Books I read in 2020

I realised that I have left this blog empty for the entire year of 2020. There’s no one to blame but myself for choosing to prioritise other activities over populating this blog. I console myself by giving me a pat on the back as I prioritised fruitful activities in 2020.

In the year 2020 I chose to re-skill myself in the cyber-security domain. I thought cyber-security is a growing industry, and it’s importance was further made evident during the months where Covid-19 disrupted how everyone lives and works. Covid-19, as the key impetus for digital transformation in many industries, showed how useful tech is. With more use cases, there are also more potential for abuse and hence the need for cybersecurity.

I read a total of 9 books (as far as I can trace back), of which four (or five?) are cyber-security related books. The one that straddles between cyber and non-cyber is on “Mastering Go”, for me to pick up the syntax of programming in Go Lang. A very interesting read, although I have yet to do any programming in Go. On the other hand, despite no books clocked for Python, I began programming in Python to automate tasks for productivity. I had read websites for Python instead.

I also learnt to stop books when I didn’t feel like continuing, instead of pushing through half-heartedly. Two books fall into this category: (1) The Power of Agency and (2) Why are we yelling – the art of productive disagreement. This doesn’t mean the books are not a good read or are useless. I find that some authoring styles do not fit well for me to learn and understand, and let’s face it, some books have content we probably have been exposed to through other books we read previously. Hence there isn’t much reason for us to continue books if we don’t find any additional value.

One of the books I read which was rather interesting was on “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. I recall how it introduced a concept that seems to suggest that the pursuit of positivity is an inherently negative journey, while the acceptance that life has negativity is positively liberating. I also find myself questioning whether I should be bothered about some events in my life, and it serves as a periodic reminder to re-think. re-evaluate and drop f*cks given. Life is too hectic to give a f*ck about everything; there are people who deserve that time and attention instead. Family for example. I recommended the book to a friend who reads widely, and I would recommend this to anyone who wants to find a book to read. It is an easy read, and won’t take too much of your time.

The final book I read in 2020, and concluded on 2 Jan 2021, was “Bitcoin Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich. Originally I had expected the book to go deeper into Bitcoin, but the book reads like an account of what has occurred that lead two individuals to put millions into Bitcoin and that led to them becoming Billionaires. I fast-tracked through many parts of the book as I wasn’t interested in the details of what happened in their lives, but it was an easy enough read for me to find the main points. I grew interested in Bitcoin because a fellow colleague who knew more spoke to me about it. In the past, I thought Bitcoin was a fad and probably a bubble. I knew I didn’t know enough, so I did not go into it. The mistake I made was not learning even after knowing I did not know enough. Hence I am catching up on my knowledge in crypto-currency.

Moving forward, there are a few books which I thought I wanted to read in 2021. I thought I could perhaps list them here, and see how many I eventually clocked in 2021.

  1. Cryptoassets: The Innovative Investor’s Guide to Bitcoin and Beyond by Chris Burniske
  2. Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies by Andreas M. Antonopoulos
  3. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  4. When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  5. The Code of an Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani
  6. Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christians
  7. Mastery by George Leonard
  8. Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink
  9. Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

(1) and (2) were recommended by a colleague, and I see it as an extension of my Bitcoin education.

(3) to (9) were recommended in various Medium articles. Over the years my reading list has changed. Initially I started on numerous productivity books, then management books. Couple of years ago I read some Data Analytics, but still focusing on books that teach me soft skills for work (management AND productivity). In 2020, I focused on books that give me knowledge for hard skills. In 2021, I thought I would read widely and expose myself to different topics instead. That is why I thought of adding (3) and (9) to the list.

The list is not all on my reading list though. However I thought that I shouldn’t be too ambitious, and try for a more achievable nine instead.

This isn’t a New Year’s resolution. Those never ever worked for me. I think I should keep reading simple, and it is more fun that way. Fun also means I will be more likely to achieve it.

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.