On Writing by Stephen King

My reading list was comprised of books recommended by friends, coworkers, and well-known CEOs online. I began to find that the books I read oftentimes end up having similar themes, so this time I decided to try something new. I went on Twitter and provided my book recommendations while at the same time requested people to provide me with theirs as well.

Here’s a list of books suggested to me via Twitter (thanks to Crystal):

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks
On Writing by Stephen King

Not only did I never hear about any of these books before, but I also have never thought about reading some of these topics. This is exactly what I wanted. Even though I write blog posts occasionally but it never occurred to me to read books on writing. Having read On Writing by Stephen King I plan to put more focus on my writing.

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Stephen King, a well-known author most known for his work in horror fiction, has more than 350 million copies of his books sold. Many films, which include The Green Mile which I have frequently watched in the past, were based on his books.

On Writing by Stephen King details how Stephen became the writer he is today followed by a few of his writing tips. Stephen has a way of writing that transitions story in an engaging yet concise manner. I would be reading about how Stephen is dealing with numerous publisher rejections to how Stephen found success with his first published novel, Carrie, in the span of my 30 minutes commute.

In regards to his writing tips, it is nothing new that you won’t find in a writing/grammar book. However, as someone who’s not a prolific writer, I do find some of it useful. There’s one advice in particular which I have already started applying in my previous blog post:

In expository pose, paragraphs can (and should) be neat and utilitarian. The ideal expository graf contains a topic sentence followed by others which explain or amplify the first.


Topic-sentence-followed-by-support-and-description insists that the writer organize his/her thoughts, and it also provides good insurance against wandering away from topic.

I’m still working on it but I find this simple advice very useful. Previously when I write, I break out to a new paragraph with no clear structure. Sometimes it can seem like I’m just spitting out words as it comes to my mind. But since reading On Writing, I spend more time thinking about how I should structure my paragraphs which helps me organize my thoughts.

Upon reading his advice, I immediately flipped back and started to see if Stephen practices what he preaches which he does. Each paragraph has a main point it’s trying to convey through its topic sentence supported by the remaining sentences. If a point only has two sentences then so be it. There’s no need to unnecessarily expand a paragraph longer than it’s needed to convey your message across.

Stephen King also provides a few more writing tips such as “the adverb is not your friend” and “one of the cardinal rules of good fiction is to never tell us a thing if you can show us” that you can learn more about in his book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and got some insights on the career path of a writer and some of the challenges that come with it. If you are someone interested in a writing career or someone who wants to learn more about writing, then I’ll recommend this book to you.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.

Upheaval by Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond is best known for his book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1998. He is a polymath and is well versed in subjects including anthropology, ecology, geography, and evolutionary biology.

In his latest book, Upheaval, Jared examines if we can have a better understanding of national crises by drawing from our learnings from individual crises. Crisis therapists have studied how people navigate through crises for decades and have identified a set of core success factors in determining a person’s capability in navigating through a crisis. However, when it comes to national crises, there are limited studies due to its complexity and scale. Jared then applies these individual success factors on a few selected national crises to see if we can draw any parallels and have a better understanding of past national crises to make better decisions in the future.

Jared analyzes national crises from Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, and Australia. These are the nations that he has either lived in or is more familiar with through the experience of his friends or family. By no means is this a representative sample of all nations, which Jared himself points out. The nations are not only examined based on the success factors but also contrasted against each other to further analyze how a given factor can impact a crisis’ resolution.

Jared ends the book by mentioning how nations can learn from past mistakes and from other nations as well. Nations have various degrees of success in their implementations of systems such as health care, education, and transportation. Rather than reinventing the wheel, nations like individuals can learn from each other and better improve the lives of its people.

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I thoroughly enjoyed Jared Diamond’s Upheaval. History is an area where I’ve been weak in, which is part of the reason why I love reading books with some historical context. And to be able to learn more about 6 nations through one book makes it a very worthwhile read. Jared is masterful at explaining complex matters in simple terms. To condense the analysis of 6 national crises in a book under 500 pages is beyond impressive.

Although I enjoyed the book very much and would absolutely recommend it, I did not see the point of drawing parallelism from individual crises to national crises. Some of the analysis on the success factors do help bring more clarity to the understanding of national crises, but at times the connection seems forced. The importance of the factors can be examined more and some factors seem better to be left out.

If you are into history books like I am, I’ll recommend this book to you. It by no means give a holistic view of the national crisis, however, it is a great starting point for you to get exposed to these nations’ history.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson

We are constantly reminded of people’s opinions of us. It can be well-intentioned expectations from our family and friends or non-constructive criticisms from complete strangers. With the prevalence of social media, it not only opens up a floodgate to others’ opinions of our publicized thoughts but it also shows a glimpse of how others are doing in their lives. The effects of this can be harmless and at times even beneficial, however, it is when we give others’ opinions too much weight or use people’s life updates as a measurement to compare ourselves against where it can become extremely detrimental.

Focus on What’s Meaningful to You

To not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.

There are always things that can be better, which naturally means there are always problems that we can solve. With all the problems that we have, it can feel overwhelming at times with our limited time and energy. So narrow down on what is important and meaningful to you for you to focus on.

Another key to getting less bothered by problems is the ability to put things into perspective. Many problems we face are upgraded problems that other people are dealing with. Not having healthy food options can be seen as an upgraded problem of not having enough food to eat. Not having enough food to eat can be seen as an upgraded problem of struggling to find food to stay off of starvation. These are all very important problems that are worth solving, but the point is that the mindset you have can greatly affect your experience in working through that problem.

The more things that you care about, the more things that can affect you. So make sure to “give a fuck” to what is truly meaningful to you.

Our Struggles Determine Our Success

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench press a small house.

This is my favorite line of the book. To be great in any industry, the work is done in your preparation. For example, to be an NBA star player, it’s not only about enjoying playing basketball games. There are numerous people in the world that not only enjoy playing basketball but also have the talent to go along with it. However, the NBA players that stand out in the league are those who are willing to struggle through the process of dedicating thousands of hours in the gym to perfect their craft and their conditioning, analyzing game tapes to see what can be done better, studying and understanding plays, and the list goes on.

The work involved in the preparation is oftentimes redundant and even boring. You don’t have to enjoy every or even any part of it, but you need to be willing to sustain it. So if you want to be great at a given profession, it’s not only about considering the performance aspect of it but also thinking about whether you are willing to put in and sustain the work required. The work you put into night in and night out will determine who you become, so choose and develop the habits that will lead you to where you want to go.

Summary

Mark Mason teaches important lessons on how to focus on what’s meaningful to lead a happier life. I didn’t enjoy the book because I was already familiar with the key takeaways. However, Mark is engaging in the way he writes and the content can be very beneficial for those who feel overwhelmed by the problems they are facing. Here’s where you can get the book if you are interested.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Upheaval by Jared Diamond.

 

Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading Harari’s previous book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harari discussed the progression of humankind and posed thought-provoking questions such as how humans became the most dominant species of the planet and what are the associated consequences. A sneak peek of Harari’s following book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow was included in Sapiens. It briefly discussed how human’s behavior can subconsciously be impacted by the history of humankind. It then poses further questions on where humankind is heading towards based on past progression as well as the development of artificial intelligence. I’m not particularly interested in reading one person’s speculation of the future so I didn’t end up getting the book. But thanks to my friends, Annie and Patrick, for getting me this book for my birthday I ended up reading it and will share my takeaways below.

This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies.

Homo Deus

Harari discussed the possibility of humans being upgraded to superhumans or human god (“Homo Deus”) with the help of technology. Humans have reduced mortality from starvation, disease, and violence and our next challenge can be to overcome old age and to prevent death itself. After all, the cause of human death can always be boiled down to some sort of malfunction or degradation of the human body such as the heart stops pumping blood and cancerous cells. It might seem farfetched, but death is essentially caused by numerous technical problems which can all be worked on and possibly resolved.

Besides using technology to cure wounds, eliminate diseases, and possibly cheat death, technology can also be used to upgrade humans. With implants and prosthetic limbs, technology has already restored and in some cases upgraded human’s ability to perform daily tasks. The growing understanding of the brain and human genome can possibly help us engineer superhuman with the preferential genes that can outperform “regular” humans.

Although this does paint an optimistic future for humankind, it does present new challenges. If we gain the ability to upgrade our cognitive abilities or to select the genetic makeup of our children, what will be the impact on the non-upgraded humans? As technologies have usually shown to be first available to the wealthiest in the past, will this cause a bigger divide in society and stall social mobility?

Human’s Role Going Forward

Traditionally, life has been divided into two main parts: a period of learning followed by a period of working. Very soon this traditional model will become utterly obsolete, and the only way for humans to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout their lives, and to reinvent themselves repeatedly. Many if not most humans may be unable to do so.

Artificial intelligence has been the big topic for several years now and there are more and more resources invested in this field. An AI defeated a chess grandmaster for the first time in 1988 and a reigning human world chess champion in 1997. And in 2016, it defeated one of the world’s top player in go, which is widely regarded as one of the most complex board games.

With the development of artificial intelligence, more and more tasks can be performed by machines. There might come a point where the vast majority of tasks will be performed by machines. If we do get to that point, what will be the roles of humans going forward?

Our current education system have us spending years obtaining degrees and skills to be prepared for the job market. However, in the future, the time for us to obtain a skill might outlast the time it takes for machines to render that skill obsolete. In this case, our only way to maintain our value in the workforce might be to constantly reinvent ourselves.

And let’s say that machines are able to do most of the tasks humans are able to do more effectively but humans still maintain control. In that case, what will be the purpose of humans when our problems are left for the machines to solve. What challenges can we take on?

Summary

Homo Deus is another thought-provoking book by Harari. Harari provided speculations on the future based on what has happened in the past. He’s not concerned about being right but on creating discussions around the potential future challenges of humankind.

Having read Sapiens, I found there to be too many overlapping contents. Homo Deus is a good book, but I would enjoy it much more if I haven’t read Sapiens first. If it’s me I would recommend Sapiens over Homo Deus as Sapiens is more information-heavy whereas Homo Deus has more speculation.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Upheaval by Jared Diamond.

Mindset by Carol S. Dweck

When I first came across Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, it did not pique my interest. The book cover is dull and the title seems to suggest it’s one of those books that simply elaborates on widely known concepts. However, wanting to order one more book, I added it to my online cart since the book cover shows a recommendation from Bill Gates. And if Bill Gates recommends it, then it can’t be all that bad right?

After reading the book’s introduction, my initial perception was further reinforced. Growth mindset is about believing people can develop their abilities and fixed mindset is about believing people are born with fixed traits. A growth mindset can help you fulfill your potential whereas a fixed mindset will hinder it. An entire book on this fundamental concept seems too dragged out to me. “At least it’s a short book that I can practice speed reading with” so I thought.

After the initial pages, this book quickly drew me in. The concept is indeed simple to grasp. However, the application of it and its impact on our daily lives is not something that I was actively conscious of. It helps you understand how people behave the way they do at times and how you can possibly help yourself as well as others in fulfilling their potential.

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset

The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.

When you adopt a growth mindset, it changes how you approach challenges and setbacks. Failure is no longer an indication of who you are because it doesn’t measure who you can become. It’s merely feedback for you to reflect on what you can improve on. Challenges are no longer something you fear but something you cherish, because the more challenging a task is, the more room there is for you to learn and improve.

Whereas when you have a fixed mindset, you believe people have fixed traits. Failures are therefore feared upon since if your abilities are fixed, failures are not a reflection of how you did but a measurement of what you can do. A fixed mindset also makes effort disagreeable. If you are smart and you try your best, are you really that smart if you still fail? It is common to hear at exam centers people saying how little they studied and how unprepared they are. Sometimes it almost seems like it’s a competition to see who is the most unprepared. I’m guilty of doing so in the past myself. Although some people are indeed more gifted than others at a given subject, your talent is not an indication of your performance. We all know people who did great not because of any special talent, but because of their relentless effort on improving themselves.

At this point, you might be categorizing yourself either as having a growth mindset or a fixed mindset and probably the former since people tend to view themselves in a positive light. However, people can and usually do have different mindsets in different areas. This is evident when it comes to artistic abilities. Students might have a growth mindset when they are studying for subjects like history, chemistry, or math. But when it comes to artistic abilities like drawing, the word talent is very often thrown around. Yet experiments have shown that you can greatly improve your drawing skills if you learn how to see. So when you are shying away from challenges next time, think to yourself whether you are falling into a fixed mindset.

Keep in mind that the growth mindset is not only on how you view yourself but on how you view others as well. By having a growth mindset towards other people, you will be more willing to put in the effort to help them. Your peers might be underperforming now, but you know they can develop their abilities if they put in the effort. And if you are in a leadership position, don’t be too controlling and abusive as it can put your team into a fixed mindset. Make sure you foster a safe environment where people can make mistakes and learn from it without being judged.

The Danger of Positive Labels

When stereotypes are evoked, they fill people’s minds with distracting thoughts – with secret worries about conforming to stereotype.

The impact of negative labels is clear. You might get discouraged, get down on yourself, or subconsciously conform to the negative labels put on you. It still happens all the time, but the negative impact is clear which makes it easily avoidable.

When it comes to positive labels such as “You are brilliant for acing the exam!” and “Look at that beautiful portrait you did! You are so talented!”, people give out these praises without second thoughts since it usually makes people who receive them happy. What people fail to realize is when you praise someone on their talent over their effort, you are also putting pressure on the person to not fail. Since if their superior results is due to their talent, then they should keep on delivering superior results as the talent won’t just suddenly disappear. And if their performance is due to their talent, then why do they need to put in the effort?

Rather than praising someone on their talent, praise their effort instead. “Look at that beautiful portrait you did! Your hard work really paid off!”. Doing so will reinforce the value of putting in the hard work. And when they fail, it’s no longer because of who they are but about the additional effort they can put in to improve the result.

Praising people’s effort is great, but you only do it when they do put in the effort. Say your kid aces a challenge without putting in any effort. Instead of praising their effort, you can say “this question seems too easy for you, sorry let me find a harder question that will really allow you to learn”. This will teach the kid the importance of learning.

Relationships

Remember how hard it is for people with the fixed mindset to forgive? Part of it is that they feel branded by a rejection or breakup. But another part is that if they forgive the partner, if they see him or her as a decent person, then they have to shoulder more of the blame themselves. If my partner’s a good guy, then I must be a bad guy. I must be the person who was at fault.

When you are in a long term relationship, you will eventually get into disagreements with your partner. If you have a fixed mindset on either your partner or the relationship, then you will probably not believe that the relationship can be improved. And if a relationship cannot be improved, then no effort will be put towards trying to fix the problem. People with a fixed mindset will start assigning blame. They might blame themselves but often they blame their partner instead. And as time goes on, they see the problems as their partner’s character flaws.

The belief that partners have the potential for change should not be confused with the belief that the partner will change. The partner has to want to change, commit to change, and take concrete actions toward change.

When you have a growth mindset, you believe that you and your partner can improve and fix the relationship. It enables you to focus on the problem and to work with your partner towards a solution.

Summary

Carol S. Dweck is a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist. The mindset concept is simple but it is the various applications on our daily lives that makes it very insightful. I highly recommend people to give this book a read. It can have a profound impact on you as well as those around you.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.

 

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Plot Summary

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk that was first published in 2015.

At the age of 17, Elon moved from South Africa, where he was born and raised, to Canada. He then studied at Queen’s University for 2 years before he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania to study business and physics. Shortly after he finished school, he started an online city guide company Zip2, which was later acquired by Compaq for US$307 million. Using his newfound wealth, Elon turned his direction to the banking industry and co-founded X.com, an online payment company, which was later renamed as Paypal after X.com’s merger with Confinity. Despite internal struggles within Paypal in which Elon was ousted from his role as the CEO, Paypal turned out to be a great success. This caught the attention of eBay which later acquired Paypal for US$1.5 billion in stock. The success of Paypal and to a lesser extent Zip2 gave Elon the confidence, the financial resources, as well as the reputation to pursue even his most ambitious dreams.

With goals which include reducing global warming through making sustainable energy more accessible and lowering the risk of human extinction by establishing a human colony on Mars, Elon Musk is not your typical entrepreneur. The Elon we know today is known for innovation as well as executing on the most outlandish ideas. He certainly has his flaws which include his tendency to overpromise on project delivery dates as well as numerous counts of him being unreasonably demanding of his employees. However, one thing that no one can dispute is his relentless drive and unmatched work ethic.

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Book Review

Despite initial push back, Elon eventually cooperated with the writing of his biography. Thanks to Ashlee Vance’s determination to complete the biography with or without Elon’s involvement, we are able to get an inside look into who Elon is and the impact he has on those around him.

By interviewing a wide range of people that were at once point close to Elon, Ashlee was able to show Elon’s role not only as an entrepreneur but as a leader, a business partner, a competitor, and a husband as well. This shed insight into how Elon is able to sustain his drive as well as how he approaches challenges.

It’s one of the very few biographies that I’ve ever read. I find it a very enjoyable read from start to finish. Elon’s story is extraordinary but the level of details which Ashlee presented is what makes it engaging and refreshing.

I’ll recommend this book If you are interested to learn how Elon got to where he is today. You will also learn a bit about the aerospace and electric car industry along the way.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts!

I’m currently reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. 

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

At 27 years old, I still go through periods where I have my Disney playlist on repeat on Spotify. I grew up and enjoyed numerous Pixar classics such as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and Up. Seeing Pixar receiving exceptional reviews film after film, I come to expect a certain level of excellence from Pixar. What I failed to think about and to appreciate is all the effort required to deliver creative ideas year after year, let alone in an animated setting.

I first laid eyes on Creativity, Inc when it was shown on a book recommendation site. As there weren’t many books on creativity in the business section, this book stood out from the rest. I picked up the book to learn more about creativity, but I’m glad Ed also talks about Pixar’s inner workings and his take on the person Steve Jobs had become.

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Foster a Creative Environment

A misconception on creativity is that to get more creative ideas you need more creative people. Although it is true that some people are more creative than others, we can increase the level of creativity by improving the environment which we work within.

To foster a creative environment, first off people need to feel free to speak their minds and to suggest ideas no matter how unconventional the ideas may be. This may sound simple, but this will require a culture of experimenting and taking risks.

Ideas are never perfect from the start. Contrary to what it may seem, Pixar films all started with simple ideas which turned out to be very different from the resulting films we see in theatres. It is through sharing ideas early and often for feedback that ideas are able to be shaped into something that can provide a lasting impact.

By looking at Pixar’s offices and specifically the Steve Jobs building, I can begin to understand how Pixar is able to consistently produce creative ideas.

“Steve Jobs wasn’t involved in making the movies, but he built this office using the same budget and the same amount of time as one of our movies. In a sense, this is his movie.” – John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar

Steve Job wanted the headquarters to be a place that promoted encounters and collaborations. This led to a big central hub in the middle of the building where employees will inevitably run into each other.

“If a building doesn’t encourage collaboration, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” – Steve Jobs

I’ll not go into the many details that went into the design of the Steve Jobs building. However, the takeaways are to promote communication and collaboration and allow employees to freely express themselves. If you want to learn more about what went into the design of the Steve Jobs building, here’s a great article which elaborates further on it.

Leadership

“It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.” – Ed Catmull

Since managers are often evaluated and negatively impacted by the errors that their teams make, they often put in measures to prevent risks. However, what this way of approach overlooks is that learning and creativity often come from taking risks. In order to push boundaries and to challenge existing ideas and processes, it will involve doing things out of the ordinary. So if you are in a leadership position, think about ways where you can create an environment where your team can experiment and take risks. Working as an engineer, this can mean having a sandbox environment for people to experiment with potential production changes. It is when you are not fearful of making mistakes, where your creativity can truly shine through.

“As your position changes, people will likely behave differently around you. You will be out of a certain loop and your access of information will be changed.” – Ed Catmull

Most of us have seen this happen to people around us and possibly to ourselves as well. People will likely behave differently when they are interacting with their managers as opposed to their peers. This is easy to spot when you are in an entry-level position or when you are observing the interactions of more senior employees. But when we get promoted ourselves, we often don’t take into consideration how other people will change their behavior when they are around us. New hires who only got to know you when you are in a leadership position tend to behave differently than your peers that you have been working together throughout the years. And as a leader, you will need to take into account that you might be out of a certain loop and lose access to certain information as people might be more inclined to hide their flaws and be more hesitant to provide criticisms. This can mean conducting more feedback sessions and spending more time to uncover different team dynamics.

When you are a leader, it’s your responsibility to get the best ideas out of your team. Push people to contribute and to voice their opinions no matter how much experience they have. If certain people don’t feel free to suggest ideas candidly, you’ll need to uncover why and address any potential issues in the workplace.

“We will always have problems, many of which are hidden from our view; we must work to uncover then and assess our own role in them, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; when we then come across a problem, we must marshal all our energies to solve it.” – Ed Catmull

Summary

Creativity, Inc. is a very well written book on Pixar and creativity. I came away with a deeper appreciation of animated films and the work involved to sustain a high level of creativity. My book review doesn’t do the book justice as there are many takeaways which Ed nicely summarized at the end of the book. I’ll recommend everyone to give the book a read.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance.

 

Educated by Tara Westover

Plot Summary

Tara Westover was raised in a Mormon survivalist home in rural Idaho. Her dad Gene doesn’t believe in government institutions and prepares the family to brace for the end of the world. As a result, until she was 17, Tara usually found herself working in her father’s junkyard while other kids were in school.

With limited interactions with people who share different beliefs, Tara’s knowledge and values are greatly influenced by her dad. It was until she decided to study for the ACT and eventually gained admission to the Brigham Young University that she got exposed to different cultures and beliefs.

Because of her lack of proper homeschooling, Tara struggled at first in school but eventually caught up and earned a Ph.D. at Cambridge. Of the 7 siblings, Tara and 2 of her siblings left home and have all earned Ph.D.s. This difference in education gradually causes a divide within the family.

Book Review

Tara’s self-discovery is beautifully narrated in her memoir, Educated, where she displays her self-doubts, vulnerability, and toughness. It is fascinating to see how Tara and her other 2 brothers who left home were able to excel in school and earned Ph.D.s despite not being prepared through the traditional education system at an early age. This not only reflects their desire to learn but also is a testament to the value of hard work that is instilled in them from their parents.

One of the thought-provoking themes that were explored was the divide between those who have degrees and those who don’t. This played out in Tara’s childhood where her family barely visited any relatives in town. As Tara and some of her siblings left home and earned degrees, the divide started to grow within the family to the point where Tara is currently estranged from her parents.

Here’s a great conversation between Bill Gates and Tara Westover:

 

Educated is an amazing story which I recommend everyone to pick up.

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts.

I’m currently reading Creativity, Inc. by Edwin Catmull. 

 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Plot Summary

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is based on the story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, during World War II.

In April 1942, Lale was forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Due to his positivity and his ability to speak multiple languages, Lale quickly became a figure other captives gravitated towards and was put to work by his captors as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist).

As a Tätowierer, Lale was responsible for permanently marking his fellow prisoners for identification. One day in July 1942, Lale came across a young woman who he was to tattoo the number 34902 on her arm. They were captivated by each other’s gaze and soon fell in love. Lale then vowed to survive the camp and marry her.

Living in an environment where tomorrow is not guaranteed, Lale had to find ways to navigate through the cruelties and to find the strength and will to survive.

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Book Review

The story centers on Lale’s experience of the Holocaust and how he manages to survive. It is succinct and it doesn’t deviate from the main plot. Not too many characters are fully developed but it feels just right to focus on Lale and his perspective. I didn’t find it emotional due to how quickly characters seem to be introduced and taken away, however, it is very engaging and is a great read.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz not only shows the cruelties of concentration camps but also the power of togetherness. Lale was close to death multiple times and although his resourcefulness is crucial to his survival, it is the help of his friends as well as his enemies that keeps him alive.

Even though this story is not entirely true, I was able to learn a lot about the Holocaust and the perspective of someone living through it. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves reading books with historical context.

 

Have you read this book? And is there any book you would recommend? I’ll love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

I’m currently reading Educated by Tara Westover.

Start With Why By Simon Sinek

Why did we start doing what we are doing in the first place? Often times when a company becomes successful, its leaders start to focus on what they are doing as opposed to why they founded the company in the first place. Although focusing on what you are doing can get you far, it is having a clear sense of why you are doing things that make people connect with you and support you.

Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek explains how great leaders are able to propel their organizations to excel by starting with why. Simon demonstrates how organizations with a clear sense of why are able to have great brand loyalty whereas organizations with a fuzzy sense of why eventually lose their competitive edge.

Even though Start With Why contains less than 250 pages, I find it 200 pages too long. A lot of the same points are made repeatedly with the same set of examples. With that said, I watched Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Start With Why and I highly recommend it.

People Buy Why You Do It

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it

Companies are founded for a cause and to address a problem. However, often times companies forget why they are founded and start to focus on what they are doing. Apple is a great example of a company that starts with why.

Led by Steve Jobs, Apple believes in challenging the status quo and thinking differently. It is reflected in how they develop their products by making it beautifully designed and user-friendly. And they just happen to make great computers. Having a clear why/belief is the reason Apple has great brand loyalty and will have people line up for hours just to get their products. If you focused on what I just said, you would notice I didn’t say computers but products instead. It seems natural that we would buy an mp3 player or a smartphone from Apple. But would you consider getting an mp3 player from Dell?

Dell came out with an mp3 player over a decade ago and it got discontinued shortly after. It’s not because its products are less superior. Dell has access to the same talent and same resources as Apple and definitely have the technical capabilities to design great technology products. It is instead because Dell loses it’s why and started to focus on what which is selling computers. We see Dell as a computer company and can’t imagine getting a smartphone or a smartwatch from a computer company. However, we do that all the time with Apple. This is because Apple has a clear sense of why and people who share that why can connect to its products and even get inspired by it.

Start with why and be consistent with it. That means how you do things, which include your marketing, the people you hire, and your products need to reflect on why you are doing things. And with consistency, people will see and hear what you believe.

Great Leaders Lead With Why

Great leaders embody a sense of purpose that inspires those around them. You can motivate your employees with a higher salary and more benefits. But to get the best out of your employees, they need to feel that the company cares about them and get inspired by the cause that the leader is leading them. Average leaders give their people something to work on, whereas great leaders give their people something to work towards.

Summary

Simon Sinek is a great speaker and an idealist. Although I don’t enjoy the book due to how dragged out I find it to be, I do find the core insights of starting with why valuable. So instead of reading the book, I would recommend watching Simon’s Ted Talk that I shared above.

 

I’m currently reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.