Reading Update – Q1

My writing is suffering this year. I started 2014 with the goal to become a better writer, but for that to be realized one has to WRITE more. That’s the key!

My blog is an outlet for my writing. It’s where I can share a great book or article I have read. Or even a half baked thought. But lately, it’s been gathering dust.

So I am dusting off the shelf and sharing one area where I have outpaced a goal I set – reading. My goal: to read 24 books in 2014, and over the last 3 months, I have read 11 – 83% ahead of goal!

Below is what I’ve read (listed in the order read) and some of the key takeaways for me:

Manage Your Day-To-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind – Jocelyn K. Glei (Editor)

This is a collection of essays from highly effective people. I picked up a few tips and it was a quick and easy read. One tip I really like is keeping a notebook by your nightstand. Instead of first reaching for your phone, reach for the notebook and write anything. It can be a dream, an idea you had…the important key is to write.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big – Scott Adams

One of my favorites so far. Scott Adams shares many of his life failures and shows us how to get the most from a failure. He’s also super process oriented, which surprised me. We often confuse outcome and process. Was failure the result of an unfortunate outcome from a solid process, or a flawed process? Conversely, was your success a lucky outcome from a terrible process? The difference is important. I sent out a chapter of this book to my entire team as required reading.

Choose Yourself! – James Altucher

In a similar vein as Scott Adams, James is no stranger to failure – making millions of dollars and then losing all his wealth a couple of times over. He discusses a daily system that he follows to help keep him creative. The book has a self-help feel to it, but it is worth the read.

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose – Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh is the CEO of Zappos and was an early investor in the company. He writes about Zappos’ values and what makes the company unique – purpose comes first. There are many great stories in this book, but only company policy that is fabulous – Zappos offers new hires $2k to quit after a few weeks on the job. The company figures that if you are there just for the money, you’ll take the offer. They want employees that are aligned with the company’s purpose.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish

This book could also be titled “How to Talk So Humans Will Listen…” The authors teach that empathy is an important skill to have to connect with children. Think about how often you tell your kids, “how could you feel tired?” or “how could you be hungry?” In some sense, when we make these statements we are teaching our kids to deny their feelings. A better approach is empathy – to try and understand what your child is feeling.

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work – Timothy Keller

I am using this book to lead a group at our church on the topic of work and faith. Scriptures depict God as a gardener and Jesus as a carpenter, yet many of us feel like manual work is demeaning. Keller shows us how every good endeavor is service to God. He also encourages us to find work that is in line with our unique gifts and personality, rather than work that will maximize our income.

Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t – Kevin Maney

For anyone connected to product development or for those running a business, this is a must read. Maney gives us an excellent framework (high vs low fidelity, high vs low convenience) to evaluate product positioning. There are many examples of products finding their way into the “fidelity belly” (not really loved or convenient). The most successful products are either loved or needed – it is a mirage to think that your product can be both.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers – Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz is one of the founders of the world class venture capital firm, Andreesen Horowitz. He shares with us wisdom he has accumulated over his years as the CEO of several technology based startups. I was most surprised by how process oriented is he was. A couple of examples – first, he didn’t feel like his product managers were meeting his expectations. Realizing he hadn’t properly trained them, he wrote a fabulous product management guide, Good Product Manager, Bad Product Manager. Second story, Horowitz is a big believer in the 1-on-1 meeting between manager and employee. He had some employees that were not consistently having 1-on-1s or others that were not doing a good job. Again, he created training materials to help facilitate these meetings. If you to know how the 1-on-1 should be done, read this.

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action – Simon Sinek

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” This is the definitive quote from the best book I have read so far this year. Most people focus on what they do or even how they do it, with giving little thought to the WHY. Starting with WHY gives clarity to all actions. This has great application for individuals, but also for companies. If you only read one book off this list, please start with why.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail – Clayton M. Christensen

While in between books, I decided to re-read Christensen’s seminal work around innovation. In an established business, resources are focused on executing the existing business model. Focus is on optimization rather than discover of new opportunities. Christensen’s solution is to have groups focused on new opportunities separated from the established enterprise. Everyone in business should read this.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Nudge dives deeply into the field of choice architecture. If you are designing the layout of a form (for example), what should the default be? How many choices should there be? In the school lunchroom, should the veggies or dessert come first? Anyone involved in design, (at work, at home or anywhere else), should read this book.

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In the arena

Three weeks ago, I decided to write a post every day for a whole month (see Talker’s Block). I wasn’t exactly sure at the time what I would get out of the challenge, but I felt compelled to stretch myself. (I say stretch, but this “challenge” ranks pretty low on my list of real challenges.)

While I still have a week to keep blogging, I am learning about the benefits of bad writing.

When you write every day, sometimes what you write is good and sometimes is it bad. But the magic comes in writing frequently. You start to recognize good writing. You understand what is “good” for you and you long to write the good stuff.

Trying over and over again is always a good strategy. Failing at something breeds character. Writing bad blog posts helps you to truly appreciate the good posts.

I want to be action oriented. Attempting new challenges with no guarantee of a positive outcome. I was reminded of Theodore Roosevelt quote that is perfect for this mindset:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I love this whole quote, but I am particularly fond of “because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”

The real challenge for me is not blogging daily. The real challenge is pushing myself to the point where I have errors and shortcomings. And staying committed to that ideal even when others aren’t as accepting of my shortcomings.

So join me in 1) giving up being a critic and 2) jumping into the arena. Write poorly, but write. Give a poor presentation, but give a presentation. Have a frustrating conversation with your spouse, but have a conversation. Join me in the arena.

Talker’s block

In Seth Godin’s amazingly awesome book, The Icarus Deception, he claims that it’s not often that you hear people discuss talker’s block. We talk without thinking about it. We’re not worried about our speech being on a wordpress blog forever. And by talking often, we can improve the way we talk (if we observe what more advanced “talkers” do and put some of these practices into action).

But with writing, it’s entirely different. For me, the fear of blogging about a topic I haven’t thoroughly researched is a little scary as is the permanence of my posts – the idea of what I have typed remaining in the ether for all of time. But as with talking, you have to write frequently to get better.

A brilliant friend of mine who has written a book and contributed to several other works recounts that while he was writing his PhD, his goal was to write something everyday. He might not have finished with research necessary to finish a chapter, but he wrote anyway. He would write about anything remotely relevant to his dissertation topic. He wanted to improve and to do this he had to take a risk that what he would write would miss the mark.

Inspired by Seth Godin and my friend, I see that I need to write more. I haven’t blogged in almost two weeks. In two weeks I’ve watched a couple of TED talks, read a book, and observed all sorts of problems and otherwise interesting topics that I might blog about. But I’ve let the desire for perfection get in the way of me honing my craft.

In order to create a habit, I am challenging myself to blog something everyday for the next month. I may lose every reader I have, but I feel like I need to this to hone my craft. I hope you enjoy some of what you read.

Thanks being interested in my work and helping me become a better writer.

Lance