Mental Echo

Archive for the 'Books' Category

Book Review - A Whole New Mind

Created: June 21, 2009 / Updated: June 21, 2009

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink

The focus of this book is how left-brained (analytical) jobs are quickly being outsourced and how right-brained (creative) skills are the differentiator that will either help you keep your job or allow you to flourish in a new role within that job.  Being in the software industry, this definitely rings true to me.  I'm not good at my job if I just sit there and pound out lines of code like a good little code monkey.  I'm good at my job if I can go to the next level, using creative thoughts to design complex systems or interfaces or put myself in the position of the end user and figure out what will make the best experience for them.

My father sent me this book.  He is a former accountant/accounting firm president that is now in his second career as a practice management consultant. (See his website here, incidentally, the site is designed and maintained by yours truly).  The successes that my father and the firm he worked at had was not because they could complete a perfect tax return, it was because they could think beyond that, taking in the full picture of their clients situation to offer then advice in other aspects of their financials and business growth and help them plan for the future.  In fact, these days, you can easily outsource the initial processing of a tax return to India and get the results back in the morning.  If your only skill is being able to process a tax return, watch out, it is likely cheaper to send that tax return half way around the world than it is to have you do it.

The book highlights six areas where right brained thinking matters most and offers exercises on how you can improve your right brain skills.  My personal favorite is the chapter on Empathy.  Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and feel what they are feeling.  As a software developer, this skill is becoming more and more important to me.  I need to sit there and make decisions based on how the user will feel when they use the tools/programs that I develop.  Will an extra click here matter?  Does this page layout make sense?  How does the user do their job and what will make them more efficient?  These aren't things you learn in college (at least I didn't). These are things you have to work out and start thinking about differently.  It isn't acceptable for software to just be functional, it has to be usable, and highly usable at that. 

The other five chapters pull in additional important themes in right brain thinking.  This is definitely a book that you should read if your job involves mostly left-brain thinking, or if you haven't figured out how to bring the right side of your brain along for the ride.

Tags: Books
Categories: Books


Onwards and Upwards

Created: June 13, 2008

Today was my last day of work at my current employer. I have been there for almost three years and it was pretty hard to leave. I am really excited about my new job, which I start on Monday, and look forward to the new opportunities I will hopefully encounter.

In a way, I kind of feel like I am letting people down by leaving, but it was definitely time for me to on. The people at my current employer are great. I am going to miss the entire development team, from the more seasoned developers that I have worked with from day 1, to the newer guys that I like to think I was able to mentor a little bit. I think we all learned a lot from each other, and I hope to one day work with them again.

Around the time I started looking for a new job, I picked up The Dip by Seth Godin. I am a little torn over how I feel about this book. On one hand, there are a lot of good points about making decisions about when to quit something and when to stick it out. But on the other hand, I kind of feel like it is irresponsible. Don't get me wrong, Godin constantly provides a disclaimer that you should only quit for a good reason, but I can see how this book could possibly push someone over the edge prematurely. In my experience, people tend to extract only the information they want to hear from a book/speach/article/etc. I can easily see how someone could gloss over Godin's counterpoints and just hear "Quit Now, Quit Now, Quit Now."

I personally don't think quitting should ever be an easy decision. When I look back at what I gained from my current employer, I realize that I wouldn't be anywhere close to where I am today if I hadn't worked there. The stack of technologies that I consider myself fairly proficient with has doubled or tripled in size from my first job to this last job. Even more importantly than that, I think I have matured a lot with my soft skills and a lot of that has to do with the quality of the team I worked with. Looking back at all of that, plus the relationships I made over the last couple of years, and it is no wonder that it was so hard to leave and say goodbye today.

In the interest of wrapping this up in a logical conclusion, I think if you decide to read The Dip, make sure you read all the words, and make sure you think long and hard about whatever decision you make. I am excited for the future and a little melancholy about what I am leaving behind. I am actually really glad I feel this way. It means that the last 3 years meant something to me. And that is pretty important

Tags: Books
Categories: Books, General


Book Review: Made To Stick

Created: April 30, 2008

Made To Stick - Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath Made To Stick was an all around great book. I find one of my main weaknesses is my ability to convey ideas to others in a way where they have the same enthusiasm for those ideas as I do. This book lays out a set of techniques to overcome the problem that most people have with expressing their ideas to others.

The basis of the book is around their six principles of SUCCES (typo intended) - Simple Unexpected Concrete Credible Emotional Stories. These principles are used to overcome the main culprit: The Curse of Knowledge. The curse of knowledge is a simple concept that most people will probably recognize. You have an idea, you believe in it, you are an expert in it. Why doesn't everyone else see what you see??? If it isn't obvious, its because you know too much about it and you haven't done a good enough job of letting those around you know about it. These concepts are laid out in the beginning of the book and the rest of the book is dedicated to expounding upon these topics to drive home their points.

The Heath brothers do a great job using their own principles of SUCCES to drive home their ideas (definitely eating their own dog food) and they do it in a way that is very friendly to the reader, by offering up numerous anecdotes. In addition, the book is broken up into small sections that are great if you like to read small chunks at a time like I do.

Overall, great book. I highly recommend it to anyone that ever plans on having an idea.

Categories: Books


Stealing Ideas

Created: April 29, 2008

I am just finishing up reading Made To Stick (book review coming soon) and came across an anecdote in the final chapter that got me thinking. The anecdote describes a manager at the World Bank that was asked to look into knowledge management. In a bank, where the chief concern is usually money, knowledge management seems like a bum job. Undeterred, the manager did some research and came back to senior management with his ideas. He didn't just push his ideas on the committee with statistics or a boring power point deck, he expressed his ideas in a manner (read the book to find out how) that resonated with the listeners. As soon as his presentation was done, two members of the committee began peppering him with ideas for how he should get the knowledge management program moving forward. They had so fully embraced his ideas that they assumed ownership of them and were moving forward as if it had been their project all along.

Suddenly, the knowledge management program was no longer the black sheep for the World Bank; it was a top priority. The manager was immediately upset, because the committee had all of the sudden stolen his idea. Shortly thereafter, the manager realized that this was the best possible outcome of the meeting. The moral here is that there is no better way to get buy in on an idea than to have your audience embrace it so tightly that they begin to believe that it was their own idea.

Everyone has probably been on both sides of a situation like this and it usually happens in brainstorming sessions. This is what brainstorming sessions are about after all. You gather together and let the ideas flow and eventually start building off the ideas until you get to your solution(s). By the end of it, no one knows where the ideas started and it doesn't matter that much since everyone took part in the process. The anecdote in the book applies this concept to a very different situation. A single person presents an idea to a group in such a way as to gain a level of group buy in that borders on a perceived group ownership of the idea.

This concept is awesomely powerful -- in a Utopian world. You convey your idea and everyone is on board. What could be better? The problem is that we don't live in a Utopian world. Whether you are in the corporate world or in a start-up, ownership of the idea is very important. Having good ideas leads to bonuses and promotions (corporate world) and financing (start-up). If you lose ownership of an idea, what else do you lose?

So what is the solution? Should you be just good enough at "selling" your idea so that people accept it as their own but still recognize you as the originator of said idea? It seems kind of silly to hold back at all when you are trying to convince others to build a certain product or make an important change. What if you hold back too much?

I don't really have a solution, but I know that going forward, I will follow the strategies in Made to Stick as much as possible. I know I want my audience to have complete buy in. I want them to feel the "a ha" moment and feel like the idea is theirs. I feel like I will be able to get so much more done in life if I can convince others around me of my ideas. You just have to hope at the end of the day that you are recognized for your ideas. Maybe just having your ideas embraced at that level will be recognition enough.

Tags: Books, Communication, Marketing
Categories: Books


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Book Review - A Whole New Mind
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Onwards and Upwards
Book Review: Made To Stick

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