How I Read Business Books

Plowing through piles of business books is a valuable way to read them. Most books on business follow a similar structure, and they typically only present one new Big Idea.  Here’s how I review them.

But also a shout-out to this great approach by Tom Searcy.  He uses a pre-created template with room for Title, rating, key 3 points, and quotes.

Because the public library is a good source for books, and most books are only worth a single read, I make a point not to highlight or otherwise mark up what I read.  Instead, I have a pen and paper handy to jot chapter and section titles, noteworthy quotes, ideas, and applications to my own business problems.

This takes a little bit of extra time, and slows reading down.  But it slows reading exactly where it should be slower– at the points in the book that are relevant, interesting, and noteworthy.  The chapter and section titles are to create an outline for a quick review later.  One could argue that writing down chapter names for less relevant chapters isn’t a good use of time, but I’d counter that reading a book which doesn’t even have chapter titles worth noting is not a book worth reading at all, and I’ve aborted a handful of lackluster titles by considering this standard.

Finally I’ll recapitulate my written notes into a blog entry with overall thoughts, a rating, a Big Idea restatement, and notable quotes.

Review: Singletasking

The successful man is the average man, focused.

—ANONYMOUS

You would not believe how difficult it is to be simple and clear. People are afraid that they may be seen as a simpleton. In reality, just the opposite is true.

—JACK WELCH

Dr. Earl Miller at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “You cannot focus on one [task] while doing [an]other. That’s because of what’s called interference between the two tasks.… People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves. The brain is very good at deluding itself.

Chapter 2

Singletasking is characterized by high energy and sharp focus … yielding exceptional results and respect.

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand.

The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.

—ALEXANDER GRAHAM BELL

Part II

Focus and simplicity. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean, to make it simple. It is worth it because then you can move mountains.

—STEVE JOBS

…the fact that we are hesitant to be alone with our thoughts.

The prefrontal cortex shrinks from the stress of constant overload. The amygdala takes over, flooding the brain with negative emotions such as fear, aggression, and anxiety. As gray matter shrinks, we become cognitively impaired.2

Lewis Cass: “People may doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do.”

When I conduct 360-degree feedback assessments, one of the most shocking and common results for executives is that they are perceived as untrustworthy. This does not mean they are unethical. It usually indicates the leaders don’t prioritize their staffs’ needs.

Receiving undivided attention for five minutes seems universally preferable to being held hostage in someone else’s hectic office for forty-five minutes, while scores of other tasks take precedence over the meeting itself.

One technique that may help you to integrate Dr. Kross’s advice is to use third-person pronouns or your own name when writing, thinking, or speaking about challenges you face. Practicing self-reflection to work through life’s challenges is one of the most beneficial applications of singletasking.

Always do one thing less than you think you can do.

—BERNARD MANNES BARUCH

Review: Winning

Winning Book Cover Winning
Jack Welch

“When you are a leader, your job is to have all the questions.”

Rule 1 Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach, and build self-confidence

Rule 2 Leaders make sure people not only see the vision, they live and breathe it.

Rule 3 Leaders get into everyone’s skin, exuding positive energy and optimism

Rule 4 Leaders establish trust with candor, transparency, and credit

Rule 5 Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls.

Rule 6 Leaders probe and push  with a curiosity that borders on skepticism, making sure their questions are answered with action.

Rule 7 Leaders inspire risk taking and learning by setting the example.

Rule 8 Leaders celebrate

It turns out there’s a lot in common between books by successful sports coaches on how they achieved what they did and books by business professionals who’ve reached the upper echelon.

The first is that to get someone to read your book, you have to have objective accomplishments that your prospective reader can understand.  You might read a book on the Jamaican bobsled team, for example, but it would be because you expect the story to curious and entertaining, not because the Jamaican bobsled team won a gold medal and made you wonder how you could do it as well.  That would be true even if the skills they acquired were actually greater than those of a team who had the advantages of, say, snow.  Similarly,  a book written by Steve Jobs after NeXT computer ceased being a company wouldn’t be read for insight on how to be Steve Jobs, even if Steve Jobs turned out to be, say, Steve Jobs.

The second similarity is that the skills required to succeed at sports or business are definitely not the same set of skills needed for teaching nor writing books.

The most significant similarity is that there is not a long list of prescriptive instruction for success.  It’s neither clear that the decades that sports coaches and entrepreneurs can be conveyed with a sit of prescriptive tasks, nor even that the writers are fully aware of the steps they took to success.  Is “Neutron Jack” Welch who he is because he invented a reproducible formula for management?  Or is his good fortune in having experiences that honed him to be the head of GE?  Is it the respect and intimidation others feel around him as a result of his personality?  His inherent skill in understanding and directing people?  His innate understanding of the nature of business?

Ultimately, there’s only so good an autobiographical business book can be.  We can gather insights into the thinking and behaviors of someone successful, but we can’t know whether their own understanding of the origin of success can be conveyed in even the slightest way through a book.

But on the other hand, there’s only so bad such a book can be either.  Getting any insight from someone who’s had extraordinary success, including their own view, and even their indulgences is worth the time it takes to read on of their books.

Review: Using Microsoft Project 2010

Sometimes a book is limited by its subject.  I was hoping for evidence that Microsoft Project can be used in a modern software environment to save time and make things easier.  Instead, I got something better.  This book, in its careful and politically correct detail, convinced me that Project is less useful for software, but could be of utility to users managing bridge building or other huge projects.

In short, the overhead of a tool like Project is enough that it’s not worth the time unless project management is your full time job, and even better if you’re not the only person managing projects.

Upgrading to Apache 2.4 with Macports

The 2.4 branch of Apache has been available since February 12, but not available at Macports, which still defaults to versions 2.2.  Apache can be installed using the apache24 port, but connecting it to php55 calls in Apache 2.2, which isn’t what you’re after.

This can be fixed with a port patch, as the problem is merely one of dependencies, not actual compatibility.  This patch  from the Macports bug list adds a new port php55-apache24handler, which is the code between PHP55 and the Apache 2.4 daemon, as the name suggests.

What isn’t necessarily clear I’ve explained here:

1. Where are portfiles?

They’re in /opt/local/var/macports/sources/rsync.macports.org/release/tarballs/ports

where “/opt/local” is the default installation directory for Macports, which will be different only if you’ve installed it to a different place.

2.  What are these portfiles?

Within the …/release/tarballs/ports directory are about 45 subfolders indicating the categories of ports.  Inside those folders are subfolders to find specific ports, although the categorization is not always what you would think.  For example, there’s a ‘lang/php’ as well as a ‘php’.

A portfile is always named Portfile.

3.  What is a subport?

This isn’t actually documented in the user documentation, but a “subport” is a port provided by a portfile with an extension name after a hyphen.  php55-apache2handler provides the subport apache2handler.

4.  Why I can’t find I find the php55 Portfile?

A single Portfile can and often does provide multiple ports, as well as one or more subports.  In this case, ‘php/Portfile’ provides a whole mess of ports, including the whole php series and many of its subports.  You can see this in the Portfile with references to “subports” in the Portfile, as well as the “PortGroup” instructions near the top, which include other port files.

5.  Why doesn’t altering the Portfile Seem to do Anything?

The entire system is cached with an index system.  cd to the “top level” of the ports tree at:

/opt/local/var/macports/sources/rsync.macports.org/release/tarballs/ports

> portindex

will regenerate the PortIndex and PortIndex.quick files you see there, and allow your port system to see any changes you’ve made.

6. What happened to mod_wsgi?

The mod_wsgi for interfacing to Python, should you want to do that, is still tied to Apache 2.2 in MacPorts.

 

The release schedule for 2.4 (thanks, Apachehaus.com!) is:

2.4.10 : July 19, 2014
2.4.9 : March 16, 2014
2.4.8 : Not Released
2.4.7 : Released November 25, 2013
2.4.6 : Released July 22, 2013
2.4.5 : Not released
2.4.4 : Released Feb 25, 2013
2.4.3 : Released Aug 18, 2012
2.4.2 : Released April 17, 2012
2.4.1 : Released February 17, 2012

Apache’s guide to doing the upgrade is here:

http://httpd.apache.org/docs/2.4/upgrading.html