Archive for the ‘Book Reports’ Category

Book Report: Outliers

May 12, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell has called his latest book, Outliers: The Story of Success, an apology for his own success.  While that’s accurate, it also sells the ideas in Outliers short.  Really, it is about how big a role chance opportunity plays in being successful.  It’s actually a little scary when you think about it, but ultimately it makes some pretty compelling arguments that often minor changes in approach can have huge impacts on outcome.

My favorite stories from the book, which is just as good if not better than The Tipping Point:


Book Report: The Disney Mountains – Imagineering at It’s Peak

February 23, 2009
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Image via Wikipedia

Among the coolest things about ideas is how malleable they are.  Among my big book scores for Christmas was The Disney Mountains: Imagineering At Its Peak and along with the many conceptual sketches I love to look at and use to take 5 minute vacations, there’s a great story about how an idea survived by changing and in the process became among Disney’s trademark amusement park attractions.

Book Report: Inside Inside

January 23, 2009

Once you get past the math and the science engineering is, at it’s core, a creative exercise.  Depending upon your specific vocation you might utilize properties of physics or Java or electromagnatism, but fundamentally you are presented with a problem and use all the tools at your disposal to craft a solution.  This is why I’ve always liked Inside the Actors Studio, because the guests on that show create something too and it is the only interview program that gets to the heart of the process they use to do so.  It almost always involves a lot of research and hard work, both of which are directly applicable to finding engineering solutions, but often envolves working through emotional conflict, personal networking, natural talent, and randomness/luck.

Because of this, I was excited on Christmas Day when I opened a copy of Inside Inside, written by the show’s creator and host James Lipton.

Anybody who has ever watched that show has probably asked themselves the same question: “Who is this James Lipton guy and what credentials does he have to be doing these interviews?”  The answers lie within.

Book Report: Twilight

November 17, 2008

If you’ve heard of this book before (or the movie, which opens this week), I know what you’re probably thinking:

“Dude, that’s chick lit!”

Worse, actually, it’s adolsecent chick lit. 

My wife and I regularly give each other reading recommendations and while we don’t always take each other up on them (for example, I’ve only read one Jodi Picoult novel and she’s read several David Sedaris titles and a Chuck Klosterman), this one was particularly interesting to me because of the genesis of the story.  

The thing is, ideas come from lots of places.  Walt Disney invented the theme park industry on a weekend while sitting on a bench.  Shai Agassi realized that the cel phone business model might be our best hope for green cars.

Twilight author Stephenie Meyer simply woke up from a dream one morning and wrote it down.

Book Report: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

October 16, 2008

For someone who hates moving as much as I do, I’ve sure done it a lot. One of the bright spots of packing up all your possessions, transporting them to another state, and unpacking them again is that you rediscover things you either forgot you had or didn’t realize how long it’s been since you saw it and really appreciated them.

For my latest (and hopefully last) move, I was very happy to rediscover The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which my wife and daughter gave me for Christmas a few years ago. Rereading the stories about a little boy with a wild imagination who, along with his semi-alive tiger best friend, turned empty boxes and downhill wagon rides into grand adventures brought a smile to my face.

But most of all, I liked rereading about how creator Bill Watterson stood up for his creativity.

The World is Flat: Free audio book

August 2, 2008

It’s very cool to be living in a long tail world like we do today.

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to get an email from Thomas Friedman’s publisher informing me that they are having a promotion where they are giving away audio copies of “The World Is Flat” to generate some buzz around his new book out in September on environmental issues called Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America.   As you might recall, I enjoyed “The World is Flat” quite a bit, hence I’m passing word of this promotion onto you.  The promotion ends August 4, so get it while you can.

For a publisher to find a guy with a small blog, who enjoyed an author’s previous work, to help in promoting awareness of a subsequent title is pretty cool.  Even if I am a bit starstruck, that’s a 21st centry approach that not all businesses grok quite yet.


The promotion has been extended to August 11.

Book Report: The Last Lecture

July 10, 2008

If you’ve got a free hour and 15 minutes, it’s hard to beat spending your time watching The Last Lecture video, which went viral a little less than a  year ago.  The book by the same title (The Last Lecture) introduces some new material, but is mostly the same as the video.  I found, though, that by absorbing it in smaller pieces in book format I liked it a lot better.

Be forewarned, though, especially if you have small kids.  This is only the second book to ever make me cry.  So much so, in fact, that I couldn’t finish the last 5 pages.

In case you have been living under a rock for the last 11 months, Randy Pausch is a professor at Carnegie Mellon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and delivered a stirring last lecture that became an online phenomenon.  And for good reason.  Both the book and the video serve as a list of things he wanted his 3 kids to know about him and serve as the advice he wouldn’t be around to deliver to them.  Of the book, he has said in interviews that he only cares about the first 3 copies.

I found the end to be quite heartwrenching since his oldest son is about the same age as my daughter.  I can’t possibly fathom what it would be like to know I was leaving her, but Pausch takes it on with an optimistic enthusiasm that is infectious.  Instead of trying to paraphrase his insights, here are my favorite quotes throughout the text.

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand”

“It’s not helpful if we spend every day dreading tomorrow”  –his wife Jai

Tips for improved group collaboration (paraphrased):

  • Meet people properly
  • Find things you have in common
  • Try for optimal meeting conditions
  • Let everyone talk
  • Check egos at the door
  • Praise each other
  • Phrase alternatives as questions (‘What if we did A instead of B’)

“Go out and do for others what somebody did for you.”

“When giving an apology, any performance lower than an A really doesn’t cut it.  Halfhearted or insincere apologies are often worse than not apologizing at all because recipients find them insulting.”

“But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason.  The brick walls are not there to keep us out.  The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.  Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.  They’re there to stop the other people. “

“Brick walls are there for a reason.  And once you get over them — even if someone has practically had to throw you over — it can be helpful to others to tell them how you did it.”

Book Report: The World is Flat

June 23, 2008

At first, this book scared the crap out of me.

Then, it validated what I write about on my blog.

Finally, it made me think. It made me think a whole lot.

Book Report: Nerds

May 29, 2008

In September of 1982, I started my first day at Ramona Junior High School in Chino, CA. First period PE was pretty uneventful, since we didn’t have to dress out for that initial meeting. My best friend Aaron and I stood around and talked about Intellivision Baseball, if I remember correctly. World History during second period was close to the PE lockers and went pretty much as expected too.

But right after that second hour, Aaron and I looked on the map we’d been given and noticed that third period English was completely on the other side of campus. Not wanting to be late on the first day, we did what came to what seemed like a really natural conclusion at the time: we ran.

What we failed to take into account was the scale of the map and that it really wasn’t that great a distance to cover in 5 minutes. This wasn’t lost on Tim, who would prove himself to be the coolest kid in 7th grade over the coming months. He casually strolled into class as the tardy bell rang with a smug look on his face and the collar on his Polo shirt flipped, a wake of girls swooning by his mere presence. The previous year, Aaron and I had been smart kids in a 6th grade class where we spent the whole day in one room and everybody seemed to get along with everybody else just fine. As we would soon discover, though, we would be redefined as nerds at Ramona and be the target of stereotypical teasing.

This social phenomenon that hits most American kids at this same age, and the damage it has done manifesting itself as a shrinking workforce of U.S.-reared workers with strong math and science backgrounds, is covered in great detail in David Anderegg’s Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them.

Book Report: The No Asshole Rule

April 24, 2008

I’ve seen it many times. Too many, sadly. You get pretty good at your job, you start to get more responsibility, and before you know it you start acting like a jerk.

You start popping off at your team mates who aren’t as good at completing their deliverables on time as you are. Maybe you roll your eyes at the security guard who stops you from taking home a piece of equipment you forgot to fill out the paperwork for. Perhaps the catering people get an earful from you when they accidentally burn the bottoms of the cookies you had sent up as snacks for your meeting with that vendor.

We’ve all done it. At least, everybody I know has, including me. You start to feel entitled and begin to treat others badly. For that, or for putting up with someone who does it to you, Stanford Professor Robert Sutton is here to help.

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t contains a pretty awesome quote, the kind that is reminiscent of good advice you might get from one of your parents:

“The difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.”

Pretty cool, huh? And that’s just page 25.