I’m always on the look out for interesting books that will stretch my thinking, surprise me, challenge me and, sometimes, just plain entertain me.
Long term readers of LLG may remember my friend Shayne, who I met in New York in the summer of 2007, through an old university friend. We became close and dear friends, and I have missed him enormously since I left Manhattan for London. Having worked as a banker for years, he is now on sabbatical, doing charity work, and travelling.
Last week he sent his friends a reading list round robin, which had some really great suggestions, so I asked him if I could share. Happily he agreed, so here is the first part.
During my sabbatical over the past year, I have had the chance to reacquaint myself with joys of reading. In this time I have read some amazing books and a couple of duds. Today we never seem to have the time to sit down, and immerse ourselves in the world of the author, but I would urge that if you do have some free time, do check out some of the books below, all of which I think will entertain and educate.
Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger
I know it’s hard to take seriously a man with a robot voice with lots of syntax errors, but Arnie went from postwar hurdygurdy Austrian villager to the world’s most famous bodybuilder, highest paid actor and the governor of California. It’s a highly entertaining stroll through the life of a narcissistic, overachieving, Hummer-driving real life American Dream, and there are some really good gems on goal achieving.
Here are the top ten principles of Arnold:
Never let pride get in your way.
Don’t overthink. Go through life instinctively. Turn off your mind like in meditation.
The more you know, the more you hesitate. Be like a boxer – he comes to the ring with knowledge but he doesn’t overthink in the ring. You freeze you lose. Overthinking is why people can’t sleep at night.
Forget Plan B. Operate without a safety net. Make Plan A work. How bad can failure be? Life goes on.
Settle a score with humour
A day has 24 hours
Reps reps reps. Write down your goals for the day. There are no shortcuts.
Don’t blame your parents. Arnie’s father’s discipline made him leave his shell. Don’t complain and look back. Have joy in your goals; it puts fuel in your belly
Change takes cojones e.g. Gorbachev.
Take care of your body and your mind. Build the mind and body. The mind is like a muscle.
Stay hungry. Be seen, heard and have an effect. Be hungry to help others. Don’t rest on your laurels.
Snowball – The Warren Buffett Biography by Alice Schroeder
As a child Buffett used to collect bottle tops, coins, stamps, fingerprints and memorise toy train catalogues, so it seems logical that he would take his methodical “aspiness” to the world of investing. Buffett seems incredibly likable, a welcome breeze of old school humility, wit, and patience.
Buffett is a huge believe in the power of compounding in investment. He would rather own a company that reinvests its money into its business than give it back as cash to shareholders. He loves companies that are easy to understand and have a high return on capital and hates derivatives.
There are some great anecdotes about run-ins with Salomon Brothers, the LTCM guys and the old Coke management. Some words of wisdom from the man:
Be long term greedy not short term greedy
Count your blessings not your curses
He who wins the Internet wins the war
Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy
Measure your success by being loved by the people that you want to love you. You can’t buy love; to get love you have to be lovable. The more love you give away the more you get
Derivatives are like sex. It’s not who we are sleeping with it’s who they are sleeping with.
The Startup Playbook by David Kidder
Basic premise – Kidder interviews a group of successful entrepreneurs, from sectors like social media, charity, publishing and fashion. I think that this is a must read for those who want to leave the corporate world and contribute something meaningful to the world
Here are some bullet point snippets of advice for those looking to create a startup. I’ll start with my favourite quote:
Be courageous. This life is not a dress rehearsal
Create a painkiller that takes away people’s hurt, not a vitamin
Aim to change the world. What will they put on my tombstone?
Creative thinking comes from outside of an industry.
Take risks. In the developed world we think that we have big risks but in reality we don’t. It’s a state of mind.
Define your business in eight words
Your idea should be addictive and touch a small group of evangelists psychologically
A small idea takes up as much time as a big idea. Execute the biggest idea you can.
Take advantage of lack of innovation in large industries
Quick execution is important
Failure is very important
Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris
Basic premise: we are brainwashed to join the rat race, work in an office, have a boss, work until retirement. Ferris disagrees.
I feel like Ferris was reading my mind when I started this. There is so much solid advice in this book, including:
Outsourcing mundane tasks in your life (using automation or virtual assistants) to free up time for more important things
Using the web to start your own business
Living like a millionaire without the salary by working online, or bartering your skills e.g. English for other skills e.g. martial arts or tango lessons
Reducing time answering emails by making yourself as unavailable as possible by email – he checks his email only twice a day. I managed to get off the internet for three consecutive days this year, although purely because I had no reception when I was in East Timor.
Taking mini-retirements. Why work until you are 65 and then retire? I fully concur and am loving my year off.
Some of the advice is really obvious, but I think that readers will appreciate Ferris’s wiles and enthusiasm for the alternative lifestyle which I eventually chose. I would say this is one of the most helpful books I’ve read in years.
Basic premise: Randomness, like a drunkard’s walk, rules our lives. As humans we try to rationalise chaos rather than accept that it is part of nature and often out of our control.
Gambler’s fallacy – lucky streaks are just acts of randomness. Everything eventually reverts to the mean.
Psychological illusions – we think that great sportsmen, CEOs and film directors have the magical touch, but statistics prove that more often than not their success is due to randomness and they eventually revert to the norm.
Heuristics – our brains have been evolved to make short cuts. We link dots and are wishful thinkers because as cavemen we had to explore all opportunities to access food. We make assumptions even when there is no empirical evidence to support them e.g. we are prone to be biased against those at the bottom of society even though much of their plight is linked to chance. Once we remove expectations, our view of the world changes dramatically – this is why marketers like to play on our expectations.
Variations in statistics are measured by standard deviation. The mean (bell curve) is incredibly powerful in nature.
Mlodinow concludes that in life, chance is more important than causality. Always move forward and don’t remain static. If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.
Physics of the Future: The Inventions That Will Transform Our Lives by Michio Kaku
Basic premise – Kaku has interviewed 300 of the world’s top scientists and asked them to make predictions about how we will live our lives between now and 2100. The book is incredibly optimistic, touting the power of technology to improve our lives. I love these futurist books, and I think that his is one of the best.
The all important caveman principle. We haven’t changed physically in 100,000 years. Our desires are the same – we need physical evidence (hardcopies) and face to face encounters (this predates speaking). Because of this, in the future people will pay a premium for entertainment, social networking and gossip. Entertaining is important to stand out from the crowd. Singing and dancing is sexy and healthy. Art helped develop the brain which loves symbols. We are descended from predators and like to watch people (gossip)
Some of his predictions include:
Moore’s law which states that processors will double in speed every 18 months will end in 2020 causing a huge recession
Either robots develop feelings or we merge with artificial intelligence. This is known as the singularity. Get on board.
The rise of graphene as an excellent sturdy conductor of electricity and heat and replacement for silicon.
Ubiquitous computing – everything in the home will have a chip in it. Our toilet and bathroom mirrors will sense our breath and urine and tell us whether we are getting sick, or what our chances of developing diseases like cancer are.
The future of work – Winners will be non repetitive jobs involving pattern recognition e.g. construction, police, rubbish men, gardeners, plumbers. Creatives, actors, leadership, science, art, writing software all with human qualities will thrive. Computers can’t write novels, do art, make us cry or laugh. Judgment jobs like lawyers survive. Losers will be brokers, tellers, accountants. Middle men will only survive if they can provide common sense
Perfect capitalism – We will know the price and quality of everything.The shops will data mine to understand wants and needs – it’s a niche. Mass production and customisation – clothing will come in our perfect size. Everything will become customisable via the web
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridley
Basic premise: Brilliant, libertarian smarty pants Matt Ridley challenges our assumptions, and pushes the concept that trade is key to the evolution of man and society. As long as we continue to trade freely, we will have enough resources on the planet to live a steadily improving quality of life.
Bartering led to specialisation, which led to technology, which led to innovation. Without trade we would still be hunter gatherers living on subsistence and bludgeoning our neighbours for no particular reason.
The key to human development is the size of the collective brain. The more that we are able to interact and learn from each other, the more we can preserve and build upon existing skills. This is why cities and now the internet will drive human progress.
Governments were formed merely to tax trade for certain interests (empires, city states) and then as history shows eventually undo these empires.
Africa’s future lies in trade of its natural resources, but Europe and America need to abolish farm subsidies, quotas, and import tariffs and encourage the growth of free trade cities.
Myth debunking e.g. 1) Food miles : Getting food from a farmer to the shop uses up 4% of its lifetime emissions. 2) 10x as much carbon is emitted refrigerating food than air-freighting it from abroad. 3) Organic food is bad for the environment as it requires cows which are huge polluters. 4) Ethanol is not the answer – producing ethanol takes food out of mouths and puts pressure on rain forests. 5) Global warming creates evaporation which mans more rain and less droughts.
Part Two coming up!