Books in February 2019

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Call Them By Their True Names
Rebecca Solnit

I haven’t read Rebecca Solnit before this, but I’m glad that’s no longer true. This is a collection of essays from the last 5 years, and the themes revolve around politics, environmentalism, bias/exclusion, and the justice system. It was refreshing to read from an unfamiliar category, and Solnit’s writings were urgent, current, and engaging. Her disdain for President #45 was obvious, rightfully so, and such a delight to read about and nod along to. 

I found these particularly interesting: 

New and old SF, the effects of gentrification, and the tragic story of the killing of Alex Nieto

Preaching to the choir as a way to build influence and strengthen solidarity through a more robust debate of beliefs and convictions; seeing the other side as the audience to reach out to and making compromises to that effect sometimes results in a dilution or betrayal of values.

(Goodreads)


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Predictably Irrational 
Dan Ariely

I have read a lot on cognitive biases and norms, even when their names and their origins sometimes escape me. (It is one reason why the academic life is not for me.)

Ariely’s book relates the various experiments conducted to test and validate some of these strange cognitive challenges that so often colour our perceptions and influence the way we behave. 

Price of zero / free: Similar price reductions may induce different behaviours, when one of the reductions results in a zero-cost price tag. 

Social norms vs market norms: Money changes the way we think about things. Behaviour may be better encouraged by appealing to the social eager-to-please animal in us.  

Distrust: Once earned, perpetuates itself.

The rational and the aroused: We are different selves when aroused, and the both of us make very different decisions. 

Dishonesty: When the conditions are willing, people cheat but only to a certain extent. This extent is influenced by social influence and perception, and our “internal honesty monitor”. We treat different transgressions differently - appropriating office supplies does not set off an alarm, but appropriating $10 from the petty cash is likely to. However, our honesty or value monitor can be triggered by the mere suggestion or memory of ethics.  

(Goodreads)


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Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
Derek Sivers

This is such a short read that it felt like a cheat book. But it wasn’t intended to be; I only realised that it was that short after I borrowed it from the online library and started reading it. 

What’s pretty amazing about this book is how compact but thorough and insightful it is. Derek Sivers founded CD Baby, an independent music distributor in the 90’s and 00’s and this is the story of what happened and his thoughts/lessons on what worked and what didn’t. A similar memoir (if this can even be called that) would had run into a substantial tome. 

Do what’s right, do what you love until you don’t. Know your customers, empower your employees (but maybe keep an eye on any profit-sharing scheme). 

(Goodreads)


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Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It
Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik

Highly readable, and oh-so-relevant. It is an eloquent book, and the authors have included tons of examples to illustrate their points.

We are living in a world of complexity, where activities, processes and transactions involve a network of actors interacting with one another within a web of interconnected systems. Our systems are tightly coupled, which introduces dependency and opaqueness. Which, you can imagine, can go south very quickly. 

Clearfield (perfect name for a book like this, no?) and Tilcsik articulated measures that we can take to increase transparency and reduce errors in our thinking and perception, which ultimately will improve our decision-making and guide less biased actions.

SPIES, premortem, and predetermined criteria: To ensure that decisions are based on facts, and can withstand objective validation and scrutiny.

Diversity: Because just the presence of difference is enough to change how people think (more skepticism, less comfort zone).

The “stranger” or outsider: To provide diversity in opinion, and introduce more objectivity and innovation in problem-finding and problem-solving.

Slack and transparency in systems: These can be designed.

Get-there-itis: Diagnose, do, evaluate, adapt. Do not spend all your time time in the task zone.

(Goodreads)