Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson – ReWork

Why did I choose to read the book?

Amazon really wanted me to read this book. For quite some time, their recommendation engine kept bugging me to read it. The cover was nice (don’t judge a book by it’s cover, I know…), the premise was interesting enough and the price was alright, so I thought, what the hell.

What is it about?

Written by the founders of 37Signals, a small US company, selling team collaboration and customer relationship solutions, this book covers lessons learned and best practices by the founders. The authors explain how doing less is sometimes more, how iteration of a product or service is the way to go, how staying lean can help flexibility or that focus on growth can hurt a product. Mostly though, this book is about focus. Focus on what you can do and what you yourself need or would need, if you were your own customer. Focus on yourself and your product, not competition. Be proud of what you do and the things you don’t do. Don’t bend yourself over backwards, to add silly features, so you can serve every possible customer. Don’t be that restaurant that tries to serve everyone via a gigantic menu, but focus on a few dishes and do them remarkably well.

How did I like the book?

While the book’ focus is on start-ups and small businesses, the ideas presented, can just as well be used on everything else as well. I for my part, will use some ideas, to better serve internal customers. My favourite part, was a passage about “sometimes good enough is just that, good enough”. Often times, there is no need for a fancy and most likely expensive solution, as with some good ideas and a little spit here and there, small solutions to big problems might just do the trick, until you need to or have the time to get around to implementing the fancy one. While the books content is highly subjective and is by no means academic, the ideas presented are great none the less. It doesn’t revolutionize, but the way it summarizes and often questions conventional belief, make for a good and quick read.

Seth Godin – All marketers are liars

Why did I choose to read the book?

Godin’s bestseller has been on my to-do list for quite some time, as I have read a lot of good things about this book, some even claiming it to single-handedly having modernized marketing.

What is it about?

As Godin explains it, Marketers aren’t liars. They are storytellers. In today’s world, where mass marketing and ever bigger budgets do not heed the wanted result, it is time to rethink marketing. Don’t sell the facts, sell a story. Best yet, provide a frame and let people tell the story themselves. Godin explains what makes a great storyteller and how setting the right frame for the right audience can lead to great success.

 

How did I like the book?

Godin is a storyteller, therefore this book is extremely well written. I am also inclined to agree on pretty much everything in this book, I was either manipulated by a grandmaster or Godin’s insight simply rings true. Everyone interested in persuading via storytelling, modern marketing or simply how modern marketing and existing preconceptions shape our way of interacting with the market, should definitely take a look.

Four stages of competence

Found this to reflect my Japanese studies quite well.
Turns out I am at stage 2, which is extremely depressing.
 
  1. Unconscious incompetence The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
  2. Conscious incompetence Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
  3. Conscious competence The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
  4. Unconscious competence The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

The Manga Guide to Databases

Why did I choose to read the book?

Included in a humble book bundle some time ago, I stumbled upon this book / comic by chance. While I like reading comics and manga, I did’t know of the edumanga genre, until this book.

What is it about?

Half manga and half guide, this book introduces readers to concepts and usages of databases, in particular SQL-databases. The manga portions feature a story of a princess, which has to take over the family business and is plagued with process inefficiencies, due to data redundancies and related data differences. Along comes a magic fairy (yes really, look at the cover, that’s her) and shows the princess and her assistant the magic of centralized databases and their uses. The guide parts show the theory and extended explanations introduced in the preceding story chapter.

How did I like the book?

Loved it. I liked the bonkers story and the way all the concepts are introduced. Towards the end though, SQL functions are introduced and make the guide a little hard to follow, if you have no experience or way of replicating the lessons in a real SQL database. As an introduction, this book is perfect and easily accessible, and even if you do have experiences in SQL database design and programming, this will still be a fun read.

Dona M. Wong – WSJ Guide to Information Graphics

Why did I choose to read the book?

On my job as strategy and sales controller, I created a lot of reports and visualized lots of data, especially when I first created our controlling cockpit. Since its inception, it’s design always bugged me. Concept and information were well thought through, but if I had the chance to redo, I would like to do it differently. But how exactly? How do I make the graphs easier to understand? How do I get the point across, in a better, more self explanatory way? These questions fueled my desire to learn more, hence, the need to read up.

What is it about?

The sub-title pretty much explains it all: “The dos and don’ts of presenting data, facts, and figures”. The book includes examples of how to visualize data, what colours to use, how to stylize text via fonts and what to avoid. It shows common design mistakes and how to avoid them, while also showing haw to visualize different kinds of data properly.

How did I like the book?

Very informative and does what it promises quite well. After just a couple of pages, some pages about the usage of colour to be precise, I already found a lot of what I was looking for. I did not expect colour, especially its sparse use (less is more), to make that much of a difference in reporting and data visualization. Overall this book is great, what I missed though was some kind of narrative or course, which I though the word guide implied. To me, this is not a book to read from start to finish, but a nice book for quick reference, and as a reference book, it’s perfect.

Patrick Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Why did I choose to read the book?

As it’s one of the more popular business novels (my favourite genre) this one was just a matter of time.

What is it about?

This business novel (or business fable, as the author calls it), tells the story of Kathryn, a senior manager coming out of retirement to turn around a hightech silicon valley company. She does this, by making the executive team understand the need for better teamwork and to work together, not against each other, via explaining and counteracting the eponymous five dysfunctions of teams, which are:

Absence of trust — unwilling to be vulnerable within the group
Fear of conflict — seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate
Lack of commitment — feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization
Avoidance of accountability — ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards
Inattention to results — focusing on personal success, status and ego before team success

How did I like the book?

Loved it. The story was well written and the dysfunctions are well explained. Especially the fundamentally different characters and the protagonist’s way to solve the executive teams problems are well realized. I can already imagine the benefits of implementing the books ideas and see them ringing true for a lot of organizations and teams I have had experiences with. Overall, I will most certainly read Lencioni’s other books, which are mostly business fables (novels) covering different topics, as this one was such a joy to read. Highly recommended.

Eliyahu M. Goldratt – The Goal

Why did I choose to read the book?

After being heavily referenced in the business novel The Phoenix Project, which I read before, I bumped it up my reading queue.

What is it about?

A business book, detailing the trials and tribulations of a production plant manager, fighting to keep his plant from closure. With help of one of his old college professors, he starts to change processes of his plant to reach the plants eponymous goal – to make money, by increasing throughput, cash-flow and reducing inventory. The book also details Goldratt’s Theory of Constrains, in which production capacity of a plant is governed by it’s constraints or bottlenecks. To maximise utilization of said bottlenecks (e.g. by decreasing production of excess inventory and focusing on products for order / direct sales) and producing with constraints in mind, flow (and throughput) can be increased.

How did I like the book?

It was a very enlightening read. The Theory of Constrains, just as detailed in The Phoenix Project, can be transferred to other processes and uses outside production environments. Knowing your constraints and bottlenecks, should greatly help maximising a departments throughput or output as a whole. Also, like with the phoenix project, the story is quite entertaining, even though the protagonist is in some parts unlikeable (at least to me) and there is a side-story about the protagonists marriage problems, which I felt to be badly written and distracting.