Category Archives: reading

Process: Reading nonfiction books

Process - Reading nonfiction books

Here I resolve to use book darts more often, to review my notes more deliberately, and to try sketchnoting ideas instead of being intimidated by the task of summarizing an entire book on a single page. I’m happy with the ones I did, but they’re hard to do because they require a much closer reading! <laugh>

I like drawing about how I do things. It’s more fun than describing the process with text, and I can annotate it with opportunities for improvement.

Visual book review: Enough, by Patrick Rhone

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enough is a collection of essays by Patrick Rhone on the idea of having enough. He compares it to the dynamic process of balancing on a tightrope, where you have to find your own centre of balance and you’ll always need some kind of help – stretching your arms, using a bar or an umbrella, and so on. In addition to reflections on minimalism and limiting life to make it comprehensible, he includes thoughts on technology, tools, behavioural change, and other life tips.

There are many books in this field, from John C. Bogle’s book with the same main title (Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, affiliate link), to Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life, affiliate link). Patrick Rhone’s book isn’t particularly packed with mind-boggling or life-changing insights, but it might still be an enjoyable read for a quiet, reflective afternoon, particularly if you also have a technology-related background or find yourself occasionally tempted down the path of more apps! more tools! more gadgets! (Not that I know anyone like that, no….)

enough
Patrick Rhone, 2012
Kindle e-book

See other visual book notes!

Visual book review: Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument

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I first read this book in October 2010 while scrambling to learn as much as I could about communication and rhetoric in preparation for marriage. Since then, there have been zero household arguments, which is not a bad thing. Fortunately, the Internet, newspapers, and books provide a steady stream of logical fallacies that let me exercise the skills I picked up from this book.

The insight that stuck with me from this book was that you should repair holes in your opponents’ arguments—argue their case more strongly than they did—before demolishing the strengthened arguments. People rarely do this, but I’ve seen a couple of good examples on the political/feminist blogs I read.

It reminds me of what we need to do in order to help people deal with their concerns to new ideas or technologies. It’s not enough to fight against straw-man arguments. You may need to be more concerned about people’s concerns than they are, before you can help them find a way forward.

Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument
Michael Boylan (Westview Press: 2009) – ISBN 978-0813344522

See other visual book notes!

Visual book notes: How to Read a Book

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(Click on the image for a larger version of the notes.)

Whenever I want to pick up more tips on how to read better, I turn to How to Read a Book. This is not some speed-reading manual that overpromises and underdelivers. It’s a thoughtful, practical guide to getting the most out of your reading: picking the right speed for a book, taking better notes, building a topical index of books and their relationships with each other… (Still working on that!) The book has plenty of tips for reading specific subjects, and even includes exercises to help you improve your skills.

If you already enjoy reading books, this is probably going to be a fantastic book for you. If you’re working on getting more books into your life, this might have some tips that will help you read more strategically.

How to Read a Book
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren
New York: Simon & Schuster 1972 Rev. ed.
ISBN: 0-671-21209-5

Visual book notes: 6 Secrets to Startup Success

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(Click on the image to see a larger version, which could be good for reading my teeny-tiny handwriting. If you need a text version instead of an image, leave a comment or e-mail me at [email protected].)

You know how I was looking for books about people-centered entrepreneurship? Checking the Amazon list of books on new enterprises led me to 6 Secrets for Startup Success by John Bradberry. Its main point is that entrepreneurs tend to fall in love with their ideas and end up ignoring reality. Bradberry points out six common failures associated with being too attached to your idea, and suggests ways to avoid those pitfalls. One of those ways is to focus on people instead of on your product or service idea. This is more of an overview book than a step-by-step guide with concrete tactics, but it’s a good wake-up call if you’re starting to get lost in your own dreams.

In addition to the chapter about focusing on people, I particularly liked the chapter on figuring out your math story. Bradberry points out that companies go through different stages and that your core question is different in each stage. In the first stage, the question is: “Do we have a concept that anyone (other than us) cares about?” After you successfully answer that question through prototypes and experiments, you can move on to the question, “Can we actually make money at this? How?” Validating your business model lets you move on to the next question, “Is this business scalable? How can we create significant value over time?” Many businesses struggle because they get all wrapped up in the third question before they’ve answered the first. It’s a good idea to keep those considerations in mind, of course, but it’s important to pay attention to the steps that will get you to that point instead of jumping ahead and pretending you’re a huge company.

What I’m learning from this book: Yes, it seems to make sense to focus on people and let them teach you what they want. (The Lean Startup makes this point as well.) There’s room in the world for wildly visionary companies, but it’s perfectly okay (and much less risky) to start by creating something people already want.

Whom this book is great for: Worried that you’re getting too wrapped up in your entrepreneurial vision? This book might help as a reality check. If you like answering questionnaires as a way of learning more about yourself, you’ll also want to check out the appendix, which has a long self-assessment for founder readiness.

You may also be interested in The Lean Startup (Eric Ries, 2011; see my visual book notes), which has lots of good ideas for testing your business and iterating your way towards success. The Lean Startup book will help translate the chapters on the pull of the market and startup agility into concrete terms.

6 Secrets to Startup Success: How to Turn Your Entrepreneurial Passion into a Thriving Business
John Bradberry
2011, AMACOM
ISBN: 978-0814416068

Buy this book: Amazon.com (Hardcover, Kindle), Amazon.ca
If you buy stuff through the links above, I get a small commission, yay! Commission-free links: Google Books, Toronto Public Library

Visual book notes: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

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Please feel free to share this! (Creative Commons Attribution Licence)

Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup book is popular, and for good reason. Ries shows people how to make the most of the Build-Measure-Learn loop whether they’re starting a snazzy technology company or creating an intrapreneurial venture within a corporation. Many people get hung up on the idea of launching with a big bang, but if you take this Lean Startup approach, you might learn a lot more by talking to actual customers and by experimenting with with your business. I particularly like the reminder to simulate technology with people first, as it can be tempting to procrastinate getting market feedback because your technology isn’t built yet. Do it by hand. Do it for one person at a time, if needed. There’s plenty to learn, and you don’t have to let development cycles slow you down.

Ries also emphasizes the importance of pivoting, which is what you do when you realize that your original business idea was off the mark. Pivoting is about listening to customers and growing into the business they want you to be, while taking advantage of the things you’ve learned in the past and the assets you’ve already built. Sometimes you should persevere instead of getting distracted by one or two stray opinions, but other times, you should listen to what people (and your experiments!) tell you.

Another key point in this book is that of accelerating this feedback loop. Get faster at building, measuring, and learning from the results. Orient your organization towards it. Practise relentless improvement until your build-measure-learn loop is fast and smooth. Then your company will be an incredible engine for learning!

Whom this book is great for: Starting a company? Read this book. You’ll get lots of tips from it, and you could save lots of time, money, and frustration along the way.

Interested in making things happen even within a large company? You might be able to use the build-measure-learn loop to make your day job even better, or to create scalable value outside your typical job responsibilities.

What I’m learning from this book: I’m using the concierge approach to help people with Quantified Awesome, because it’s fun building something that’s tailored to the way people work and what people want to measure. My goal is to get to the point where people are happy to pay $1-5 a month for tools to help them ask and answer questions about their life using data. I’m also going to work on using the build-measure-learn approach for entrepreneurship (a meta-experiment!), and using the minimum-viable-product approach to writing a book using LeanPub. Someday I might even use split-tests – or better yet, help businesses use them to set up experiments!

The Lean Startup
Eric Ries (2011: Crown Business)
ISBN: 978-0307887894
Buy this book: Amazon.com (Hardcover, Kindle) Amazon.ca
If you buy stuff through the links above, I get a small commission, yay! I’d tell you it’s a good book even without the commission, so here are some other links: Google Books, Toronto Public Library (book, e-book)

What do you think of this format? Do you want more detail? Less detail? More drawings? More hand-writing? More stick figures? What other books would you like me to visually summarize? I’m near one of the world’s biggest library systems, and I love learning from and sharing good books.