Monthly Archives: December 2011

Best Books of 2011

Similar to last year, below are the top 5 books I’ve enjoyed most this year. They don’t have much to do with project management, but perhaps that’s a good thing.

Matterhorn/What Is It Like To Go To War – Karl Marlantes is doesn’t pull any punches as a writer. He was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford when he volunteered to go to Vietnam and his two books are essentially different reflections on the same experience. Matterhorn is a hands on book about war in Vietnam, fictional, but obviously drawing on deep personal experiences. What Is It Like To Go To War is part autobiography, part sermon on the same topic, recounting Marlantes’ experiences with brutal honesty (including cowardice, mistakes and prostitution) and once again given a vivid picture of Vietnam whilst also stating his own views on what war does to people and what society should do about it.

Decoded – I wouldn’t have thought I would enjoy Jay-Z’s autobiography nearly as much as I did, his life from dealing to fame is a great story, and he explains the lyrics of his songs in detail, decoding the slang and the meaning behind the lyrics.

In The Garden of Bests: Love, Terror and An American Family In Hilter’s Berlin – A well researched book with a sprinkling of fiction to chart the course of a university professor who President Roosevelt appointed as ambassador to Berlin just as Hitler was on the rise. It makes history real, and clearly shows that evil is not quite as black and white as it appeared in retrospect and how mixed the world’s reaction to it was, at least initially.

Scalper: Inside The World Of A Professional Ticket Tout – This is Kindle only, and part of Amazon’s effort to release shorter books on the platform for $1.99. This is a quick read on the practice of reselling tickets to sporting events told by a former tout. It goes deep into a subject you may not have thought much about and is short enough to retain interest in what is a fairly esoteric topic.

The Hunger Games Series – If you liked the Stig Larsson (Girl Who Played With Fire) series, you might enjoy this too. Like that series it’s coming out as a movie and is easy, but gripping reading. The first book is the best of the trilogy, and the ultimately ending is underwhelming, rushed and bizarre, but it’s a great story up to that point.

VIDEO – 8 Factors That Lead To Success

3 minute video based on interviewing 500 successful people on what made them successful.

Now, to be truly scientific, Richard St John would have needed to pick a control group of less successful people to make sure they don’t have the same attributes.

Nonetheless, this is worth 3 minutes of your time. And if you don’t have 3 minutes the list is: service, passion, work ethic, passion, focus. persistence, drive and perfectionism. But the video adds more color and comedy.

Listen Better

Most people (including me on this blog) tend to talk about communications from the point of view of the person delivering a message or taking the active role. This 8 minute video is interesting, because it flips the perspective to that of the listener. And listeners don’t do a very good job, hearing 60% of what is said and retaining just 25%. This video provides ideas for ways to listen better and be conscious of the filters that we implicitly use to determine what we hear.

How Fast Can You Fail?

It seems counter-intuitive to want to fail fast, but if you stop to think about it, it’s  far preferable to failing slowly. Killing a bad project early is superior to letting it run and not meet requirements. The faster you fail the sooner you can test another idea, and that may be the one that leads to success, and we know that psychological traps such as anchoring means that you’re likely to keep pushing a bad idea for too long, even if it’s not working out.

What this means:

  • Seek feedback early (ideally critical feedback from a potential customer)
  • Follow the path that will get you something testable as soon as possible (Frank Gehry builds models out of paper first)
  • Determine what your criteria for success are (otherwise you might be tempted to bend the goals if you aren’t hitting your targets)
It seems counter-intuitive to make failure the goal, but getting through a large number of ideas quickly is a better way to find a good idea than plugging along with something that doesn’t work. The overall result will be more successes, faster.