Books I read in 2019

This post acts as a refresher for myself to account for the time I spent reading books this year. In the past, I had attempted to read one book a month and I succeeded for one year only. This year I did not hit one book per month, but I thought it was still a respectable amount.

The eight books I read this year and my rough comments are as follows below. I will probably do a more in depth reflection in the individual posts.

[Jan 19] Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono and the Gates Foundation rock the world with OKRs

The book discusses how to set Objectives and Key Reports (OKRs) across the organisation in a way that they are meaningful. I liked how the book introduces OKRs for all levels, and how the subordinate’s OKRs are influenced by the manager’s OKRs. I also liked how the book talks about transparency for OKRs and how easily someone within the company can see what others are working on. This could potentially be the answer to reducing duplicate innovation efforts within a company.

[Feb 19] Data Analytics for Business Managers (Havard Business Review)

I read this book in order to have a better viewpoint of what Data Analytics entails. This is an easy to read book which guides managers to the fundamentals of data analytics. Using the contents from this book, I proceeded to write a Data Analytics paper at my workplace to start getting them to think about Data Analytics.

[May 19] What got you here won’t get you there

My wife bought me this book as part of the Valentine’s Day present. This book was a good wake up call. I had achieved success at my workplace but I needed to develop myself differently in order to get further. I have a mindmap of this and I will be putting up a reflection post on the book in the future.

[Jun 19] Rebel Talent: Why it pays to break the rules at work and in life

This book was an easy read. A friend passed the book to me after he was done with it. It resonated well with me because I had lived most of my work life questioning existing processes and wondering if we could do things better. The deviant in me was already well established by the time I got to the book. For those who are interested to know how the rebel in the book functions, this book will provide the case for everyone to become a rebel.

[Sep 19]Questions are the Answer

This is the first book I read off Michael Hyatt’s book club. The book discusses how asking the right questions matter the most. I found the book interesting, and it also explores ways of how we can encourage people at our workplaces to ask questions.

[Oct 19] You Can’t Have it All

This is the second book I read off the book club. This book is suitable for people who want to get promoted into management. It discusses two types of leaders: (1) expertise leaders and (2) spanning leaders. Expertise leaders are those who promote within your area of expertise, for example, sales or marketing. However the book also presents a case to suggest that we cannot expect to climb far by merely being an expertise leader. There will come a point in time we will have to take on roles that we are unfamiliar with, and we need to morph into a spanning leader. We need to be able to command respect with our subordinates who may have a higher expertise in their field. For example, a product engineer who eventually promoted into a general manager may find himself lacking in expertise in areas like finance, operations and sales etc. However by equipping ourselves with the skills of a spanning leader, we will be able to lead adequately. I find that the book gave me the added perspective of what I need to be more effective for future roles.

[Nov 19] Tim Cook: The genius who took Apply to the next level

This book is another easy read. It is based on the life of Tim Cook, who is Apple’s current CEO. He faced the tough job of trying to lead a company heavily in Steve Job’s shadows, and the book showed how he led it in his own way to greater heights. Several memorable themes within the book come to mind as I try to recall the contents. First, to be grounded in values. Second, making a difference to discrimination against gay people by standing out himself for public scrutiny despite being a rather private person. Thirdly, the application of Just in Time methodology for operations was Tim’s USP. His expertise which was learnt in Intel and honed over at other companies, proved valuable as the dots connected backwards when he was eventually hired in Apple.

[Dec 19] The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on Your Own Terms

I am still midway through this book. This is the fourth book of the book club that I am involved in. Personally, the contents acted as a refresher to things I had already known, but I think would be valuable as I craft more reflection posts specific to the topic. I am currently at the topic of movement, where the book suggests that exercising increases our personal agency. I don’t deny it, but I am rather guilty of having let myself go over the past few months. I shall need to take an active step towards regaining my agency.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

I bought this book titled “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni on Saturday. It was an extremely light book to read and I completed it within 3 hours. The book is written as a leadership fable, which means it is in a story form and easy to digest. The story follows how a new CEO observed how dysfunctional her team was and set out to change things. Naturally, at the end of the story, all was well.

But I am writing because the story seemed to reflect the way my workplace is now. Not the dysfunctional part, but the things that we do or are told to do are similar to what the CEO does to build her team. This means that my workplace had it all thought out and provided the resources and efforts required to make us less dysfunctional. So much so that if we are still dysfunctional, it would be our fault and not the organisation’s. And if you know where I work for, you would understand that there are many complaints about it. However, my opinion is that it is the people that made it this way and if we want to change the organisation, we should change from within.

The story starts off with a series of retreats being planned where they discuss personality types. In the fable, the Myers-Briggs personality model was discussed. People talk about one another’s personality and how they would like to be treated. Drawing a parallel to my workplace, we had sessions called the Command Effectiveness Programme where the boss bring us all together to chart the way ahead for the next year. In this programme, we go through a personality “test” called the Tetra Elements. Briefly speaking, the test groups us into one of the four elements and each elements have some specific personality and character. Each element have a special way of doing things and a preferred way of being approached. That the reactions you get from your colleagues are based on their personality and not what you think by standing in your own shoes.

I won’t go into detail of what the five dysfunctions are, but I will briefly talk about the few which had impacted me.

The first is “Absence of Trust”. Trust does not mean the belief that your colleague will do the things he need to do. Trust is a little less straightforward in this example, but what it means is that you do not feel comfortable enough to have constructive criticism and discussions with one another. Meetings are spent feeling bored because people keep to themselves. They do not trust each other well enough to voice out; nor do they trust each other well enough to know it will be appreciated or taken the right way.

When I first read the “Absence of Trust” chapter, I thought that it was quite an easy dysfunction and that it does not happen in the workplace. But upon further thought, this is the bedrock of how we have been conducting ourselves for the longest time. Most teams we form do not have “trust” in them. People still feel guarded and do not contribute. I reckon part of it is due to our Asian values and the other part is the structure; the rank that tells you he is your boss and hence he knows best.

As leaders we need to foster “trust”, but it is not an easy task. We need to build the culture and show that it is alright to have constructive criticism. That no criticism only leads to failure and not team success.

The next and final dysfunction that impacted me the most is “Absence of Accountability”. Without trust, we don’t criticise. We don’t exert accountability on people and make them responsible for their actions. This “Absence of Accountability” can happen because of two reasons. First, the person is someone you didn’t want to bother about. You do not feel close to the person to want to hold him accountable. You might be afraid that he will lash out and conflict will arise.

Secondly, it can happen because the person is someone who had contributed a lot but had that one little time where he didn’t perform well, but nobody held him accountable. It is difficult to criticise someone who had put their heart and soul into something. But if you do not hold him accountable for his misgivings, he might not be able to learn and overcome this weakness of his. It doesn’t matter what type of person he is; we have to hold everyone accountable. Thing is, to do it in a respectful way.

I am quite glad that I can rattle off 2 out of 5 dysfunctions easily to a certain depth. It might mean that I have slightly internalised the lessons. With the lessons on the five dysfunctions, I will try to build a team who will work for one another and bring us into greater heights.

The 10,000 hour rule

In the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, he states the 10,000 hour rule; that is, to become successful in any enterprise, you have to practise for 10,000 hours.

He cites studies of violinists and divides the people who are capable of becoming world class musicians, and the people who are good enough to become music school teachers. The difference is in the number of hours one plays.

Please forget about talent for a moment. Talent, undoubtedly, plays a part, but after you average it out, it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practise to become really good at something. For example, a saleperson has to practise his sales pitch to clients many many times before he can deliver the pitch smoothly. However it takes more practise to learn the art of the close, as well as to recognize the customers body language and do the proper pitch.

The book also gave an example on a guy called Bill Joy (if I remember correctly) and Bill Gates. Both were forunate to have he change to practise their computer programming skills so much during their university and teenage years respectively that when it is their turn to step up and program, they are more than good enough. Which is why the first guy is the founder of sun microsystems, and the other, as everyone knows, Microsoft.

Even Steve Jobs had practise assembling and designing his own computers.

I once read a quote from Bruce Lee that goes like this: I do not fear the man who practises 10,000 kicks one time each, but one kick 10,000 times.

Practise indeed makes perfect. If anyone doubts the examples because they are written, then I shall provide my own example. I obtained good results in programming aspects of my modules in NUS for just one simple reason.

I started making my own websites when i was 13. I learnt HTML, then CSS. Both are not programming, but it led me to learn PHP, and by the time I took my own programming module, I had already built a tuition website with a database of tutors. Although I did not practise 10,000 hours, it gave me a great headstart. If I had spent 10,000 hours on it, I might have been much better.

A little bit of practise goes a long way. Hence work hard and practise your trade for 10,000 hours so you will be good at it.

The 21 success secrets of self made millionaires

This book is written by Brian Tracy, a man whom I only know after watching numerous videos about him in the Advisors Alliance Internship Program that I attended in 2008. He’s a great motivational speaker, and makes much sense. He is also good at the art of selling, be it in insurance or real estate or anything that requires one to sell to another.

In this small little book that anyone can finish in about an hour or a little above the hour, he highlights 21 attributes or things for one person to start achieving the success he desires. Although this book is titled as though it is to become rich, but it actually teaches you principles of success, which would eventually lead to you being successful and perhaps being rich.

I just want to share and summarize the 21 success secrets, as well as give some input.

1) Dream big dreams
It’s something like begin with a vision in mind. With dreams, you explore every possibility and you can visualize the goal and the ending you want in mind. The question Brian Tracy asks us is “What is the one thing would you dare to dream if you knew you could not fail?” One must think that once can achieve his dreams before he will achieve it.

2) Develop a clear sense of direction
One thing mentioned was that successful people think about their goals most of the time. They think about it when they are on the mrt; they think about it whilst bathing and so on. They form concepts and ideas. The few steps involved in developing a clear sense of direction are:
-Deciding what we want exactly
-Writing down the goals
-Setting deadlines
-Making a list of everything you can think of to achieve your goal
-Organizing lists into plan of action
-Take action immediately

3) See yourself as self-employed
By doing this, you take responsibility of your life. You do not blame anyone else for your circumstance but yourself. You recognize that you are the one responsible for your own life and you can do anything to change it. Instead of waiting for things to happen, the self-employed person in you will make things happen.

4) Do what you love to do
This is about having a continuous stream of energy and excitement when you do what you love to do, and it also helps in allowing you to keep thinking of your goals and thinking about how to achieve it. What you love to do is usually where your natural strengths and abilities are to do the job and achieve the results desired.

5) Commit to excellence
Aim to be the best in whatever you do. Become extremely competent in your field. Everyone at the top 10% started being in the bottom 10%.

6) Work longer and harder
Well I guess this doesn’t seem appealing, but I guess before you eventually succeed and take some rest, one has to put in more effort than his peers to be one step ahead of them?

7) Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning
This is about developing your mind like how you’ll train for muscles. Working on it mentally instead of physically. One of the steps is to read more. Don’t read fiction I guess, read the non fiction books that teach you things that can help you in your goal. For me I’m reading investment books to get more knowledge of stocks. The alternative is to listen to the audio on the way to work, be in on the mrt or bus or in your car. But I guess you have to have the audio book in the first place. A good place to see is the library, and rip the files into mp3 if you want to use your mp3 player.

8) Pay yourself first
This is more about money. This theory has been talked about for a very long time, and it is about spending based on a budget you set, since the money you pay yourself is already untouchable. Then you’ll save more and become richer.

10) Learn every detail of your business
This is about becoming an expert in your chosen field so you can do your work better.

10) Dedicate yourself to serving others
If you have a business, ask how can you serve customers what they need? What do they really want?

11) Be absolutely honest with yourself and others
This is a lesson on integrity. Never compromise your integrity because all businesses are based on trust.

12) Determine your highest priorities and concentrate on them single-mindedly
Do I need to say more? It is the path to success when you put in effort and not have anything else distracting you.

13) Develop a reputation for speed and dependability

14) Be prepared to climb from peak to peak
Develop a long time perspective and plan many years into the future. Ignore the daily fluctuations of life. Have an uptrend over the many years. (Sounds like the stock market)

15) Practice self-discipline in all things
I guess I need not explain

16) Unlock your inborn creativity
Come up with something newer, better, faster, cheaper or easier to accomplish a result.

17) Get around the right people
The people you hang out with influences you. Someone will help you or hinder you, and that someone will be near you to influence you. If people around you are highly energetic people who take positive action, chances are you’ll be a little like that too.

18) Take excellent care of your physical health
Nothing much to say, but you can definitely have both health and success.

19) Be decisive and action oriented
Keep trying and eventually you will find the right way.

20) Never allow failure to be an option
Keep going forward and even if you fail, you continue until you get the success that you want.

21) Pass the “Persistence Test”
I guess this is to keep going on even if its tough and continue. Never give up.

These are the 21 success secrets that are not so secret after all. It is easy to say, but hard to follow.

How Starbucks Saved My Life By Michael Gates Gill

“How Starbucks Saved My Life” is a real story of Michael Gates Gill written by himself, in short, something like an autobiography in the form of a story. It’s about how Michael has gone from a huge salary in a successful advertising firm to nothing at all. At the same time, he had an affair and got divorced, and his life just seem totally screwed.

He got a way out of the whole mess when an African American came up to him when he was drinking his coffee at Starbucks, and asked him, “Would you like a job?”. Although he is a white man, Michael said “Yes” and an interview took place.

The story is about how he started off from nothing, and then becoming Starbuck’s partners (which is the better name of workers) in one of Starbucks many stores. From being a wonderful cleaner at Starbucks to challenging his fear of the cashier counter, from calling out the drinks in correct order to making the drinks himself, Michael learnt many life lessons and became a happier person, even though he isn’t earning as much compared to when he was at the advertising firm.

He learnt to overcome his fear of counting money and went from 5 dollars loss at the end of the day to a few cents of loss. He learnt some customer relations, that you never deny anyone the toilet, whether he or she is a Starbucks customer or not, or chase anyone away during closing time. Through his chats with customers when he is at the cashier counter, he made many new friends and enjoyed the daily chats as he sees them everyday and knows what coffee they want, decaf or not.

It’s a story of how he picked his life up together, and even managed to get his children to forgive him and come to see him at the store. Eventually he became a Coffee Master and he gets to brew coffee once every week and give free samples of brewed coffee to anyone walking by any Starbucks store. Coffee Masters have to be trained and they have to be able to be really good with the different versions of coffee, the taste, their histories, etc.

In short, this books tell us how Starbucks key principles and treatment to partners and customers alike are lessons we should all learn in life. I guess that is the reason why there are so many Starbucks books written about its management and policies.

This is a great book to read. Trust me. 🙂

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