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.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Lawrence Hill: I used The Book of Negroes as the title for my novel, in Canada, because it derives from a historical document of the same name kept by British naval officers at the tail end of the American Revolutionary War. It documents the 3,000 blacks who had served the King in the war and were fleeing Manhattan for Canada in 1783. Unless you were in The Book of Negroes, you couldn’t escape to Canada. My character, an African woman named Aminata Diallo whose story is based on this history, has to get into the book before she gets out.

Plot Summary

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill is a novel that narrates the life of Aminata Diallo,  who was abducted from her village, Bayo, at the age of 11. Aminata was bright beyond her years and even at a young age had learned from her mom how to be a midwife and from his father how to read. Using the skills she learned, Aminata took on the role of a midwife and eventually learned how to communicate in English as well. During the slave voyage to South Carolina, a boy her age, Chekura, who had been forced to help the slave traders, had cared and grown close to Aminata.

When the ship arrived at South Carolina, the captives who survived were sold and dispersed in a slave auction. Even though this separated Aminata and Chekura, they sought out one another and their affection for each other grew as time went on. This novel is centered on Aminata’s pursuit of freedom and her dream to return to Bayo.

Book Review

The Book of Negroes is a book that makes you understand the cruelty of slavery and the implications of not being free. The storyline is compact and successfully communicated the different nuances of the challenges Aminata faced. Despite having introduced many characters throughout the novel, the character development is brilliantly done. You can feel connected to the characters and have an understanding of all the different perspectives presented.

The Book of Negroes goes into great extent detailing the cruelties humans can do to each other. However, it also shows how far having a strong will can go in helping you achieve your dreams. Being separated by slavery, Aminata and Chekura were able to stay loyal to each other no matter the distance or danger presented in their way.

The book is beautifully written and provides a good understanding of what living in slavery means. You learn to relate and care for the characters and especially Aminata Diallo. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys great character development or to anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of what it means to live in slavery.

 

What book are you currently reading? I’d love to hear any books that you’d recommend as well!

Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Leadership is communicating others’ worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.

I have seen mixed reviews on The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. Some reviews said it’s life-changing and others said you just need to know what the 7 habits are and the book doesn’t warrant a purchase. After hearing the book getting recommended by my mentor, I decided to give it a read and to stop the “should I give this book a read?” internal dialogue whenever I go book shopping.

Even though this book can be much more concise, it is very beneficial. The 7 habits are indeed easy to grasp, but it’s the methods that Stephen uses to build and reinforces these habits that I can take away and incorporate myself.

Habit #1 – Be Proactive

Until a person can say deeply and honestly, “I am what I am today because of the choices I made yesterday,” that person cannot say, “I choose otherwise.”

Be proactive and look for ways to get the results you are after. Often times, people attribute their mistakes and failures to external factors such as your boss, your coworkers, or your living conditions. These external factors do have an impact on your results, but they do not determine it. If you have to work with coworkers who often cause mistakes due to their inexperience, spend the extra time to understand and to train them rather than simply be frustrated by their low productivity. You may not determine the situation you are in, but you can take the initiative and the responsibility for you to improve your situation and to make things happen.

Habit #2 – Begin with the End in Mind

You can do it in every area of your life. Before a performance, a sales presentation, a difficult confrontation, or the daily challenge of meeting a goal, see it clearly, vividly, relentlessly, over and over again. Create an internal “comfort zone.” Then, when you get into the situation, it isn’t foreign. It doesn’t scare you.

Efficiency is a big focus nowadays. You study hard and get the highest grade for your courses. You try to do your tasks at work more efficiently. You try to get promoted sooner by putting in the work. But how often do we take a step back and consider if we are taking the right courses and whether we should consider a different degree? How often do we consider whether the tasks we are working on solves a key problem and if it does whether there’s a better solution or an even more important problem that we should be tackling? And how often do we consider whether to switch careers when we do not enjoy what we are currently doing?

Know what your goals are first before you start working. Picture yourself at your own funeral. You see your family, friends, and coworkers giving speeches about you. What do you want them to say? That will be your ultimate goal for the different roles you take on in life. With a lifelong goal in mind, you can work backward and establish yearly, monthly, and weekly goals. Plan out your week around your weekly goals. Doing this will help you allocate your time effectively and let you work with a purpose.

Habit #3 – Put First Things First

If we don’t have a clear idea of what is important, or the results we desire in our lives, we are easily diverted into responding to the urgent.

When you begin with the end in mind, you will have goals for the different roles (ex. brother, coworker, employee, friend, son, individual) you take on in life. Schedule time to achieve the weekly goals for each of your roles. This will give you clarity on what to focus on and will bring attention to the roles that you aren’t dedicating enough time to.

Ask yourself: What is one thing you could do (something you aren’t doing now) that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life? Allocate time for it and spend less time on things that don’t help you accomplish your lifelong goals.

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Keep in mind that urgent is different from important. Focus on and prioritize things that are important. If you don’t schedule time for things that are important, they will not get done since urgent things will take priority.

Habit #4 – Think Win/Win

Win/win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions.

Simply put, win/win is when both parties involved in an agreement or relationship are happy with what they signed up for. For any human interactions, think win/win. There will be situations where both parties can’t come to a win/win solution and if that’s the case, you are most likely better off to go for “no deal” rather than forcefully accepting a solution either side isn’t happy with. Even though going for win/lose, when you win and the other party loses, can benefit you in the short term, it can hurt you in the long run as you will have a hard time earning the trust of the other party when you don’t have their best interest at heart.

Emotional maturity is the ability to express one’s own feelings and convictions balanced with consideration for the thoughts and feelings of others.

To go for win/win, you not only have to be considerate but also courageous. If you’re not courageous, you won’t express and stand up for your own ideas and will often end up in a lose/win situation.

Habit #5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

The key to effective personal communication is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Everyone wants to be understood, however, not all of us take the time to understand others.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They are either speaking or preparing to speak.

Before making suggestions or providing solutions we often don’t take the time to understand the problem and all of the different perspectives. We don’t trust doctors who prescribe solutions without doing a detailed diagnosis so we shouldn’t take the same approach when we communicate with others to solve problems as well.

When you can present your own ideas clearly, specifically, visually, and most important, contextually – in the context of a deep understanding of other people’s paradigms and concerns – you significantly increase the credibility of your ideas.

Habit #6 – Synergize

Synergy means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When cooperating with others, value your differences and build on each others’ strengths to compensate for each others’ weaknesses. Ideas that stem from different perspectives can often be leveraged and merged into a better solution.

Habit #7 – Sharpen the Saw

Sharpen the saw is preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have – you.

I’m a firm believer that the best investment you can make is to invest in yourself. The knowledge you gain, the skills you learn, and the character you develop will always stay with you and benefit you.

When investing in yourself, remember to invest in all four dimensions of your nature – physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional. The physical dimension involves caring effectively for your own physical body. This means eating healthy and exercising regularly so you will have the energy throughout the day to accomplish your daily goals. The spiritual dimension is your core, your center, your commitment to your value system. Establish your value system and reflect regularly upon it to see if you are abiding by it. The mental dimension involves education, reading, and writing. Allocate time for learning so your mind is constantly improving and gaining new knowledge. The social/emotional dimension is about communication with others. This is something that we constantly do all the time naturally. Throughout these communications, try to be a better listener, a more creative problem solver, and a better communicator.

Summary

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book I highly recommend to anyone. The concepts themselves are simple but it’s how Stephen Covey implements them that makes the book so insightful. I’ll personally try organizing on a weekly basis rather than on a daily basis as well as try to become a better listener. As always I’ll love to hear your feedback and happy new year to you all! I’ll reflect on my 2018 goals and share my goals for 2019 with you soon. 🙂

I’m currently reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.

Book Review: High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove

Andrew S. Grove is the former chairman and CEO (and employee number three) of Intel. Having led Intel into the world’s largest manufacturer of semiconductors, Andrew shared his insights on management that are still relevant to this day.

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Although this book is more applicable to managers, it is not limited to people who hold management positions. From the outset of this book, Andrew mentioned that this book is also relevant for “know-how managers” – people who are sources of knowledge, skills, and understanding to people around them in any organization.  These know-how managers regularly affect and influence the work of others even without strict organizational authority.

I transitioned to the data engineer position from my previous solutions engineering role roughly 3 months ago. Even though I’ve never held a management position, I regularly help, train, and/or affect the work of engineers, engineering leads, commercial teams, and product managers. I see myself as a know-how manager and with this mindset, it gives me a new perspective on how I should approach my work which I’ll discuss below.

I’ll also encourage anyone who reports to a manager to read on further since I find it insightful to understand what a good manager should focus on. A good manager will have a huge positive impact on your career growth whereas a bad manager will negatively affect your desire to stay at your current company. The earlier you can identify signs of working for a bad manager, the more prepared you can be on your plan (ex. presenting new ideas to your manager, transferring departments, preparing for a new opportunity) going forward.

Helping others is a responsibility

The output of a manager is the output of the organizational units under his or her supervision or influence.

This quote above is my biggest takeaway. I love to help others and to see those people perform well. Due to that as well as some bad internal processes, I had to work long hours until recently for my own workload as well as the time I allocate to help and train others. I do it not because I have to but because I want to see these people along with the company succeed.

However, this book has given me a different perspective. Since I consider myself as a know-how manager, my output should be based on not only the output of my individual work but the output of all the people under my influence. Helping others is no longer just an act of goodwill, but a responsibility instead. Like my individual work, the time I spend on helping others need to be taken into account as my workload by both my manager and me. This means that I need to be more rigorous when helping others and the time I spend to help others will need to be properly allocated and prioritized against my own individual work.

Time management

How you handle your own time is the single most important aspect of being a role model and leader.

Andrew introduced the concept of managerial leverage, which is the output generated by a specific type of work activity.

It is crucial for managers to spend their time on high leverage activities since time is a finite resource. With that said, choosing the right activity to spend time on only allows you to exert the highest impact. The key is not to maximize your impact but to maximize positive impact. Therefore attention and focus need to be applied to the high leverage activities that you identified to ensure your impact is a positive one.

One example that many people can relate to is getting their performance reviews. Performance review usually happens annually and is the time when you get performance feedback along with any additional compensation or promotion that is deemed warranted by your manager. Performance review when done right will motivate employees to strive to perform at their best. And when done poorly (ex. ambiguous feedback, unclear leveling requirements, no feedback on how to improve) can demotivate employees for the rest of the year and in many cases cause employees to look for opportunities elsewhere. This is why Andrew was very rigorous on carrying out performance reviews and would also give training sessions on doing performance reviews since he was well aware that this is a particularly high leverage activity that can impact Intel’s ability to attract and keep great talent.

Normalize irregular activities

To make something regular that was once irregular is a fundamental production principle, and that’s how you should try to handle the interruptions that plague you.

One of the most costly time sinks is context switching. During context switching, you will need some time to change your mindset and continue from where the task was last left off. Working in a fast paced environment with multiple tasks I need to attend to, I incur context switching constantly. As many as 10 people can message me any given day for me to help resolve an issue. No matter how efficient you work, these interruptions do take a toll eventually. Getting unexpected interruptions throughout the day can drastically reduce your efficiency at any given task. And before you know it the day will be over and you wouldn’t be able to dedicate much time and focus on the core tasks that you planned for the day.

One thing that really helped me was to ask people that need your help to schedule regular meetings with you instead. This will achieve multiple objectives. First, people usually come more prepared with their questions when they come to meetings since they know it’s time-boxed. Second, it gives them an opportunity to group related questions together for you to resolve at the same time. And lastly, it gives people that need your help an idea of when their issues can be resolved. This is one example of normalizing irregular activities that have really benefitted me. If you have any other examples please share with me as well. 🙂

Summary

I’ll say this is a must-read for managers of different levels. Being a good manager is not easy and this book shows how managers can improve the lives of people under their influence which will, in turn, improve the performance of the team. Often times managers simply do not know what they need to focus on and giving this book a read is definitely a great first step.

 

I’m currently reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Book Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Before heading back to Taiwan to visit my family during my vacation, I decided to change up the pace and pick up some books that aren’t learning focused like the management books that I’ve been reading so far. One of the books on the discount section that immediately caught my attention was the Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. The movie was released just a few months ago and I’ve already been hearing great reviews from my friends who’ve watched it. I was able to finish reading it during my vacation and I’ll say it’s a great read especially when you are looking to unwind and relax.

Plot Summary

Rachel Chu and Nick Young are a young couple living in the States who are both professors at the New York University. They have been dating for a few years and are still madly in love.

When Nick invited Rachel to visit his family in Singapore and to attend his best friend’s wedding, Rachel accepted without any inclination of what is about to happen. As Nick has been raised up to not discuss his background, Rachel never knew Nick’s family along with their background and the tradition that comes with being in a crazy rich family.

Nick’s family is among the top 10 wealthiest in Asia. With the amount of wealth and the associated social status that comes with it, the vast majority of Nick’s extended family grew up with a sense of entitlement and materialism that Rachel is unaccustomed to and disliked. Before Nick and Rachel even set foot in Singapore, Nick’s Mom, Eleanor Young, as well as numerous women who are obsessed with prestige and pride have begun to scheme against Rachel and her relationship with Nick. Rachel and Nick’s relationship is challenged as they have to navigate through the obstacles that come from the cultural difference as well as the disapproval from Nick’s family.

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Book Review

The book started out introducing numerous characters that are in Eleanor Young’s social circle. It is hard to follow the storyline at times as too many characters are being introduced around the same time. However, as the character development of Rachel and Nick strengthens, it becomes clear how each character is related to Nick’s family and the story really starts to kick off.

The Crazy Rich Asians shows the different people dynamic of a crazy rich Asian family. Growing up in an environment surrounded by wealth, it shows how people can have a sense of entitlement and even look down upon those who come from families who are less fortunate financially. Despite that, although the environment you grow up with can strongly affect your value system, there are also people like Nick who are down to earth and modest.

People often focus on the positive impact that comes with wealth. Whereas this novel also demonstrates the negative impact it can have on your value system and social circle. It uses different characters to explain how each person handles wealth and its impact on their lives.

I’ll refrain from spoilers, but I do not particularly enjoy the ending. I’ll prefer it to focus more on the relationship between Nick and Rachel and how they face and resolve the obstacles that Nick’s family presents. However, all in all, I really enjoy the book and the change of pace from the usual management type books that I’ve been reading. Here’s a link of the book and as always please let me know your feedback and your thoughts. 🙂

I’m currently reading High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove.

Reseña: Aleph de Paulo Coelho

Sinopsis

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La autobiografía de Paulo Coelho, Aleph, narra su viaje recorriendo Europa y Asia en el tren Transiberiano. Aunque Paulo fue un autor de renombre, sentí incompleto y infeliz. En su viaje, conoció a Hilal, una joven violinista a la que amó y tracionó 500 años antes. Por causa de este acto de traición, Paulo todavía no podía encontrar la verdadera felicidad. Juntos descubrieron sus pasados y se ayudaron mutualmente a recuperar sus vidas y vivir en el ahora.

Opiníon Personal

Aleph es una toma única de autobiografía de Paulo. Permite que los lectores entienden sus pensamientos, sus creencias, y la dinámica que tuvo con las personas que lo rodean. El argumento principal de la historia gira alrededor a él comprendiendo su pasado con Hilal y pidiéndole perdón.

Encontré la conversación espiritual sobre universos paralelos y el autodescubrimiento un poco arrastrado y redundante a veces. Prefiero sus otros libros como La Espía y El Alquimista que me trajeron nuevas experiencias y conocimientos. Este no es un libro que recomiendo, pero aquí está si eres fanático de su estilo de escritura.

Estoy leyendo High Output Management de Andrew S. Grove.

Reseña: La Espía de Paulo Coelho

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Sinopsis

Paulo Coelho narra una historia sobre Mata Hari quién terminó siendo ejecutada como espía en la Primera Guerra Mundial. Mata Hari, cuyo nombre real es Margaretha Zelle, fue una bailarina muy famosa que alcanzó la fama debido a su belleza y su deseo de cumplir sus sueños.

Todos sabemos que no moriré a causa de este alegato estúpido de espionaje, sino porque decidí ser quien siempre soñé y el precio de un sueño siempre es alto.

Por causa de las limitaciones impuestas a las mujeres, Mata aprendió muy temprano cómo seducir y manipular a los hombres para obtener lo que quiere. Fue una luchadora capaz de superar todos los obstáculos que se presentan en la cumplimiento de sus sueños. A medida que envejecía, su fama desvanecía con su belleza. Atrapada en tiempos de guerra, accedió a ser una espía para Alemania para escapar de la pobreza y regresar a Francia. Como Mata no tenía la intención de ser una espía, nunca proporcionó información útil sobre Francia a Alemania. Sin embargo, cuando Francia vio indicios de que Mata era una espía para Alemania, fue ejecutada a pesar de no tener ninguna evidencia concreta en su contra.

Opiníon Personal

Esta ficción histórica está narrada desde dos perspectivas, una carta de Mata Hari a su abogado y otra carta de su abogado a Mata Hari. La carta de Mata Hari ofrece una gran perspectiva sobre cómo se convirtió en la persona que era y las luchas internas que tenía. Señala la desigualdad que enfrentaron las mujeres y el precio que las mujeres necesitaban pagar para cumplir sus sueños. Para la carta de su abogado, ofrece una perspectiva diferente y muestra cómo el mundo estaba tratando a las mujeres como Mata Hari.

Disfruté mucho el desarrollo del personaje de Mata Hari. Te hace pensar en la desigualdad y los desafíos de perseguir tus sueños. Te recomiendo este libro si te gusta el desarrollo de personajes en un contexto histórico.

Estoy leyendo Aleph de Paulo Coelho.

Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is an international bestseller on the history of humankind. Sapiens is categorized into four parts: The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, The Unification of Humankind, and The Scientific Revolution. Yuval studies how humans have evolved into the most powerful animal on earth and the impact of it.

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The Power of Shared Myths

One of the most important things that set us apart from other animals is our effectiveness in cooperating in large numbers, which Yuval argues is due to our unique ability to believe in shared myths. Ants and bees can cooperate in large numbers but can only do so with close relatives and in a very rigid manner. Chimpanzees can cooperate more flexible than ants and bees but mostly with those who they know intimately. Humans, on the other hand, can cooperate on a much larger scale and even have the ability to cooperate with complete strangers. Thousands of people have worked together to achieve the vision of their corporation. Millions of people have cooperated to fight for their country or to defend their religious beliefs. And billions of people are able to exchange goods and services without knowing each other. This is all possible due to our ability to believe in shared myths.

What are corporations? Unlike things like bananas and refrigerators that have intrinsic value, corporations aren’t tangible things you can see or touch. It is simply a shared fiction defined by legal documents that exist in the mind of people. Even though nations and corporations are shared fictions, it is the reason why my co-workers and I can cooperate to achieve a common mission and why millions of people support and cheer for the same national team.

The most powerful shared myths above all are perhaps money. People work in exchange for money which in today’s age mainly refers to cash or electronic payments. Why would anyone work for the majority of their lives to get “colored papers” or electronic payments which don’t have any intrinsic value? This is all due to our shared belief in money and the value that it has. If tomorrow, nobody believes in the value of the dollar bills that you have or in the banking system, your savings will essentially be almost worthless.

There are other factors such as intelligence and communication that contributed to humans rise to power. But without the ability to believe in shared beliefs, our ability to cooperate will be greatly reduced and we’ll not be where we are today.

Human Happiness

Since 500 years ago, we have had numerous technological advances. Transportation is much more convenient with cars and planes. Communications is much quicker with the invention of phones and the internet. And with a global economy, a product that is only produced in certain parts of the world can easily be attainable via online shopping.

But are we any happier than we were 500 years ago? As there is no way to measure happiness, nobody can say for sure. With so much scientific and technological advances, one would think that humans are happier now. After all, what is the value of these technological advances if it makes our lives more miserable? I’m sure most people have either complained about the transportation system or heard about these complaints. When your commute to work gets delayed by 1 hour due to public transportation, you most likely won’t feel any less frustrated if someone were to remind you that 500 years ago your commute would’ve taken 10 times the time it takes now. That is because happiness is not really dependent on objective conditions such as wealth, but more so on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations. So even though the scientifical and technological advances have brought us greater objective conditions, it also raised our subjective expectations too. With social media, people can be more expressive than ever, but it also exposes ourselves to others’ opinions of us. With phones and emails, we can communicate with our friends and loved ones instantly. However, because of these communication tools, people nowadays expect you to reply instantly as well.

More and more scholars have begun to study the history of happiness, so maybe one day we will be able to measure and understand the factors that impact happiness and how the factors have evolved over time.

Natural Selection

Natural selection : the process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring

We have gained so much power that you can arguably say that we have affected natural selection. The evolution of other animals is increasingly impacted not by their natural environment, but by the needs of humans. It would be rational to think that chickens on average will become faster as the slower ones will have a harder time to survive and therefore not make it through natural selection. However, due to our chicken consumption, selective breeding is done where the fattest hen are mated with the slowest cock. And throughout history, it’s shown that once humans set foot in an area it drives most large animals of that area to extinction. On the other hand of the spectrum, domesticated animals, such as dogs, cats, and pigs grow in numbers.

With the advances in the field of biological engineering, we have even gained the ability to genetically modify animals. This raises questions that pertain to our responsibility towards the planets and especially the other animals that are negatively impacted by our behavior.

Summary

Yuval discussed the history of humankind and offered his unique perspective on it. It puts into perspective how long humans have been around and makes you think about the impact we are making and the history we are leaving behind us. It’s a very thought-provoking book and I’ll recommend it to people who are interested to learn about the history of humankind and its impact.

I’m currently reading La Espía by Paulo Coelho.

Book Review: Rework by Jason Fried

If given a choice between investing in someone who has read ‘Rework’ or has an MBA, I’m investing in ‘Rework’ every time. – Mark Cuban

Rework by Jason Fried is one of the books which Mark Cuban credits his success to. Due to that (along with the great looking book cover) I was very excited to start reading it. I’ll say this is by far the most enjoyable read I’ve ever had, especially considering it’s business related. Every chapter is an insight which is usually covered within 1 – 2 pages. There was really no dull moment throughout the entirety of the book. Nothing is dragged on and just enough context is given to illustrate each insight.

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Build half a product, not a half-assed product

When building a product, don’t focus on trying to give your customers everything all at once. You simply won’t be able to focus on everything and do them well with the limited time, resources, ability, and focus that you have. Prioritize the most important features first and build it well.

Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that’s merely good.

Most things get better when they are shorter or simpler. Great producers cut good scenes to make great movies and great speakers cut out good content to give great speeches. Jason Fried and his team cut this book from 57,000 words to about 27,000 words. Give this book a read and you will understand how less is more.

Do it yourself first

Never hire anyone to do a job until you’ve tried to do it yourself first.

For any tests, if you see “never” or “always” as part of an answer on a multiple choice question, you can usually rule out that answer right away. The same thing applies in this case as there are usually exceptions to the rule. However, what is important is the message behind this quote. If possible, spend the time to understand a given role before you delegate or hire someone to do it. It’s even better if you can spend a day working in that role. This way you will have a good understanding of the role and the challenges that come with it. This can make you a better manager as you will know what to evaluate people on as well as give yourself a more holistic view of your organization.

Own your bad news

When something bad happens, own it and apologize. Don’t try to hide bad news from your customers if they haven’t discovered it yet. In today’s day and age, bad news can only be hidden for so long. There will always be a narrative whether it comes from the press, your competitors, or from you. So own your bad news and apologize, you’ll be better off if you’re the one telling the story.

And just like giving a speech, what draws people’s attention is usually not the mistake, but the reaction to the mistake. People can always tell when an apology is sincere or not, so be honestly concerned about the impact of your bad news and apologize like you will to a real person.

We have probably all heard or seen a variation of “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused” as an apology. I’ll admit that I’ve used a variation of it myself to clients over emails. Besides sounding generic and templated, this specific example is bad for a number of reasons. First, when you apologize take ownership of it, so rather than use “we” use “I” instead. Second, if the client depends on your services then your impact is more than just an inconvenience. And lastly, “this may have caused” implies that there might not be anything wrong at all. Either there is something wrong or there isn’t. And if you find the need to write an apology, that is a good indication that there is something wrong. So own the responsibility and apologize in the right way.

Inspiration is perishable

Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.

Inspiration doesn’t last forever. So if you are inspired and feel like doing something, do it now. Even if you are inspired to take on a time-consuming project, do the things you can do right now to put that project in action.

This is something that I can really relate to this past year. I was inspired by my ex-girlfriend to start reading more regularly. On the very same day, I researched a list of books that I wanted to read and by the following day, I have put in my order for 8 books. This has since led me to read almost every day for 6 months straight and counting.

One of the very first books I read is Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk which inspired me to start my own blog. I immediately looked into the different options for setting up a personal blog and within a week I’ve set up my own blog on WordPress. I’ve been blogging once every two weeks ever since. If I hadn’t acted on my plans when I was inspired immediately, chances are I’ll not be motivated enough to carry out my plans and will not have learned so much by reading so many great books.

Summary

Rework by Jason Fried is a great read that is applicable to everyone. The insights I share are by no means the most important, just the ones that are more applicable to me. Definitely give it a read if you get the chance, it will be a quick read where you can get ideas or be inspired.

 

I’m currently reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.