What I learned from reading three personal finance books

In cramming three personal finance books into my brain one after the other, I have learned that the secret to wealth is to consistently spend less than you earn and invest the rest in an index fund.  

Other tips:

  • Balance your portfolio by buying more of what’s doing worse (cheap) and less of what’s doing better (expensive)—it will balance out eventually

  • Stick to the budget of abundance: spend on what makes you happy, save on what doesn’t matter to you

  • Always invest part of your raise, and your whole bonus

  • Always have an emergency fund

  • Don’t trust financial advisors or real estate agents

The books I read:

I will teach you to be rich by Ramit Sethi

Why didn't they teach me this in school? by Cary Siegel

You're so money by Farnoosh Torabi

My Review: Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller

In a culture that scorns dependence and exalts self-reliance, Levine and Heller make the argument for the Dependency Paradox—that the more effectively dependent people are on one another in their inner circle, the more independent and daring they become in the greater world. Or the opposite of Kanye’s central thesis in The Life of Pablo.

The basic premise of Attached is to challenge present-day thinking that dependence is weak and that mastering and controlling our emotions is strong. Not only is effective dependency healthy, but in a secure union, it actually makes the dependents more individually effective than they otherwise would have been on their own.

The book then covers the three most common attachment types—avoidant, anxious and secure—and how to form a secure union among people with different attachment types (hint: secure is best). Basic overview is that secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are warm and loving, anxious people crave intimacy and are preoccupied with their relationships, and avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.

Best quote: People are only as needy as their unmet needs.

Telling the story as a UX Designer: The journey map

The journey map is the story the UX designer tells about the user in the context of the website, application or product. It’s how we distinguish user mindsets, identify gaps in the experience, and define opportunities for improvement. Ultimately, it’s how we create an application or website that users identify with.

To build a journey map, we first have to review the goals of the organization and define the goal of the journey mapping activity. Then we have to understand our different users: What do they like? What do they dislike? What are they motivated by? What frustrates them? What drives them? If there are different types of users, we build personas for each user.

The typical components of a journey map:

  • Personas

  • Timeline (best to either have a finite amount of time or specific phases)

  • Emotion (peaks and valleys)

  • Touchpoints (what customer is doing in interacting with service, organization, product, app or website)

  • Channels (where interaction takes place and the context of use)

The finished product of a journey map is a visual or graphic representation of the customer’s experience.

Some organizations may resist conducting user research because they feel they already know their users. The UX designer’s first job in that case is to collect all the user insight or research the organization already has and to map them so any gap in knowledge becomes apparent. Once the gaps in knowledge become apparent, there are a number of ways to close them, both quantitatively and qualitatively researching journey map components.

Quantitative research methods include:

  • Web analytics

  • Social mentions

  • Survey

  • Search data

Qualitative research methods include:

  • Customer interviews

  • Contextual inquiry

Once we have all the research, we map the experience of the relevant user mindsets interacting in a defined experience or over a defined timeline with the product at various touchpoints, which serves to expose where there are experience gaps between channels, touchpoints or devices. This defines where we tackle design and development efforts.

My Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The original cynic. 

Wilde lessons:

We blame ourselves so others can’t.
- When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.

Women want too much.
- The only way a woman can ever reform a man is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life.
- Women… inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces and always prevent us from carrying them out.
- Being adored is a nuisance. Women treat us just as humanity treats its gods. They worship us, and are always bothering us to do something for them.
- They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever.

You can have a happy marriage as long as you don’t love each other.
- A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her.
- Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.
- When a woman marries again, it is because she detested her first husband. When a man marries again, it is because he adored his first wife. Women try their luck; men risk theirs.
- The real drawback to marriage is that it makes one unselfish. And unselfish people are colourless. They lack individuality.
- I hope that Dorian Gray will make this girl his wife, passionately adore her for six months, and then suddenly become fascinated by someone else.
- When her third husband died, her hair turned quite gold from grief.

Good artists are boring people.
- Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are.
- It is a mistake to think that the passion one feels in creation is ever really shown in the work one creates.
- I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations. 
- We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty.

Only weak passions live on.
- Their strong passions must either bruise or bend. They either slay the man, or themselves die. Shallow sorrows and shallow loves live on. The loves and sorrows that are great are destroyed by their own plenitude. 
- Difference of object does not alter singleness of passion.

Being faithful is a lack of imagination.
- Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of intellect—simply a confession of failure.
- When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.
- She was usually in love with somebody, and, as her passion was never returned, she had kept all her illusions.
- Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good.
- There is always something ridiculous about the emotions of people whom one has ceased to love.
- It is only the sacred things that are worth touching.

Only mediocre people are well-liked. 
- Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity. 
- I always like to know everything about my new friends, and nothing about my old ones.
- I like men who have a future and women who have a past.
- You like everyone; that is to say, you are indifferent to everyone.
- One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing.

Details are ugly.
- One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.
- The past could always be annihilated. Regret, denial, or forgetfulness could do that. But the future was inevitable. 
- Most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.
- They get up early, because they have so much to do, and go to bed early, because they have so little to think about.
- There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating—people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.
- To define is to limit.
- In the common world of fact the wicked were not punished, nor the good rewarded. Success was given to the strong, failure thrust upon the weak.

Only the unnecessary is necessary.
- A grande passion is the privilege of people who have nothing to do.
- Beautiful sins, like beautiful things, are the privilege of the rich.

Your weakest motives are the ones you are aware of.
- We always misunderstood ourselves and rarely understood others.
- Our weakest motives were those of whose nature we were conscious. 
- People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves. 
- It often happened that when we thought we were experimenting on others we were really experimenting on ourselves.
- No life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested.
- The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves.
- When we are happy, we are always good, but when we are good, we are not always happy.
- To be good is to be in harmony with one’s self.
- Discord is to be forced to be in harmony with others.
- A burnt child loves the fire.
- Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Children judge their parents.
- Children begin by loving their parents, as they grow older, they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.

My Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Rated 3/5 stars

“I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.”

The quote that started my fascination with fictional quotes long before I read this book when I stumbled on it on some lame infinite tumblr scroll ten years ago. Ironically this is a book about a guy obsessed with quotesa story about last words that is punctuated by death.

Looking for Alaska is another example of a female character existing purely for the purpose of the male protagonist figuring out who he is (kind of like in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, another work of fiction that has made me bawl recently). Who is this woman aside from a vehicle for the man to discover himself? Ah well, let’s kill her off so we don’t have bother with exploring her further and so he can romanticize her even more! Based on my experience with John Green fiction, seems the author spent his youth falling in love with crazy girls and pulling pranks.

Enjoyed Green’s 11th hour insertion of Buddha dharma.

Good quotes:

  • I have tried so hard to do right.

  • “Please guys, don’t” were terrible last words.

  • Maybe it was only because Alaska couldn’t hit the brakes and I couldn’t hit the accelerator.

  • Everything that comes together falls apart.

  • The Buddha said that suffering was caused by desire... and that the cessation of desire meant the cessation of suffering. When you stopped wishing things wouldn’t fall apart, you’d stop suffering when they did.

  • If only we could see the endless string of consequences that result from our smallest actions. But we can’t know better until knowing better is useless.

My Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Rated 4/5 stars

Discovery is violent because of ignorance and misunderstanding, says Mary Doria Russell in The Sparrow (in an obvious nod to Carl Sagan’s Contact).

In 2019, A Jesuit party makes contact with an alien species and travels light years to another galaxy to meet—a story of Religion versus Science. I guess the author assumes global warming does not annihilate the Earth by then (she also penned this in the mid-1990s, before global warming was taken seriously). 

The Sparrow makes the bold and thought-provoking prediction that aliens will seem as different to us as Native Americans seemed to Christopher Columbus—as in, not thatttt different. At one time, our Earth had been as unexplored as Space is now, and we wondered then what was beyond the ocean as we wonder now what is beyond the sky. Earth’s civilizations and cultures developed in similar ways in isolation from each other—so why can’t this be true for all of Space? Russell also makes the argument that discovery is always violent, equally for new continents as for new planets. (As a side note has anyone checked how violent the collision of the New and Old Worlds was according to the Christopher Columbus Wiki page!? Pretty sure I didn’t learn about it quite like this in my Grade 5 History class.)

Russell writes the most perfectly-executed, suspenseful and engaging build-up, and the most lazy unraveling. It’s as if she is so good at writing intrigue that she can only disappoint with the actual events; or as if she hates killing off her characters and so skims over it in the briefest of ways. It was a curious choice to hinge the protagonist’s unraveling and the book’s climax on rape (excuse the awful pun), when there were so many other great atrocities and tragedies, including murder, mutilation and the loss of love.

Favourite quotes:

• “If God is anything like a middle-class white chick from the suburbs… it’s what you do about what you feel that matters.”
• “Do you think we would have a name for… despair, if only you had experienced it?”
• “Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal.”
• “The trouble with illusions… is that you aren’t aware you have any until they are taken from you.”
• “I can explain it to you… but I can’t understand it for you.”

The quick and dirty on Toronto’s fringe festival of tech ideas, from neurochemistry to programmatic media buying

PodCamp is a digital marketing “un-conference” that takes place annually at Ryerson University and is somewhat the fringe festival of tech ideas in Toronto. This year, Day 2 fell on World Information Architecture Day.

 

The quick and dirty on what I learned at PodCamp 2016:

 

The neurochemistry of motivation

  • Emotion is motivation. If you can evoke an emotion in someone, you can motivate them.
  • People are more loss-averse than we are incentive-driven. We are more emotionally impacted by what we lose than by what we gain.
  • Motivation works better through stress reduction than through incentive.
  • Build on internal motivators, because when external motivators disappear, so does the behaviour.
  • Oxytocin is the us vs. them chemical—it’s both liquid love and liquid prejudice.
  • Levels of motivation: Immediate physiological needs → Self-protection (feeling safe!) → Affiliation (friends!) → Status/esteem (career!) → Mate acquisition (lots of dating!) → Mate retention (relationship!) → Parenting
  • Your brain chemistry completely changes after having a child.
  • People with brains controlled more by serotonin are more likely to be impulsive and anxious, and to have a negative reaction quickly. People with brains controlled more by dopamine tend to be calmer and more tolerant.
  • Dopamine is released in anticipation of reward. Dopamine is most triggered by novelty. It is less triggered both by rewards that are too familiar and by rewards that are too different (when the brain does not recognize what’s in front of it as a reward).

 

Crowdfunding

  • The goal of crowdfunding is to validate the idea, build a customer base and sharpen the target demographic—even more so than it is to raise funds.
  • The downside to crowdfunding is public humiliation.
  • Your crowdfunding campaign needs to have a big first week in order to meet its target. Ideally you should raise 30% of your target within the first 3 days. The popularity algorithm will measure traffic, comments and funding in the first week and determine where the campaign gets placed on the site and whether it gets included in the newsletter--which will be responsible for driving further traffic to the page.
  • Keys to a successful crowdfunding campaign:

1.     Know your customer.

2.     Take advantage of your network.

3.     If you have an email list, use it.

4.     Social media.

  • Campaign timeline:

1.     3 months to prep and create buzz

2.     30-45 days for campaign (send reminders or make new offers every 3-4 days)

3.     Post-campaign (keep in touch with supporters through email list, get supporter demograhics for Facebook ads and targeted blogger advertising)

  • Major crowdfunding platforms:
    • Kickstarter (the iOS of crowdfunding)
    • Indiegogo (the Android of crowdfunding, offers campaign strategists for promising campaigns, allows flexible funding where you can keep the funds even if you don’t hit your target for a higher percentage allotted back to Indiegogo)
    • GoFundMe
  • It's easier to get a former customer to buy again than to get a new customer to buy at all.
  • The power of social media is reserved for a bigger budget. Social media typically does not convert well.
  • Building an effective mailing list is important to reaching your customer base--build from your network, from events, from talks, and from former customers. It’s quality, not quantity.

 

Resources:

Tim Ferriss, “Hacking Kickstarter: How to Raise 100K in 10 Days”

Crowdfunding Advisory Services

 

Personas

  • Designing without research is like getting into a taxi and just saying 'drive'.
  • To design personas:
    • What is the most critical factor facing the business?
    • What is the most uncertain factor surrounding your users?
    • = crucial uncertainties
  • Contextual personas provide the user’s internal motivators, as well as the user’s external drivers when interacting with the product. Don’t look at a user’s motivation in a vacuum—look at their personal relationship with the product.
  • Contextual personas = behavioural insights + product context
  • Life is too short to build something nobody wants to use.

Omni-channel marketing

  • Media world is moving toward programmatic media buying.
  • The question is not how do we invent technology that ad blocker can’t detect, but how do we make ads people won’t want to block?
  • Facebook, Google, etc. are now much larger and more influential than agencies.

 

My Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Rated: 5/5 stars

Anthony Doerr’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner All the Light We Cannot See tells the story of war destroying humanity for the attackers and for the defendants alike—for the losers and for the winners. The protagonists are on the opposite sides of the conflict: a brilliant German boy from the mines enlisted in the army and a blind French girl living in occupied France. Doerr writes in short chapters, hopping around chronologically and flipping between the characters’ perspectives. His description of physical space is superb, and his focus on facts and events creates an objectivity that makes for a bittersweet, poignant read.

Spoiler: I cried at the end.

My favourite quotes:

  • Every lock has its key.
  • Fight bravely and die laughing.
  • Open your eyes… and see what you can with them before they close forever.
  • Doesn’t everything… die at last and too soon?
  • See obstacles as inspirations.
  • Science… is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.

My Review: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Rated 3/5 stars

Clearly it was a mistake to read Freedom as my first book by Franzen. In The Corrections, Franzen as always excelled at writing unlikable characters and painting a satiric yet accurate picture of America. Outside of that, I either missed the point or there wasn't one.

My Review: The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh

Rated 5/5 Stars

The Art of Power is Buddhism for the modern-day busybody. 

Thich Nhat Hanh’s central lesson is that happiness is not excitement but peace, and that the battle for this peace is waged by powers on cravings. He defines the five powers as faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration and insight; and the four objects of craving as sex, power, fame, and wealth.

Like many Buddhist texts, Thich Nhat Hanh talks of fully dedicating ourselves to the present and of being instead of thinking.

He argues that too many people think that happiness is something they have to work for, something that happens in the future once they meet certain conditions. In reality, people get used to any new condition and they don’t feel happiness from it after a short period of time. In fact, they may be busier and working harder to maintain these conditions they now believe are integral to happiness.

A few other interesting points: 

  • Romantic love is the starting point for unconditional love of the world.
  • If you see only the bad in others it’s because you only see the bad in yourself.
  • Since the present leads to the future, the present is both the present and future and it is all we have. 
  • You don’t need to be accepted by others, you need to accept yourself. True happiness and power lie in understanding yourself, accepting yourself, and having confidence in yourself.

Favourite passages:

With your energy that dispersed, where is your power?

If we simply allow our bodies to rest, our bodies can heal themselves without a lot of medicine.

When we are clear about our motivations, our actions are much more powerful because we can do them with one hundred percent of our intention. 

Understanding is love and love is understanding. 

When you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.

This type of happiness without peace has an element of fear and cannot be true happiness. To hold on to these conditions of so-called happiness, you have to be busy all day long. And with these worries, uncertainties, and busyness, you don’t feel happy and you become depressed.

When you know how to cultivate understanding and compassion in every moment of your life, the outer form of your life doesn’t matter anymore.

Attachment to views, attachment to ideas, attachment to perceptions are the biggest obstacle to the truth.

We may find that ambition—the desire to become someone special—is very strong in us. Achieving and “becoming someone” is seen as significant, yet it can lead us to suffer a lot in spite of our many achievements. How can we deal with the desire to become someone?

To make another person happy you have to be happy yourself.

To love another doesn’t mean we sit and look at each other, it means we both look in the same direction.

We have an inferiority complex and believe that the true, the good, and the beautiful don’t exist in us.

His energy of demanding recognition dominated the environment and made it difficult for others to be joyful around him.

You may want to experiment with being yourself and coming to others without the need to be recognized.

The practice of understanding yourself and training yourself to produce more and more beautiful thoughts, words, and actions gives you self-confidence, and that will transform everything else.

Love is an energy. Is it giving rise to more craving, to more anxiety and fear? Or does it give us the energy of peace, of compassion and liberation? 

If we do not understand our partner, if we do not share in her suffering, this is not love at all, it’s just consuming the other person to satisfy our own individual needs.

One relationship can be a foundation for gaining more insight into our situation and the situation of the world.

First, we learn to love one person with all our understanding and insight, then we expand that love to embrace another person, and another, until our love is truly boundless.

(From Yvon Chouinard) Whenever you’re making products for people who want but don’t really need them, you’re at the mercy of the economy.

(Amen^^)

My Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Our secrets define us, says Donna Tartt.

Mine being that I’m likely one of the last people in the world to read The Goldfinch—arguably the magnum opus of Tartt’s career, winning her the Pulitzer for Fiction in 2014. 

Tartt is an existentialist and an art enthusiast, fascinated by manipulation, by nihilism and by addiction—and I wish she did more showing than telling of this. What Jonathan Franzen captured so flawlessly in Freedom through his characters in their actions and thoughts, Tartt spells out and overexplains in countless lengthy forced monologues. 

Although the plot itself is about an extraordinary (and more than a little unbelievable) life, the human experience of the main character Theo Decker is nothing if not widely applicable. What do we learn after 700+ pages and a Kindle-projected reading time of circa 20 hours? Every closed door is a window of opportunity. Every ending is a new beginning. Have faith in the abundance of our universe. Let life flow. Don’t hold on to things that don’t want to be held. More moving experiences than you can imagine await you. And above all, life is meaningless. 

I enjoyed following Theo as he grew up, and seeing how experiences, influences and people make him into the man we know at the end of the novel. As in many other aspects of the book, I could have done without Tartt’s constant overexplaining of how Theo is changing, her debate on whether or not he is a “bad” person, and her questioning of whether we truly get to choose who we are. Show, not tell.

While the plot was forced, contrived and convenient, the dialogue and interactions between the characters were anything but. Tartt also excels at writing cities—I am with Theo in the dirty, crowded streets of New York, under the expansive skies and neon lights of Vegas, and in the winding streets of Amsterdam at Christmastime.

The one thing I thought Tartt wrote poignantly without spoiling with her constant overexplaining was the presence of absence. How absence can be as tangible as presence.

Props to Tartt for getting me to read up on all sorts of classical and Old Hollywood references. 

Favourite quotes:

- Objective value… was meaningless… An object… was worth whatever you could get somebody to pay for it.
- One drink is too many and a thousand’s not enough.
- We are so accustomed to disguising ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.
- I dreamed of her constantly, only as absence, not presence. 
- We have art in order not to die from the truth. 
- For in the deepest, most unshakable part of myself reason was useless.
- All that blind, infantile hunger to save and be saved, to repeat the past and make it different.
- It’s rough to be in love with the wrong person.
- It was better never to have been born—never to have wanted anything, never to have hoped for anything.
- It was a game to size up a customer and figure out the image they wanted to project—not so much the people they were (know-it-all decorator? New Jersey housewife? self-conscious gay man?) as the people they wanted to be… The trick was to address yourself to the projection, the fantasy self—the connoisseur, the discerning bon vivant—as opposed to the insecure person actually standing in front of you.
- You love her… but not too much… Which means your soul is not too mixed up with hers… Stay away from the ones you love too much. Those are the ones who will kill you. What you want to live and be happy in this world is a woman who has her own life and lets you have yours.
- A careless power like the eyes of a kitten.

My Review: Happiness Dissected by Mark Devon

A few weeks ago I was at the Canadian authors book fair at Harbourfront Centre and came across Mark Devon’s booth. He handed me his book Happiness Dissected, saying he’s not in the business of selling books but in the business of reforming how people perceive emotion. I bought his book.

 

Devon studied at the Harvard Business School under Michael Porter, and says he wants to revolutionize how we think about emotions in the same way Porter revolutionized how we think about competition. I like the idea of coming out of your MBA with a happiness project.

 

In his book, Devon created nine primary categories of emotion and ranked them in the order that they are important to our happiness.

 

As a preface, there is no Methodology section in Devon’s book. Although many of the concepts are clearly derived from evolutionary theory, readers are not let in on the scientific method used to elicit these findings.

 

According to Devon, by far the most important factor to our happiness is social.  To fulfill our social needs, we have to get enough affection. If we don’t get enough affection, we feel loneliness. Devon makes the intriguing argument that all tears are a result of loneliness. If we cry while experiencing an emotion other than loneliness, it is only because another emotion distracted us from the suppression of our tears of loneliness. People who aren’t lonely don’t cry. The more you cry for any reason, the more lonely you are.

 

Devon argues that we can only get affection from people we are intimate with—not strangers—and we cannot feel affection via text or social media—only in person. Devon makes an estimate that we need about 25 hours of affection per week, and therefore, almost everyone in our modern society is lonely.

 

The second most important factor to our happiness is our rank, which is the term Devon uses for status. He argues that our objective rank is unimportant—all that matters is that our rank is improving relative to our past rank. Devon argues it’s for that reason that people who reach great success early in life (like child stars or Olympic athletes) or who are born into reputable families often end up feeling depressed. We only envy people of greater rank when they are our peers.

 

The third most important factor to our happiness is romantic and parental love. Devon defines love as innate, compared to affection, which is something you work on. Love means your happiness is literally dependent on the happiness of the person you love. Affection grows when you invest time into another person, and as a result feel a positive reinforcement from being around the person you feel affection for.

 

With his definition of love, Devon makes the interesting argument that men love their women; women do not love their men. Women love their children; men do not love their children.

 

Men fall in love after four months of consistent exposure to a woman who maintains an hourglass shape, meaning she is able to prove that she was not impregnated by another man. Men stay in love for four years, or revolutionarily long enough for the woman to have a baby and for the baby to grow teeth.

 

According to Devon, women do not feel love, women feel infatuation as a result of receiving consistent attention from a man. Women only feel infatuation for nine months.

 

People only fall in love with strangers. Thus follows that if you’d like to fall in love, you should be entering social groups with strangers. A woman will be the most visually pleasing to a man the first time he meets her, and will become less so each time he sees her. Men will always be visually stimulated by novel, new women.

 

For women the fireworks stop after nine months, while for men they stop after four years. Affection is what is left after love, and it continues to grow. Devon seems to make the argument that although many people tend to seek the fireworks, it is actually this growing affection of many years of companionship that makes people happiest.

 

Devon also commented that many people seek food, sex and shopping, assuming it will bring them happiness, but really those are small factors to our happiness. However, men (but not women) feel the negative emotion of lust if they do not have enough sex. Just like when we do not eat enough, we get hungry; when men don’t have enough sex, they feel lust.

 

An interesting point Devon makes is that friends tend to be a better source of affection than siblings. Because people assume they love their siblings, they tend to put in less effort to develop their relationships with their siblings. Devon argues that there is no innate love between siblings (as he defines love—happiness dependent on the other’s happiness). The more work you put into a relationship, the better the quality of affection you get from it. Additionally, people tend to choose to be friends with people of similar rank. Siblings won’t necessarily end up of the same rank as you, causing you to feel either envy or compassion (also defined as “selfish guilt” by Devon), which will again lessen the quality of affection you get from your siblings.

My Review: The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Life is a question and how we live it is the answer.

 

The One Thing is Keller’s prescriptive recipe for success based on the idea that we are more defined by our no’s than by our yes’s—say yes to one thing and you are saying no to every other thing. In defining our one purpose (which will then determine the priorities that lead to productivity and eventually to profit), Keller says think big and go small. Create a plan for the small tasks that will bring you to your big dream and start today. Make time for those tasks every single day and protect that time at all costs.

 

The first step in the direction of defining my one purpose would likely be to stop denying that I’m crappy at focusing on just one thing. I am the kind of overcommitted (or as I like to say—well-rounded and curious) woman that likes holding the ‘bottomless beggar’s bowl of human desire’ that Keller spits upon in his methodology. But I suppose if I want something I’ve never had I need to do something I’ve never done—focus.

 

Other central ideas:

 

Do things happen to you or do you make things happen? Do you fit reality into your perspective or do you face reality head-on? Do you do it the best that you can or do you do it the best that it can be done?

 

When you run out of will-power, who do you become? What are your default settings? All the will-power you’ll ever need is just enough to form a habit to improve those default settings.

My Review: Purity by Jonathan Franzen

“It wasn’t easy to become a person who’s OK being alone on a Saturday night, but I did the work, I got there, and now some part of me is wishing I hadn’t gone out tonight. Some part of me wants you not to be here.”

Word.

Jonathan Franzen’s much-anticipated Purity tackles everything from the Internet and the digital age to the changing face of journalism to intimacy to feminism to gender roles to restraint to the meaning of eternity to money to sociopathy to environmental sustainability to morality. The plot centres on an Edward Snowden-like leaker (side note: could Snowden have chosen a better phrase for his first Tweet than Can you hear me now? Wowowow), but in typical Franzen style is really a generational family drama. As usual Franzen’s writing is captivating and impossible to untangle from, and you won’t guess any plot twist until Franzen is ready for you to unravel it.

For a book that’s largely about the digital age, Purity feels sorely behind the times in its descriptions and references to the web and tech—almost like your grandma who’s trying too hard to relate to Millennials. What Purity does get right is capturing the entitlement so common to many Millennials, coupled with the belief that we’re born to do something great, all the while being lazy slobs (sorry!).

Also Purity almost feels like a cautionary tale of how we fall in love with strangers and too often then spend the rest of the relationship wondering how to disentangle from the person we’re learning is at best not perfect, and at worst toxic and potentially insane.

I was hugely disappointed in the ending, and really in the whole final quarter of the book. Franzen set the scene for what could have been a beautiful, heart-rendering, thought-provoking, authentic, sincere finale—but instead we got something that felt more like the rapid last-minute tying-up of loose strings.

In my eyes, Purity can’t hold a flame to the raw, authentic power and the potent, almost alive characters of Franzen’s earlier work Freedom (and given the falling star of an author he likes to profile, this may be a huge fear of Franzen’s), but it’s still definitely worth a read. 3.5 stars for being impossible to put down. Perhaps would have been 4 stars if Freedom hadn’t set my expectations at a 70-metre bar.

Great quote

“Anabel came clad in a black-trimmed crimson cashmere coat and strong opinions.”

On every entry-level job ever

“She could never quite figure out what she was selling, even when she was finding people to buy it, and no sooner had she finally begun to figure it out than she was asked to sell something else.”

“Nowadays there is really one habit of highly effective people: Don’t fall behind with email.”

“That job never sounded worthy of your talents.”

On morality

“It’s difficult to trust a person with no secrets.”

“She kept alienating people with her moral absolutism and her sense of superiority, which is so often the secret heart of shyness.”

“Northern Californians conserving while Orange County set new records for monthly consumption.”

On happiness

“I’m starting to think paradise isn’t eternal contentment. It’s more like there’s something eternal about feeling contented.”

On gender roles

“We girls are supposed to at least have these amazing sexual powers, but in my recent experience this is just a lie told by men to make them feel better about having ALL the power.”

“Funny how women are always to blame for what men do to them.”

“Strict limits to intimacy are the straight man’s burden.”

On journalism

“Reporting was imitation life, imitation expertise, imitation worldliness, imitation intimacy; mastering a subject only to forget it, befriending people only to drop them. And yet, like so many imitative pleasures, it was highly addictive.”

On rejection

 “Was there anything crueler, from the person who’d rejected you, than compassionate forbearance?”

 “Adhering to the principle that it was actually kinder not to return a call from a person you’d slept with if you didn’t intend to sleep with him again.”

On love

“When she went to Union Station and saw him ambling up the platform… a little chime sounded in her head, a single pure note, and she knew she was in love with him.”

“I was happy that she spoke of us as something potentially ongoing; distressed that we might be something she didn’t need.”

“The stickiness… was a male embarrassment and seemed to have little to do with the tenderness I felt toward her.”

“My head was a radio playing Anabel on every station.”

 “There was a new look in her eyes, the unconcealable and unfakable look of a woman seriously in love.”

“The heaven of soul-merging was a hell.”

“It was consonant with my experience of crushes—the feeling of inferiority, the hope of being found worthy nonetheless.”

 “She loved having a body now that Jason loved her having it.”

“Our joint plan was to be poor and obscure and pure and take the world by surprise at a later date.”

On relationships

“My life had become a nightmare of exactly the female reproach I’d dedicated it to avoiding.”

“Don’t talk to me about hatred if you haven’t been married. Only love, only long empathy and identification and compassion, can root another person in your heart so deeply that there’s no escaping your hatred of her, not ever; especially not when the thing you hate most about her is her capacity to be hurt by you.”

“The charade of withholding and discipline.”

On death

“Every murder was a suicide gone awry…”

General wisdom

“Stupidity mistook itself for intelligence, whereas intelligence knew its own stupidity.”

“The chances of one civilization sticking around to get a message from another were vanishingly low, because it was too damned easy to split the atom.”

“The problem with a life freely chosen every day… was that it could end any moment.”

“It’s not impossible to relinquish desire.”

My Review: The Decoded Company by Leerom Segal, Aaron Goldstein, Jay Goldman and Rahaf Harfoush

The Decoded Company is about reinventing the technology of human achievement and asking organizations the central questions: when we no longer live in a data-poor world, why are we continuing to run our companies with management tools designed for one? What if we understood our talent better than we understood our customers?

The co-founders of lauded Toronto-based digital marketing agency Klick write that today’s organizational management problems cannot be solved with the same thinking that created them. They cover how to build a data-driven organization, the consumerization of enterprise IT and the creativization of the enterprise, how to understand and support your employees with data to achieve autonomy, mastery and purpose, and much more. 

Segal and his co-authors highlight that most of the advancements have been in consumer devices, and furthermore most of these have simply taken a function out of the physical world and put it online—not actually reinvented the process (i.e. letter-->email).

I liked the example of self-reported data being faulty because we will always filter events through our paradigm and tell stories in a way that makes sense in our world view.

I liked the idea that any learning is virtually impossible to retain without immediate real application for it. Bye, school!

I really liked the concept of hiring someone not because of what they know but because the potential of what they could learn is too great to pass up.

My favourite quotes:
- Culture is usually ugly. It is as much about the inevitable brokenness and dysfunction of teams as it is about their accomplishments.
- Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- When you want something done, ask the busiest person you know to do it.

My Review: Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen

As the admittedly guiltiest of reacting to the world based on vast assumption and sweeping generalization, man do I have a long journey to enlightenment.

 

In Buddhism Plain and Simple (which I read twice in short succession—would Hagen say I’m “holding on to the raft”?), Hagen excels at repeating his main message in a million different ways throughout the text to get his readers to really start understanding.

 

And here is what I’ve understood:

 

Have a mind that is open to everything and attached to nothing.

 

Perception over conception. Fluidity over crystallization. Don’t chase anything. Don’t get attached to particular outcomes. Just allow yourself to be open to take things in.

 

Reality is just this moment, without ideas or explanations. Base your actions on what you see rather than on what you think. Beliefs and ideas lead to dukha (discomfort, pain and discontent), while seeing leads to peace. What you believe actually doesn’t matter, only what is happening in this moment does.

 

Don’t improve, just be. We’ve improved ourselves right into a disconnected, war-torn world headed into a climate apocalypse.

 

Forget the self. We don’t have control and we never really did. The impacts of our actions don’t stop where it looks like they stop—they never stop. What we say about someone says more about us than the person we’re talking about. Buddhism is not nihilistic.  

 

Stop desiring an end to desire (oh, soooo familiar).

 

For the purposes of an introduction to Buddhism (buddha-dharma), Hagen could have finished the book after Part Two. Part Three kind of lost me in the nihilism of self and the twelve-link chain to enlightenment.

 

My favourite quote

“The Buddha said that the human condition is like that of a person shot with an arrow. It is both painful and urgent. But instead of getting immediate help for our affliction, we ask for detail about the bow from which the arrow was shot. We ask who made the arrow. We want to know about the appearance and background of the person who strung the bow. We ask about many things—inconsequential things—while overlooking our immediate problem. We ask about origins and ends, but we leave this moment forgotten. We leave it forgotten even though we live in it.”

 

 

Quotes on: What is Buddhism (buddha-dharma)?

·             “The point of Buddhism is just to see.”

·             “The practice of Buddhism is about awareness.”

·             Buddhism is “nothing more or less than seeing things as they are rather than as we wish or believe them to be”.

·             “Authentic Buddhism, therefore, begins with fact. It starts with perception—direct experience.”

·             “When you actually see that putting your hand in a flame is painful, you don’t need to strain to keep yourself from doing it.”

·             “Attend to immediate experience.”

 

Quotes on: Reality

·             “Belief may serve as a useful stopgap measure in the absence of actual experience, but once you see Reality, belief becomes unnecessary.”

·             “Reality doesn’t need to be explained.”

·             “Reality is simply thus—immediate, direct experience, prior to any ideas or explanations at all.”

·             “To make matters worse, we often identify with our thoughts, as if substantiality could somehow be found in what we think or believe.”

·              “The real problem is that we are caught by our concepts. We don’t have to grant them power or accuracy or validity that they don’t have.”

·             “Learn to take note of our actual experience, and see just how it differs from our thoughts and concepts about it.”

·             “What we have to do is see what’s happening in each moment, and base our actions on what we see, not on what we think.”

 

Quotes on: Dissatisfaction (dhukha)

·             “Human life is characterized by dissatisfaction.”

·             “Our ignorance is such that most of us don’t realize we’re thirsty.”

·             “It’s imperative to recognize that our dissatisfaction originates within us. It arises out of our own ignorance, out of our blindness to what our situation actually is, out of our wanting Reality to be something other than what it is. Our longing, our craving, our thirsting for something other than Reality is what dissatisfies us.”

·             “The first truth of the buddha-dharma likens human life to [an] out-of-kilter wheel. Something basic and important isn’t right. It bothers us, makes us unhappy, time after time. With each turn of the wheel, each passing day, we experience pain. Of course there are moments of pleasure. But no matter how hard we try to cultivate pleasure and keep it coming our way, eventually the pleasure recedes and the disturbance and vexation return.”

·             “Consider how, even in getting the wonderful things we long for, we tend to live in want of something more, of whatever might come to us next.”

·             “When petty choices occupy the mind necessity is forgotten, and wanting and craving, picking and choosing take over. The mind is ill at ease and dissatisfied for want of the next petty thing.”

·             “This is the deep end of duhkha—existential angst.”

 

Quotes on: Effort

·             “Usually we make an effort to control, or be different, or try something new, or improve the situation, or improve ourselves. Human history is filled with this kind of effort. And here we are with our improved human world that we’ve spent a great deal of time and energy working on. We’ve improved the rivers and the lakes and the land and our society and our ways of living to the point where we wonder if the human race will survive.”

·             “There’s absolutely nothing to go after.”

 

Quotes on: Impact

·             “My point is that the energy, or action, doesn’t stop at all. Ever. Through innumerable transformations, it just continues on and on.”

 

Quotes on: Change

·             “We long for something permanent, something that doesn’t change. Yet our actual experience provides nothing but change…. If we’d only relax, we’d notice that, because of change, what we love continues to appear, and what we hate never lasts forever.”

·             “You are nothing but change itself.”

·             “This desire to hold on, to somehow stop change in its tracks, is the greatest source of woe and horror and trouble in our lives.”

·             “All aspects of our experience, both physical and mental, are in constant flux and change.”

·             “Normally, a view of the world is nothing more than a set of beliefs, a way to freeze the world in our minds.”

·             “Right view is fluid and flexible, constantly in motion.”

·             “By our very attempt to grasp an explanation, we leave things out. In just such a manner, to take any frozen view is to leave out a piece of Reality.”

·             “If only we’d stop embalming life, freezing it into a view, we’d experience life as it is, and at its fullest.”

 

Quotes on: How to wake up

·             “First, you must truly realize that life is fleeting. Next, you must understand that you are complete, worthy, whole. Finally, you muse see that you are your own refuge, your own sanctuary, your own salvation.”

·             “You are already enlightened. All you’ve got to do is stop blocking yourself and get serious about attending to what’s going on. You are not lacking a thing. You only need to stop blocking or interpreting your vision.”

·             “You wake up right here. In fact, you can only wake up right here.”

 

Quotes on: Being Present

·             “Life is only lived in this moment, which is fleeting, changing constantly.”

·             “Just put your effort into being awake in this moment.”

 

Quotes on: Being Centred

·             “Look not for refuge to anyone beside yourself.”

·             “Nothing’s lacking; nothing’s missing.”

 

Quotes on: Attachment

·             “This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set things up for the future. It does mean that we would do well not to become attached to particular outcomes. We’d do better focusing our effort on being present rather than on insisting on what the future must be.”

 

Quotes on: Speech

·             “Whatever someone says to you about another person is skewed from the start. It comes through their filter, their likes and dislikes, their education, their ambition, and the leanings of their own mind.”

·             “Furthermore, when we speak about people based on what we think, feel, or hope rather than on what we observe and experience, we deprive them of their humanity. We have replaced what they are, in all their fluid vitality, with our own crystallized ideas, opinions and beliefs.”

 

 

 

My Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Ehhhh. Finally plodded through the last 20 pages just so I can say it’s read. Highly anecdotal, presents scientific conclusions without a hint of scientific method.  Basically, success = hard work + recognizing opportunities + luck. This is shocking, obviously.

Still Gladwell manages to provoke some thought—like how long do you try to do something you find difficult before giving up? Exhorting this work-hard mindset is in direct contrast to the popular StrengthsFinder manifesto, which makes the argument that the American way of well-roundedness teaches kids to focus on their weaknesses—like getting a Math tutor if you’re no good at Math—when really we should all be focusing on our strengths to maximize our personal happiness and our contribution to society.

Gladwell also brings up luck as a factor to success based on the time of the year we are born, the decade we are born, the culture we are born into, etc. Basically, success is not fully within our control. Again, shocking.

Gladwell‘s answers to the big questions:

What makes someone successful?
• Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.
• The miracle of meaningful work

Who are outliers?
• Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

Where do we all go from here?
• To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success—the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history—with a society that provides opportunities for all.

My Review: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

I just sleepwalked through a week of my life—body on Earth, brain on Jonathan Franzen’s planet. Reading Freedom was an addiction literally disruptive to my days—I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I just had to finish reading.

It’s as if Franzen decided to rewrite Bret Easton Ellis’ Rules of Attraction and actually make it good. And, damn, is this good good good. Absorbing, involving and so true. In Freedom, life doesn’t make sense, and sometimes things just work out, and sometimes they just don’t.

Freedom is set in the suburbia and cityscapes of the American dream. The action is the prattling lives of three generations of the American middle class, and freedom is a repeated theme (as you’d expect). How stifling, terrifying and challenging freedom turns out to be for most of the characters.

I loved that every character is multi-dimensional, nobody is inherently good or bad—everyone is just different. I loved reading about situations from multiple characters’ perspectives, and seeing how some would just never understand each other. Brutally realistic. Amazing dialogue. 

No matter the issue Franzen tackles, be it environmentalism, feminism, marriage, interdependence, I always felt his underlying message was that everything only has the meaning that we attribute to it. No more, no less. Literally nothing has to mean literally anything.

I wonder if Franzen based the enigmatic charismatic depressive Richard Katz on himself. The way he writes the character it’s apparent even he (in addition to, undoubtedly, all of his readers) is in love with Katz.

Too many good quotes, the few I happened to underline:

It’s not so fun to be on a road trip with a driver who considers you, and perhaps all women, a pain in the ass.

There was a more general freedom that she could see was killing her but she was nonetheless unable to let go of.

He’d tried to pretend that he was doing the Berglunds a favor by ceasing communication with them, but mainly he just hadn’t wanted to hear that they were happy and securely married.

An accident… of forming an attachment at an impressionable age, before the contours of his personality were fully set. Walter had slipped into his life before he’d shut the door on the world of ordinary people and cast his lot with misfits and dropouts.

Warned him not to mistake the pain of losing her for an active desire to have her.

Joyce was not a whole person… [so] she needed to feel extraordinary. 

I can only weep that I have Franzen’s new work Purity still ahead of me—both for joy and for fear of the continued undoing this Franzen addiction will bring to my so-called real life.

My Review: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Talk a lot of shit and don’t answer any questions—my loose interpretation of the Jeff Bezos go-to market strategy that won Amazon so much market share. Has there ever been an extraordinary leader who fundamentally changed how people work, live and communicate who has not been a total sociopath?

This book (which I consumed paperback despite the fact that I own a Kindle—how annoyed Bezos must be that a hard copy of his biography exists at all) is the definitive explanation of why founding a startup sucks—and not because of the Amazon story, but because of the story of how Amazon gobbled up, coerced, intimidated and bullied smaller companies once it grew larger. 

Less poignant than Isaacson’s Steve Jobs for obvious reasons, nevertheless this a book about the Bezos personality cult (with consumable bits of business model and tech systems thrown in here and there). As one former Amazon executive is quoted by Stone as saying—“I really [have] to wonder if that (sometimes harsh) intensity isn’t an essential element when so much of what you want to do requires boldness, immediacy, ruthless prioritization, and risk.” It’s almost like a person with the average amount of empathy for others and respect for societal rules just doesn’t have what it takes to pull off what Bezos, Jobs, Gates, Musk, Brin, Page, Hastings etc. did and do. 

Bezos almost single-handedly moved the publishing industry into the future by being bully enough to publishers and authors to get them to do things differently, and by creating a frugal enough company that could provide cheap enough solutions to customers to get them to buy something different.

Many successful entrepreneurs build an ecosystem around their hobbies—I loved Stone’s analogy of Bezos’ passion for books turning into Amazon as Jobs’ passion for music turned into Apple. I feel like we’re waiting for the Bezos/Jobs of fitness, travel and outdoor sport—an industry I feel needs some disruption.

Amazon is about:
• “Being perceived as inventive, as an explorer rather than a conqueror”
• Having backbone—disagree and commit (I love this concept!)
• Big ideas
• Customer centricity
• Invention
• Frugality

You can firsthand see that Amazon is still as cheap as ever because its current site UI is so bad! As the premier eCommerce site that set the standard for what the eCommerce experience is like, they certainly haven’t upgraded or updated to compete with the UI of their copycats.

My favourite quote from the book:

“Complaining is not a strategy.”

Well, fuck.