Cheap chick flick glamour.
I was very excited to find out that Pamela Redmond Satran’s list of “30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know by the Time She’s 30” had inspired a book. I bought the Kindle version almost immediately after I found about its existence and had very high expectations about it. However, except for a few inspiring and/or funny essays, the book is a disappointing set of blog posts that seem to have come out straight from the pages of Cosmopolitan or Glamour, or a chick flick film. Quite unfortunate considering the previous work of some of the authors.
The last time I cried reading a book was 8 or 10 years ago when I finished the d’Artagnan romances. “Emma Lyonna” also brought tears to my eyes for very much the same reasons - Dumas’ incredible talent to create great characters that readers fall in love with and make the readers part of a tragic story at the intersection of history and biography.
Finally a book that looks at the future through an optimistic lens based on the accumulation of technological, social, financial, environmental and global changes from the past few centuries and the opportunities such changes offer us. The key to taking advantage of these opportunities is entrepreneurship. “The Coming Prosperity” is a new kind of economics book that combines analysis of trends with stories of bold entrepreneurs such as Victoria Hale, Karim Khoja and Leila Janah.
I had heard relatively good things about this book so I was excited to read it when I saw it as recommended reading for a summer class. However, I was really disappointed by the circular logic, repetitiveness and lack of novel examples. Not to mention that the book itself is an inadequate summary of 87% of the books I’ve read for this project.
There are a few nuggets of smart thinking and inspiration in the book, but they are buried deep under repetitive paragraphs and chapters.
Alexandre Dumas Pere is one of my favorite authors. He has been one of my favorites since I was 10 or 11 years old. It was a very interesting experience to read one of his novels after a 6-year break and it helped me remember what I love about his work. La San Felice isn’t one of his famous works, but it is written in the typical Dumas fashion of elaborate storytelling that connects numerous people and their lives.
Now off to finding “Emma Lyonna”, the sequel of “La San Felice”.
Another book by a Nobel Prize laureate. There might be a theme here.
I pre-ordered this book late last year in hopes of gaining a more complete and coherent understanding of human behavior, decisions, judgement and biases, delivered by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist whose work has challenged the rational model of human behavior and impacted economics, public policy, medicine and politics. Mission accomplished. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” provided a coherent framework that allows me to understand my prior pieces of knowledge about human behavior beyond knowing what people will do in situation X or Y, but also understand why this happens and what might cause different behavior than expected.
Daniel Kahneman brings together biases, System 1 and System 2, Humans and Econs, framing, loss aversion, risk seeking, overconfidence and many other concepts in a thorough and coherent story about us, humans.
“Thinking, Fast and Slow” is an incredible book for anyone who is interested in understanding how humans make decisions and process information. With its numerous personal examples and scientific experiments linked in a coherent story, this book is a good guide to human behavior for people who consider humans perfectly rational and for people who have basic knowledge of behavioral economics. More importantly, with its practical advice and different techniques on when to trust intuition and how to tap into the benefits of slow thinking, this is a great self-help book.
A few of my favorite takeaways are:
In Yunus’s head.
To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by “Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism”. The book is a bit unorganized and repetitive. However, it is an incredible opportunity to get in the head of one of the most inspiring and innovative people of our time. Yunus shares his own experience of founding Grameen Bank and other Grameen ventures, his worldview and his philosophies on how businesses can solve social problems independently or in cooperation with governments and NGOs.
The book also includes Muhammad Yunus’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, which in many ways is a summary of the entire book.
If “Banker to the Poor” describes Muhammad Yunus’s actions to serve the poor, “Creating a World Without Poverty” describes his thinking and philosophies behind these actions.
As it is typical for someone who works in the creative industry, albeit not having the word creative in my title, I have notebooks and notebooks with ideas. Some are just a brief description, while others have long and elaborate plans supported with diagrams. And only about 0.001% of these ideas have been executed. I’ve realized that although the creation process starts with an idea, ideas don’t always lead to creation. Mostly because once you start executing something another, supposedly more interesting and meaningful, idea is born. And that’s the reason why I was excited to read this book. Although “Making Ideas Happen” is not the inspirational, flowery narrative full of great stories that get you to leave the book in the middle of the chapter and start working on your ideas, it is a good practical guide on how to make the execution of ideas a life-long skill, not just something you do when you get inspired by a book.
According to Scott Belsky, the capacity to make ideas happen can be developed by anyone willing to develop his/her organizational, collaboration and leadership skills.
Being organized is the first step toward execution. Belsky suggests that you take a project-based approach to making ideas happen. Each major idea should be a project. Each project should have action steps (the things you currently need to do to move the idea forward), references (the information that feeds the idea but is not necessarily action oriented) and backburners (things for future consideration).
The next major piece of making ideas happen is collaboration. Belsky argues that all good ideas need a team to execute them. The benefits of collaboration go far beyond someone helping you with the execution of elements beyond your expertise and focus on collaboration in the ideation process: vetting ideas, growing ideas, getting feedback, killing bad ideas quickly, etc.
Lead, create excitement around your idea, build a team and keep the team motivated to create a wonderful product, service or business.
My only problem with the book is that it is quite repetitive and circular, probably written for all ADD creatives. Making Ideas Happen could have been a great HBR article.
Marketing for good.
Most people who don’t know much about marketing, and some who do know, think of marketing as promotion, not recognizing that, instead, it is a process that usually ends up with promotion. This is exactly what makes this book very helpful for nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies and businesses - it focuses on how all elements of marketing can be used for social good, not just the promotion aspect.
As the author explain, social marketing (not to be confused with social media marketing) is a process that applies marketing principles and techniques to create, communicate, and deliver value in order to influence target audience behaviors that benefit society (public health, safety, the environment, communities, etc) as well as the target audience. It makes nonprofits, governmental agencies, foundations and everyone else who works in the sector to think how to create the right product/service with the right price, distribution model and promotion strategy to create impact.
The book provides a quick overview of theories of poverty, the impact poverty has on all of us as individuals, communities, countries and businesses, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and the major strategies to reduce poverty: economic growth strategy, redistribution strategy, massive foreign aid, and population control.
The authors exemplify each concept with very interesting case studies from around the world. They also demonstrate how national and local anti-poverty programs can be improved by more effective collaboration between governments, nonprofit organizations and private companies.
The three key points I found the most interesting are:
“The Poor Get Into and Out of Poverty and Back In Again.” The poverty situation is not static, but dynamic. Through the right combination of outside help and personal effort, a poor person in the extreme poverty segment may successfully migrate into the less extreme condition of the overall poor segment. But after months or years and because of circumstances, the person can fall back into the originating extreme poor segment. This pattern occurs in all of the poverty segments.
“The True Face of Poverty Is a Localized Face.” The poor are found at the local level. They can be engaged only in the locality where they live and work, hence research on poverty and poverty alleviation programs should also be conducted at the local level and adapt to the local circumstances.
As someone who has worked with poverty alleviation nonprofit organization, I’ve often seen only two ways for targeting: target the largest audience or the audience that is easiest to reach. Not a very effective approach, IMHO. The authors, Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee, offer a more comprehensive approach to targeting and segmentation based on the right combination of the following elements: segment size, problem incidence, problem severity, defenselessness, reachability, readiness to change, incremental costs to reach and serve, responsiveness to marketing mix and organizational capabilities.
Although the book is specifically focused on poverty alleviation, it can be a very helpful guide for anyone who is working to solve a social problem and change behavior.
While many of us have wondered about the origins, processes and secrets of creativity, Jonah Lehrer has turned this old inquiry into the topic of his new book Imagine: How Creativity Works.
Lehrer shatters the myths of muses and divine powers. He challenges our perceptions of creativity and “creative types” and demonstrates that everyone can be creative because “creativity is a catchall term for a variety of distinct thought processes” that involves a phase of research, a phase of experimentation and frustration, a moment of insight and an execution phase. A finished product is a result of multiple forms of creativity, not just a single “a-ha” moment.
“Creativity shouldn’t be seen as something otherworldly. It shouldn’t be thought of as a process reserved for artists and inventors and other ‘creative types.’ The human mind, after all, has the creative impulse built into its operating system, hard-wired into its most essential programming code. At any given moment, the brain is automatically forming new associations, continually connecting an everyday x to an unexpected y.”
Finding the right connection is what we call an insight, the term with which most strategists have a love/hate relationship. But even insights don’t occur in 0.003 seconds as we think because the brain needs to investigate all possible connections to find the one that solves the problem. I can’t think of a more appropriate scenario to use the needle in a haystack metaphor.
When we talk about our projects we tend to focus on the insight phase of the creative process and leave out the phases of research, experimentation, thinking, despair and frustration. We forget to mention the days when our projects seemed impossible to solve, when we wanted to quit, when we wanted to go to the bar and start drinking at 10 a.m. Instead we focus on the breakthrough moments because they are exciting and reaffirm the idea of the creative genius.
The irony is that most of our insights come when we stop searching for them, when we step out of the elevator or when we order a drink. These “a-ha” moments don’t solve only part of the problem. They present a complete and elegant solution to a problem that until just seconds ago seemed impossible.
“When you look at where insights come from, they come from where we least expect them. They only arrive after we stop looking at them. If you’re an engineer working on a problem and you’re stumped by your technical problem, chugging caffeine at your desk and chaining yourself to your computer, you’re going to be really frustrated. You’re going to waste lots of time. You may look productive, but you’re actually wasting time. Instead, at that moment, you should go for a walk. You should play some ping-pong. You should find a way to relax.”
The last phase of the creative process is execution, which requires a different thought process. This phase involves great attention to details, focus for a long time and commitment to create the perfect combination of different elements. The selection of the right colors, sizes, images, fonts isn’t the result of a-ha moments but of patience and attention to details. The execution process is very different from the insight moments. The creative thoughts in this phase tend to be minor and incremental — “one can efficiently edit a poem but probably won’t invent a new poetic form.”
After identifying the different thought processes and elements of creativity, Lehrer reveals the importance of embracing childlike curiosity, adopting an outsider’s perspective, collaborating with different people, daydreaming productively and learning when to wander and wonder and when to apply concentration. He unveils the secrets behind building great teams, productive companies, vibrant neighborhoods and effective schools.
Lehrer introduces us to the writing habits of Bob Dylan, the drug addictions of poets, the infusion of chemistry thinking behind the invention of new cocktails and the thinking behind Nike’s famous slogan. He explains the creative explosion in Elizabethan England and the creative processes and culture of Pixar and 3M. And this is exactly what makes Imagine an outstanding book - connecting seemingly unrelated stories and experiences, culture and human insights, people with various backgrounds and groundbreaking science, it is an epitome of creativity.