Sunday, 4 February 2018

25 pages a day - Jan 2018

What follows is my experience with reading (at least) 25 pages a day, and mini-reviews of the books I've read through it in January 2018. I find books to be a good way to learn something new and the easiest way to get more perspective on everyday things. It turned out to be a good "new year's resolution" and I intend to write a short summary of the books I cover each month.

Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing

This short book attempts to explain what happens inside our brains whenever we get some downtime, when we are idle. Every time you "take a walk" or "sleep on it" before stumbling across a solution to the problem you're trying to solve, the brain behaves in a special way. There's a lot of historical and anecdotal evidence, based on the life and stories of poets and the teachings of philosophers. The author suggests we spend more time being idle, away from our devices and tasks, to boost our innovative capabilities which are enhanced when our minds are idle. An entire chapter, which feels more of rant, is dedicated to explaining why six-sigma stifles innovation in an organisation in the name of "process".

What I would have liked to see: Perhaps more focus on the scientific aspect of the subject.

Would I read it again? - Probably not anytime soon. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but the concept is simple and it drives home the point in one go. There isn't much to go back to. It was an entertaining read, and I now don't feel as bad spending more time lazing around.

Getting to Yes - Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

A well-written book dense with information, tactics, and examles on getting the most out of negotiations. If you were ever involved in a social or professional setting where a decision was being made, you were in a negotiation and this book will prove plenty useful. The chapters are well structured, that start with describing the problem (of negotiation) itself and then a few core methods that one can use to tackle it effectively. One of the most important things that I took away from this book, that is (coincidentally) dealt with in more detail in the next book, is about treating the emotional aspect of problems, people itself, with utmost care and consideration. You can't "win" even if you're "right" if you don't think about the people involved. There's plenty of examples (hypothetical and real-world) that describe how these methods can be applied, and what successful application looks like. At the end of the book there's a list of useful question and answers for some scenarios .e.g on how you'd negotiate with Hitler, or with those much more powerful than you.

Would I read it again? - Definitely. Just browsing the table of contents was enough to refresh my memory (as it did at time of writing this), but there's a lot that I don't and would go back for.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

Guilty of judging a book by its cover, I always thought this one had a bookbait-y, almost cringeworthy title. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I've seen this recommended a few times on HN and thought I'd give it a go. This book has had a great impact when it comes to influencing behaviour and on how I think about and treat those around me. With examples that seem to be too good to be true, the author describes how adhering to a few logical principles we can achieve what the title says. But the basis for all, is sincerity and honesty. There's no trick or shortcut. It takes conscious effort to put it into practise. Unless you have a knack for it, your "normal" behaviour would probably go against a few of the things mentioned in this book. For me it is (or hopefully, was) frequent use of sarcasm or snark to put across a point (which the book will tell you, is one of the worst things you can do). It's hard to deviate from the norm, but it really does make a difference.

Would I read it again? - For certain. It would take me a few more readings to truly remember all that it has to offer.

The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking

From the same author as How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, in this book, describes how to get better at putting across your thoughts to your audience. Speaking is a two-way conversation in which the audience is as important as the one giving the talk. Just like the previous book, there are no shortcuts. "Preach what you practise" can be said to the principle behind several of the methods put forth in this book. Those who feel strongly about what they say, who speak from the heart, from experience, are more likely to get themselves heard than the ones who don't. Giving examples that the audience can relate to, speaking from personal experience, using visual aids, and being prepared are some of things that this book describes in detail.

Would I read it again? - Yes. Just like the previous book, it would take another reading or two to get it all in.

Below are a few books that I started reading but didn't finish.

The Toyota Way

This one has a preachy, slightly repetitive tone, but the examples talk of astounding gains in manufacturing efficiency achieved by applying the principles that Toyota has. One of the first thing it describes in detail is around eliminating everything not necessary (aka waste) in a process, and there's a lot more to that than I would have thought. I think this one has more to offer, but perhaps not as succinctly as some of the other books.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

A refreshing approach to programming! I haven't spent more time on this primarily because the exercises (to be done at a terminal or on piece of paper) are not as convenient to go through when commuting, where most of my reading takes place.

The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing

So far, this book has taught me a very importance difference. The one between actual and speculative investments. It explains the various investments instruments available in the U.S. (which are not much use to me, but the ones everywhere else are not vastly different) and how they have performed over the past. It tells you that to be a decent investor, you need to make the least amount of mistakes. To not let emotion influence your judgement. To be confident in what you pick, so much so that you'd stick with it if the market shut down for a decade, or if you could not see the ticker everyday. I don't expect to get exceptional returns after following everything in the book, but I do hope to identify and avoid investment mistakes.