Saturday, May 27, 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great book. It was full of action, retro pop culture references that added to the plot rather than just distracting, a dystopian setting that brought its own drama, and a satisfying conclusion.

One of the things I really liked about this was book was the good old fashioned happy ending. Some might criticize it for being predictable, but I found it refreshing. None of Wade's friends betrayed him. The bad guys didn't have to completely win to provide an impressive come back by the protagonist. Wade was not without challenges, but when it was time to fight he won, and I appreciated that.

For examples, the Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix is the poster child for contemporary novels where the protagonist has to lose to win. In the Beyonders (Brandon Mull), Jason has the same issue. And The Hunger Games. And on and on... I understand the writing advice to put your character in the worst possible situation, so the vistory is sweeter when you get them out of it, but the problem is that what used to be the unexpected failure scene is now predictable. I'm waiting for the world to explode on the protagonist, so I can see what excuse the author has for somehow rebuilding it.

Anyway, that is a bit of a tangent, but it is something I like about RPO. While I'd like to recommend this book to everyone I know, including my sons, the language and few choice scenes make me hesitate. So I give it a cautious recommendation and thus 4 stars. If you can stomach some adult language and situations this book is worth the read.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About ItThe E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Years ago I attended a weekend seminar where various motivational and education material was for sale at a table at the back of the room. I spent my hard earned money on a set of cassette tapes of a live Emyth seminar by Michael Gerber. On those 6 (or was it 8?) cassette tapes I got most of the concepts around his "build a franchise prototype" philosophy.

Here I am years later and two business degrees later, and I finally decided that it was time to read the book and see if there was anything I missed. For the record, there really wasn't.

The seminar did a good job of laying the foundations in a quick, concise and interesting way. The book took a little longer to develop, and I found it to be overfilled with his own story, one that I didn't find appealing. He was basically a hippie-turned-sales-consultant. Those facts aside, I still really like his philosophy, although with more years of experience under my belt, I had a few reservations.

My chief reservation with the "franchise prototype" that he promotes is that in his model the owner still had to know how to fix everything in order to build the initial process manual. Even a well-meaning, hardworking business owner is not likely to do a good job of that. They question becomes how to hire and motivate professional managers to both create and maintain processes. A second and less important issue with the book: he spends a lot of time on mysticism. Get over it and focus on the content dude:)

What I love about this book: It make an impressive case that process-based solutions are the way to go. He delivers a focused plan to the often overlooked segment of small family or "cottage" businesses, rather than huge organizations, and it is a plan that anyone could apply if they wanted to.

If you own or run a small business, you should read this book. Ignore the personal mumbo jumbo, and the rest will be worth your time.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Sapphire Rose by David Eddings

The Sapphire Rose (The Elenium, #3)The Sapphire Rose by David Eddings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great ending to this series, not because it was amazing from a literary sense, or the most intriguing finish ever, but because it was consistent. It carried on the best things about this series in a satisfying ending that both answered the key outstanding questions, and at the same time it set the table for another series.

What were the best things? Here are couple points I really liked:

--Sparkhawk, as a character, is a solid base to build around. While it would be a fair criticism to say that he didn't experience as much growth as a main character should, his stability was almost a basis for the plot, much as the setting is. And where his character lacks growth, he provides entertainment, with a mix of action, comic relief, and straight talk with other characters.

--Deity. The religious features of this series is really what brought me back to reread it after so many years. Yes, it addresses and speaks about the daily religious observances that may grow tedious for some, but in a setting where those being worshiped are also characters. And then by tying that relationship into the magic system we get a perfect recipe for a fantasy series.

I wouldn't call this a must-read, but if you have a free weekend, and want an enjoyable, if not predictable, classic fantasy, this series is the one.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True InspirationCreativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Everyone knows that I am a Disney geek. I've been to every Disney theme park in the world (ok, I have to get to Shanghai now that it's open). I've watched the movies, soaked up the documentaries about Walt and wear Mickey pajamas to bed (don't tell anyone.) Disney's partnership with Pixar and subsequent acquisition was one of their smartest moves in recent history, so when I saw Creativity, Inc, it immediately made it onto my must-read list.

While I enjoyed the story, and the Disney references throughout the book, as I expected to, I was surprised to find that the business principles were equally interesting. While they were focused on a creative enterprise, the organizational theories seemed applicable across many industries. I came away questioning the level of candor I experience in my workplace. I'm also examining our approach to process when compared to our trust and empowerment of people. I appreciated these tidbits, since for me they constituted added value I hadn't expected.

Finally, one other thing that surprised me was to learn about the size of Pixar at different points in their history. It was always much smaller than I had assumed. By the end of the book, the studio that saved Disney's animation credibility, in my mind, was only 1100 employees strong. I would have assumed at least twice that. How awesome would it be to be in a business that size and yet produce products that are known the world over. I don't know if I'm adding that to my bucket list yet, but I'm considering it.

Great book. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Don't Call It That Second Edition: A Naming Workbook by Eli Altman

Don't Call It That Second Edition: A Naming WorkbookDon't Call It That Second Edition: A Naming Workbook by Eli Altman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because our company is going through a name change. I don't consider myself a creative type--something I'm beginning to rethink--so we hired a consultant to help us. He is a great guy to work with, and he has exponentially more experience at this than our whole team put together, but the process turned out to not be what I expected. I guess I expected him to come in, learn our business, then come back in a week or two with 5 names, of which 2 or 3 would wow us all. And that would be that. Update the logos on our website, submit a legal form or two, and buy t-shirts for a kickoff party.

That ain't how it works, folks. It took 8 meetings and lots of confusion to get to a name that the stakeholders in the room could agree to. I didn't say that we loved it, it took that long to just agree on a name we could all live with. After the process was over, I went to the internet to try to figure out what had happened, and I ran into this book. After what we paid the consultant, the $25 price tag felt like pocket change, so I bought it.

What I found was that for $25 I got many weeks worth of experience and ah-ha moments packaged in about 45 minutes of reading (there are a lot of pictures in this book). Here are a few of my key take aways from this book:

-It still came down to picking a name you like. Not very scientific. It did help to have guidance in our brainstorming, and to hear some experiential common sense about what to stay away from, but just picking a name that I like does not feel satisfying. Maybe I just lack confidence, but I want some kind of data to indicate that I'm making a good decision.

-All too often this book said to write down wild names, awful names, boring names, good names, etc. If I knew how to distinguish between a "good name" and an "awful name" I probably wouldn't have bought that book. There are examples of names I think are awful, but are they awful? What is the criteria for that? I didn't know then, and after reading the book, I still don't know.

-And then there is the name of his company A Hundred Monkeys. Sure it is memorable, but, well, it sounds awful to me. Why would I want to do business with a bunch of animals? I don't even like animals. Maybe I am on my own there, but then again, I think I'm dead in his target market at the moment, so wouldn't that mean he missed his market with his name? (Although the rest of his marking worked obviously, since I found and bought the book.) Maybe that just goes to show that the name, and even the branding/marketing (the book is an eyeblinding flourescent orange) doesn't matter as much as the content.

Was it worth $25? Yes, but then it wasn't MY $25 that paid for it:) Is it worth a read if you are naming something? Yes. Will it function as a handbook to help you produce a name by the end? YMMV, but for me, no. It did quickly help me get the lessons that I gained from working with a consultant for 3 months, but it is not the magic bullet I was hoping for.