Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Humble Inquiry

Sunday, February 19th, 2017 | Books

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling is a book by Edgar Schein. It is a relatively short book and the title gives most of it away: we need to do more asking and do less telling.

Making this change is tough. We live in a culture that celebrates task accomplishment, It is a world where the boss tells and the worker does not. Often, the subordinate will be too fearful to be honest with their superior. This is even true in emergency situations. Fatal mistakes during surgery, for example, or airline crashes can often be traced back to this.

I want you to be completely honest with me. Even if it costs you your job.

As a leader, it is your job to establish an atmosphere where people can speak up. You need to understand the cultural and generation differences regarding the risk of humiliation. People will try to avoid humiliating you at all costs. This is fine most of the time, but not when you are about to give the wrong medication or make a terminal mistake in business.

The best way to achieve this is to create a personal relationship. Professionalism will not win out: it would be unprofessional to embarrass your boss. Instead, you need to build a relationship where subordinates feel they can overcome these barriers. And, as the boss, it is up to you to set how much personal disclosure is appropriate.

The Lean Startup

Saturday, February 18th, 2017 | Books

The Lean Startup is a book by Eric Reis. In it, he discusses the concept of running a business using principles translated from lean manufacturing. He argues that the true purpose of a startup is to find a way to make a profitable business in the shortest amount of time and that any company of any size can implement these principles.

Reis argues that one of the most important things is to get a product in front of the customer. We often shy away from this because we do not want to tarnish our reputation or have people think we build rubbish products and put them off in the future. However, there is something far worse than having a bad product: building something that nobody wants.

Pouring time into a product customers do not want is a massive waste of time. Then, because you have invested that time, you will be reluctant to let it go, even though it is a dead-end from a business perspective. Instead, using a minimal viable product (MVP) to attract early adopters and then using those adopters to find out what you should build avoids all of this heartache. You can start with a concierge service. Solve a problem for just one customer and do it perfectly. The time for automated support systems is later.

Critically, you need to gather this data through revealed preferences. Asking people what they want is a bad idea: they do not know and cannot articulate it when they do. Instead, you need actionable metrics: what are people doing?

The way to get actionable metrics is to plan them in. Whenever you want to add a new feature, ask yourself how you will test whether it is an improvement. Propose an experiment, put a system of measurement in place, roll out the feature and see what happens. If to does not make things better, scrap the feature.

As the data comes in, you will have to decide whether to pivot or persevere. There are several different types if pivots:

  • Zoom-in: focus on a specific area of the product
  • Customer segment: focus on a different type of customer
  • Customer need: keep the customer but change the problem you are solving
  • Business model: B2B, B2C, margin levels, etc
  • Value & growth: what is the monetisation method? What is the growth engine?

The key to much of this is to break things down into single piece flow. Much of our manufacturing is based on batch production. We reduced costs by standardising everything and making it in huge quantities. However, this has disadvantages: things cannot adapt or be individualised.

Batch is not the always the most efficient process, either. Take the example Ries gives: folding stuffing and writing the address for 100 letters. Should you batch each stage, or use single piece flow to fold, then stuff, then write out each letter before moving on to the next one?

Experimentation gives us the answer: single piece flow is faster. Batch seems the most efficient choice. However, this it is counterintuitive. Our mind does not factor in all of the time we spend moving piles around. Even in the best case scenario, batch processing is slower. And it can get much worse: if you fold the letters to find the envelopes are too small, you face disaster.

Lean startup methodology attempts to move the process back to single piece flow: each feature is isolated, testable and developed in its entirety before moving on to the next one. Reducing the amount of work-in-progress may feel less productive when you are stuck on a few slow-moving tickets, but is more efficient for the organisation overall (and the goal of producing a viable business).

Team efficiency is what is important here. For developers, it can often feel like you are constantly being interrupted by meetings. Which is true. However, your productivity is not what is important. The key metric is “is the team producing features that customers want”, not how much code you write.

When things do go wrong, the “five whys” method can help. It is simple: just ask why five times. For example:

  • Why did the website go down? Because we introduced faulty code.
  • Why did we introduce faulty code? Because the CI layer did not pick up on it.
  • Why did the CI layer not pick up on it? Because the CI layer is not working, so we are manually running the tests.
  • Why is the CI layer not working? Because Dev Ops have not been able to fix it.
  • Why have Dev Ops not been able to fix it? Because they have not had the proper training.

This gets us to the root of the problem. It seems like a coding problem. To an extent, it is. However, bad code is always going to get written at some point because developers are human. The five whys method also exposes problems with the pipeline and lack of training within the organisation.


The Lean Startup is essential reading for anyone who wants to make their business more efficient. Successful businesses build things that customers want. The lean startup methodology attempts to uncover that and bring it to market as fast as possible. Everything else is a waste.

Tapas Revolution

Friday, January 27th, 2017 | Books, Food

Tapas Revolution is a cookbook by Omar Allibhoy. Omar hails from Spain and previously worked at elBulli, which, between 2006 and 2009, was voted the best restaurant in the world four times running. Now he runs a chain of UK-based restaurants by the same name as his cookbook.

Tapas is usually associated with small dishes. However, most of the recipes Omar includes are big meals. Typically, the dishes involve frying a lot of garlic, throwing in some chorizo, and then maybe adding a few more ingredients. We are pretty sure we set a new chorizo-eating record somewhere towards the end of tapas month.

Some of the recipes were a bit lacking on the instructions. A bit of filling in the blanks, and adjusting the quantities to something more sensible. Other dishes were beautifully simple to implement. My favourite recipe in the book is the still lemonade.

Prawns with chorizo, black pudding and fried bread.

Clams with ham.

Chicken paella. I only put half the amount of water in that the recipe indicated. Even then, I was incredulous. “This is never going to work”. But it did; it all came together at the very end.

Creme caramel. The instructions for making the caramel are very unclear, but it turned out edible.

Blackberry cheesecake.

It was a fun book. Most of the recipes were quick to cook. Those that were not, could be left unattended while you did something else. Some of the instructions were frustrating, but there are definitely recipes in here that I will be going back to. If nothing else, it provides simple recipes to cook things like prawns and chorizo in a tasty and uncomplicated way.


Thursday, January 26th, 2017 | Books

Ca$hvertising: How to Use More than 100 Secrets of Ad-agency Psychology to Make Big Money Selling Anything to Anyone is a book on marketing by Drew Eric Whitman.

In the book, Whitman has essentially boiled down the rules from the great marketing writers, the big ad agencies, and his own experience into a set of simple-to-follow rules. There are constant quotes and references to names such as Hopkins, Ogilvy and Cialdini.

Be begins with a short introduction to psychology, goes on to state the basic principles of marketing and then systematically goes through the rules he has laid down. It is accessible, implementable and fun to read.

Ego Is the Enemy

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 | Books

Ego Is the Enemy is a book by Ryan Holiday. It made for rather uncomfortable reading for me, which means it was important. I wish I had read this book for ten years ago.

Holiday discusses the role that ego has played in important historical figures, the people around him, and in his personal life. The effect is almost always negative. Ego is a destructive force and one of the biggest factors in whether you are successful in your life is whether you can keep it under your control or not.

Even those who seem to use ego, are ultimately laid low by it. Steve Jobs, who many regard as an egomaniac, really did his best work when not driven by his ego. His ego led to him being fired by Apple the first time around. It was only when he put it aside and started working again from the ground up that he built something amazing.

He holds Howard Hughes up as the ultimate cautionary tale of ego getting the better of you. We do not see most of the people who fail because they disappear without a trace. However, Hughes inherited so much money that he could just keep going in his folly. He built the Spruce Goose, it flew once, and then he stored it in a warehouse at a cost of $1,000,000 per year. For 15 years. A period that only ended with Hughes’s death.

You can be successful and have an out-of-control ego. But this is the exception. Take Kayne West for example. He is one of the greatest rappers of all time. But, after all of that, he is in huge personal debt because he keeps trying to launch a fashion label; something he knows nothing about.

Contrast this to those who shun the limelight (as much as you can when you are successful). Angela Merkel in her third term as the Chancellor of Germany. Bill Belichick, who has taken the Patriots to the Super Bowl six times, and won four of them.

Success is built upon:

  • Staying humble
  • Getting out of your own head, and not wasting time thinking how great you are
  • Being willing to put in the work
  • Always learning, and knowing that there is more to learn

It also gave me a new favourite quote, from John Archibald Wheeler.

As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.

When I look back at my own life, ego has been a destructive force. Looking back, I can see plenty of incidents, especially in my charity work, that were clearly driven by ego. More often than not, these situations played out badly for me.

It also matches up with what Dacher Keltner writes in The Power Paradox. When are are successful, the success quickly rises to our heads. We become the authors of our down downfall, because are unable to keep our ego in check.

This book is an essential read and one that I will be coming back to again and again.

Choose Yourself

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017 | Books

Choose Yourself: Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream is a book by James Altucher. In it, he advocates that working in a corporate environment, or indeed working for anyone but yourself, does not work in the Choose Yourself era.

I had not read anything of his before and his style quite different to most writers. It is manic. It reads like he wrote it while on cocaine. He rants about how the system is broken, university is pointless, buying a home is a bad idea and we are all going to be replaced by robots. Some might find it engaging, though personally, I found it a little inaccessible.

Once you get around the style, the underlying content is interesting. It clicks with a lot of the things I have been reading recently. There is stuff in here about self-care, thinking positively and making changes. It seems sensible. He thinks gluten-free is a scam, for example. He talks about oxytocin too, though does not cite any sources.

He gave a talk about this at TEDx.

Here are the top takeaways from the book:

  • Brainstorm 10 ideas per day: the more you brainstorm, the more your ideas muscle will be will be built-up
  • We can choose ourselves: we do not need a book publisher to say yes to us anymore, we can self-publish (same for anything: YouTube has replaced music labels, eBay has replaced chain store buyers)
  • Honest makes you more money: eventually, Bernie Madoff got caught, and it turns out there was no money

Why Restaurants Fail released today

Monday, January 23rd, 2017 | Books, News

My new book, Why Restaurants Fail – And What To Do About It, is now available. Here is the blurb:

Why do most restaurants close within three years? What secrets do the successful chains know, that the independent eateries do not?

The answer has almost nothing to do with how good the food is. In this book you will:

  • Learn the big 10 predictable and avoidable mistakes restaurateurs make
  • Discover the real reasons consumers choose one restaurant over another
  • Find proven strategies for increasing diner satisfaction, and revenue

For restaurant owners and managers, this could be the most important investment you make all year. For everyone else, it will be a fun read.

You will not get bored. At 52 pages, including the appendix and glossary, this books contains only good stuff; no filler. You will love this book. If not, use your retailer’s return policy to obtain a full refund.

It started appearing in stores late yesterday, and should be out everywhere by the end of today. It is available in paperback from Amazon and in eBook format from Amazon and Apple iBooks.

How to Exit Vim released

Sunday, January 15th, 2017 | Books, News

Today is the day: How to Exit Vim is now available to buy.

Vim is a command-line text editor in Linux. It is notoriously difficult to get out of it once you have gone in. So, I have written a book about how to do it. It does not cover anything else: the only stuff in there is about how to quit Vim. It has 19 chapters.

Granted, the chapters are not very long. I have broken down each scenario and the correct command to use for each. That means it has nearly as many chapters as it does pages. But who really wants to trawl through 400 pages? When you are stuck in Vim, you want an answer and you want it fast. This book gives you exactly what you need; no fluff.

This is the blurb:

This book does not cover anything except how to exit Vim. It has 19 chapters.

Have you ever found yourself trapped in the command-line text editor Vim? If so, this book could save you from tearing your hair out. It breaks down each situation you may find yourself in, and the correct exit command to get you to safety.

Without it, you may find yourself losing work, overwriting critical data, getting lost in a sea of tabs, or worst of all, looking stupid in front of the stern-looking system administrator standing behind you.

With it, people will think you are a wizard. Finally, a way to unlock the mysteries of quitting Vim without leaving a trail of destruction behind you.

Sounds awesome, right? But it gets better. Because the best part about it is the value: I’ve priced it really low. It’s £2.99. When people give away books for free, they charge $7 shipping. This is half the price of a free book.

Look, I am not saying that if you know all of these Vim commands, more women will have sex for you. Even though, most of us who work in IT suspect that is true. That may not interest you. You may, for example, be a straight woman. In which case, I am not saying that knowing all these commands will get you a job as a Google engineer. But…

Finally, one last point from me. Take a look at the cover:

That is a cover that says “this book is amazing”. Why? Because the cover is so basic. It is called sated strength. Other books, inferior books, come up with hugely flashy covers because they know that is the only way they are going to sell. A cover like this says “wow, this book is good it does not even need a professionally designed cover”.

It is available now from Amazon and iBooks.

The maze is solvable, by the way. Here is a bonus activity: if you take it into Paint, draw the correct route through it, and send it to me within the next week, I will send you a copy of the book completely free.

Scientific Advertising

Thursday, January 12th, 2017 | Books

Scientific Advertising is an incredible book. Why? Because it is the online marketing bible. Everyone in online marketing is talking about it. This in itself would be a pretty impressive feat for a book. But it gets even more incredible: it was written in 1923.

How is this possible? How does the entire global e-commerce industry run on a book written before computers even existed?

The answer is that technology may change, but human psychology does not. The author, Claude C Hopkins, was writing about how to sell products by direct mail. In the book, he lays down a series of principles that had been proven to work. You could replicate them, and it turns out you can replicate the same strategies in the online age as well.

Here is what David Ogilvy said about it:

“Nobody, at any level, should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.”

Best of all, it is now available free to download. For anyone looking to sell anything, this is a must-read.

The Power Paradox

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017 | Books

The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence is a 2016 book by Dacher Keltner. In it, Keltner redefines the definition of power. Many of us may consider power to be something that the strong take by force, or using machiavellian methods. Keltner says this view is entirely incorrect: power is something that is given to us by the group because we forward the group’s interests.

This makes sense as a natural selection factor. Groups would want to reward those individuals who put the group’s needs before their own. They do this by bestowing power on that individual in the hope that they will continue to do so, and be able to bring greater gains.

Unfortunately, there is a danger. John Dalberg-Acton was correct when he said…

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely

Gaining power causes us to forget about putting the group first. It causes us to forget about the reason we were given power in the first place. And what is given, can be taken away. Time after time, people come crashing down because they forgot why they were afforded such status in society.

Keltner also discusses the negative effects of not having power. For example, minority communities that face discrimination and are not given an equal standing in society. Even adjusting for all of the disadvantages they may encounter, merely the fact of being powerless reduces their life expectancy by a measurable amount.

The lesson is clear: stay focused on other people. Not only will you improve their lives, but it is in your best interest as well.