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.
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.
I am moving to England in the fall, or at least that’s the plan. A lot can happen in six months. This isn’t my first move to a foreign country so I decided to be a bit more prepared than I was the first time. I decided to start my preparation course with Kate Fox and her book Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour and I can say it is one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read by virtue of its very English writing style and the content of the book itself.
Kate Fox spent 10 or so years researching the topic before she wrote the book. Her goal was to identify the rules of Englishness and to establish a grammar of Englishness looking beyond unviersals into the specifics of English behaviour. She did an incredible job at systemizing 10 years worth research into a humorous (English humor that is) and helpful book that makes sense to foreigners. Maybe it also makes sense to the English.
Observing the English (the way they talk, dress, eat, drink, work, play, shop, drive, flirt, fight, queue and moan about it all) and conducting experiments to break the rules, thus verifying said rules, for 10 years, Fox discovered a fascinating culture governed by some strange and puzzling sets of rules. As she says, “I don’t see why anthropologists feel they have to travel to remote corners of the world and get dysentery in order to study strange tribal cultures with bizarre beliefs and mysterious customs, when the weirdest, most puzzling tribe of all is right here on our doorstep.”
On a micro level she discovered that English weather-speak isn’t some unnatural obsession with the climate of the island, but groom talk: ritual greeting, because you know “Hello” isn’t good enough, conversation starter and default filler. It’s a means to social bonding. She unearthed all the rules associated with weather-speak. Yes, like with everything else, the English have rules about how to talk about the weather. However, the English do have an obsession with humor, moderation and the word “typical”. In and with everything.
On a macro level she put all these little rules about dressing, eating, drinking, etc. into four neat buckets (core, reflexes, values and outlook) that can be used to explain everything. When used in moderation.
The core of Englishness is the “social dis-ease”, “a congenital disorder, bordering on a sort of sub-clinical combination of autism and agoraphobia (the politically correct term would be ‘socially challenged’)”. The instinctive English reactions, or reflexes, are humor, the built-in antidote to social dis-ease; moderation, avoidance of extremes, excess and intensity of any kind; and hypocrisy, a form of politeness used to conceal real opinions and feelings to avoid causing offence or embarrassment. The three guiding principles of Englishness are fair play, the underlying theme in most aspects of English life (from sports to queuing, although they seem to think of queuing as a sport) and etiquette; courtesy, another powerful norm mostly expressed in negative politeness; and modesty, or at least the appearance of modesty usually expressed through self-deprecation and irony. The three outlooks that define Englishness are empiricism, not in the philosophical sense of the term, but as a shorthand for being down to earth, pragmatic and matter-of-factly; Eeyorishness, the socially therapeutic use of moaning as a means to social bonding and interaction; and class consciousness, the acute sensitivity of their class-radar systems yet complete denial of the importance of class in English society.
A highly recommended book for anyone who wants to learn and understand the English, or for anyone who is interested in learning more about people in general. Also recommended for the English. I think will benefit from learning more about themselves.
Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature by Mark Earls is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time and I finally did it.
With a typical plannery curiosity (those who work in the industry know what I am referring to), Mark Earls combines modern cognitive and social psychology, primatology, game theory, Chinese logic, history and physics to explain what influences our behaviour. I can even see the Venn diagram that explains this book.
The book’s three parts provide a definition of the herd mentality and explore how it works, challenge our marketing theories and practices and make suggestions to advertisers and marketers as to how to use the herd mentality for the benefit of business.
Earls reveals that most of us in the West have completely misunderstood the mechanics of mass behaviour because we have misplaced notions of what it means to be a human being. Even though we may believe and feel that we make individual decisions and choose our own behavior, the truth is that in most situations we are influenced and motivated by the behavior of those that surround us. We are social apes. We are shaped through interaction with others from the moment we are born. Most of our lives are made up of other people (not brands, business or political concerns) and most of what we do is determined by this context. And this is the author’s point. Earls’ thesis is that human behavior is primarily governed by social rather than individual forces; we gain meaning and significance through our relationship with the herd.
The case of Herd is supported with numerous examples from Stanley Milgram’s notorious peer administered electric shocks experiment to urinal etiquette to Apple’s success and Desmond Tutu’s work. Although many of the pop culture/marketing examples are well-known in the industry, Mark Earls looks at them through a different lens and highlights the importance of the herd in mass behavior theory.
IMHO, the first part, with a variety of examples from science experiments, popular culture and marketing, and the bibliography are the most interesting and helpful parts of the book. The last two sections are a bit repetitive and circular with almost no insights. The bibliography is truly outstanding with a wealth of additional reading for anyone interested in human behavior.