Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain

I just finished the audiobook and it is very insightful. I’ve read a lot about introversion and the information uncovered in her research revealed topics I had not considered. After the popularity of her book other books and articles on introversion filled the business and psychology blogosphere and book shelves.

The sections about high social monitoring was insightful personally as it helped me understand behaviors in my life. The free trait theory also explained why I manifest certain traits related to tasks I love that do not manifest at all in similar tasks with different goals. It does provide some insight about extroverts that should help introverts and extroverts understand one another. One thing that one must be careful of when reading such books is not to identify too much with the type as being a fixed part of our nature. I think of it more as a tendency and that, with certain people or under certain conditions I will act more extroverted.

I could have done without the little climate change mini-sermon (ignore Gore and we’ll “drown”) but similar tangents were few and short and didn’t distract from the core topic. Her articulation of the impact of Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie, and the culture of personality shaping of the American extrovert culture was enlightening.

The brief mention of the extrovert focused culture on religion with megachurches and trends towards overstimulated worship was interesting and she did a hand off to Adam McHugh and his work on introversion in religion. I highly recommend it especially if you have just recently discovered your introverted characteristics.

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Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True InspirationCreativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull

As a fan of Disney Animation and Pixar Studio products, I was interested in going behind the curtain to see how the wizards did their magic. I was especially interested to see how a creative organization manages the mundane business side of finance and teamwork. Ed Catmull accomplished this in providing a glimpse into building a creative business that works with limited budgets, highly individual and often idiosyncratic creative employees, and critical deadlines.

Non-creatives sometimes fail to see that creativity and art often require more hard work and skill development than natural talent. This book reveals the perspiration that accompanies inspiration and, sometimes, a little luck. Catmull describes the creative challenges and solutions to some of Pixar’s beloved works and how, sometimes, the stories we see on the screen are far different from what was first imagined. I recommended the book to my daughter who is studying animation so she can see how Pixar approaches story development, professional reviews of works in progress, and the difficult task of changing something you have put a lot of time into (killing your darlings) in order to make great art.

The book also provides insight into teamwork strategies and building a business. Catmull provides a look at the operation and interrelation of diverse management personalities such as his more reserved style and the dynamic aggressive style of Steve Jobs. Though their personalities were different, they were able to synergize so that the best of both were infused into the corporate culture and both seemed to rub off a bit on the other. The other management characters within Pixar are discussed including their valuable contributions to the company’s success. Not forgotten are the many Pixar employees whose dedication to creating a high quality product that Catmull praises throughout the book.

If you are a creative in any industry, you will gain a lot from the wisdom shared in this book. If you are trying to develop a team or a corporate culture, you will also find much to inspire and educate you in this book.

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Book Review: Making It All Work

Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of LifeMaking It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life
by David Allen

At the turn of the millennium, David Allen released his landmark work Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity and changed how many of us managed our time and work environment. Striving for the “mind like water”, Allen, urges readers to use straightforward filing systems and trusted systems, like calendars and useful lists, freeing the mind to focus on the needs of the moment.

Allen has various techniques for effective work such as performing a “mind dump,” unloading all the things that are on our mind, organizing them into meaningful lists of what we can do now and what can, or should be, delayed until some future date. He describes techniques for identifying projects that need multiple actions that do not seem like projects initially, The goal is to develop focus that allows one to decide what is the next action to perform and stay “in the moment” with that task knowing that the other work is not forgotten and has its place.

One unfounded criticism of Allen’s work is that it doesn’t solve the overwork problem but only organizes it. This is far from the truth. Completing the exercises for the horizons of focus honestly and thoughtfully should eliminate some demands one has placed on himself and define a vision for one’s life that allows them to deal with some of the work that appears that would be more appropriate to delegate to others or simply ignore.

I listen to this audiobook frequently to perfect my execution of the model and deepen my understanding of the methods and philosophy behind the system. It was very influential in an article I wrote for high school and college students to help them develop focus and flow in school work.

I would recommend Making It All Work instead of the classic volume that introduced us to Allen, Getting Things Done. Making It All Work provides a mature analysis of the philosophy of his organizational approach and better focus on the horizon view of planning. Much of the criticism of his work arises from a misconception that Allen is not solving the task overload problem, only organizing it. Making It All Work is clearer, though GTD explained it as well, the framework includes determining what needs to be done, what can wait, and what should be ignored.

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Book Review: The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People

The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive PeopleThe Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People
by Kevin Leman

How do you write a management book? Choose your metaphor and let the analogies unfold. Business books based on military organizations and leaders, sports teams and stellar athletes, and historical figures and events fill the shelf. Leman reaches back to a pastoral occupation to draw out modern lessons on leadership.

The author uses a story analogy: a business professor, who raises sheep on the side, mentoring a student by taking him out of the classroom and into the field, the grazing field. I’m not a fan of the story analogy approach as the story is often a weak vehicle to carry the meat of the message. The story in this book is not distracting but it is not engrossing either.

The leadership lessons are solid but will strike some readers as paternalistic as the shepherd-manager is the wise leader and the sheep-employees are foolish, blind, and directionless. If you can look past this there are extremely valuable lessons on engaging with employees and dealing with their personal and professional issues as it affects their work and their interrelationships with fellow workers. The attention to the employee needs, witnessed in popular shows like “Undercover Boss”, is the important lesson of this book. “Have a heart for your sheep” and “remember that great leadership isn’t just professional; it’s personal.” The section on knowing the SHAPE (Strengths, Heart, Attitude, Personality, and Experiences) of employees, I mean the flock, is good reading for any manager. The importance of addressing employee concerns and conflicts is something every manager needs.

It is an easy and short read with many valuable, though not unique, observations. Managers need to be reminded of these principles. A manager who feels disconnected from those who report to him and wants to mentor them, address good and bad behaviors, and learn to develop their talents will benefit from reading this book.

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Book Review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of AmazonThe Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

This biography of Jeff Bezos, Amazon, and even Internet e-commerce traces the development of a man, business, and industry that has noticeably transformed American society. The author gives insight into the problems faced by Amazon as it grew into the “Everything Store” and the demanding founder who brought the vision to reality. It is amazing what Bezos and Amazon accomplished despite frequently getting in their own way. I was intrigued by Amazon’s approach to logistical demands, surge challenges (holidays), and surprised about the inbreeding with Walmart. The history behind some of the features that thrived and died: Prime, Auctions… includes the reasons that some of these things were tried; for example, the Auctions experiment to face off with eBay.

The author portrays Jeff Bezos as an intriguing brilliant individual who could be as caustic as Steve Jobs but wasn’t as cool as Steve Jobs. Also explored was its founder’s ability to will an incredible organization into existence focused on customer service and loyalty while sometimes compromising employee service and loyalty. We who work in the tech industry know the Jeff Bezos type and are probably more forgiving of the idiosyncrasies and impaired social skills that is the shadow side of technical brilliance and focus on excellence. We are left with respect for the man and a clear reminder that he is just a man with outstanding qualities that have contributed value to the marketplace and abrasiveness that has created problems.

The abrasive personality is on display in the tumultuous and contentious relationship with book publishers and distributors especially around the development and release of the Kindle. The author describes the market attempts, and failures, to popularize an electronic reader and the eventual success of the Kindle platform. As a Kindle user, and lover of books, I was engrossed in this part of the history and I think most bibliophiles will be as well.

The contentious relationship with the book industry and other suppliers made me consider the same question I had after watching a documentary of Walmart’s relationship with its suppliers: do low prices come at a high cost? We enjoy a convenience of what we need when we need it. My local Walmart is 24-hour and has items that I never thought I’d need after 9pm when most stores close. Amazon has items that would require me to drive across town wasting time and gas in traffic. I am a customer of both organizations. However, we must also balance it with the loss of some local retailers (and their jobs), minimal profits for suppliers (profits that can go into developing new products), livable wages, and perhaps other issues. I did not develop an answer to the question and I imagine we will continue to ponder such questions. There is much to admire and fear about how Amazon became a success. Did we sacrifice some intangibles that we will greatly miss for cheaper products? Have we not been able to calculate the true value of Amazon and Walmart’s contribution to the marketplace in ways that far exceed what we can truly grasp? It may be that in holding onto the Main Street of the past with a false nostalgia and that the cottage industries and small business opportunities these global behemoths created are the success stories we should be cheering. In fact, the end of the book, which chronicles the development of Amazon Web Services which is fueling many Internet businesses that are creating value and jobs worldwide.

I listened to this on the unabridged audiobook and it is well narrated and produced.

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Book Review: The Behaviour Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money

The Behaviour Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with MoneyThe Behaviour Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money by Carl Richards

If cold logic guided financial decisions, financial responsibly and profitable portfolios might be the norm. The emotional side of our personality can often push us to act unwisely or irresponsibly leading to greater debt and poor financial returns.

Carl Richards discusses the ways our behavior negatively affects our decisions even when we know we are acting irrationally. The 24-hour financial news channels, often staffed with animated financial pundits screaming orders to buy and sell, the flood of financial magazines with suggestions for the top stocks to purchase or dump, and the large investment book section of the average bookstore can overwhelm the everyday investor and provide guidance that seems reasonable but should be ignored. In fact, the author provides insight on how to use this information, even suggesting good reasons why we might ignore it.

Addressing our personal reactions, the author identifies triggers that can engage our emotional fight-or-flight response and suggests tactics for keeping the emotional response in check. Richards also advises how to react during emotional financial waves that sweep up the media, friends, and our co-workers. Much of his guidance runs counter to the financial industry that makes its money on financial advice (not acting on that advice – an important distinction) yet when you meditate on it, it makes perfect sense.

Richards acknowledges that some will be dissatisfied that the book does not provide a concrete blueprint for how to map ones finances and if that is what you are looking for, this book is for you. However; before getting a “blueprint” book you should read The Behavior Gap to help you wisely use any planning tools.

This book reflects my philosophy that outsmarting the market is a fool’s errand and there is no “magic stock” that hours of research will unveil to make the average investor rich. Instead of throwing up our hands and being a victim of the market, we can exercise wise judgment, act on what we can control, and behave logically (and often contrarian) to achieve sensible financial success and satisfactory financial returns.

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Book Review: How Good Do You Want to Be?

How Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion's Tips on How to Lead and Succeed at Work and in LifeHow Good Do You Want to Be?: A Champion’s Tips on How to Lead and Succeed at Work and in Life
by Nick Saban

I will readily admit that my favorite motivational books are written by coaches at the top of their profession. In order to achieve their goals they have to inspire assistants and athletes with their vision and direct their actions to achieve excellent results. In college football’s Southeastern Conference, one of the toughest conferences to achieve consistent success, Nick Saban has won both conference and national championships as head coach of LSU and the University of Alabama and enjoyed success in the National Football League.

How Good Do You Want To Be was written before Nick Saban became the coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide but it is obvious from his speeches and results at the University of Alabama that he adheres to the principles in this book. A central theme of the book, and his coaching philosophy, is to focus on what you need to do to perform as a champion and not the results themselves. While this might seem obvious, too often people focus on external factors they can’t control and make excuses for why they cannot be successful due to the economy, environment, their upbringing, or a hundred other reasons. As Saban notes regarding the LSU national championship team:

We never talked as a team or as a staff about championships. We simply focused on the process of becoming champions. p.12

Throughout the book he describes in great detail the importance of maintaining focus, discipline, and healthy communication. His focus on developing effective processes and working the system is critical to business or team success. His principles of leadership are evident in the successful careers of coaches who once served as his assistants. He, in turn, credits Bill Belichick, who wrote the forward to the book, for being a positive role model who helped shape his approach.

I appreciate his focus on success in one’s personal life as a component of overall success. If you have great professional success but leave a trail of broken relationships in your wake you have not succeeded. He practices what he preaches and provides sound guidance in this book for integrating work and personal life.

The book is very well organized and it is easy to highlight the important lessons to learn and the takeaway points. Each chapter ends with a summary of the main points that is useful as a review list.

In contrast to a lot of motivational books that are heavy on platitudes and pep talks, Nick Saban’s process oriented approach inspires by demonstrating that if we develop a good system, focus on our preparation and the factors we can affect, we will achieve good results. His advice for dealing with roadblocks, difficult people and situations, and deficiencies through good decision making, not wishful thinking, is a welcome change from the “grit your teeth and bear it” philosophy of many motivational books.

If you are inspired by the book, I would also recommend you watch the DVD Gamechanger (al) which also discusses the championship approach as practiced by the Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2009 National Championship season. The access to planning, practices, and his home life reflect what you learn from the book.

Roll Tide.

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Book Review: The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America by Dr. Drew Pinsky

The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America

The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America 

by Drew Pinsky

An insightful book on the influence of celebrity narcissism on the attitude and behavior of the broader culture. Dr. Drew clinically analyzes the professional Hollywood culture and the reality TV celebrities who exhibit behaviors that are praised by the media but indicative of psychological problems that need treatment. The outrageous acting-out that indicates a need for treatment is praised by the celebrity and mainstream media then emulated by those in society who are vulnerable to such behavior by a desire to mirror the actions of the stars they admire or their own psychological fragility.

Drs. Pinsky and Young spend a great part of the book explaining narcissistic behaviors that are healthy and detrimental, personality disorders, factors that might be involved in the development of narcissistic personality disorders, and treatment suggestions. They also highlight the dangers of narcissistic culture on teens and adolescents and advise parents on how to prevent narcissism in their children.

Written in 2009, before the Miley Cyrus meltdown, Dr. Drew was very prophetic about how her life might develop if she did not receive treatment for this condition. He also discusses his objective in creating his own show, Celebrity Rehab to show the human side of the celebrities being treated for addiction and the trauma that often started them down their chaotic and disastrous path. He wanted to provide the knowledge and need for treatment associated with these behaviors that was missing in shows that glorified dysfunctions such as Real World and The Anna Nicole Show. I watched Celebrity Rehab because such treatment interests me and was moved by the story of Dennis Rodman, whom I disliked for his behavior, and in the end was hoping for his recovery and appreciating his humanity. I realized I had been caught up in his persona and forgot the humanity of a person, struggling and hurting on the inside, who was the victim of his own creation.

Until reality TV passes from the landscape, Dr. Drew’s book serves as a reminder that there is little real about this edited, produced, and scripted fantasy world and much that is unhealthy in the lives of those who parade across our screens. Until society quits praising and mirroring such dysfunction and seeks a healthy life that brings positive value to others we must try to help those we can escape its downward spiral to self-destruction and prevent others from being seduced by the siren song of uninhibited passion, alcohol and drug abuse, and destructive behaviors into a trap that feeds self-loathing and emptiness.

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Book Review: Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

by Charles Duhigg

Though I have read many productivity books in the past, I don’t read many now due to the repeated advice, some of which seems like theory to the author and not their actual practice. I usually skim the books to look for a different approach but gave special attention to this one because of the author.

I was already a fan of Duhigg after the insightful book The Power of Habit. He typically presents good support material, diverse views on the topic, and a tendency to plunge below the surface of “accepted knowledge.” The book addresses productivity as it relates to motivation, teams, focus, goal setting, managing others, decision making, innovation, and absorbing data. He draws on research and anecdotal evidence from a broad spectrum of society, not just the business world as is the case with many productivity books. The author is a good storyteller and uses suspense very well to cycle between the narrative and the research. I found myself tense after reading the account of Qantas flight 32. The appendix is especially valuable because Duhigg describes the application of the productivity areas discussed in each chapter to his own challenges in writing the book.

Although Duhigg describes some techniques for enhancing the productivity areas described above, he mostly outlines the science and principles of improved performance, leaving the reader to determine how to apply them to their personal and professional life. I made several notes of techniques that I will integrate into my own productivity processes. Whether you use a Cove or GTD type approach, the discussion of goal setting and focus will enhance and mesh with the principles of those systems.

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Book Review: The Organized Mind by Dr. Daniel Levitin

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

by Daniel J. Levitin

Much of the valuable productivity literature I’ve read has been written by professionals with experience in personal or business organizational systems who teach lessons learned from consulting and coaching over many years. The Internet is bloated with blog posts outlining individual productivity systems or productivity tips that may be transferable, in whole or part, to the situation of the reader. Dr. Levitin, by contrast, has expertise in the inner working of the mind and approaches productivity and organized thinking from the grey matter out.

According to Dr. Levitin’s site, he “…earned his B.A. in Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science at Stanford University, and went on to earn his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Oregon, researching complex auditory patterns and pattern processing in expert and non-expert populations.” Dr. Levitin has a gift for expressing complex scientific facts and theories in practical, but not simplistic, terms.

For productivity, Dr. Levitin blends neuroscience and the historical development of organizational systems to suggest ideas for improving data management, information filing and retrieval, and handling information. Like productivity expert David Allen, of the Getting Things Done (GTD) system, Dr. Levitin suggests developing external systems that efficiently handle information so we can use our minds for more productive work. Whereas Allen focuses on the “mind like water” result of efficient external systems, Dr. Levitin focuses on why the mind achieves this state from a medical perspective.

Dr. Levitin’s section on the executive and daydream capacities of mental thought were extremely interesting and provide insight into some cognitive challenges we face because of the flow of information, technology, and the “multitasking” culture mentality. He also suggests ways to encourage either mode to engage for suitable tasks. His discussion of “flow state” and how to achieve it is very valuable.

Like “The Invisible Gorilla”, the book also challenges what we think we know about how our mind and memory works and what science has revealed. He provides medical insight into the notion of multitasking and what really happens in our minds and the mental impact of task switching on our productivity and efficiency. He also gives us a mind tour of dreaming and learning that is both education and useful.

An important part of this work is the discussion of critical analysis skills and decision making structures to help when we are bombarded with information. It is important to analyze the information package (source, potential biases, authority, etc.) as well as the content of the information itself. His discussion of Wikipedia helps explain the challenge of handling data wisely. He also provides a framework for helping patients and caregivers use medical tests and information to make better healthcare decisions with the diagnoses and research available that speaks to their medical need.

The Organized Mind is a user guide for the mind.

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