Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by Arbinger Institute

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the BoxLeadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by Arbinger Institute
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, I am giving this one 5 stars, and it is a self-help book. I first read this back in 2008, and so this is a re-read for me. The basic idea of this book is that we all struggle with the ability to constantly view and treat others as human beings--with interests, wants and needs--rather than as objects. Basic, but deep. In my opinion, this goes on my Must Be Read By Everyone list under the topic of Human Relations, similar to how Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad Poor Dad, is a must read under the money topic. Do what you have to to get your hands on this one.

So let me just list the reasons this is a must read:
1. It is written as a narrative, making the non-fiction subject matter extremely accessible and consumable.
2. It is succinct. It gets to the point and makes the point.
3. It rings true. I use this expression frequently when I can't think of a better way to describe the feeling to the general public. The gist of this is that when you are reading it, there are certain parts that when you read them you just know there is truth at the heart of the message. You just know.
4. It is applicable.

I do have one key complaint. It seems to end abruptly, while hinting that this is just the first phase out of three. I'd like the rest of the story please.

Previous Review from 2008

Friday, March 14, 2014

Born to Run by Chris McDougall

Born to RunBorn to Run by Chris McDougall
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So lets deal with the superficial stuff first: Yes, this is an inspirational book, and yes, it makes me want to rip off my shoes and run down an antelope. Aside from that I am rating this book down a couple of stars for other faults it has.

First, I spent way to much of my time hearing about partying runners or travel-log type narratives that I don't think were necessary to the message of the book. Why do I need to know that Jenn got drunk every other night? It doesn't matter, and it wasn't necessary to building her as a character in this book. I thought that this was the kind of thing that editors were supposed to fix. Also, what was up with the swearing? Again, things happen in real life that don't have to end up in the memoirs.

Second, while he did a good job of maintaining interest by avoiding a totally linear narration through out the book, I thought it was too much. Every time I turned around we were telling another side story, back story or learning about the history of the shoe industry. I liked the content, it just seemed so sporadic. I feel that the book would have been improved with a little more organization, keeping the primary objective in mind.

The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans

The Prisoner of Cell 25 (Michael Vey, #1)The Prisoner of Cell 25 by Richard Paul Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this book, but I'm not sure why. It just felt like the introduction to the characters in the high school setting took a long time, but in the end it seemed proportionally correct to the rest of the book. While I like the action at the end, it did feel like they basically just let Hatch go at the end. Characters that desperate would have not hesitated to take him out. But that is how it goes when you are trying to set up a series, and an extended revenue stream. It was very Hollywood of Evans.

I like the concept of electric children as a way to mix sci-fi and fantasy. While it follows scientific laws we all have some understanding of, it takes the form or role of magic powers. I like the mix. I do think that Evans needs to watch the 'dark' aspect of the story. Describing torture is kind of a hard core thing, and while I get that YA books are getting darker, there are limits, depending on your audience. For example, Harry Potter had the cruciatus curse, but I don't think it wasn't really used in a descriptive scene until the fifth book.

While I don't think this is the best book I've read from this genre, I'm looking forward to seeing where this saga goes. He has me for at least one more installment.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of SuccessOutliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So while I think that this concept is groundbreaking, and challenges our conception of success, I think that Gladwell's conclusion is a bit off. He successfully makes the case that there are other factors to success than hard work and natural talent, but his conclusion is that because other factors exists, outliers aren't the outliers believe them to be. They are just regular people. I have an issue with that. Yes, access to technology, a specific cultural heritage, or fortuitous timing may have played a part in the success stories we are all familiar with, but their hard work and natural talent ALSO play a part. The outliers are still outliers, even though they had outside factors working in their favor.

For example, he loves to tell the story of Bill Gates, and his unprecedented access to a computer terminal in 1968. However, there are precious few of us that would have taken full advantage of that resource, so it seems obvious that Bill Gates was still an outlier. Why didn't all of the other kids at that school start rival software companies? They didn't drink in the opportunity that was there. Would Bill Gates have built Microsoft without access to that terminal? I don't know, maybe not. Would that terminal have produced a Bill Gates without the personal dedication, intellect and entrepreneurial grit that showed up day after day and night after night to tap on its key? I don't think so. Bill Gates, and most of the other examples he cites are amazing individuals, and while they did have special opportunities, we should also recognize that they were special too.

The other conclusion I disliked from the Outliers book was the one that Gladwell never stated. He never said it outright, but the logical conclusion that came from his narrative is that if you didn't have the special circumstances that his subjects did, you had no chance of success. His saying (paraphrased) that successful people were not unique, but rather a product of their cultural heritage, timing and unique opportunities is a defeating thought pattern. Why would I strive to succeed at anything in life if I couldn't identify some way in which I was special? Moreover, if any of his subjects had shared his viewpoint, they probably would not have worked hard and would have missed their unique opportunities. I feel this is an incorrect conclusion. A better conclusion would be to ask what unique heritage, talents and circumstances are in front of me, and how can I magnify them? Where should I put my NEXT 10,000 hours? Unfortunately Gladwell never raises this question, nor does he give any substantive guidance to this end.

Gladwell is benefiting from the 20/20 vision offered by the past, processing the data, and stating what he found, and I do not argue his observations. But the application of that information is lacking, so for me this is only a 3 star read. It is fascinating, but in its current delivery only serves to promote a defeatist attitude toward life and our opportunities. It does not prompt what I believe are the positive traits of hard work, personal development and the upward mobility that is the American Dream.