Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sea Stories by William McRaven

Sea Stories by retired Four-Star U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven was an excellent book that has the subtitle My Life in Special Operations and details stories from his career.

It’s remarkable how many high profile events McRaven was involved in, including the capture of Saddam Hussein, killing of Osama bin Laden, and rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from the Maersk Alabama.

Along with stories of these events, McRaven starts with his childhood as part of a military family, with his father an Air Force officer, and then Navy SEAL training after graduating the University of Texas. This part was particularly compelling reading, with the depiction of SEAL Hell Week, featuring six days of no sleep and constant encouragement from superiors to ring the bell and walk away. Out of this, don’t ring the bell was the mantra, don’t ever quit.

Additionally in the book was a number of other interesting stories, ranging from those that very well could have killed him, with McRaven thrown from a raft in heavy surf at Morro Bay, California and tearing his pelvis apart in a skydiving accident, to attempting to rescue U.S. citizens held hostage in the Philippines and searching for and finding the shattered pieces of a Navy plane that crashed in remote British Columbia in 1948. The book was a really fast read that featured some great stories, including some very much a part of the historical record.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert was a novel that felt to spend quite a while building a backstory, and which then finished very strong.

It's a first person account by a woman named Vivian Morris, who as a nineteen-year-old left college for New York City in 1940 to go live at her Aunt Peg's theater. Morris is telling her story to a woman named Angela who wrote Vivian to ask about her relationship with Angela's father, Frank. Vivian and Angela interacted first in 1971 when Vivian made her wedding dress at the request of her dear friend Frank, then in 1977 when Angela wrote to tell her Frank died, and then in 2010 when Angela wrote inquiring about the relationship, and Morris replied with the story told in the book.

The close friendship between Frank and Vivian didn't come until quite late and Gilbert wrote beautiful prose of the interactions between them. In relation to Gilbert's usage of language in the book, there were some quotes that particularly stood out...

- Reference to British Army engineers during the Great War, who used to say "we can do it, whether it can be done or not."

- Vivian's Aunt Peg upon picking her up to return her back to New York City following young Vivian's abrupt and shame-filled departure... "once I like a person, I can only like them always."

- How after Vivian's business partner, close friend, and roommate Majorie gave birth and became a single mother, the two of them raised together "beautiful, difficult, tender, little Nathan," someone who Majorie spoke of by noting how hard it was to raise him, how much she loved him and how he evidence that "not everyone is meant to charge through the world carrying a spear."

- The partner of Aunt Peg, Olive, who said to Vivian after she ran away from Angela’s father Frank upon meeting him... "the field of honor is a painful field," and "an adult can make the choice to be in that field."

- Frank's words to Vivian that "the world just happens to you sometimes, and people just gotta keep moving through it, best they can."

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Four by Scott Galloway

The Four by Scott Galloway was an interesting book subtitled The Hidden DNA of Apple, Facebook, and Google and it's noted on the book jacket that Galloway an entrepreneur who has founded nine firms and a professor at NYU's Business School. Along with a look at each company, The Four includes ideas from Galloway that aren't specific to any one of the companies, both on business in general as well as how people should go about their careers, and below covers some of the things that stood out.

Amazon

1. Maniacal focus on operations: Galloway writes of Amazon's investment into last-mile infrastructure, effectively removing friction for a customer. Additionally noted is the focus on robotics, using technology to improve steps in the supply chain process, and using AI to move towards zero-click ordering, where a customer would receive boxes containing what algorithms believe are desired, and then sending back what isn't. Also on this topic is how Amazon profits by selling access to their operational expertise and ecosystem, with AWS and Amazon Marketplace examples of this.

2. Investor storytelling: Noted is how storytelling between the company and investors is at the level where markets have bought into the idea of continuing to invest money in automation and operations for the future. Hugely risky and expensive risks, like floating warehouses, likely won't pay off, but have enormous returns if they do, and Amazon has the trust of the market to spend on such enterprises. Galloway mentions later in the book the power of a CEO who can capture the imagination of the markets, and have people who show incremental progress against that vision.

3. Avoiding commoditization: Amazon has done an excellent job of moving more into multi-channel with integration across web, social, and brick and mortar as the problem with pure e-commerce is brand loyalty is out the window, and it costs much more to acquire new customers than to keep loyal ones. The Whole Foods acquisition an example of this multi-channel approach, and Amazon Prime an example of the company moving way past being just another website to buy from.

Apple

1. Turning a commodity into a luxury item: The biggest thing that Galloway write of around Apple is how it's unique in having a luxury brand, but with commodity materials costs. The company has managed to develop an aura of cool and innovative, enabling it to charge prices and achieve margins that would be otherwise unattainable.

2. Using stores as a competitive advantage: Apple stores are noted as being a huge driver of point one above, with them a sort of physical manifestation of cool, and as of 2017, the 492 Apple stores worldwide drew in one million people daily.

3. Having an operator in charge: Galloway covers later in the book how leadership of a firm is best served at different points in the life cycle by different types of people: an entrepreneur, visionary, operator, or pragmatist, with it being hard, but not impossible for someone to transition from one type to the other. He notes that Apple hiring an operator in Tim Cook as CEO was key to it's continued rise, as if the company wanted another visionary, they would have made Jony Ivy CEO.

Facebook & Google - the ideas written of on each feel to blend together

1. Becoming ubiquitous: The platforms of each company, with Google's main page and Facebook or Instagram feeds, have become the respective places to go for search (with the exception of product searches on Amazon) or social. It's noted in the book that as of 2017, one in six people alive are on Facebook, so when someone wants to do this sort of interacting with others, there's simply not somewhere else they would go.

2. Knowing your users through data: Each company has a huge amount of intelligence about the people who use it's respective services, and is really good at data. Facebook in particular uses that data for behavioral targeting, something that can be very effective, as well as controversial at best, and insidious at worst.

The Four closes with Galloway's view of what he sees as individual personal success factors: emotional maturity, curiosity, an ownership of details, credentials, grit, being loyal to people, following your talent, going where your skill is valued, and asking for and giving help to others. While the book may be a little bit dated with it having been published in 2017, Galloway's notions on individual success as well as what's driven these four companies seem quite insightful and relevant today.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Born a Crime by The Daily Show host Trevor Noah was an engrossing autobiography with the subtitle Stories from a South African Childhood and the book jacket notes that he was born to a white Swiss father and black Xhosa mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, when such a union punishable by five years in prison.

Noah wrote of how he had to be hidden at time as a child during apartheid, lest his mother get found out by authorities as having a mixed-race child. When apartheid ended, there was a huge amount of violence between the Zulu and Xhosa people, two groups of blacks in South Africa. This came in large part because of how apartheid fostered division between peoples, with the white government doing things like teaching school in different languages to different tribes, creating a separation that made it possible for a white minority to have control over a black majority.

Noah's mother lovingly raised him alone through much of his early childhood, and there was a number of interesting anecdotes from Noah, including how he hates secondhand cars, as almost everything that's gone wrong in his life he can trace to secondhand cars, from being late for school to his mother getting shot.

Her car frequently would break down and she wound up getting involved with and then marrying a mechanic, someone who was an angry drinker who felt he needed to be seen as the man in charge. She went to the police the first time he hit her, but they convinced her to not make trouble and sent her away. Noah's mother eventually divorced him, and then he came back and shot her, which led to three years probation for attempted murder, a sentence that likely would have been more if the police had actually filed charges from when she went to them after being beaten. It was disheartening reading of how little protection provided for those who needed it, it seemed people were just on their own.

Noah was a very smart, albeit hyperactive, child who received a lot from his mother, was a tremendous hustler while a teenager, and made it out, with him providing in the book a fascinating tale of growing up in a world completely different than many who would read this book.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony

The Last Rhinos by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence was another great book from the writers of The Elephant Whisperer and while the first effort excellent for it's depiction of animals in the African wild, this one struck me with it's descriptions of people in Africa, including largely lawless areas both rural and heavily populated, and interactions with African warlords.

The ostensible topic of the book was Anthony's efforts to save the Northern White Rhino from extinction, with reportedly fewer than 15 remaining in the wild, all in the Garamba National Park on the border with Sudan in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. The book felt to wind up being more about the interactions Anthony had while trying to save the animals, with him first in the city of Kinshasa in the Congo and then engaging with people from the Lord's Resistance Army led by the infamous Joseph Kony. Kinshasa, which hosted the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle fight between Gorge Foreman and Muhammad Ali, was described by Anthony as home to 8 million people, with only 1M affluent by African standards, 2M making ends meet, 3M living in shantytowns, and 2M on the streets. Descriptions in the book of the city and the lives of the people who lived there, many of them seeming to hang on by a thread, were wild.

Anthony recounts how while in Kinshasa he encountered huge bureaucracy in his efforts to protect and save the rhinos, and as a last resort of sorts engaged Kony's LRA, known as the army that captured youth and turned them into child soldiers. His idea of going to the LRA was to get them to agree to not attack the guards in Garamba National Park, so the guards could fend off poachers, and Anthony went to Juba in the Southern Sudan where there were to be peace talks between the LRA and the government of Uganda whom they had been fighting for some twenty years. After initially rebuffing his entreaties, the LRA said they open to working with Anthony and later asked him to travel for a meeting, which led him on a voyage from Nairobi through Juba, Maridi, Eidi, Nabanga, and finally into LRA territory and Ri-Kwangba in Garamba National Park in the Congo, just across from Southern Sudan where Anthony met with LRA deputy-leader Vincent Otti.

It was compelling reading of the voyage and it's dangers along the way, including siafu or driver ants, and the LRA agreed to help with the rhinos and asked for Anthony to assist in peace efforts. In part due to Anthony, talks were progressing in 2007, until Kony killed his second in command Otti, and the LRA was attacked in December 2008 by Ugandan forces with US backing, resuming the full-scale war. The events described by Anthony came across as very tribal and raw, and so very different than in the western world. The book closes out back in Thula Thula with how life in Africa continues on, both beautiful and wild, and includes mention of the events covered in a heavily viewed YouTube video, as well as of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization.

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence was a remarkable story with the subtitle My Life with the Herd in the African Wild.

Anthony grew up in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi, moved with his family to rural South Africa in the 1960s and after finishing school established a real estate company. He in 1998 purchased a 5,000 acre game reserve in Zululand within South Africa and then a year later was asked to accept a herd of troubled elephants onto his reserve, named Thula Thula, lest they be killed.

He took on seven elephants and they caused definite problems at first, breaking through fences and having to be recaptured. Towards the goal of getting the elephants to settle down into their new home, Anthony personally worked with them, establishing a relationship with the matriarch, and it's a wonderful story of how the elephants grew to have varying degrees of trust in him, and also of the rhythms of the African wild, it's animals, and life and death there.

Anthony wrote of how he and his wife established a luxury elephant safari lodge on the grounds at Thula Thula to fund his conservation efforts, and he closes the prologue of the book by nothing that the elephants taught him all life forms are important to each other in their common quest for happiness and survival.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe was an excellent book subtitled A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland and it provides a look at the Troubles in Northern Ireland, an undeclared war with a portion of the populating pushing to expel British oversight, through the stories of a few people from the conflict centered in Belfast, principally Dolours and Marian Price, Gerry Adams, Brendan Hughes, and Jean McConville.

Conflict in Ireland goes back over a long period, with in the Easter Uprising of 1916, revolutionaries seizing a post office in Dublin and declaring a free Irish Republic, leading to the Irish War of Independence. In 1921 the island was split in two, with 26 counties making up Ireland in the south and 6 in the north comprising Northern Ireland, ruled by Great Britain. Northern Ireland in 1969 was home to a half a million Catholics, who tended to be more in favor of a united Ireland, and a million Protestants, who tended to want the British there.

Dolours and Marian in the 1950s grew up in West Belfast, daughters of people who were in the Irish Republic Army back into the 1930s and who were fervent believers that the British should be expelled from Ireland, with violence towards that end, against either British forces or local British loyalists, entirely acceptable. The story then picks up with the ambush at Burntollet Bridge in early 1969, with loyalist Protestants attacking non-violent Catholics, including Marian and Dolours. Violence then picked up that summer, with many Catholics being forced out of Belfast and in early 1970, a splinter group of the Irish Republican Army formed, the Provisional IRA, or Provos, that was more violent than the original. Dolours and Marian joined the Provos in 1971, with both factions of the IRA banned by the British as paramilitary organizations, and the sisters began to grow a reputation for their role in the armed conflict. In March of 1973, the Price sisters played a large role in a bombing in London, were captured and sent to prison and then, along with others, went on a hunger strike that garnered attention far and wide.

Two other prominent IRA members featuring in the book were Gerry Adams and Brendan Hughes and it was interesting reading of the different paths taken by the two men, with Hughes someone who remained a solider fully behind the cause, and Adams an IRA leader who later denied having been part of the organization and turned himself into a politician that made deals with the British. A peace accord negotiated in 1996 had Northern Ireland part of the United Kingdom, but only as long as a majority of people there wanted that. If their choice eventually to unite with Ireland, they would. Another central character in the book was Jean McConville, a resident of battle-torn Belfast and widowed mother of ten, who people felt was an informer for the British. She was taken from her home by the IRA in 1972 and never seen alive again, simply disappeared, with her family having to assume her dead, but not having any confirmation. Much of the content in the book came out of a research project at Boston College begun in 2001 called The Belfast Project, where people involved in the conflict told their stories, and out of those interviews came information that largely confirmed McConville was taken by the Price sisters, on the orders of Gerry Adams.

Keefe at the end of the book writes of being fascinated with the ideas of collective denial and how people look back on political violence and Say Nothing was a fascinating study on conflict, counter-insurgency, affiliation and attaching causes. He did a really good job of weaving together a narrative from intricate details involving different characters in a conflict that to this day still erupts in occasional violence leading to deaths.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson

Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson was a follow up to his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck that I thought excellent and wrote about in 2017.

I definitely enjoyed the prior book more than this latest one, but a few of the things that stood out to me from Manson's recent effort are the following...

- His telling of the story of Witold Pilecki, who in WWII got himself sent to Auschwitz for the purpose of organizing Polish nationals to break out of the camp, and once there and Jews starting arriving, Pilecki worked to broadcast the news of what was happening in concentration camps.

- The notion that ideas get corrupted when what becomes important isn’t the idea, but rather maintaining public adherence to the idea.








Sunday, June 02, 2019

The Pioneers by David McCullough

The Pioneers by David McCullough was a thorough book subtitled The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West.

McCullough recounts the Americans who left the Northeast in the late 1700s and settled on the banks of the Ohio River, effectively expanding the country westward.

The story is told through the tales of a few main characters, and later their offspring, who both set out on a tale of adventure, and played a pivotal role in establishing that part of the country as one free from slavery.

It wasn't necessarily a book I loved, but told well the story of an important time in American history prior to the Civil War.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle was an excellent book that preceded The Culture Code by Coyle, with the first written in 2009 and second in 2018. Coyle in the beginning notes how The Talent Code was in part a search for talent hotbeds, whether in the favelas of Brazil or successful classrooms, and he covers both three drivers of talent and the substance in the body that strengthens and grows as talent increases.

Part One - Deep Practice

Coyles covers well the importance of deep or targeted practice, iteratively working on something, breaking it down to component parts to find and eliminate errors and developing mastery to the point of unconscious action. The idea is to struggle with something, work at it, then get it as intense focus and concentration is what ingrains a lesson. It requires someone being willing to be bad at something, and to go slow and take things one step at a time, and then chunking together learned skills.

Part Two - Ignition

Ignition is how motivation is created and sustained, and acts is a signal to someone they can do something, often something either previously thought of as unachievable or simply not thought of at all. It's about future belonging, or hopeful future belonging, and covered in this section is how ignition often comes via groups, with the example given of KIPP schools, and the ignition cue that's brought up again and again of going to college, with activities and statements made to the students all around the of everyone being part of a group working together towards the shared goal of attending college.

Part Three - Master Coaching

Coyle delves into the concept that a great coach or teacher thinks about what each individual needs and teaches to that, not focusing on lofty oratory to all. Most of successful coaching is about connecting individually with someone, modeling what should be done, and having people gets reps doing things the right way. A quote from the book "skill is a cellular process that grows through deep practice, ignition supplies the unconscious energy for that growth, and master coaching combines those forces in others." Coyle also notes how these three things combine towards the growth in the body of the neural substance myelin, a living tissue that gets stronger as we build muscle memory and develop talent, and then is maintained through targeted practice.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin was a solid memoir by the historian who wrote bestsellers on Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

In Wait Till Next Year, the 76-year-old Goodwin recounts her childhood growing up in New York in the 1950s, with the book about her family, friends, and passion for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It's covered how she became a fan at the age of six in 1949, from her father teaching her how to write down the action from a baseball game on the radio. He would return home from his job as a bank examiner for the State of New York and she recount the day's Dodgers game to him out of her scorebook, something that she notes instilled in her the power of narrative storytelling.

At this time there were three New York baseball teams, the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees, and Kearns Goodwin as a young girl met the players and noted how they largely nice people, with her favorite player Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 had become the first African-American in the Major Leagues. Baseball was a a thread of shared experience through the community, with in school, the principal or teacher at times letting all the students listen on the radio to a key playoff game, and in 1955, Vin Scully announced the game when the Dodgers won the World Series.

Kearns Goodwin wrote of how she got a love of baseball from her father, love of books from her mother, someone beset by illness and a voracious reader who would also read to her in bed each night, and love of family from both. Additionally, there were so many shared experiences by all in the neighborhood, and it noted how when she young, it seemed that people were in things together. As she grew up, Kearns Goodwin noted that "television, once a source of community became an isolating force," and then in high school the civil rights movement began to swirl in the country and she saw the hate in people, but referenced having great teachers during her later adolescent years.

To write the book, Kearns Goodwin went back and reported on her childhood, interviewing many people whom she hadn't been in touch with for decades, and it helped create a good book about a very different time.

Friday, April 05, 2019

The Elephant in the Room by Tommy Tomlinson

The Elephant in the Room by Tommy Tomlinson was a an excellent memoir subtitled One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America. Tomlinson is someone whose writing I first posted on back in 2011 and in this book he gives a profound look at his life.

It's an entertaining read about struggling with his weight, but also much more than that, with the lyrical writing and content about his life and career reminiscent of one of my favorite books, The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer. Tomlinson covers well so much ground: the love provided by his parents, the South he grew up working poor in, the food of the region and what it meant to him, the pain of losing his sister Brenda, his wife Alix and the dog Fred they loved, as well as doing work for a living that thrills him, and with people he built powerful bonds with.

Specifically about his writing, Tomlinson covers time spent working on a newspaper and with writing friends Kevin Van Valkenburg, Chris Jones, Joe Posnanski, and Michael Schur, spending a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and as he notes, trying to write big stories about little moments.

The stories told are rich and profound, including getting throat cancer at 29 years-old and how Tomlinson would save his last fast food receipt, just in case that would wind up being his last and he would stay forevermore away from the temptation. Additionally, the book struck me as very much having a sort of duality to it (which I love coming across in writing), with it an elegy of things lost and that he wasn't able to do and also a celebration of what he has and aspires to in what seems a great life, with the writing on it inspiring emotions ranging from entertained to sympathetic to jealous and to inspired.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle was a really good book with the subtitle The Secret of Highly Successful Groups and in it, Coyle provides examples of successful organizations including: the San Antonio Spurs, Pixar, IDEO, Upright Citizens Brigade, Zappos, Johnson & Johnson, KIPP schools, and SEAL Team Six.

Three different skills essential to the cohesion and cooperation necessary for successful groups are highlighted in the book:

1. Build safety - how signals of connection generate bonds of belonging and identity.

Coyle writes of this as the glue area for successful groups, with having people feel safe within a group by: asking questions of them (preferably in close proximity), actively listening to the answers, showing small courtesies, and thanking people. Related to these activities are the signaling of strong belonging cues in the areas of (A) energy - investing in the exchange, (B) individualization - treating someone as unique and valued, and (C) being future oriented - letting them know the relationship will continue and move forward.

2. Share vulnerability - how habits of mutual risk drive trusting cooperation.

This skill is noted as the muscle area and all about togetherness and working as a group. The important thing isn't what roles people hold as everyone in it together, and the leader in particular needs to be vulnerable first and open... with a focus on listening, caring, and being open along with direct.

3. Establish purpose - how narratives create shared goals and values.

The third skill is described as being a focus on what it's all working towards, with plenty around mission statements and also noted towards the end of the book are the importance of both rehearsals prior to something and active group reflection after. Also covered are the ideas of naming and ranking priorities, employing catchphrases for things of import, and overall working to set teams up for success.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Last Wild Men of Borneo - Carl Hoffman

The Last Wild Men of Borneo by Carl Hoffman was a good book about travel, adventure, and two people whose lives were wildly different than most.

Hoffman recounts tales from the lives of Swiss vagabond Bruno Manser, who spent years living with members of the Penan tribe in the jungles of Borneo, and American Michael Palmieri, who relocated to Bali and became a prolific trader in Indonesian art and antiquities, with many of the pieces acquired by him during long stretches of time spent in Borneo. It's noted in the book that the two men only met once, but their stories definitely shared the common thread of swashbuckling men craving original experiences and connecting greatly with the culture of the region and it's people.

Manser first went into the rain forest in Borneo in 1984 at the age of 30, leaving behind his life as a shepherd in the Alps to go make contact with the isolated Penan tribe that he had read about. When he went in, there were around 7,000 Penan, with many of them nomadic and peaceful hunter-gatherers who lived in groups of 20-40, and Manser was fascinated by how they lived in harmony with nature. While he was with the Penan, their lands became more and more encroached upon by logging, and Manser tried to publicize their plight and help maintain their way of life, with this effort becoming a huge part of his identity.

The other story told was that of American Michael Palmieri, someone who left his country to avoid the Vietnam War and lived a globe-trotting, wheeling and dealing life until finding a home in Bali in the 1970s. From this home base, he purchased sculptures and other artwork he sold into private collections or museums worldwide, with the art symbolic of a way of life, a connection with the wild and untouched as well as mystical and spiritual.

The book is an interesting read that tells the story of both these two men and of the region and it's people through Manser and Palmieri and concludes with Hoffman writing of spending time with one of the rapidly diminishing number of Penan families living freely in the jungle and off the land with their loved ones.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

American Kingpin by Nick Bilton

American Kingpin by Nick Bilton was an entertaining book about Ross Ulbricht, who went by the name the Dread Pirate Roberts on The Silk Road, a website he founded and ran to sell almost any illegal item, in particular any illegal drug.

There were remarkable characters painted richly in the book, from Ulbricht to his mentor in growing the site, a man who went by the name Variety Jones, to the law enforcement agents after him, including Jared Der-Yeghiayan from Customs and Border Protection, Chris Tarbell from the FBI, and Gary Alford from the IRS.

Ulbricht as a college student became a Libertarian, someone who believes the government should stay out of people's personal lives, and if they want to put something into their bodies, that's up to them. He was then living in Texas and started working on building The Silk Road in 2010, launching it in January 2011, first selling on it his homegrown magic mushrooms, and very shortly after, drugs sold by others.

The site used a combination of the Tor web browser, on which someone's online activity couldn't be tracked, and people paying with untraceable Bitcoin, and after a June 2011 article written about the site by Adrian Chen for Gawker, things picked up dramatically, both in terms of activity on the site and law enforcement interest in stopping it. The opening of the book featured Customs Agent Der-Yeghiayan in October 2011 being alerted to a single ecstasy pill being mailed from the Netherlands to someone in the US. and by the beginning of 2012, Ulbricht was making some $10K a day in commissions from the site, with it eventually becoming a $1.2B business. Ulbricht as the Dread Pirate Roberts both frequently payed extortion demands from people hacking into the site and contracted for murders, which may or may not have ever been done, against people threatening his business.

Ulbricht moved to San Francisco in summer 2012 and in May 2013, IRS Agent Alford found an old drug forum post mentioning The Silk Road the week it opened, and then from the forum learned that the post had been written by someone whose account registration noted a RossUlbricht@gmail address. Then in July 2013 there was a group of fake IDs that Ross had ordered and were intercepted at SFO, with Alford learning of this flag on Ulbricht's name and this along with the forum post and a couple of additional pieces of digital footprint evidence convinced authorities they had found the Dread Pirate Roberts. Ulbricht was arrested in San Francisco in October 2013, found guilty of all charges brought against him and in May 2015 sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Give and Take by Adam Grant

Give and Take by Adam Grant was an excellent book subtitled Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, with the following what stood out from each chapter...

Chapter One: Good Returns - People act as either takers, givers, or matchers (or somewhere in between) in terms of reciprocity styles with others.

Chapter Two: The Peacock and the Panda - People who are givers are consummate networkers, with that focused on doing things to help people, being in touch, strengthening weak, and reactivating dormant ties. Told by Grant is the story of Adam Rifkin, the person with more LinkedIn connections than anyone, and his maxim that you should be willing to spend five minutes doing anything if it helps someone.

Chapter Three: The Ripple Effect - It's not about getting credit, show up, work hard, be kind, take the high road. Also covered is how success often due to the work of a team, when a team star goes elsewhere, often the level of success doesn't follow.

Chapter Four: Finding the Diamond in the Rough - People will often achieve in part because of someone (whether a parent, teacher, coach, or manager) telling them they expect achievement. It's best for a leader of any type to not spend resources and energy trying to find those with potential, but rather to see potential in everyone, and run the risk of those people perhaps proving otherwise.

Chapter Five: The Power of Powerless Communication - Truly effective communication can often come from admitting weaknesses and being real, not trying to have "powerful communication." Part of being real is asking questions and listening to the answers, expressing vulnerability and seeking advice.

Chapter Six: The Art of Motivational Maintenance - Successful givers are just as ambitious as takers and matchers, just successful givers who don't burn out are ones who are giving for a cause they care about. Studies have shown that the sweet spot of volunteering is 100 hours a year, or two hours a week, as this amount of giving is enough to feel like a difference being made.

Chapter Seven: Chump Change - A way to avoid being a giver that's taken advantage of is is the approach of generous tit for tat, basically forgiving 1/3 of bad behavior by people. Also, regularly scheduled times with people, will help avoid it becoming a one-way conversation, and a potential approach in negotiation to help avoid getting pushed around is to think of oneself as an agent, someone who is doing things of behalf of others, like one's family. Additionally from this chapter was a quote from Randy Pausch in The Last Lecture, "wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you."

Chapter Eight: The Scrooge Shift - People do things for others often when they feel it makes them part of a team, or they're doing something for someone they feel an affiliation with or connection to, with this chapter noting and describing the benefit of joining a reciprocity rings.

Chapter Nine: Out of the Shadows - Successful givers get to the top without cutting other people down.

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown was solid book that followed her Braving the Wilderness from 2017.

The subtitle of her prior effort was The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone so focused on the individual, and her latest, subtitled Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts, notes in the book jacket that it an attempt to answer how organizations cultivate braver, more daring leaders, and how the value of courage gets embedded in the culture of an organization.

A few different things stood out from the book and are noted below...

- People, people, people... those you work for and with are all people.

- Vulnerability at work is vital... and trust comes before vulnerability.

- A leader is someone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth was a really good book, with some of the key ideas from the various sections and chapters noted below...

Part One - What Grit is and why it matters

Showing up: Grit is caring about something, and sticking with it.

Distracted by talent: People become enamored with talent, but it's grit that matters more.

Effort counts twice: Duckworth's theory of achievement is that (A) talent x effort = skill and (B) skill x effort = achievement. The treadmill test, how long people stay on one when it cranked up, is an important measure of future success, and the more refined measure of grit would be who came back the next day to try a treadmill test again.

How gritty are you? Grit has two components, passion and perseverance... so consistency over time is very important. Goals can be structured into low-level, mid-level, and top-level... with effort towards the achievement of one level of goal feeding to the next level. If a goal not in the hierarchy, then it likely can be discarded as not important as too many unrelated goals can be a bad thing.

Grit grows: Grit develops through: (A) interest - enjoyment in something, (B) practice - trying to improve at it,, (C) purpose - believing that it matters, and (D) hope - believing you can go on.

Part Two - Growing grit from the inside out

Interest: People perform better at something when it interests them, and the goal isn't to simply look for a passion, but to foster one. Someone should try out different things and develop the one that seems most promising... like pulling on a string. Passion for work is: (A) a little bit of discovery, (B) a lot of development, and (C) a lifetime of deepening.

Practice: The 10,000 hour rule as written of by Gladwell is very relevant towards developing mastery, but it's also important that time in practice be executed deliberately, with specific goals around improving, including focusing on sub-skills, asking for feedback, and pushing through pain. Deliberate practice is for preparation, leading to flow for performance. Deliberate practice should be made a habit.

Purpose: True purpose is often doing something that pays dividends for other people, with the intention to contribute to the well being of others and this desire to do for others is often going to be correlated with grit. Callings aren't simply found, they have to be developed and deepened.

Hope: Grit rests on the expectation that our efforts will improve the future in some way. It isn't suffering that leads to hopelessness, it's suffering that someone thinks they can't control and optimists assume that problems and bad situations are temporary, pessimists assume they're permanent. A growth mindset leads to optimistic self-talk, which leads to perseverance over adversity.

Part Three - Growing grit from the outside in

Parenting for grit: What's signed up for has to be seen through. Also, it's important to model that things should be seen through as kids may not listen, but they will imitate. Supportive and demanding is the way to go and many gritty people have talked about how their parents are gritty role models.

The playing fields of grit: Kids who do extracurricular activities fare better on almost all metrics,  continuously being involved with something and improving at it... signing up, signing up again, making progress over multiple years. Following through on something both requires grit and builds it as especially in youth, industriousness can be learned. Duckworth's family has a hard thing rule: first is everyone has to have a hard thing they do (whether sports, music, arts, writing, or something else), second is they get to pick it, third is they have to follow it to it's completion and not quit.

A culture of grit: If someone wants to be grittier, they should find a gritty culture and join in as the way to be great at something is to be part of a great team. If someone a leader and wants people in their organization to be grittier, they should create a gritty culture, one that fosters development rather than attrition. Also, the language used by a leader is important, as they should say exactly what they want to communicate.

Conclusion: Genius is working towards excellence, ceaselessly, with every element of your being.

It was an excellent book, right up there with some of the best of this type that I've read.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Disrupted by Dan Lyons

Disrupted by Dan Lyons was centered around his time at HubSpot, a venture capital-backed marketing startup in Boston and the book both entertaining in the depiction of the company and Lyons trying to assimilate to it and sobering with how he describes startups as a whole and his view of how the industry works.

Lyons was previously the Technology Editor for Newsweek and hired in April 2014 at HubSpot, with the company making software used primarily by small businesses in their marketing efforts, either through outbound marketing via an automated email program, or inbound marketing with customers publishing blogs, websites, and videos so people come to them. Lyons was hired with the somewhat nebulous title of Marketing Fellow and from his conversations with the two company leaders at HubSpot, he felt he would be working on fairly high-level marketing. What he wound up being tasked with by his immediate management was writing blog posts, with the intent of getting people to express interest in learning more and generating a lead. The book covers how it's possible that Lyons was hired as a sort of PR move with them bringing in an established journalist, but also possible that the founders who hired him genuinely liked his skills, but then were distracted by other things.

Regardless of what led to his role at HubSpot, Lyons writes a rollicking story of what the company like. When he was hired, HubSpot had around 500 employees, the majority of them young, and marketed itself as a fun and exciting environment that was all about culture, teamwork, and making a difference. What Lyons described finding, however, was a strange and hard-partying environment primarily for those right out of college, and one that many people would with little warning get thrown out of, or as the company said "graduated" from. In a way, the stories from Lyons bring to mind the idea that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

There's definitely funny tales in the book about HubSpot, but on a broader scale, Lyons also writes of how a startup doesn’t need to have great technology or even turn a profit, it just needs venture capital to fund it and investors to want to buy shares in it, with the founders and venture capital firms the ones who reap the majority of the wealth. Lyons describes how HubSpot fit perfectly with the model of what investors wanted, a focus on revenue growth predominately via the engine of fairly low-paid employees providing sales and marketing staffing, with one phrase of his from the book about the company as "a financial instrument, a vehicle by which money can be moved from one set of hands to another." Additionally, Lyons wrote about companies continuing this same model after going public and the book concludes with Lyons leaving in December 2014 and then his manager as well as the CMO being forced out of the company due to their "attempts to procure the manuscript to a book about HubSpot," with one fired and one resigning. The company at the time the book came out in 2016 was a public one with a market value of nearly $2B and had never turned a profit, losing over $100M.