Reading – 2011

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.

Now with 50% less caffeine!