Books Worth Reading


  The value of reading books

About twice a year, I do a recap of the books I've recommended in the newsletter. Here's the last one. There are many reason why you should read more in long form formats. It's an enjoyable past time that stimulates the imagination — I'm a huge fan of mystery novels, so many talented authors in that genre.

    From gaining access to new ideas and the experience of other people to improving understanding and connecting to existing knowledge, when we set aside time to learn and reflect, we gain in mental flexibility and ability to communicate. Polymathics, or being well read — and practiced — in more domains helps us build better judgement in all areas.

    All reading is both short- and long-term.

    To unlock value in the short term, interact with the book, write in the margins, summarize chapters, build on the content with your observations and references. Some chapters may require more analysis, others may inspire a second reading.

    To unlock long-term value, think of each book as a building block, connected to other bodies of knowledge through the references, biography, and notes in the back. Where would the book fit in your physical and metaphorical library? What's the next building block?

Books worth reading

1./

    Skin in the Game. The phrase “skin in the game” is one we have often heard but rarely stopped to truly dissect. It is the backbone of risk management, but it’s also an astonishingly rich worldview that, as Taleb shows in this book, applies to all aspects of our lives.

    “Never trust anyone who doesn’t have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will benefit, and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them.”

    Some insights:

  • Having exposure to the real world, with upside and downside, is the best (often the only) way to learn.
  • Learning is rooted in repetition and convexity, reading one book twice is often more useful than two books once.
  • Freedom entails risks, real skin in the game. Freedom is never free.
  • Data does not imply rigor.
  • Survival comes first, truth, understanding, and science later.
  • How often you forecast correctly is not so important. What matters more is which outcomes you can forecast correctly. The payoffs matter more.

    If you're curious about some of the themes in the book, this podcast between Russell Roberts and Taleb is a pretty good summary.

2./

    Tribal Knowledge is straight from the work of an insider. The book is an immersive account of how Starbucks changed the world—not by discovering the potion to magic branding dust—but by passionately focusing on the smallest of details of the customer experience. Profit is a by-product and happens as a direct result of doing things right, and doing the right things.

    A bonus idea to focus this conversation was Why Elon Musk's "People as Vectors" Analogy Resonates. Thinking about the word ‘alignment’ in Italian. Convergenza means there’s a slight deviation toward each other — e.g., tires moving the car in the same direction. A relative position vs. totally parallel. As with vision, both eyes converging to a point ahead.

3./

    Change is uncomfortable because we often associate it with something imposed on us. I prefer the word transformation, it's more deliberate. U.S. culture and business are very techno-centric right now. When we talk about change and career, we hear the term "pivot." While the concept is fairly easy to understand with a brief explanation, we're not prototypes, our former self is not a business model, regardless of how the market treats us.
 
    We have an identity, and a story attached to it. We grow quite fond of our self, this is why approached with this language and thinking, the process is hard on us. What happens to me, you, us, is that while we're transitioning from who we were and used to think of to who we want to become, we still are, we exist.

    How we manage our identity needs to take into consideration the human side, our story. The truth is it looks more like tacking than pivoting. Herminia Ibarra has been asking better questions on personal change and is offering a path to making it more human with Working Identity. (the case studies are mostly European.)

4./

    There are many things in business and life that we can do little about because they're not under our control. Our behaviors aren't one of them. The CEO Next Door is based on research on counterintuitive choices and behaviors that set apart successful CEOs—being decisive, reliable, delivering on promises, without exception, adapting to changing circumstances, and working honestly and directly with customers and employees (without shying away from conflict.)

5./

    The Compound Effect is the strategy of reaping huge rewards from small, seemingly insignificant actions. You cannot improve something until you measure it. Always take 100 percent responsibility for everything that happens to you. Design the life you want first and the business you want second.

I know I have a hard time with this, but the book says success is doing a half dozen things really well, repeated five thousand times. Consistency is something we know matters to get momentum. But the idea that we don't need more knowledge, just new plan of action is important.

Another important point is that the first step toward change is awareness. The best way to become aware is to measure. Writing it all down is key.

6./

    The Business of Belief is a primer on the hidden logic to motivating behavior, both in ourselves and in others. It is no longer enough to simply have people know about your product or service or ideas. We need to go beyond knowledge to have an impact that will make them choose us, support us, work with us, and recommend us. We need people to believe.

7./

    We've heard it before — it's the Friend of a Friend who can expand our opportunities. I've been always curious about how to create more value within our existing networks, most of them dormant. Volumes of pixels explain how to build it, but not many get into the details of what to do to make it useful and deliberate. 

8./

    In the age of strategizing, when brands (organizations and individuals) are even more important to help us find signal among the noise, standing out is the product of finding your voice, and Showing Your Work. The other reason why it's worth reading is joy — we underestimate how good everything looks when we switch from a mindset of perfection to one of creation.

9./

    We misidentify taking with making, and have lost sight of what value really means. This is the powerful premise of a book not out in the U.S. yet, but worth considering. The Value of Everything. Mariana Mazzucato says we need to rethink where wealth comes from:

“While wealth is created through a collective effort, the massive imbalance in the distribution of the gains from economic growth has often been more the result of wealth extraction, whose potential scale globalization has greatly magnified. […]

I will argue that the way the word ‘value’ is used in modern economics has made it easier for value-extracting activities to masquerade as value-creating activities. And in the process rents (unearned income) get confused with profits (earned income); inequality rises, and investment in the real economy falls.

 
What’s more, if we cannot differentiate value creation from value extraction, it becomes nearly impossible to reward the former over the latter. If the goal is to produce growth that is more innovation-led (smart growth), more inclusive and more sustainable, we need a better understanding of value to steer us.” 

10./

    We live in a world that venerates the new, bright, and shiny. Many of us are left feeling invisible, undervalued, and threatened by 'digital natives' (perception is reality). Wisdom@Work is an argument of experience making a comeback.

    Because at a time when power is shifting younger, companies are finally waking up to the value of the humility, emotional intelligence, and wisdom that come with age. While digital skills have only the shelf life of the latest fad or gadget, the human skills that mid-career workers possess — like good judgment, specialized knowledge, and the ability to collaborate and coach — never expire.

    This book is out in mid-September. A preview about the book (all caps makes it harder to read.) Here Chip talks about what it means to be superhuman versus “a super human” after 24 years as a CEO and surviving two “once in a lifetime” downturns and a personal crisis.
 
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    There's a certain number of ideas that keep coming around. Good books contain, explain, tells us stories combining simple ideas and expanding them — and our mind as we read and reflect on them. The older the references, the more enduring the writing.
    
    Italian writer Italo Calvino says, “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say,” those are the books worth owning and reading often. But also, “Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn't ask ourselves what it says but what it means…,” says Umberto Eco.
 
    Read a lot, read critically, read with your team, and talk about what you're reading.