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A few book reviews

I like to read books. Here are a few I read recently. All but "What Technology Wants" were "read" in audiobook format, which I highly recommend as a book consumption method.

A mentor of mine, Sean Moss-Pultz, recently reflected on how Ayn Rand's magnum opus influenced him, a digital junkie, to reconnect with the offline world. For me, this book was both an accomplishment (longest book I've ever read?), and a foray into a lasting literary work. As for the political ideals, not sure that I agree with all, but as an engineer, I definitely side with builders over non-builders.

Kevin Kelly is awesome. He loves experiments, including using Google Hangouts to promote his book, and try out international videoconferences with his readers. Simultaneous invention theory stands in nice opposition to "hey, he stole my idea" bantering. I think typical Western society could learn a few lessons in curation from the Amish. I'm currently testing that out as I craft my own type of minimalism (most of my stuff fits in one suitcase, plus my backpack). The most important take-away was Kelly's challenge the mission to provide positive visions of the future.

First half of the book: Steve Jobs smells insanely bad. Second half of the book: Steve Jobs is successful, but too crazy and immature to stay with his company. Third half of the book (it was long): Steve does not become much more likable, but does turn his vision and hard-earned maturity into a set of products that people crave, eventually creating the world's most valuable company. The main lesson I learned is not how much I wanted to imitate Steve Jobs' personality traits, but how much I admired Steve's ability to not try to imitate anyone else. He was truly great at being consistently himself, and that is an admirable thing, especially in an age when fashion is dead.

Jim Collins does it again. Actually, this is the first one of his books that I have read, but I've heard good things about the others. Most of the book is summed up by this personality triangle: fanatic discipline, productive paranoia, empirical creativity (with Level 5 Ambition at the core). The concept of a "20 mile march" uses Amundsen's South Pole Expedition as an example to illustrate the classic tortoise vs hare adage. Yet, clarifies that the tortoise's victory was earned through discipline and consistency, not the dumb luck of being slower. Collins also advocates firing "Bullets, then cannonballs." Jim would agree with Eric Ries on this one. Bullets are low-risk, rapid feedback experiments. Cannonballs are the pivots based on the learning garnered from the bullet experiments.

Ok, I'll admit that I was skeptical of Eric Ries. While the advice he dispensed on his blog seemed solid, I've had this perception of him as a snake oil salesman, starting a movement only to profit from it by selling his books and pulling down speaker & consulting fees. And while that may all be true (and as an entrepreneur I may see through it, but still commend him for it), the fact is this: his book is good stuff. I studied Lean Manufacturing in college. The University of Kentucky has a strong Lean program due to its association with Toyota. Oh yeah, and I worked for Toyota for a while. Yet, somehow I thought that all that work only applied to manufacturing tasks in the automotive industry, and had no relation to my current work. Wrong. The Lean Startup is a brilliant look at how to apply the scientific method to help a startup company experiment its way toward product-market fit. Ries' stated goal is to improve the likelihood of success for startups. That's an audacious goal if I ever saw one, as startups are known for their overwhelming likelihood of failure. But if startup founders actually adopt the core philosophies that the book proposes, that goal might be realized.

Following these, I've had enough of business books for a while. I'm going to stick to the practices in Great by Choice and Lean Startup (which not-so-coincidentally advise against the premature scaling that kills most startups), and enjoy reading about anthropology, the elements of story, and the science of happiness.

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