111 books in 2011

Dec 27

Best of 111in2011

Yes, one of this content free summaries about previous read books - but I think it would be nice if you had a small reading lists with some great books.

Best of Marketing
Ice to the Eskimos

Probably to most creative marketing ideas I’ve ever read about. Jon Spoelstra has excellent writing skills, it’s so much fun to read this book even if you’re not into basketball. He’s probably what you think a marketing guy should be. Creative, uncommon and full of power. If you want to read about marketing that stands out of common marketing then this is the book for you!

The Referral Engine

Not as loud as Ice to the Eskimos but filled with love and thought about your customers. Show love to your customer and he will probably learn to love you. I think this book is ideal if you work in some sort of service industry where you have direct contact to your customers. But even if you build some product, you can learn a lot about how to please your customer and why pens as advertising gifts probably won’t work.

Best of Organization
The E-Myth

Probably one of the most important books if you got more than one employee. Micheal E. Gerber shows you how you can organize your company so that you don’t have to work in the company but you can work on the company. This book is so full of useful ideas and their implementations that you probably won’t be disappointed.

Built to Sell

One could say that Built To Sell is a unofficial sequel to The E-Myth. John Warrillow tells this excellent story in this book about a guy who has a advertising company and he wants to sell it. Like The E-Myth this book shows how to make yourself dispensable in your company - and so got more time for other important things. Awesome book, even if you never will sell your company.

Best of Entrepreneurship
Running Lean

The best book, I read, about customer development. Ash Maurya explains demonstrates colorful how to find markets, test your ideas and track your objectives. Furthermore, the book is neatly organized and quite short. If you want to start a company then Running Lean should be on your reading list.

Best of Management

A book for people how value quality over quantity. The guys from 37signals explain their business philosophy in Rework and it’s excellent. It’s a down to earth approach on running a business - work less, but better - stay simple - hire reasonably. A magnificent book for small and medium sized business owners or new entrepreneurs.

Dec 24

#111/111: Anything You Want

Some will already know Derek Sivers from his blog sivers.org. Sivers started CDBaby, a CD distributor for independent musicians, in 1998. He sold it 2007 when the company had $100m in revenue. He tells his story of CDBaby in detail in this book and it’s quite interesting.

Sivers was a musician before starting CDBaby and he created a small online shop for his CDs and other musicians asked him if he can offer their CDs, too. After a while more and more musicians asked for distribution and CDBaby grew. He said that after a while he talked to his first employee and said that they maybe need a second employee and he don’t want to grow the company.

It’s quite funny how he found a perfect opportunity but didn’t realize then that it was one. One main objective or like Guy Kawasaki would say the mantra of Sivers was to help musicians. Everything should help musicians to distribute their CDs.

If you are the owner of a company you can do with it anything you want. You don’t have to follow some strict rules or even some “common sense”. Sivers avoided lots of formalities and did just the stuff he wanted. For example, often people think that CEOs are handling the business deals - Sivers never wanted to do that - he looked for persons who were motivated and good at doing deals and let them do the work. But he enjoyed coding and thinking about improving his business and this was what he did.

He also talks a lot about delegation and overdelegation. At one point he delegated nearly everything to his employees, even the profit-sharing plan. After a while somebody said to him that his employees take all the profit, which wasn’t really into his intention. The result argument lead him to leave the USA and work alone from the UK.

Anything You Want is a really interesting story because he talks so much about things that gone wrong but it never appeared that he was unhappy in retro-perspective. I think the main points are that you should somehow help other people in providing products or services to them and that you can do anything you want with your business. All in all a real nice book, quite short but insightful. Do what makes you happy!

surreabral said: Hey, not a question, just a thank you. I really appreciate you investing the time to share your project. I have enjoyed your reviews. And, congratulations on setting a stretch goal and meeting it! Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

Hi! Thank you for the reading the blog and your wishes. I’m thinking about continuing it on a small scale - maybe one book per week. Thank you and I wish you a Happy New Year :)

#110/111: Real Education

And an other book on education - mostly higher education but also K12. The book consists of two parts. In the first part he talks about the status of education in the US and in the second part he presents his recommendations.

A common dream of lots of American people is that everybody can be a superstar. They think that everybody should go to college and that schools are so bad that it’s not surprising that some people lag behind. Is that so?

Murray takes an interesting approach but not so surprising knowing his background. He takes the theory of intelligence, i.e. g in connection with multiple intelligences and talks about abilities. Most of you are somewhere below in an ability, maybe bodily-kinesthetic or musical. That’s pretty OK, but not everybody have to become a athlete or musician. However, if we talk about two other abilities: logical-mathematical and linguistic - lots of people think that everybody can become above average in them and there’s the first problem. (I will address possible solutions later)

The second problem, which is related to the first problem, is that too many people go to college. It is estimated that only 10-15% of the people have to ability to achieve B- or better in a classical liberal arts education, i.e. languages, maths, science, philosophy, history and psychology. Today, about 90% of all high school graduates want to go to college and 70% enroll.

The third problem has to do with the top 10%. These are often not challenged by school and college or miss important things besides their professional education. Murray says that these people learn to be nice but not to be good.

What could be done? The first and second problem are related and the answer is choice and individual learning. Murray gave an example of someone who had great dexterity (top 5%) but otherwise was in about the top 30% overall. He could either become a electrician with a median income of about $44k or a manager with a median income of about $88k. At first, the choice seem clear but he probably will be a superb electrician but a below average manager. And now a 25 percentile manager is making about $34k and a top electrician more than $90k. Furthermore, in economic stressful times a bad manager will rather lay off than a great electrician.

But how does this student find the alternative that he could be an electrician? Charles Murray got different parts of the solution.

The first is to discover and focus on abilities and strengths in school. If you realize that some people got strengths and not everyone is the same then you can start and cultivate them. Together with this discovery there’s a need for individual learning, that is students who are fast should go as fast as they want. There should be more flexibility in learning. I talked about all this stuff previously.

The last part is the stronger introduction of certifications instead of general college degrees. A favorite example of certifications proponents is the CPA which is acknowledge in the whole US and got a great deal of information about the ability of accountants. I personally think that certifications detached from college degrees are indeed some possibility for the future because knowledge will become more rapidly outdated and jobs will become more and more specialized.

The second part is about the liberal education in college. Some people think that liberal education have to wait till the college. This is pretty much arbitrary. Murray recommends that schools teach about history, science, literature, geography and economics in school, so that everybody will have a solid understanding of it.

The third problem goes in a different direction and Murray proposes that they learn especially about ethics. The main questions should be What is good?  and How to live a Good life? It’s important because a part of these people will later influence the public as writers, public figures or politicians and they should understand these questions and not just be nice. The second characteristics that should be learned is humility. Lots of clever humanities students that think that they are infallible because they never reached their limits. People studying maths or natural sciences nearly always reach their limits and quite fast but there are lots of people who just rush through the humanities without much trouble.

#109/111: The Principles of Scientific Management

One would expect that this classic from 1911 is a clear contrast to the last book but actually it isn’t so much different. I love reading classics especially in business classics because they most often contain better information that most of new business books. Frederick Taylor was probably the first one who observed production steps and optimized them. One of the most famous of his actions is the optimization of carrying pig-iron and putting it on a car. He improved the productivity enormously by using his methods - the problem is that most people forgot how he did it and where he applied his methods.

How he measured these production steps is quite interesting but I will leave it to you to read it in the book. I want to highlight things that we rediscovered in the last 30 years of so and that Taylor already promoted in this book.

His initial motivation is that he wanted to help the employees and the employer, i.e. there has to be a cooperation between the management and the workers. Both parties will profit by working together. I will take an example where he helped optimizing the inspection of bicycle balls. In this case the employees had to work only 8.5 hours at the end instead of 10.5 hours at the beginning - for the same pay - and the quality of inspection went drastically up. He recognized that the inspectors need breaks and don’t have to work for so long. He even said that probably they could work even less and still increase the quality and quantity of the output.

How did he achieve this? Besides of analyzing every step of inspecting these balls, he always began with one worker. This and all the following workers will be taught individually and thoroughly. He says that change takes time. In this case it took him 8 years for 120 people to introduce his new methods. This is remarkable if you think about companies today with thousands who try to change their culture and business model and what not in one to two years.

Sure, there is legitimate critique of his ideas which he addressed by himself. One is that each movement is optimized which isn’t psychologically ideal. However, he said that this works best with men like oxen and not for more intellectual jobs. Secondly, he says that his method only works for really easy jobs like carrying pig-iron or inspecting bicycle balls. Furthermore, he said that each worker can suggestions for improvements of the production steps and each suggestion should be tested and if it improves the process the individual should be highly rewarded.

Why did I find this so interesting? Firstly, he clearly says and already complains about people who don’t understand the basics of Scientific Management, that is benefits for both parties. In contrast to managers who increase working hours and cut pay.

Secondly, he never said that this could be used for more intellectual stimulating tasks. Some thing which carried into todays management - especially managers who want to micromanagement everything.

Thirdly, the taking of suggestions of actual workers which made Toyota about 50-60 years so famous was by then an old concept which was somehow forgotten.

Enormously interesting piece of management history. It is clearly written, Taylor explains his concepts clearly and demonstrates other people using it. I loved it.

Dec 23

#108/111: Punished by Rewards

This is one of the books where I just read the title and bought it. Recently, I talked with a friend about rewards and rules and we noticed that they often lead to out crawling from intrinsic motivations. He said “if I have to do something in 48 hours, I will take at least 48 hours - if I can choose my time freely, I probably will do it immediately.” You probably had similar experiences.

Some of these observations will be true. Alfie Kohen wrote lots of other books about schooling and the use of rewards, so this bit in the book is especially interesting.

His main objective is a critique of pop behaviorism, i.e. you have to give something to get something or equivalent with punishments. If I want the kids to learn about history, I have to get them grades. If I want my kids to eat healthier I have to reward them after eating. Or in business settings: If I want my employees to get three new accounts I have to pay them extra for each one. It’s so inherent in our thinking that it have to be challenged.

So what is Kohn saying about this? I read a great amount of studies and presented his findings. The first and most fundamental is that rewards often don’t work and sometimes they worsen the situation. There are some things to understand.

Firstly, rewards punish. A typical setting is some superior (teacher, boss, parent) who compliments you if you did something great. What is if your superior doesn’t compliment you? It’s basically punishment. Punishment and rewards each side of one coin. There are study that found that even compliments can be bad if they are linked to some objective. That’s important! Unexpected rewards sometimes are better than none but as long as you link it so a objective it basically become some form of punishment.

Secondly, rewards distorts your intentions. If you offer your kid a buck for each carrot she eats, she will eat more carrots because of the buck not because of the carrot. The eating of a carrot is the unpleasant thing to do to get the buck. You wanted to promote eating healthy food and instead promoted that healthy food is unpleasant.

Thirdly, rewards crowd out intrinsic motivation. There’s some kind of myth that you can add motivations, that is if you are intrinsic motivated and someone gives you money/praise/etc for doing this task that you will be even more motivated. Actually, motivation doesn’t work that way. If you are not motivated at all, then of course, extrinsic motivation motivates you to do the task. However, if you already are intrinsic motivated the extrinsic motivation can crowd your complete intrinsic motivation out and replace it with extrinsic motivation. This effect is rather famous in economics and studied in psychology.

You will probably think that extrinsic motivation isn’t good but we don’t have any alternatives. Kohn himself thinks that it’s hard because extrinsic motivators are so easy to create. Just throw some money in and you’re done. But there are alternatives which aren’t so easy to implement but have a less damaging effect.

The first one is collaboration. Work with your subordinate together to solve the problem or let him work with outer people. Alfie Kohn cites an interesting case where a mother went crazy because her child don’t wanted to go to sleep at 9pm. She tried nearly everything but she never tried to understand why her child don’t wanted to go to sleep. The same goes for pupils who come to repeatedly to late to school or unmotivated employees. Talk to them and help to solve them the problem. If you’re employee doesn’t like to work at your place then it’s probably the best for both of you that he looks for another job. It’s not the easy way but it does solve problems instead of treating symptoms.

Secondly, content is important. It’s rather easy in think about it in the schooling field. Don’t let kids learn things that are boring. For example, he talked about dates in history and I agree. The interesting thing about the Franz Ferdinand’s dead isn’t that he died on a Sunday or at June 28 but rather that this coincidence lead to the first World War. You can make probably most things interesting and you should!

The last one is choice. The more freedom you allow the more intrinsic motivated people will be. For example, he shows that for uninteresting work the best one can do is, to let people handle it the way they want. Even for interesting work this has a positive effect and the business literature begins to include it. We let people work from their home or they don’t have to be in office from 8 to 5 but rather just have to get some task done till some date. This exactly the choice which helps to increase people’s motivation.

This book got so many interesting studies in it that I recommend this book to nearly everyone but to everyone who is some form of authority: Parents, teacher, supervisors.

#107/111: Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar

By now, you probably have guessed that I think institutionalized education isn’t that great. Most of my marketable skills are self-learned, I pretty much started this at the age of 13 reading books about computer hardware. It’s just was and is natural curiosity.

I’m of course not alone. Lots of people, especially in the IT-sector, are self-learned and they are mostly better than their peers - why? Because they love what they do, they haven’t learned programming or security or testing just to get a job but rather because they love to learn about new stuff. One of them is James Bach.

In his book Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar he told his story about dropping out of high school, living on his own and learning programming. With 21 he was hired by Apple as a software testing manager and today he is an established expert in software testing and gets invited to (academic) conferences. He is happy and loves what he’s doing.

He wrote about his life outside of the mainstream and addressed some issues I had recently. The first one and probably one which affects more people is about learning. After the first years of university I thought that you have to learn everything like they do. That is, take a text book, work through most of the exercises and take the next one. In my school time, I just had three or five books laying around and used them more as references if I needed to solve some problem.

James Bach had a similar problem and recognized that you have to use your motivations. If you are interested into something, just learn about it - read books, talk to people about it, watch videos. Use the momentum and satisfy your learning needs.

On the other hand. If you’re not really interested in learning anything  - just leave it. There will be some time when you’re full of motivation again. This was utterly important for me. I was stuck in this situation where I had a book piling up and thought that I have to work through it before beginning the next one. Now, I just left it. When I’m again interested in it, I will work with it.

The next thing concerns the choice of topics and books. His basic structure are topics on which he wants to learn more - often questions, like “why are some countries poor and other are rich?”. But he don’t have to follow some path. Let your mind wander.
You will discover new areas that you even have thought about in the beginning.

Furthermore, I want to talk about building credibility which will be your disadvantage at first. If you don’t have a college or high school degree you’re in a bit of disadvantage but only if you haven’t done anything presentable.

When I was 15 or so, I fixed lots of computers of friends and their parents and slowly more people heard about my ability which gave me credibility. They come to more to fix the computers I got even paid. This works really fine on a local level and often leads to local job offerings. But it doesn’t have to be limited on local opportunities. You can easily make the world your market.

For artists it’s pretty standard to have a portfolio with one’s works. It’s getting also more traction for programmers which is in my opinion great because it doesn’t matter how you learned you stuff, it matters how good you are. And the internet is a great accelerator. Present your knowledge on a blog, Q&A sites or start a youtube channel.

I really liked this book because I could relate to so many things and events in this book. I would probably recommend this book to someone who’s self-learning for some years. If you are new to self-learning just let your mind flow and learn about things that you’re interested in.

#106/111: Future of Education

An other book by Kieran Egan where he talks about his different methods of approaching a topic and its implementation.

I talked a bit about these different methods and will now deepen it them a bit. His main idea is that knowledge should be deep and linked.

The first one is Mythic Understanding. This includes stories, metaphors, binary structures, rhymes, play, jokes and pattern. Stories are a very important elements, so is story telling. Even for adults story telling is great method for delivering information. Egan talks a lot about story telling and even wrote a book about it. He points out that stories should be made up. For example, if you want kids to teach about the days of week, you could just teach them the names and the order and they should memorize them. Or you could talk about the origin of each week day, what’s special about it, etc. Just look up how much information there is on wikipedia on Friday.

The next step is Romantic Understanding. You probably remind the time you were in this phase. You are looking for extremes - the biggest machines or smallest animals, you start to get hobbies and start collecting things, heroes help kids overcome their fear. This can be easily integrated in teaching. This is probably the most commercialized phase with action heroes, card games, books and games.

After that Philosophic Understanding is starting. This phase is quite interested because some people would define it at the final phase. Abstractions and theories become more prevalent. People begin to form theories and try to explain with them specific situations. However, even Philosophic Understanding got some problems.

The final phase, so far, is Ironic Understanding. It’s more interesting then you may think. Now there’s a difference between what you say and what you mean. Besides that a problem of Philosophic Understanding is that you may try to squeeze everything into a model. Some scholars overreach themselves with generic models and just neglect outliners. Furthermore, it helps you to live a nice live. Sure lot is fucked up but you could either become depressive and/or manic about it or just laugh about some stupid things happening.

The second part talks about a scenario how this ideas could be implemented. I won’t go into detail - but it’s a nice read.

All in all, it’s an interesting book. I know that he explained his ideas more detailed in The Educated Mind - so maybe that’s the better choice if you want to learn more about his ideas.

Dec 22

#105/111: change.edu

How does the future market of higher education looks like? Andrew Rosen, the CEO of Kaplan, presents his ideas and takes a look in the past of higher education in the USA. At the beginning there were colleges, like the Harvard College. Interestingly, there isn’t much known about John Harvard. The most important thing was that he donated his library and half of his money after his dead to the nearby college.

At this time, Harvard was a college where young men could learn about science and the arts. Most, didn’t graduate. It was rather so that they stayed two years there and learned about different subjects. Other universities like Brown or Princeton had a similar history. They play be the same rules. Tons of money, highly prestigious, strong in research. Rosen says they use the Ivy-League Playbook. 

The next higher education institutions came later when people found out that American agriculture is much less efficient that European because the lack of knowledge. This lead to land-grant colleges which provided knowledge for farmers. The older colleges were strictly against this type of colleges because it would undermine the spirit of higher education. Today, some of those land-grant colleges evolved into Cornell University or the MIT.

A more modern form of these land-grant colleges are community colleges. The offer education for everybody, for people who aren’t “college material”, who want to improve their skills or who want to learn something new. These colleges play be the All-Access Playbook.

If we move a bit in time a new form of higher education institutes evolves. Like the Kaplan University or the University of Phoenix. These institutions focus on learning and a lead like a company. Basicially they are like All-Access institutions but a bit more advanced. This is the For-Profit Playbook.

Before we go future playbook, I will show why Rosen made this distinction. Lots of decent institutions try to play the Ivy-League Playbook which is called Harvard-envy. Instead of spending money on the education of their students, they spend their money on new buildings or try to buy famous professors. They try to build up their prestige.

A nice example is the High Point University that spend tons of money in building a prestige luxury resort for students. That’s nice, sure but you can’t argue that these investments are necessary for better learning.

The future playbook is the Learning Playbook. Rosen shows what could be and encourages institutions to try to become a learning institution instead of accumulating more prestige. The Learning Playbook focuses totally on student’s learning. It will use modern technology, use new scientific findings to improve the learning. Learning will become more individualist, more mobile and more global.

Andrew Rosen did a great job in presenting the history of higher-education in the US and differentiating it. I don’t know if the Learning Playbook will be so institutionalized because we saw more and more small players and micro education platforms like skillshare.com. But of course, it’s uncertain but it would be nice if he included that. Great book!

#104/111: Why don’t Students like School?

The next title that talks about schooling. Daniel Willingham, cognitive scientist, took the interesting topic of students and school and asks Why don’t Students like School?

If you haven’t read the post of Dumbing Us Down this is probably a good time because Willingham talks about a lot of statements which were made by Gatto.

Do we have to force kids to learn? No. People are naturally curious, it rather happens that school is destroying this natural curiosity. He talks about the differences in people. Why are some kids good at maths and other aren’t? Some part is genetically but not everything. A theory is that e.g. maths feels easier for you, that leads that you want to learn more about maths, maybe join a math club, etc. which in the end leads to extraordinary abilities. The process of deliberate practice was discussed in Talent Is Overrated.

Which brings us to the next point. Deep knowledge is better than shallow knowledge. Firstly, we will need some factual knowledge before going to more difficult tasks. This has to do with working memory. You can only hold up a specific amount of information at a time. However, you can compress this knowledge. For example, it’s hard to remember this letters: O, D, E, L, E, W, N, K, G but if you scramble them it becomes knowledge which is quite easy to remember. The same holds for mathematical formulas, design principles and other things. The second important thing is that deep knowledge leads to long term knowledge. Willingham cites a study which tested the ability to do calculus after 5, 10, 15 and 20 years. People how took more than one class and got C remembered substantially more than people how just took one class and got an A.

This aren’t the positive things about deep knowledge, furthermore it helps you to connect to new ideas more easily which is named context learning. In conclusion, deep knowledge rocks. Learning in Depth talked about more soft criteria of deep knowledge and is a nice complement to this book for this aspect.

The last chapters talk about some misconceptions like learning styles. Research shows that they aren’t existent. There are no auditory or visual learning. Some things stimulate auditory regions and other visual regions.

Why don’t Students like School? is my opinion are really great book which shows what’s important and why we should recheck our theories after some years. If you are interested in learning and want a nice introduction, this is the book for you. Recommendation.

Dec 21

#103/111: The Rational Optimist

A better title, but less appealing one, would probably be A history of markets. Matt Ridley tells us about the economic history from the beginning human kind till today. How does it come, that we build cities, have markets for food, internet services or books and can communicate easily over thousands of miles. How come that other creatures can’t do this? Ridley begins about 500,000 years ago where some humans haven’t just traded equal things but rather unequal things. We can see, for example, for some races of apes that clean themselves mutually. But they don’t exchange cleaning for food. When this began, the humans could specialize. We know that specialization leads to efficiencies and surplus.

This was the beginning of our modern history. It was the first time humans really advanced. Ridley states that for millions of years the design of axes haven’t changed, because nobody had the possibility to invest time in trying better design and doing everything else, only specialization allowed that. The next thing is exchanging ideas. He tells about a tribe which knew how to build boats and lived in isolation. Some generations, nobody knew how to build boats and they switched back into more primitive technology. That is, without the exchange of ideas, technology will be lost.

The next big thing were traders. For the first time, people haven’t produced but rather solely transported goods and traded it with others. Why is this so important? The traders not only transported goods, the transported ideas. The bought ideas from India to Europe and vice versa. Furthermore, they often lead to building of cities which were often later destroyed by people obsessed with power.

So we have specialization, exchange of ideas and traders. What happened in these centuries where our progress seems to stop or even shrink. The same that happened to the tribe with their boat. States decided to become nationalistic and to close their boarders. This stopped trade and with it the exchange of ideas and for some part specialization. Furthermore, this lead to decreasing specialization and people moved back to rural areas and became farmers again.

The last part talks about the Malthusian fallacy which hasn’t happened but could if we move back to more primitive technologies, nationalization or generalization. If you haven’t informed you about the last 100 - 200 years of economic history, this part is pretty interesting. 

In conclusion, I really liked The Rational Optimist. Matt Ridley took lots of time for researching this topic and introduces you to economic history. If you are interested in this, this book is a great choice.