Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Review: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hadn’t planned to read this book, but since it came as a bonus in a Next Big Idea Club box I gave it a read, and I was glad that I did. Gladwell uses stories of situations gone wrong to illustrate how our our interactions with strangers sometimes fails, and why. Through a number of stories bookended by the tragic Sandra Bland incident, we see the challenges of interacting with people when we assume that we understand their motivations, the downsides of our default to trust people, and the risks of being being too suspicious.

The two main themes of the book are that transparency (the idea that you can “read” people) is rarely reality, and that“defaulting to truth” (basically trusting people) has pros and cons, but the pros outweigh the cons. Gladwell uses stories of spies, terrorist interrogations, and policing to illustrate how things go wrong when we misunderstand how transparency and trust work.

In terms of Transparency, these stories put something important in the context of my personal and professional life into a larger context: It’s hard to guess what people are thinking based on externalities, and acting based on them without checking yourself-- especially when you have an opportunity to ask -- is a good way for interactions to go down hill. It can be difficult to guess what a spouse, colleague, or neighbor is thinking, even when you share a common context. When interacting with people you never met from different cultures and/or backgrounds it’s probably impossible, and curiosity is more likely that not the best approach.

Defaulting to Truth, the idea that people generally believe what others are saying is accurate, is more interesting. Gladwell give us a number of examples of how being too trusting let spies and other bad actors evade detection, even in the face of (in retrospect) obvious clues. On the other hand going the other way and being overly skeptical can lead to dysfunction, and bad things. While sometime bad things happen when we engage in Truth Default behavior, it is also necessary for us to function as society, community, and in interpersonal relationships.

My two main take-a-ways from the book are that, while Truth Default can sometimes lead you astray, the alternative can be worse , and that transparency is a myth, and curiosity is better. We need to understand when to apply healthy skepticism, both of others, and of our own perceptions to thrive as a community. With endnotes and footnotes for those who want to dig deeper, Talking to Strangers is an engaging book that is very topical. Anyone who wants to think about how to build better interactions, at any scale, should find this book valuable.

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Friday, December 27, 2019

Review: Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick

Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and more recently, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, I was skeptical that there was much more I could discover about habit and motivation by reading another book. I was wrong. Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood is an insightful exploration of science behind how and why habits form, and how we can use this information to improve our work and personal lives, as well as our health, told from the perspective of someone who has studied the subject from a scientific and social perspective.

Wood describes habits as a kind of automation, which allows us to focus our mental energy on more “important” things, as well providing us for default behaviors in times of stress. In some cases the habits serve us well, in others our habit behavior can be the wrong thing for the moment. Wood Explores how habits help us move forward, how they can lead us into “ruts” and how to use our tendency to form habits to our benefit, and for growth rather than letting them keep us static.

A recurring theme in the book is the relationship between habit and “context”. Those who do well on avoiding distractions and deferring immediate, if not beneficial, rewards (“The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control) succeed less because they are actively ignoring the temptation, than because they are good at setting up contexts where they don’t notice temptation. The relationship between context and habit provides useful guidance in how we can create good habits and change bad ones; by setting maintaining (or changing) our contextual triggers, we can affect our automatic behavior.

With examples of how habits apply in the workplace, our personal lives, and in our relationships, Good Habits, Bad Habits is an engaging book that can help you think about how you do what you do, and how to influence yourself and others to form productive dynamics. For those who want to dig deeper, there are many end notes pointing to research, as well as a good bibliography. We all have habits, and our habits, and those of those around us affect the quality of our lives, so it is worth understanding how they work. Wendy Wood’s book gives you that information.

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Review: Do Disrupt: Change the status quo. Or become it.

Do Disrupt: Change the status quo. Or become it. Do Disrupt: Change the status quo. Or become it. by Mark Shayler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On the surface this Is a book about business, but its message is relevant to other changes as well. It opens by explaining why “Disruptive” is over used, and what it really means and continues with motivating ideas, prompts and exercises.

This short book -- which the author encourages you to write in to complete the exercises-- would be useful for someone thing of doing something entrepreneurial ,either on their own or in the context of an organization they are a part of. Change agents of all sorts (consultants, as well as internal ones) might also find some of the exercises Inspiring.

I plan to revisit this book later for inspiration should I decide to become an independent consultant. I also find my self inspired to apply some of the thinking to make some aspects of my current job even better.

Also consider

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: Indistractable

Indistractable is an exploration of the reasons why we get distracted and strategies we can use to avoid the distraction. Based on research on motivation and compulsion, the information in the book is similar the things I learned in Drive and The Power of Habit, but from a different angle: being mindful of habits and motivators that take our focus away from important things. Or put another way, the things same inner mechanisms that motivate us, and encourage productive behavior can also have the opposite effect. The key, Eyal tells us, is to focus on the triggers.

I like that the book starts out by saying that technology is not the problem, even as we often place blame on the accessibility and draw of electronic devices. This resonates with me, as I can recall times when, as a child, the newspaper or radio was a way for a parent to ignore me, and now as a parent, when my child was able to ignore those around him while doing “good” tasks” like reading. The historical record bears this out as well, as the book quotes an article bemoaning the impact of the Gramophone on the ability of children to focus. There will always be distractions, and while strict rules about avoiding them can help, it’s more sustainable to solve the core reasons for why you are distracted.

As is appropriate for a book on the subject, the chapters are short, and thus easier to feel like you are making progress as you learn to manage your distractions. The book is both inspiring and actionable. After working through the framework there are sections dedicated to how you manage distractions in your various life domains, including work, relationships, and children. The section on making Indistractable children is particularly worth while (though will be more valuable if you read the earlier sections).

If you are an employee, manager, parent, or any combination, you are likely to find value in this book.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Review: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Sapiens is a thought provoking and insightful exploration of the physical and cultural evolution of our species.

The central theme of the book is that Homo Sapiens have the capacity to create and believe in abstract ideas, which enables larger groups to be coherent. This ability to conceive and believe in abstract ideas enables religion, financial systems, and social systems, all of which enables larger group coherence, but also allow for things like racism (or as the author suggests, “culturalism,” as the biases are often about “otherness” rather than simply race) to creep into our belief system. The book’s analysis of suggests that racism and animal cruelty and similar bad acts often enter into culture less out of malice and hatred than lack of thought -- though their persistence has other, less positive, motivators.

A mix of social history, science history, anthropology and social commentary, Sapiens is an engaging and though provoking read. Even if you don’t agree with the conclusions the author makes, the book can frame a though process. And for all the depth and comprehensiveness, the book is quite approachable and easy to read.

This thought provoking read about the history, and future of or species ends with an exploration of the future of humanity, our impact on the ecosystem, and the importance of being more thoughtful as we use the powers we’ve developed to change our world. If you read the book, consider getting it in physical form for the photos and illustrations, which add to the experience.

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Book Review: 7 Rules for Positive, Productive Change

Having known Esther Derby from conferences, her writings, and having participated in a problem solving leadership workshop she led, I knew that she was an expert in helping organizations work better. I was thus looking forward to this book. It exceeded my expectations. “7 Rules” is a concise, easy to read book full of useful information . In addition to the “Rules” you will learn about a variety of ways to model organizational dynamics so that you can identify patterns that inhibit change.

This is a very actionable book. Chapters wrap up with things you can do and with a summary of key points. This book can be as much a daily reference as a tools for learning to be a better change agent.

While 7 Rules is about organizational/corporate change, concepts in the book are also helpful in helping you to navigate tricky issues in community and family life. For example, the relationship between congruence and empathy underlies being an effective change agent, and the book can help you understand these concepts better.

The lessons in the book will help you understand how to make changes at any level, from small things like encouraging unit testing to larger things like a better dev process.
The book provides useful advice for managers, scrum masters and those leading sprint and project retrospectives. Since change can happen at all levels anyone who has found challenges at work that they want to improve should consider this book.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Review: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Range David Epstein explains that while specialization can be valuable in some circumstances, “Range” is both important and undervalued. There are many others where having breadth of experience leads to better solutions to problems, particularly in more complex domains that one typically encounters in knowledge work.

The idea of range resonates with the idea of Cross Functional Teams of T-Shaped people (breadth of experience with depth in some areas) which Scrum and Agile advocate. In the context of an agile team, such a team solves the problem of maintaining the flow of work, as you are less likely to find work in your backlog that is blocked because of a local of someone who can do it. Epstein explains that such teams lead to better solutions as well.

The discussion of the importance of “range” goes against many beliefs people have about the importance of having deep knowledge and getting a head start on acquiring it. Consider the push to start training for sports early or to develop deep skill in an academic discipline. Even in hiring, people with a mix of skills don’t seem to fit neatly into org charts, even as work requires a mix of skills, and a desire and ability to broaden ones areas of expertise.

As someone who has a wide range of interests, and who likes to find connections between seemingly unrelated domains I very much enjoyed and appreciated Range. It’s a well written book, with a mix of assertions, stories, and references to data, along with quite a few notes and sources for those who are skeptical and want to dig deeper.

If you are work in a knowledge area, or are thinking about how to influence a child’s learning path, Range is worth a read to help you understand the context of when breadth adds value.

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Review: Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries by Safi Bahcall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loonshots is an engaging analysis of why some organizations nurture innovation while others seem to sabotage it. With a mix of history, organizational anthropology, psychology and even physics, Bacall makes the case for how culture and organizational structure affect innovation. He also explains how to structure teams to support innovation while still providing for a value stream.

I appreciated how Bahcall emphasized that culture isn’t just an afterthought, but rather something that shapes how your organization works. While some of his advice might be more relevant to larger organizations, the themes are helpful to consider in a company of any size, and any stage of growth, from startup to larger company. Relatedly, some of the phrasings for the "rules to follow" sometimes lose subtlety, but the text fills in the details

This book is worth a read is your are interested in teams, organizations, entrepreneurship, or the history of innovation.

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Review: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Start with Why explains that having of clear mission is important to success. The general themes in the book are things you wish every team did, but which most teams ignore. Sineck makes his point in an easy to read book that includes a number or stories.

Understanding your mission (or why you are doing what you do) has benefits at all phases, ranging from execution to marketing and sales. At the execution end of things, a team that understands (and embraces) a mission can work more autonomously and creatively, and thus be more productive. At the consumer end, it can differentiate your product from others that do the same thing, and lead to brand loyalty. A clear “why” can influence a product decision more than technical merits, especially in an evolving product space.

This resonates with my experiences. I’ve often thought of my self as an “Early Adopter” and someone who made decisions that often included intangibles rather than an evaluation of a pro/con lis. An early example of this, is my deciding to buy a Palm Pilot in spite of friends extolling the technical merits of the Apple Newton, because I really just wanted an easy way to carry addresses and calendars around, and while the Newton was “cool” I wasn’t sure why I’d want one.

Sineck draws many examples from successful businesses that, while necessarily being the first in a business, had a clear sense of purpose, including Apple (at least the Steve Jobs era) and Southwest Airlines.

While the book seems focused on the importance of Why in business strategy , the philosophy in this book carries over into many aspects of ones work (and even personal) life.

For example, in software requirements, I’ve always been skeptical of requests that tell me what functionality to build, without having an idea of why the person wants it (or what they what to accomplish). Obscuring the Why makes it harder to build creative, more cost-effective solutions.

In terms of work/life balance, I’ve always felt more engaged in work that I found inspiring, and when leading teams, I’ve observed that teams moved more quickly when everyone had a reasonable sense of the mission and goals.

As I read the book, I even realized that I could improve a presentation I’m working on by focusing more on why the ideas I’m presenting can move not just work, but values forward.

And, as the last paragraph in the book sums up, being able to share “why” can help you, as a leader, inspire action.

I picked up the book almost at random, but am, glad to have read it. It’s engaging, inspirational, and actionable. The ideas make sense, and you may even have thought along similar lines yourself. The core ideas here are ones that I’ve always tried to live by in my professional life, though it felt that I often got blank looks when I raised the question of mission in certain teams and organizations. Having had the book to point to might have made a difference. Perhaps not (and the question of why an idea from a third party takes better than one from an employee is likely the subject of many other books).

At some level, Start with Why is simply about applying what Jerry Weinberg called “Congruent Action.” Know what your values are is a prerequisite for acting congruently. This book is worth reading if you want to improve your (or you team or organization’s) focus and enjoyment of work.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

Transferring Minecraft Worlds using Files between iOS Devices

This is a bit off of the usual “Software Development/Agile/SCM” theme that I usually follow, but it does fit into the theme of accidental simplicity

If you (or a family member) plays Minecraft on iOS, and you get a new iPad you’ll often want to transfer the worlds between devices. The simplest thing is to restore the new iPad from an iCloud Backup of the old device. This will transfer all of the data, including Minecraft words.

Sometimes you might want to start a new iPad from a clean slate. ( Since most of the data I care about is already in some sort of cloud storage, a new iPad is a good excuse to cut down on clutter). Minecraft doesn’t make transferring data as easy as other apps do. There are 3 options, including one that I hadn’t come across doing searches the times I’ve done this.

One option is to use Minecraft Realms. With Realms you can keep words in the cloud or upload worlds on one iPad and download them on another. Realms isn’t really a backup solution. You pay per ‘world’ and the upload and download process is slow. But it can work if you have a small number of worlds, and if this is a one off, you can do the transfer during the free trial period. Mojang has a helpful article describing how to do this.

The more useful approach is to use a Mac app that lets you mount your iOS devices as disks. There are many forum posts on how to do this. The two tools that get mentioned often are iExplorer, a paid app, or iFunBox, which is free.

I wondered why one could not use the iOS Files app to do this, thus avoiding third party tools. And it turns out that you can.

When you go to the Files app for the first time, navigate to On My iPad,. You may notice that there isn’t an anything promising visible.

But you can make a Minecraft folder visible. Connect the old iPad with the world data to your Mac via USB, and go through the workflow to have your iPad trust the Mac it’s connected to. No need to synch or transfer any data.

When you disconnect, you should see a Minecraft Folder. Navigate to the Minecraft Worlds folder (as described in the posts on how to use iExplorer-- games/com.mojang/minecraft Worlds) and copy the Minecraft Games folder to another place on your iCloud Drive.

Connect the new iPad to a Mac to get the Minecraft Folder to appear. Navigate to the correct place and copy the world files from the iCloud Folder into the Worlds folder.

Restart Minecraft and you should see the worlds.

(I haven’t dug deeply into why connecting to the Mac makes the folder visible, but I’ve heard some plausible explanations from friends who know more about iOS app development than I do. If someone has a concise, explanation I can share it.)

Lessons in Change from the Classroom

This is adapted from a story I shared at the Fearless Change Campfire on 22 Sep 2023 I’ve always been someone to ask questions about id...