Category Archives: Book Review

Bold Mindset: The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler is a roadmap on how to create extraordinary change in the world using exponential technologies, moonshot thinking and crowd-powered tools.

Both Steven and Peter’s energy and optimism is infectious. I enjoyed their ideas on 10x thinking and preparing for an exponential future.

The book is premised on the idea that exponential technologies are rapidly transforming the world, outpacing today’s linear-thinking organisations and individuals. Exponential technologies refer to any technology that is accelerating on an exponential growth curve.

“Without the right mindset, entrepreneurs have no chance of success. If you think you can or can’t – well, you’re right.”

Diamandis says thinking boldly is not just technologically difficult, it’s also incredibly psychologically difficult.  The book suggests three psychological strategies for upgrading your mindset, and going big and bold.

 1.  Recondition your mental frame to pursue difficult goals.

“Big goals help focus attention, and they make us more persistent. The result is we’re much more effective when we work, and much more willing to get up and try again when we fail.”

 2. Work in isolation.

“…isolation stimulates risk-taking, encouraging ideas weird and wild and acting as a counter-force to organizational inertia.”

Organizational inertia is the notion that once any company achieves success, its desire to develop and champion radical new technologies and directions is often tempted by the much stronger desire to not disrupt existing markets.

 3. Rapid iteration (as a strategy to mitigate risk).

“…as most experiments fail, real progress requires trying out tons of ideas, decreasing lag time between trials, and increasing knowledge gained from results.” This rapidly accelerates the learning cycle.

Reid Hoffman (founder of Linkedin) says that if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.

Peter Diamandis: Bold & Abundant Thinking

Quotes

“The world’s grandest challenges contain the world’s biggest opportunities.”

“The road to bold is paved with failure, and this means having a strategy in place to handle risk and learn from mistakes is crucial.”

“We all learn from out mistakes, but until recently, mistakes were too costly for entrepreneurs to make with wanton abandon. This too has changed. Infinite computing demonetizes error-making, thus democratising experimentation. No longer do we have to immediately dismiss outlandish ideas for the waste of time and resources they invariably incur. Today we can try them all.”

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The same is true for ideas.”

“Moonshots, by their definition, live in that gray area between audacious projects and pure science fiction. Instead of mere 10 percent gains, they aim for 10x (meaning ten times) improvements—that’s a 1000 percent increase in performance.”

“Massively up the amount of novelty in your life; the research shows that new environments and experiences are often the jumping-off point for new ideas (more opportunity for pattern recognition).”

Links

Peter’s website

Steven Kotler Wikipedia

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Anesh Kalan is a M.Sc. Information Technology student at the University of Cape Town.

Please feel free to comment. I appreciate your feedback and opinion.

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Zero To One: How To Build The Future

Synopsis

Zero to One by Peter Thiel is a book on startups that offers bold, contrarian ideas on how to build the future. Thiel looks at how society can make vertical progress – going from 0 to 1 – using technology to leapfrog conventional thinking.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Zero to One. Thiel’s ideas and logic are refreshing and practical, while Masters’ writing is concise. It’s a must-read for all entrepreneurs.

The central thesis: what important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Thiel says this question has everything to do with the future because the future is going to be different, and it must be rooted in today’s world. He says good answers to this question are as close as we can come to looking into the future.

Thiel’s own answer to this question is that most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable. Here he defines technology as “any new and better way of doing things.”

Interestingly he says we’ve been too distracted to notice that our surroundings are strangely old – a result of globalization.

This insight resonated with me because it reminded me of the importance of thinking independently and boldly. Thiel says, “the most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.”

All happy companies are different

The business version of the contrarian question is: what valuable company is nobody building?

The lesson for entrepreneurs is that if you want to create and capture lasting, vertical value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business. Thiel says, “competition is the ideology that pervades our society and distorts our thinking.”

Seven questions every business must answer to go from 0 to 1

1. The engineering question: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?

2. The timing question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?

3. The monopoly question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?

4. The people question: Do you have the right team?

5. The distribution (sales) question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?

6. The durability question: Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?

7. The secret question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Thiel on the Future of Innovation

Quotes

“Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”

“The single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.”

“A great business is defined by it’s ability to generate cash flows in the future.”

“Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substances: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options.”

“Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.”

“A startup is the largest endeavour over which you can have definite mastery. You can have agency not just over your own life, but over a small and important part of the world. It begins by rejecting the unjust tyranny of Chance. You are not a lottery ticket.”

“Once you think that you’re playing the lottery, you’ve already psychologically prepared yourself to lose.”

“No company has a culture; every company is a culture.”

“The single greatest danger for a founder is to become so certain of his own myth that he loses his mind. But an equally insidious danger for every business is to lose all sense of myth and mistake disenchantment for wisdom.”

“Everyone at your company should be different in the same way – a tribe of like-minded people fiercely devoted to the company’s mission.”

Links

Peter Thiel Wikipedia

Zero to One Book

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Anesh Kalan is a M.Sc. Information Technology student at the University of Cape Town.

Please feel free to comment. I appreciate your feedback and opinion.

 

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“Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

Synopsis

Blue Ocean Strategy is premised on the idea that companies can create extraordinary value if they follow a strategic framework to develop ″blue oceans″ of uncontested market space. This, in turn, makes competition irrelevant. Blue oceans are defined by untapped market space, demand creation, and the opportunity for highly profitable growth. Authors Kim and Mauborgne base their argument on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a hundred years and thirty industries.

I enjoyed the book and agree with the “blue ocean” argument around value innovation but I’d like to have seen a more in-depth analysis and examples of companies that tried this strategy but failed.

Lessons

On creating blue oceans…

The Four Actions Framework (Figure 1) is used to reconstruct buyer value elements in crafting a new value curve. To break the trade-off between differentiation and low cost and to create a new value curve, the framework poses four key questions, shown in the diagram, to challenge an industry’s strategic logic.

Figure 1: The Four Actions Framework

On reconstructing market boundaries…

The authors state that by thinking across conventional boundaries of competition, you can see how to make strategic moves that reconstruct established market boundaries and create blue oceans. Figure 2 shows the difference in thinking between head-to-head competition (red ocean strategy) and blue ocean creation.

Figure 2: Head-to-head competition vs. blue ocean creation

Quotes

“The distinctive strength of the business world [is] the capacity to create new market space that is uncontested.”

Something interesting

Guy Lalibert, the CEO of Cirque du Soleil, started out busking as an accordion player, stilt-walker, and fire-eater.

The Nickelodeon theatre of the early 1900s was aptly named because the price of admission was five cents. “Nickelodeon” was concocted from nickel, the name of the U.S. five-cent coin, and the ancient Greek word odeion, a roofed-over theater.

Links

The original 2004 Harvard Business Review Blue Ocean Strategy article

Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas

W. Chan Kim

Renée Mauborgne

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“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg

Synopsis

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a book that explores the science behind why habits exist and how we can change them. Using a range of well-narrated examples, Duhigg explains how old habits can be overridden by identifying and changing the cue and reward of the habit in the habit loop (see Figure 1).

The Power of Habit is a light and fun read.

Lessons

On changing habits…

Duhigg says that because all individuals and habits are different, there are many formulas for changing habits. He recommends a simplified, practical framework for understanding how habits work and how they might change.

In short:

1) identify the routine

2) experiment with the rewards by writing down your emotions and feelings

3) isolate the cue, which may fall into five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding actions

4) have a plan

Figure 1: The habit loop

Duhigg also recommends that people focus on one keystone habit to start with. A keystone habit is one that has a leveraged, positive impact on other habits. Exercising routinely is an example of a keystone habit.

Quotes

Tony Dungy (legendary NFL coach) : “Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

Tony Dungy: “Belief is the biggest part of success.”

“Not sharing an opportunity to learn is a cardinal sin.”

“The golden rule of habit change: you can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.”

Something interesting

The basal ganglia is the area in the brain where habits are stored. Humans evolved to form habits because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.

Claude Hopkins, an advertising pioneer, commercialised the habit of brushing your teeth daily by changing the cue and reward in the habit loop.

Foaming was introduced as a reward in shampoo, laundry detergent and toothpaste to enforce the reward of the habit.

Self-help guru Robin Sharma regularly cites a study by Phillippa Lally et al. at the University College London stating that on average, it takes 66 days before a new behaviour becomes automatic.

Links

Charles Duhigg’s website

Charles Duhigg on Twitter

Thanks for replying to my review, Charles.

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“The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation” by Peter Senge

Synopsis

The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation is a management book by Peter Senge that uses a systems thinking framework to tie together five team disciplines that convert traditional, authoritarian organisations into learning organisations. Systems thinking is the process of understanding how interdependent elements within a system influence one another. The book is premised on the idea that in the long-run, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than its competitors.

This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read. Although it was published in 1990, the ideas are still relevant today, and apply to both the individual and the organisation.

Lessons

On mental models…

Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, images, stories and biases that influence people’s understanding of the world and their decision-making.

Senge says the problem with mental models is not that they are right or wrong – all models are simplifications or approximations of the truth. The problem is when they exist below the level of awareness.

He says that because the world is constantly evolving, it is important to be intellectually rigorous, seeing reality objectively by learning to suspend our assumptions and unearth our own internal pictures of the world. For me, developing this skill is about practicing the art of listening and asking the correct questions.

Quotes

“To practice a discipline is to be a lifelong learner.”

“Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning we become able to do something we never were able to do. Through learning we re-perceive the world and our relationship to it. Through learning we extend our capacity to create, to be part of the generative process of life”

“Small changes can produce big results – but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious.”

“In the presence of greatness, pettiness disappears. In the absence of a great dream, pettiness prevails.”

Something interesting

The book ends with a paragraph about the Gaia Hypothesis – the theory that all life on earth is itself a single, living organism. This touches on one of the key ideas of the book: that we live in a world of extraordinary interdependence.

This recent talk by Peter entitled “Systems Thinking for a Better World” has inspired me to learn more actively.

 Links

 Peter Senge Wikipedia

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