Amy and I took our Q219 Vacation in Kyoto and then finished up with a few days of work in Tokyo. I had a terrible cold so I spent a lot of time in bed sleeping and reading. We wandered around some in Kyoto and saw cherry blossoms, but the food was mostly lost on me given how crummy I felt.
I did, however, get a lot of reading done. So, as a return from vacation bonus, you get my reading list with some short comments.
It’s worth noting that I’m a “nice reviewer.” If I don’t like a book I don’t finish and, don’t list it on my Goodreads page, and never recommend it. So, my stars on Amazon / Goodreads always bias high and I try, in my reviews, just to give a feel for why the book might be interesting to someone.
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life: This was a quick read that helped get me in a frame of reference for the trip. It didn’t survive my cold or jet lag as the thoughts got buried, but I think they were rumbling near the surface again the past few days.
No Hard Feelings: Emotions at Work (and How They Help Us Succeed): If you are a millennial, are frustrated with how you feel at work, or want to try a reset on your emotional engagement with your job, this is a great book. It is part of the Next Big Idea Club that I’m a member of (thanks Andy for the membership) so it was obligatory reading for me versus something I’d naturally choose, but I’m happy I read it.
Overclocked: More Stories of the Future Present: Lots of short/medium stories that Cory Doctorow has written in the past decade or so about the near future. Some were great while some were a little long and tedious and became skimmers. I love Doctorow’s writing (and mind), so even the tedious ones are worthwhile getting a feel for since they provoke a bunch of ideas.
26 Marathons: What I Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life from My Marathon Career: I loved, loved, loved this book. Meb Keflezighi is one of my running heroes and he does an awesome job with this book. He uses his 26 marathons, in order, to tell his running autobiography, but more importantly explore lessons he’s learned on many dimensions from the challenges he faced before, during, and after each race. If you are a runner, this is a must-read.
The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are In a Video Game: I’ve been friends with Riz Virk since the mid-1990s when we were involved in a few early Internet companies. We haven’t had a lot of contact over the years, but I’ve enjoyed reading his writing and when he told me about this book, I gobbled it down. I’m going to write a longer post about it in conjunction with another book I read, but if you are intrigued (like I am) by the simulation hypothesis (e.g. our current existence is merely a computer simulation), grab it.
Becoming a Venture Capitalist (Masters at Work): Gary Rivlin did a nice job of a survey level book around the styles and approaches of contemporary VCs. It’s an extremely bay area / Silicon Valley-centric view but is a great introduction to anyone new to the industry or who wants a contemporary view of some of the higher profile and more successful Silicon Valley investors. He has a nice, and completely unexpected reference to the book Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist at the end of the book, which made me smile.
Permutation City: This is the fiction version of The Simulation Hypothesis. I have a longer blog post coming on this one also, but it’s a massive winner and a delight to read. Great setup that is complicated, but comes together well followed by a gigantic pace of mind-blowing awesomeness.
Solitary: Mind-blowing, but in the opposite of awesomeness category at one level, and incredible at another level. Albert Woodfox is one of the Angola 3 – this is his autobiography of being in solitary confinement for over 40 years for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s a magnificent writer who captures the depths of what he confronted while staying true to how he faced it. This book is the heaviest I’ve read in a while, and, against the backdrop of life as a computer simulation, was hard at times to handle. It’s another must-read, but you need to settle in and give yourself space to process it while you are reading it.
I wasn’t able to sleep last night, so after doing the final copy edit on Do More Faster 2nd Edition, I started reading J.D. Lasica’s new book Catch and Kill: A high-tech conspiracy thriller. My brain was toast and my head was full of dripping dead virus goo, so I hoped some good mental floss would help pass the time.
I finally crawled into bed at about
Instead of a marathon weekend, this has turned into a book weekend. It’s gloomy outside and I’m still fighting with Nev (Mr. Nasty Evil Virus), so as the cliche goes, Catch and Kill has been just what the doctor ordered.
Lasica does a great job of world-building in the near future, weaving together high-tech and super evil bad guy billionaires, a mysterious fantasy island, efforts to undermine and transform the geopolitical superstructure, and authoritarians who just want more, more, more.
The protagonist, Kaden Baker, is everything one wants in a kick ass 23-year-old female character who saves the world, but almost dies trying. Several times. Oh, and she saves her half-sister (who she didn’t know about) and her dad (who she also didn’t know about), along with a bunch of other people.
There were lots of twists and turns along the way and Lasica keeps the pace up throughout the entire book.
He handed out copies of his recent book Do Better Work: Finding Clarity, Camaraderie, and Progress in Work and Life. His talk discussed his journey around writing the book, motivation for doing it, how it is integrated into the mission of Lessonly, and why he decided to self-publish it.
I read the book on the plane home. It’s short but full of great stuff for any CEO. If you are a CEO of a Foundry Group investment, you’ll have a copy from me as part of our “book of the almost every month club” on your desk soon.
The Kindle version looks like it ships today. If you are a CEO, go grab a copy. It will inspire and teach you a few key things that will immediately help with your business.
I read Roger McNamee’s book Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe the day it came out. While likely uncomfortable for a lot of people, it was excellent, provocative, and challenging all at the same time.
I have not, nor have I ever been, an investor in Facebook. However, I benefited indirectly from, and indirectly contributed to, the rapid rise of Facebook as an early investor in Zynga. I remember being amazed at the pace of growth of both companies and, in an effort to understand it better, went deep on how each company’s product intersected with the psychology of humans.
If you hung around me during the 2007 – 2010 time period when I was on the Zynga board, you would have heard me talk with amazement at how easy it was to manipulate people into spending huge amounts of their time tending their virtual farm on FarmVille. I spoke with pride about the data that Zynga collected on every user, much of which came directly from Facebook and had nothing to do with what Zynga was doing, but was readily accessible to them via the Facebook API. Zynga endured endless Facebook TOS rewrites as they evolved their business model and tried to capture more of the revenue from companies like Zynga, including what I have come to refer to as the Facebook-Zynga Cuban Missile Crisis which ended in
All of this happened a decade ago. I left the Zynga board just before they went public at the end of 2010 (as is my, and my partners’ at Foundry Group’s approach.) I continued to be a user of Facebook, but even that drifted away from me, as I never really felt that connected to it (I was more of a Twitter person.) I wasn’t surprised when the Facebook data privacy scandals started in 2017, but I was surprised at how timid the backlash was. I stopped using Facebook in 2018 and deleted my account in August.
McNamee has a deeper relationship with Facebook, as he was a mentor for Zuckerberg early in Facebook’s life and then an investor (first personally, then via his fund Elevation Partners) while Facebook was a private company. His experience has more emotion in it than mine (both good and bad), but his journey that led to this book started just before the 2016 US Presidential Election as McNamee was concerned that “bad actors” could be using Facebook to manipulate the election.
The book is riveting. McNamee moves between Facebook, his experience as an investor, his efforts to get through to the Facebook leadership team about his concerns, and his subsequent journey to make public his views about the negative impact Facebook is having on society and democracy in general. McNamee is not taking a cynical approach, but rather takes responsibility for his own lack of foresight into the potential problem, and explains his search for understanding and solutions.
I think this book is merely a preamble for what is coming in the next twenty years. As a species, we have little understanding of the complexity that we are creating through technology. This complexity cannot be solved, as complex adaptive systems don’t have a single solution – they adapt and evolve. Instead, we can only interact with them and, when they evolve at a rate much faster than we can understand and respond to, it’s can lead to an untenable situation.
We haven’t really begun to understand the implication of what we are creating. Regardless of the long-gone “Do No Evil” slogans of progressive technology companies, profit and power motives dominate behavior. And, with profit and power comes significant defenses, including denial about second order effects that result, and then the third order effects that result from the efforts to control the profit and power.
McNamee’s book is a taste of this. Read it and start to prepare your mind for what is to come.
Several friends have mentioned that I’d love Cal Newport’s writing. I finally got around to reading his most recent book, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and my friends were correct.
Newport is famous for being a millennial, computer scientist, and a
Digital Minimalism is complementary to Jaron Lanier‘s book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, but I found Newport a lot more comfortable and convincing. More importantly, it reinforced a number of changes that I’ve already made in my life over the past few years.
I’ve deleted Facebook, shifted almost all of my interactions on the few social media services that I use (Twitter, LinkedIn) to broadcast only (where I broadcast out things to anyone who cares to follow them). I’ve limited my online writing to my blog, which I’m fine being reposted in other places. My inputs are now what some refer to as Slow Media, where I can read and consider the input, rather than react to endless stimuli.
I’m an introvert in an extrovert’s world. I like to be alone, with Amy, or with a maximum of four people (usually me, Amy, and another couple.) In contrast, I spend a large portion of my work time with groups larger than four people. Figuring out how to manage this duality, while staying mentally healthy, has been a life-long challenge.
Newport’s concept of digital minimalism helps me with all of this. He refers to a distinction that MIT professor Sherry Turkle makes in her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation. In her book, Turkle draws a distinction between connection, her word for the low-bandwidth interactions that define our online social lives, and conversation, the much richer, high-bandwidth communication that defines real-world encounters between humans. I care deeply about
Newport has an entire chapter on solitude, nicely titled “Spend Time Alone.” He makes the important distinction between spending time alone with other stimuli (music, podcasts, audible, streaming media) and real solitude. I immediately understood this as well, as I almost always run alone and naked (without headphones). The examples of how Lincoln used solitude was extraordinarily well written and inspiring.
In addition to the framework around digital minimalism, Newport unloads on the reader with numerous tactics. I use some of them but found a few new ones to add to my repertoire.
A big thanks to Ben Casnocha, who was the most recent person to push me over the “you must read Cal Newport’s stuff.” I’ll read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World soon, after I enjoy some sci-fi mental floss next since the last few books I’ve read were heavy-ish.
I read Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister recently. It was recommended to me by Tami Forman, the CEO of Path Forward and I was immediately cheered on by Amy when I started reading it.
It was extraordinary. Every man I know should read it. I’m now officially a Rebecca Traister fan. I learned a lot, was forced to think about a bunch of uncomfortable stuff, and formed some new ideas about how to address some gender-related issues in our society.
And then I read the Bloomberg article Wall Street Rule for the #MeToo Era: Avoid Women at All Cost and got mad at some men.
The article starts strong.
“No more dinners with female colleagues. Don’t sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Avoid one-on-one meetings.”
It then goes on and references this as “The Pence Effect.”
Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation.
I thought the idea of the Pence effect, as stupid as it is, had come and gone. But I apparently am wrong.
“For obvious reasons, few will talk openly about the issue. Privately, though, many of the men interviewed acknowledged they’re channeling Pence, saying how uneasy they are about being alone with female colleagues, particularly youthful or attractive ones, fearful of the rumor mill or of, as one put it, the potential liability.”
Then I came upon a quote that was advice for men which seemed fitting and was a solution that I expect Rebecca Traister could be supportive of.
“Just try not to be an asshole.”
If you are living in fear around the #MeToo issue, go read Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. Confront your fear. Examine any guilt you have. Get real with yourself about the issue. Change your behavior. And just try not to be an asshole.
James Oliver, Jr. has written a fun book that is part memoir, part advice, for what he calls Parentpreneurs (entrepreneurs who are trying to raise kids.) He’s got a website with a bunch of history about him, his journey, and the book. It’s also got some pictures of his twins, which even I, as a non-kid kind of person think are pretty adorable (although they are apparently
I’ve had an email correspondence with James going back to 2015. In November, I got an email from him that, among other things, said:
“Brad, I think I mentioned I’m raising money for a WeMontage relaunch, which is taking a while-as expected.
In the meantime, the way I’m taking care of my kids is mostly via book sales. The book reviews have been wonderful-someone called it the
realestbook about being an entrepreneur they ever read. And the amazonreviews are fantastic.
In order to provide for my kids, I need to sell 300 books this month via my website (www.themoreyouhustle.com – because
amazondelays royalty payments by two months); that’s only 10 sales per day. “
I read it during my Q418 vacation. It was a quick read, fun and interesting, and game me perspective on James’s life as an entrepreneur and parent. The book also made clear how awesome his wife is and how important she is to his entrepreneurial journey.
If you still have some holiday spirit left in you, grab a copy of James’ book The More You Hustle, The Luckier You Get. You’ll be doing James a solid by helping him get WeMontage back up and running and get some valuable perspective and lessons along the way.
I was really tired this weekend (from the week) and didn’t feel like doing anything other than laying on the couch near Amy and reading. She was also tired, as she spent the week in Wellesley at a board meeting and a bunch of other Wellesley related stuff, so even though the Boulder weather was magnificent, we stayed home other than a quick trip to Boulder to get our eyes checked and have sushi with some friends. Oh, and took really long naps both afternoons.
By Sunday night I was tired of reading (but Amy wasn’t) so I went downstairs and watched Finding Traction, the documentary about Nikki Kimball’s monstrous performance on the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont. While I’m limited to running marathons, I find inspiration from watching ultras …
The book list started with me finishing a book I’d started earlier in the week. I read mostly on the Kindle this weekend, but John Doerr’s book came in the mail in physical form so I read it that way.
Mastering the Market Cycle: Getting the Odds on Your Side: Howard Marks (Oaktree) is a brilliant investor (and great writer) so I read everything by him I can get my hands on (and there’s a lot of it going back to 1990.) Not surprisingly, I learned a few key things from this book and it reinforced a bunch of others I already knew.
Power to the Startup People: How To Grow Your Startup Career When You’re Not The Founder: There is an infinite number of books now aimed at startup founders and entrepreneurs, but very few aimed at startup employees. Sarah Brown is a Boulder friend (now living in SF) and this is a really good book. There are lots of Boulder stories and people in it, but Sarah does a great job of covering a lot of ground that is generally useful to anyone considering working in, or already working in a startup. It’s the second “startup employee” book that I think is really good, following Jeff Bussgang’s Entering StartUpLand: An Essential Guide to Finding the Right Job (which is referenced a few times in Sarah’s book.)
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person: In my effort to read more memoirs by women, I enjoyed Shonda Rimes book. I can’t remember who referred it to me, but it was good and added a dimension to my memoir reading that had a lot more X and no Y in it. Amy and I regularly watched both Grey’s Anatomy (at least the first four seasons) and Scandal (again – maybe four seasons) so Shonda Rimes has entertained us a lot. With this book, she helped widen my perspective on a number of things I hadn’t thought much about.
From Like to Love: Inspiring Emotional Commitment from Employees and Customers: Keith Alper is a long-time friend – we were both on the YEO board in the mid-1990s, spent a lot of time with the Kauffman Foundation when Jana Matthews was there, and have continued to connect on numerous things over the years. This book embodies everything I’d expect from Keith, is a good read and had some fun new suggestions in it. Definitely worth reading if you are a CEO and you like the word “love” in a business context. And, if the word “love” in a business context scares you, then this book is also for you.
Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth: John Doerr is well-known as a long-time advocate of OKRs. Today, I hear the word OKR in a lot of contexts where I’m 100% certain the company is implementing them incorrectly. If you are using OKRs, please read this book. And, if you are thinking about OKRs, please read this book.
Ready for Monday? I’m going to start things off with a short run.
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History was awesome. Given that Sears filed for Chapter 11 today, I’ll start with some perspective from 1976.
America is remarkably dynamic. Humans constantly create narratives about things and how they work. Suddenly, popular books are appearing, such as Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, that challenge the relevance of our narratives.
There is so much to reflect on when reading a book like Fantasyland or Sapiens. Pondering the meaning of life is an endless human pastime.
It’s particularly interesting in the context of the growth and development of a country, which in and of itself is a temporary construct, just like everything else.
I’ve always loved reading fantasy. And, after reading Fantasyland, I realize I’ve been living in it also.
This summer I read the page proof version of Scott Belsky’s new book The Messy Middle. It is excellent and is now out and available. I bought 100 copies and am sending them out to every CEO in our portfolio. If you are a CEO of a fast-growing company, I strongly recommend it.
The letter I sent out to the CEOs in our portfolio (with the book) follows:
Since you are a member of the Foundry Group Book of the Almost Every Month Club (bet you didn’t know that was part of the deal when we invested), enclosed is a copy of The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky.
It’s outstanding. Many of you are either in the messy middle or aspire to be (whether you realize it or not.) And, if you don’t aspire to be in the messy middle, but hope to one day be a large company, you may as well deal with the reality that you’ll enjoy time in the messy middle.
Scott was the founder of Behance, a company funded by USV and a bunch of seed/angel investors, that was acquired by Adobe. Scott then served a tour of duty at Adobe, left to spend some time at Benchmark, but then went back to Adobe and is now Adobe’s Chief Product Officer. He’s also had a great track record of angel investments, so he’s been around a bunch of different blocks multiple times.
Rather than read from start to finish, take a look at the Table of Contents while holding a pen and circle the sub-chapters that are interesting to you. There are a lot of them, they are short, and almost all are highly relevant. But, start with the ones that call out to you as a way to get into the book more deeply.
And, if you find something particularly relevant to you, mention it, with an example (if you are brave enough to name names) and put it up on the CEO list.
Scott – thanks for putting so much energy into this book.