December 19, 2009 01:19 PM Filed in: Probability and Statistics
The Black Swan
The Impact of the Highly Improbable
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
When in high school I first learned about the Gaussian distribution and its discrete relatives, the binomial and the Poisson distributions, I wanted to solve all the exercises at the back of the book that week. The one question that remained unanswered at the back of my head was why so many natural phenomena follow the Gaussian distribution. Later in life I learned that they don’t really. It is an approximation for most phenomena but it is mathematically very convenient.
This book discusses the fact that the Gaussian distribution is invalid for most phenomenon, and more importantly, it discusses and describes the impact of not realizing this invalidity. Some of the themes include discussions of the “winner-take-all” phenomenon, the effects of randomness, the concept of scalability (fractals vs. fat-tail distribution), and instabilities of certain phenomenon when information travels quickly. Taleb discusses in great detail why people have not been able to predict the future (e.g. in trading and risk management) and the fallacies of this inability—in other words, we could do a better job of prediction if we had the right theory or the right assumptions.
These are important ideas for people to understand in the modern world. Taleb’s exposition helps change the way we look at the world.
February 14, 2009 12:28 PM Filed in: Leadership
Made to Stick
Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
In the opening example of this book the authors compare an elaborate 'kidney heist' story with a couple of sentences from a CEO's speech on his company's vision. Two years after reading the book, I still vividly remember the 'kidney heist' story even though I have not told the story or talked about it during that period. The excerpt from the speech—I could not remember it after about 60 seconds. I tried several times and after reading the paragraph again I would still forget a minute or so later. Then I tried the experiment with family, friends and colleagues and got the same result every time. What was the difference?
This book exposes the general characteristics of the sticky ideas versus non-sticky ideas. And these characteristics are not what I would intuitively think they should be (side note: some of these characteristics are such because of the way the brain has evolved over a geological timescale). There are plenty of examples to really get an in-depth understanding of each of the characteristics.
I now apply these in my communication and the results are dramatically more sticky than two years ago.
January 10, 2009 10:20 PM Filed in: Leadership
Leadership and Self-Deception
Getting out of the Box
by The Arbinger Institute
I read this book in one afternoon. It fundamentally changed the way I viewed my relationships with people around me—my wife, my colleagues, my friends—everyone. It was such an eye-opening experience that I bought several copies for some colleagues and one for Janice. Janice finished it the same evening it arrived from Amazon.com (I had read a borrowed copy) and then she got on-line and ordered a copies for every member of her side of the family (i.e., my in-laws).
The book is written like a story being told by the author—"creative non-fiction" in industry vernacular—so it is quite an easy read and very sticky. Don't go another day without read this book.
May 16, 2008 10:08 PM Filed in: History
A People's History of the United States
1492 - Present
by Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn has an interesting perspective on the history—he puts himself in the shoes of the underdog (the people) and tells the story of the last 500 years. In this age of the "free agent" it certainly offers a good insight for the readers and for the next generation of leadership. This is not revisionist history, rather, it is describing the "dark side of the moon" that has not been seen before.
May 15, 2008 10:00 PM Filed in: History
No Ordinary Time
Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt / The Home Front in World War II
by Doris Kearns Goodwin
This book is an absolute pleasure to read. When I started reading it, I could not put it down until I finished. Goodwin clearly has done her homework. It gives a very good insight into FDR the person. It is also interesting to get a glimpse of the relationship that FDR has with Eleanor, with his daughter, with his cabinet and with Churchill.