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.

 


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.