axioms like “SYSTEMS IN GENERAL WORK POORLY OR NOT AT ALL”. If I had a photographic memory, it’d be incredibly useful, maybe one of those books that you take off the bookshelf once a year to remember that the world and systems are complex and that problems are hard and solutions are harder. Fun pithy quotes:
    • Complex systems exhibit unexpected behavior.
    • A large system, produced by expanding the dimensions of a smaller system, does not behave like the smaller system.
    • The army is now fully prepared to fight the previous war.
    • A temporary patch will very likely be permanent.
    • The chart is not the patient.
    • The reader is invited to ask, is it possible that I am seeing the world from inside a system? Am I, unbeknownst to myself, a Systems-person? The answer is always, yes. The relevant question is, simply, which system? At that moment one can graduate from being a systems person to becoming a true student of systematics?
    • Any large system is going to be operating most of the time in failure mode.
    • Colossal systems foster colossal errors.
    • In setting up a new system, tread softly. You may be disturbing another system that is actually working.
    • Knowledge does not keep any better than fish.
    • A system that ignores feedback has already begun the process of terminal instability.
    • Systems… are such stuff are dreams made on. It behooves us to look into the quality of our dreams.
  • Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Tale of Ambition and Survival on the Early American Frontier NOTES: another great adventure book, should be required reading if you live in Oregon.

May 2016

April 2016

  • Between the World and Me NOTES: read if you’re a white male and want to broaden your views.
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow NOTES: 5 out of 5 stars, took me a long time to get through it because small print + more than 400 pages. System 1 (automatic) vs. System 2 (analytical / long term) thinking is the big theme of the book.
    • Chapter / section on “priming”, where just repeating certain subjects (ie: “forgetful”, “bald”, “gray”, “wrinkle”) can prime people think about being “old” and they’ll actually walk slower, which is insane. Pg 53
    • Pg 58, the story about how putting pictures of eyes in the kitchen of a corporate office dramatically influenced the rate at which folks would add contributions to the coffee fun.
    • Pg 63, putting something in writing in bold or otherwise marking it up in strong ways (red vs. light blue) influences how strongly someone will believe what you’ve written. Simple language is actually better than complex language.
    • Pg 66, the exposure effect. The story about a study where the researcher put Turkish words in an English language newspaper for a number of weeks and then after a month or so, sent a survey out to readers asking if which words (in Turkish) were viewed more favorably… the ones that were listed most often were viewed most favorably even though no one knew what they meant. Wow.
    • Pg 118, small samples, “Unfortunately, the causal analysis is pointless because the facts are wrong. If the statisticians who reported to the Gates Foundation had asked about the characteristics of the worst schools, they would have found that bad schools also tend to be smaller than average. The truth is that small schools are not better on average; they are simply more variable. If anything, say Wainer and Zwerling, large schools tend to produce better results, especially in higher grades, where a variety of curricular options is valuable.”
    • “The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events on the basis of how easy it is to think of examples. The availability heuristic operates on the notion that, “if you can think of it, it must be important.” The availability of consequences associated with an action is positively related to perceptions of the magnitude of the consequences of that action. In other words, the easier it is to recall the consequences of something, the greater we perceive these consequences to be. Sometimes, this heuristic is beneficial, but the frequencies at which events come to mind are usually not accurate reflections of the probabilities of such events in real life.”
    • Likely just need to review this article once in awhile.

March 2016

  • boo!

February 2016

January 2016

December 2015

  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time NOTES: The title scared me a little bit, I thought I’d be reading yet another business book with a bunch of shallow cliches but this book has a bunch of really great viewpoints and thinking. For right or wrong, I started using some of the ideas almost immediately, both at home and at work. Quotes:
    • To start, listen to yourself, quote: “Being to hear yourself avoiding the topic, changing the subject, holding back, telling little lies (and big ones), being imprecise in your language, being uninteresting even to yourself. And at least once today, when something inside of you says, ‘This is an opportunity to be fierce,’ stop for a moment, take a deep breath, then come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real. Say something that is true for you… example: ‘What I just said isn’t quite right. Let me see if I can get closer to what I really want to say.’
    • Great chapter on “interrogating reality”. Questions that you can ask to make sure that reality is continually being analyzed: “What are my goals when I convene with people? What kinds of things do I usually discuss? Are there other topics that would be more interesting? How often do I find myself – just to be polite, saying things I don’t mean? How many meetings have I sat in where I knew the real issues were not being discussed? What about the conversations in my marriage? What issues are we avoiding? If I were guaranteed honest response to any three questions, whom would I question and what would I ask? What has been the economical, emotional and intellectual cost to the company of not identifying and tackling the real issues? What has been the cost to my marriage?” Lots more on page 20. Great list.
    • Quote: “… when someone takes you up on your invitation to challenge your strongly held opinion, resist the temptation to defend your idea immediately…. Instead of trying to strengthen your own case, inquire into someone’s position. ‘Tell us more, help us understand your thinking.'” I think I’ve read / seen this idea somewhere else recently, ie: before immediately defending your turf (or someone else defending their turf, take a bit of time to listen to the other side before replying.
    • Another great concept / phrase to remember, “Mineral Rights”. Quotes: “If you’re drilling for water, it’s better to drill one hundred foot well than one hundred one foot wells.” Similar concept but different angle, the US military slang uses “ground truth” to describe the reality of a tactical situation – as opposed to intelligence reports and mission plans. The appendix has some steps you can go through when thinking about / talking about mineral rights: 1) Identify the most pressing issue. 2) Clarify the issue. 3) Determine the current impact. 4) Determine the future implications. 5) Examine your personal contribution to the issue. 6) Describe the ideal outcome. 7) Commit to action. Other quotes:
      • Regularly interrogate reality in your workplace and personal life. What has changed? Does the plan still make sense? If not, what is required of you? of others?
      • Since everyone owns a piece of truth about reality, consider whose realities should be explored before important decisions are made?
      • Avoid blame by modifying your language. Replace the word “but” with “and”.
      • Ensure that your personal and corporate immune systems are healthy by conducting an integrity scan and correcting any outages.
    • On being you, have a personal stump speech that answers the following questions: Where am I going? Why am I going there? Who is going with me? How will I get there?
    • On being engaged / mentally invested in a question / conversation, quote: “Think for a moment about the kind of attention you bring to your conversations. While someone is talking, where are your thoughts? When you are face to face, do you look at the individual in front of you or do your eyes roam the room in some sort of perpetual surveilliance? While you’re talking with someone on the telephone, do you scan your email? And can you tell when someone else is scanning his?
    • On 1:1’s and having your direct report set the agenda by asking them to bring up the most important thing that needs to be talked about. Quote: “When we meet tomorrow, I want to explore with you whatever you feel most deserves our attention, so I will begin our conversation by asking, ‘What is the most important thing you and I should be talking about?‘ I will rely on you to tell me. If the thought of bringing up an issue makes you anxious, that’s a signal you need to bring it up. I am not going to preempt your agenda with my own. If I need to talk with you about something else, I’ll tag it on to the end or plan another conversation with you.”
    • How to have a mineral rights conversation: What is the most important thing we should be talking about? Describe the issue, what’s going on relative to …? How is this currently impacting you? Who or what else is being impacted? If nothing changes, what are the implications? How have you helped create this issue or situation? What is the ideal outcome? When this is resolved, what difference will that make? What’s the most potent step you can take to resolve this issue? What exactly are you committed to do and when? As part of this conversation, questions only. No leading questions, no declarative statements. Get all of the information out.
    • Decision Tree for helping direct reports figure out how to work on something: Leaf Decisions: Make the decision. Act on it. Do not report the action you took.
      Branch Decisions: Make the decisions. Act on it. Report the action you took daily, weekly or monthly. Trunk Decisions: Make the decision. Report your decisions before you take action.
      Root Decisions: Make the decision jointly, with input from other people. These are the decisions that, if poorly made and implemented, could cause major harm to the project or company.
    • On tackling the toughest challenges: Ongoing problems in an organization often stem from root issues. Moles are a nuisance and they proliferate because they eat the grubs in the ground. Go for the root cause. “Make it your job as a leader to give up mole whacking and take up grub hunting.”
    • On talking about / presenting bigger issues to a group, an outline: 1) The issue is… 2) It is significant because… 3) My ideal outcome in … 4) Relevant background information includes… 5) What I have done up to this point 6) The help I want from the group is.. (page 129-130 and page 133 has some good facilitator guidelines)
    • Principle 6 / page 187: An emotional wake is what you remember after I’m gone. What you feel. The aftermath, aftertaste, or afterglow.
    • Principle / chapter 7: be more comfortable with silence, it’s ok to pause and let people reflect or even just to be quiet.
    • Last, in the Appendix and already used this week, the Confrontation Model, which givees you tools for confronting tough issues with courage, compassion and skill. Page 254.
  • Sidetracked: Volume 5: NOTES: Like Bike Magazine except for all outdoors, picked up a subscription on a whim a couple weeks ago, lots of amazing photography and outdoor inspiration.
  • Homage to Catalonia NOTES: Had a work trip to Barcelona to visit with the New Relic team there. Bought a couple books about Spain and Barcelona, this was highly recommended on an thread. Can’t say that I felt a learned a ton about either through the book but apparently it’s supposed to be one of George Orwell’s best books, 3 stars out of 5 from me.

November 2015

  • Thinking in Systems: A Primer NOTES: didn’t emotionally connect with the book but it had a bunch of things that pushed my thinking. 4 stars out of 5. Selected quotes / notes:
    • Quote: “At a time when the world is more messy, more crowded, more interconnected, more interdependent, and more rapidly changing than ever before, the more ways of seeing, the better. The systems-thinking lense allows us to reclaim our intuition about whole systems and hone our abilities to understand parts, see interconnections, ask ‘what if’ questions about possible future behaviors and be creative and courageous about system redesign.” which then continues with the story of the blind men and the matter of the elephant, which is a great analogy for understanding systems thinking.
    • Quote: “… The best way to deduce the system’s purpose is to watch for a while to see how the system behaves. If a frog turns right and catches a fly and then turns left and catches a fly, and then turns around backward and catches a fly, the purpose of the frog has to do not with turning left or turning right or backward but with catching flies. If a government proclaims an interest in protecting the environment but allocates little money or effort towards that goal, environmental protection is not, in fact, the government’s purpose. Purposes are deduced from behavior, not from rhetoric or stated goals.
    • Quote: “… Whenever you are confronted with a scenario (and you are, every time you hear about an economic prediction, a corporate budget, a weather forecast, future climate change, a stockbroker saying what is going to happen to a particular holding), there are questions you need to ask that will help you decide how good a representation of reality is the underlying model. a) are the driving factors likely to unfold this way? b) if they did, would the system react this way? c) what is driving the driving factors?”
    • Chapter 3 talks about resilience, which you can look up in the dictionary and is something I think have largely associated with people, not systems and I’ve adopted the resilience lense as I talk about systems at work.
    • Quote on resilience: “… I think of resilience as a plateau upon which the system can play, performing its normal functions in safety. A resilient system has a big plateau, a lot of space over which it can wander with gentle, elastic walls that will bounce it back, if it comes near a dangerous edge. As a system loses its resilience, its plateau shrinks, and its protective walls become lower and more rigid, until the system is operating on a knife edge, likely to fall off in one direction or another whenever it makes a move. Loss of resilience can come as a surprise, because the system usually is paying much more attention to its play than to its playing space.
    • On hierarchies, quote: “In hierarchical systems relationships within each subsystem are denser and stronger than relationships between subsystems. Everything is still connected to everything else, but not equally strongly. People in the same university department talk to each other more than they talk to people in other departments. The cells that constitute the liver are in closer communication with each other than they are with the cells of the heart. If these differential information links within and between each leevl of the hierarchy are designed right, feedback delays are minimized. No level is overwhelmed with information. The system works with efficiency and resilience…. systems thinkers would say, the reductionist dissection of regular science teaches us a lot. However, one should not lose sight of the important relationships that bind each subsystem to the others and to the higher levels of the hierarchy or one will be in for surprises.
    • Chapter 4 on why systems surprise us, quote: “When system thinkers encounter a problem, the first thing he or she does is look for data, time graphs, the history of the system. That’s because long-term behavior provides clues to the underlying system structure. And structure is the key to understanding not just what is happening, but why…. Simple examples like a Slinky being released down the stairs make this event-behavior-structure distinction seem obvious. In fact, much analysis in the world goes no deeper than events. Listen to every night’s explanation of why the stock market did what it did. Stock went up (down) because the U.S. dollar fell 9rose), or the prime interest rate rose (fell), or the Democrats won (lost), or one country invaded another (or didn’t). Event-event analysis. These explanations give you no ability to predict what will happen tomorrow. They give you no ability to change the behavior of the system to make the stock market less volatile or a more reliable indicator of the health of corporations or a better vehicle to encourage investment.
    • Page 91 has a couple of great paragraphs that continue the event-event analysis discussion and how not understanding the structure can lead in some cases (like economics) to relatively good short term performance but really bad performance over the long term. Quote at the end: “… that’s one reason why systems of all kinds surprise us. We are too fascinated by the events they generate. We pay too little attention to their history. And we are insufficiently skilled at seeing in their history clues to the structures from which behavior and events flow.”
    • Great quote that I used on my kids the other night about how long things take, by Vaclav Havel, “I realize with fright that my impatience for the re-establishment of democracy had something almost communist in it; or, more generally, something rationalist. I had wanted to make history move ahead in the same way that a child pulls on a plant to make it grow more quickly. I believe we must learn to wait as we learn to create. We have to patiently sow the seeds, assiduously water the earth where they are sown and give the plants the time that is their own. One cannot fool a plant any more than one can fool history. —Václav Havel,7 playwright, last President of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic”. On the same page, “… We are surprised over and over again at how much time things take… when we are modeling a system.. ask everyone how long they though the delay was… and multiply by three.
    • Quote on change and views: “Change comes first from stepping outside the limited information that can be seen from any single place in the system and getting an overview. From a wider perspective, information flows, goals, incentives and disincentives can be restructured so that separate, bounded, rational actions do add up to the results that everyone desires.”
    • On goal seeking and system traps: “If the desired state is good education, measuring that goal by the amount of money spent per student will ensure money spent per student. If the quality of education is measured by performance on standardized tests, the system will product performance on standardized tests. Whether either of these measures is correlated with good education is at least worth thinking about.”
    • Chapter 6, leverage points and parameters into the system: “It’s not that parameters are not important — they can be, especially in the short term and to the individual who’s tanding directly in the flow. People care deeply about such variables as taxes and the minimum wage, and so fight fierce battles over them. But changing these variables rarely changes the behavior of the national economy system. If the system is chronically stagnant, parameter changes rarely kickstart it. If it’s wildy variable, they usually don’t stabilize it. If it’s growing out of control, they don’t slow it down.”
    • Same chapter, on goals again: “Even people within systems don’t often recognize what whole system goal they are serving. ‘To make profits’ most corporations would say, but that’s just a rule, a necessary condition to stay in the game. What is the point of the game? To grow, to increase market share, to bring the world more and more under the control of the corporation so that it’s operations become even more shielded from uncertainty. John Kenneth Galbraith recognized that corporate goal — to engulf everything, long ago. It’s the goal of a cancer too.”
    • Quote in chapter 7: “Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves. If it’s a piece of music or a whitewater rapid or a fluctuation in a commodity price, study its beat. If it’s a social system, watch it work. Learn its history.
    • Same chapter, on mental models: “You don’t have to put forth your mental model with diagrams and equations, though doing so is a good practice…. The more you do that, in any form, the clearer your thinking will become, the faster you will admit your uncertainties and correct your mistakes, and the more flexible you will learn to be.
    • Same chapter on systems and pushing information. Interesting story about the Toxic Release Inventory act, which required companies to self-publish air pollution. End result: public shaming in the news, companies voluntarily started fixing things. “Information is power.”
    • On using language with care: “A society that talks incessantly about ‘productivity’ but that hardly understands, much less uses, the word ‘resilience’ is going to become productive but not resilient. A society that doesn’t understand or use the term ‘carrying capacity’ will exceed its carrying capacity. A society that talks about ‘creating jobs’ as if that’s something only companies can do will not inspire the great majority of people to create jobs, for themselves or anyone else… The first step in respecting language is keeping it as concrete, meaningful and truthful as possible – part of the job of keeping information streams clear.”
    • Loved this quote on qualitative data: “Pretending that something doesn’t exist if it’s hard to quantify leads to faulty models. You’ve already seen the system trap that comes from setting goals around what is easily measured, rather than around what is important. So don’t fall into that trap. Human beings have been endowed not only with the ability to count, but also with the ability to assess quality. Be a quality detector. Be a walking, noisy Geiger counter that registers the presence or absence of quality.”
    • Great stuff on page 181 and 182 about how one of the most important things you can do when working in a system is to embrace failure and to keep a long view. Great quotes about how many Native American cultures talked about impacts their decisions would have on the 7th generation after them.
  • Pebbles of Perception: How a Few Good Choices make All the Difference NOTES: get it at the library if it interests you, don’t buy it. Not highly recommended.
  • What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People NOTES: really enjoyed this book (way better than the Marine Corp one I listed below) because so many of the tips / facts are applicable to business and family and just general life. Everyone should read this and understand how to read nonverbal. 4.5 stars out of 5. Selected quotes:
    • Quote: “Just as careful listening is critical to understanding our verbal pronouncements, so careful observation is vital to comprehending our body language.” Amazing how much starts with just paying attention.
    • Quote: “Observing in context is key to understanding nonverbal communication…. after a traffic accident, I expect people to be in shock and to walk around looking dazed…. and even for them to make poor decisions like walking into oncoming traffic. (This is why police officers tell you to stay in your car.)” Goes on to talk about how during an interview, you should expect people to be nervous initially and for that to dissipate over time.
    • Page 28-29 talks about how our limbic system forces our bodies to freeze (don’t want to get eaten by a wild animal) when confronted by a threat or when we’re feeling threatened. If someone is sitting down, they may start taking very shallow breaths, lock their legs in place beneath their chair and hold very still.
    • Couple pages later the author discusses other signs of discomfort in a social setting: turning away from the person you’re talking to, rubbing your eyes, placing an object in your lap to separate yourself from someone, turning your feet to face an exit, leaning away from the person you’re talking to. These are “distancing” behaviors.
    • Page 35 introduces the notion of a “pacifying” behavior, which is a nonverbal tick that shows that you are trying to comfort yourself because you’re feeling uncomfortable. Examples include soothing our necks with a massage (or touching anywhere around the neck which is full of nerves and helps to slow your heartbeat), stroking our faces or playing with our hair, leg cleansing (rubbing your hands down the tops of your legs, I saw this a couple weeks ago).
    • Page 60 talks about how if you’re in conversation with someone, if they *really* want to talk to you, both their feet and hips will point toward you. If either points away, the person has somewhere else to be or otherwise would rather not be in a conversation with you. *Really good tip to watch for AND to exhibit to others. Someone sitting down and clasping his / her knees is saying the same thing.
    • Leg splaying (standing spread eagle) is a way of saying “I’m trying to intimidate you”, example brought up was law enforcement, which typically is leg splayed + hands on hips, which makes them as big as possible. Crossing your legs means the complete opposite.
    • Going up to the torso, a quote: “… Couples who are pulling apart emotionally will also begin to pull apart physically. Their hands don’t touch as much, and their torsos actually avoid each other. When they sit side by side, they will lean away from each other. They create a silent space between them.” Further, “.. Colleagues who share a similar point of view will sit closer together, turn more toward each other ventrally, and will lean harmoniously nearer each other. When people disagree, they will hold their bodies firm, avoid ventral fronting and will most likely lean away from each other.”
    • My favorite word in the whole book, “turtling”, which is where your shoulders rise towards your ears, signifies weakness, insecurity and negative emotions.
    • Quote: “Putting your arms behind your back is a clear signal that means ‘Don’t get close; I don’t want to make contact with you.” Great examples here include doctors (who will walk through the halls of a hospital quickly in this form or professors.
    • Arms akimbo (on hips) is a way of saying “things aren’t good” or “I am standing my ground.” Similarly, arms behind the head (while seated) is a territorial display that says “I’m in charge.”
    • Page 138 has all kinds of interesting anecdotes about shaking and holding hands. In many cultures, men actually hold hands or hold an arm while shaking your hand. On the other hand, in many cultures, finger pointing is one of the most offensive gestures one can make. You should avoid literal (and probably figurative) finger pointing at all costs.
    • More on hands: finger preening (hands together, finger tips touching) is a sign of a high degree of confidence. Hand wringing (palms together, fingers interlaced, tight grip) is the opposite.
    • Head tilting is a sign of being very comfortable and receptive and friendly. Try to do this in an elevator with a bunch of people for the whole ride and you’ll most likely fail.
    • Squinting (for example: when you come to the place in a contract that you disagree with), is a sign of disagreement or dislike, similar to eye-blocking or eyelid compressing. Eye aversion is often a sign of deferral (when the person you’re looking at is of higher standing) but can also be a sign that you’re comfortable with someone and you need the mental space to think about what you’re saying. Interesting thing to note about the eye aversion after just having watched the “Unbroken” movie, which had an interesting subplot with Louis and the Bird.
    • Hiding your lips is a sign of low comfort.

October 2015

  • Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy NOTES: had low expectations for this (enjoyed his first few books years ago but have since realized that his stories are just that… stories, which is hard to explain but maybe it’s that I’m trying to be more analytical in my thinking at this stage in my life and while previously I was much more in tune with the emotional side. Whatever though, this had some good points about what drives (and kills) relationships.
    • Quote about a retreat he visited where people weren’t allowed to say what they did for a living: “… they wanted to keep the group as pure as possible. He also said when people finally revealed their jobs, it made him sad. He said friendships and relationships would develop over the intensity of the week, but when people learned some people made a lot of money and others didn’t, or some people were slightly famous and others weren’t, they divided into perceived categories. Interestingly, he said, it wasn’t the rich who separated from the poor, but quite the opposite. He said people who didn’t feel like they’ve accomplished much felt insecure around those who had. Bill said he wished he lived in a world where people couldn’t say what they did at all. He said the world would be a healthier place if nobody were allowed to wear a costume.”
    • On the different types of manipulators in the world: scorekeepers (people who see the world as a zero sum game, they make relationships feel like a contest), judges (people who can never be wrong in life and use that to manipulate others), the false hero (someone who talks up the future and how they’ll save whoever / whatever and uses that to manipulate others) and the fearmonger (obvious). Watch out for these types of people in your life.
    • Really interesting / relevant chapter for me titled the “The Risks of Being Careful”, which has a bunch of anecdotes about how his first books and thoughts rolled out onto paper very quickly but then his next couple books took many many years because he started caring about what people thought whereas previously he had no fans and no bestsellers and wrote whatever he wanted without thinking deeply about it. Book talked about this in terms in what you say… but also how it influences procrastination and getting things done. Fear is a major cause of procrastination.
    • Quote: “To remind myself to never go back to being careful, I made a list of new freedoms.. I am willing to sound dumb. I am willing to be wrong. I am willing to be passionate about something that isn’t perceived as cool. I am willing to express a theory. I am willing to contradict something I’ve said before. I’m willing to have a knee jerk reaction, even a wrong one. I’m willing to apologize. I’m willing to be perfectly human.”
    • Chapter / section on how having a meaning in life is exceptionally important. Need to read Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Three recommendations out of that: 1) Have a project to work on, some reason to get out of bed in the morning and preferably something that serves other people. 2) Have a redemptive perspective on life’s challenges. That is, when something difficult happens, recognize the ways that difficulty serves you. 3) Share your life with a person or people who love you unconditionally.
    • Quote: “Don, all relationships are teleological.” by which he means that all relationships are going somewhere (for better or worse), which means that it’s important to look forward in relationships and plan, which is something I’m not super great at.
  • Nautilus: Issue 029: Scaling NOTES: Not a book but a couple of noteworthy articles this month on war games, futurism, gender and Fermi’s Paradox.
  • Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life NOTES: Mixed feelings about this book… was kind of hoping that it would be more applicable to normal, every day life but it’s 98% for soldiers in combat situations and it says it’s for law enforcement but they’d probably be better off not approaching their jobs as if it’s always a combat situation. It did bring to light this whole world of non-verbal communication that I’ve been aware of but haven’t understood. Some interesting quotes / thoughts:
    • Quote: “… profiling is heuristically and intuitively driven. It is built like a heuristic but applied with intuition. The basic foundation of .. profiling involves quickly establishing a baseline and determining anomalies, as well as quickly identifying threat indicators.”
    • Nine principles of human nature that apply to profiling: Humans are creatures of habit. Humans are lazy. Humans are lousy liars. Humans will run, fight or flee. Humans telegraph their intentions. Humans are predictable. Humans are not good at multitasking. Humans are generally clueless. Humans can’t do very many different things.
    • Six human behavior domains: Kinesics (conscious and unconscious body language), biometric cues (biological autonomic responses), proxemics (interpersonal spatial interaction), geographic (patterns of behavior within an environment), iconography (expression through symbols), atmospherics (collective attitudes that create distinct moods within an environment).
    • Bunch of interesting body language characteristics to note: Dominant (feet planted on floor, legs splayed, standing legs shoulder width apart taking up more space, seated leaning back with hands behind head, standing with hands on hips, standing and leaning forward in an aggressive manner, thrusting chest out, arms spread out on an object (table), hands clasped behind back as if judging, wrist and palm facing down when shaking hands or greeting, pointing with hands while talking or lecturing, steeple gesture with hands (perceived as intellectual and confident), not averting a gaze, touching other people (which demonstrates control over another person).

      Submissive: seated feet and legs crossed and tucked underneath chair, seated feet wrapped around chair (stability), leaning forward apologetically making the body smaller and less threatening, arms pulled into body, wrists and palms exposed in greeting, shoulders lowered and not protecting neck, averting eyes or failing to make eye contact.

      Uncomfortable: feet bouncing, feet oriented toward door or exit, legs crossed while seated, forming a barrier, legs shoulder width apart while standing, torso leaning away, arms crossed across chest, arms / hands covering crotch / groin, shoulders raised, eyes glancing around room

      Comfortable: feet motionless and relaxed, legs crossed or uncrossed with inside of thigh exposed, standing with legs crossed, torso upright and leaning in..

      With all of these you’re looking for multiple indicators, not just one thing, when attempting to get a read on how someone is feeling.

    • Big section on blinking, which was really interesting and probably isn’t all that useful in real life but the facts are that you link more per minute when you’re under stress, emotionally aroused or when you’re attempting to mask emotions. Average rate is 6 to 10 times per minute.
    • Proxemic pull / push: people will approach things they like / that they expect will deliver pleasure and will avoid things that are unappealing or could cause them pain.
    • On symbols, especially relevant in light of the the Confederate flag stuff earlier this year: “… Flags are a prominent means of providing group identity and solidarity. A flag advertises a group’s prescence in an area, it establishes a rallying point for the group’s members. Flags are also often rich in symbolism. Many provide extensive clues to the values and ideologies of the group.” Emphasis mine.
    • Quote: “… moods and emotions are first experienced subconsciously, in any given situation, we will initially “feel” what is going on before we become consciously aware of it. Being attuned to your own emotional response in any situation can increase the speed at which you cognitively understand what is going on.”
    • Quote: “Moods are emotions are also contagious. They pass from one person to another subconsciously through mimicry and other means. This is true particularly of negative emotions. One person with negative emotion (anger, anxiety, fear, etc.) can infect a large group.” Really interesting to think about in terms of team dynamics / management.
  • The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape NOTES: great book if you think that someday you want to live on a farm or if you like the idea of your job being something more than moving electrons around.
    • Quote: “My grandfather went to… Paris once. He knew what cities had to offer, but also had a sense that they would leave you uprooted, anonymous, and pushed about by the world you lived in, rather than having some freedom and control. The potential wealth on offer counted for little or nothing set against the sense of belonging and purpose that existed at home.
    • Quote / story about his grandpa and what he taught him: “He loves to tell stories. True stories. This is how he passes on his values. How he tells me who we are. They have morals, these stories: 1) We don’t give up, even when things are bad. 2) We pay our debts. 3) We act decently. 4) We help our neighbors if they need it. 5) We do what we say we will do. 6) We don’t want much attention. 7) We look after our own. 8) We are proud of what we do. 9) We try to be quietly smart. 10) We take chances sometimes to get on. 11) We will fail sometimes. 12) We will be affected by the wider world… 11) but we hold on to who we are.

September 2015

  • A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts NOTES: fun book, interesting to read while having a second eye on some of the stuff that NASA is doing now and maybe even more interesting is what SpaceX is doing. Need to watch Apollo 13 again.
  • Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft NOTES: Last year (2014), when we were in Oslo, we saw a replica of the Kon-Tiki ship and I think I added this book to my queue shortly after seeing it. Seemed like a fun adventure. The book is a quick read but I really enjoyed it and broke out my National Geographic Atlas to visualize where they were at various points in the story. Recommended if you enjoy adventure, nature and the ocean.
  • 1Q84 NOTES: Third of his books that I’ve read, probably the last. Over 1,100 pages, this was kind of like a marathon: first couple hundred pages were good and then the last part of the book I hated reading and books and words and just wanted to finish so that I know what happens at the end.

August 2015

  • How to Lie with Statistics NOTES: short, quick book, should be required reading in high school / university.
  • Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance NOTES: enjoyed this book for a variety of reasons. Lovd learning about how “hero”, in Greek, means, literally “protector” or “defender” (page 29) and how that means that you have strength enough for two (page 204). Lots of different topics in the books… one was the notion that natural movement (ie: stuff that you might do when trying to escape someone that’s chasing you) is much more valuable / useful than going to the gym and doing bench presses, which are almost never useful in real life except for making your biceps bigger.
    • Quote: Teach your boys to walk, to run, to jump, to box, and to swim and leave those artifical extension movements, which mean nothing, alone.
    • I think this book would make a great movie some day… lots of action, has some interesting stuff to learn about food and heart and values. Would definitely read again.
  • A Wild Sheep Chase: A Novel NOTES: second Haruki Murakami book I’ve read but the first work of fiction. Read the Good Reads reviews… seems like people either love his work or hate his work but then that’s probably just the people that wanted to take the time to write a review. Great way to spend a couple of hours in the mountains reading, quietly, if you have that kind of time.

July 2015

  • Small Feet Big Land: Adventure, Home, and Family on the Edge of Alaska NOTES: fun book, as much about climate change as it is about adventuring and family in Alaska. Quotes:
    • “Our journeys had taught me more than just wilderness skills. They taught me to be good at transitions. To be adaptable. To embrace the immediate circumstances, and continue the journey under whatever those new conditions might be. That the inefficient choices and inevitable mistakes along the way will become the fondest memories.”
    • “A wilderness adventure is a bipolar experience, marked by higher highs and lower lows than the vast majority of everyday existence. Living with small children is much the same.”
  • On Mount Hood: A Biography of Oregon’s Perilous Peak NOTES: no quotes from this book but if you like the outdoors and live in / around Oregon, you should definitely read this one. I learned a lot about Mount Hood, Timberline, where our water comes from in Portland, glaciers, rivers and how much I need to hike the Timberline trail.
  • Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All NOTES: enjoyed this book, lots of good stories that provide the skeleton around which the book is built. Big takeaway from the book is that if you want someone to tell you something that’s bad (ie: they abused someone or stole something), you have to get them to believe that you’re on their side and that you understand them, deeply. Learning and exercising empathy is a great re-useable skill.
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running NOTES: thoroughly enjoyed reading this, isn’t a book on how to run or how to talk about running, just notes and thoughts from the author on his time running. Haven’t read any of this other stuff but will add it to the list for future reads.
  • Before They’re Gone: A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks NOTES: thought it was book just about the adventures the author took with his young family, but it’s 50% that and 50% about climate change and how said change is affecting national parks. Kind of repetitive but a) a good reminder that you can push kids to do amazing things and b) that things can / will be very different in the years to come. List of adventures included backpacking in the Grand Canyon, Glacier, the North Cascades, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, and along the wild Olympic coast; sea kayaking in Alaska’s Glacier Bay; hiking to Yosemite’s waterfalls; rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park; cross-country skiing in Yellowstone; and canoeing in the Everglades. He has a great blog ( which I’ve become a regular reader of.

June 2015

May 2015

  • Body, Mind, and Sport: The Mind-Body Guide to Lifelong Health, Fitness, and Your Personal Best NOTES: I think this book has somewhat of a religious following but it felt unscientific to me (all the winter / summer / spring / fall stuff seemed fishy to me), wasn’t a big fan. I have been trying to breath through my nose more often when running though, which is hard to do. Quotes I liked / wanted to remember:
    • “Inner victory comes from the knowledge that you have done your best. It is a feeling of respect for your achievement and for those of your fellow athletes. It is the essence of the word aidos, the ancient Greek athletic ideal, which includes modesty, respect, moral dignity and good sportsmanship, coupled with valor and the “joy of battle”, the joy of competition itself.

April 2015

  • Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World NOTES: LOTS of great stuff in this book for parents of boys like me. Relevant quotes:
    • “When he’s around five to seven, teach your son how to shake hands, make eye contact, and say the basics in social situations, such as, Nice to meet you. Thank you for inviting me. Good-bye and thanks for having me.
    • On eye-rolling: “… here’s the deal. You want (x) from me. When you roll your eyes and sigh when I’m speaking, there’s no chance that you’ll get what you want out of me because your behavior is so irritating. But if we can have this conversation without eye-rolling, there’s a chance we can come to some kind of agreement. Eye-rolling, you have no chance. No eye-rolling, you have a shot. So excuse yourself, think about what I’ve said and when you’re ready, we can have a conversation again.”
    • “… you can’t depend on your son to come to you when he’s upset. The older he gets, the less he’ll want to involve you in his problems (often because he considers you a main source of them). You can’t depend on your son to announce that he needs to talk to you. Instead, he may broadcast signals that he wants your help without actually saying it. Here are some signs to watch for:
      1. He hangs around where you are but doesn’t say anything.
      2. He says he doesn’t feel well and wants to stay home but there doesn’t seem to be anything physically wrong.
      3. You’re about to drive somewhere on an errand and he volunteers to go with you.
      4. He asks to watch a show with you.
      5. He slips a very casual reference to his problem into the conversation.
    • The SEAL process for dealing with feelings effectively: STOP and SET it UP. Breathe, look, listen and think. Where should you confront this person? Do you confront him now, in public or later, in private? EXPLAIN: What happened that you don’t like, want or are worried about? What do you want instead? AFFIRM and ACKNOWLEDGE: Affirm your right to be treated with dignity and acknowledge anything you’ve done that may have contributed to the problem. LOCK in: If you’re in a relationship or friendship with this person, decide whether you want to continue the relationship.
    • “Wanting to throw and hit things and pretending to shoot or blow things up isn’t criminal, violent behavior that should be stifled at every opportunity. Likewise, allowing a boy to play like this doesn’t make it more likely that he’ll grow up to be violent or sexist.” Good to know… we have a lot of shooting and bows and arrows in our house.
    • On “The Rock” type of parent: “… is the parent who can influence a son’s actions even when not physically present because the boy hears the Rock’s voice in his head. The Rock is the parent we should all aspire to be. Of course, getting there is hard work. Maybe like asking boys to have Champion moments, it’s more realistic to aspire to have “Rock” moments. The Rock’s kids are still kids who make mistakes, but there’s always a baseline of mutual respect. These parents know that their son may hide some things from them, but they don’t take it as a personal insult or an indication that their relationship with their son is weak. They don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations. They own up to their mistakes and right the wrong, and they encourage their son to do the same. They love their son unconditionally but hold him accountable for decisions and behavior that go against the family’s values and ethics. When they’re told that their son may have done something wrong, they listen and don’t blame other people for their son’s behavior. At the same time, they don’t make him feel ashamed of who he is.”
    • Page 146 and 147 have good rules / conversations for when boys start being online… who can post pictures of who where and when, how to talk to people and not, etc.. Page 150 has Terms of Service for phones / txts. Page 164 / 165 on porn.
    • On video games: “There is no video game in history that can approach the level or intensity of violence present in the Old Testament.” Ha.
    • On Jane McGonigal’s book “Reality Is Broken”: her premise is that “… a good game fulfills what human beings need for happiness: satisfying work, the hope of being successful, social connection, and meaning beyond oneself.”
    • Page 177 for a conversation you can have with your kids about video games when they go to a friend’s house.
    • Page 181 for the video game rules of the house.
    • Page 203 for conversations you can have with your son when they see someone else do something that’s wrong / that makes them uncomfortable.
    • Page 205 for characteristics of a good apology vs. a bad apology.
    • Page 218 / 219 for a GREAT list of rules on how to behave / work with brothers and sisters. Need to read this and talk about this once a year during family meeting time.
    • Page 245 on discipline: rules for what you say and then how to respond if your son laughs / disrespects you while you’re disciplining.
    • Page 360: what to do when you see something else going down that you think I might not agree with. Another good thing to bring up at family video night.
  • Building Microservices NOTES:

March 2015

February 2015

  • Running the Gauntlet: Essential Business Lessons to Lead, Drive Change, and Grow Profits NOTES: Really quick read, mostly because it’s the same stories / cliches again and again. If the company you work work is going through change or needs to go through change, it’s an OK book to read to get you head in the right mind space, otherwise not really worth it. Only semi-interesting / notable part of the book (IMHO) was the story he gave about the strategy that Kodak used against HP, how they figured out the high end / high margin part of the business and attacked that specifically, rather than going head on against them.
  • Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love NOTES: I’m not (in 2015) yet a product manager, but if you’re a software developer or an engineering manager that wants to learn more about how product manager decisions get made (or should get made), this is a great book. Highly highly recommended (thanks Greg Unrein for the recommendation in the first place). Notables quotes / ideas:
    • Sidebar on what makes a great project manager (completely separate from being a product manager): a) a proper sense of urgency, b) someone that knows how to frame up meetings, problems, etc.., c) clear thinking which leads to a deep understanding of the problem that we want to solve, d) data driven, e) decisiveness, f) good judgement, g) great problem solving attitude.
    • On measuring product managers: his answer is that they should be measured based on the success of their product, which in my experience would be really hard to measure overall since PM’s have typically been assigned to specific features, not all of which are actually SKU’s. Also suggested that you could use Net Promoter Score.
    • Example product strategies, roadmaps and portfolio roadmaps here:
    • Top ten list for managing up: 1) measure and plan for churn: know that change is a constant, measure it, plan for it and recognize it for what it is. 2) communication style and frequency: figure out how your manager likes to be communicated to and how and how often. 3) pre-meeting work: prior to a meeting happening, make sure you get people aligned with your vision / goals PRIOR to the meeting. 4) recommendations, not issues: don’t bring your boss a list of problems, bring him / her a list of issues and recommendations for each one. 5) use your manager to help you get in front of the right people, 6) do your homework, be prepared, 7) short emails: your manager gets hundreds of emails per day, if you send one, make it short and to the point, 8) use data and facts, not opinions. Quote from Jim Barksdale: “If we’re going to make this decision based on opinions, we’re going to use my opinion.”, 9) evangelize: make sure people know what you’re working on, why and how awesome it’s going to be, 10) be a low maintenance employee: most managers have a ton of work to do, they really appreciate the people that don’t take tons of their time.
    • On Market Requirements Document (MRD): “The purpose of the MRD is to describe the opportunity, not the solution — at least that’s the theory. In practice, many companies don’t really do MRD’s, or if they do, they’re essentially attempts at product specs that are misnamed as MRDs.”
    • Ten fundamental questions for opportunity assessment: 1) exactly what problem will this solve? (value proposition) 2) for whom do we solve that problem? (target market) 3) how big is the opportunity? (market size) 4) how will we measure success? (metrics / revenue strategy) 5) what alternatives are out there? (competitive landscape) 6) why are we best suited to pursue this? (our differentiator) 7) why now? (market window) 8) how will we get this product to market? (go-to-market strategy) 9) what factors are critical to success? (solution requirements) 10) given the above, what’s the recommendation? (go or no-go)
    • Page 73 on where the money comes from: “… Do you understand the economics of your product? Do you know your exact revenue model? Do you know the total costs of your product? Do you know how much you pay for each new customer? Do you know the lifetime value to the company? Do you know the return your product has generated for the company?” All *great* questions for product managers to have a handle on.
    • …. way too many quotes here to write down. This is a book I’ll need to read again a couple of times.
  • The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control NOTES:
    • Quote: “Self-control is crucial for the successful pursuit of long-term goals. It is equally essential for developing the self-restraint and empathy needed to build caring and mutually supportive relationships. It can help people avoid becoming entrapped early in life, dropping out of school, becoming impervious to consequences, or getting stuck in jobs they hate. It is the “master aptitude” underlying emotional intelligence, essential for constructing a fulfilling life.”
    • Quote: “Individuals who had lifelong low self-control on our measures did not have difficulty controlling their brains under most conditions of everyday life. Their distinctive impulse control problems in behavior and in their brain activity were evident only when they were faced with very attractive temptations.”
    • Quote: “Give nine-year-old children compliments (for example, on their drawings), and they will choose delayed rather than immediate rewards much more often than when given negative feedback on their work.”
    • Quote: “In short, we are less likely to delay gratification when we feel sad or bad. Compared with happier people, those who are chronically prone to negative emotions and depression also tend to prefer immediate but less desirable rewards over delayed, more valued rewards.”
    • Quote: “The tempting chocolate mousse on the restaurant dessert tray loses its allure if you imagine a cockroach just snacked on it in the kitchen.”
    • Quote: “When dealing with temptations, one way to momentarily escape the hot system is to imagine how someone else would behave.”
    • Quote: “How lovingly and caringly infants are nurtured, or how cruelly and coldly they are neglected or abused, is inscribed in their brains and changes who they become. It is critical to keep infants’ stress levels from becoming chronically activated and to promote the formation of close, warm attachments so the babies feel secure and safe.”
    • Quote: “The message here is that parents who overcontrol their toddlers risk undermining the development of their children’s self-control skills, while those who support and encourage autonomy in problem-solving efforts are likely to maximize their children’s chances of coming home from preschool eager to tell them how they got their two marshmallows.”
    • Quote: “First, they had to remember and actively keep in mind their chosen goal and the contingency (“If I eat the one now, I don’t get the two later”). Second, they had to monitor their progress toward their goal and make the necessary corrections by shifting their attention and cognitions flexibly between goal-oriented thoughts and temptation-reducing techniques. Third, they had to inhibit impulsive responses—like thinking about how appealing the temptations were or reaching out to touch them—that would prevent them from attaining their goal.”
    • Quote: “The research by Trope and his colleagues on how psychological distance influences us also speaks to why it is much easier to resist immediate temptations if we think about them in abstract, cool ways or as being far away in space and time. Such high-level, abstract thinking activates the cool system and attenuates the hot system. It reduces the automatic preference for immediate rewards, increases attention to future outcomes, strengthens intentions to exert self-control, and helps cool down hot temptations.”
    • Quote: “Overall, we found that people can use simple cognitive strategies to regulate their cravings by shifting their time perspective from “now” to “later.””
    • Quote: “To resist a temptation we have to cool it, distance it from the self, and make it abstract. To take the future into account, we have to heat it, make it imminent and vivid. To plan for the future, it helps to pre-live it at least briefly, to imagine the alternative possible scenarios as if they were unfolding in the present. This allows us to anticipate the consequences of our choices, letting ourselves both feel hot and think cool.”
    • Quote: “self-distancing led the children to focus less on recounting and reliving the angry feelings that they had initially experienced and helped them rethink the event in ways that reduced their anger and promoted insight and closure.”
    • Quote: “Whether or not self-control skills are used depends on a host of considerations, but how we perceive the situation and the probable consequences, our motivation and goals, and the intensity of the temptation, are especially important.”
    • Quote: “Once you know the If stimuli and situations that trigger behaviors that you want to modify, you are positioned to change how you appraise and react to them.”
    • Quote: “UNITE, for example, is the acronym for Understand, Never give up, Imagine, Take a risk, Explore. A “recovery chair” or “thinking chair” sits in one area of the room, not for the standing-in-the-corner punishment of earlier times but to help students cool down when they feel that they’re about to lose it or for when the teacher believes that is about to happen.”
    • Quote: “The area around the chair includes a timer with sand flowing through and messages displayed on the nearby wall to help the child self-soothe: get distance from a hot situation, breathe deeply, count backward, imagine anger floating away in helium balloons, and other strategies for calming down, regaining control, and going from feeling hot to thinking cool so that she can leave the chair and return to rejoin the class.”
    • Quote: “KIPP’s mission, he explained, is to help children have choice-filled lives. Choice does not mean one road for all—and it does not have to mean an Ivy League college, or even college at all. Choice is about children having genuine options in how they make their lives, regardless of their demographics.”
    • Quote: “…character is viewed as a set of teachable skills, specific behaviors and attitudes—most important self-control, but also such qualities as grit, optimism, curiosity, and zest.”
    • Quote: “…we have to reverse the process by cooling the present and heating the future.”
    • Quote: “Regardless of age, the core strategy for self-control is to cool the “now” and heat the “later”—push the temptation in front of you far away in space and time, and bring the distant consequences closer in your mind.”
    • Quote: “The first step in creating an If-Then plan is to identify the hot spots that trigger the impulsive reactions you want to control. In the Wediko camp studies (Chapter 15), the researchers looked not just at how much aggression the children expressed but also at the psychological situations in which they did and did not express it.”
    • Quote: “One way to identify our own hot spots is to keep a journal to track moments when we’ve lost control,”
    • Quote: “Parents can do much to create conditions in which their young children succeed. One important strategy involves working with them on enjoyable but challenging tasks that become increasingly difficult, whether it’s learning to play the piano, building with blocks and Legos, or climbing on the jungle gym.”
    • Quote: “We can also help children develop “incremental growth” mind-sets in which they think of their talents, abilities, intelligence, and social behavior not as reflecting fixed inborn traits but as skills and competencies that they can cultivate if they invest the effort.”

January 2015

  • Superhuman by Habit: A Guide to Becoming the Best Possible Version of Yourself, One Tiny Habit at a Time NOTES:
  • Closer to the Ground: An outdoor family’s year on the water, in the woods and at the table NOTES: really really enjoyed this book as it made me want to escape with my little family and go buy a house on an island and hunt, fish and grow what we eat. Sounds glorious, just have to be willing to make do with less… but maybe more?
  • Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters NOTES:
    • Quote: “Like a quarterback whose only advice to teeammates is ‘Let’s win’, bad strategy covers up its failure to guide by embracing the language of broad goals, ambition, vision and values.”
    • A good strategy includes a set of coherent actions. They are not ‘implementation details’; they are the punch in the strategy. A strategy that fails to define a variety of plausible and feasible immediate actions is missing a critical component.
    • Quote: ” … use your relative advantage to impose out-of-proportion costs on your opposition and complicate his problems of competing with you.” — chapter about how the US challenge the Soviet Union not militarily, but rather just tried to outspend the SU, knowing that at the same time they were squeezing the SU on oil prices, ie: you can choose where to fight the battle.
    • On bad strategy: “… it’s key hallmarks [are] lists in the beginning of this chapter: fluff, the failure to face the challenge, mistaking goals for strategy and bad strategic objectives.”
    • On leverage vs. motivation: “… The thing I learned as a football player is that winning requires strength and skill, but more than anything it requires the will to in — the drive to succeed. The managers and staff in this company have worked hard, and the transition to digital technologies was handled well. But there is a difference between working hard and having your eye on the prize and the will to win. Sure, 20/20 is a stretch but the secret of success is setting your sights high. We are going to get moving and keep pushing until we get there.” …. ” When I asked Logain ‘What has to happen?’ I was looking for some point of leverage, some reason to believe this fairly quiet company could explode with growth and profit. A strategy is like a lever that magnifies force. Yes, you you might be able to drag a giant block of rock across the ground with muscles, ropes and motivation. But it is wiser to build levers and wheels and then move the rock.”
    • “Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one, or a very few, pivotal objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favorable outcomes. One form of bad strategic objectives occurs when there is a scrambled mess of things to accomplish – a “dog’s dinner” of strategic objectives.”
    • The “kernel” of a a strategy contains three elements: 1) A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the often overwhelming complexity of reality by identifying certain aspects of the situation as critical. 2) A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge. This is an overall approach chosen to cope with or overcome the obstacles identified in the diagnosis. 3) A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. These are the steps that are coordinated with one another to work together in accomplishing the guiding policy.
    • Tons of other stuff, way too much to write up. Great book.

December 2014

  • Confessions of a Public Speaker NOTES: enjoyed this book as I have all of his books. Selected quotes / passages:
    • Long passage / chapter about how our brains are hardwired to make us feel stress whenever we’re standing in front of a group of people because we’re alone, which historically (millions of years) has not been a good place to be.
    • On the dynamics of large rooms with people that are sitting all over the place: make it a point to get them to move closer together because the resulting atmosphere will be 10x better for you because everyone will have to pay attention AND there’s zero chance that people won’t listen to you because as the speaker, we always collectively obey whoever is talking.
    • On preparation: 1) take a strong position in the title, 2) think carefully about your specific audience, 3) make your specific points as concise as possible, 4) know the likely counter arguments from an intelligent expert audience.

November 2014

October 2014

  • Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland NOTES: Bought this in anticipation of our trip to Iceland, started reading it before the trip, read most of it on the flight to and from Iceland and then finished the week after returning. First part reminded me too much of our year long visit to England so I had to quit but overall turned out to be a fun book to read, especially being able to relate to the places that she and her family walked around in Reykjavík. Recommended if you’re doing a trip to Iceland and want to understand some of the recent background / culture about Iceland.
  • The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Tell Your Family History, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More NOTES: I don’t think I’ve ever bookmarked as many pages in a book as I did in this book. Really really enjoyed this book. A bunch of notes:
    • Chapter 1 started about talking about the Agile Family Manifesto, which struck a chord with me, especially the part about Sunday night retrospective meetings. Definitely putting something like this in place in our own family. See also:
    • The flowchart they put on the wall in the kitchen (stuff to do, things in progress, things done) and then went on to describe the Thanksgiving dinner they ran using agile. 🙂
    • The self directed morning checklist (available here on page 6)
    • On the importance of family dinner or at a minimum, a time when the family comes together on a regular basis to talk and share about who and what the family is and has been, see pages 13 and 14 of the family checklist above for more details on what questions and stories we should be telling. The most important story / theme being an oscillating / up and down story where kids realize that things go bad and then good and then bad but that all the while the family remains strong and that you can weather any storm.
    • Family rituals at dinner time including the 10 / 50 / 1 rule (10 minutes of quality talk time, 50% of the time should be kids talking and 1 new word every day). Bunches of suggestions on how to look and find new words (look through magazines for words you don’t know, etc..), autobiography night when kids tell stories about their past and then answer questions about who, what, when, where, why and how… pain point night when kids can bring up something that’s causing them issues and the whole family pitches in to try and help fix their problem… word game night (alliteration game, thesaurus thursday, fill in the blank, what’s the difference between)… bad and good.
    • Family mission statement. In the works. Page 54, 9 qualities of successful families (communication, encouragement of individuals, commitment to family, religious orientation, social connectedness, ability to adapt, expressing appreciation, clear roles, time together, more here). See also page 9 of the above PDF doc for ideas on how to generate said mission / values statement.
    • On fighting: doesn’t matter how often you fight, it matters how you fight. Most fights happen when you’re trying to get somewhere or at the beginning or ending of the day, those are natural tension points. On negotiation / fighting techniques: (isolate your emotions, go to the balcony, step to their side, don’t reject but instead reframe, build them a golden bridge)
    • On kids and managing money: famzoo (, on allowances (1 dollar per year of age per week, which seems like a lot, not tied to chores which are part of what you do as a family), on how you split up the money (spend, save, give away, share).
    • On having big discussions / talking: when arguments come up (think about what you did first, focus on what the other person is feeling, apologize)
    • On traveling (family vacation checklist, having fun games in the car like “I’m thinking of time when we went to a place…” or “I’m creating a world in my head that does…”, missions (I need 3 united airlines bag tags or I need you to find out the name and hometown of the women sitting there in red), amazing race games where kids get points for doing things like climbing mountains or going behind waterfalls)
    • Chapter doing about doing goruck with the kids, which is probably a couple years off for me… but then I think we’re going to start the middle one (almost 5) on a 5k this year.

September 2014

August 2014

July 2014

  • How to Change the World NOTES: forget how I decided to read this one but bookmarked a ton of pages / quotes:
    • On finding satisfaction in helping others: “… only the person who actively seeks to make changes understands that there is a choice to be made about how we lead our lives, and can observe clearly the effect they are having. To change the world is to have a sense of purpose, and that’s something we can all cultivate. Just ask yourself, every so often: ‘Why am I doing this?'”
    • “When we are immersed in activities we love, we are living our intrinsic values. These are not the general values that everybody gives lip service to but a collection of ideals that are important to us individually – values that get us out of bed in the morning or make us turn off the TV if something upsets us.” And then to figure out what your values are: “… what do I think of as a good life, in the fullest sense of that term? What kind of life do I truly admire and what kind of life do I hope to be able to look back on?… Try writing the answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ ten different times.”
    • “A similar exercise involves making a note of events or relationships that have made you feel truly alive in the recent or distant past and then, (just as important) trying to analyze why.
    • Quote from novelist Iris Murdoch: “The exercise of our freedom is a small piecemeal business which goes on all the time, and not a grandiose leaping about unimpeded at important moments.” Reminds me of DFW.
    • Link:
    • Link:
    • Link:
    • Quote on creating peace: “… If we are going to find lasting solutions to external conflict, we first need to find a way out of internal conflicts that poison our thoughts, feelings and attitudes towards others. No conflict can ever be solved so long as all parties are convinced their right. A solution is only possible when at least one begins to consider how he or she might be wrong.”
    • Really interesting couple of paragraphs on what’s called the Borda count or preferendum (link:, which is helpful when parties don’t want to choice A vs. B, you force them to rank A, B and C.
    • Overall, a quick read but something that kicks you in the face a little bit and makes you think about what you’re doing and why.
  • Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War NOTES: loved this book, both for what I learned about aviation as an aviation / military plane nerd but even more so reading about what Boyd did after his fighter pilot days, how he worked and the ideas he came up with. Surprised that I wasn’t recommended this book earlier along the way. Some quotes / excerpts:
    • “Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road. And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments… Or you can go that way and you can do something — something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors… And your work might make a difference.” – interesting quote and he definitely lived his life that way but he might have been the only guy at the Air Force that could have gotten away with what he did, ie: you have to be incredibly talented to be able to thumb your nose at authority AND get away with it.
    • Great paragraph about how the author believed that Boyd made a decision to go independent so that he wasn’t relying on anyone.. he stopped buying clothes, kept his glasses in a sock, didn’t buy cars and lived in an apartment. Sadly it looks / feels like he completely ignored his family and their needs but the “… reducing his needs to zero.” was / is a good mindset. Either that or making a gazillion dollars.
    • Link to a paper he wrote on “… complex event processing and decision theory, and in particular, deduction, analysis, and differentiation vis-a-vis induction, synthesis, and integration”: Destruction and Creation
    • Quote on the subject of that paper: “… and that our awareness of these changes cause us to restructure the relationship is present in subtle and often unseen ways in almost every facet of our lives. It is a vital part of how we cope with our world; it shapes our decisions and actions. The danger — and this is a danger neither seen nor understood by many people who profess a knowledge of Boyd’s work – is that if our mental processes become focused on our internal dogmas and isolated from the unfolding, constantly dynamic outside world, we experience mismatches between our mental images and reality. Then confusion and disorder and uncertainty not only result but continue to increase. Ultimately, as disorder increases, chaos can result. Boyd showed why this is a natural process and why the only alternative is to do a desctructive deduction and rebuild one’s mental image to correspond to the new reality.” Emphasis mine.
    • Book: Lost Victories: The War Memoirs of Hilter’s Most Brilliant General
    • On military strategy and the books he read about said topic: “.. none of the victorious commanders threw their forces head to head against enemy forces. They usually did not fight what is known as a ‘war of attrition.’ Rather, they used deception, speed, fluidity of action and strength against weakness. They used tactics that disoriented and confused – tactics that caused the enemy to ‘unravel before the fight.'”
    • “… believed in attacking with ‘moral conflict’ — that is, using actions that increase menace, uncertainty and mistrust in the enemy while increasing initiative, adaptability and harmony within friendly forces.” Example of the Mongol horsemen and how just their appearance sometimes causes armies to flee.
    • On a presentation that one of his guys did to a bunch of generals: “.. Spinney made no recommendations in his brief, so he was to be a nihilist, a destroyer. But the omission was deliberate. Spinney knew that if he followed the usual procedure and included a list of recommendations, the focus would shift from the problem to which chores would go to what agency. He wanted the focus to remain on the problem.” Awesome level of meta thinking.
    • “Boyd’s belief in using the adversary’s information against him is the practical application of Asian writings, particularly The Japanese Art of War, in which translator Thomas Clearly talked of ‘swordlessness’, or the ability to defend oneself without a weapon, a concept that by implication means using the enemy’s weapon against him.
    • The first of his three guiding principles: “… you can never be wrong… If you’re wrong, they’ll hose you.” Probably more true in the military but definitely a reminder to do your homework and do it really really well.
    • … Richards set up to two websites: and to showcase Boyd’s ideas and how they relate to business, which now sadly are gone. 🙁
    • Quote: “Every morning when Wyly arises, he asks himself, ‘What is my Schwerpunkt today?'”
    • Last, not a quote, but gosh, brilliant guy but he left NO time for his family whatsoever. Would have been better for him to stay single and not get married at all, ie: Chip Kelly.
  • Scandinavia: At War with Trolls–A Modern History from the Napoleonic Era to the Third Millenium NOTES: didn’t bookmark anything, I read in anticipation of a trip to Norway (Oslo, Bergen) we did this month. Dry, but a good read if you want to understand a bit about the Nordics, as they call them here in England.

June 2014

  • Tales of Iceland or “Running with the Huldufólk in the Permanent Daylight” NOTES: trying to get a feel for Iceland, not exactly a family book.
  • Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic NOTES: …
  • The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy NOTES: hard to fly through this book but there were / are lots of good nuggets/ ways of thinking about stuff, some quotes:
    • … knowledge is indeed highly subjective, but we can quantify it with a bet. The amount we wager shows how much we believe in something… Borel argued that applying probability to real problems, such as insurance, biology, agriculture, and physics, was far more important than mathematical theorizing.
    • … The propositions that are in doubt …constitute the most interesting part of science; every scientific advance involves a transition from complete ignorance, through a stage of partial knowledge based on evidence gradually becoming more conclusive, to the stage of practical certainty.
    • page 86, a couple paragraphs on Alan Turing, who arguably might have made one of the largest contributions to the Allies winning WWII through his work with cryptography and Bayesian analysis and then was horribly treated by England and eventually committed suicide. I need to visit his memorial in Manchester (
    • On one of the first guys to apply Bayesian to business problems (Robert Schlaifer): “.. Schlaifer wondered how executives could make decisions based on no data. Whatever prior information they had about demand for their product was obviously better than none. From there, Schlaifer got to the problem of how sample data should be used and how much money should be spent getting it. Updating prior information with sample data got him to Bayes’ rule because it could combine subjectively assessed prior probabilities with objectively attained data.
    • wikipedia:

May 2014

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014

December 2013

  • Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys NOTES: Really enjoyed this book, highly recommended if you have a boy (or three boys like I do) in the family. Not sure that simple quotes will capture everything about this book, definitely feels like something I’ll want to read once every 2 years or so. Really great read in light of the book I just finished (see below) about Pat Tillman, who models a lot of what the book talked about as far as a well adjusted guy, albeit one who had his own share of issues, which he seemed to work through. A couple of quotes / stories:
    • In a chapter about fear and vulnerability and how it’s a positive thing with kids to admit to and talk about fear, the story of the day who was driving through the rainstorm with his son and said “… That was a little scary, wasn’t it?” And his son replied, “No, Dad, that was very scary.” The father said that instead of “You weren’t scared were you?”
    • In a chapter about mothers and sons, a quote that reminds me of my boys: “.. Anger, high activity, silence and physical risk taking are characteristecs of boys that women need to try to understand.
    • Same chapter, on a chapter about listening / girlfriends: “And so she maintained her calm through the years and the girlfriends, offering a reliably nonjudgemental response with only slight variations – never a cheering section, never a harsh judgment. She made it clear, though never in words, that the girlfriends I had were my choices, not hers and that if she was biased in her sentiments, she was simply in favor of me.
    • On a chapter about drinking and drugs: “For adolescent boys, any drinking is problem drinking. When boys drink, they almost always drink to excess. In fact, because they must be able to respond to the challenges of their drunks peers to “have another beer”, typically, anytime teenage boys use alcohol, they abuse it.”
    • Same chapter, same subject, a couple of paragraphs about how guys consider the times together getting hammered with guys to be their “war” stories, which in some ways makes me think that we (men) need something other than getting hammered as times that we can bond.
    • On boys and love lives: “It is the responsibility of people who raise boys to train them specifically to be good, empathic partners to girls and women. It can be done by fathers who model respect for women in the family and in the wider world, by mother who help sons understand a girl’s point of view, and by anyone in a boy’s life who helps him see his connectedness to others as a positive thing.
    • Last chapter, bunch of lessons / reminders about boys:
      • In boys the motivation for aggression is more “defensive” rather than offensive or predatory.
      • Boys are primed to see the world as a threatening place and to respond to that threat with aggression.
      • Boys often don’t know or won’t admit what it is that makes them angry.
    • In a paragraph about how boys see / perceived slights, “… rather than come up with what the researchers call “social competent responses” — talking about the problem and reaching a compromise or better understanding, for instance, they more likely to come up with hostile responses to the other child.
    • Quote: “As therapists, we know the deeper healing that “using words” can accomplish: even in small, inarticulate doses, talking about feelings releases emotional pressure and weakens the the grips of anger and hostility. If you can get a boy talking, it raises his anger to the conscious level, and once it becomes conscious, it loses some of its power.”
    • Seven points that have the potential to transform the way you nurture and protect the emotional life of the boy in your life:
      • “Give boys permission to have an internal life, approval for the full range of human emotions, and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so that they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others.” An example of how to create and foster an environment for that: “In a family, anything that provides a ritual provides the possibility for emotional ‘safety’ because it is a familiar niche of time – a protected space – in which there is no pressure to perform, no pressure to measure up, and no threat of judgement. Many mothers tell us that they visit with their sons at bedtime, giving the familiar back rub or enjoying a chat about the day, especially in the early years before adolescence. Perhaps they prepare breakfast for their boys or share an interest in reading, music, sports, outdoor activities. Fathers tell us of doing yard work with their sons or going for haircuts, going bowling, bicycling or hiking, or building models. Mother or father, you might drive your son to soccer practice or stay for the baseball games; you might read the sports together in the morning or work puzzles on Sunday afternoon. If in that shared time together a parent communicates openness, acceptance and affection, the a boy learns these values of relationship.
      • Recognize and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe places to express it.
      • Talk to boys in their language – in a way that honors their pride and their masculinity. Be direct with them: use them as consultants and problem solvers.
      • Teach boys that emotional courage is courage, and that courage and empathy are the sources of real strength in life.
      • Use discipline to build character and conscience, not enemies.
      • Model a manhoo of emotional attachment.
      • Teach boys that there are many ways to be a man.

November 2013

  • Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman NOTES: lots of interesting quotes in this one but man… I’m sure someone somewhere can find fault with this guy, but I can’t. He seems like he’s the epitome of a real man: tough yet sensitive, smart, dedicated, a thinker and a fighter. Good dude, would have loved to have shaken his hand.
    • “Who among mortal men are you, good friend? Since never before have I seen you in the fighting where men win glory, yet now you have come striding far out in front of all others in your great heart…” – Homer, The Iliad
    • Loved this quote from a book by Susan Neiman called Moral Clarity: “Earlier times may not have understood it any better than we do, but they weren’t as embarrassed to name it: the life force or spark thought close to divine. It is not. Instead, it’s something that makes those who have it fully human, and those who don’t look like sleep walkers… It isn’t enough to make someone heroic, but without it any hero will be forgotten. Rosseau called it force of soul; Arendt called it love of the world. It’s the foundation of eros; you may call it charisma. Is it a gift of the gods, or something that has to be earned? Watching such people, you will sense that it’s both: given like a perfect pitch, or grace, that no one can deserve or strive for, and captured like the greatest of prizes it is. Having it makes people think more, see more, feel more. More intensely, more keenly, more loudly if you like; but not more in the way of the gods. On the contrary, next to heroes like Odysseus and Penelope, the gods seem oddly flat. They are bigger, of course, and the live forever but their presence seems diminished… The gods of The Odyssey aren’t alive, just immortal; and with immortality most of the qualities we cherish become pointless. With nothing to risk, the gods need no courage.”
    • A quote from Pat Tillman on how he lived his life: “… I think you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone. If you’re kind of comfortable all the time — it’s like you’re skiing and you’re not falling, you’re not trying. I kind of want to push myself, a lot.”
    • Quote from a book by Francis Fukuyama on his idea of the “last man”: “…modern liberal democracies produced men composed entirely of desire and reason, clever at finding new ways to satisfy a host of petty wants through the calculation of long-term self-interest… It is not an accident that people in democratic societies are preoccupied with material gain and live in an economic world devoted to the myriad small needs of the body…”
    • Last page of the book… a quote from Krakauer: “In ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra‘, Nietzsche introduced the concept of the Übermensch: an exemplary, transcendent figure who is the polar opposite of ‘the last man’ or ‘men without chests.’ The Übermensch is virtuous, loyal, ambitious and outspoken, disdainful of religious dogma and suspicious of received wisdom, intensely engaged in the hurly burly of the real world. Above all, he is passionate – a connoisseur of both the ‘the highest joys’ and ‘the deepest sorrows.’ He believes in the moral imperative to defend (with his life, if necessary) ideals such as truth, beauty, honor and justice. He is self assured. He is a risk taker. He regards suffering as salutary, and scorns the path of least resistance.”
  • Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 NOTES: got this since the movie is coming out soon, didn’t dog ear any pages because there wasn’t much to bookmark but man what a story.

October 2013

September 2013

August 2013

  • The Vast Unknown: America’s First Ascent of Everest NOTES: enjoyed this book, as much every other climbing book I’ve read. Bunch of quotes:
    • “Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why he wanted to climb it. He said, ‘Because it is there.’ Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.” — President John F. Kennedy
    • Fascinating chapter / paragraph that described one of the assumptions made by a sociologist (Dick Emerson) on the team: “… our motivational investment in a task varies directly with our degree of uncertainty about the outcome. This means that either prolonged optimism (a form of certainty) or prolonged pessimism (also a form of certainty) tend to reduce one’s motivational investment in the task. If the climbers felt certain they would reach Everest’s summit, for instance, then they would have little motivation to expend energy toward that goal. Likewise, if they felt certain that they would not reach the summit, they would experience a similar lack of motivation. If you knew the outcome, one way or the other, why bother trying?” And then a second paragraph: “The second part of Emerson’s theory was that information exchanged tends to maximize uncertainty. When things begin to look easy and a member of the group expresses optimism (‘This is a piece of cake, no problem!’), other people tend to counter with pessimism, in the form of negative or tempering feedback.”
    • A quote to back up the above theory: “The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not know what comes next.” — Ursula K Le Guin
  • American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History NOTES: Amazon has really high reviews for this book, most likely a combination of a) Chris Kyle did accomplish amazing things as a SEAL and b) he was murdered on US soil recently. I will never know what he actually went through or the pressures that that guys like him and the rest of the military are under, but I couldn’t help but feel my stomach turning while reading the book. A number of times in the book he said (as many SEAL’s do) that they do it all for the team and everything stays quiet, but then he’d go off and tell another story about what he did. Second thing that bugged me was his insistence (it seemed to me) on describing the goals of the military in Iraq as being solely to kill as many of the “insurgents” as possible, which, assuming you’re able to perfectly identify each and every insurgent, sounds in theory like a good goal but after reading some of the books below, killing as many people that are against you as possible just doesn’t sound like a war that you’re going to win. If that was the actual goal, then he’d be the perfect guy for the job
  • Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa’ida since 9/11 NOTES: very interesting and nuanced book, especially as compared to the American Sniper book (see above). Was and am struck by some of the parallels between the way Muslims represent themselves in the Middle East and Christians in the US. A couple quotes:
    • “… According to an FBI profile of their recruitment strategy, Derwish and Dosari would develop a friendship with each individual and identify his interests, emotional state, strengths and weaknesses. They then repeated a common theme: Muslims are being persecuted across the globe and ‘true’ Muslims fight for their faith.”
    • Describing the transformation that Adam Gadahn went through: “… the conditions approximated the isolation and harsh environment of an extremist training camp, which promote team building, physical fitness and indoctrination…. The factors of radicalization… include a belief in the need to defend Islam from perceived aggression from the West, influence from a spiritual leader, influence from a radicalized family member, and attending overseas training.”
    • On the internet and how it’s used by terrorists: “… People radicalize via other people. The internet is an accelerator.”
    • Final chapter on prevention: “Today, no US government agency has the lead role in countering al Qaida’s ideology, a task that is shared by the State Department, Defense Department, CIA and other organizations. Ultimately it is the National Security Council’s responsibility to appoint a lead agency and hold it responsible… These three steps — utilizing a light footprint strategy (ie: special forces rather than lots of boots on the ground), improving the effectiveness of regimes in countries threatened by al Quaida, and exploiting al Quaida’s tendency to kill civilians — would help ensure that no fourth wave (the author described three waves of attacks over the previous 10 years) occurs. One of the most important battlefields will be on the Internet, since the struggle against al Quaida and its allies remains in part a battle of ideas.
  • The Education of a Coach NOTES: Super fast read about Bill Belichick, up to 2006. I’ve been a fan of what I’ve read about his philosophy of “team” since 2004 and of the way he’s managed. A couple quotes:
    • “… the key to success: it was in being organized; the more organized you were at all times, the more you knew at every minute what you were doing and why you were doing it, less time you wasted and the better a coach you were.”
    • “… There had been an attitude among all too many players, he had decided, that I’m just a starter, I own my job, and you can’t bench me or even rotate me. In every sense that went against Belichick’s concept of what a real team was like; on a real team, the kind of team he intended to create, the more senior, more experienced players enforced the coach’s concept of team by setting a certain example, working harder at practice and in the weight room than anyone else.”
  • Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy NOTES: Man, this book makes you rethink your priorities a bit. We’ve been doing our best to keep the house stocked with books that our sons can read and I think it’s working, they enjoy sticking their noses in books for hours on end. Couple of interesting things about the book I want to remember:
    • Hiring practices: they really have built an interesting organization, a NGO that kicks ass, they looked for the following things when hiring people: a) passion about what they doing, b) some kind of corporate experience (ie: they wanted people that knew how to get results and / or had worked in an environment where measured results were all that mattered), c) work ethic, which he said was hard to look for while interviewing.
    • Once a decision had been made, they had a policy of “no looking back….Don’t tell us all the reasons this might not work. Tell us all the ways it could work.
    • Loved the idea of the “No Land Rovers” policy.
    • They had advisors that early on encouraged them to gather feedback, be it positive or negative, about what they were building / doing. “Speak truth to power”. They did the same thing with the leadership team, doing anonymous 360 reviews.
    • GSD culture: “… So, yes, we can see the problems. We can talk about the problems until we’re blue in the face. But you don’t get a prize for identifying obstacles. The question is what are we going to do about it? What is our solution?”
    • Loved the analogy about rocket launches and NASA: “… It’s important to remember something about how a rocket reaches Mars. When that thing blasts off the launching pad, the NASA engineers are watching everything that is happening down to the fifth or sixth figure to the right of the decimal point. They know that if the rocket is off course by one ten thousandth of 1 percent during the first ten seconds, it will miss Mars by several million miles. But within a few minutes they are high fiving, as long as they can see that the outcome thus far is 99.9999 percent of what was expected.” Point: the initial trajectory that you set out to accomplish is pretty important.
    • On his transition from CEO to fund raiser: “.. Hedgehog Concept. Basically it says that if you wan tto find your role, you should look at three things. First, what are you uniquely good at? Second, what are you passionate about? And third, what drives the resource energy for your organization?”

July 2013

  • Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really Is NOTES: I forget where I saw this book mentioned / talked about but the title is a perfect description of what I do on a daily basis these days. Some good nuggets / quotes:
    • On understanding problems: “If you can’t think of at least three things that might be wrong with your understanding of the problem, you don’t understand the problem.”
    • On understanding the “meaning” behind a problem statement: play the word game with “Mary had a little lamb.”
    • On solving problems: “Don’t solve other people’s problems when they can solve them perfectly well themselves.”
    • On solving problems: “If a person is in a position to do something about a problem, but doesn’t have the problem, then do something so that he does.”
    • “The fish is always the last to see the water.” — reminds me of the DFW commencement speech.
  • Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion NOTES: great read, bookmarked the heck out of it. Choice pull quotes:
    • … rhetoric teaches us to argue without anger.
    • “… the most productive arguments use the future tense, the language of choices and decisions.” Have already tried using this with my kids, who habitually go to past tense (“… I didn’t do it!” or “.. I was just trying to …”) when all I really care about is the future (don’t do it again!). Story he used to illustrate this talks about using concession (ie: no toothpaste in the bathroom, he asks his son what happened to the toothpaste and his son replies “That’s not the point, is it, Dad? The point is how we’re going to keep this from happening again.”) Same page, different context, if someone says they don’t like your idea, reply with “ok, let’s tweak it!”, which is a concession but also gets them on your train, which is your whole point to begin with.
    • On arguing and couples: Gottman’s research into married couples showed that those who last know how to argue and that they ‘argue’ as much as couples who don’t end up staying together, it’s just that those couples fight instead of arguing. The big difference is that the couples that stay together argue for a common goal, they’re looking for a solution to a problem.
    • … three goals for persuading people, in order of increasing difficulty: stimulate your audience’s emotions, change its opinion, get it to act.
    • On deciding what the ‘issue’ is, remember that there are three core issues: blame (who moved my cheese?, in the past), values (should abortion be legal?, in the present, tribal), choice (should we build an office in Portland?, in the future). If an argument is going poorly, consider changing the tense… or at least figuring out what the tense is. WD-40 for arguments: “what should we do about it?” and “how can we keep it from happening again?”
    • The tools of persuasion: ethos (who you are, character, make them like you by showing off your experience, bending the rules or appearing to take the middle course), pathos (feelings, changing someone’s mood, best done via telling stories, speak simply… ) and logos (logic: arguing for what is advantageous / what is ‘best’, figure out what your audience believes, start from their position, not yours, use ‘commonplaces’…, labeling [term changing, redefinition, definition jujitsu, definition judo] and framing[commonplace words, use the broadest context, deal with the specific problem in the future tense])
    • On fallacies: 1) does the proof hold up? 2) am I given the right number of choices? 3) does the proof lead to the conclusion?
    • Whole chapter devoted to the medium / “kairos”: how and when do you argue or attempt to persuade? Do you pounce on your manager at 9:30am on Monday morning after she’s been on vacation for a week? Probably not the best time if you really want something done. Need to think about email, phone, voicemail, video, etc…
    • On giving persuasive talks: Cicero’s five canons of persuasion: invention, arrangement (ethos [establish who you are], logos [say what the facts are], pathos), style (use the language of the audience, don’t be all Harvard if you’re talking in Southie) , memory and delivery (body language, voice, breathing, etc.. SINGLE BEST THING you can do to improve delivery: “speak louder”)
    • Single best thing you can say to your boss: “what do you need?”…. second thing: thank people in writing.
    • Loved the last chapter on America and how the country is split on values (present) but doesn’t talk about choices (future).
  • Passion and Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders NOTES: a collection of stories by a bunch of “leaders” of this generation. Some interesting stories, nothing earth shattering or especially awesome. Some good stuff:
    • Global Citizen Year (website): super cool idea to have students spend a year abroad working in a developing country before starting college. This is brilliant, would have LOVED to have done this before starting school. Related stats: fewer than 9% of anglophone Americans develop fluency in another language (compared to 54% of our European peers) and just 1% study abroad.
    • On learning, a quote from Seth Godin: what the word “doing” means: “.. picking up the phone, making the plan, signing the deal. Pushing ‘publish’. Announcing. Shipping.”
    • On teaching leadership, three themes that leaders should cultivate in their own lives: 1) discover your holistic self (ie: understand who you are, what you’re good at, what you’re not good at). Encourages leaders to get into a small, confidential groups to share thoughts, get feedback, and learn about who they are, this group eventually becoming somewhat of a mentoring / personal board of directors. I really would like this kind of guidance into my own life. 2) develop the ability to “structure success”, by which the author means that even the most charismatic leader at some point needs to step back and analyze his / her organization to figure out the structure of the organization, the alignment of talent in the organization and “… one must be a good listener — discerning needs versus wants, observing flaws in systems and acting to leave a sustainable structure that remains independent of the leader.” 3) Developing collective mentorship: “… a collective mentorship model is one in which each individual in the organization is encouraged to build a personal board of advisors, have a mentor and mentee, and cultivate strong professional peer networks.
    • Last chapter in the book, some really interesting stuff that encourages us to think long term, more than the next “big thing” or easy way to make cash, which I’m sure is getting harder and harder… you have to hit each quarter, you only have a couple years in office, etc… Thinking long term is going to be / is one of the big challenges for people right now. It’s encouraging to hear someone say that we should think in other ways. Ending quote on that subject: “… don’t get too impatient with yourself. There’s something about the Facebook Generation that because things start and end in three minutes, you might believe that all the answers to all of these questions also have to start and end in three minutes, and that they will all get done in some super-rapid cycle in which everything is getting done. The speeding up of the world doesn’t mean that everything in your life can be sped up the same way. Have the capacity to be patient, to be committed to the long term, to be able to devote years of energy into something, as opposed to just minutes.”

June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

  • Games without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan NOTES: easy read, great introduction to the last couple hundred years of Afghanistan. A couple of interesting quotes / tidbits:
    • On Osama, al Qaeda and Osama’s fatwa: “… would have been a good moment for US policy makers to step back and develop a broader view of the problem. They might have studied what Jihadism was, where it came from, to whom it appealed, why it appealed to them, and how it had gotten into the culture of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They might have to tried to identify religious intellectuals with credibility among Muslims who were offering alternative interpretations worth supporting. They might have explored how Jihadism and its rivals were intertwined with social and political undercurrents in Muslim societies to craft policies that would undercut the seductions of Jihadism far upstream from actual crises. Finally, they might have worked out how to distinguish long-standing local contentions from global arguments and dealt with them separately.”
    • On rebuilding a society / establishing a new order: “… the architects of the new order faced a harder task than the militant radicals interested in keeping society fragmented, because no single positive accomplishment ignites a prairie fire of belief. It takes an accumulation of good moments. The inauguration of one hospital, the completion of one bridge, the opening of one school, the graduation ceremonies of one class — each adds a drop to the pool of public confidence, but it takes a lot of drops to fill the pool. By contrast, the bombing of one hospital, the burning down of one school, the destruction of one bridge, the disruption of one graduation ceremony with a suicide bombing triggers a shock that feeds on itself like a scream in an echo chamber.

March 2013

  • Ender’s Game NOTES: first fiction book I’ve read in a long while… very much enjoyed it!
  • Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen NOTES: …really enjoyed this book, I’m big boned and have never thought I could run long distances but just a couple weeks ago finished a short 5k with my wife and son and it was easy after doing the couch to 5k training program. This book made me believe that I can do more. One interesting quote about problem solving: “… when you can’t answer a question, flip it over. Forget what makes something go fast — what makes it slow down? After all, it didn’t matter how fast a rabbit could go, but how fast it could keep going until it found a hole to dive down.”
  • How Will You Measure Your Life? NOTES: Fun book, lots of stuff to think about. A couple of quotes / notes:
    • Quote: The theory of motivation suggests you need to ask yourself a different set of questions than most of us are used to asking. Is this work meaningful to me? Is this job going to give me a chance to develop? Am I going to learn new things? Will I have an opportunity for recognition and achievement? Am I going to be given responsibility? These are things that will truly motivate you. Once you get this right, the more measurable aspects of your job (ie: salary, title, office, etc..) will fade in importance.
    • When planning / proposing a new project / initiative, a good question to ask: “What are the most important assumptions that have to prove right for these projections to work — and how will we track them?” and then order said list by important and uncertainty. “… at the top should be the assumptions that are most important and least certain, while the bottom of the list should be those that are least important and most certain.”
    • Quote: “A strategy — whether in companies or in life — is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy and money. With every month of your time, every decision about how you spend your energy and your money, you are making a statement about what really matters to you.
    • Quote: “When the winning strategy is not yet clear in the initial stages of a new business, good money from investors needs to be patient for growth but impatient for profit… once a viable strategy has been found, investors need to change what they seek — they should become impatient for growth and patient for profit.” Big point here being that 93% of companies that ended up being successful had to change their initial strategy… and so if you focus first on growth before firing out how to make money, you’ll 99% of the time end up driving off a cliff… albeit at a very high rate of speed. Big companies do the latter more often than the former, they pour huge amounts of money into initiatives before figuring out if said initiative will be successfully, mostly because they HAVE to continue growing. And the big quote / meaningful part: “While most of us have a deliberate strategy of creating deep, love-filled relationships with members of our family and our friends, in reality we invest in a strategy for our lives that we would never have aspired to: having shallow friendships with many but deep friendships with none; becoming divorced, somtimes repeatedly; and having children who feel alienated from us in our own homes, or who are raised by a stepparent…”
    • Interesting points on product development, people buy a product not because of some set of features, but because they have some ‘job’ in mind to do. Ticklers: IKEA, milkshakes, fruit smoothies, etc.. Similarly, “… thinking about your relationships from the perspective of the job to be done is the best way to understand what’s important to the people who mean the most to you… Asking yourself ‘What job does my spouse need me to do?’ gives you the ability to think about it in the right unit of analysis.”
    • The “Just this once..” chapter that talks about marginal costs / marginal revenues, ie: the Blockbuster example where they could have built a business just like Netflix did but instead chose the marginal cost option of just dipping their toes into the market and then ultimately got killed by Netflix long term. Quote: “… the trap of marginal thinking. You can see the immediate costs of investing, but it’s hard to accurately see the costs of not investing. When you decide that the upside of investing in the new product isn’t substantial enough while you still have a perfectly acceptable existing product, you aren’t taking into account a future in which somebody else brings the new product to market.

February 2013

  • The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t NOTES: REALLY enjoyed this book, Nate is a great story teller. A couple of important points / things I want to remember:
    • Overfitting: name given to the act of mistaking noise for a signal
    • Bayes’s theorem: truly fascinating stuff, lots of stuff on the internet about this, wikipedia does an OK job at explaining it but Nate’s chapter on it was great.
    • Quote of a quote: “There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered seriously looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be considered seriously.”, brought up in the chapter that talks about known knowns, known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns.
    • Logarithmic scales: “… a fundamental characteristic of power law relationships: when you plot them on a double logarithmic scale, the pattern that emerges is as straight as an arrow.”
    • Short discussion on broken windows theory, had not heard that the evidence for the merit of this theory is mixed.
    • Quote: “… the most important source of failure in advance of the attacks was our lack of imagination. When we are making predictions, we need a balance between curiosity and skepticism. They can be compatible. The more eagerly we commit to scrutinizing and testing our theories, the more readily we accept that our knowledge of the world is uncertain, the more willingly we acknowledge that perfect prediction is impossible, the less we will live in fear of our failures… By knowing more about what we don’t know, we may get a few more predictions right.
  • Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace NOTES: interesting book if you’re into DFW, really reinforced how much he was into deep / meaningful work that took a long time to create, which also takes an incredible amount of concentration, which might have also been the thing that eventually killed him.

January 2013

  • The Places In Between NOTES: thought provoking book that makes you yearn for silence and simplicity while also reminding you that the country you were born contributes more to your overall life outcome than any amount of natural skill or smarts that you have. Also, nation re-building, good luck.
  • Calico Joe NOTES: my mom gives me the latest Grisham book for Christmas every year. 🙂 This was a super fast book to read, fun, nothing substantial.

December 2012

  • D-Day: The Battle for Normandy NOTES: nothing necessarily quotable, I enjoyed reading it since I’ve recently started reading more history. The cities and the battles start running together at some point which is sad since most of them resulted in ten to one hundred humans losing their lives. World War II was / is insane, especially relative to the “wars” we’re in now.
  • In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin NOTES: picked this one up at Powell’s the day before I flew to Berlin and then Dresden Germany. Enjoyed it, was especially fun since I was flying into some of the same areas.
  • The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal NOTES: enjoyed this book, you’ll enjoy it if you feel strapped for time / energy and are looking for ways of strategically deploying your ‘best’. Some interesting quotes / excerpts:
    • “The primary markers of physical capacity are strength, endurance, flexibility and resilience. These are precisely the same markers of capacity emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Flexibility, at the physical level, for example, means that muscle has a broad range of motion. Stretching increases flexibility…. The same is true emotionally. Emotional flexibility reflects the ability to move freely and appropriately along a wide spectrum of emotions rather than responding rigidly or defensively. Emotional resilience is the ability to bounce back from experiences of disappointment, frustration and even loss.”
    • On stress: “… over time [stress] may prompt symptoms such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness, impatience, irritability, anger, self-absorption and insensitivity to others.”
    • One of the stories was about a guy that was having problems developing ‘real’ relationships with his direct reports and his family. He instituted three different ‘habits’ (a big theme in the book): a) he did a weekly Monday night dinner with his daughter so that his wife was freed up to take a college class, b) he started doing lunch every Friday with one of his direct reports, no agenda and c) he started doing an activity with his team on a Friday every other month.
    • On values and virtues: values are a source of inspiration in our lives, virtues are those values put to action. Some good questions to ask yourself: a) jump ahead to the end of your life: what are the three most important lessons you have learned and why are they so critical? b) think of someone that you deeply respect. Describe three qualities in this person that you most admire. c) who are you at your best? d) what one sentence inscription would you like to see on your tombstone that would capture who you really were in your life?
    • More questions: a) on a scale of 1 to 10, how engaged are you in your work? what is standing in your way? b) how closely does your everyday behavior match your values and serve your mission? where are the disconnects? c) how fully are you embodying your values and vision for yourself at work? at home? in your community? where are you falling short? d) how effectively are the choices that you are making physically — your habits of nutrition, exercise, sleep, and the balance of stress and recovery — serving your key values? e) how consistent with your values is your emotional response in any given situation? is it different at work than it is at home and if so, how? f) to what degree do you establish clear priorities and sustain attention to tasks? how consistent are those priorities with what you say is most important to you?
    • Page 161: really great couple paragraphs about leadership, the willingness to admit that you’re wrong and the correlation between leaders who do so and companies that show great results long term.
    • Page 166: more reinforcing stuff about how important rituals are in our lives and how setting up good rituals / habits makes us have to think a lot less about the non-essential stuff and frees us up to think about really really important / high value stuff.
    • Chapter on basic training for setting up good habits: a) chart the course in the morning, set aside 5 minutes to figure out what you want to accomplish that day … and then b) chart your progress, at the end of the day record whether or not you accomplished the goal you set out to do.
    • A follow up story on a guy that they highlighted throughout the book… one of the stories that they told is a habit that he put in place for emergencies… where previously he would immediately reply / be under stress, he put a habit in place where he would reply “I understand and I’d like to take a little time to digest this before I respond.” so that he wasn’t reactive / impatient. *Totally* need to put this in place in my own life. 🙂


November 2012

  • The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 NOTES: Really enjoyed this (long) book, haven’t read much about World War II, this book gives you a pretty deep understanding of what led to that war, at least from the standpoint of Churchill and the English. Lots of important lessons here for our generation in the 2000’s as we (most likely) face similar challenges with the environment, climate change, health and economy but for whatever reason we as a society have chosen to ignore the elephant in the room. Wish that someone of Churchill’s stature would rise up for our time. Also, focus, focus, focus. Some quotes / excerpts:
    • “.. William James once wrote that menu of genius differ from ordinary men not in any innate quality of the brain, but in the aims an purpose on which they concentrate and in the degree of concentration which they manage to achieve. Napoleon, himself great, called it the mental power ‘de fixer les objets longtemps sans être fatigué’ — to concentrate on objectives for long periods without tiring.”
    • “The unforgivable sin of a commander, said Napoleon, is to ‘form a picture’ — to assume that the enemy will act a certain way in a given situation, when in fact his response may be altogether different.”

October 2012

  • In The Company Of Heroes NOTES: Quick fun read.
  • The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom NOTES: Lots of really really interesting stuff about our brains (rider, logical) and how it interacts with our emotions (elephant, emotional / automatic). Some of the interesting ideas / thoughts: a) conspicuous vs. inconspicuous consumption, where we spend money on stuff that makes us look good in front of others but that doesn’t make us happy because it’s a zero sum game…we’d all be better off if we worked less, took more vacation and hung out with our families and friends more, b) the research done on children wrt attachment… “if you want your children to grow up healthy and independent, you should hold them, hug them, cuddle them and love them.”, c) great time course graph on companionate vs. passionate love over time, d) the research into suffering (does it actually make us strong?) and how it’s good for certain ages / times in lives as long as it’s not to severe and we’re surrounded by people afterwards that we can talk about the experience with, but then otherwise is actually negative, e) writing about your issues and talking about them with others has a demonstrated effect on your health, f) the turn from character ethics (where we talk about what we should be striving towards) to quandary ethics (where we talk about what we shouldn’t be doing), g) the list of (in theory) universal character strengths (list) where instead of having a New Year’s Resolution where you’re fixing a flaw, instead focus on reinforcing each of the strengths listed above. Highly recommend, very much enjoyed this book.
  • The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right NOTES: one sentence summary: checklists, you should use them. Longer summary: great stories about why you should use them and how they’re being used in a bunch of different fields. Bullet points: a) complexity science broadly breaks up problems into three types of problems: the simple (baking a cake from a mix: a few basic techniques, once learned then solution = easy), the complicated (sending a rocket to the moon, usually can be broken down into a series of simple problems, but never a straightforward recipe, success usually requires multiple people / teams and specialized expertise) and the complex (raising a child: it’s never the same from kid to kid, raising one successfully doesn’t guarantee success with the second, etc..). Checklists are useful for simple problems but you shouldn’t attempt to solve one massive complicated problem with a checklist, better would be to break it down into the small parts and then potentially apply checklists where necessary… and definitely apply checklists to the interplay of the smaller parts (ie: story of the construction / skyscraper building process). b) when starting up ad hoc teams, make sure that everyone knows everyone else’s name and role… having to say your name = “activation phenomenon“. c) pilot checklists:DO-CONFIRM or READ-DO. d) checklists should NOT be comprehensive, they should aim to be quick / simple guardrails. d) Sample checklists at the back of the book, one good one: surgical safety checklist and finally e) the checklist for checklists. Book website =

September 2012

August 2012

  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk NOTES: Great book, really enjoyed the stories / examples. Good summary here to review every couple months.
  • Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit NOTES: great story telling, amazing hard job that sometimes sounds like a ton of fun (ie: here’s a $1000, evade the FBI for the next 48 hours and accomplish this mission over N cities)
  • Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice NOTES: fun book, very different from the other war / special ops books I’ve read in that it was more of an academic look at what it takes to have a successful operation. Six principles (author’s theory) of special operations: simplicity (can’t have too many people / departments involved), security (has to be quiet), repetition (doing something over and over again makes it automatic), surprise (lots of interesting anecdotes that show how important it is to surprise the enemy.. they’re unprepared and confused… and usually very quickly dead), speed (the faster you go, the less time they have to organize / mount any kind of defense) and purpose (having the entire team bought into the mission AND clear about exactly what the mission is).

July 2012

June 2012

May 2012

April 2012

March 2012

February 2012

  • Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds Notes: quick read, great story.
  • Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War Notes: my pops gave me this book over the holidays, ~600 pages, fiction (which isn’t normally my thing). Some good stuff in between the lines about leadership, politics within an organization, racism, sacrifice and life. Also: MAN my job is easy.
  • The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption Notes: A quote: “… if it has a number by it, eliminate it.”, was in reference to software and all the “you’ve got 9 new messages” that you see everywhere.. sensitive to this since I’m in the industry that’s creating counters. 🙂 Pretty short book, only took a couple hours to read, not sure that I’d recommend buying it, just read it at the airport on a layover or something. Definitely has prompted me to think more about what and WHY I consume certain things. The references to dopamine and inbox counters was revealing… I find that I use ALT-TAB WAY too often to find out what’s new between my Gmail inbox, my Jive inbox, my corporate email inbox, Twitter, Adium, Google Reader, iCal and everything else that shows a “you’ve got mail icon!”. Definitely need to start turning off email, IM and other stuff for extended periods of time.

January 2012

December 2011

November 2011

  • Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War Notes: Pretty sure I read this book years ago and didn’t write it down here. I’ve since watched the movie more than a couple times, the book, as always, was better than the movie. Read the book or watch the movie the next time you think you can’t make it through a day.

October 2011

September 2011

August 2011

July 2011

June 2011

  • Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work Notes: Enjoyed this book while at the same time having just completed building a big chicken coop. Some relevant quotes:
    • “… A thing requires practice while a device invites consumption. Things constitute commanding reality, devices procure disposable reality.”
    • On his first time riding in a 911 with his boss: “…We’re getting really close, and we’re still going really fast. I realize Lance simply isn’t going to stop. Incredulous, my right foot starts stabbing at the air involuntarily, searching for a brake pedal. About fifteen yards before the crosswalk, Lance hits the brakes. The car just squats down on all fours and stops, as though a giant hand had reached out and pressed us into the pavement right … here.” Loved that imagery. 🙂
    • On attentiveness, reminded me of DFW’s commencement speech wrt being present / not in your default setting: “… Here is a paradoc. On one hand, to be a good mechanic seems to require personal commitment: I am a mechanic. On the other hand, what it means to be a good mechanic is that you have a keen sense that you answer to something that is the opposite of personal or idiosyncratic; something universal. In Pirsig’s story, there is an underlying fact: a sheared-off pin has blocked an oil gallery, resulting in oil starvation to the head and excessive heat, causing the seizures. This is the Truth, and it is the same for everyone. But finding this truth requires a certain disposition in the individual, attentiveness, enlivened by a sense of responsibility to the motorcycle. He has to internalize the well working of the motorcycle as an object of passionate concern. The truth does not reveal itself to idle spectators.”
    • On information workers and management: “… Jackall finds that though the modern workplace is in many respects a bureaucracy, managers do not experience authority in an impersonal way. Rather, authority is embodied in the persons with whom one has working relationships up and down the hierarchy. One’s career depends entirely on these personal relationships, in part because the criteria of evaluation are ambiguous. As a result, managers have to spend a good part of the day ‘managing what other people think of them.’ With a sense of being on probation that never really ends, managers feel ‘constantly vulnerable and anxious, acutely aware of the likelihood at any time of an organizational upheaval which could overturn their plans and possibly damage their careers fatally…”
    • Again, on management / working in an office: “There is pride of accomplishment in the performance of whole tasks that can be held in the mind all at once, and contemplated as whole once finished. In most work that transpires in large organizations, one’s work is meaningless taken by itself. The individual feels that, alone, he is without any effect. His education prepares him for this; it is an education for working in a large organization, and he has difficulty imagining how he might earn a living otherwise.”
    • The educational goal of self-esteem seems to habituate young people to work that lacks objective standards and revolves instead around group dynamics. When self-esteem is artificially generated, it becomes more easily manipulable, a product of social technique rather than a secure possession of one’es own based on accomplishments. Psychologists find a positive correlation between repeated praise and “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of questions.” The more children are praised, the more they have a stake in maintaining the resulting image they have of themselves; children who are praised for being smart choose easier alternatives when given a new task. They become risk averse and dependent on others.”

May 2011

  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Notes: Fascinating book, highly recommended both if you have to work with people and as a way of better understanding yourself and the interactions you have in life. Was especially interested in learning about
    • the rule of reciprocation (where if I do something for you, even something simple, you become strongly obligated to do something for me),
    • the magic of ‘written declarations’ or ‘public commitment‘, where writing something down or saying something publicly becomes a strong psychological force that guides your future behavior and makes you less apt to consider alternative possibilities,
    • on hazing and group initiation, where surviving either of the above actually reinforces your belief that what you went through was valuable
    • on social proof, where, if you find yourself in an unfamiliar or unsure situation, will most likely look outside yourself for evidence of how best to behave.
    • the jigsaw classroom and teams

April 2011

March 2011

  • The Finishing School: Earning the Navy SEAL Trident Notes: fun look at the training that potential and current Navy SEALs go through. Kind of repetitive.
  • The Pixar Touch Notes: really fun read if you’re into the founding of companies or Pixar in general. Random notes: a) Pixar was originally founded as a hardware company and then they were a software company and then finally… after years of trying to make something that made money, did they finally make money making movies, b) Steve Jobs came close to selling Pixar to Microsoft, c) it took them a good fifteen (maybe more) years to get to the point where they made Toy Story, d) Steve Jobs was a hippie.
  • The Assist: Hoops, Hope, and the Game of Their Lives Notes: Very well written story, inspiring group of people, will make you think differently about college basketball. Wish there was a follow up article about all the players and coaches.
  • Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism Notes: longer (330 pages) and dense but a great read. Amazing to realize how much non-black ops work (ie: writing a report, presenting a report, doing all the background work before the presentation to make sure that your bosses’ boss gets what you’re trying to say and more importantly is persuaded by it) goes on in intelligence work. I shudder to imagine how many PowerPoint presentations are being created in the DIA these days.
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation Notes: quote from the last paragraph in the book that’s a good quick summary: “… Go for a walk, cultivate hunches, write everything down but keep your folders messy, embrace serendipity, make generative mistakes, take on multiple hobbies, frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks, follow the links, let others build on your ideas, borrow, recycle, re-invent. Build a tangled bank.
  • Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions Notes: Bunch of interesting anecdotes that would be good to know if you were in product marketing / sales: pricing relativity (where we’ll drive to another gas station to save a nickel per gallon but will spend an extra $50 on a suit that might be cheaper across town because the suit is $500), the story of how black pearls came into existence, arbitrary coherence (where the initial price of an object becomes the yardstick against which everything else in the same category is measured), how much more value “free” and “zero” and a bunch of other things, all well summarized in this wikipedia article.

February 2011

January 2011

  • Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance Notes: positive deviant: the example of finding the success amongst failure and then replicating that rather asking everyone to change how they do things (the well nourished children in the Vietnamese village). Solving problems: seemingly simple things like the Forward Surgical Teams (ie: noticing that the first hour after a soldier is injured is the most critical time and that by providing simple care in the first hour is 90% better than care an hour later. How to become a positive deviant: 1) ask an unscripted question, 2), don’t complain, 3) count something, 4) write something, 5) change.

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