Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

Never Eat Alone is the ultimate book on networking recommended as one of the best business books ever. But after first few pages, I was skeptical that this book will turn out to be another broad level guide about networking containing importance of relationships and fearlessness ultimately from which I will come out BORED. I can say instead I have come out wiser, clearer and more creative. The book is FULL of practical and usable tips and tricks which will go a long way in improving one’s connections if implemented. And Keith Ferrazzi knows what he is talking about. He has played the game, mastered the game and reinvented it as well. Whether you are trying to succeed as a businessman, want to be a CEO or even running an NGO, this book is a must read to at least take you in the right direction. It will open your mind towards the vast array of possibilities of how you can go about expanding your network.

Now acknowledging that it is definitely a must-read I will like to criticize it a little bit as well. Mr Ferrazzi you would have been much more helpful if you would have included some bits about how people with different set of strengths than yours should try to achieve what you have. Without a doubt, as you yourself have also mentioned numerous times that you were born with gift of the gab and with an upbringing which made you comfortable in one-on-ones with seniors. Not all have the same strength as you have and by simply stating what you have done would not be of much help to the million shy people. Agreed some of your tips are easily embraceable and practice will make you better in the other tips, but because of your immense knowledge in the field I think we can expect more out of you.

So overall I am immensely benefited from reading this book as I plan to continue my struggle to come out of my shell and be comfortable with new people, making good conversations and enjoy in a group other than that of best friends and family. However, I do have these two thoughts in mind: Can drastic changes be made in personality traits and the other one being should I try to address my shortcoming or I should rather strengthen my strengths further.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Cue, Craving and Reward – In hindsight, it all makes perfect sense but deciphering it on my own would have been quite difficult if not impossible. Continuously working without expecting results and practicing self-discipline – these two acts, incidentally highly glamorized and recommended in our culture, can take you only this far. I am not trying to say that they do not help; in fact they somewhere lay the foundation for what matters most – the habit and we need to realize its power. Till what point can you go on fighting your urge to not do what you should not do or till what point can you motivate yourself to do the right thing. There will be a day when your morale is low, day is bad and you give up and then slowly day by day you are back to the same old routine – haven’t we all witnessed this in our lives. Only habits survive and yes for to get a habit or to change old habit, you will need self-discipline but once habit is there you don’t need to rely on the fickle nature of self-control. We all have witnessed people that we are amazed by how much do they get done in a day or how much they know or how balanced they are – well good habits are behind it all. The habits of reading, writing, playing, working out, being organized or simply working hard contribute to our stature, knowledge and well-being more than any other thing.

The author through some amazingly interesting stories and researches has deciphered how cue, cravings and rewards play role in creating and maintaining a habit. He starts with our brain structure and how habit is governed from completely different part of brain than the parts responsible for our cognitive functions. Then he has explained how you should not try to change cues and reward but adapt just a different routine to replace our habit. He has also given good insights on social habits, corporate habits, strength of weak links and even revolutions.

Charles Duhigg’s style of writing is very much similar to the new age non-fiction bestselling writers like Malcolm Gladwell, Tim Hartford, Steven Levitt who all have authored great books in the fields of economics, human psychology and society behavior. While reading the book the insights are so deep, you will get a feeling that author is a PhD in psychology and is summarizing his life’s work but the author is a Yale, Harvard Business School graduate who is just a NY Times business column writer.

Finally recommending it highly to anyone and everyone and giving it 5 stars, I would like to sum up with a quote of my most favorite author, Stephen Covey who has also emphasized the importance of habit in his marvelous book:

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review: The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama

Ever tried reading those mystical or spiritual books in which half of it you do not understand and the other half that you do understand; your mind does not buy it because of being utterly illogical? If you haven’t then you should give a shot to “The autobiography of a Yogi” as I am sure your mind does not have capacity to imagine how absurd a book can be. “The Art of Happiness” was started by me with a fear in mind of encountering a similar book but since I liked an interview of Dalai Lama somewhere I did expect it to be little different. And what a fresh breeze of air this book is. I feel lucky to have read this, to be able to get a glimpse into thoughts of Dalai Lama.  Amazing book.

There is always a sense of disbelief and scorn in my mind when I hear spiritual or religious views because of my atheist inclination. But when you hear a person who is quite similar to you in thought process, trying to explain those spiritual or religious views, how they make sense and even cite some studies which prove the views right, it becomes hard to reject his narration. This book is an effort of a psychologist, Howard Cutler who is trying to first get convinced by the views of Dalai Lama and then give world a way to be able to witness the brilliance and clarity of one of the purest minds in the world today. It makes the book very interesting and credible as the author does not sound completely submissive to Dalai Lama. He reasons it, questions it and presents his view as well.

I especially liked the meditations that are suggested in this book. To me meditations were always equal to reaching the state of near-blackout while keeping your thoughts away but for the first time I have heard about mind exercises as part of meditation. And I did find these exercises very effective and practical. The book is heavily focused on the power of compassion and how you need to control your mind. Power of compassion is really unique in my readings till now but controlling your mind did seem clich├ęd, though the treatment of the subject by Dalai Lama is not at all hackneyed. Must Must Read Book!! Go buy it. Read it. Now!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

As I am writing this, I have just paid the last installment of the fees for making a web-based application. The cost of making it was significant as was the time spent on visualizing, interacting with the developer and testing it. And now I am not sure that it is something I will be translating into a business of my own, at least not in the near future. Sigh. When I got this business idea, I wanted to just-do-it nike style before it gets too late and so I wrote the B-plan in a train travel, met the website designing company the next day and closed the deal day after. I now wish I would have read this book before that.

Eric Ries has written a masterpiece for entrepreneurs with radical concepts and ideas. And you come out buying everything the author has said much like a textbook because everything he has talked about makes sense, is practical and is backed by reason. The book is divided into three parts – Vision, Steer and Accelerate which is further divided into 12 chapters.

In the first part, he talks about how once you get an idea you should go on defining it and go about testing your hypotheses. Every business idea is made up of some hypotheses – people need X, A is inferior B will do a much better job, if there would be Z in the market people will completely change how they are currently doing things etc. All these beliefs of ours, which are obvious to us has many more layers to it or is sometimes even outright wrong though it might appear infallible from our vantage point. All these hypotheses need testing and further refinement for which one should start with what the author calls MVP – Minimum Viable Product. There are many arguments against MVP for example, mine were I will not get the best response if they do not experience the full thing or they might steal my idea. But if you think deeper through those arguments, MVP does make perfect sense.

In the second part, author discusses developing the product further by testing each and every change and deciding which one are making sense and should be included and which ones should not be. Here he highlights vanity matrices and how we should stay away from them. It is very important for startups to use relevant matrices. He also talks about pivot-or-persevere moments in startups when you have to take a call whether to continue working hard on the path you are going or to change the path now knowing something you did not know earlier.

Third part is all about the organization structure, policies and processes that will help you grow. Here he talks about different engines of growth on which a startup needs to be very clear that which one it is going to target. Here he has emphasized on innovation and how to inculcate it as part of the startup culture. The epilogue in which he has discussed how Taylor’s work has been misinterpreted and misused in today’s business world and why startup should not be victim of that, is also very interesting read.

Overall it was very enriching book. I especially liked how the author has been talking about how so much energy and talent is getting wasted chasing unclear and imagined ideas. His work has been an amazing effort towards reducing that loss. I highly recommend this book if you want to start your own company, you have one or are in involved into intrapreneurship.