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.
- The New Kingmakers: How Developers Conquered the World NOTES: really short and already somewhat outdated but worthwhile to understand some of the underlying sea-changes that have landed over the last couple years.
- Product Leadership: How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Teams NOTES: …
- The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard NOTES: another book about or around John Boyd, this one written by one of the “Reformers”. Amazing to read about “work” that took years to complete. Quotes:
- Page 14, Boyd, on design: “… Boyd began the difficult task of completely redoing the F-X design and in the process, bringing discipline to the design process. To do this, either he had to convert many people to the notion that technical features should be the output of a disciplined design trade-off process, not the input, or he had to simply clean them out by proving that their pet features were of no value to the whole system.”
- Page 31, on costs: “.. Ray coined the expression ‘procurement bow wave’ to describe the tremendous mismatch between the procurement bills that would come due over the next five years and even the most optimistic projection of how much money Congress would give the Air Force. With each passing year, the unpaid bills were pushed farther into the future where they piled up higher and higher — thus the term bow wave.”
- Page 37, Burton on Boyd’s “to be or to do”: “… Jim, you are at a point in your life where you have to make a choice about what kind of a person you are going to be.
There are two career paths in front of you, and you have to choose which path you will follow. One path leads to promotions, titles, and positions of distinction. To achieve success down that path, you have to conduct yourself a certain way. You must go along with the system and show that you are a better team player than your competitors. The other path leads to doing things that are truly significant for the Air Force, but the rewards will quite often be a kick in the stomach because you may have to cross swords with the party line on occasion. You can’t go down both paths, you have to choose. Do you want to be a man of distinction or do you want toto do things that really influence the shape of the Air Force? To be or do do, that is the question.“
- Page 55, what impressed me was the thought that change, in some cases, takes years: “… Over the years, however, Boyd infiltrated the minds of literally hundreds of younger officers in all of the services. Slowly, his ideas and theories took hold in those officers, who were beginning to assume positions of higher rank and authority. By the end of the 1980s, real change had occurred in the military’s thinking about war fighting.”
- Page 65, on loyalty: “… Throughout this period, Boyd’s advice on loyalty guided my actions. Loyalty must be earned, not commanded. In my view, I had three options:
(1) if my boss demanded that I be loyal to him, I responded with integrity; (2) if my boss acted with integrity and insisted that I act the same way, he earned my loyalty;
and (3) if my boss acted like a scoundrel, he was fair game — boss or not.”
- Page 66, on thinking: “In my job as a military assistant, I believed that the secretary should have the benefit of both sidees of an argument before he made up his mind. The strengths and weaknesses of proposed weapons systems should be represented with equal vigor…. As Boyd would remind me constantly on the phone, “Jim: you may not win, but you can’t give the bastards a free ride. Make them work for it.”
- Page 76, on cost estimation, “… Chuck found that the Pentagon systematically underestimated the cost of weapons entering production. For whatever reason, the actual costs incurred were always much higher than those projected when decisions were made to move into production. This is called ‘buying in.’ Once the camel gets his nose into the tent, you cannot keep him out.“
- Page 108, on personal character traits: “… willingness to seek out and consider opposing or dissenting points of view.”
- Page 131, on change: “… I began briefing the Joint Live-Fire Test Program at the lower levels of the technical communities and worked my way up through the ranks in order to build support from the bottom up. Revolutions or major changes in the behavior of large organizations usually have a better chance of succeeding if they come from the bottom up, instead of being imposed from the top down.”
- Page 153, on presenting: “Presenting my arguments in as strong a voice and manner that I could muster, I was calm and collected, yet firm. I went out of my way to avoid appearing emotional or combative, but I told Ambrose that his decision would not go unchallenged.”
- John Boyd’s reading list was in the appendix and it’s insane. This has some of the books but you can see the full list in Google.
- True Summit: What Really Happened on the Legendary Ascent of Annapurna NOTES: fun book to learn about some great climbers (Lachenal, Rebuffat, Terray, and Herzog) and about sacrifice for a greater good and for a team. Quotes:
- “… I admired Lachenal as much as ever — for his candor and honesty, for his intolerance of pretension…”
- From a book mentioned in this book: “My own scope must now go back down the scale. My strength and my courage will not cease to diminish. It will not be long before the Alps once again become the terrible mountains of my youth, and if truly no stone, no tower of ice, no crevasse lies somewhere in wait for me, the day will come when, old and tired, I find peace among the animals and flowers. The wheel will have turned full circle; I will be at least the simple peasant that once, as a child, I dreamed of becoming.”
- Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice NOTES: another business book that would have been better as 25 pages as a bunch of stories. I think the entire framing of “jobs to be done” is useful but not necessarily ground breaking. Quotes:
- “…my theory of disruptive innovation, which explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost have become the status quo..”
- Key definition on what a job is: “1) A job is the progress that an individual seeks in a given circumstance. 2) Successful innovations enable a customer’s desired progress, resolve struggles, and fulfill unmet aspirations. They perform jobs that formerly had only inadequate or nonexistent solutions. 3) Jobs are never simply about the functional – they have important social and emotional dimensions, which can be even more powerful than the functional ones. 4) Because jobs occur in the flow of daily life, the circumstance is central to their definition and becomes the essential unit of innovation work — not customer characteristics, product attributes, new technology or trends. 5) Jobs to Be Done are ongoing and recurring. They’re seldom ‘discrete events.'”
- Interesting examples of “jobs to be done”: Facebook vs. social smoking on breaks, Netflix competes with drinking a good bottle of win and playing board games. Margarine vs. olive oil. BMW competes with other luxury brands just in a bigger space for mobility which includes Google and Zipcar. Arm & Hammer doing baking… but then carpets, kitty litter, showers, etc.. The story about SNHU and the program it created to address the needs of students who weren’t 18 years old…. and it was competing with non-consumption. Getting into and through uni is hard, anything they could to do speed up the application, registration and “remote” parts of being a student were in their favor.
- Quote about Scott Cook (Intuit) and how he cares most about “… improvement in the customer’s life…”
- On nonconsumption: “Chip Conley, Airbnb’s head of global hospitality and strategy, says that 40 percent of it’s guests say they would not have made a trip at all – or stayed with family – if Airbnb didn’t exist.”
- “What has to get fired for my product to get hired?” — classic consolidation.
- “Is it good enough to help a consumer make this kind of progress in this kind of situation?”
- “My wife and I were willing to splurge on the dolls because we understood what they stood for. American Girl dolls are about connection and empowering self-belief — and the chance to savor childhood just a bit longer. I have found that creating the right set of experiences around a clearly defined job — and then organizing the company around delivering those experiences — almost inoculates you against disruption.” Interesting to say and note now that AG sales are way down.
- Story about Medtronic selling their pacemaker in India and the lengths they had to go to do work around the lack of healthcare,
- Story about GM creating OnStar and focusing on the job that people were hiring it for vs. Ford who focused on the product spec and lost sight of the job spec. “Stack fallacy is the mistaken belief that it is trivial to build the layers above yours, it’s the reason that companies fail so often when they try to move up the stack.”
- Page 183 that talks about how how after a product is launched that’s based on JTBD that we start filling that void with metrics,
all of which encourage us to lose site of the original job and the curiosity that originally led to said product.
- Notes on page 193 about how we don’t have a health care system, we have a “sick care” system, where the entire system is around helping you when you’re in a bad spot, not on keeping you in a good spot.
- Quote about Dewalt that is echoing very strongly in my own world right now at NR: “… after Black & Decker acquired it in the 1960’s, DeWalt spread into new areas. It seemed to me that Black & Decker just went up and down the aisles of the hwardware store to see what everybody elsee was making – drills and clamps, and so on — and thought ‘Oh, we can do that too. It will create new revenue.’… trying to steal revenue from your competitors by taking them on with lower-quality imitations is not a growth plan to count on. That’s why we call it surface growth. You can copy ideas you already see on the shelves but none of this is based on a clear understanding of jobs — and it’s far, far less likely to succeed.”
- “A well-defined Job to Be Done is expressed in verbs and nouns – such as ‘I need to write books berally , obviating the need to type or edit by hand.’ In contrast, the sentence ‘We should aspire to be more honest’ is a noble goal but it’s not a job.”
- Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World NOTES: I really enjoyed this book, probably because it reinforces a bunch of things I already believe (team bigger than individual, empowerment better than command and control, etc..). Quotes:
- The story about complexity, Lorenz’s butterfly effect and the story from Ray Bradbury’s 1952 short story called “A Sound of Thunder”, which told a story about people who had built a time machine, gone back to prehistoric times and were careful to change nothing… but someone tripped and crushed a butterfly and when they returned to the present time, language was different and someone else had been elected president. Also, the idea of the butterfly effect isn’t that it’s wings cause a hurricane, it’s that the weather system is so complex and interrelated that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could kick off a chain of events in the system that leads to a hurricane.
- The difference between “complicated” and “complex”: “Things that are complicated have many parts, but those parts are joined one to the next, in relatively simple ways: one cog turns, causing the next one to turn as well, and so on. The workings of a complicated device like an internal combustion engine might be confusing, but they ultimately can be broken down into a series of neat and tidy deterministic relationships; by the end you will be able to predict with relative certainty what will happen when one part of the device is activated or altered…. Complexity, on the other hand, occurs when the number of interactions between components increases dramatically — the interdependencies that allow viruses and banks runs to spread; this is where things quickly become unpredictable.”
- Pages 78-79 that talk about resilient systems, where “… managers accept the reality that they will inevitably confront unpredicted threats; rather than erecting strong, specialized defenses, they create systems that aim to roll with the punches, or even benefit from them.”
- On purpose as it related to individuals who applied to BUD/S: “… It was the ones who were in it for themselves: ‘I want to try BUD/S’, ‘I think I’ll enjoy the challenge’. No one enjoys BUD/S, it’s hell. The successful ones, he explained, were the guys who said “I wanna be on the SEAL teams, I wanna fight overseas. It seems like a small difference, but it means everything.”
- “Alternatively, they could focus on risk adaptation instead of mitigation, accept the inevitability of unexpected mechanical failures, and build flexible systems to combat these unknowns; they could build a better managerial boat to navigate the volatile seas of complexity….NASA believed that the dwindling ability of flight crews to adapt to unforeseen events stemmed from the captains’ attempts to control and plan for everything in a vehicle that had become too sophisticated for that to be possible. Champions of the iconic Mission Control room where hundreds of experts crowded into one space to facilitate real-time communication and adaptation, they concluded that building trust and communication between crew members was more important than further honing specific technical skills…. In June 1979, NASA hosted a workshop where, attendees remember, the opening speaker began his remakrs by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, the plane is no longer the problem.”
- On the individual “teams” that existed in the military: “… As soon as we loooked at our organization through the lens of the team structure – searching for weaknesses in horizontal connectivity rather than new possibilities for top-down planning – similar choke points became visible between all our individual teams. We referred to them as ‘blinks.’… Stratification and silos were hardwired throughout the Task Force. Although all our units resided on the same compound, most lived with their “kind”, some used different gyms, units controlled access to their planning areas, and each tribe had its own brand of standoffish superiority complex. Resources were shared reluctantly. Our forces lived a proximate but largely parallel existence.”
- Page 144, on Kennedy’s speech about the moon: “Kennedy enumerated the obstacles — the distance, speed, and heat — not to dissuade, but to inspire. One can imagine the thrill that must have pulsed through the audience of budding engineers as their president pointed out that the metals necessary to achieve this feat had not yet been invented. … We do this things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
- Page 150, which tells the story of the European rocket work, that was distributed between Germany, England, Italy and France, as a contrast to the single team structure that George Mueller put in place with NASA: “… ELDO teams worked independently, users and manufacturers communicated rarely, and each nation assumed control of a different stage of the rocket: the United Kingdom produced the booster, France the second stage, Germany the third, while Italy made the satellite test vehicle. There was no single location for project documentation, and no specifications for what documentation each entity was to produce. Each country managed its part through its own national organization, and each sought to maximize its own economic advantages, which often meant withholding information.” As a result, every single one of the rocket flights failed and the organization was dissolved in 1974.
- Page 153, on medical school and systems thinking: “… This is the difference between ‘education’ and ‘training.’ Medical school is education, first aid is training. Education requires fundamental understanding, which can be used to grasp and respond to a nearly infinite variety of threats; training involves singular actions, which are useful only against anticipated challenges. Education is resilient, training is robust.”
- Page 163 on sharing information: “… my command team and I added people to the ‘cc’ line of emails whenever it seemed that even the second or third order consequence of the operation discussed might impact them. We had to acknowledge that we often could not predict who would and would not benefit from access to certain information. We took almost all phones calls on speakerphone – that included me, the commander in charge of our nation’s most sensitive forces. This could make people uncomfortable,
sometimes intensely so…. Our standing guidance was ‘Share information unless you are afraid it is illegal.'”
- Page 194 has a couple of interesting anecdotes about Alan Mulally and his work at Boeing and Ford, where he established a culture of sharing and team integration: “…Mulally eschewed internal competitiveness, and demanded honesty and transparency…”
- Page 196, a continuation of the above story: “Mulally’s belief in the universal utility of rejecting silos and embracing interdependence is backed up by Sandy Pentland,
an MIT professor who studies the effects of information flow on organizations and communities. Looking at very large data sets, Pentland has found that sharing information and creating strong horizontal relationships improves the effectiveness of everything from businesses to governments and cities. His research suggests that the collective intelligence of groups and communities has little to do with the intelligence of their individual members and much more to do with the connections between them.” Apple would probably beg to differ.
- Page 207, footnote on the Navy’s style of command and control, or lack there of: “Command by negation, a concept unique to naval command and control, allows a subordinate commander the freedom to operate as he or she thinks best, keeping authorities informed of decisions taken, until the senior overrides a decision. The Navy is the only service that uses the acronym UNODIR (UNless Otherwise DIRected), by which a commanding officer informs the boss of a proposed course of action, and only if the boss overrides it will it not be taken. The subordinate is informing the boss, not asking for permission.
- Page 228, his stories about the live video meetings, his self-discipline in bring his full attention to briefings, knowing the names of participants 8 layers down, saying “thank you” and thinking out loud to share how he thinks. I’d love to see this modeled in leadership.
- Page 244, an explanation of democracy, which is frightening given the political atmosphere in 2017: “… most people then and now tend to consider the essential tenent of democracy to be the political empowerment of the people, this alone does not product a successful democracy – the people can be effectively empowered only if they have enough context to make good decisions. Tocqueville emphasized this point, not that ‘in the united States the instruction of the people powerfully contributes to the support of the democratic republic… This critical caveat to Tocqueville’s predictions of American democratic success cuts to the heart of what makes democracy tick: a political structure in which decision-making authority is – in some ways – decentralized to the voters, rather than concentrated in a monarchic or oligarchic cores, requires a high level of political awareness among the public to function. If people are not educated enough to make informed decisions at the polls, the feedback system on which democracy is premised will not work.”
- The Year of Magical Thinking NOTES: …
- Play the Part: Master Body Signals to Connect and Communicate for Business Success NOTES: …
- How to Live on 24 Hours a Day: Conduct of life, Values, Time management NOTES: not life changing, summary: don’t sleep in, if you don’t love your work, find something else to enjoy, don’t read the newspaper (it’s a waste of time), be intentional, learn to love music…
- The Hunters NOTES: novel about a pilot flying F-86’s in the Korean War… and about teamwork and selflessness.
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness NOTES: …
- Big Walls, Swift Waters: Epic Stories from Yosemite Search and Rescue NOTES: …
- Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea NOTES: recommended by Henry S at work, eye opening read about North Korea.
- Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens NOTES: read if you live in the Northwest and like the mountains.
- The Push: A Climber’s Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits NOTES: an aspirational read… I’ll never be him. 🙂
- Page 153, a quote by Tom Hornbein, a physician and climber on the first American team to climb everest: “Maybe we can view risk like we would a drug, beneficial to the organism in the proper dose. Too much or too little may be harmful.”
- Page 162, story about Jim Collins (author of many books including “Good to Great”), “For his fiftieth birthday, Jim wanted to climb the Nose in one day. He wasn’t trying to free it, but just to do it in 24 hours. One of the mantras he preaches in his books is that you must get the right people on the bus. Nick had convinced him that I would be the right person…. We took a break and Jim pulled out a notebook. At that point, he was forth-eight years old — plenty of time to celebrate his fiftieth. He flipped through the pages and pointed: thirty pitch training days in the climbing gym, several big climbs in Eldorado Canyon, a few Yosemite trial runs. At one point he opened to a page where he had analyzed a hundred years’ worth of weather data and decided that September 26, 2008, had the highest probability of dry conditions, combined with good climbing temperatures and a full moon….. I sat there dumbfounded. This guy covers his bases.”
- The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams NOTES: 5 stars for this book, combined leadership and sports and soccer. The crux of the book is that the most important players on a team aren’t always (or usually aren’t) the stars. Instead, they’re the “glue guys” or the “elite captains” and can be identified by 7 traits: 1) extreme doggedness and focus in competition, 2) aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules, 3) a willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows, 4) a low-key, practical and democratic communication style, 5) motivates others with passionate non-verbal displays, 6) strong convictions and the courage to stand apart, 7) ironclad emotional control.
- The story about Bob Runyan, who tweaked the Elo system for international soccer, was fun to read about.
- Carol Dweck and her work with children and their ideas about the nature of ability. Quote: “The helpless kids viewed their skills as fixed from birth. They believed they were either smart enough to do something, or they weren’t, and it was up to others to render a verdict. The mastery kids had a more malleable sense of their intelligence: they believed it could be grown through effort…. While common sense suggests that a person’s natural ability should inspire self-confidence, Dweck’s research showed that in most cases, ability has very little to do with it. A person’s reaction to failure is everything.“
- “One of the first scientists to explore the dynamics of group effort was a French agricultural engineer named Maximilien Ringelmann. In 1913,
Ringelmann conducted an experiment in which he asked his students to pull on a rope, both individually and in groups, while he measure the force they exerted. The conventional view was that people in a group would have more power collectively than they did alone — in other words, adding people to the pulling group would have a multiplying effect on the force… But the results showed something surprising. While the force applied did grow with every new person added, the average force applied by each person fell. Rather than amplifying the power of individuals, the act of pulling as a team caused each person to pull less hard than they had when pulling alone. Later researchers coined a name for this phenomenon. They called it social loafing…. There is, however, an antidote. It’s the presence of one person who leaves no doubt that they are giving it everything they’ve got.
- Page 138-141 has a couple of inspiring stories about Tim Duncan including the paper he contributed to at Wake Forest (“Blowhards, Snobs, and Narcissists: Interpersonal Reactions to Excessive Egotism”, the fact that the agreed to be paid less than market to stay with the Spurs, his willingness to switch positions (center, power forward, etc..), his fundamentals (nicknamed the Big Fundamental), the fact that the Spurs made the playoffs in every one of his 19 years on the team and his retirement tour…. which didn’t happen because just like George Marshall, he wanted to go out quietly, without calling attention to himself. He carried the water.
- Similar story on pages 143-145 about Carla Overbeck, captain of the US Women’s Soccer team in 96′ to 99′. “… Overbeck carried the team’s luggage off the bus so that when she got on the field ‘she could say anything she wanted’ to her teammates.
- Quote, page 153: “On the sixteen teams in Tier One, however, the captains were rarely stars, nor did they act like it. They shunned attention.
They gravitated to functional roles. They carried water…. The great captains lowered themselves in relation to the group whenever possible in order to earn the moral authority to drive them forward in tough moments. The person at the back, feeding the ball to others, may look like a servant – but that person is actually creating dependency. The easiest way to lead, it turns out, is to serve.”
- Page 170: “One of the great scientific discoveries about effective teams is that their members talk to one another. They do it democratically,
with each person taking a turn. The leaders of these kinds of teams circulated widely, talking to everyone with enthusiasm and energy. The teams in Tier One had talkative cultures like this, too — and the person who fostered and sustained that culture was the captain. Despite their lack of enthusiasm for talking publicly, most of these captains, inside the private confines of their teams, talked all the time and strengthened their messages with gestures, stares, touches, and other forms of body language. The secret to effective team communication isn’t grandiosity. It’s a stream of chatter that is practical, physical and consistent.
- Page 202: “.. in any high pressure team environment, even beyond sports, dissent is a priceless commodity. A leader who isn’t afraid to take on the boss, or the boss’s boss, or just stand up in the middle of a team meeting and say ‘Here is what we are doing wrong,’ is an essential component of excellent.”
- Page 228: “There’s no doubt that great captains use emotion to drive their teams. But like aggression and conflict, emotion comes in more than one flavor. It can enable, but it can also disable. During their careers, the Tier One captains all faced some issue that stirred up powerful negative emotions – an injury, a rebuke, a personal tragedy, even a climate of political injustice. These captains not only continued playing through setbacks – they excelled. They walled off these destructive emotions in order to serve the interests of the team.”
- Final quote, page 269 from Chinese philosopher Laozi: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honor others and they will fail to honor you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say ‘we did this ourselves.'”
- 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). Fun book to read if you’re traveling around that area and a great book to read if you think living alone / in the wilderness is for you.
- It’s Not All About Me: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone NOTES: ….
- The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey from the Beaches of Sicily to the Gates of Dachau NOTES: ….
- The Last Season (P.S.) NOTES: ….
- With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa NOTES: ….
- Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch Manual NOTES: taking a couple of climbing courses from Mazamas, required reading.
- 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.