Reading List Annual Review 2017

I certainly started the year off strong with high hopes, believing that it wouldn’t slow down with the birth of my first kid in March.  I was either wrong, stupid, or weak. I don’t like thinking about which for too long ;P.

Here is a list of the 10 books that I got around to reading.

If you’re interested, here is my list from 2016.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It was quite cool to be able to read a classic.  Mostly so that I could stroke my own ego.  As Pavel Bulowski cited on his list of 2017 books, “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” I figured this one fit the mold.

“The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.”

The Wealthy Barber Returns by David Chilton

It’s not a 10 step program, it almost seems like a collection of blog posts, just short chapters with different thoughts.  Mostly around behaviours, psychology, and systems around money.

This is a re-read of my favourite personal finance book.  As I was preparing for 2017, thinking about financial goals, and thinking more about planning and legacy as I transition to being a father, I wanted to prime myself and give myself a reminder.  I may consider re-reading this nearly every year just to prime myself and remind myself of my financial goals

“Few emergency funds stand a chance against society’s innate skill: the ability to rationalize.  We can convince ourselves of anything if the result is short-term gratification.”

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel gives an account of his experience in the concentration camp, Auschwitz, and through other camps.  Wiesel does not spare any details of his experience, which is absolutely horrific.  I had to take several breaks during reading, as it was quite intense and upsetting.

Hard to recommend to book after that sort of review.  However, part of my interest in this area is that it builds gratefulness.  Reading accounts of history’s past gives perspective on how trivial our problems of today are, or the evilness that exists or doesn’t exist in our world today.  I would highly recommend reading this if you are as ignorant as I am around the monstrosities of the times.

The translation I read was by Marion Wiesel, Elie’s wife, which I would recommend.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Continuing in my research and interest in Europe during WWll, I wanted to read this classic.  It definitely was not what I was expecting, which was going to be an education about the war.  Rather, what I encountered was a very normal girl, trapped and gone stir crazy inside and in hiding, going through very normal 14 year old problems, and got to transport myself into the crazy time that it was.

“The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be alone, alone with the sky, nature and God.  For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature’s beauty and simplicity.”

A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

Irvine, a professor of philosophy and practicing stoic, gives his version of a summary of stoic principles.

The book goes through a wide range of topics in Stoic philosophy and I earmarked quite a few pages.  It is very practical in the sense that they speak about mindset, riches, fame, anger, insults, grief, old age, and other everyday topics. Whether you want to learn more about Stoic philosophy, or you want a very handy and practical guide to live a more effective and happy life, I would give a loose recommendation to read it.  The introduction into the history of stoicism in the beginning, as well as the end chapters were quite boring for me.

“If we lack self-control, we are likely to be distracted by the various pleasures life has to offer, and in this distracted state we are unlikely to attain the goals of our philosophy of life.”

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Although this book may have been industry changing when it was released years ago, it has weaved throughout companies and tech so much that it just seemed like logic as I was reading (listening to) it.  I stopped midway as I found it quite boring and not a great use of my listening time.

Work Rules by Laszlo Bock

Bock is essentially head of People Operations (his title now escapes me) at Google, and had a lot to do with the hiring practices, HR practices, and culture building within Google.  Decently written for a business book, which is rare, and kept me quite engaged, particularly throughout the first half of the book.  I took a lot of ideas and carried away with me and implemented a lot throughout our hiring processes and practice at Keboola.  I would say it is one of the most practical books I have read, and I don’t doubt I will keep it as reference for many years.

“Our goal is to tell every person in the bottom 5 percent that they are in that group.  That is not a fun conversation to have.  But it’s made easier by the message we give these people: “You are in the bottom 5 percent of performers across all of Google.  I know that doesn’t feel good.  The reason I’m telling you this is that I want to help you grow and get better.”

The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

A lot of what was in this book informed me on how I want to focus on maneveruing in my career, as well as how I want to build a culture at my workplace.  Focus on being effective, making contributions, focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses, delivering results, prioritizing and spending time well, and other helpful models for being effective at work.

I have a hard time remembering a better business book that I have ever read. It is a short book, packed with ideas, and doesn’t waste words, my favorite kind of business books.

“Brilliant men are often strikingly ineffectual; they fail to realize that the brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. […] insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.”

The Alchemist by Paul Coelho

I guess this is one of those books that either resonate with you or don’t.  The lessons it tries to teach are very in your face, there isn’t any deep thinking you need to do.  I know lots of people read it and re-read it often.  I found it quite boring and didn’t resonate with me at all, and stopped midway.

I do want to point out that, it seems that not only what you’re reading, but at what point of life you are in, is very important to the experience in the book.  For myself, the lessons within this book is not something that resonates with me.  Perhaps it will in 10 years, I don’t know.  So sometimes it’s not helpful to decide a book is good or bad, another response may be “it’s not what I need right now”.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz 

Seems like it is likely a good book for CEOs and founders … though I do not identify with the downswings and pits of what entrepreneurship is.  Lots of encouragement and how to deal with feelings when you have to let go of a bunch of people, can’t make payroll, upsetting the board and shareholders, waking up in the middle of the night in sweats and nightmares about failing others.

There wasn’t much I got out of the book.  Although there is a large section on interview questions when hiring a Head of Sales that seemed quite good and comprehensive.

Thousand Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

If you enjoy cooking shows, not the drama filled competition crap, but the documentaries on obsessed chefs, I think you would enjoy this book.  I loved it, so much so that I missed my bus stop by several bus stops once as I was so deeply into it and couldn’t draw my eyes off the page in order to see where I was at.   Great arc on the story, and excellent writing, including the food descriptions.  This book was also made into a movie recently which I recommend watching as well.

The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant

This husband and wife duo are historians and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors.  This is a tiny (seriously tiny) book with small lessons from history.  Unfortunately I did not squeeze out of it what I wish I had, so I do want to re-read it.

“The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows.” 

The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey

As parents, our first instinct when we face pain or challenge for our children is to help or save them.  Unfortunately, often this is actually not what you want for them long term.  Facing challenges, dealing with the emotions of failing, figuring out what to do in the face of failure, in aspects of household chores, friendships and social dynamics, homework, competition, etc., is a crucial part of development.  A good reminder to try and take a step back and see how failures play out, in order to raise more resilient little human beings.

“Given our support, love, and a lot of restraint, our kids can learn how to engineer their own solutions and pave their way toward success that is truly of their own making.”

I’m surprised, looking back, at how much I actually did get to read.  Even if I spent very little time doing so, small increments of reading can actually add up to something substantial.

If you ever want to discuss books, give me a holler!

Leadership Lessons From One of the GOAT

Greatest of all time that is.

Bill Walsh joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, taking over the worst team in the league.   In his third season as head coach, he turned the worst team, and won the Super Bowl, a first of it’s kind turn around in the NFL.  Bill Walsh went on to win three more Super Bowl’s in his career, and revolutionalized the NFL with the West Coast Offence.

We are lucky, that before he passed away, he chose to write about his leadership principles and how he was able to turn around an entire organization, from the secretarial staff, to coaches, players, and physio staff.  How to manage NFL players, some of the most egotistical people.  How to set a standard of performance and work ethic, that leads to the highest performance.

“Everybody’s got an opinion.  Leaders are paid to make decisions.  The difference between offering an opinion and making a decision is the difference between working for the leader and being the leader.”

Standard of Performance

Walsh is known for his Standard of Performance, setting the bar to be the best in performance, while maintaining the right attitudes.  It is as follows …

“Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement; demonstrate respect for each person in the organization and the work he or she does; be deeply committed to learning and teaching, which means increasing my own expertise; be fair; demonstrate character; honor the direct connection between details and improvement, and relentlessly seek the latter; show self-control, especially where it counts the most — under pressure; demonstrate and prize loyalty; use positive language and have a positive attitude; take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort; be willing to go the extra distance for the organization; deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation (don’t get crazy with victory nor dysfunctional with loss); promote internal communication that is both open and substantive (especially under stress); seek poise in myself and those I lead; put the team’s welfare and priorities ahead of my own; maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high; and make sacrifice and commitment the organization’s trademark.”

Walsh has many facets around his philosophy of coaching, management, and leadership, however this is his cornerstone statement.  All activities and attitudes point back to this statement.  Regardless of how much you agree with his standards, Walsh highlights that it is of prime importance of a high performing organization to have high standards.

“The culture precedes positive results.  Champions behave like champions before they are champions.”

Sustained success does not happen by accident.  It always leaves breadcrumbs to follow.  So let’s dig further into his philosophy.

“I directed our focus less to the prize of victory than to the process of improving — obsessing, perhaps, about the quality of our execution and the content of our thinking, that is, our actions and attitude.”

Work Ethic

“For me, the starting point for everything […] is the work ethic. Without one of significant magnitude you’re dead in the water, finished.”

Walsh was known for his fierce work ethic.  In practices, he narrowed down to the quarter of a yard where a receiver should be and turn around to expect a pass.  During practice, if a receiver stepped a quarter of a yard out of position from where he was supposed to receive the ball, even if he received it, he would stop and call the play and demand the receiver to do it again until he got it right.  His discipline for the right execution of plays is what would lead his team in high pressure situations, to be able to perform their plays like clockwork.

Quarterbacks were taught the three step, five step, seven step back, how to throw the ball, when to throw it, how to hold the ball, and practice throwing at different distances, velocities, trajectories, and angles.  Linemen were taught specific key moves, foot movement, foot positioning, arm movements, and multiple drills were designed to practice each one of these. Practices were organized and scheduled down to the minute.

Walsh had raised the bar for his team, to practice their faces off, to go further than what other teams were willing, in order to have the most well practiced execution, with the right strategy, and people who were taught exactly how they should do what they need to do at the highest level.

“Most of the [leadership] theories seem to take monumental work ethic for granted, as if it is assumed or something, as if people automatically know what it is and do it.  I didn’t assume it.  The majority of people out there don’t know what it is.”

Making Good Decisions and Planning

Outside of the time Walsh spent on practices, tape, games, travel, he was planning strategy and execution.  He would plan for several scenarios under several circumstances, running what-if and scenario analysis so that he would be prepared for almost anything.

“If I’d done my work properly, little would arise that hadn’t been anticipated.  There’s always something you can’t anticipate, but you strive to greatly reduce the number of those unforeseeables.”

Walsh would also script the beginning of the game.  Not only would the first number of downs be planned, but every game he was known for planning out the first 25-30 plays that the offence would run.  His players came to expect this and looked forward to hearing the script of the game.  This allowed players to visualize and pre-meditate on the execution of the beginning plays to set the right tempo for the game.  Proper execution of the script would lead to a quick lead at the beginning of the game.

It also gave the team a sense of calm.  In an environment where tens of thousands of the opposing team’s fans are screaming at you, in howling wind and freezing weather, these environments and contexts are not conducive to the best decision making.  Making decisions on the fly in high pressure situations, does not produce the best decisions.  Scripts and contingency planning would assure that the decisions were made ahead of time, in better environments when emotions and distractions were controlled.

“What is the width and depth of the intellect you have applied to your own team’s contingency planning?  What could happen tomorrow, next week, next year that you haven’t planned for, aren’t ready to deal with, or have put in the category of “I’ll worry about that when the time comes”?

“Great organization is the trademark of a great organization.”

Managing Personell

At this point, it is no surprise that Walsh has a lot to say and think about regarding employees of your organizing. On setting his standard and letting it permeate through the organization:

“Bonding within the organization takes place as one individual and then another steps up and raises his or her level of commitment, sacrifice, and performance.  They demand and expect a lot of one another.”
“Employees can thrive in an environment when they know exactly what is expected of them — even when those expectations are very high.”
“Place a premium on those who exhibit great desire to keep pushing themselves to higher and higher performance and production levels, who seek to go beyond the highest standards that you the leader set.  The employee who gets to work early, stays late, fights through illness and personal problems is the one to keep your eye on for greater responsibilities.”

Reading Walsh’s book, The Score Takes Care of Itself, was a difficult read. It brought out insecurities of mine and I would ignore or disagree with many of his writings.  However, through reflection, it is the work ethic and discipline of a great man, who pushed it outside of the limits of my own thinking, that I realized that I am miles away from one of the greatest coaches of all time.  So what now?

“It takes time to develop the Standard of Performance; it is not just a seminar or a practice or a season’s worth of seminars and practices, but thoughtful and intense attention over years and years.”

22 Books I Read in 2016

As 2016 comes to an end, I am taking stock of all that I’ve read and learned this year.  It really does seem like last December was just around the corner as I was planning on what books I would read this year.  Not everything I actually got to, but I am really proud of how much I did actually get to read.

Below are a list of books, in a rough order of when I read them.  I’ve marked a asterisk (*) symbol beside the books that were my favorite reads of the year and I will carry lessons that I learned from them for the rest of my life, and that I would recommend others to read.  Also the title of the book may have a link to my book notes that I’ve posted on my blog if you are interested in knowing more.

Mindset by Carol Dweck *

Mindset is based on a thesis that people, in different forms and areas of their life, approach life with a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset.  This book has been extremely popular and has been blowing up all over within the business field, education, parenting, and I would imagine sports as well. Many influencers recommend it, including being on Bill Gates’ reading list.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday *

This book’s central tenet is that “The impediment to action advances action, what stands in the way, is the way”, a quote from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.  This book was my introduction into the school of philosophy called Stoicism.  This philosophy also has been blowing up all over, particularly in the start up world as well as making rounds throughout the NFL.  I just about highlighted a passage from every single chapter.  Stoicism isn’t a boring philosophy, they were interested in pragmatic and practical strategies in living a good life.  If you’ve started to hear about Stoicism or have read about how this ancient philosophy relates to modern life, I would highly recommend this book.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl *

An absolute classic of a book that has stood the test of time, and is recommended on so many people’s recommended book list.  Man searches for meaning, but perhaps it is in fact that life is asking man what meaning to give to one’s life.  A good place to start when asking yourself what you want out of life, or what you want to do with the life you’ve been given.

Frankl was a psychologist that lived through the horrors of concentration camps, losing his entire family, and came out with a sense of purpose in his life, by writing this book.  He observed that those who were most likely to live through life in concentration camps, were ones that had assigned meaning or purpose to their life. Whether it was writing a book, completing their work, or living for a loved one.

Also it goes into great description of what it was like to live in a concentration camp.  Definitely an eye opener. I was touched so much and it grew a yearning inside of me to learn more about WW2, that I arranged a trip to Berlin, Germany in 2017.

No art is original, all art is stolen. Many artists have been influenced by Michael Jackson, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton.  Every great artist has been influenced by the past, and build on what was created, but give their own uniqueness to it.  So there is no need to feel like you are copying someone else’s art.  You should be copying someone else’s art, it is the only path to original art.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

You can’t find your voice unless you use it. Artists don’t develop in a vacuum, they are developed with other artists.  Share your work, so you leave a trail for people to find you.  If you ever wanted to have an online presence of a body of work, I recommend getting this book.  Only takes an hour or so to read.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I’m glad that I took the chance to re-read this classic book.  Nice to read some children’s fiction every once in awhile.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

Bill Walsh was the coach of the 49ers, that was the first coach to take a last place team and turn it around to a championship team within 2 years, and create a dynasty and changed the way the game was played with his West Coast Offence.  His central theme is his standard of performance, how he expected his entire organization to take their job seriously and do everything with excellence.  I did not enjoy this book very much, however I must admit that their are lots of hard lessons that I may be trying to avoid.

Tartine by Chad Robertson

This book is the bible on home sourdough bread baking.  I never got around to creating my own sourdough starter (however I attempted once and failed), but I grew a huge appreciation for bread and how it’s made. The book is filled with bread recipes as well as what to do with the bread.  It goes through a history of bread through the ages and it’s origins, and is wonderfully written.  I salivate now thinking about the stories of Chad’s time in France as he learned to bake bread all day, and ate raclettes, bread, and local rose every night.  An excellent read.
If you are interested in baking your own bread, a very easy access point is Jim Lahey’s video for a no knead recipe.

The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish

I liked what my friend said recently as he was also embarking on learning to create his own pizza, it’s a life skill that you can use for the rest of your life.  I’ve probably made 20-30 pizzas this year after reading this book.  It’s a highly accessible place to learn how to make your own pizza dough and learn about the different styles of pizza around the world. Worth it to know the difference between a traditional Neapolitan pizza vs an American pizza (and even the differences between a NY slice, West Coast, New-Haven, Chicago, St.Louis).  I could go on …

Linchpin by Seth Godin *

The workplace is changing at an unprecedented pace.  What we learned from our parents and teachers no longer apply.  If you’ve ever been worried about your future job security, I would recommend reading this.  In a world where organizations are applying rules and standards to their employees, and when services are being automated, what the world will hunger for is true authenticity and human touch.  That is something that will always be in demand, and a skill that will always be rare in the workplace.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

There is a certain template that most of us live.  Work ~50 weeks of the year, and take the rest travelling, dashing between 2-4 cities per year.  But what if this template was flipped on it’s head.  What does it mean to travel well? Is travel very expensive?  If you want to become a better traveller, of start forming your philosophies on travel, this could be a place to start.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

We are in the age of distraction, and a skill that is becoming more rare, while becoming more essential to the knowledge worker, is the skill of deep focus and doing deep work.  The type of work that can’t be automated or systemized, that requires creativity and thought and deep problem solving, requires the ability to work deeply.  Cal Newport shares why this is such a problem, why it’s so necessary, and strategies to deploy in your own work life.  I should mention, Cal Newport is a full time professor, with a kid, publishes research papers, runs a blog, and has time to write books.  If you want to see in detail how productive people work, you may consider listening to this guy.

Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis

Arguably, some of the hardest times I’ve laughed this year (not just in reading, but in general), has come from reading this book.  If you are a parent or interested in parenting life, this book has a ton of funny stories that I am sure are very relatable.  You may know Michael Lewis as the author of such books turned movies as The Big Short, Moneyball, and The Blind Side.  Michael is a fantastic writer, and this is the first book I’ve read from him.

Deskbound by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza

We live in a sitting world.  It’s a bit scary to consider that it’s possible to not do any significant walking, say, more than a few minutes from the parking lot to the office everyday.  Or to consider that many people’s most significant movement is only once or twice a week to the grocery store.  Our bodies have not been able to catch up in evolution to deal with all the sitting that we do. Sitting can wreak havoc on our bodies, by putting us in unnatural positions, shortening the length of muscles and tendons, reducing blood flow, dropping our metabolism, and slowly reducing functionality of our muscles.  Sitting and position is a skill that is completely lost in our age because of the sedentary lives that we live.  Over a lifetime, all this bad positioning can lead to heart disease, injuries, loss of productivity, and suboptimal overall performance.  I certainly don’t want to be held back in my 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s, because I did not maintain the one opportunity at a healthy body that I got in this life.  Learn proper sitting, standing, and walking positions, and overall maintenance of your body.

Microadventures by Alistair Humphreys

In our world of internet, highways, netflix, and offices, our culture has lost a sense of adventure.  Often we dream about a time when we can just quit our job, hit the road, and follow wherever the journey takes us, a great adventure.  However that is impractical, or not necessarily something we want to do for those with a career, family, or any number of reasons that hold us back from a great adventure.  Humphreys challenges the reader with practical ways to get away and take on “microadventures” that can be done on a weeknight, or over a weekend.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi *

A beautifully written memoir, that is arguably one of the best books of the year across all genres.  If you want to read something that will touch you, read it.  If you want to read something that is well written, read it.  If you ponder the meaning of life, read it.  I thirst for another book written as well and is as touching as this. Also an easy read, ~3 hours.

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Like most popular young adult series, this was highly addictive.  I think I read the whole series in 4-5 weeks.

Customer Success by Mehta, Steinman, Murphy

In this age of subscription based businesses, often the revenues of a subscription does not cover the cost of acquisition even after several years.  What this requires is a new paradigm so that a customer continues to renew or upgrade in order to become profitable.  Long term retention, reducing cancellations, upsells, adding value, and making the customer successful are necessary to compete in the world of SaaS these days.  If you work in the SaaS or start-up space, particularly the first 3 chapters were written very well explaining the state of SaaS companies now.  The 10 Laws of Customer Success weren’t written quite as well. I believe that this space is still quite immature and needs time to mature to really define what it is and isn’t.

The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life by Amy Schroeder *

This is the first biography I’ve read since I was very little, and I am so glad that I picked it up.  Warren Buffett has always been a hero of mine, and lives a really interesting life.  His behavior and approach to both life and business has a lot of teachings to learn from.  Another book that I have tons of earmarks and highlights on.

As an aside, biographies are awesome!  I went in expecting to get some lessons, but I quickly found that I could get to know who Buffet is, and actually look up to him as a hero and mentor.  I am definitely going to look out for more biographies to read from now on.

Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferriss

To anyone who is a listener of his podcast, I would say this is a must-purchase.  Anyone who doesn’t listen to his podcast, I can’t see it as having near the same value.  The book is written as notes and excerpts from his podcasts, and highlight 5-10% of each interview.  It has been great for me as I’ve listened to 30+ of his podcasts.  However, regardless, I pretty much read, watch, and listen to every thing single thing that Tim Ferriss produces.

There are a few additional books that I read this year that were not interesting, or I have chosen not to share.  However, I am proud to say that I read 25 or so books this year.  Considering I was expecting to only read 6-8, I am really proud of myself, and realize that I have to set the bar much higher!

However, more than anything, it is not the quantity of books that one reads, but the lessons that one learns from them.  I can say that I certainly am not the same at the beginning of 2017, then I was at the beginning of 2016, and my life is richer because of the books I’ve read.

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Linchpin – To be a linchpin, is to bring your artistry to your job, to lead others, connect people, to expend emotional labor, to have a super power. 

A day’s wage for a day’s work is a shitty way to spend 80,000 hours of your life. Is that what life has boiled down to?  Just an exchange of the marketplace, companies offering employees money to do some tasks, while employees try to get away with working as little as possible, expending as little energy as possible, for their employer?

There can be more though.  Everyday, in any situation, you have the opportunity to do something remarkable, have job satisfaction, have life satisfaction.  You can choose to be an example, to lead others, connect with people, bring life and humanity to a corporation or marketplace of transactions, be recognized as an artist, make work an adventure, get wrapped up in what you do because you are so dedicated.  You can be a linchpin.  But first, why is it so hard?

How did we end up here?

How did the american dream become “working a stable 9-5, doing safe work, living in a home in he suburbs having to commute 30-60 minutes a day to and from work and daycare, driving a Benz, BBQ’s on weekends and the odd trip here and there”?  How did we get to a place where working for a large public company or recognized name become the defacto of our university graduates?

The Old Model

The old industry of work was about sticking in, following instructions, coloring inside the lines, being told what to say, working without autonomy.  Do what you’re told to do and be rewarded for it.  The more widgets you produce, the more you are rewarded for work. The more effort you put in, the more you are paid.  The old industry still exists.

However the old model is going away.  Effort and physical talent aren’t the required inputs that the economy wants anymore.  If what people are looking for is standardized and predictable, the corporate machine employs robots to do the work.  They own the means of production, and they don’t need you, cause you get tired, you make mistakes, you get sick, you want weekends, and a 3 week vacation.

What We Learned in School

Keep your pencils sharp, write straight along the blue lined paper, learn cursive writing, learn just enough about a subject to attain a grade, and then move on to the next subject. Learn to read and memorize facts, regurgitate them in a limited time under high pressure situations.  Study together, but test alone.  Do homework. Be a generalist, don’t fail.  Don’t risk embarrassing yourself, buy things to fit in, fit into the crowd.

The Resistance

The resistance is what makes you uncomfortable.  It can be quite a good compass for what you are doing too.  The closer you get to being uncomfortable, and the further you push yourself into places that you are uncomfortable, the lizard brain fights even harder, using any tactic.  Lies, flawed logic.  But that’s when you know you are close.  The short cut to mediocre is to be comfortable.  The long way, the only way to significance, is to be uncomfortable.

The lizard brain is the primitive unevolved part of your brain.  It’s concern is safety, socially, economically, as well as physically.  One of the blessings about living in this age now is that we don’t have to be afraid of a sabretooth tiger looking to chew our neck.  The only thing we have to brave is putting ourselves out there, getting over our fears, staring at the blank screen, canvas, or whatever medium, and creating something remarkable.

What your “tribe” or “community” wants, and what the “market” wants, are completely opposite.  What the tribe wants is for people to fit in, that’s how tribes are formed.  When people are alike in values or interests or something else, it forms a loose connection.  When someone falls outside of the defined lines of norms within a tribe, they are neglected, pushed out, they make everyone inside the lines uncomfortable.  But to be remarkable, by definition you cannot be ordinary.  That is when you will hit resistance.  In order to get different results, you have to have a different process.  That process will make others feel uncomfortable.  What the market wants though, is not what is ordinary.  They don’t pay, or watch, or wait in line, or follow what’s just ordinary.  We crave our products, our services, our entertainment, and our experiences, all to be remarkable.  The social resistance must be overcome.

I do not want to spend a lot of time here, and perhaps it’s worthy of a separate conversation.  This is not instructions to be different for the sake of being different.  Don’t garner haters because it won’t cause you to be remarkable.  It is just a symptom of being remarkable.  Being a linchpin doesn’t mean being a lone wolf, or not having close friends.  In fact, it is the complete opposite, as I’ll cover shortly.

Making art in a cubicle

You might object and say “I am not an artist”.  Bullshit.   It is not a paintbrush, a stage, or a camera that makes someone an artist.  Artists are everywhere, you encounter them as baristas, analysts, service workers, and coaches.  It isn’t the piece of work that is created that makes it art.  It is putting a part of yourself in what is created, or the service provided, that makes it art.

I had a memorable experience at a Italian restaurant, where my wife and I sat at the bar in front of the raw station.  This station was where the food was already prepped but just needed to be plated, and where drinks were served. No kitchen experience necessary.  Our “bartender” had an Italian heritage, and explained to us all about the food and the differences in how his grandmother made it to how the restaurant made it.  He explained all the work, the 14 hour days him and the kitchen staff put in to the food that we were eating.  When I asked him about some of the food he was cutting, he would put small samples on a plate and let us taste it.  He told us that he’s not actually a trained cook, but that really he is an actor.

That server, Peter Ciuffa, entertained us for 2.5 hours at his station, not because he was told to do so, or cause he wanted recognition, or wanted a review of his service in an obscure blog, or for a big tip. He entertained us, because that was his art, his salumi station was his stage, we were his audience, and his story was his script.  It was art, because a 20% tip could not possible repay him for the memorable experience.  

What if I don’t know what my passion is?

“In a pre-Internet world, where couldn’t have existed, would Jeff Bezos be a nonpassionate lump?  If Spike Lee hadn’t found a camera, would he be sitting around, accepting the status quo?
Passion isn’t project-specific.  It’s people-specific.  Some people are hooked on passion, deriving their sense of self from the act of being passionate.
Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss.  Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate.  People with passion look for ways to make things happen.
The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.”

There is no map

How can you do it?  There aren’t specific instructions, gosh I wish there were.  But being a linchpin, doing art, getting past the resistance, connecting with people, there aren’t a set of instructions, which is what makes it so valuable.  No one can tell you how to unlock your potential.  You have to be the navigator, without a map.

But hey, no one really knows what they’re doing.  Consider what Bre Pettis has to say about doing the work:

Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
Laugh at perfection.  It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
People without dirty hands are wrong.  Doing something makes you right.
Failure counts as done.  So do mistakes.

Leading others

That’s where linchpins come in.  They understand that there is no map, but the work still needs to get done.  Just because there is no map, linchpins know it’s not an excuse for waiting for the instructions.  So linchpins soldier on, they’re the ones that jump in on the front lines, and jump headfirst into the trenches.  They move forward regardless if anyone follows.  That is the exact reason, that people follow.  Cause you don’t need instructions to move forward.  The circumstances are the same between linchpins and others, there is no map or instructions.  The only difference is linchpins will map it out, and charter the unknown.

The culture of art, gifts, and connections

A gift, inherently, is something that you do not pay back.  Gifts between friends or family on holidays or occasions are rarely real gifts.  There is an expectation.  I’ll buy you a gift, if you buy me a gift.  That’s why when we get older, gifts get phased out of our social circles, they become dry and boring.  My family dreads the secret Santa family exchange of presents because there are so many rules around it.  You are required to buy something.  You cannot go over the $ limit. If you go over, you are cheating and making everyone feel guilty. If you go under, you are cheap and are not thoughtful.

Real gifts are the thoughtful ones.  When I surprise my wife or my friend with something, just cause I was thinking of them, and thought they would like it.  When your parents bought you gifts as a child, they did it for the joy of giving to you, for the priceless face you make when you open it.  There is no possible way you could’ve repaid your parents for that, and that’s what made it a gift.  The joy however is not only for the gift receiver, but the gift giver as well.

Real art is a gift to someone.  You get the opportunity to make a connection and change someone.  The more people you change, the more effective your art is.   Through your gift, connections are made between you and the receiver, as well as between the receivers.

Giving a smile, connecting with people, being generous, these are things that we do for free all our lives, but when it comes to work many of us feel that we aren’t paid for that.  This creates a tension where we aren’t able to do what brings us joy into our work.  Bring your gift to work, so that you can receive that joy more, be yourself more, be more human.

Being a Human

This is what it boils down to, being a remarkable human being.  Life was not meant to be lived with a map.  Life wasn’t meant to just follow instructions only.  It’s about connecting people, leading others, giving gifts, and giving yourself and being yourself as a gift to the world.  When we follow everyone else’s rules, guidelines, paths, we’re only doing what can be done.  But be someone different, giving something different, because only you can give your unique art.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Feeling overwhelmed, pressured, rushed, my client had demanded that the task be completed straight away, while jabbing comments about it maybe being a mistake they chose my company for their services.  The task was complex and quite unorthodox to be dealt with so quickly.  That’s when I was reminded that this situation in front of me, was my obstacle.  I was at the beginning, I had no choice but get to the end, and this dataset to be created was preventing me from passing.  I began to break each of the tasks into smaller pieces, looking at them without the narrative of being “complex”, rather breaking them smaller and smaller until they were simple.  Just a bit after 5pm, I sent the e-mail to the client that I had completed the task.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius

Ryan Holiday takes the ancient wisdom of Stoicism to write the book The Obstacle is the Way, a practical philosophy to approaching life.  As you may guess from the title of the book, it is about turning what the world sees as obstacles, as the path that you should take.  The example mentioned above is just one of the many times I have referenced to this very draft of this article to get perspective of my difficult situations.

The strategies and philosophy Ryan shares with us can have massive consequences in your life.  For every single one of us, life is gonna throw us shit.  No one has it honky dory — no matter what your Instagram feed looks like.  You have heard it many times, those who are at the top always talk about the obstacles and failures they had to overcome to get there.  The key is that they overcame them.

“That thing you dread or secret thing you don’t want to happen, what if it wasn’t so bad?  What if inside it or embedded in it is or inherent in it was certain benefits.  Benefits only for you.  What would you do?  Probably what most people do, nothing.”

The book is broken into three parts, 1) Perception, 2) Action, 3) Will.

“Objective judgment, now at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events.
That’s all you need.


In this first section, we learn that there is the obstacle and then there is how we think about it, they are separate. Our perceptions create our reality, it is not what happens that affects us, but the narrative and the context that is around what happens that does.  Often the obstacle does not really exist, but merely our thoughts and feelings that we bring to the situation that creates the obstacle.  How much does hate, fear, anxiety, paralyze us? What we must realize is that “Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings.”

What we need to do is steady our nerve, stay in control of your emotions.  Yes the obstacles and feelings are overwhelming, so it is with Kobe Bryant when the clock is running down and he’s got to make a shot over two defenders.  But when you are able to steady your nerve, “then nothing really did “happen”—our perception [makes] sure [it’s] nothing of consequence.”

“The observing eye sees events, clear of distractions, exaggerations, and misperceptions. The perceiving eye sees “insurmountable obstacles” or “major setbacks” or even just “issues.” It brings its own issues to the fight. The former is helpful, the latter is not.” — Miyamoto Musashi

We need to recognize what happens as what they actually are.  There are many ways to look at a situation productively, often some tactics are better than others.

Is it in your control?  Can you even do anything about it?  If not, then carry on.  Should what you’re going through be a surprise?  Is the world out to get you, or is it a natural resistance that would face anyone on your journey?  If it is, face it bravely as if the obstacle has been fated to your path.   Is it possible to defeat this obstacle for someone else?  If yes, then why not you?

On the other side of it, you will be rewarded with lessons learned, a stronger will, and confidence from experience. This holds one of the most important keys to your perception, where it’s not about what you see as the obstacle, but what you stand to gain on the other side of the obstacle. Obstacles are opportunities for you to grow, to achieve, to better yourself.

“The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth. The obstacle is an advantage, not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.”


In this section, we learn that not any action will do.  Controlled, well thought out, calm, creative action is the necessary types to conquer what stands in the way.  Often rather than fighting with a strategy, we relentlessly start swinging for the ropes.  This is what separates the Hollyfields from the backyard brawlers.

“Action is commonplace, right action is not. As a discipline, it’s not any kind of action that will do, but directed action.”

The perfect time for action is now.  Are the circumstances desirable?  They never are, for any of us.  People have gotten over way more than you and I, come from behind and had way bigger obstacles.  Racial discrimination, sickness, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy.  Yet they didn’t waste time in waiting for the perfect opportunity to come up, those don’t exist.  The perfect opportunities come to those who put in the work.  So just start, every accomplishment has the first step in common — the first step.

When you got the ball rolling, you’ve got to keep at it, cause The Dip and The Resistance are coming for you.  But a dogged determination is what is going to get you through it. Be persistent. Repeat the process, keep trying, test new theories, poke different spots and attack different angles.  Sometimes there won’t be much of a strategy behind it, except doing it one at a time.  Sounds simple, but it’s not easy.

“Edison, was not the only one at the time trying to invent a light bulb.  However Edison was the only one who was willing to test six thousand different types of filaments until he found the right one.”

While you are trying, practicing, applying, moving, executing, always gather feedback.  Remember, creativity and strategy are necessary.  We are not just trying the same method over and over and hoping for a different outcome.  We will try, see what happens, and then form a new hypothesis and try something different.  The strategy will come, and it will change, and evolve.  Tech startups have the concept of the MVP, minimum viable product.  They put out their product with minimal features, push it to a group of small customers and then listen and observe.  They can quickly push out new features and see how the customers react.  This allows them to iterate, remain flexible, and be agile.

Now that you have calmed your nerves, controlled your emotions, and can see the obstacle objectively, you will be able to see the situation for what it is.  Most obstacles you will come across, will only have a handful of variables to act against. Strategize your countermoves.

“Remember the first time you saw a complicated algebra equation? It was a jumble of symbols and unknowns. But then you stopped, took a deep breath, and broke it down. You isolated the variables, solved for them, and all that was left was the answer.”

After all is said and done, you have to be prepared that your actions come up empty.  You can think clearly, have dogged determination and execute, but sometimes it won’t be enough.  Perception and action is within your control, the rest of the world is not.  This is not failure, you are still able to turn the obstacle into an advantage.

“… simply by using it as an opportunity to practice some other virtue or skill—even if it is just learning to accept that bad things happen, or practicing humility.  It’s an infinitely elastic formula: In every situation, that which blocks our path actually presents a new path with a new part of us.”


The will is what’s left after perception and action.  External circumstances will influence my perceptions and my actions, but the will is the foundation which stands, or falls.  You choose the strength of your foundation, by choosing to build it up.  The will is forged by overcoming obstacles, and making conscious choices to be work it, no one is born with it.

A three step process for dealing with each obstacle and situation and strengthening your will is to i) Think Negatively, ii) Art of Acquiescence, and iii) Amor Fati.

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.” — Seneca

To think negatively is to anticipate the worst situations that could come.  You should not be caught off guard when life hands you shit.  Things will always go wrong, but if this comes as a surprise each and every time you are going to be set up for failure.  Set yourself up for success, by premeditating on potential obstacles.   For your current situation, be an optimist.  But when it comes to the future, be a pessimist, so that you are prepared for the worst of circumstances, so you are prepared with strategies in place to deal with them.

Accept whatever circumstances, and whatever troubles may come.  In whatever situation, no matter how bad it might get, these are all external circumstances.  Do not complain about it being hard for you, or talk about the way that it should be or should’ve happened.  You need to clear your mind, by accepting it.  Leave the negative thoughts behind, and focus on what you actually need to do.

After you’ve anticipated the obstacles and aren’t surprised by them, and have accepted them, the next level is to love it.  If an obstacle arises, it was meant to be there for you.  It may just be good that you have accepted it, but to love it is to fully embrace it and respect the obstacle for what it is, and what’s on the other side of it.  We have to love it because we know what the outcome will be on the other side of it.  We have to love it because it is the only path to greatness.

Start it over

After preparing your perceptions, executing effective actions, and exercising your will, just get ready to do it all over again.

“One does not overcome an obstacle to enter the land of no obstacles.”

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

This is a fantastic small read and it really helped solidify some of the floating ideas I had in my head that never really connected.  I originally had added Show Your Work to my reading list but then also came across this one that seemed really interesting, and was also a NYT best seller.

Austin Kleon is a writer and artist living in Austin, Texas.  He writes an excellent blog.  All around seems like a really cool dude.

This book encourages me to invite influences into my life.  What inspires me and makes me come alive, the heroes that I read about, learn from them, imitate them, and copy them.  Thus when I copy them, I make it my own, and have spun it as a new version.  I suffered from great imposter syndrome before, not believing that any of my ideas were mine, just ones that I’ve stolen from others.  Before I felt guilty, now I wear it proud.  I steal material, and share it as my own.

Stealing …

All artists start off from stealing.  Who do you know who’s done something significant that did not draw inspiration from someone else?  When I started playing guitar, did I start by writing my own music?  Of course not.  You start by practicing and playing your favourite musicians.  All artists have a muse, inspiration, are a part of a community, study the greats in their field.  I’m so encouraged by this cause now I can shamelessly say who my heroes are and take what they’ve laid before me and make it mine.

On the Myth of “Finding Yourself”

You don’t need to start after you “find your voice”.  What a myth!  Why do we feel like we need to make it on our own.  There is no such thing as “original”, all art is a riff off of another art, any worthy art anyways. It is in the process of your artistry, that you begin to find yourself.  So riff, steal, transform, and as you follow the path, you inevitably find yourself, your sweet spot, and can honour those who went before you by pointing towards them for your source of inspiration.

Mentors and Influences

Much has been said about having mentors in your life. I’ve had very few of these relationships, feeling like I’m left behind and that I was doomed for failure because I had no one showing me the way.  However, mentors are freely available.  They leave their words to you in their books, in their music, in their art. I’ve realized, I don’t not have mentors, I’m being mentored by a team of world class people, that I got to draft on my team.  There’s no salary cap for this sport!


It also affirmed that hobbies and side projects are not just for fun, but generate real value.  Hobbies is what you give time to, but nourishes your soul, and in the process you are creating, practicing, working your craft.  It’s the work that you wished you could do all day everyday, but don’t get to because of responsibilities, regular job, etc.  But that is perfectly OK.  When you do things for money, joy is stolen, motivation gets fuzzy, deadlines begin to loom and put pressure.  Not so with hobbies, you aren’t doing it for the financial gain of others, you do it for the pure satisfaction of yourself, and your audience.  You don’t want the pressure of “if I screw this up, I won’t be able to pay the bills.”  You want to do what you enjoy, free of external motivations, just an expression of what’s inside.

“If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research. — Wilson Mizner

  • What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere.  All creative work builds on what came before.  Nothing is completely original.
  • “Everything that needs to be said has already been said.  But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” – Andre Gide
  • You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.  You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.  You are the sum of your influences
  • The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice.  You can learn whatever you want from them.  They left their lesson plans in their work.
  • It’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.  You’re ready.  Start making stuff.
  • In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes.
  • “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” — Jessica Hische
  • “Avoiding work is the best way to focus my mind.” — Maira Kalman
  • A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy.  A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.  No pressure, no plans.  It’s regenerative.  It’s like church.
  • Do good work and share it with people.
  • People love it when you give your secrets away

Mindset by Carol Dweck Reading Notes

I’m very excited to share these reading notes.  This may be one of the most important books I’ve ever read.  It has completely impacted the way I view the world and how I approach many aspects of my life.  If I had to share one book with the world to recommend to read, I have to say this would affect the most amount of people, as there isn’t an area of your life that this would not affect.  Happy reading!  If you like it, make sure to grab yourself a copy!

Chapter 2 – The Mindsets

  • Children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed.  Smart people should always succeed.  But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves.  It’s about becoming smarter.

“I think intelligence is something you have to work for … it isn’t just given to you … Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question.  But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, them my mistake will be corrected.  Or I will raise my hand and say, ‘How would this be solved?’ or ‘I don’t get this. Can you help me?’ Just by doing that I’m increasing my intelligence.” — Child

  • For those with growth mindset, for them it’s not about immediate perfection.  It’s about learning something over time: confronting a challenge and making a progress.
  • “Becoming is better than being.”  The fixed mindset does not allow people the luxury of becoming.  They have to already be.
  • People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.
  • This is part of the fixed mindset: effort is for those who don’t have the ability. People with the fixed mindset tells us, “if you have to work at something, you must not be good at it.”
  • People with the growth mindset, believe something very different: even geniuses have to work hard for their achievements.
  • “what’s so heroic, they would say, about having a gift?”
  • The idea of trying and still failing — of leaving yourself without excuses — is the worst fear within the fixed mindset
  • In the growth mindset, it’s almost inconceivable to want something badly, to think you have a chance to achieve it, and then do nothing about it.
  • You can look back and say, “I could have been …,” polishing your unused endowments like trophies.  Or you can look back and say, “I gave my all for the things I valued.” Think about what you want to look back and say.  Then choose your mindset.

Chapter 2 Action Steps: 

  • Ppl are all born with a love of learning, but the fixed mindset can undo it.  Think of a time when you were doing something and you hit a bump, how did you feel?  Next time this happens, don’t fold yourself.  It’s the fixed mindset.  Put yourself in a growth mindset.  Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn.
  • When you are challenged, how do you feel?  Do you fold and give up, or try harder?  Next time you are challenged, don’t give up, try and imagine all the new connections from learning that you will get effort.  Learn to love the process.

Chapter 3 – The Truth about Ability and Accomplishments

  • In a high school in LA, a teacher went into one of the lowest performing math classes, and taught them university level calculus.  He didn’t ask, “Are these students able to do it?”, he asked, “How can I teach these students to be able to do it?”.  The class ended up ranking amongst the top in the country, falling behind two other classes that were from Math and Science schools.  Only a hundred Mexican Americans got college credits for the work they did in High School, most of that class of Mexican Americans were able to attain that.
  • Many people with the fixed mindset believe that someone’s early performance tells you all you need to know about their talent and their future.
  • Parents often (80% actually) feel as though praising children for their abilities is very important for building confidence and self esteem.  However in a study, they found that praising for student’s abilities on an IQ test found that they were more likely to reject taking another more challenging test.  When they praised the students for their effort, 90% of them chose to accept the more challenging test afterwards.  For the ability kids, they were given more challenging questions and showed that they had less enjoyment in them, since their abilities were now being challenged.  The effort kids however enjoyed the challenging questions the most.  After the difficult questions, easier questions were given again, however even though the questions were easy, the ability children performed lower than they did in the first place.  Their morale was shot so hard by the challenging questions they were thrown off.  Whereas the effort children performed even better afterwards.
    • A very interesting part of the study was afterwards, the students were given a chance to write to other random kids (strangers) and tell them about the test they had taken, and they were given a spot to write their score down.  40% of the ability kids lied on their score.
      • Simply by telling these ordinary children that they were smart, they made them into liars

Chapter 3 – Action Steps

  • Think about your hero.   Do you think of this person as someone with extraordinary abilities who achieved with little effort?  Now go find out the truth. Find out the tremendous effort that went into their accomplishment – and admire them more
  • Think of times other people outdid you and you just assumed they were smarter or more talented.  Now consider the idea that they just used better strategies, taught themselves more, practiced harder, and worked their way through obstacles.  You can do that, too, if you want.
  • Are there situations where you get stpuid- where you disengage your intelligence?  Next time you’re in one of those situations, get yourself into a growth mindset — think about learning and improvement, not judgment — and hook it back up

Chapter 4 – Mindset of a Champion

  • Michael Jordan — the coach (UNC) was taken aback by his willingness to work harder than anyone else.  Once, after the team lost the last game of the season, Jordan went and practiced his shot for hours.  Former Bulls assistant coach John Bach called him “a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.”
  • Bruce Jenner, 1976 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon, says, “If I wasn’t dyslexic, I probably wouldn’t have won the Games.  If I had been a better reader, then that would have come easily, sports would have come easily … and I never would have realized that the way you get ahead in life is hard work.”
  • In a study … those with fixed mindset were the people who believed that:
    “You have a certain level of ability in sports and you cannot really do much to change that level.”
    “To be good at sports you need to be naturally gifted.”

    • In Contrast, the people with the growth mindset agreed that:
      • How good you are at sports will always improve if you work harder at it.
      • To be successful in sports, you need to learn techniques and skills and practice them regularly

“After every game or practice, if you walk off the field knowing that you gave everything you had, you will always be a winner” – Mia Hamm

  • Those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating.  They’re informative.  They’re a wake-up call.
    • Only once did MJ try to coast, it was the year after he returned to the bulls after baseball.  The bulls were eliminated in the play-offs.  “You can’t leave and think you can come back and dominate this game.  I will be physically and mentally prepared from now on.”  The Bulls won the NBA title the next three years.
  • People with the growth mindset in sports took charge of the processes that bring success — and than maintain it.
    • How come Jordan’s skill didn’t seem to decline with age?  He did lose some stamina and agility with age, but to compensate, he worked even harder on conditioning and on his moves, like the turn around jump shot and his celebrated fallaway jumper.  He came into the league as a slam-dunker and he left as the most complete player ever to grace the game
  • Somebodies are not determined by whether they won or lost.  Somebodies are people who go for it with all they have.

Chapter 4 – Action Steps

  • Sometimes being exceptionally endowed is a curse.  These athletes may stay in a fixed mindset and not cope well with adversity.  Is there a sport that came easily to you until you hit a wall?  Try on the growth mindset and go for it again.
  • “Character” is an important concept in sports world, and it comes out of a growth mindset.  Think about times you’ve needed to reach deep down inside in difficult sports matches.  Think about the growth-mindset champions from this chapter and how they do it.  What could you do next time to make sure you’re in a growth mindset in the pinch?
  • Athletes with a growth mindset find success in learning and improving, not just winning.  The more you can do this, the more rewarding sports will be for you — and for those who play them with you!

Chapter 5 – Business – Mindset and Leadership

  • They’re not constantly trying to prove they’re better than others.  For example, they don’t highlight the pecking order with themselves at the top, they don’t claim credit for other people’s contributions, and they don’t undermine others to feel powerful.
    • Instead they are constantly trying to improve.  They surround themselves with the most able people they can find, they look squarely at their own mistakes and deficiencies, and they ask frankly what skills they and the company will need in the future.  And because of this, they can move forward with confidence that’s grounded in the facts, not build on fantasies about their talent.
  • Abusive actions represent the bosses’ desire to enhance their own feelings of power, competence, and value at the subordinate’s expense.
  • If the wrong kinds of praise lead kids down the path of entitlement, dependence, and fragility, maybe the right kinds of praise can lead them down the path of hard work and greater hardiness.
    • Instead of just giving employees an award for the smartest idea or praise for a brilliant performance, they would get praise for taking initiative, for seeing a difficult task through, for struggling and learning something new, for being undaunted by a setback or for being open to and acting on criticism.
  • Fixed mindset managers simply look for existing talent – they judge employees as competent or incompetent at the start and that’s that.  They do little development coaching and employees
    • Managers with a growth mindset think it’s nice to have talent, but that’s just the starting point.  These managers are more committed to their employees’ development and to their own.  They give a great deal more developmental coaching, they notice improvement in employees’ performance, and they welcome critique from their employees.
  • The growth mindset can be taught to managers
    • The workshop takes managers and teaches about the possibilities that open up once you have a growth mindset, and how success and mindset can change and are not static abilities of a few.
      • The workshop then takes managers and ask a) they consider why it’s important to understand that people can develop their abilities, b) they think of areas in which they once had low ability but now perform well, c) they write to a struggling protege about how his or her abilities can be developed, and d) they recall times they have seen people learn to do things they never though these people could do.

Chapter 6: Relationships

  • When we see great marriage relationship, we don’t say these people are brilliant relationship makers.  We say they’re fine people.  Or they have chemistry.  However as a society, this shows that we don’t understand relationship skills
  • So far, having a fixed mindset has meant believing your personal traits are fixed, but in a relationship two more variables are added, the partner, and the relationship itself.  You can believe that your qualities are fixed, your partners qualities are fixed, and/or the relationship’s qualities are fixed.
    • The growth mindset says all these things can be developed.  All are capable of growth and change.
  • In the fixed mindset, the ideal is instant, perfect, and perpetual compatibility.  Like it was meant to be.  This is similar to those with a fixed mindset that believe abilities and talent should just come naturally.
    • Fixed mindset believe “We are like one.  My partner should know what I think, feel, and need and I should know what my partner thinks feels and needs.”   This is obviously impossible  without communication and working on communicating.
    • Those with fixed mindsets feel threatened and hostile after even a minor discrepancy, since their insecurities about themselves are amplified
  • A no-effort relationship is a doomed relationship, not a great one. It takes work to communicate accurately and it takes work to expose and resolve conflicting hopes and beliefs.  It doesn’t mean there is no “they lived happily ever after,” but it’s more like “they worked happily ever after”.
  • The situation doesn’t get better in a fixed mindset relationship because when someone screws up, it is about who they are, not about their actions, and they believe that their partner is not capable of change.
  • Helping partners, within the relationship, to reach their own goals and fulfill their own potential.  This is the growth mindset in action.
  • The idea of “the lower you are, the better I feel” is the mentality that intrudes friendships
    • These friendships can sneak in.  They can be wonderful people, charming, fun, brilliant, but after being with them you often feel diminished.  It is often these people that try to build themselves up by establishing superiority and your inferiority.  You could be a vehicle, or a casualty of confirming their worth
  • The often touted “you know who your friends are in the bad times” may be a bit misleading, as that in itself is a self fulfilling prophecy of the possibility of those people feeling better about themselves when around you.  No, what may actually be a much better question is, “who can you turn to when good things happen?  When you find a wonderful partner, a great job offer, when your child does well, who is truly happy to hear it and celebrate YOU for it?”

Chapter 7 – Parents Teachers Coaches

  • Every word and action can be communication — to a child, student, or athlete, about how to think about themselves.  A fixed mindset message says “you have permanent traits and I’m judging them”, while growth mindset messages say “you are a developing person and I’m interesting in your development”
  • Praising children’s intelligence harms their motivation and it harms their performance
  • parents often think that they can give the gift of confidence to their children by praising their brains and abilities.  This is ever clear when watching the modern western style of parenting.  When in fact, when you praise their brains, you harm them as they hit challenges and snags in development, because when they find it difficult, judgment is brought on themselves that they are not in fact that smart.
    • The best thing a parent can do is teach a child to love challenges, to learn, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort.  Children will therefore not require man’s praise to love themselves, but they can build and repair their own confidence at any time
  • The type of praise we should stay away from is the one’s that praise intelligence or talent, rather than the work that they put in
  • an example of good praise after a failed test would be “it must be terrible feeling to feel everyone is evaluating you and you can’t show what you know.  We want you to know we are interested just in your learning and know that you were learning new things and we’re proud that you kept learning”
    • “Elizabet, I know how you feel.  It’s disappointing to have your hopes up and perform your best but not win. But you know you haven’t really earned it yet.  There are many other girls who have been practicing for a lot longer and have worked a lot harder.  If this is something you really want, you have to work for it.  If you want to just do gymnastics for fun, that is completely fine too!  But if you want to excel in it, you will have to put in the work.”
    • Here you can see he taught her how to learn from failure, how to succeed going forward, and did not give her a phoney boost of confidence.  He empathized with her, which is extremely important as well
  • Parents often think that discipline (punishment) is a form of teaching.  However what it teaches children is that when they disobey, they’ll be judged.  They need to be taught how to think through issues and come to ethical, mature decisions on their own.  Discipline and punishment is the lazy way of parenting.  Talking and discussing through issues is the work you have to put in to be a good teacher
  • Great teachers believe in the growth and development of intellect and talent and are fascinated with the process

“If you don’t give anything, don’t expect anything.  Success is not coming to you, you must come to it.”

  • When teachers are judging students, students rebel by sabotaging the teacher by not trying.  When students understand that school is for them, and for their learning and growing, they won’t want to sabotage school because they know it’s for themselves

“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better.  By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better” — John Wooden

  • He didn’t ask for mistake free games, or demand only wins.   He asked for full preparation and full effort.  Winning and losing is the wrong focus and wrong questions of the outcome.  The correct question is “did I put in my best effort?”.  If so, “You may be outscored but you will never lose”.

Action Steps:

  • Listen to what you say to your kids, and what messages they are sending.  Are they growth mindset messages? or fixed?  Are you judging them as permanent traits, or as developing and learning?
  • Do you praise them for their abilities, or for the effort and practice?
  • When you set goals for your child, they should not be fixed goals, but “expanding and learning and working” type goals

Chapter 8 – Changing Mindsets

  • People with growth mindsets are constantly monitoring what’s happening and have an internal dialogue of “how can I learn from this?  How can I improve?  How can I help someone with this?”, rather than a internal dialogue of judgement of yourself or others
  • in Growth Mindset workshops, students are taught that:
    • Most people don’t really know much about intelligence.  Most people think of intelligence as a fixed trait, either you’re dumb, average, or smart.  However new research shows that your brain is actually a muscle, and the more you work it, the more strong it becomes.  So when you learn and practice, you are making your brain stronger and making it grow.
    • When you learn new things, tiny connections begin to multiply and grow.  Things you found very hard before seem to become easy, because your brain is stronger and smarter.
  • Having a growth mindset plan will help tremendously.  Is there something you want to learn?  How will you do it, where, when?  Growth mindset people, when feeling frustrated or hit a snag in learning, even if depressed, will double down on their efforts to get past it.  This is where a growth mindset plan is useful.
  • There’s an important section that was too difficult to record in notes on how to change your child’s mindsets.  Basically it’s a set of examples on how to emphasize learning, learning from mistakes, in every area whether in activities, school, or even soft skills.

Notes on my reading notes: These notes are a selection of quotes or personal notes that I take on the book/article.  They are not meant to give a comprehensive overview of everything covered in the book.  Only what I find interesting and pertains to be helpful for my own benefit is recorded.

The Start-Up of You – Book Review

As an introduction, Reid Hoffman is often heralded as Silicon Valley’s Grandmaster.  He was an original executive at PayPal (Paypal Mafia), co-founder of LinkedIn, and a partner at Greylock Partners group.  I have not heard too much about him until reading this book and I must say I now will probably forever revere his thoughts on any subject.  His ability to put together the material in this book has completely re-wrote what a career path in my mind looks like has given me great respect for his mind and ideas.

Ben Casnocha is an interesting co-author to this book.  I remember Ben Casnocha from years ago, he was writing really popular blogs for young people / college students about really going out and gaining experience with cool internships, doing really cool and interesting projects, learning new things, and travelling abroad.  I remember his writing had great impact on me for a period of time as a student.  Since then I hadn’t heard about him in years, but have come to find out now that he worked under Hoffman for a couple of years, to help him strategize all the projects that he works on.  


There is a new reality for those of us who want a meaningful and thriving career.  Gone are the days of lifetime employment with the behemoths (ie. General Electric, Ford).  The new reality is that feeling stability in a job is not about job security, because those that felt the safest are the ones that were impacted the most (ie. Wall Street 2008, and everyone else in 2008).  Job security is no longer about the company you work for, but it is in your human capital, your ability to be entrepreneurial, create opportunities, take risks, and accomplish great tasks.  

“The gap is growing between those who know the new career rules and have the new skills of a global economy, and those who clutch to old ways of thinking and rely on commoditized skills.”

“What’s required now is an entrepreneurial mind-set.” 

Just like your product, your career should be in constant beta.  You need to be iterating, gathering feedback, “adding features”, and always have a pulse on the market so you know where it’s going.  In the product world, if you aren’t moving forward, you are moving backward, and you become irrelevant.

Competitive Advantage

You need to develop a competitive edge.  What separates you from the market?  When an organization is hiring, why should they hire you over the 30, or 100 other applicants?  What’s going to make you stand out?  Realizing this was a big shock for me and began to make me feel like I was not very special at all.  But remember that often what is a competitive is having a combination of skills.  Maybe you’re not the best programmer, but maybe your family background is running a landscaping business, so maybe you can work for some sort of landscape management software company.  Maybe you can start one.  Every one of us are unique in our backgrounds, experiences, interests, and skills.  It is our responsibility to communicate that to the world and make others understand the value that we have to offer.  It is even more important to realize what our value is ourselves, before we can even communicate that with others.

Plan to Adapt

ABZ Planning is a concept introduced by Hoffman and Casnocha.  Point A is where you’re at now, point B is where you are sort of interested and you’re keeping your eye on, and plan Z is your fallback plan.  Where you’re at now, you should have a clear idea about what to do and where the market is at.  Point B is just a rough idea, you don’t need to make specific plans for it because it’ll always change.  Plan Z is your fallback (bar tending, starbucks, etc).  Plan Z should be a viable option so that you are able to take care of your basic needs if all else goes wrong.

It Takes a Network

I^We is the concept that your individual skills matter, but your ability to connect with others is just as important.  When you have great skills and a strong network, your individual skills are exponentially magnified to the market.  

In order to develop a network,  you need to be completely natural at developing strong relationships, where the focal point is not “what can I get from you” but “how can I help you and understand your perspective.”  

An interesting note about your network, is that in a survey, 16% of respondents had referrals from close friends that they had regular contact.  55% from weak ties that they irregularly talked with and 27% were from acquaintances that they barely talked to. 

On reaching your extended network they suggest to really do your research before reaching out to your extended network.  Your extended network can be powerful resource for you to tap into if you really know how to draw from it.  Do your research and make some sort of common connection.  

Pursue Breakout Opportunities

“Entrepreneurs don’t start businesses just anywhere; they channel the mind-set and skills we’ve been discussing into finding the great business opportunities. Likewise, in order to accomplish something significant in your career, you need to focus on finding and capitalizing on those great career opportunities: the opportunities that will extend your competitive advantage and accelerate your Plan A or Plan B.”

Breakout opportunities are keys to everyone’s careers, it might even be conceivable that the people with the most success either have the biggest breakout opportunities and/or the most breakout opportunities.  Breakout opportunities are normally big projects or big clients that end up giving you a huge boost in experience and self confidence.  

In order to catch these opportunities the authors suggest to court good randomness and serendipity.  When you court serendipity and good randomness, you are simply opening yourself up to more opportunities that might come by as potential breakout opportunities for you!  You can do this by simply joining clubs, networks, meet ups, connecting with your alumni, or even simple things like going to dinner parties where you don’t know anyone.  The point is, is that when you open yourself to opportunities, they will land.  Many of our past opportunities that we have experienced already came from favours from people or random chance.  If you’re able to make yourself available and accessible and keep your eyes open and open yourself up to opportunities, you will be bound to catch breaks.

Take Intelligent Risks

There is a common misconception that entrepreneurs are massive risk takers.  Which in a sense is true, many entrepreneurs are like cowboys in a rodeo and swinging for the fences.  However the best entrepreneurs do not necessarily have a huge tolerance for risk, but they are able to manage it well.  They can assess the upside and decide whether it is worth the downside risk.  For example, Richard Branson when he started Virgin Atlantic, was able to negotiate an unbelievable return policy with Boeing which ended up rendering his downside risk minimally.  This gave him the confidence to be able to really go after such a big venture. 

As humans, we are generally quite poor at managing and assessing risk.  That is because biologically we are wired to worry about our survival and our self preservation a lot more than looking for opportunities to grow.  However, armed with this knowledge, we can do better to assess risk.  Really look at it and decide what is the worst thing that could happen.  If the worst that you could happen is you lose your job, or lose some money, if you have a plan Z in place, you should be able to handle intelligent risks.

Opportunities that others might find risky but aren’t as risky, can be found in situations such as jobs with lower pay but tremendous learning opportunity, taking up contract jobs since they are less stable, or in any position that is highly publicized as high risk.  Usually those jobs are not as high risk as the public makes it to be.

Another great recommendation by Hoffman and Casnocha on risk is to introduce small volatility throughout your career to put yourself in uncomfortable positions.  This is actually the smartest for those who are the most risk averse, because you begin to build up your defences to volatility.  It is almost a certainty that we will go through another recession or difficult time in our lifetime.  When you are not used to volatility or risk or failure at all, when catastrophic events occur, you will be caught completely off guard and will be affected most by these events.  However, those who experience regular volatility are equipped best to maneuver and react any time doors close or unfortunate circumstances occur.

“For the start-up of you, the only long-term answer to risk is resilience.
Remember: If you don’t find risk, risk will find you.”

Who You Know is What You Know

Speaking further about your network, I^We is re-emphasized.  This chapter is about being able to call on help or advice when it’s needed.  Not necessarily looking for opportunities as much, but to gain information.  There is invaluable information with people when you are able to tap into their experiences and knowledge.  People are the first to know what’s on the ground and what’s happening with an industry.  Other people will have knowledge and experience and can cater information specifically to your context.  Smart people are able to give you valuable advice from outside perspectives.  By being able to tap into your network during specific situations, you are able to draw a wealth of information from different sources and then synthesize the information in order to form actionable steps.  This is especially helpful when it occurs when you have a large decision.

Additional Notes:

In the concluding chapter I thought there was a interesting note speaking to the society that you live in.  The health of a society can play a large factor when you compare a fearful and society in poverty, the opportunities and the environment does not make it conducive to healthy networks that are willing to give and share.  Whereas in areas with healthy societies, there are great groups, industries, meet ups in order to join in and share knowledge and connections and introductions with one another.