5 Great Autobiographies to Read

As you probably know by now, I love reading. Lately, I have been enjoying autobiographies of various flavours. Here are 5 great recommendations. Every one of these books taught me something and made me think in profound ways- surely the hallmark of a successful read.

1. Open - Andre Agassi

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This book surprised me by Agassi’s constant revelation of “I hate tennis”. It’s a deeply personal autobiography that really helped me understand his character, his personal struggles and the good and bad of being a world class athlete picked from a young age. I’m a huge tennis fan and grew up watching him play, so his detailed retelling of important matches was probably much more digestible for me than for the casual reader. But the gold in this book lies in realizing how even the elite among us are only human, how even highly successful journeys can end up being lonely, and why having a great partner is so important.

2. Total Recall - Arnold Schwarzenegger

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I am self confessed Arnold fanboy. After all, I started bodybuilding at a young age and he is a hero among bodybuilders. And I have huge respect for his success in entertainment, business, and politics. Arnold’s recent memoir has not garnered the best critical reviews, but I don’t care. I loved reading this book. Arnold shares surprising facts about his humble youth in post World War II Austria, and works hard to constantly remind the reader of how it was his relentless focus, drive and ambition that propelled him from achievement to achievement. As an avid gym-goer, I appreciated how many pages he spent describing his journey in bodybuilding and deep interest in health and fitness. There were a lot of excellent business lessons here too, one of the most memorable being not to over think things (or you might quit before your start), but rather just take the leap and get stuck in when you really want to do something.

3. Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! - Richard P. Feynman

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Richard P. Feynman had to have been one of the most curious characters of the 20th century. He was a Nobel prize winning physicist, safecracker, amateur artist, professional samba band musician, renowned Caltech professor and quite a Lothario as well. There were a couple of unique things in this book that totally floored me. Feynman had a deep interest in learning things with a desire to fully understand them, working from first principles or inventing his own, and doing work that was meaningful and personally rewarding. He also had plenty of side pursuits and wasn’t afraid to try new things (usually with remarkable success). This strange autobiography is filled with interesting stories and opinions from one of the most fun scientific geniuses I can imagine.

4. Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain

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A close friend of mine recently adopted a career path as a high end chef, complete with studying at a prestigious school and working at fine restaurants. I was captivated by his stories of the brutal, abusive yet addictive professional kitchen culture. Bordain’s memoir really is a tell-all on the kitchen industry, and it’s brilliant. He shares plenty of tips and insights related to food, but this book is mostly about people, the relationships that make the restaurant industry work, and just how different that world is to that of regular office workers. He’s also an exceptional (if rather vulgar!) writer, and this book had me spellbound from start to finish. 

5. The First Billion is the Hardest - T. Boone Pickens

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Boone Pickens is a helluva interesting guy. At age 27, he started a drilling company that turned into a small oil empire, then changed the corporate takeover landscape in America, and more recently, focused on trading in energy derivatives and equities, with great success. This book chronicles the most recent chapter in his life. What I found astounding is how, in his late sixties, he got kicked out of his own company, got divorced, faced depression and generally hit rock bottom, to turn it all around in a new company and become a billionaire within 10 years. The energy, youthfulness and mental vigour that he gives off in his eighties are truly remarkable. What I enjoyed most about this read though is Boone’s wry wit and salty humour that comes through in his excellent storytelling.

Eliminating Bottlenecks to Increase Startup Efficiency

The greatest challenge that every startup must face is the constant pressure of managing limited resources. Regardless of whether that resource is people, money or time, there is usually a known, fixed limit as to what is going to be available to achieve the next set of goals. 

For early stage startups, inability to surmount this challenge can mean the end of the company; in later stage and even successful startups, sub-optimal resource management will waste time, frustrate staff and customers, and hurt profitability.

The founders of the well known startup accelerator TechStars released a book in 2010 titled “Do More Faster”, which essentially sums up the operating mandate of every small startup in existence. So, with this in mind, a question I have often asked myself is: “How?”

The answer is not to work harder- are we not all working incredibly hard already? If I am able to process 50 emails in 15 minutes, then spending 30 minutes processing email will only get me through 100. I might be doing “more”, but I am not actually doing more with less and fulfilling my goal of “do more faster”. This simple logic applies to just about any startup activity, be that working with customers, releasing products, managing admin, etc. 

While some of the answers to this fundamental question might feel intuitive to many entrepreneurs and managers, I have had the best results by applying a logical framework to help me try to solve the problem. In search of answers, I dusted off a book that I read in university and decided to try and apply the principles in my own company. (Side note: I’m constantly reminded by that old saying, the value of a book is not in what the author chose to put into the pages, it’s what you chose to take from the pages and put into your life). The name of the book is “The Goal”, written by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, who is a legend within engineering management and supply chain circles worldwide. It’s a brilliantly written business book structured as a fictional novel, and I highly recommend it to just about everybody.

The premise of the book is very simple, and its method for improving an organization can summarized by the following questions:

1. What is the goal?

2. What is the single greatest bottleneck right now in the process of achieving that goal?

There is a lot more here than meets the eye (which is why you should read the book), but I will try to deconstruct this a little further with a simple startup Q&A example. 

  • Q (mentor): What is the goal?
  • A (manager): I can’t get through all my customer inquiries. Every day, the questions from various customers are just piling up, and the time spent on email is preventing me from doing more work. I need to figure out how to answer these questions faster.
  • Q (mentor): Is the goal really to answer more email? What does that accomplish- what is the end goal?
  • A (manager): The goal is to answer customers’ questions as quickly as possible, and make them happy.
  • Q (mentor): Then that is your goal. What is the main thing holding this process up right now? What is the bottleneck?
  • A (manager): I get too much email to respond to. I suppose I am the bottleneck- I don’t have enough time…
  • Q (mentor): How can you open up this bottleneck? Can anything at all be done?
  • A (manager): I’m not sure. There are so many daily emails and only I know how to answer them. 
  • Q (mentor): But can anything be done to open up the bottleneck, even a little bit?
  • A (manager): I suppose that I could start recording common things that customers ask for, and then write publish a FAQ that new customers can check before emailing me. This would free up some time.
  • Q (mentor): Boom! So what are you waiting for?

This simple, clear style of investigative dialogue can be applied to any challenge where one needs to deal with limited resources. Note that it is essential to address core issue being faced, and not to try to get tied up on the “hamster wheel” of addressing superficial symptoms or byproducts it causes (aka “damage control”). Another crucial aspect of the method is to remember to ask the “right now” part of the question, as bottlenecks in a system are constantly changing, so clearing bottlenecks and “doing more faster” is a really a process of ongoing improvement. With yesterday’s bottleneck eliminated, tomorrow will just present a new one (but hopefully by then things are moving a more smoothly). And, remember, only try to address one bottleneck at a time.

Goldratt coined his method as the “Theory of Constraints" (TOC), defining a constraint as "Anything that limits a system from achieving more of its goal".

This seemingly simple theory has had incredibly successful application to manufacturing and process oriented environments for almost 30 years. It can be pretty powerful when applied to startups too.

The application of TOC in our startup has been simple, structured, and effective.

Here is our method.

1. Define the System

A startup is just a system, comprised of different parts. (In business school they prefer to talk about the company value chain, but I digress). Define the different functional parts that matter most to the organization, i.e. where most of the resources (people, time) are being consumed. 

Some example areas are: Sales & Marketing (getting new customers), Account Management (delighting existing customers), Operations (managing daily work and necessary customer activities), Software Development (building and deploying product), and Financial Management (managing accounts, debtors and creditors).

Every startup is different, so list the areas that matter to your organization. I suggest putting this into a spreadsheet as different column headings. Underneath that, define the singular goal of every one of those functions.

2. Identify the Bottlenecks

For each company function, take the time to analyze and identify where the greatest bottleneck exists right now. If the constraint ends up being a person’s time, try to dig deeper to figure out what tasks are chewing up a disproportionate amount their time.

Some examples of bottlenecks from our past experience are:

  • Sales & Marketing: Repeating the same sales messages to prospects in writing or verbally due to lack of effective collateral.
  • Account Management: Repetitive, high volume email to a variety of business and technical questions.
  • Operations: Poor visibility on what everybody is doing forces management to ask too many questions and interrupt staff often, who become unclear on daily priorities.
  • Software Development: Implementing a new customer installation involves many time consuming steps on our side.
  • Financial Management: One person in charge of all payments and collections but does not have time to stay on top of it.

I suggest adding a dedicated Bottleneck row to the spreadsheet, so that a note can be made under each function column.

3. Identify the Solutions

Once the bottlenecks for each major area are identified, try to figure out practical steps that can be taken to eliminate, or free up the bottleneck. Following on from the example above, here are some of the past solutions listed to those problems:

  • Sales & Marketing: Develop marketing collateral material to leave with prospects after a sales meeting.
  • Account Management: Capture common questions and publish a detailed, easy to use FAQ for customers. Better yet, create a customer service portal with how-to guides, videos, and all manner of help resources.
  • Operations: Implement a system or tool that makes everybody’s work tasks and priorities transparent to the entire team.
  • Software Development: Focus the next wave of software development on automating deployment of the existing platform (as opposed to adding new features).
  • Financial Management: Have a different staff member help the individual keep track of creditors and debtors; and bug them when something needs to be done.

Solutions can be added to the spreadsheet as an additional row below the Bottlenecks row.

4. Review Progress

As with all initiatives, for this to work there needs to be a consistent process of review in order to maintain accountability and momentum.

I recommend that the senior management team of a company do this jointly every two weeks. During review sessions, managers should commit to when they expect the solution to a particular bottleneck to be completed, and this can be noted for subsequent review.

Over time, old bottlenecks will be deleted off the spreadsheet and replaced with new ones that arise. These meetings tend to be very rewarding, because after a while the progress achieved by following this process becomes obvious to all involved.

When dealing with the day to day volume of work to manage it’s all too easy to ignore this method for weeks and months, trying to make that metaphorical hamster wheel spin faster and faster. It took me a long time to fully understand what a waste of time that can be. 

To truly address the goal of achieving more with less, or doing more faster, and creating sustainable, long term performance gains I believe that constantly improving processes and eliminating bottlenecks holds the real key to startup efficiency. And that makes sense to the bottom line.

Lessons from Steve Martin’s Life in Comedy

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This week I finally picked up Steve Martin’s brilliant memoir, “Born Standing Up”, and devoured the entire book in two sittings. His writing is witty, conversationally fluid, and punctuated with vivid stories that teach and entertain. His story clips along at a delightful pace, starting from when he was a boy working at Disneyland, to being all grown up and the most successful stand-up comedian in the world.


Even though I’m too young to have appreciated Steve Martin at the height of his fame, I found his story riveting, and highly instructive.

"Born Standing Up" is chock-full of lessons that entrepreneurs (and any innovator) can use to better themselves. Here are some of my notes from the book:

1. Start young. He started performing recreationally as a boy and by his mid twenties was a skilled comedian (if not yet a refined one).

2. Improve with repetition. He learned that it’s “easy to be great, but it’s very difficult to be good, all of the time”. Statistically, there will be magical nights when everything clicks beautifully. Manufacturing success night after night takes practice and hard work.

3. Experiment, make mistakes. During years spent on the road, he relentlessly experimented with new jokes and routines, taking risks and facing failures in an effort to create better material and improve his original act.

4. Success comes when you least expect it. After years of working at it and not yet becoming successful, he was resolved to quit the business and “find a real job”, a day before his big break occurred.

5. When you nail it, money pours in quickly. Once he become popular his fame swept the nation and he became rich very quickly. His career in comedy at the height of his fame also only lasted a few short years.

6. The journey is the special part. At pinnacle of his career success, he became uninspired and actually longed for his days on the road where his act was smaller and less scripted. The journey in getting to the top was where he experienced the most creativity and passion in career.


In addition to these powerful lessons, there are many stories shared that made me stop, think, and appreciate his character a little bit more. Here are a few:

- He used to suffer from severe panic attacks as a regularly. At one point, the onset of darkness was enough to bring them on.


- As a traveling comedian on the road, he developed a rule to not try to pick up waitresses in the venues he performed at for six months, but butter them up over that time instead. As he would return to each city many times over the years, his strategy paid off nicely.

- When he started earning millions, he elegantly describes his new position of wealth as “not having to check the prices of things”. I think it’s a great definition.

- At one point in the book, he states very matter of factly, that to him, “comedy is serious”.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the raw passion oozing out of every page. At the end of the book, I was struck by the realization that Steve Martin is far from done. He consistently strives to reinvent himself and push his art further. We all know that after stand-up, he had a very successful career in the movie business. I can’t wait for him to write a sequel.

On “The Art of Exceptional Living” by Jim Rohn

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As the first quarter of 2012 draws to a close I find myself reflecting on the months already past, and envisioning what is to come for the rest of the year.

How am I doing? Where am I going? How will I get there? These are some of the questions swirling through my head right now.
When searching for motivation and focus, I believe in following the fundamentals. For me, nobody says it better and more clearly than Jim Rohn. He is the grandfather of the “motivational speaker and author” movement that swept the world, and for good reason. (Actually it’s possible that the original motivational author was Seneca, but I digress). To put his credibility into perspective, Jim Rohn was the first mentor of the considerably more famous Tony Robbins.

Today I took the time to re-listen to Jim Rohn’s excellent audio book, “The Art of Exceptional Living”. It’s under two hours and it will change your life. Rohn’s simple concepts and pointed logic are as powerful and razor sharp as anything I’ve ever come across. If I could only have one audio book, this would be it.
Here are some of my special notes from the reading below.

- Personal philosophy is the cornerstone of your achievement.
- Read, read, read! Build a library with a wide variety of interests and topics. Focus on the best stuff. Avoid the junk. Books allow you to access the wisdom of the world. Read books over again, and extract information carefully. “You don’t hear a song that you like and only listen to it once, do you?”
- Act on your knowledge! Don’t live a life that is 90% under-utilized. Keep pouring out the ideas and actions… more will come in. Rest is a necessity, not an objective. Keep acting. Act with intent, while the energy and emotion are highest. (And avoid diminishing intent).
- Create greater value. The market- i.e. reality- will only reward greater value.
- Share. Sharing (e.g. books, knowledge, ideas, talks) doesn’t only help others, it helps you- especially via repetition.

In addition to my notes, I also took down a few quotes that stood out to me: - “Don’t wish that it were easier, wish that you were better. Don’t wish for fewer challenges- wish for greater wisdom”.
- “Work harder on your self than on your job”.
- “I’ll look after me… for you- if you’ll look after you… for me”.
- “If you wish to be successful, study success. If you wish to be happy, study happiness. If you wish to be wealthy, study wealth.”
- “You may not be able to do all you find out, but make sure you find out all you can do.”
- “It’s not what happens that determines your future, it’s what you do about it.”
- “Everybody has to be good at either of two things: Planting in the spring or begging in the fall.”
- ”Motivation alone isn’t enough. Take an idiot and motivate him and you have a motivated idiot.”

Lastly, here is Jim Rohn’s famous definition of failure and success:”Failure: A few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”
"Success: A few simple disciplines, repeated every day."

Nutrition for a Better Life: 10 Powerful Tips

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I just finished reading “Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever" by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman. It’s an ambitious book that tries to distill the latest scientific research on health into a practical set of recommendations that most of us can follow.

The premise of the book is that we should utilize all tools at our disposal right now to maximize our healthy life span, so that when more radical technology inspired life extending therapies arrive (and they will), we will be around to take advantage of them. Thus, the authors focus heavily on what is within our power to do for our health today. While chock full of recommendations regarding various topics such as testing oneself, exercising and de-stressing, I found the chapters on nutrition to be, well, mind blowing.

It’s easy to throw together a few diet recommendations and mention some case studies or testimonials supporting the theory. What I particularly enjoyed about Fantastic Voyage however is how the authors tried to explain in detail how the body works and reacts to foods, vitmins etc in a highly understandable manner. Finally, I feel like I have a reasonable grasp of my internal biochemistry, and how my diet choices affect it! On a more sombre note, I found the relationship between the food that people eat and their rates of heart disease and cancer downright scary.
I think that the authors did an excellent job of packing a lot of information into a highly readable book (albeit for the more scientifically inclined audience), without the usual baseless proselytizing that comes with so many “diet” books.

Here are a 10 of their powerful nutritional recommendations that stood out for me:
  • Cut down on carbs dramatically. Eliminate all simple sugars and most starches from your diet, and instead opt for low glycemic load carbs such as legumes (lentils, beans etc).
  • Focus heavily on eating green, or generally “above ground” vegetables. Try juicing them too. 
  • Restrict fruit intake. Include nuts, but don’t overdo it.
  • Choose fish (especially salmon) and chicken over red meat, most of the time.
  • Buy organic produce and meat as much as possible.
  • Get a tap water filter for your home.
  • Stop drinking soft drinks and coffee. Drink lots of green tea instead.
  • Drink a couple glasses of red wine every week.
  • Supplement aggressively with essential vitamins and minerals, fish oil, and also add “super nutrient” supplements to your diet such as: grape seed extract, alpha lipoic acid and resveratrol.
  • Maintain your ideal weight for your height and frame.

This is the tip of the iceberg, but the above points come up again and again. 

Personally I have followed most of these tips over the last six weeks and have successfully lost a lot of weight and measurably increased my sense of health and wellbeing.

I think it’s no coincidence that the best entrepreneurs I know are very aware of their health, and take effort to maintain it. The popular myth of startup teams surviving on pizza and coffee for weeks or months on end is exactly that (and when it happens, it doesn’t last very long).
If it’s quality of life that we are after, nutrition matters. A lot. As they like to say in Star Trek, “Live long and prosper!”

The Power of Body Language in Business

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Lately I’ve been watching an old Allan Pease body language seminar from the 80s, and I’m startled at how accurate it remains today, almost 30 years later. The reality is that our subconscious movements say a lot about how we are feeling, and these behaviours have evolved over thousands of years!

Often the best communicators have a great intuitive sense for reading body language, but as with most things, this is a skill that can be learned. Using body language effectively can dramatically improve one’s performance in sales meetings, business pitches, and staff interaction. 

Here’s a quick video from one of his more recent seminars:

If you’re more of a ready, the book “The Definitive Book of Body Language" by Allan and Barbara Pease is also a great primer. Actually, the title is a little misleading. Having a good understanding of body language isn’t just powerful in business, it’s powerful in life!

A Key Lesson for Fighters (and Entrepreneurs Too)

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Today I came upon a memorable passage in a fantastic book called The Fighter’s Mind: Inside the Mental Game by Sam Sheridan. Driven by interviews with the best competitive fighters in the world (wrestling, boxing, MMA etc), it’s chock full of insights on the mindset needed to be a champion.

For a person with no martial arts experience, this book would be interesting, but for others who have spent any amount of time training in the ring or on the mat, it’s mesmerizing. (Some years ago I trained in Muay Thai and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and my passionate interest for the sport of grappling and MMA has never left, so Sheridan’s book has been a rare treat).

The passage that I found so memorable was about the winner’s mindset of continuous progress even in the face of setbacks. In a chapter called “The King of Scrambles”, trainer extraordinaire Ricardo Liborio states: 

"Maturity is a big part of success in fighting, because it means that you understand the game—that losing is part of the game. It doesn’t mean to let yourself get conquered, but to know that you can win again, at the right time you can be great. The key to doing well in competition is to accept.

Accept that you can lose, you can not perform. Take this big bag of rocks out of your backpack, take the pressure off, and you’ll do better. Once you understand that, man, you can do well.”

Worth re-reading many times.

5 Practical Book Recommendations for Tech Entrepreneurs

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I’m an avid reader. I read mostly non-fiction books, although well written sci-fi novels are a guilty pleasure.

There are plenty of great business related books out there. But I’ve always found it difficult to find books that are highly practical for early stage technology entrepreneurs. As a founder starting a new company, what I wanted most out of these types of books was a manual of valuable, actionable lessons learned by seasoned startup veterans that I could apply almost immediately to my startup in a useful way.

Business favourites like Good to Great by Jim Collins or Winning by Jack Welsch are excellent reads, but more directly applicable to corporate managers and leaders in large companies. As an entrepreneur, instead of always trying to relate lessons read about corporate business into the startup landscape I found myself often craving that feeling of: ”Hey, this author is speaking to me!”
With that in mind I’d like to share the 5 actionable books for early stage tech entrepreneurs that top my list:

Hard hitting advice over every major area of the startup, from identifying a problem to getting your first customers. Particularly applicable to B2B startups. A lot of lessons Adam’s talks about I experienced the hard way (i.e. made the mistake), so this book made tons of sense to me. A treasure for early stage startups.
A cogent, thoughtful approach to the venture capital fundraising process that leaves few questions unanswered. If you follow (even some of) the steps in this book before raising capital, the VC you’re pitching will thank you—and you will learn a lot too. It’s dense, but worth it. (Hat tip to Justin Stanford for first recommending this to me).

Dr. Cialdini literally wrote the book on persuasiveness. This book brilliantly lays out a few powerful principles for influencing people to become customers. After reading this you’ll realize why freemium works, why products often highlight user testimonials, why biz dev people need to be likable, and much more. That’s just the beginning—this book can be applied to anything that involves people.
Finally, a concisely written book that provides a “How to” manual for getting traffic to your website. This book focuses mainly on SEO related activities, so marketing strategy, branding, paid advertising, PR, buzz generation and viral loop marketing aren’t covered. But the topics it does cover are explained perfectly. 

Eric Ries teaches a way of analyzing and building a total startup business that is something akin to a scientist doing a controlled experiment, or an engineer building a machine piece by piece. His approach demystifies many aspects of startup building, and is especially useful during the early stage. This is more than a great book, it’s a movement sweeping the globe.

What are your favourite books for entrepreneurs?

How Much Weight Can I Lose in 8 Weeks by Following The 4-Hour Body Book? And, A Personal Bet

I recently purchased the No. 1 New York Times bestselling book The 4-Hour Body by self help guru Timothy Ferriss, and ended up so engaged that I’ve read it (well, all the parts most relevant to me) twice in 2 days.

This is the book’s cover:

4-hour_body_cover

Obviously to me and 75% of the other people who’ve read this book, the most compelling sections of it are those dedicated to fat loss. Tim goes into detail about the value of starting small, tracking progress, following an effective diet and doing sometimes strange sounding things to add leverage to the whole program. If fat loss or muscle gain are something you are interested in, I recommend that you buy this book immediately.

I’ve read a lot of books on this subject, and the best books out there (such as Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle by Tom Venuto) are often excellent. The difference with Tim’s writing is that not only is it information dense, it also inspires practical action on every page. It fires you up, but also gives you the tools to do something with that motivation. Perfect for that time in someone’s life that Tim describes as their "Harajuku Moment”.

I’m not a newbie to the health and fitness movement. When I was 16 years old, I competed in my first Under 21 IFBB bodybuilding competition at a low single digit body fat percentage. Here’s a photo from that show, weighing in at 62kg:

Sheraan_bodybuilding

I didn’t place well or anything- but that wasn’t the point, and I was by far the youngest competitor there. I did it to prove to myself that I could. Eating primarily fish and vegetables with hardly any carbs for 12 weeks makes for one very cranky teenager.

In the time since then, I kept up my passionate enthusiasm for training, eating right, and looking after myself, generally weighing in at a muscular 71-74kg. Over the last 2 years, though, that commitment to my health and fitness somehow fell to pieces. They say that nobody wakes up one morning suddenly being fat, it’s rather the result of repeated bad choices that have compounded over several days, weeks and months. My weight today: 87kg.

Maybe the cause of getting fat was starting a new business, working ridiculous hours and managing stress badly and snacking on “comfort foods”, maybe it was getting into a serious relationship (which is wonderful, by the way) and having less idle time available, maybe it was all the travel, maybe it was eating out all the time… maybe it was all of the above. But making excuses and postulating about the past doesn’t change a thing. I’m still a whopping 14kg over my regular weight, and no amount of post-rationalization will change that.

Armed with the principles from The 4-Hour Body, I’ve decided to make the change. Of course I have decided to try to make changes before, and failed. Life happens. As they say in boxing, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the face.” But this time it’s different- this time I’m putting my goal out there in public for my all my friends to see! This idea was sparked by a psychology hack discussed in the book where people who made public bets and faced humiliation if they didn’t win were far more likely to achieve their goals.

So here is my bet: I’ll wager anybody who takes me up on it 100 bucks that I will drop my weight to 81kg in next 8 weeks, i.e lose 6kg (13 pounds). Any takers? Just email me or leave a comment. I’ll be tracking my progress publicly on this cool data measurement site here.

This was a tough post to write, but there’s no turning back now. Wish me luck!

Nassim Taleb’s Top 10 Life Tips

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If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 3 years, you might not yet have heard of Nassim Taleb, famous author of The Black Swan and predictor of of the most recent global financial crisis. 

Taleb is something of an enigma- he was relatively unknown before the economic meltdown of 2008 and a superstar afterward. Still, his writings provoke thoughtful consideration of a number of topics, particularly things that we take for granted. His essay “The Fourth Quadrant: A Map Of The Limits of Of Statistics” was especially interesting (I highly recommend it). One of my favourite quotes from the essay is:


'My classical metaphor: A Turkey is fed for a 1000 days—every days confirms to its statistical department that the human race cares about its welfare “with increased statistical significance”. On the 1001st day, the turkey has a surprise.' - Taleb

Yesterday, going through my Delicious bookmarks I re-read an old Sunday Times (UK) profile of Taleb in which he shared his Top 10 life tips. I’ve added the emphasis to the points I particularly like:

Taleb’s Top Life Tips

1 Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.

Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.
3 It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.

4 Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.
5 Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.

Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).

8 Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or (again) parties.

9 Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.

10 Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

—-
P.S: Don’t believe everything the press likes to talk about. Is Taleb a guru, a crank, or at times perhaps both? Check out this counter essay called Taleb’s Black Swan.

New Read: Rework by 37 Signals

I’ve been reading a lot of great things about the new book “Rework” from the guys behind 37 Signals (makers of popular project management software, Basecamp). 

After perusing Michael Hyatt’s glowing post on the book, I couldn’t resist buying a copy for myself.

Billionaire Mark Cuban even wrote this blurb for Rework:
 
"If given a choice between investing in someone who has read REWORK or has an MBA, I’m investing in REWORK every time. This is a must read for every entrepreneur."
 
I look forward to tucking into this one soon!
 
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