5 more top takeaways from my 2018 reading list

In follow up to previous post here 5 more insights that struck me as unique from this year’s reading list.

1. Seven brief science lessons by Carlo Rovelli

“Past and future are indistinguishable as far as physics is concerned. For example the motion of planets in the past and future is identical. The only thing that distinguishes future from the past is heat caused by friction. And that is because heat is irreversible”. I would add entropy as well always increasing following the same line of thought really – but entropy was not mentioned in the book so take it with a grain of salt.

2. Mindfulness by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

“Thinking a thought and being aware of a thought is different. The difference is mindfulness.”
Another gem i enjoyed for its simplicity: three levels of morality: “lowest is where somebody tells you what to do and you do it so that this somebody does not punish you. Middle level of morality is the same but you impose moral behaviour on yourself. The highest level of morality is to understand the rules for yourself. This requires conquering your fears & desires and the only way to achieve it is through meditation.”

3. Rich dad poor dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

“Get money working for you instead of you working for money.” Once one starts saving, which is really the first step for this method to work, then this advise can make a big difference in the long-term. To always think of the return you are getting for your assets.

4. Learn or die by Edward Hess

The concept of “pre-mortem” as part of project management, where a pre-mortem “is a meeting just before launch, with the project team to discuss al the ways that the project could fail”. Simple and brilliant way to be proactive.

5. The right and wrong stuff by Carter Cast

This book suggests we all “split our time 40-60 rule between learning & performing.” By learning it is meant Reading, Online courses, Out of comfort zone tasks, etc. Also to keep a list of things learnt & make an effort to define how to apply them.
I also appreciated the following feedback method which is made up of these 2 questions and 2 statements.
  • what’s one thing you did you are happy about?
  • Here is one thing I think you did well: xxx
  • What’s one thing you would do differently?
  • Here is one thing i think you should do differently: xxx

 

That’s it. Please be sure to comment in case you have also read the same books and would like to add more key takeaways that made an impression on you. Or share more insights from other books.

Top 5 takeaways after reading 30+ books in 2018

Whether you like reading or not, here is a list of insights or facts that impressed me most for your own inspiration – or even discovery of your next book to read.

1. Homo deus by Yuval Noah Harari
homo deus

“Evolution theory cannot square with the existence of a soul as the soul has no parts and hence cannot be gradually formed by mutations.”

Does this mean that souls don’t exist or that evolution theory needs to be re-invented the same way that Newton’s gravitation was taken to the next level by Einstein? The book does not go there but still it is a powerful insight.
Also enjoyed the reasoning on why communism failed: “the restrictions communism imposed did not allow the network effect to develop, internally or with the outside world.”

2. Manual for living by Epictetus

manual for living by Epictetus
“Do not care / desire for things in the power of others or just not in our power (wealth, promotion).”
This is the central theme of Epictetus philosophy and the starting point in Epictetus thinking that produce many more rules and advises. A challenging guideline to follow as ‘goals not in your control’ effectively refers to most of one’s goals such as good health, career ambitions, spouse etc. Since one cannot really change the topics that he or she cares about, the idea is to switch from wishes to achievements that one can make without relying on others’ contributions. In the case of career ambitions, one should not wish for good health but achievements that could improve his or her chances to land the next job – but not the actual landing of the next job.

3. The culture code by Daniel Coyle

the culture code

“The 10 red balloon challenge: 10 fed balloons were hidden across USA and awarding prize money for finding them. Various teams tackled it ranging from university teams to random individuals. The team that won managed it within only a few days by creating a pyramid-like reward offering 1,000 EUR to the person that found 1 balloon, 500 EUR to the person that recommended him, 250 EUR to the next etc.”
Impressive demonstration of the power of collaboration and networks.

4. Getting to yes by Roger Fisher

getting to yes
“Method of preparation for a negotiation:
Step 1: state what you want to achieve
Step 2: write down possible agreements that would satisfy both sides
Step 3: try to broaden the pie
Step 4: select your best outcome out of the possible agreements”
Simple, easy-to-follow & to-the-point.

5. Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict

tigger woods
“Tiger spent 1-2 hours per day from age 0 to 2 watching his dad hitting balls while his mother was serving him his dinner. At eleven months as soon as he stood straight he immediately tried the swing on his own.”
Interesting trivial about the most gifted golf player in the history of the game.
Please be sure to comment in case you have also read the same books and would like to add more takeaways that made an impression on you.

How innovation is like playing defence?

In sports, such as basketball, playing offence requires more talent vs playing defence. Of course there are basketball players who are more talented in defence than others but the truth is that defence is more about willingness & motivation than anything else.

Maybe it is not a conscious decision, but the main edge of defensive players is that they devote more of their energy on defence. Simple as that. Most offensive players would play equally good defence, or better even, if they devoted the same energy on defence.

Dennis Rodman in action, 8 times in the NBA’s All-Defensive Team

The same applies to innovation. Innovation is a process. Starts with understanding what is important, then identifying an issue or opportunity which if resolved or captured would greatly add value. Then ideation comes into place. Then implementation of the top idea. And finally measurement of results to confirm whether value was indeed created.

Innovation being a process means that anyone can follow it. It is a matter of willingness to question the status quo, to push business forward, to dare to try new things. Innovation is a process and as such it can be mastered with practice. Some people are better at following some of these steps, but it is not talent that distinguishes innovative people, it is more attitude than anything else.

Let me repeat this because it is empowering really. Innovation is not so much about talent but it is more about having the right mentality & practice. Why is this important? Well, it means that Innovation – the holy grail of business today – is just one realisation away.

My advice. Make innovation a priority. Find a priority in your business, gather data, challenge everything by asking many questions, experiment with ideas, analyse data, go back and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Innovation is a craft. You get better at it with every effort. And in the end it is a numbers game. The more experiments you do, the higher the chances one of them will deliver results. You only need willingness.

I will be sharing innovations i have contributed to or experienced first-hand in this space, both successful and not – unsuccessful efforts being equally important with the successful ones because one cannot have the one without the other. Failure is just part of the process.

 


8 top insights from 33 top-selling books

 

I can rarely remember more than one or two takeaways from a book a month or a year after reading it. Still though these one or two takeaways make reading the book worthwhile. By the way it is not like that with movies. I tend to remember much more from movies, which probably has something to say about the power of the visual image but this could be a totally different discussion.

This year I went through 33 books and I made a point to note down these key takeaways from each one. Here are the best of the best takeaways:

 

#1

What is the problem you’re trying to solve? This is a deceptively easy question. On the surface, it seems obvious. Yet the reality is that often people on the same team have different ideas of what their actual project 

-Jeff Degraff and Staney DeGraff, The Innovation Code: The Creative Power of Constructive Conflict

I put my team on this test. I asked them this question. Nobody could answer it at first. They had never thought about it. And why should they since it was not clearly defined in the first place. Then as the discussion progressed and they started expressing themselves, the range of answers was so wide I got so disheartened I had to order food to boost my morale.

#2

For the teacher or coach, the question has to be how to give instructions in such a way as to help the natural learning process of the student and not interfere with it 

-Timothy Gallwey, The inner game of tennis

Fewer words & fewer instructions, more questions & more room to practice self-observation. This is a recurring concept I have come across from various sources. Aiding the other person observe their own situation & letting room for him or her find the right way on their own is gold and not practiced as much in my experience. Instead I often see people telling others what to do and then following up to make sure they did it as instructed. Myself included. Gallwey really proposes a better method.

#3

People with growth mindset work harder and can overcome adversities more 

-Carol Dweck, Mindset: the new psychology of success

The idea of growth and fixed mindset is powerful. Me, I realised while reading the book that I have a fixed mindset. I am not sure anymore. This book really shifted my perspective in that respect. Adopting the growth mindset helps with many things, first and foremost it provides grit, as the quote suggests.

#4

When hiring executives focus on the key important strength needed for the role rather than focus on the candidate with the least weaknesses 

-Ben Horowitz, The hard things about hard things

I have not really tried this in practice yet but I have already understood that cultivating strengths is more productive vs. improving on weaknesses, I am inclined to think that this tip is gold.

#5

Invest in the product instead of advertising 

-Seth Godin, Purple cow

You can fool a lot of people for a short time or few people for a long time, but you cannot fool a lot of people for a long time. This applies very well to advertising. Not to say that advertising is dead. It still works in many occasions but so much less powerfully than in the past. People have a hard time changing their habits so it is only logical that companies do not recognise this new reality and adjust their strategy accordingly. Instead they still invest heavily in advertising producing content that the rest of us rush to escape from either by switching channels or frantically looking for the pop-up’s X button.

#6

I have learned to talk to myself instead of listening to myself. If I listen to myself, I hear all the negative thoughts, all the complaints, all the fears, all the doubts, and all the reasons why I shouldn’t be able to finish the race. But if I talk to myself, I can feed myself with the words and encouragement I need to finish the race. 

-Jon Gordon, The carpenter

This difference of listening vs. talking to oneself is the most prevalent difference I see when comparing people that succeed in the goals they set with those that do not. This advise falls under the easier-said-than-done category, but brilliant nonetheless.

#7

Only boxers can understand the loneliness of tennis players – and yet boxers have their corner men and managers. Even a boxer’s opponent provides a kind of companionship, someone he can grapple with and grunt at. In tennis you stand face-to-face with the enemy, trade blows with him, but never touch him or talk to him, or anyone else. The rules forbid a tennis player from even talking to his coach while on the court. People sometimes mention the track-and-field runner as a comparably lonely figure, but I have to laugh. At least the runner can feel and smell his opponents. They’re inches away. In tennis you’re on an island. Of all the games men and women play, tennis is the closest to solitary confinement. 

-Andre Agassi, Open: An Autobiography

This explains why tennis players talk to themselves during games much more than in any other sport I am aware of. I have seen my fair share of  tennis but it never hit me that it is such a lonely sport.

#8

You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

The above quote is part of the author’s claim that Sapiens evolved over other apes & animals that to his ability to believe in abstract & made up values such as myths & gods. These values laid to beliefs & laws and formed the basis of society. Consequently, this gives new meaning to religions & philosophy. In short religion & philosophy got us to where we are now. Although it is interesting to note that the author believes that it has been a negative progress as far as happiness is concerned ever since Sapiens came down from trees until today.

 


WHAT IS MAYA?

i am referring to the hinduism/ buddhism term defined as follows: the illusion or appearance of the phenomenal world. A bit too abstract really and not very useful in everyday life. But it is a fundamental concept religion-wise so i read a bit about it to understand it better and here is i have come up with.

When you make some accomplishment, people around you tend to apply a multiplier factor by congratulating you, showing you more respect, more value to your opinion. So when you are feeling well about yourself for something accomplished, people around you make you feel even better. The opposite happens when things go bad. People tend to overlook you or even worse to pity you. This makes you even sadder and even more judgmental about yourself. So people around you make you happier about yourself when you are doing well and unhappier about yourself when not. This illusion from your environment amplifying your state of mind is maya.

The key part to understand that can useful to anyone, in business or in life, is that he who manages maya and undertones the effect of environment on mind, that person is more spiritual than average.

And that’s that about maya.


3 digital marketing trends to focus on. And 3 to forget about

As anything technology-driven, digital marketing is evolving fast, so it makes sense to review what’s working and what’s not presently. 

1. Seeing is believing 

woman dragging an oversized purse to stress on the importance of cash positive transactions when dealing with performance marketing

A bit over the top but gets the message across. 

This entails all sort of advertising that is performance-driven. This could be PPC (e.g. AdWords), affiliate marketing, display ads, online and offline. What makes an ad campaign perofrmance-driven? You need to be able to quantify both the involved expenses and the involved returns. This sounds easier than it really is. Focusing on the online world, most products have long purchase life cycles which involve many visits to the same website before finally making a purchase. This creates a dilemma, which visit should the purchase be attributed to? Is it the last visit that ended up in the purchase or the first that introduced our company to the customer or the middle ones that worked the customer up in order to finally decide to purchase? To address this dilemma various “attribution models” have been devised and depending on which one you decide to go with, you get a different ROI calculation per acquisition channel. As far as offline advertising goes, assigning ad campaigns to purchases is even more challenging, but it can be done. One way is communicate exclusive coupons in the offline ads and then assign all sales from those coupons to those offline ads. Another way is to measure traffic and sales spikes during offline advertising bursts and whatever is higher that the baseline to be attributed to the offline ads. This works well for TV ads which is powerful enough to produce well-defined spikes and there are cases where TV advertising has produced positive direct ROI. A third way, is to use specific phone lines and assign sales from those phone lines to the ad campaign. There is also step two to get to ROI: calculate the returns. Here there are two options: take into account the net revenues of the purchase or the customer’s lifetime value provided you know the retention rate per acquisition channel (and mind you retention rates vary based on acquisition channel). If ROI works out positive then that channel is a keeper. If not, then one might find another reason to keep it live, e.g. for branding reasons. 

2. Being relevant 

Phoeby from Friends, famous for her off beat remarks.

This is what you become without customisation, or at least her eCommerce equivalent.

Mass marketing and one-size-fits-all grows old. Not that it is not out there, it sure is out there very much so as companies are slow to adapt, but emerging technologies give us the tools to use data to create customised experiences. There are two ways to go about this. One way is to customise what you say to customers based on their direct past behaviour. This means that if i have purchased a SONY laptop, then next time i visit the site, show me laptop accessories or SONY products in general. Another more sophisticated way, is to create cohorts and work out habits. This involves doing some pattern recognition to come up with a the most probable next purchase per each customer or customer cohort. The algorithm can take into account the customer’s past purchases, age, gender, address and even name (yes name) and work out which products he or she might be looking for next. Once you have this info, then this should populate all possible customer interactions be it website content, email, remarketing ads, call centre scripts, loyalty scheme bracket etc. And what this achieves is you become more relevant when you speak to the customer. Without this you are like a blind sales person suggesting running shoes to a 75-year old woman suffering from arthritis. Another great way of becoming extremely relevant is via marketing automation. The most famous cases usually involve emails, like the ‘welcome email’ sent out upon email subscription and the cart abandonment email sent out as soon as a customer enters the payment steps and abandons prior to completing the purchase. Effectively, these are event triggered communications. There are tools that can provide this and once set-up these emails get fired automatically without the need of a person to operate them. Excellent for ROI.

3. Becoming an expert

Portrait picture of Jan Luc Picard from Star Trek Next Generation

Inspire as much trust as Jean Luc Piucard does to Trekkies.

The product purchase lifecycle has extended thanks to the internet. Instead of visiting a few shops before making a decision, now customers can browse endless websites, forums, youtube videos, customer reviews, price comparison sites, etc. before deciding to make a purchase. This creates an opportunity to assist your potential customers with this journey by providing useful content to assist customers with their buying decisions. For example, if you are selling home entertainment equipment, useful content could be an article on “how to select the ideal surround system for your living room”  or a wizard where customer enters his living room specs and the engine returns suggestions such as arrangement, products, etc. If you are a B2B company, same thing applies. Say you supply companies with toner for printers. A nice a content would be addressed to the people responsible for office supplies aiding them on how to be proactive, how to save company’s money, how to select the ideal toner for each printer type, how to get employee feedback on their work etc. This content once produced, can then be distributed via various ways be it via a blog, social media, slideshare, youtube video, etc. ideally all of them at the same time.

What to forget about:
SEO. And Social Media. And Email marketing. Not that one should not use them at all, quite the contrary. All three are very powerful tools that can get a lot of business, it is just that one should not think about them separately.      Ideally the company should address the three priorities on top, work out a content marketing strategy and then implement it using all the tools available such as Social Media and Email Marketing. Sure there are some best practices, e.g. how to write SEO-friendly content or how to optimise your newsletters, but performance will be mainly affected by having a well-designed content rather than optimising each channel separately. 

Trends above have been produced mostly having the eCommerce business in mind. If i have left out anything, please feel free to comment. I will reply promptly. 


Accommodating Managers should never set deadlines

Sky is high, water is wet and work is always more fun and productive when working with accommodating people. Image

But there are also deadlines… can’t live with them, can’t manage without them. Accepting that it is a necessary evil, how does one go about it while also wanting to retain an accommodating atmosphere?

The truth is that there always needs to be a ‘when’ associated to every task. I have bored even myself hearing myself asking ‘when’. Nothing ever happens otherwise. What i have come to realize though, is that asking ‘when’ rather than saying when can make all the difference. So I always try to have the person reporting to me define the deadline himself. (And of course, then write it down and share it with everyone involved, say, in an email. Now he is trapped. He he.)

Why it works so well? Well, people tend to become over-eager when asked to define their own deadlines. They often undermine both the time needed for the task and overestimate the time they have available. This leads to working with tights deadlines, so that’s a good starting point. Now i am in a position to offer to push the deadline back a few days if i can afford it. Behaving this way makes sure i am accommodating, friendly and reasonable and more so when i willingly push back the deadline. Practicing this often, leaves me room to come out strong and set a really tight deadline if i need to. It minimizes bad blood and boosts motivation.

Now the beauty of this system is that the person defining the deadline will feel all-the-more motivated to meet it as he risks appearing untrustworthy in more than one way. First for missing the deadline. Second for not being in control of his own work. 

Go ahead, try it out! It has worked for me every time. 

Final point. Deadlines don’t work if there is no follow up when they expire. If deadlines are missed and nothing happens, not even an acknowledgement of the fact, then the system fails. It may need just an “alright, when do you think you will be ready?” or it may require serious talking down depending on the case but not acknowledging it at all will lead the other person thinking that he can get away with stuff, that you are not on top of things or that his work is of minor importance. Deadlines… can’t live with them, can’t manage without them.