Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

A Woman in Berlin

Friday, May 5th, 2017 | Books

Let it never be said that I do not listen to my wife. Elina said I should read A Woman in Berlin and I did. And I’m glad because it is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.

It reads like a novel, but it is, in fact, a real-life memoir of a woman who lived in Berlin during the Second World War. It tells the story of the Soviet invasion and the rape of an estimated two million German women.

It’s not something you hear about a lot. We did the world wars extensively in school. But most of it focuses on the fighting, or on the British side of things. This is only to be expected when you are in Britain. And we did cover All Quiet on the Western Front, which gives a German perspective of things.

Two million is a lot of rapes, though. It seems like that deserves mention. But even in Germany, it was rarely talked about, and it was only the re-publication of this book that brought it into the spotlight.

There is not a great deal of graphic detail. It is just the story of one woman getting on with life. A life that involves having your property stolen, being taken by two soldiers on the stairs, and being forced to prostitute yourself to a Soviet officer to get protection from the rest of them.

Certainly worth a read. I even based a chunk of my 2017 public speaking world championship speech on it.

Smartcuts

Thursday, May 4th, 2017 | Books

In Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking Shane Show presents his ideas for her you can shortcut your way to success by working smarter, not harder.

He starts by taking about the video game Super Mario. How did his friend turn the record time for completing the game from 30 minutes to 6? He used the tubes that the game designers put in for easier testing. Whether or not this is relevant, I’m not sure. But who doesn’t love Super Mario?

Lateral thinking plays a part. For example, Great Ormond Street wanted to reduce the number of children who were dying (not that it was loads, but ideally you want it to be none). So they brought in the Ferrari Formula One pit crew. They learnt how Ferrari work seamlessly as a team and took lessons from it.

Snow argues that being the prime mover is not that important. According to his figures, only 11% first movers stay ahead in the long term. This is because fast followers can copy what has come before and are not held back by the initial technical problems.

He also makes a case for pattern spotting. The best surfers spend a long time learning to spot the perfect wave so that when it comes, they know which one to hit. Similarly, as an entrepreneur, you need to be able to spot the best opportunities so that you can ride the wave of success without wasting time on those that will take you nowhere.

Mentoring is also important. Find someone who has the success you want, and get their advice.

It’s an interesting read, but I’m not sure I took a huge amount away from it. I normally have a lot of notes at the end of a book, and I didn’t have a huge amount from Smartcuts. But maybe I just need to re-read it to take it all in.

Do More, Worry Less published

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017 | Books, News

I’m pleased to announce the launch of Do More, Worry Less: Small Steps to Reduce Your Anxiety. As of yesterday, it is available in the Worfolk Anxiety web store, as well as via Amazon and iTunes.

Like any book, it takes a long time to put together. Arguably, this was a quick one: it’s taken me over six months, but the restaurant guide took years. However, it has been a long time in the making. The research in the book has taken years to accumulate. And there is a lot of it. 291 footnotes and citations to be exact.

The book takes you on a journey, exploring what anxiety is, why it prevents us from reaching our goals and the proven strategies and tactics to overcome these problems and hit your targets. It then explores every aspect of lifestyle: exercise, diet, sleep, relaxation, personal growth, relationships and community to find the things that improve your mental health and what to do about them.

You can find out more about the book here.

Introducing the Human Baby Cookbook

Saturday, April 1st, 2017 | Books, News

Unlock the secrets to cooking human baby with this beautifully presented new cookbook.

Been tempted to try the other other white meat, but been confused by unclear instructions, endless barbeque sauce choices and the law? Never fear: let us take you by the hand. Learn how to buy, prepare and cook a meat that is abundant, sustainable and environmentally friendly.

This no-expense-spared hardback edition contains 31 delicious recipes, each illustrated with a full-page full-colour edge-to-edge photograph.

For anyone who considers themselves a foodie, this is a must by. Nobody could possibly walk past your bookshelf without commenting!

Order your copy now for £29.99 (plus shipping).

Influence: The Science of Persuasion

Sunday, March 19th, 2017 | Books

I will admit it: I’ve been a bit prejudice. When I was recommended a book called Influence: The Science of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, I thought to myself “wow, that is a very Machiavellian-sounding name.

However, as I read the introduction to the book, I was soon corrected. Cialdini is a professor at Arizona State University. His research on influence stems from his own confusion as to how he continues to end up with magazine subscriptions, kitchen appliances and charity direct debits that he never wanted.

He is an academic, trying to make sense of a world in which compliance professionals (sales people, charity chuggers, marketers) keep hoodwinking him. Of course, a true master of the Machiavellian art would disarm me by leading to believe this. But, if so, fair play: I’m sold.

He did his homework, applying for sales jobs and following people around to see how they worked. In the book, he describes many commonplace situations that many of us have probably found ourselves in. Everyone should read this book, if only to understand what has happened to us so many times over the years.

He breaks the tactics down into a series of topics. I will discuss some of the most interesting below.

Contrast principle

Sell someone a less expensive item after selling them something big. For example, why are extras on cars so expensive? The answer is that once you have spent £20,000 on a new car, £500 for a slightly-better-looking tyre seems like small change.

Reciprocity

When we are given a gift, we feel an obligation to give back. It is wired into us. This is a tactic used relentlessly by the Hari Krishna movement. They thrust a free gift into your hand, and then ask for a donation later.

I have a copy of the Bhagavad Gita on my shelf. And yes, I gave the guy a donation after he gave it to me.

It even works when you do not want the gift. At airports, Cialdini observed the Kristina’s in operation, scooping their gifts out of the bins people had thrown them in, to re-use on the next target.

I also fell for this in Milan. Around the major squares are groups of African men who put bracelets on tourists and then ask for money. Before I knew what was happening, there was a bracelet on my risk. And yes, I did give him a euro.

Cialdini points out that the defence strategy we most often use is to steer a wide mark around such people. Why? Because it is to hard to resist our natural urge to give back.

Concession

Concession is about asking for more than you want and then backing down. Say you want to borrow £50. Ask for £100. Then, when they say no, ask for just £50. Because you have made a confession, the other person will feel like they have to make a concession also. It also makes them feel like they have set the terms.

This can often be seen in extended warranties. “Do you want the 5-year super-protect plan? No? Okay, just the 3-year basic plan then?”

Declarations

Companies love to get you to declare that you like their product? Why? Because people are driven to act in a way consistent with what they have said.

Charities do this all of the time. They will give you a free sticker or ask you to sign up for free information. Why? Because once you have expressed that you are in some way a supporter of them, when they ask you for money, you are far more likely to feel you have to.

Written commitments are the best. These were used extensively by the Chinese communists during the Korean war. They would get American prisoners of war to write essay contests and give away small prizes. Once someone wrote something positive amount communism, they would have them read the essay out. Maybe even put it on the camp radio. Step by step, American soldiers were broken down as their guards asked for more and more.

Likability

Bad times for ugly people: being attractive helps. People are more likely to help out and be more generous to attractive people. Shared interests are important too. Salespeople love to find out your hobbies so that they can pretend they do them too.

Similarity is a big key here. You identify with people similar to yourself. So, if you want to market to a certain demographic, you need to use an actor from that demographic.

Finally, compliments are also powerful. Cialdini tells the story of a car salesman who earned more than almost anyone at the entire company. What was his secret? Every month he sent a postcard to all of his previous customers with three words on the front: “I like you”.

Summary

Compliance professionals are experts at getting us to do what they want. We do this because we work on auto-response. There is too much data in the world for us to sort through all decisions and check everyone’s back stories. So we use social cues to shortcut these decisions. Salespeople know we do this and try and exploit it.

Cialdini suggests the best defence is to listen to your gut. If you feel awkward, even if you cannot describe why it may be that you have been pressured into doing something you did not want to do. If so, follow Cialdini’s example and say “I’m not taking your product: no click wurr for me!”

Amazing Malaysian

Friday, March 17th, 2017 | Books, Food

Malaysia is a cool country when it comes to culinary history. They have the Malay people, along with large minority populations of Indian and Chinese people. They also have colonial influences from the British and Portuguese. Their food is almost fusion in itself.

I also like that they do not worry too much about food being hot: it all gets served together. This is nice because serving scorching hot food is, quite frankly, a hassle. A hassle worth going to when the food calls for it, but in this case, it is fine to let rice steam for 15 minutes after cooking.

The narrator is Norman Musa. He hails from Penang, but is better known for Ning restaurant in Manchester.

Most of the recipes followed a set pattern. You would start by blitzing a mixture of ingredients: typically chilli, garlic, cinnamon, star anise and onion (or not, in my case) then mixing it with some ground cinnamon and a pandan leaf, before frying it and adding some meat.

It turns out that you can get pandan leaf in Leeds. Many of the other rare ingredients we were unable to procure. Musa also uses dried chilis in most of his recipes. We managed to pick up a bag of a few hundred at the international supermarket.

Fish pate. I have no idea if I was doing this correctly.

Indian lentil patties.

Spicy baked haddock.

Beef with pineapple.

Beef with tomatoes.

Aromatic chicken curry.

Beef with rice.

Logotype

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017 | Books

Logotype is a book by Michael Evamy. Here is the description:

Logotype is the definitive modern collection of logotypes, monograms and other text-based corporate marks. Featuring more than 1,300 international typographic identities, by around 250 design studios, this is an indispensable handbook for every design studio, providing a valuable resource to draw on in branding and corporate identity projects.

It is literally just that. A big book of logos. There is nothing else in here. No real commentary on logos or review of what works well and why it works. Just lots of logos.

It comes in a regular and mini size. The regular seemed to be out of stock. The mini size does have incredibly tiny print. However, as someone with average eyesight, I was able to read it fine by moving my face closer to the page. If your eyesight isn’t so good, you will struggle.

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.

Summary

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.