Tag Archives: Book

“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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“21 Yaks and a Speedo” by Lewis Pugh

Synopsis

21 Yaks and a Speedo by ocean advocate and pioneering swimmer Lewis Pugh is a collection of short stories, called Yaks, about how to achieve what might first seem impossible. Each story illustrates a lesson that Lewis and his team have learned from one of his many swimming expeditions.

21 Yaks and a Speedo is a light and enjoyable read. I would recommend it to Open Water swimmers and anyone looking for the inspiration to excel.

Lessons

On testing our assumptions…

Lewis says one of the most valuable lessons he learned was to always ask what assumptions he’s making [about an expedition] and to test whether those assumptions are valid. He explains that you never know how a situation is going to change, and you can never have a perfect plan, so be prepared to adapt.

On limiting beliefs…

I was fortunate enough to see Lewis speak at the Graduate School of Business in October 2014. He made two important points that evening. First, when we have limiting beliefs we take on a defeatist attitude. Second, when we have limiting beliefs, we don’t ask for help. In the book, Lewis tells an unusual story (Yak 12) about the boat rudder breaking in the Maldives to explain this lesson. He says we must be open to all possibilities.

Quotes

“There’s nothing more powerful than a made-up mind.”

“I love swimming. I love the action of swimming. I love the feeling of diving into cold water, and getting invigorated and refreshed.” As a swimmer I loved this statement. I would add that the feeling of being relaxed in water, moving almost effortlessly when you’re fit is second to none.

“There will always be hundreds of reasons to quit, especially towards the end, when things get very tough. Think of just ONE reason to keep on going – it will make all the difference!”

“Never plan for victory and defeat in your mind at the same time.”

Something Interesting

The English Channel swim starts in Dover.

Roald Amundsen was the first person ever to reach the South Pole.

Lewis was the first person to complete a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world.

Lewis did a 50-school country-wide speaking tour of South Africa to spread his message of conserving the world’s oceans, and to practice public speaking. He calls his first speech a “disaster.” He has since gone on to become an international motivational speaker. Below is his first TED talk, one that really inspired me.

Links

Lewis’ website

Lewis on Twitter

Lewis on Facebook

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“The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins

Synopsis

The Selfish Gene is a book on evolution by Professor Richard Dawkins that extends on Charles Darwin’s explanation of evolution. The first edition was published in 1976.

Dawkins uses the term “selfish gene” to argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness. This selfishness, he explains, will usually give rise to selfishness in individual behaviour for the survival and evolution of the species (although in some circumstances a gene can achieve its goals by fostering a form of altruism at the level of individual animals).

Lessons

The main takeaway for me was perhaps to see how Dawkins develops an intellectually-constructed, concise argument for his gene-centred view of evolution.

Quotes

“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.”

“In the beginning was simplicity.”

“Perhaps consciousness arises when the brain’s simulation of the world becomes so complex that it must include a model of itself.”

“We are all survival machines for the same kind of replicator – molecules called DNA – but there are many different ways of making a living in the world, and the replicators have built a vast range of machines to exploit them. A monkey is a machine that preserves genes up trees, a fish is a machine that preserves genes in the water; there is even a small worm that preserves genes in German beer mats. DNA works in mysterious ways.”

Something interesting

Muscles evolved in animals to achieve rapid movement. The force of a muscle is generated in the form of tension.

Fireflies attract mates by flashing lights at them, and each species has its own particular dot-dash flashing pattern. I recently saw flashing fireflies on top of Signal Hill. It’s an incredible sight in nature.

A typical pride of lions consists of seven adult females and two adults males. Young male lions born into a pride are driven out in their adolescence.

Mother pigs sometimes eat their own children.

In frogs neither sex has a penis.

Links

Richard Dawkins Foundation

Richard on Twitter

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“Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story” by Arnold Schwarzenegger

Synopsis

Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story is the story of Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born American actor, businessman, politician, activist, and former bodybuilder. He is best known as former seven-time Mr. Olympia, the Governor of California between 2003 and 2011, and action star, most notably for his roles in the Conan and Terminator movie franchises. Until 2011, he was married to Maria Shriver.

If you want to be inspired to 10 X your ambitions and goals read this book.

Lessons

On discipline and practice…

Arnold had several role-models including his father, a policeman, who instilled a work-horse mentality in him. From a young age he had a strict schedule often performing manual labour tasks for his family or being made to practice sport by himself. He understood, it seems, that if you want to achieve something, there are no shortcuts; you have to go out and earn it. In the the book he often refers to relentless practice as reps, reps, reps and says no matter what you do in life, it’s either reps or mileage.

On setting specific goals…

From early on, Arnold would write down his goals on index cards. He says, “I always wrote down my goals, like I’d learned to do in the weight-lifting club back in Graz. I had them very specific so that all those fine intentions were not just floating around.”

Sarge’s advice on public service…

In a speech Sarge, Arnold’s father-in-law, gave at Yale he said:

“In our society that is so self-absorbed, begin to look less at yourself and more at each other. You’ll get more satisfaction from having improved your neighbourhood, your town, your state, your country, and your fellow human beings than you’ll ever get from your muscles, your figure, your automobile, your house, or your credit rating. You’ll get far more from being a peacemaker than a warrior.

I particularly enjoyed Tai Lopez’s thoughts on this book.

Quotes

“I had to explain that actually I was not especially exhilarated when I won, because to me, winning was a given. It was part of the job. I had an obligation to win.”

“Outrageousness means nothing if you don’t have the substance to back it up – you can’t get away with it if you’re a loser.”

“I believed that the only way you become a leading man is by treating yourself like a leading man and working your ass off.”

Something Interesting

At ten years old Arnold says he was absolutely convinced he was special and meant for bigger things. He believed America was where he would become the best at something, although at the time he did not know what that would be.

Mr. Olympia, founded by Joe Gold, was the first bodybuilding competition to offer prize money. In 1965 the winner took home $1000. Arnold trained at Gold’s Gym when he moved to America, known then as the “Mecca of bodybuilding.”

Arnold practices Transcendental Meditation.

In 1992 Arnold bought the first Hummer manufactured for civilian use.

Last Action Hero was the first ever paid advertisement in outer space.

Sacramento is the capital of California. (Something I didn’t know!)

Links

Arnold’s website

Arnold on Instagram

Arnold on Facebook

Arnold on Twitter

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“Open” by Andre Agassi

Synopsis

Open is the autobiography of Andre Agassi, a tennis prodigy and eight-time Grand Slam and Olympic champion. Agassi, now retired, lives in Las Vegas with his wife Steffi Graf, and their two children. He runs the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a tuition-free charter school for at-risk children.

Lessons

On perfection…

One of the first pieces of advice that Brad, Agassi’s coach between 1994 and 2002, gave him was that he didn’t have to be perfect all the time. Brad says, “You don’t have to be the best in the world every time you go out there … There’s about five times a year when you need to be, but it’s not those five times a year that make a tennis player.”

Agassi helps a friend out…

In 1996 Agassi used a portion of his Nike sponsorship money to help pay for Frankie’s kids college education. Frankie is a life-long friend and owner of Campagnola, Agassi’s favourite restaurant in New York. Agassi says the act educated him and made him feel more alive and himself than anything else in 1996. He says, “This is why we’re here. To make each other feel safe.”

Mandela on being careful…

Agassi met Nelson Mandela in Cape Town in 1997. After a private dinner Mandela spoke about caring for one another, ourselves, being careful in our decisions, careful in our relationships, careful in our statements, and careful in managing our lives.

Quotes

“Tennis is about degrees of aggression. You want to be aggressive enough to control the point, not so aggressive that you sacrifice control and expose yourself to unnecessary risk”

“Simply knowing your enemy is a powerful advantage.”

“Few of us are granted the grace to know ourselves, and until we do, maybe the best we can do is be consistent.”

“Finally, Mandela talks about the road he’s travelled. He talk about the difficulty of all human journeys – and yet, he says, there is clarity and nobility in just being a journeyer.”

“If you’re going down, OK, go down, but go down with guns blazing. Always, always, always, go down with both guns blaaazing.”

Something Interesting

The dimensions of a tennis court are 36 feet by 78 feet.

In his early teens, Agassi took classes on mental toughness, positive thinking and visualization at the Bollettieri Academy.

Pete Sampras and Agassi first met on a tennis court in juniors when they were nine and ten years old respectively.

Links

Andre Agassi Wikipedia

Andre on Twitter

Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy 

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