Reading – 2015

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.

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