Take 18. Top 5 books & 3 articles that'll change the way you think

Hello friends, happy holidays! On this year’s last edition of Double Take, I’m sharing my favorite books and readings that have made a real impact on my thinking this year. I hope you’ll also find them enlightening, whether to help you on your self discovery journey, or to re-approach your work, or to make better sense of the world.

How was your holiday break? I’ve been really enjoying the Philosophize This podcast lately, beginner-friendly explanation of ideas from the greatest thinkers. Highly recommend for these downtimes.

Thank you for being part of this newsletter. Knowing one person got some value out of it is motivation for me to keep writing :) What content do you want to see more of? And one question for the New Year: what do you want to get better at this year?

✨ Top 5 Books of 2020

1) Antifragile (Non-fiction)

A transformational read that’ll change the way you structure your life and approach risks, chaos, and randomness. The central theme, antifragility, describes things that thrive when exposed to stressors. They gain more upside from random events/shocks (black swan events). While it’s natural human tendency to desire stability and control, it makes us more fragile, because we have more to lose than gain. This was a wakeup call to barbell risks and randomness into our lives. Innovation depends on antifragile thinking, where random tinkering and aggressive risk bearing lead to discovery rather than theories and formal education.

You only get a measure of order and control when you embrace randomness.

Curiosity is antifragile, like addiction, and is magnified by attempts to satisfy it. 

Option = asymmetry + rationality. Freedom is the ultimate option.

2) To Pixar and beyond (Autobiography)

Lawrence Levy, once CFO of Pixar, retells the thrilling story of how he and Steve Jobs transformed Pixar into an incredible success story in both entertainment and technology industries, from its IPO to acquisition by Disney. Along the gripping tale embeds brilliant lessons about negotiation, strategy, creativity, and how to build extraordinary companies. It’s centered around an Eastern philosophy, “The Middle Way”, a harmony of creative spirit and business rigor, which Pixar achieved.

Creative excellence is a dance on the precipice of failure, a battle against the allure of safety. There are no shortcuts, no formulas, no well-worn paths to victory. It tests you constantly.

3) Beyond culture (Anthropology)

A classic, thought provoking read on how culture is created and how culture unconsciously shapes our behavior and life. Hall puts into words the origins and motivations behind the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in cultures with real life examples. These concepts (like high context vs. low context cultures) takes one on a journey of self discovery, understanding others, and learning to better work with others.

People’s sense of worth is directly related to the number of situations in which they are in control, which means many people have problems with their self image because they are clearly in control of so little.

4) Anxious people (Fiction)

This is an emotional comedy about a failed bank robber who disappeared and 8 hostages’ entangled, anxious lives. This story brings profound insights into the human condition and the struggles and anxieties every person experiences. Heartwarming, whimsical, and hilarious, it reminds us to keep taking strides in our daily challenges and also be compassionate towards others. There’s an unexpected twist but it’s really the characters that you’ll fall in love with.

Sometimes two strangers only need one thing in common to find each other sympathetic.

5) Exhalation (Science fiction)

If you like Black Mirror, you’d enjoy Ted Chiang’s collection of provocative and philosophical sci-fi short stories that challenges us to think about what it means to be human. Each story takes one to an imaginary world and dives into themes such as free will, regret, and existence. Merchant And The Alchemist’s Gate was a favorite, it uses time travel as a device to help one come to terms with regret and accept the will of the universe. Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom uses alternative universes as the device to explore how one can do good over past bad decisions.

Every quality that made a person more valuable than a database was a product of experience.

✨ 3 Impactful Readings

1) Inventing on principle

This video inspired many tech founders and I can see why its message is so universal. Bret Victor challenges us to have a principle to drive our decisions rather than simply building something. Bret’s principle is that “creators need an immediate connection to what they’re creating” because that allows them to visualize and try ideas as they think of them. He showcased examples where this immediate connection made a huge impact on the creation and innovation process. A number of important transformations in the tech industry in recent years, are driven by products that enable this connection, for example, Figma, Webflow, and the no-code movement in general.

2) How Apple is organized for innovation

Apple is organized by functional units, rather than business units. Steve Jobs made this change when he returned to Apple in 1997 and Apple has remained this way up to today as a 2 trillion dollar company. This functional structure is how Apple can stay innovative - it aligns expertise with decision rights. With the rapid rate of disruption in technology, Apple needs to rely on the judgement and intuition of people with deep expertise (not general managers) in the areas of disruption. Furthermore, having the entire company under one P&L insulates product decisions from short term financial pressures. As Apple grows dramatically in size, it developed a discretionary leadership model to help leaders adapt to growing functional size and drive innovation across the company, not just in product development.

3) Structured procrastination 

I don’t usually subscribe to shortcuts but this tactic is a “secret weapon” to being productive through procrastination. The key idea is that we procrastinate to delay doing something important by doing something less important. Note, procrastinators are not doing nothing, rather, just marginally important things. To exploit this fact with structured procrastination, list all your tasks by order of importance, so even when procrastinating, ie. doing things lower on the list, you’re still completing worthwhile tasks. Yes, this requires a bit of self deception to put the right type of task at the top of that list (have high urgency and importance), but that’s never been a challenge for procrastinators.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Thanks for reading! If you liked this edition, hit the 🖤 above, it helps others see it :) And let’s chat more on Twitter.

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- Christine