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2016 in Books

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2016 in Books: Better Late Than Never

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Originally published on Medium on March 12th, 2017

Better late than never. I’ve set a goal during 2017 to read 52 books, totaling up to one a week (after reading 21 in 2016, I’m more than doubling that). I’m already on my way to accomplishing that goal, but I wanted to remember all the books that I read in 2016.

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I read Made to Stick approaching it from a business perspective and how to brand things, appeal to customers, all that jazz. Instead, I walked away with a new take on how to communicate any idea that I have, regardless of the context.

Some Quotes:

“Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.”

Referring to when one person taps a song, another person listens, and the tapper is baffled by why the listener doesn’t know what song it is — “It’s hard to be a tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge. When they’re tapping, they can’t imagine what it’s like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

“The longer you work on a story, the more you can find yourself losing direction. No detail is too small. You just don’t know what your story is anymore” (Ed Cray)

“Perhaps most surprisingly, mental simulations can also build skills. A review of thirty-five studies featuring 3,214 participants showed that mental practice alone — sitting quietly, without moving, and picturing yourself performing a task successfully from start to finish — improves performance significantly.”

“We don’t always have to create sticky ideas. Spotting them is often easier and more useful. What if history teachers were diligent about sharing teaching methods that worked brilliantly in reaching students? What if we could count on the volunteers of nonprofit organizations to be on the lookout for symbolic events or encounters that might inspire other people in the organization? What if we could count on our bosses to take a gamble on important ideas?”

What Sticks?

  • Kidney heist. Halloween candy. Movie popcorn`.
  • Sticky = understandable, memorable, and effective in changing thought or behavior
  • Six principles: SUCCESs
  • Simple. Unexpected. Concrete. Credible. Emotional. Stories.
  • The Villain: Curse of knowledge — it’s hard to be a tapper.
  • Creativity starts with templates: Beat the curse with the SUCCESs checklist
  1. Simple
  • Find the Core: Commander’s intent. Determine the single most important thing — “THE low-fare airline.” Invented pyramid: Don’t bury the lead. The pain of decision paralysis. Beat decision paralysis through relentless prioritization: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Clinic: Sun exposure. Names, names, names.
  • Share the Core: Simple = core + compact. Proverbs: sound bites that are profound. Visual proverbs: The Palm Pilot wood block. How to pack a lot of punch into a compact communication: (1) use what’s there: Tap into existing schemas. The pomelo. (2) Create a high concept pitch: “Die Hard on a bus.” (3) Use a generative analogy: Disney’s ‘cast members.’

2. Unexepcted

  • Get attention: Surprise. The successful flight safety announcement. Break a pattern! Break people’s guessing machines (on a core issue). The surprise brow: a pause to collect information. Avoid gimmicky surprise — make it ‘postdictable.’ ‘The Nordie who…’ There will be no school next Thursday. Clinic: Too much on foreign aid?
  • Hold attention: Interest. Create a mystery: What are Saturn’s rings made of? Screenplays as models of generating curiosity. The Gap Theory of Curiosity: Highlight a knowledge gap. Use the news-teaser approach: ‘Which local restaurant has slime in the ice machine?’ Clinic: Fund-raising. Priming the gap: How Roone Arledge made NCAA football interesting to nonfans. Hold long-term interest: the “pocketable radio” and the “man on the moon.”

3. Concrete

  • Help people understand and remember: Write with the concreteness of a fable (sour grapes.) Make abstraction concrete: The Nature Conservancy’s landscapes as eco-celebrities. Provide a concrete context: Asian teachers’ approach to teaching math. Put people in the story: accounting class taught with soap opera. Use the Velcro theory of memory: The more hooks in your idea, the better. Brown eyes, blue eyes: a simulation that “cured” racial prejudice.
  • Help people coordinate: Engineers vs. manufacturers: Find common ground at a shared level of understanding. Set common goals in tangible terms: Our plan will land on Runway 4–22. Make it real: The ferraries go to Disney World. Why concreteness helps: white things versus white things in your refrigerator. Create a turf where people can bring the knowledge to bear: The VC pitch and the maroon portfolio. Clinic: Oral rehydration therapy. Talk about people, not data: Hamburger Helper’s in-home visits and “saddleback sam.”

4. Credible

  • Help people believe: The Nobel-winning ulcer insight that no one believed. Flesh-eating bananas.
  • Eternal credibility: Authority and anti-authority. Pam Laffin, smoker.
  • Internal credibility: Use convincing details. Jurors and the Darth Vader toothbrush. The dancing seventy three year old.
  • Make statistics accessible. Nuclear warheads as BBs. The Human Scale principle. Stephen Covey’s analogy of a workplace to a soccer team. Clinic: Shark tank hysteria
  • Find an example that passes the Sinatra test. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” Transporting Bollywood movies: “We handled Harry Potter and your brother’s board exams.” A business friendly environmentalist and the textile factory that actually purified the water that fed it — and yielded fabric that was edible.
  • Use testable credentials. ‘Try before you buy.’ Where’s the beef? Snapple supports the KKK? Coaches: It’s easier to tear down than to build uip: Filling the emotional tank. NBA rookie orientation: ‘These women all have aids.’

5. Emotional

  • Make people care: The Mother Theresa principle: If I look at the one, I will act. People donate more to Rokia than to a huge swath of Africa. The Truth anti-smoking campaign: What made kids care was not health concerns but anticorporate rebellion.
  • Use the power of association: The need to fight semantic stretch-the diluted meaning of ‘relativity’ and why ‘unique’ isn’t unique anymore. Transforming ‘sportsmanship’ and ‘honoring the game.’
  • Appeal to self-interest (and not just base self-interest): Mail-order ads — “They laughed when I sat down at the piano…” WIIFY. Cable television in Tempe: Visualizing what it could do for you. Avoid Maslow’s basement: our false assumption that other people are baser than we are. Floyd Lee and his Iraq mess tent: ‘I’m in charge of morale.’
  • Appeal to identity: The firemen who rejected the popcorn popper. Understand why people make decisions based on identity. (Who am I? What kind of situation is this? And what do people like me do in this kind of situation?) Clinic: Why study algebra? Don’t mess with Texas; Texans don’t litter. Don’t forget the Curse of Knowledge — don’t assume, like the defends of the duo piano, that others care at the same level that you do.

6. Stories

  • Get people to act
  • Stories as simulation (tell people how to act): The day the heart monitor lied: how the nurse acted. Shop talk at Xerox; how the repairman acted. Visualizing ‘how I get here:’ simulating problems to solve them. Use stories as flight simulators. Clinic: Dealing with problem students.
  • Stories as inspiration (give people energy to act): Jared, the 425-pound fast-food dieter. How to spot inspiring stories. Look for three key plots: Challenge (to overcome obstacles), Connection (to get along or reconnect), Creativity (to inspire a new way of thinking). Tell a springboard story; a story that helps people see how an existing problem might change. Stephen Denning at the World Bank: a health worker in Zambia. You can extract a moral from a story, but you can’t extract a story from a moral. Why speakers got mad when people boiled down their presentations to stories.
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I helped to create the curriculum for a venture capital class early in 2016 and read this to use it as the book for the course. Far and away the best introduction to VC you’ll find that isn’t written like a master’s thesis.

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In the past, I frequently referenced Innovator’s Dilemma, talking about jobs-to-be-done and needing to be aware of the lower-end or unserved portions of the market. I figured, if I was quoting it so much, I should probably read it.

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I don’t know that I’ve had a similar reaction to any book I’ve ever read. I jotted down several ideas that came to my mind, but the overall feeling was surprising. I saw this giant, awful financial system that came crashing down because of greed and laziness. And amidst the crumble, there were a few smart, hard-working, sometimes moral people who recognized what was wrong, and did something about it. They couldn’t fix it, but they knew better than to play along with the stupidity. These are the notes I wrote down after watching finishing the book, and then watching the movie:

Thoughts from the Big Short

  • Messy is messy. If it doesn’t cause joy, get rid of it
  • Every second you have is too valuable to waste being angry.
  • As soon as an idea pops into your head, put it in the chamber and ACT.
  • Learn everything from everyone
  • “No one reads those mortgages but the lawyers.” Work hard. Know the details. Natalie Portman missed the Star Wars premiere to study for college.
  • Don’t waste time!! You don’t have a lot of it and you’re not that smart so make the most of it.
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This changed my perspective on history, realizing how small the pivotal moments really were. An underlying assumption in this book is that democracy was key to the salvation of the world, and that Christianity played an imperative role in that democracy.

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You go to Disneyland and you get this image of Walt Disney as the grandfather of the “American imagination.” You watch movies like Saving Mr. Banks, and you see some little foibles, like a smoking habit. But reading this book, you realize the creative but cutthroat genius that Disney was. He was just as inspiring and terrifying as characters like Steve Jobs.

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I took U.S. History in high school. I know that the American revolution was important. But reading a book like this shines a human light on those events. And that changed the way it impacted me as I think about how these were normal people, just like me. Could I rise to the occasion just like they did?

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I started with a general history of the beginning of the revolution, and then I got specific. The impact this book had on me deserves its own post. I appreciate very much the kind of person John Adams was. In Hamilton: the Musical they make an off-handed joke about John Adams, and surprisingly, it bothered me a lot. I feel a kinship with John Adams, often in his failures more so than his successes.

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I’ve watched movies. I’ve read books. I’ve seen movies that were based on books I read. But this was the first time I had read a book when I had already seen the movie. I read very little fiction. This was the only fiction book I read all year, and while I enjoyed it, I was still much more interested in the historical context Brown used to tell a story.

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I just couldn’t read a fiction book without adding a non-fiction perspective.

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Nail it Then Scale it is another book that I frequently recommended to people to read, but had never read it myself. While the concepts in the book are interesting and useful, it was a difficult book to get through. The writing and flow felt fairly sporadic.

Some Quotes:

“You might ask customers questions such as: ‘How do you find out about new products?’”

“As you make observations, begin to think about how to turn the buying process into a repeatable sales process.”

“Either find a new/less crowded network or study the network structure and find a way to leverage the players at the center.”

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I read the majority of this book on the subway between Boston and Cambridge. The whole time I was reading it, I was struck with one diagram in particular. Thiel talked about how we view the future:

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It was the optimistic view of a definite future that put a man on the moon. It’s the optimistic but indefinite view that sends college grads in swarms to jobs like investment banking and law. We can’t create the future, so lets make money off the people who do.

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You don’t think about Brigham Young as an entrepreneur, but he literally built a large portion of the economy of the west, regardless of what you think of him. He was engaged in so many different business ventures and colonization efforts that it’s hard to say he was a “this” or a “that.”

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My wife and I read this together, reading two or three stories each morning. It’s one thing to see these posts on Facebook and appreciate them, and move on. I noticed, while reading them in the morning, that I thought about those people’s stories throughout the day. I thought about how I’d like to be them, how I would react to their experiences. More than anything, Stanton’s work does wonders for your level of empathy.

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The 7 Habits is a perfect example of a book that could change people’s lives if effectively implemented. Most people read books like this and think, “those are great.” And then go back to life as usual. Reading 7 Habits, I kept thinking, if only there was a process to take these concepts and really educate people (myself included) in how to change our lives to better live these principles.

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Again, a book I talked frequently about. Quoted regularly. Had taught classes on. But never fully read. I tried the audio-book about a year ago, but my thoughts are too sporadic to stay tied to an audio-book for too long.

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This might be one of the stranger picks on my list. I picked this up in the Boston airport after hearing about it on a podcast. The concepts at times felt a little too new-agey for me, but I took the core message to heart. We all have clutter in our lives, and having a serialized process to deal with it can make a huge difference.

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I started reading this book for a class, but finished it because I liked it. I thoroughly enjoy books that take complex concepts and try and make them approachable.

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I was gifted this book by a very good friend. At first, it was to help me prepare for a job interview. But after awhile, I realized that it wasn’t just another Innovator’s “INSERT BUZZWORD HERE” book. Instead, it was a revolutionary approach to entrepreneurship, whether you’re building something from scratch, or internally within an existing company.

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I’ve always had this internal religious dilemma. Christ says to love one another, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick and afflicted. But at the same time, a lot of Mormons are very successful, very financially stable. And the dilemma comes when you see wealthy people with two houses, big fancy cars, or boats, and the world still has poverty. But it can’t be everyone’s responsibility to take care of every poor person in the world, right? My Mom has always said that helping people is important, but if you make yourself poor in the process, you become a burden on others. Social entrepreneurship says the same thing, your solution can’t burn millions of dollars in the process, it has to be sustainable.

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Speaking of social entrepreneurship, this was the last book I read for the year. This was, by far, the best introduction to social entrepreneurship I’ve ever read. They focus on each phase of creating a social solution with insights like understanding the world; envisioning a new future; building a model for change; and scaling the solution.

After reading all these books, I keep coming back to one idea: empathy. The better you empathize with people, the better you are at just about everything. Reading about people’s experiences gives you an insight to components of life that you’ll never live yourself. Especially in entrepreneurship; empathizing with people will lead to more impactful solutions.