Peter Thiel – Zero to One

Why did I choose to read the book?

Thiel via his serial entrepreneurship, creating Paypal and investing in Facebook early has become a venture capital celebrity of silicon valley, a VC rock star so to speak. With him being an interesting personality as well, I always wondered what he thought like and what his methods and presumptions to business are.

What is it about?

Thiel presents a lot of unconventional wisdom, amassed during his years of activity in entrepreneurship and venture capital investment and in this book describes how, in his opinion, a lot of common beliefs, are false assumptions.

The eponymous Zero to One describes the following

Go from zero to one by doing new things, as in innovate and distinguish by creating new products and technologies. Focus on people and usage, not on competition.

Do not go from one to N by copying things that work already, as in copy something which already exists and streamline or globalise it.

According to Thiel, innovation will always lead to grater success, than sheer coping or streamlining.

How did I like the book?

Let’s start with an analogy which I really liked and believe to be true:

ZERO TO ONE every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them. – Peter Thiel

Thiel proves himself to be quite insightful in a lot of areas. Especially his thoughts on competition and the need to focus on the new, not the path well trodden, to escape said competition and become a monopoly were very interesting. Other insight, e.g. the need for long-term planning, even in start-ups or the need for entrepreneurs to start in small markets before diversifying or scaling to neighbouring markets were great insight as well. Overall, this book represents Thiel’s opinions, experiences and best-practices for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as well as other interested parties, while not being very academic, the book supports questioning conventional belief (which I wholly support) and provides a lot of high quality food for further thought.

Seth Godin – We Are All Weird

Why did I choose to read the book?

After having read All Marketeers are Liars, which I liked quite a bit, another of Godin’s books was in order.

What is it about?

Godin proclaims the end of mass marketing. Mass marketing is no more, the times when buying TV ads and billboards was enough, is over. The internet has splintered consumer groups into tribes, each with their own interests and abundance of living necessities has made the developed world rich, which means, people have all they need and now buy stuff they want, which is often quite weird. This has led to individualistic interests and thereby products, not covered my mass production and catered to fans / fanatics / individualists / the weird may it be old-school iPad compatible typewriters or audio cable covered in gold. Godin explains his concept of weird marketing and how to turn these tribes into customers.

How did I like the book?

Quite fun. Godin is again proving to be a master storyteller, which made the book an easy and quick read. While the books content in my opinion, holds true and was presented clever enough, I also felt it to be a bit esoteric. I wholeheartedly agree on his assessment, that the internet has splintered interest groups into tribes (some small, some big) I am not sure whether businesses focusing on these (often volatile) tribes can be profitable for long, then again, I have seen some strive in their respective niches. Quite interesting food for thought for sure.

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.