Very Well Read

Quotations from, and the occasional reflection on, things that I have read.

Archive for the category “nonfiction”

What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

Cross-posted from my other blog.

I was quite excited when I first heard that Malcolm Gladwell had a new book out. I received Outliers from Sarah & Dave for Christmas last year, which I devoured while I was in Mexico and soon after I discovered the free e-audiobooks at the library, I quickly devoured Blink and The Tipping Point too. Love, love, loved all three of those books. So when I saw that Gladwell’s new book, What the Dog Saw, was at the library as an e-audiobook, I signed right up to get a copy.

After having read it through, all I can give it is resounding “meh.” When I first got the book, I didn’t realize that it was just a collection of his old essays. His other books each had an overarching theory for which the book built a case. And while this book wasn’t intended to be that way ((although it’s roughly structured into three separate “sections” of somewhat related essays, there isn’t really a coherent story in there, at least not as far as I could see)), I found it much less compelling than his other books. The stuff if in the essays was interesting, but it didn’t seem to go anywhere. You can definitely see glimpses of his other works – like the essay on how interviewers make snap judgments on people, which is clearly related to Blink – but I already read that stuff in his other books. Overall, I just felt like this book was put out with the thought “Hey, Malcolm Gladwell books sell like hotcakes – throw one together as fast as you can!” I guess I should have realized when What The Dog Saw was released this year, only a year after Outliers, that he couldn’t have written a whole book of new material and had it published that quickly!

Here’s hoping the next Gladwell book doesn’t come out for a few years!


Eat That Frog!

Cross-posted from my other blog.

Hot off the heels of listening to my first audiobook in the car on the way to and from work, I decided to see if the library had the next book on my list to read: Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. This is the one I found on in e-audio format!

Eat That Frog! 2nd EditionEat That Frog is a book about not procrastinating. Basically, it tells you to stop procrastinating already. I mean, it did have some tips in it – the main one, which he states over and over again – is to figure out which task is your main priority (i.e., which task if going to get you the biggest and best results) and then do it. Make it the first thing you do in the morning – don’t dilly dally checking your email, chatting to co-workers, or doing other low (or no) value tasks. Just do it. I was hoping there would be some sure fire way to kick my butt out of procrastination mode, but this book just told me to set my mind to it and then do it. But I wanted a magic bullet!!

Also, he does say a few things that are just a bit ridiculous:

  • he claimes you should get 8 hours of sleep a night, at least 30 minutes of exercise per day1, read a full hour every day on your field to become more expert, take a full day per week off from any work, go into work a little bit early and stay a little bit late everyday, eat healthy (no junk food – meaning you’ll spend a fair amount of time grocery shopping, cooking & cleaning up after)…. it just doesn’t seem there’s enough hours in the day to do all he says
  • he also contradicts himself – at one point, he talks about spending time with family & friends as being the most important thing – it’s why you want to work more efficiently, so you’ll have time to socialize and be part of the community. Then he admonishes you not to “waste time” talking with your co-workers.
  • It seems like he makes up numbers. I mean, this might just be the academic in me coming out (why aren’t you citing your sources?? Oh right, it’s a book for the general public, not the New England Journal of Medicine!), but he throws around things like “doing X will make you 2, 3 or even 4 x more effective!” and “50% of a worker’s time is spent doing Y!” without every referencing where this comes from2.
  • He takes a page out of the Stuart Smalley handbook, pretty much telling you that you should be saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gosh darnit, people like me! Except that I don’t talk with any of them at work because they are not a value use of my time.”

Also, one of his suggestions was to listen to education audio programs, such as this one, while in your car. The average worker “wastes” 20 billion hours a year driving, so why not make it productive by learning stuff? And I was all “I *am* listening to this in my car!” And then I felt superior.

In fairness, since reading3 this book, I have decided to make more of a conscious effort to do my most important task first thing in the morning (instead of my usual email checking) and to even have my e-newsletters not show up in my inbox, so I don’t get distracted by them and can scan through them all at once, in a more efficient way, rather than being constantly jolted out of my important work when I see “ooh, there’s something in my inbox! Must check now!!” It’s not like I didn’t know that I should do this, but I decided to actually challenge myself – since apparently no one is about to give me a magic anti-procrastination bullet!

1Citing the old recommendations. Current recommendations are to exercise an hour a day, so he’ll need to update that.
2Note to self: get hands on a hardcopy of this book and check for references!
3er, listening to

Getting To Yes

Cross-posted from my other blog.

At my new job, everyone has to put together performance plans to plan and track their performance. The majority of the plan revolves around planning the projects you are working on, but there is also a part for planning your own professional development. There are a number of suggested “leadership competencies” on which you can work and they even provided suggested resources (e.g., online modules, courses, books) to help you develop in your chosen areas. In the area of “communication skills” – something I like to think is one of my strengths – one of the books on the list caught my eye: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Because, although I’m fairly strong on communication generally, I suck at negotiation. I hate it. The thought of it stresses me out. My image of negotiation is two opposing sides that hate each other, each trying to screw the other over to get as much as they possibly can for themselves. Yuck. My strengthes in communication, I feel, have to do with things like active listening, respect, fairness, objectivity and caring for other people. I don’t want to screw other people over, but I also don’t want to let them screw me over. You can see where my distaste for all things negotiation-y comes from.

But since the point of professional development is, well, development, I added reading this book to my list of things I will accomplish this fiscal year in pursuit of more skillz.

Much to my surprise, I really liked the book! It wasn’t about trying to screw over the other guy at all!

What I learned, in a nutshell, from this book was:

  • separate the people from the problem – remember that the person/people you are negotiating with are people and you have to take their feelings/motives/interests into account. And if you separate the people from the substance of what you are negotiating over, you will be able to deal with both the people and the problem in a more effective way
  • focus on people’s interests, not on rigidly defending a position – Getting to the heart of what each side wants (i.e., focusing on interests) allows you to come up with creative solutions that can address both sides’ interests because it opens up possibilities that you would not even consider if you were strictly saying “I want this” and “you want that.”
  • have objective standards, because they are much harder to argue against than arbitrary positions. Trying to negotiate a pay raise or a house price? Find standards of what other people get paid for comparable work (or paid for a comparable house) and what would make another job (or house) comparable and that will make it easier to defend your offer and reason with the other side.
  • know your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) – think about what the alternative will be if you can come to an agreement with this party. Will you be able to easily sell your house to someone else? Get another job? Knowing what your alternative is will help you decide if you want to keep negotiating or not.

And, if you can believe this, before I even finished reading1 the book, I had used its principles to negotiate a contract! By focusing on interests instead of positions for a contract I was in the process of negotiating, I was able to come up with a creative solution that satisfied both my interests and the client’s interests, despite us being quite far apart in our intial proposals (and if we had merely tried to negotiate from those positions, we either never would have come to an agreement or one of us would have had to make major concessions to the other and been quite unhappy about it). Also, I knew what my BATNA was (as I have a full-time job, I didn’t need to have the contract, so my BATNA was to decline the contract unless I was happy with the offer), which helped me to know what I was willing to accept.

Also, by total random coincidence, just the other day, while searching for some mind mapping software, I came across this mind map that summarizes the book:

Anyway, I totally think this book is worth the read. It’s called Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton.

1Well, listening to it, since it’s on CD.

The Action Heroine’s Handbook

I bought this book for my sister for Christmas. Stumbling across it in a bookstore one day, I saw the tagline on the cover:

How to win a catfight, drink someone under the table, choke a man with your bare thighs, and dozens of other TV and movie skills. [emphasis added]

… and I knew I had to buy this book for my sis.

Being the curious type, and having bought this book months before Christmas, I just may have flipped through [translation: read] this book before I wrapped it up. Overall, I have to say I was a wee bit disappointed. Although I did learn how to choke a man with my bare thighs, and that may come in handy someday.

Worick, Jennifer & Borgenicht, Joe. The Action Herione’s Handbook. New York: Quirk Books, 2003.

Guns, Germs and Steel

A while back, I read Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond. I’m sure I kept notes of stuff I found interesting, but I have no idea where those notes are*. Until I find them, here’s an interview of Jared Diamond by Stephen Colbert.

UPdate (9 July 2008): I was able to embed a video from Comedy Central when I had this blog on Blogger. But I can’t seem to get it embed here. And we can no longer view Comedy Central online videos in Canada anyway, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.

*I also read his other book, Collapse, and have no idea where those notes are either.

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

For some reason, I’ve been hearing about this book a lot lately. I mean, a lot. Like every second person I talked to mentioned it. So I decided to check it out. After waiting for a while (being 27th on the waiting list at VPL), I got the book and, quite honestly, I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t find it to be very well written (far too repetitive for my liking), but for some reason I found the book fascinating. Now, I don’t agree with some of the things he says… most notably, his views on taxes. Basically, he feels that taxes just penalize the poor & middle class, because the rich hire expensive accountants to get them out of paying taxes and the government wastes the tax money you give them anyway. But to me, this means that we should be fixing our tax system so that the rich pay their fair share and to eliminate government waste, making sure that tax money goes to the things it’s meant to go to. Things like education, research and health care are, in my opinion, far too important to be run by corporate interests. But I did find many of the things that he says in this book thought-provoking. I definitely like the idea of having my money work for me rather than working for my money (but that could be because I work for very, very little money!). I also like the idea of working to learn things and the recommendation to never stopping learning.
Some of the quotations I liked from this book were:

  • Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn” – I thought this really reflects a great attitude… we can always learn from our “mistakes,” right?
  • Money is an illusion” – This is a good one to keep in mind should I ever get around to investing… I think it would help with the fear of losing money on an investment… you shouldn’t really be investing money that you can’t afford to lose.
  • “... history repeats itself because we do not learn from history. We only memorize historical dates and names, not the lesson.” – This one made me think of science. I often say that (or complain about, really) we don’t really teach kids science, we teach them the history of science. We have them memorize facts as if they are, and always were, set in stone, but we rarely teach them about the process of science, which is really what science is all about. Science is far more exciting than knowing that there are 206 bones in the human body and the atomic mass of calcium is 40.078 amu.
  • Most people never see these opportunities because they are looking for money and security, so that’s all they get. The moment you see on opportunity, you will see them for the rest of your life.” – This one made me think of my sister. My sister is truly an entrepreneur… she sees business opportunities all over the place. I hope to ride her coat-tails as she builds her empire.

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