Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

Whenever people find great success and become millonaires like Bill Gates, legendary musicans like the Beatles or shape the future of the world like J. Robert Oppenheimer the story told is one of the person’s great hardships, impeccable skills and inherent intelligence, making us being fascinated of these people’s skills and success. What Gladwell analyses however, is whether these fairytales of success and self-made millionaires are really true, in that they did it all by themselfes.

What Gladwell presents is a convincing account on how circumstances, luck and legacy factor into the success of individuals. Without the right time, place, access to resources, opportunity and family background, these successes would not have happened.

Gladwell’s analyses the circumstances of each respective background and discribes, that without advantages, may those be unlimited access to computers in a time when those were rare, opportunities to play live to an audience 8 hours a day, having personal connections to people of influence, or simply being born in the right year or month.

He states that via 10.000 hours of training, his “10.000 hour rule”, one can master pretty much anything. Therefor, the earlier you start learning a specific skill, the younger you are at the time of it’s mastery. Without unlimited access to then rare and expensive computers, Bill Gates wouldn’t have been able to become profficient at programming at a young age and without plaing 8 hours a day for months on end in Hamburg, the Beatles wouldn’t have become the legends they are today.

Therefor, no mastery without the necessary training and circumstances.
Gladwell, as with most his other books, makes an intriguing case, that fairytales of solely self-made success are just that, fairytales. I found this book quick and easy to read and interesting throuout. Recommended, if you are interested in the content.

Talk like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the world’s top minds by Carmine Gallo

I love TED Talks. Whenever I have the chance, I watch one or two talks and feel awe and envy of the presenter’s skill to transport their massages to their audience. But as with every skill, they are learned and acquired and this book gives insight of some of the techniques and attitudes, presenters use to create their remarkable talks.

Gallo gives some insight on some basic principles of how to present talks that create impact. Most of his proclaimed public-speaking secrets are quie practical in nature, making them quite easy to follow, yet hard to master, needing time an effort to internalize the techniques. That is to say, if you expect this book to make you a presentation wizard over night, then you are likely to be disappointed, as it will take quite the effort to achieve their respective mastery.

While I found most of the described techniques helpful and transferable into practice, I found the book somewhat bogged down by what I would call filler content. A lot of time is spent on individual talks, what was presented and number dropping of their respective view count, which was in most cases unnecessary and also somewhat boring. This filler problem became more obvious in the second half of the book, as content decreased and filler became more prominent.
Still, I found the tipps and secrets to public-speaking quite helpful and giving me somewhat of a guide on what areas of my presentations I need to work on. Therefor I do recommend this book, though I would advise to skip said filler passages.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is the much talked about memoir of Nike founder Phil Knight. In all honesty, until I read rave reviews of this book, it wasn’t even on my radar. I know the brand Nike (of course), but never cared much about the companies’ history or founder.
Still, I must say I am glad I picked it up.

Knight starts his tale with a journey around the globe and his first meeting with the Japanese company Onitsuka, who’s Tiger shoes Knight started to sell in the US before there ever were any Nike. While Knight describes his companies journey until it’s first public offering in 1980, this book doesn’t tell the story of Nike, but the story of Phil Knight.
It is a story of Knight’s struggling for identity and meaning, his need to make his father proud, to leave his mark on this world, of companionship, first love and the tragic death of his eldest son.
At times, it reads like a thriller, with Knight struggling to keep the company afloat and him fighting a federal investigation. Other times it’s like a romance novel, as when tells of his first meeting of his future wife.
But first and foremost, Knight is a philosophe, in search for meaning.

What I found the most remarkable, is Knight’s ability, to create a rag-tag motley crew of co-workers and confidants, based on their individual merit, skills and personality and less so on their formal education and agreeableness. Without his band of brothers, his company wouldn’t have become what it is today, as his skill to amass capable people and giving them the room to become the best they can be, via his hands-off approach to leadership, is the real secret to Nike’s success.

His memoir is simply stunning. The way he presents the events of his past and describes the people he met on his journey, are masterfully coloured. I hope, one day he writes a second book. Wholeheartedly recommended.

Malcolm Gladwell – David and Goliath

Why did I choose to read the book?

After having heard and read a wide range of opinions on Malcom Gladwell’s books (especially Thiel’s name-dropping in his book Zero to One), I decided to start with one of his earlier books.

What is it about?

The legendary eponymous adversaries. Small, lean, quick and witty David, slayed the big, slow and unprepared Goliath, a biblical story used to explain many circumstances of how an underdog rose up to prominence to overthrow the established competition, which has fascinated popular culture for centuries (or maybe even millenia). What Gladwell asks though, is this really true? Is the underdog always the small David, and the established competition always the enormous Goliath? Also, how did David, but a small and insignificant Shepard, find the courage to stand against the perceived overwhelming odds? Gladwell seeks to answer the question, why people become exceptional and what their experiences have been like, to shape them into the people they become.

How did I like the book?

While it started quite slow, with a retelling of the ancient myth and some historical analysis of the story, the book swiftly picked up its pace. Especially memorable were his explanations how misconceived some public beliefs are. Also jarring were his ideas about extremes. Its more often than not just as bad to have too much, as it is to have too little. Too much money for example can lead to new discomforts different or maybe even similar to those that originate from too little or lack thereof. Most fascinating though, were his ideas of how Davids are created. Disadvantages can lead people to do extraordinary things to overcome them and trauma can make people more resilient. Overall, this book does quite a feat in showing how people have and do overcome the unthinkable.

Scott Adams – Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook

Why did I choose to read the book?

Easy, I really like Scott Adams’ Dilbert strip and I found the book on sale by chance.

What is it about?

As described on the book’s back:

Dogbert reveals the many vital skills needed by managers in their daily lives, including:

  • Pretending to care – learn how to hear without listening
  • Competition – experience the joy of setting your people against one another
  • Making decisions – be a leader without making any decisions
  • Incentives – inspire employees by giving them worthless knickknacks.

As is expected, both by the nature of the book and the books description above, this book is satire. If you now the Dilbert character Dogbert, a very smart and somewhat sociopathic dog and some of his misadventures, you will know what awaits you in this book. It is written from Dogbert viewpoint and details his wisdom on how to become a “well paid unthinking corporate zombie”.

How did I like the book?

Brilliant. From the first page, it is making fun of the corporate world and it’s absurdities. In some places, good management advice is being taken, flipped on it’s head by Dogbert sociopathic nature and turned into hilarious advice on how to seem more productive and successful. Also, the comic strips sprinkled in between the texts, are great and drive home some of the points being made. All in all, if you are up for something funny, give it a try.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger & Kenneth Cukier – Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think

Why did I choose to read the book?

Big Data, one of the big buzzwords and game changers of our generation. Though I thought I know what it is, what it meant, its applications etc. I still wanted to know more, hence, this book.

What is it about?

Via a high level approach, this book gives laymen the chance to understand the history, current usage and potential future of big data. It tells the story of how mankind used and still uses sampling by hypothesis (and thereby biased) to be able to manage vast amounts of data, as we were not able to analyse all data at once. Now, with big data mining, we can do just that, analyse all data, n = all. Big data companies, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn and the like, use their collected data to build new services and to learn new things about our world, our behaviours and how to identify patterns. Due to the vast amounts of data being collected (especially considering the rise of the Internet of Things – IoT), the quality of data is not as important, as patterns and conclusions can still be derived. What has to be kept in mind, when working with big data, is that big data delivers correlations, not causality. Correlations are derived from recognized patterns, answering what, but missing to answer the question of why.

How did I like the book?

Awesome book. I found it to be the perfect choice to deliver on what I set out to learn about big data. The book keeps the high level approach throughout, without going into too much detail. Perfect read, if you want to learn what the buzz is all about and you want to be able to join the conversation on this topic.

Susan Cane – Quiet

Why did I choose to read the book?

I really liked Susan Canes TED conference, which I watched some time ago and made me decide to read her book. Also, I have a negative bias on introversion, which I hope this book will prove wrong.

What is it about?

Susan Cane is an introvert in the USA, the most extraverted culture in the world. Her book describes, how extraversion became the american social norm and how a lack of this personality trait can thwart your professional success. She describes the history of extro- and introversion and how today most US leaders specifically those, which graduated Harvard are extroverts. For the most part though, she centers on the virtues of introversion, of how being shy, non-impulsive, creative thinkers have shaped our world and how a focus on one specific trait can but simply be wrong.

How did I like the book?

It certainly did the trick. I too am subject to the negative bias on introversion, as I too believe only those which are loud and possess a powerful outgoing presence can be successful. The insight and historical background given by this book are amazing, especially the comparison between the US (culturally extraverted) and China (culturally introverted) was quite fascinating. Which was great as well were the insights given on how to recharge energy in your comfort zone, while still being bold and outgoing when necessity arrives. Overall, this book gives quite some food for thought, as to how important introverted people are to our society as a whole, though I found it slipping in the last third, when it focused on how to treat introverts properly, which I felt was mostly unnecessary.