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2017 Books

Posted: 1 January 2017

What a way to start 2017! I sat at home all day and finished my first book of the year. The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly. I will be updating this post as I read more throughout the year.

Algorithms to Live By - Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

7th October 2017. I have a Computer Science background but still found many snippets of information I found to be helpful. I learnt quite a few new things, such as the optimal stopping rule of 37% and stuff like that. I really like the second last paragraph of the entire book.

And indeed, people are almost always confronting what computer science regards as the hard cases. Up against such hard cases, effective algorithms make assumptions, show a bias toward simpler solutions, trade off the costs of error against the costs of delay, and take chances. These aren’t the concessions we make when we can’t be rational. They’re what being rational means.

I liked this a lot because as Man begins the search for True AI in the 21st Century, we have to keep in mind that perhaps some approximations that work, do really work because that’s how it is in the real world. Searching for proofs with guarantees are great but I tend toward things “that work well in the real world”. Without further ado, some quotes:

  1. Instead, tackling real-world tasks requires being comfortable with chance, trading off time with accuracy, and using approximations (p. 5).
  2. The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup might be an interesting book to read (p. 23).
  3. As optimal stopping researcher Neil Bearden puts it, “After searching for a while, we humans just tend to get bored. It’s not irrational to get bored, but it’s hard to model that rigorously.” (p. 29).
  4. By entering an almost purely exploit-focused phase, the film industry seems to be signaling a belief that it is near the end of its interval. A look into the economics of Hollywood confirms this hunch. Profits of the largest film studios declined by 40% between 2007 and 2011, and ticket sales have declined in seven of the past ten years. Big studios have responded by trying to make more films they think will be hits: usually sequels, prequels, or anything featuring characters with name recognition (p. 35).
  5. Finding optimal algorithms that tell us exactly how to handle the multi-armed bandit problem has proven incredibly challenging. Indeed, as Peter Whittle recounts, during WWII efforts to solve the question “so sapped the energies and minds of Allied analysts…that the suggestion was made that the problem be dropped over Germany, as the ultimate instrument of intellectual sabotage.” (p. 36).
  6. Bezos found a framework which made a decision incredibly easy: a regret minimization framework (p. 43).
  7. Obama’s donation page and Siroker’s A/B tests (p. 46).
  8. Between 1932 and 1972, several hundred African-American men with syphilis in Macon County, Alabama, went deliberately untreated by medical professionals, as part of a forty-year experiment by the US Public Health Service known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (p. 49).
  9. 1990s study where people were given a choice between two options, one with a known payoff chance and one unknown - specifically two airlines, an established carrier with a known on-time rate and a new company without a track record yet by Robert Meyer and Yong Shi (p. 53).
  10. One of the curious things about human beings, which any developmental psychologist aspires to understand and explain, is that we take years to become competent and autonomous (p. 55).
  11. Herman Hollerith invented the Hollerith Machine and his company was eventually merged to form IBM (p. 60).
  12. The truncated top of an immense, sorted list is in many ways the universal user interface (p. 61).
  13. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson did not like the structure of the Single Elimination tournament as it wasn’t an accurate depiction of the real situation. In other words, the silver medal is a lie. He had a cumbersome solution of triple elimination but it never caught on. His critique of the problem though was accurate. As another fun fact, he also wrote Alice in Wonderland (p. 75).
  14. As Michael Trick points out, sports leagues aren’t concerned with determining the rankings as quickly and expeditiously as possible. Instead, sports calendars are explicitly designed to maintain tension throughout the season, something that has rarely been a concern of sorting theory (p. 76).
  15. Tom Murphy applied numerical modeling techniques to soccer and concluded that soccer’s low scores make game outcomes much closer to random than most fans would prefer to imagine (p. 77).
  16. Comparison Counting Sort is the best algorithm in the face of a noisy comparator (p. 78).
  17. Much as we bemoan the daily rat race, the fact that it’s a race rather than a fight is a key part of what sets us apart from the monkeys, the chickens - and, for that matter, the rats (p. 83).
  18. The Mars rover in 1997 had an error due to poor scheduling - priority inversion. A low priority task perhaps locked the database, is interrupted, and then the scheduler takes over and sends a high priority task up but it can’t be run because the database is locked. It then runs all the medium priority tasks (which are unblocked) before it reaches the original low priority task blocking the database (p. 114). A pretty costly error if software can’t fix it.
  19. The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now (p. 118).
  20. If it’s less than an hour I’ll just do errands instead, because it’ll take me the first thirty-five minutes to really figure out what I want to do and then I might not have time to do it (p. 121). Pretty good life advice, especially for coding. It sometimes takes half an hour to get up to speed and when you leave for a coffee break then, all work done previously is wasted.
  21. When merely remembering everything we need to be doing occupies our full attention - or prioritizing every task consumes all the time we had to do them - or our train of thought is continually interrupted before those thoughts can translate to action - it feels like panic, like paralysis by way of hyperactivity. It’s thrashing, and computers know it well (p. 123).
  22. Part of what makes real-time scheduling so complex and interesting is that it is fundamentally a negotiation between two principles that aren’t fully compatible. These two principles are called responsiveness and throughput: how quickly you can respond to things, and how much you can get done overall (p. 124).
  23. All human knowledge is uncertain, inexact, and partial - Bertrand Russell (p. 128).
  24. Walter Mischel and marshmallow experiments (wait 5 minutes for an extra marshmallow or eat one now) (p. 146).
  25. Simply put, the representation of events in the media does not track their frequency in the world. As sociologist Barry Glassner notes, the murder rate in the US declined by 20% over the course of the 1990s, yet during that time period the presence of gun violence on American news increased by 600% (p. 148).
  26. Perhaps nowhere, however, is overfitting as powerful and troublesome as in the world of business. “Incentive structures work,” as Steve Jobs put it. “So you have to be very careful of what you incent people to do, because various incentive structures create all sorts of consequences that you can’t anticipate.” Sam Altman, president of the startup incubator Y Combinator, echoes Job’s words of caution: “It really is true that the company will build whatever the CEO decides to measure.” (p. 157).
  27. Living organisms get a certain push towards simplicity almost automatically, thanks to the constraints of time, memory, energy, and attention (p. 161).
  28. Giving yourself more time to decide about something does not necessarily mean that you’ll make a better decision. But it does guarantee that you’ll end up considering more factors, more hypotheticals, more pros and cons, and thus risk overfitting (p. 166).
  29. Meghan Bellows and the wedding optimization problem (p. 170).
  30. Simulated annealing was born out of trying to make better chip layouts at IBM (p. 199).
  31. Leonard Kleinrock recalls about his own encounters with the telecommunications industry with regard to circuit switching and packet switching: “Little boy, go away.” So little boy went away and, with others, developed this technology which ate their lunch (p. 207).
  32. The Byzantine General Problem (p. 209).
  33. The Peter Principle (p. 219).
  34. A poor listener destroys the tale (p. 221).
  35. Roughgarden and Tardos work on “selfish routing” (p. 237).
  36. Unlimited vacation policy and game theory (p. 239 - 242).
  37. Information cascades (p. 251).
  38. Vickrey auction (p. 252).
  39. The paradox of shooting a random time and day next week instead of “when are you free”. The former works a lot better because it constraints the problem for your target (p. 257).
  40. Politely witholding your preferences puts the computational problem of inferring them on the rest of the group. In contrast, politely asserting your preferences helps shoulder the cognitive load of moving the group toward resolution (p. 259).

Art & Fear - David Bayles and Ted Orland

22nd January 2017. This book has been on my reading list for a particularly long time. I really liked that story about the ceramics teacher splitting the class into two - half will be graded on quantity, the other on quality. I mentioned this quote in a speech I gave to the Freshmores at SUTD so I won’t reproduce it in full. As the title mentioned, it’s about art. If you would replace every ‘art’ with ‘company’ or ‘entrepreneurship’, it would start sounding like an entrepreneurship book. Take this quote for example:

  • Your materials are, in fact, one of the few elements of artmaking you can reasonably hope to control. As for everything else - well, conditions are never perfect, sufficient knowledge rarely at hand, key evidence always missing, and support notoriously fickle. All that you do will inevitably be flavored with uncertainty… (pg. 19)

So true! This is exactly like doing a start-up. It’s about getting into a car with some idea of where you want to go, but you don’t need to know the entire route (possible road blocks, toilet stops, car workshops, etc.). Just deal with the uncertainty!

Or take this quote for example:

  • Adams was right: to require perfection is to invite paralysis. (pg. 30)

Very similar to the story on ceramics class. Yes, perfection is something that perhaps one should pursue. But one should never “not do anything” in pursuit of perfection. Just keep making pots!

One quote on becoming more skilled struck me. We all want to become better at something. Therefore, the easiest thing we do is to pursue technical challenges as they have clear goals and measurable feedback. You can write great and efficient code. You can play a really technical piano piece. However:

  • The underlying problem with this is not that the pursuit of technical excellence is wrong, exactly, but simply that making it the primary goal puts the cart before the horse. (pg. 95)

Fo example when mastering Machine Learning and the Mathematics behind it, we sometimes forget to think creatively and miss out some possible insights!

Overall, a great book I highly recommend to everyone. Artists, programmers, and entrepreneurs alike.

Case Interview Secrets - Victor Cheng

2nd April 2017. Decided to read this book because knowing about case interviews and management consulting is good general knowledge. I’ve always wondered why some firms love to give “estimation questions”. In management consulting, clients always ask such questions like “how big is market X?”. The ability to estimate closely and quickly is valuable. Clients also value the ability to resolve long-standing debates of opinions, using estimates based on reasonable assumptions (p. 20).

Estimation Skills:

  1. Doing precise arithmetic with large numbers
  2. Rounding numbers intelligently.
  3. Finding a proxy.
  4. Identifying how the proxy is imperfect.
  5. Segmenting estimates to minimize proxy imperfections.
  6. Solve segmented estimates with assumptions.

Why do such firms use case interviews?

  1. Case interviews mirror consultants’ on-the-job experience (p. 38).

Mindsets to maintain when in a case interview or even when you’re a consultant.

  1. When the interviewer asks you a random question in an interview, stop thinking like a candidate trying to impress the interviewer. Instead, think like a consultant: Ask yourself what you would feel comfortable saying to a client, knowing your firm’s reputation is on the line - because it is (p. 38).
  2. The consultant’s official role in the interview is to decide whether the firm should hire you. She is also thinking, Do I want you on my team right now? Will my life get easier if you’re on my team? Phrased differently, the interviewer is asking herself, Will you be an independent problem solver fairly quickly, or will I have to babysit you for the next 2 years of your career? (p. 44)
  3. Given the client’s main objective, what key information is needed to answer the client’s question? Don’t boil the ocean. If your client wants a cup of hot water, you could scoop a cup out and boil it, or boil the entire ocean and then scoop a cup out (p. 45).
  4. When thinking of using the word always, think twice. It’s a superlative that is really hard to defend. If you really insist on using a strong word, then you can either get more factual evidence to support your argument, which takes time, or soften the language of your argument and use the facts you already have. (p. 49)
  5. Clients do not accept factually accurate recommendations; they accept factually supported recommendations they can understand (p. 50).
  6. If your clients don’t follow your argument, guess whose fault it is? If you’re a super-brilliant consultant but you make the senior client feel dumb because he couldn’t follow your argument, guess what? Someone’s getting fired from the relationship, and it won’t be the client (p. 50). Some clients actually don’t see the value of paying a firm millions of dollars for a consultant to be there, so don’t put on airs.
  7. Think and communicate linearly. A -> B, B -> C, therefore A -> C (p. 50).
  8. Process excellence is important. The ability to follow a structured, analytical problem-solving process; and the ability to reach the correct conclusions based on that process. Of these, the former is more important (p. 53).
  9. The majority of the time spent is not spent on solving the client’s problem. It’s spent on isolating the underlying cause of the client’s problem. Never ever propose a solution to a case until you’ve isolated and defined the problem. Then and only then can you propose a solution (p. 97).

With this in mind, we move on to the core problem solving tools. Hypothesis; Issue-tree; Drill-down analysis; Synthesis. Synthesis is extremely important because it conveys the message with clarity and confidence. Here is an example of how the message can be delivered to the client, and we should all work towards this: Client should do X because it will have ripple effects Y and Z, both of which are favourable. There may be concern about issue A, but the benefits of ripple effects Y and Z outweigh it..

Hypothesis

  • In science, the scientific method is an iterative cycle, with each phase based on a slightly different hypothesis born of the observations made in the previous phase. This iterative process captures the essence of the aspiring consultant’s ideal problem solving process (p. 58).
    • Interviewer: Company ABC’s profit is down 20 percent.
    • Candidate: I’m going to hypothesize (based on some background information) that the client’s industry is in a price war, which has caused the client’s sales and profits to decline. To test this hypothesis, I need to know how the components of profits have changed since last year. In particular, I need to know how sales and expenses have changed since last year.
    • Sales have remained unchanged, and costs have increased by 20%.
    • My conclusion is that my initial hypothesis seems to have been proven false. It looks like the client is facing a cost problem more so than a revenue problem. My next hypothesis is …
  • Always state a hypothesis in a case interview. You almost immediately fail if you don’t. (p. 70)
    • The next question then is, when?
    • Consider what works with clients. If you meet client team members for the first time and tell them your hypothesis as to what is wrong with their company before you even ask them any questions, they look at you with suspicion and distrust. Ask some questions first and then state a hypothesis. But don’t forget to state one.
    • The hypothesis is more important than the framework. (p. 84)

Issue tree

  • The only reason you use a framework or issue tree is to test a hypothesis (p. 75). Hence, always state a hypothesis!
  • Validity tests for issue trees:
    • Does the tree make sense given the hypothesis?
    • Are the branches mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive? This point is hard at times, but try and fulfil it. Grouping customers according to age is good, but hobbies is not that good, as people can have multiple hobbies.
    • Conclusiveness test. If all the branches of the issue tree turn out to be true, it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which the opposite of the hypothesis would be true. Basically, flip a few statements and see if you can still make the hypothesis true.
    • When the entire issue tree is drawn out, communicate all branches and talk about which branch you will analyse first.

Drill-down analysis

  • Start with the branch that eliminates the most uncertainty first. Example: My hypothesis is that the client’s profitability problem is driven by a revenue decline, not a cost increase. I’d like to draw out this issue tree to show both sides. I’ll start with the revenue side and, if necessary, circle back to the cost side (p. 93).
  • 70/30 quantitative and qualitative analysis. An appropriately quantitatively oriented candidate would hear that same background and seek to quantitatively verify what she has heard qualitatively. (p. 94)

Synthesis

  • Tells the client what to do, what you discovered and what it means. Couches your recommendation in the context of the overall business, not just in terms of the single decision the client asked you to assess.
  • State action-oriented recommendation/conclusion. Supporting point 1. Supporting point 2. Supporting point 3. Restate recommendation/conclusion (p. 103).
  • Synthesis doesn’t only have to be at the end. It can be during drill-down analysis. “I can conclude that sales are not causing the profit problem, because first, sales have remained unchanged in the past year, and second, costs have gone up by $10 million and account for 100% of the problem. I would like to analyze costs now to understand better which costs have increased and why.” (p. 111)

The key to mastering cases is to use these 4 concepts and lots of practice. Frameworks can help, which is what I will summarize next. The mistake made is to memorize frameworks. There is an infinite number of cases in the world. One can never memorize enough. 3 core frameworks, together with the principled approach of following the 4 concepts, can cover many of the cases one will encounter.

Profitability Framework

Profit

  • Revenue
    • Price/Unit
    • No. of Units Sold
  • Cost
    • Cost/Unit
      • Fixed Cost/Unit
      • Variable Cost/Unit
    • No. of Units Sold

The key is to keep segmenting! After segmenting in this way, go further and segment each unit into the component parts. That way, you can isolate the problem. For example, units sold in Europe are up 20 percent and in Asia they’re down 20 percent. If there’s enough background information for you to segment it, do it. Else, just simply say “segment into component parts” because the interviewer might have the information ready.

Business Situation Framework

Customer

  • Who is the customer?
    • Identify segments (segment size, growth rate, percentage of market)
    • Compare current-year metrics to historical metrics (look for trends)
  • What does each customer segment want? (identify key needs)
    • What are their needs and buying criteria?
    • What’s important to them?
    • Why do they buy?
    • How do they decide?
  • Price sensitivity of each segment.
  • Distribution channel preference by segment.
    • Websites
    • Mail-order catalogs
    • Reseller like Walmart
    • Sales force that visits clients in person

    Overall different customers prefer to buy through different distribution channels. A client sometimes wants to serve a particular customer segment, but the client’s primary distribution channel is one that customers in that segment refuse to use. This conflict needs to be resolved in order for the client to have an effective strategy. In some technology markets, Fortune 500 CIOs prefer to deal with one salesperson per company (p. 135). So it’s important to think about this.

  • Customer concentration and power.
    • This refers to how many customers exist and how big or small they are. If customers are more concentrated, then the customers can demand (and get) big price discounts. If suppliers (the client’s company and its competitors) are more concentrated, then the vendors in the industry have the power to set high prices, and customers have no choice but to buy at those prices (p. 136).

Product

  • Nature of product
    • What does the product do?
    • Why do people buy it?
    • Why is it useful?
    • Is it a nice-to-have or a must-have?
  • Commodity or differentiable good
    • Commodity type product identical across competitors or a unique product? Large companies tend to win in commodity markets and company size is a less relevant factor for unique products (p. 138).
  • Identify complementary goods
    • If your client manufactures peanut butter, you might wanna recommend your client to sell jelly. If your client sells ketchup, you might wanna consider selling fries (p. 138).
    • That’s how cheese and crackers were conceptualized (p. 138).
    • GE going into maintenance contracts (p. 138).
  • Identify substitutes (indirect competitors? don’t buy anything?)
    • If Company X does not buy the latest Y:
      • Do they just use an older system?
      • Do they do Z manually, even though it takes more time?
      • Do they skip the analysis? Lack of direct competition doesn’t mean the customer doesn’t have alternatives to buying your product, which would include the customer just living with his or her problems rather than paying for your product to solve them (p. 140).
  • Product’s life cycle (new vs. obsolete)
    • If it’s new, can it last 20 more years?
    • If it’s obsolete, is it in it’s last year or two of market usefulness?
  • Packaging
    • McDonald’s meal (p. 140). Sales increased by 30%.

Company

  • Capabilities and expertise
    • What does this company do well?
    • What does this company do differently than its competitors?
  • Distribution channels
    • E-Commerce?
    • Sales force?
    • Middlemen wholesalers?
    • Direct to customers?
  • Cost structure (fixed vs. variable). Simply use the profitability framework model.
  • Investment cost (optional: only if case involves an investment decision)
  • Intangibles
    • Brand name?
    • Reputation?
    • Culture?
  • Financial situation
  • Organizational structure

    This aspect is important in execution. Conflicts between structure and strategy? Are people on all levels of the hierarchy happy with this?

Competition

  • Competitor market share concentration
    • How many competitors are there?
    • How big is each of them?
    • Example: $1 billion in annual sales from 100 companies or 3 companies? Big difference.
  • Competitor behaviors (target segment, products, pricing, distribution)
    • What strategic choices do key competitors make?
    • Who are their customers?
    • What products do they offer?
    • What distribution channels do they use? Notice that this is similar to the business situation framework.
  • Best practices (are they doing things we’re not?)
  • Barriers to entry (do we need to worry about any new entrants to market?)
  • Supplier concentration
    • Monopoly or many fragmented suppliers?
    • Sometimes competitors act in response to the dictates of a handful of powerful suppliers.
  • Regulatory environment

More often than not, one doesn’t finish the entire business situation framework. You might get some key insight. Remember, what is the least amount of information I need to solve the problem? The purpose of the framework is to test a hypothesis, NOT TO COMPLETE IT.

The next chapters talks about M&A framework, frameworks in action, and the various forms of case interviews - candidate led, interviewer led, group, written, presentation-only, etc. Won’t be talking about it much. I’ll have to pull out this book again and revise if I’m ever going for a management consulting interview.

Delivering Happiness - Tony Hsieh

14th December 2017. Tony is the CEO of Zappos and this book talks a little bit about his life at the start to introduce the context and then goes on to talk about how he built Zappos. The book was pretty much chronological. Zappos morphed from having a goal of being the largest online shoe store to delivering happiness. The first takeaway that I had was that having a vision is extremely important. Vision guides everything, and this reinforces the beliefs I previously had. The second takeaway that I had was that values are extremely important, which once again reinforces my current beliefs. Ever since I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, I’ve held the belief that values are timeless and never change. Read the texts by the ancients and extract key values from them and live by it. As it seems right now, vision and values are key to life and I’ll probably not change this world view any time soon. Unless of course I read more books and they consistently say something else that makes sense.

Some books that Tony talked about in this book are Good to Great by Jim Collins, and Tribal Leadership. I’ll probably pick them up some time in the future.

Einstein - His Life and Universe - Walter Isaacson

20th February 2017. Finally finished reading Einstein’s biography. It was a really tough read I must say. Spent quite a long time trying to finish it. Some parts were really boring and so many characters were involved.

Key takeaways:

  1. Always have the curiosity of a child when faced with a problem.
  2. Is nature truly simple? Newton and Einstein seemed to believe fervently in this.
  3. Be willing to challenge authority and be nonconformist.

I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.

Always remember this.

Getting Things Done - The Art of Stress-Free Productivity - David Allen

14th October 2017. This is one of two books that came in the starter package at Palantir. You might be doing most of the things mentioned in the book unknowingly already, but this book formalizes what we might be doing right now and gives a structured way to implement it and be effective in daily life. I’m starting to implement it myself in my day to day activities but revisiting it in future is definitely necessary.

  1. The methods I present here are all based on two key objectives. First, capturing all the things that need to get done - now, later, someday, big, little, or in between - into a logical and trusted system outside of your head and off your mind. Second, disciplining yourself to make front-end decisions about all of the “inputs” you let into your life so that you will always have a plan for “next actions” that you can implement or renegotiate at any moment. (p. 3).
  2. Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does (p. 11).
  3. Most of the stress people experience comes from inappropriately managed commitments they make or accept (p. 12).
  4. The real issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real issue is how we manage actions (p. 19).
  5. If you write something in your calendar, it must get done that day or not at all. The only rewriting should be for changed appointments (p. 41).
  6. Do up checklists. Life SOPs basically (p. 179).
  7. Always have a “what’s the next action?” (p. 236).

There were many more pointers inside that I didn’t type out as this book is something that you must internalize.

Move Fast and Break Things - Jonathan Taplin

30th December 2017.

I think the growth of advertising in our time is symbolic of a deep crisis in capitalism (p. 275).

If I were to predict the future, I would hope to see Tim Berners-Lee’s dream of a “re-decentralized” Internet, one that’s much less dependent on surveillance marketing and that allows creative artists to take advantage of the zero-marginal-cost economics of the Web in a series of nonprofit distribution cooperatives (p. 282).

Why do companies pay so much for advertising? Do we even respond to that irritating 15-second advertisement we see midway through a video, when the most exciting part is about to happen? It actually makes me take note of that brand more and NOT buy it. Does the classic model of generating lots of data about users and then using that to serve ads make sense? Proponents would argue that payment for the service is through the collection of data. Opponents would argue that the data belongs to the users and perhaps users should take a cut of profits. Of course, this is a gross oversimplification and you have to read this book to take in all points in its entirety. If you have ever wondered about these questions, then this book is definitely for you.

Done with the questions/schpiel to hook users in. This book is really awesome in so many ways that if I had to name the best book I read in 2017, it would be this. Consolidating all my thoughts and writing it into an essay would be a great injustice to the book so I’ll reserve that for a time in the future where I have to extract salient points for an essay. Here are the sections I found really interesting:

  1. Throughout history, the artist has pointed out the injustices of society … The history of art is the history of subversion, of a person like Galileo saying that everything you know is wrong … The transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau in the 1830s was the first “great refusal” - the refusal to accept slavery and American imperialism - which thirty years later produced Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation … (p. 10)
  2. But as one travels through America’s Rust Belt cities, where the forces of technology have destroyed jobs, one sees signs of real suffering - high rates of addiction and suicide and shortened life expectancies (p. 14). Chattanooga was a positive example of a turned around Rust Belt city that was mentioned later in the book. It’d be good to visit this city some day.
  3. In economics, a “rent” is money you make because you control something scarce and desirable, whether it’s an oil field or a monopolistic position in a market…The left, right and center of the economics profession all agree that reducing rent-seeking behavior, and improving overall growth, is essential if we want to “make America great again.” (p. 16). This is something I’ve always been thinking of. Landlords and their descendants can basically not work for the rest of their life if their assets are managed properly. A rentier society is essentially really bad.
  4. Sometimes we get, I think, in the tech community, the entrepreneurial community, the sense of - we just have to blow up the system, or create this parallel society and culture because government is inherently wrecked. No, it’s not inherently wrecked; it’s just government has to care for, for example, veterans who come home. That’s not on your balance sheet, that’s on our collective balance sheet, because we have a sacred duty to take care of those veterans. And that’s hard and it’s messy, and we’re building up legacy systems that we can’t just blow up (p. 24).
  5. Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser (p. 70). Interesting point about Peter Thiel. He read Solzhenitsyn and Rand. These 2 authors are on my to read list.
  6. Hermann Hoppe wrote a book called Democracy: The God That Failed, which makes the argument that we need to return to a more authoritarian form of government. Here is Hoppe’s thesis: In the United States, less than a century of full-blown democracy has resulted in steadily increasing moral degeneration, family and social disintegration, and cultural decay in the form of continually rising rates of divorce, illegitimatacy, abortion and crime. As a result of an ever-expanding list of non-discrimination — “affirmative action” — laws and non-discriminatory, multicultural, egalitarian immigration policies, every nook and cranny of American society is affected by government management and forced integration; accordingly, social strife and racial ethnic and moral-cultural tension and hostility have increased dramatically (p. 74). Another book to add to the to read list.
  7. Thiel believes the basic Randian concept that governments cannot be trusted with currency (hence Paypal). From there, he moved on to set up the basic principles that would constitute the foundation for most new Internet fortunes. The 4 principles are:

    • Build proprietary technology and invest in monopolies, not competitive businesses.
    • Build businesses that have “network effects”.
    • Economies of scale.
    • Branding.

    p. 76

  8. Jefferson had also read of the Great Bengal Famine of 1770, which resulted in the deaths of ten million people. The British East India Company forced Bengal farmers to grow opium — which the company intended to export to China — instead of food crops, resulting in a shortage of grain for the local inhabitants. Jefferson saw the havoc that unrestrained monopoly could deliver (p. 114). This was why he campaigned hard for this to be included in the Bill of Rights, but Hamilton won, setting the stage for American business to be ruled by giant corporations (p. 114).
  9. Peter Orszag agrees, telling a Sydney, Australia, audience that Facebook and Google are “monopolies that are using our personal information without paying us and extracting a monopoly rent by selling ads based on that personal information.” (p. 118).
  10. The part on Indian Government ruling that Facebook should not be able to “shape users” Internet experience by providing only a limited set of sites (p. 144).
  11. Researchers have long known that five broad categories drive online activity: information seeking, interpersonal communication, self-expression, passing time and entertainment. In the study led by Daniel Hunt, the goal was to see if the same measures drove people to spend time on Facebook. The study confirmed that, with the exception of information seeking, all of the other behavioral factors that drive online activity hold true for Facebook, with entertainment and time passing being two of the biggest drivers of Facebook activity (p. 151).
  12. If you look at feedback loops like likes and retweets, they’ve been very carefully crafted to maximize certain types of behaviors. But if we reward people based on a measurement system where there’s literally no difference between a one-second page view or reading something that brought them value or changed their mind, it’s like — your job is feeding people, but all you’re measuring is maximizing calorie delivery. So what you’d learn is that junk food is more efficient than healthy, nourishing food (p. 165). My sentiments exactly on this! Hence the part on Tim Berners-Lee mentioning that there needs to be a way to change the Internet so such micropayments can be made is so important.
  13. Twitter’s free speech advocates Gabriel Stricker and Vijaya Gadde, who were refusing to take down the ISIS beheading videos (p. 183). Really…? They got into a huge argument with Dick Costolo, and they won.
  14. American firms (mostly tech) sit on 1.9 trillion in cash (p. 201). Wow.
  15. The immediate issue is the Uber-izing of human labor, fragmenting of jobs into outsourced tasks and dismantling of wages into micropayments. The workers on these platforms have no job security and no benefits (p. 204).
  16. In 1930 the British economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that in the future we would have to worry about “technological unemployment…due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour.” (p. 206). Exactly what’s happening now or what’s going to happen. And simply characterizing this as just a “skills problem” is shortsighted (p. 207). The notion that a fifty-year-old autoworker replaced by a robot is going to retrain himself as a software coder and apply for work at Google seems to be a pipe dream that only someone as rich and insulated as Marc Andreessen could conceive (p. 207). Well, I have to say this is a stretch and I’m sure the autoworker could be reskilled somewhere close to his original job.
  17. The anonymity that Twitter provides is a shield that brings out the worst in humans. Plato (Republic 2.359a - 2.360d) told a tale of the Ring of Gyges: when put on, it would render the wearer invisible. He asked the question: If we were shielded from the consequences of our actions, how would that change the way we act? We know the answer (p. 217).
  18. Entire story on Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee who helped launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled Hosni Mubarak (p. 221).
  19. Story on China’s Social Credit Score (p. 223).
  20. Jefferson’s great inspiration, the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who defined the good life and freedom in the following terms:

    • The company of good friends.
    • The freedom and autonomy to enjoy meaningful work.
    • The willingness to live an examined life with a core faith or philosophy.

    p. 225

  21. Entire section on commoditization of media by Facebook, Youtube, and Google and the effects on our culture (p. 240).
  22. Neil Postman’s summary: What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies (his equivalent of IMAX movies), the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy (p. 244). The author believes Huxley’s vision is more true today. I agree too.
  23. And even if you believe that robots will be able to fill most jobs, MIT’s Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson have pointed out that “understanding and addressing the societal challenges brought on by rapid technological progress remain tasks that no machine can do for us.” (p. 248). This is a huge concern for me and something I think about everyday. What happens when autonomous trucks are prevalent? Or evens semi-autonomous ones for that matter, since this is closer to reality, where a driver can now do the job of 10?
  24. Once a song is on a Spotify server, the cost of selling one more stream is zero. But here is the paradox: If information goods are to be distributed at their marginal cost of production — zero — they cannot be created and produced by entrepreneurial firms that use revenues obtained from sales to consumers to cover their [fixed set-up] costs. If information goods are to be created and produced…[companies] must be able to anticipate selling their products at a profit to someone (p. 249).
  25. If indeed two hundred million people currently use ad blockers and the distinction between TV and the Web is dissolving, then we need to rethink how content gets paid for. Tim Berners-Lee, the Web’s inventor, has an idea. “Ad revenue is the only model for too many people on the web now,” Berners-Lee told the New York Times. “People assume today’s consumer has to make a deal with a marketing machine to get stuff for ‘free’, even if they’re horrified by what happens with their data. Imagine a world where paying for things was easy on both sides.” Berners-Lee speculates about a kind of micropayment system that would allow you to easily pay fifteen cents on your mobile bill for a piece of content. But until that is invented, my guess is that the most efficient model would be an all-you-can-watch subscription model that would not be too different from what you are paying now to your cable or telephone company (p. 252).
  26. Eight Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Bell Labs scientists. It was the most productive research facility in history; in fact most of the achievements of the digital age rest on its inventions (p. 260).
  27. However, Google’s use of patents has often crossed the line. They were censured by the FTC in 2012 over their efforts to block US imports of smartphones made by Microsoft and Apple by asserting that the devices, which rely on industry-standard technology, infringe patents owned by Google’s Motorola Mobility unit (p. 261).
  28. Entire story of Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (p. 262).
  29. Broadband transformed Chattanooga. They got screwed by globalization but is thriving now (p. 265).
  30. Entire story on the Sunkist co-op (p. 268).
  31. Both Taylor Swift and Adele have used this windowing strategy with great success (p. 272).

As a last point, the author cited so many other authors in his book. He is so well read that I am inspired to be like him. And this concludes the final book of 2017.

Only The Paranoid Survive - Andrew S. Grove

12th March 2017. Andrew Grove was the CEO of Intel. He shares his insights on how he managed the company in this book. Specifically, he talks a lot about strategic inflection points and how to navigate them. These are points whereby something huge has moved in the market. Something in the form of a 10X change. These factors include competitors, complementors, customers, suppliers, potential competitors, what your business is doing can be done in a different way.

  1. No amount of formal planning can anticipate changes in the market. You need to plan the way a fire department plans: It cannot anticipate where the next fire will be, so it has to shape an energetic and efficient team that is capable of responding to the unanticipated as well as to any ordinary event (p. 6).
  2. Given the amorphous nature of an inflection point, how do you know the right moment to take appropriate action, to make the changes that will save your company or your career? Unfortunately, you don’t. But you can’t wait until you do know: Timing is everything (p. 35).
  3. When you’re caught in the turbulence of a strategic inflection point, the sad fact is that instinct and judgment are all you’ve got to guide you through (p. 35).
  4. To navigate these inflection points, you have to train your instincts to pick up a different set of signals. These signals may have been out there all along but you may have ignored them. The strategic inflection point is the time to wake up and listen (p. 35). In other words, as the CEO, your job is really to gather information and piece a picture together and make critical decisions. Hence, listening is a very important skill.
  5. After 1981, when IBM chose Intel to provide the microprocessor in their PC, Intel grew to become the most widely accepted supplier of microprocessors. After that, industry participants in the layers above found it more economically advantageous to build their business on Intel architecture microchips than on any other. If you base your business on the volume leader, you will be going after a larger business yourself (p. 46).
  6. In the early eighties, Michael Dell started supplying his friends with computers he assembled out of parts in his dorm room at the University of Texas (p. 48). He built his business from there.
  7. General rules for horizontal industries. First, don’t differentiate without a difference. Don’t introduce improvements whose only purpose is to give you an advantage over your competitor without giving your customer a substantial advantage. Second, in this hypercompetitve horizontal world, opportunity knocks when a technology break or other fundamental change comes your way. The first mover and only the first mover has a true opportunity. Third, price for what the market will bear, price for volume, then work like the devil on your costs so that you can make money at that price (p. 51).
  8. Jobs resisted PCs because he thought they were a mess. I should read his biography on this point (p. 59).
  9. In 1931, Charlie Chaplin was still fighting the move to sound movies. Greta Garbo was a superstar of silent movies, and she moved to sound movies and became a success. The movie industry had a 10X technological change of “sound movies”, and Greta Garbo navigated this inflection point (p. 61).
  10. In 1906, the Food and Drugs Act was passed by Congress. The drug industry changed overnight. It revealed that many medicines contain alcohol, morphine, cannabis or cocaine (p. 72). Shocking!
  11. In strategic inflection points, key personnel get replaced. It’s not necessarily true that these people were incompetent. It might be more of a case that these people have devoted their entire lives to the company and therefore has a history of deep involvement in the sequence of events that led to the present mess, the new managers come unencumbered by such emotional involvement and therefore are capable of applying an impersonal logic to the situation. They can see things much more objectively than their predecessors did (p. 93).
  12. People in the trenches are usually in touch with impending changes early. Salespeople understand shifting customer demands before management does; financial analysts are the earliest to know when the fundamentals of a business change (p. 97). Listen to people on the ground!
  13. Signal or noise? The Japanese companies were going all in into x-ray technology for manufacturing. IBM classified this as signal, and Intel classified this as noise. Competent and serious-minded people came to a different set of conclusions about a given set of facts. This is not at all uncommon. You just have to keep it on your radar (p. 102).
  14. Intel had trouble deciding between CISC or RISC. Even though the new RISC chip was faster and cheaper, it would have been incompatible with most of the software that was available in the marketplace. Compatibility of a product was - and still is - a big factor. They decided on CISC in the end and when Grove looks back, RISC advantages are not that great over CISC (p. 106).
  15. Cassandra was the priestess who foretold the fall of Troy. The Cassandras in your organization are a consistently helpful element in recognizing strategic inflection points. So who are they? They can come from anywhere in the company, but they are usually in middle management. Often, they work in sales. They experience the winds of the market. After all, bad sales affect them directly and thus they take the warnings very seriously (p. 109).
  16. You don’t have to seek these Cassandras out; if you are in management, they will find you. Like somebody who sells a product that he is passionate about, they will “sell” their concern to you with a passion. Don’t argue with them; even though it’s time consuming, do your best to hear them out, and to learn what they know and to understand why it affects them the way it does (p. 110). Classify the time you spend listening to them as an investment in learning what goes on at the distant periphery of your business.
  17. During Intel’s exit from the memory business, it wasn’t as cataclsymic because finance and production planning people were already moving resources from memory to microprocessors. When the time came, it was very easy to pull the plug (p. 111).
  18. Peter Drucker quotes a definition of an entrepreneur as someone who moves resources from areas of lower productivity and yield to areas of higher productivity and yield (p. 111). Who’s this guy anyway? Should check him out.
  19. In 1984, when Apple introduced the Macintosh, Grove thought it was a ridiculous toy. Among other weaknesses Grove saw in it, it didn’t have a hard disk and it was excruciatingly slow. The first implementation of the Mac blinded Grove to the far more important features that came with the graphical interfaces (p. 112).
  20. You can’t judge the significance of strategic inflection points by the quality of the first version (p. 113).
  21. It takes many years of consistent conduct to eliminate fear of punishment as an inhibitor of strategic discussion. It takes only one incident to introduce it. News of this incident will spread through the organization like wildfire and shut everyone up (p. 119).
  22. Management writers use the word “vision”. What you’re trying to do is capture the essence of the company and the focus of its business. You are trying to define what the company will be, yet that can only be done if you also undertake to define what the company will not be (p. 140).
  23. It takes a lot of conviction and trusting your gut to get ahead of your peers, your staff and your employees while they are still squabbling about which path to take, and set an unhesitating, unequivocal course whose rightness or wrongness wil not be known for years. Such a decision really tests the mettle of the leader (p. 143).
  24. Admitting that you need to learn something new is always difficult (p. 145). Don’t be afraid to ask!
  25. Should you pursue a highly focused approach, betting everything on one strategic goal or should you hedge? Put all of your eggs in one basket and watch that basket (Mark Twain)(p. 151).
  26. Most companies don’t die because they are wrong; most die because they don’t commit themselves. They fritter away their momentum and their valuable resources while attempting to make a decision. The greatest danger is in standing still (p. 152).
  27. Companies that successfully navigate through strategic inflection points have a good dialectic between bottom-up and top-down actions (p. 159).

An overarching point that Grove talks about is allowing chaos in the company and then controlling the chaos when the time is necessary. For example, when the company is comfortable, let the company run and explore many directions, but when it comes to crunch time, take in the reins. This book is really similar to “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”, which isn’t surprising since Horowitz does cite Grove a lot. I can start to see the convergence of many points. For example, the CEO needs to have a strong acumen and courage. I guess this is what they look out for in VCs.

Origin - Dan Brown

18th November 2017. I read this on the plane back from Palo Alto. I found this book to be less exciting than Dan Brown’s other books. There were many times where the story line was quite predictable and it was (relatively) easy to guess what’s going to happen and who’s the mastermind. I particularly liked the idea of the simulation (not going to spoil it here). The fact that Dan Brown weaved in elements of fact struck a chord with me as well (I like Matthew Reilly cause of this too). I loved the conclusion though. At least Dan Brown didn’t do a “Transecendance”. If he did, it would be totally cliche and that would have thoroughly spoilt the book for many people. I’d say it’s overall a pretty good read and it’s Dan Brown, so most people are going to pick it up anyway.

Rework - Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

11th November 2017. Read this on a flight. It was a really short book and I finished it within 2 hours. I really enjoyed the extremely succinct way of writing. Enough was written to get the idea across. Nothing more and nothing less. Each large idea took up at most 3 pages. It’s something that one can always read and re-read.

The Four Legendary Kingdoms - Matthew Reilly

1st January 2017. A pleasant surprise! Really delighted with this book for many reasons. I never thought it was a sequel to 7AW, 6SS, 5GW. I knew it was Jack West but it never occurred to me. We can expect 3 more books for this series I guess! The moment one of the champions put on his anti-flash glasses, and when they had to partner someone and that person was a large sized woman, it was so striking that Scarecrow would be in this book. Reilly had finally combined the main characters from 2 of his major series. I also liked the parallel drawn with mythology. The part when Jack West faced off Scarecrow was expected, and it was obvious that Scarecrow wouldn’t die. I still liked it though.

This book also introduced a large conspiracy theory of a shadow kingdom that rules the world beneath governments. Given how old this world is, that might be actually be true! But then again, that’s just an idea, nothing much to ponder over. An entertaining book and a great start to 2017!

The Greatest Salesman in the World - Og Mandino

27th January 2017. A really thin book that can be finished in less than 2 hours. I chanced upon this book through Amazon recommendations and cross-referencing it of course. There are ‘10 Ancient Scrolls’ inside this book, each to be read thrice a day over 30 days. The scrolls are about inducing a habit into you, and they do make sense. So I’ll definitely be trying this out this year.

The Hard Thing about Hard Things - Ben Horowitz

27th February 2017. It’s quite surprising that I finished this book within a week from finishing Einstein’s biography. It’s 277 pages. Words are quite big though. Perhaps that’s why. I learnt many things from this book. And through reading this book, I exactly see EF’s perspective. Having said that, always remember that there are 2 schools of thought. I’ve booked marked many pages in this book so I’ll list the learning points.

  1. You have to keep secrets sometimes. When Ben was transiting to Opsware, he had to give no indication to the rest of the staff what his plan was (p. 32).
  2. Create artificial deadlines. Ben did this when negotiating the sale of Loudcloud. Create urgency. Host both buying companies on your premises and time it such that they walk by each other (p. 35).
  3. Do everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done (p. 36).
  4. Opsware bought Tangram just because the customer loved Tangram. Sometimes acquisitions are done just to please a customer (p. 46).
  5. “I have buy-in from my champion, the vice president that he reports to, and the head of purchasing. My champion assures me that the deal will be done by the end of the quarter.” Mark Cranney tore him apart by asking if he has spoken to the VP or the VP’s peer and said that he “does not have a fucking deal” so call the VP right now (p. 50).
  6. It’s important to be transparent in your company (p. 66).
  7. Do not hire for lack of weakness. Hire for strengths (p. 74).
  8. Humans tend to take action on positive indicators and look for alternative explanations on negative leading indicators (p. 87).
  9. In good organizations, people can focus on their work and have confidence that if they get their work done, good things will happen for both the company and them personally (p. 101).
  10. Startups should train their people (p. 105).
  11. If you would be shocked and horrified if Company X hired several of your employees, then you should not hire any of theirs (p. 117).
  12. Giving the team a task that it cannot possibly perform is called crippling the army (p. 131).
  13. Anything you measure automatically creates a set of employee behaviours (p. 133).
  14. Management debt (p. 134).
  15. Titles and promotions. The Peter Principle and The Law Of Crappy People (p. 159).
  16. When you hire someone new (or even some senior executive), demand cultural compliance. It’s your company, your culture, and your way of doing business (p. 173).
  17. One-on-one meetings (p. 176).
  18. Everybody learns to be a CEO by being a CEO. No training can prepare you for it (p. 202).
  19. If you don’t like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don’t become CEO (p. 206).
  20. When the company gets large, and the founders do not have the courage to decide who is in charge, every employee suffers the inconvenience of double approval (p. 210).
  21. A CEO must be able to articulate the vision, align interests, and have the ability to achieve the vision (p. 222).
  22. Shit sandwich (p. 230). Well, just be honest. I don’t really do the shit sandwich stuff.
  23. As CEO, there is never enough time to gather all information needed to make a decision. You must systematically acquire the knowledge of everything that might impact any decision that you might make (p. 238). Some example questions here.
  24. Freaky Friday Management Technique. Swap the heads of 2 quarrelling divisions (p. 252).
  25. Is the company for sale? The best answer: If the company achieves product-market fit in a very large market and has an excellent chance to be number one, then the company will likely remain independent. If not, it will likely be sold (p. 262).

Well Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love - Jon Kolko

16th April 2017. My entrepreneurship experience over the past 6 months was using technology as a hammer and finding a nail. Nothing wrong with using this, this was EF’s method of using edge based ideation. You work on what you’re good at. Throughout the entire process, I did feel that something was unnatural. Yes, you do work on your edge, but are you married to the problem? I felt I was married to a technology, but I wasn’t married to a problem. Perhaps the ideal state would be to be married to a problem and at the same time the technology that solves it. Well, life, and by extension entrepreneurship, is a journey that is amorphous and we all learn along the way. We change our beliefs when we get new information. It’s not that we aren’t consistent. We are consistently adapting.

This book offered a fresh perspective. It reminded me of my days back in SUTD when we were doing 3.007. It’s only in hindsight that we see the true benefit of 3.007. I think right now I’m gravitating towards solving a full stack solution. Businesses don’t buy piecemeal technology. They buy a solution. A fish farm won’t just buy your code that can count fish from a video feed really well. They want the actuation system, they want the integrated feeding machine, etc. Time for some quotes from this book!

  1. What makes these companies unique is that their products are the result of a design process, and it is this process that has led to unprecendeted media fascination and consumer adoption. Modern start-ups like Airbnb and large corporations like JetBlue or Starbucks have proven that industry disruption is possible not by focusing on adding features or merely getting people to buy more, but instead by focusing on providing deep, meaningful engagement to the people who use their products or services. This engagement is achieved by designing products that seem as though they have a personality or even a soul. These products feel less like manufactured artifacts and more like good friends (p. 3).
  2. How can you gain such genuine empathy? The only way is by spending time with people and getting to know them on a personal and intimate level, doing your best to see what they see and experience what they experience (p. 5).
  3. That empathy is the key to building meaningful products, and empathy can be taught and learned (p. 6). This reminds me of the Clayton Christenson book on the “milkshake” and why people buy a milkshake.
  4. Product management is about ensuring a good fit between a product, a person, and the market (p. 15).
  5. The fit between a product and a person depends on the features included in the product, the emotions that are evoked by an experience with the product, the style of the product, the ease of integration between the product and other products, and the ability for the product to help a person achieve his or her goals (both utilitarian and aspirational) (p. 15). Once again, the milkshake story!
  6. The design process is commonly described as user centered, rather than market or technology centered, meaning that decisions are made in order to help people accomplish their goals and achieve their aspirations (p. 17).
  7. Product managers who have a background in design typically pursue a product strategy that is user centered. When they make a decision, it’s primarily in support of the people who will use the product, rather than in support of a business driver or a technological advancement. This doesn’t mean that product management by design ignores technology or the realities of business. It simply places a priority on people, rather than prioritizing business or engineering, and uses this lens to resolve conflicts and prioritize decisions (p. 17).
  8. Product manager will frequently find herself acting as a champion for people’s wants, needs, and desires (p. 19).
  9. Instead, you must perceive technology as a means towards a larger end, and that larger end is to help people achieve their goals and realize their hopes and dreams (p. 21).
  10. Designers learn to move forward with just enough data, but even the most informed intuitive leap will occasionally be wrong (p. 22). Reminds me of something similar mentioned in Art & Fear!
  11. One school of thought in product management is “lean”, where there’s a development of an MVP and then iterations. While this scientific process may successfully drive incremental product enhancements, it does little for producing leapfrog-style innovations. When you leverage a design process, you’ll be pursuing a decidedly different approach, one that may be fundamentally at odds with the scientific measurement ideas of lean product development (p. 23).
  12. At the end of the day, customers don’t give a crap who worked on what, and what kind of engineer was involved, and so on. They don’t care. They just want a great service (p. 29).
  13. Airbnb story of email future testimonial from customers (p. 30, 31).
  14. How do you prioritize all these great ideas from everyone in the company? Be led by a Vision and have a North Star that everyone is headed towards. Articulate on the experience that we want to create for people who use the service in the future (p. 31 - 32).
  15. We lived through a prototype and we knew what it felt like. We were married to the problem. We understood it in a way that others didn’t. We felt strongly that, if we stuck with it, others would see what we saw (p. 33).
  16. While a product concept may seem quite valuable, society as a whole may lack the cultural and technological infrastructure to support that product (p. 37). Examples include GPS in 1973, but consumer version in 2000 and widespread use by Apple in Maps in 2007 (p. 37). Microwave technology in late 1930s, commercialized in 1940s, but didn’t catch on till fifty years later (people didn’t feel it was safe) (p. 37).
  17. The market is a space of customers, users, competitors, policies, laws, and trends (p. 38).
  18. Interpreting signals (from the market) requires time and experience, and because it’s subjective, it adds risk. A signal is objective and neutral; an interpretation is biased (p. 43).
  19. Rather than focusing on what the competition says and does, consider that product data about the market can be gathered more successfully from two other places: the way a community responds to the competition, and the way in which the competition engages with technological advancement (p. 46).
  20. Anything that will be a billion dollar industry in 10 years is already 10 years old. If you study history, almost no one invented anything (p. 49). To catch the signal, you have to read tech journals and attend highly esoteric tech conferences.
  21. Develop a value goal statement. It is the value (human characteristics like love, connection, respect, pride) that will differentiate you in the market, not features (p. 51).
  22. Differentiation will come by recognizing and catering toward the emotional and the experiential: how does it feel before, during, and after the flight (p. 53)? All airplanes are built the same (almost)!
  23. As a strategic exercise … Tell a story of a future in which your product loses. Why does it lose (p. 59)?
  24. You typically start with something that seems like it can make an impact (p. 61).
  25. It’s important and really powerful to get out of your own head and think about how other people will engage with a system or a product, and make sure you are making choices that are meaningful to them, not to you (p. 63).
  26. The product manager doesn’t own the road map; the product manager produces the road map, based on the consensus conversations with design, engineering, and business (p. 64).
  27. You also need to be a good storyteller. Great product managers can tell a story about the user, what he is doing in his life today, and what he would be able to do in the future if we just got him the right product (p. 65). It doesn’t have to be “it’s a phone that’s 4 inches by 3 inches etc.” but it can be like “imagine if someone can pull out a device that can access all the information in the world”.
  28. You might have to adopt a lean and agile method for B2B sales because you have to do that back and forth to get to what the B2B customer needs in the market and is willing to pay for. But for consumers, you have to have more of a vision, something like, “wouldn’t it be great if this was how the world works?” (p. 67)
  29. Imagine this interaction as a dialogue, as if your product is literally having a conversation with a person (p. 72). And it’s somewhat true! We do have such conversations with products every day, just subtly.
  30. What does it feel like to drive, given the various physical changes that the human body encounters when it gets old? You could role-play, like an actor, and that would get you closer to feeling what an older driver might experience (p. 75). You could wear gloves, paint a layer of dirt on your glasses, etc.
  31. You need to be in the place where the behavior actually happens. You need to watch the behavior happen. And you need to talk to the people who are doing it (p. 76).
  32. Gathering Behavioral Signals (p. 76) This part is about how to conduct customer needs analysis or extract latent needs. Establish and articulate a focus; prepare a series of set questions, but try not to use them; get in context, and record everything; ask to see examples; ask to try it; watch at the extremities.
  33. Communicate The Results (p. 93) When you have some insights, you want to communicate things that happened, things that you saw, things that you felt, interpretations of what happened, interpretations of how you felt, implications of your interpretations of what happened and how you felt, and then translate all these to actionable design stuff.
  34. Successful products come from everyone on the team knowing what you are doing and why you are doing it (p. 104). Yes, cue NASA story!
  35. Now, it’s evolved from knowing that users are important to saying, “Hey, you should really consider how people feel.” (p. 106)
  36. The first part of the design strategy is the emotional value proposition (p. 117).
  37. If your product were alive, what kind of person would it be? (p. 119).
  38. When you try to understand the stance you want a product to take, you naturally begin to consider time-based interactions (p. 120).
  39. When technology changes, tasks usually change, but goals remain constant (p. 127).
  40. Once you get past good enough, it can take infinite time to polish to perfection (p. 132).
  41. I got good at identifying that this person has this pain point, and this is how I’m going to sell to them, and technologically, this is how I’m going to solve the problem (p. 133).
  42. The entire part on Mark Philip, CEO of RUWT?! is good. (p. 129)
  43. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole, to build something because it’s elegant code-wise - and no one will ever use it (p. 137).
  44. Most professionals rely on a verbal, logical argument as if the best argument is the most rational. Whether that should be the case is debatable; it certainly isn’t the case in most organizations, where stakeholders are often persuaded by their emotions (p. 141).
  45. Introduce the product road map into the organization through one-on-one meetings and in presentations and conversations. There should be no announcement, unveiling, or massive production associated with it (p. 150). Remember, everyone builds the road map!
  46. Use visual moods. (p. 158) I personally think the graphical design has to be awesome in all aspects of color, typography, composition, balance, saturation, imagery.
  47. We hear so much of iteration, but hardly hear of variation. Variation is a way of adding a sense of objectivity to design exploration. Variation is an exploration of alternatives, where an iteration moves an idea forward (or backward), a variation moves an idea left or right, and is not productive in a typical engineering sense because the expectation is that all of the variations (except one) will be rejected (p. 161).
  48. F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function” (p. 162).
  49. You can have people who are technically very sophisticated, insightful, and competent who don’t succeed as product managers because nobody wants to follow them - because they aren’t effective communicators or collaborators (p. 166).
  50. I toggle between my rational brain that says, “Here’s what the competition is doing, here’s what the data says the customers want,” and my emotional feelings that “this will have impact. No one has said they want this, no one has done it before, but I’m looking at it and I think it will have impact.” … Rational mind or emotional mind: you have to make the decisions or you won’t progress (p. 171).
  51. Awash in the data and can’t decide: analysis paralysis (p. 174).
  52. What do you see as the difference in product decisions made by designers compared to those by engineers or marketers? (p. 175).
  53. Overall, the last chapter was about shipping and creating the product road map. The part about storytelling is really important. It acts as a bridge between capability and feature (p. 186).
  54. Priotize functionality and manage a backlog of good ideas (p. 187).
  55. Publicly track user value. Come up with your own metrics and indicators (p. 188)!
  56. Keep lists. When people come to you with a great idea, be sure you write it down or keep it somewhere and get back to them when you remember. It pleasantly surprises people (p. 191)!
  57. Be very meticulous about all the details of your product. Especially the developers, because they sometimes do not get the intricacies of it (p. 197).
  58. You can short-circuit endless debates over features, functions, and design details by making things. The thing can be a diagram, a sketch, or a high-level fidelity design artifact. When you make a thing, an idea becomes real (p. 199).
  59. Start a launch cadence (p. 201). Sometimes, you might be tempted to wait for a whole set of features to be done before release, while this might be good, a regular launch cadence for interim releases does help the team feel like they are making progress.
  60. Motivating Engineers. (p. 202). Include a rationale for each item on the road map, provide measurable indicators of success, etc.

I learnt a lot from this book and I would definitely keep this in my hand if I am building a product.