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Ilya Grigorik "igrigorik" RSS Feed (San Francisco, CA, USA)

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The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life
The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life
by Chris Guillebeau
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.00
86 used & new from $9.23

4.0 out of 5 stars A quest is a way to 'level up' your personal life, October 19, 2014
You don't pursue happiness, you find happiness in the pursuit. And what do you pursue? Well, that's where it gets interesting because everyone is different: social work, spending time with your family, scaling mountains, cooking a great meal, solving a hard puzzle at work, ... In short, you find happiness when you are engaged in a meaningful challenge, or adventure - a quest.

What makes a good quest? It has a clear goal, a set of intermediate milestones, it imposes creative constraints, and most importantly, it is a personal journey where the reward is in the pursuit.

"The Happiness of Pursuit" provides a collection of stories about few dozen personal quests - travel around the world, make 10,000 hats, cook a meal from every country, and so on. It's an inspiring read, but ironically it still spends most of the time on the end goal - aka, how do you find a quest - instead of focusing on the pursuit and what makes it worthwhile.

A quest doesn't have to be a large and long-term challenge, it doesn't have to upend your entire lifestyle, or force you to switch jobs. A good quest can be as big or small as you want, as long as its meaningful, measurable, and has an end goal. It would have been great to see more examples, and a framework, for how to identify such quests.

In absence of that, my personal takeaway: a quest is a meaningful challenge or adventure, that has a clear goal, and a set of milestones along the way. A good quest imposes creative constraints and provides a framework that makes it both more meaningful, challenging, and interesting to pursue - a good quest is remarkable. A good quest is measurable and allows you to estimate and document progress, and has a clear and defined end goal. A good quest is a journey and the reward is in the pursuit, not (just) the destination.


Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
by Peter A. Thiel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.20
69 used & new from $12.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for every entrepreneur, October 15, 2014
The process of going from "zero to one" - idea to a successful product with a unique and long-term perspective - is a qualitatively different process than going from one to many (scaling the product, wringing out efficiencies, etc). This book, as the title implies, is all about that first step: how do you find the right idea, how do you identify and measure the market, how do you find and identify the right people, and so on. Each with a good dose of contrarian perspective, hands-on advice, and illuminating stories from the field.

A refreshing and thought-provoking read that is guaranteed to challenge your assumptions and beliefs about startups, competition, economics, and more. You may disagree with many of them, but you can't blame Peter Thiel from shunning away from taking a contrarian perspective. A book every entrepreneur should read - consider it as homework.


How Google Works
How Google Works
by Eric Schmidt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.99
55 used & new from $11.56

5.0 out of 5 stars Blueprint for success..., October 15, 2014
This review is from: How Google Works (Hardcover)
Disclaimer: I work at Google.

Reading through the first few chapters, many of the points and that Eric and Jonathan highlight in the book appeared "obvious". However, then it dawned on me that they're only "obvious" because I have an insider view -- at a minimum, this illustrates that the practices they describe do, in fact, permeate the culture of the company. That said, this book is actually much more than that... it's a blueprint for an engaging and innovative environment, both at a micro and macro scales (from a startup to a Fortune 500 company). A few highlights:

- focus on people, they make the company in the long run
- hiring is an art and science, maximize the science part
- build an environment where ideas and serendipity can flourish
- define objective & key results (OKRs), share them, measure them
- keep your eyes on the product, not the competition
- focus on the people, ..., focus on the people, ...

Quick and easy read, and a great perspective into how Google works under the hood.


Getting Unstuck: Break Free of the Plateau Effect
Getting Unstuck: Break Free of the Plateau Effect
by Bob Sullivan
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.60
77 used & new from $1.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Great message, but with unnecessary tangents..., September 27, 2014
What's a plateau? Picture an "S-curve": you start slow at the beginning, then there is a rapid ramp as you learn new skill, and finally you reach the top of the curve where the gains flatten out and voila, you've hit the plateau -- rapid progress, followed by a strenuous slog on the plateau to gain small marginal improvements. The trick, as this book points out, is to identify when you've hit this plateau, and to figure out how you can jump to the next large ramp - e.g. change your strategy, change the problem, or simply "satisfice" with where you are and move on to other projects.

All in all, great message and a good read. That said, the cited examples and stories sprinkled through the book while entertaining, didn't seem all that relevant. I think the message could have been delivered in far fewer pages and with more clarity. Hence the three stars.


The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age
The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age
Price: $8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long-term employment is a thing of the past, but that's not a bad thing., August 31, 2014
A fresh, useful, and practical perspective on how to align the incentives between your employees and your business. The premise is simple, but powerful: long-term employment is a thing of the past, recognize this and state it upfront in your relationship with your employees, and build a model where both you and your employees have aligned incentives. You have to make your employees more marketable for their next job, which may or may not be with your company, and they have to commit to put their best foot forward by taking on larger challenges, leveraging their networks to help the company, and so on. This, in short, is "the alliance".

How do you go about executing this plan? The book offers a number of useful blueprints: employee rotations for newcomers, tailored tours for the higher ranks, and foundational tours for the key stakeholders. For the details on each, plus additional topics such as how to build and maintain an alumni network, you'll have to pick up the book - it's a quick and easy read, and it's definitely worth it. Also, there is a great companion site at theallianceframework.com.


The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $8.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Developing a grounded perspective (with Stoicism), August 31, 2014
Positive thinking in and by itself can't cure all your ills, or solve all the worlds problems. To the contrary, simple techniques like negative visualization, recognition that some things are simply out of our control, and celebration of death, amongst many others, can help you create a much more grounded and productive perspective on life. The author does a good job of introducing some of the core ideas of Stoicism to motivate and explain the above techniques, and sets them in a modern context - lots of examples, a few diversions along the way, but overall an easy and approachable read.

For a more in-depth introduction to Stoicism, check out "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William Irvine.


A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
Price: $8.44

5.0 out of 5 stars Practical Stoicism in a modern context, August 31, 2014
Perhaps one of the best practical introductions to the art and practice of Stoicism. The author provides a great tour of all the great thinkers (Seneca, Epictetus, Gaius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius), their individual contributions and differences, and most importantly, a modern adaptation and translation of those ideas into our everyday life - e.g. how to deal with hardship, old age, lack of control, sense of duty, and much more. The book provides many references, in case you want to dig deeper, and great hands-on examples both from the ancient and modern times. Practical, approachable, and easy to read... and you'll be re-reading it a few times over because it's that good.


The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $3.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentle introduction to stoicism., August 3, 2014
Short lessons and practical advice for everyday life situations and how to make the best of them, regardless of what stands in your way: "it's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters".

The book serves as a gentle introduction to stoicism and its the key philosophical figures, but does so in a practical way and with many good examples and stories to keep the reader engaged. For the curious, there are also many good references if you want to dig deeper.


Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $12.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The mental tax of scarcity and its implications..., July 6, 2014
Scarcity of time, money, or any resources for that matter forces us to "tunnel" on the problem at hand. This focused attention can help, but it also consumes much of our "mental bandwidth", which means that other things (both trivial and critical) may receive insufficient attention. The trick, and the central question of the book, is to figure out the implications of these competing forces: focus is good, focusing on the wrong things is bad, what forces us to tunnel, and how can tunneling affect our decision making processes.

For example, could it be that the reason some people fail to invest into the future (e.g. savings, retirement, etc.) is better explained by scarcity of mental bandwidth, than lack of financial education? That's not to say it's one or the other, but perhaps forcing these individuals to "learn how to plan, or learn about financial planning" is not the whole story.

An interesting read, even if a little drawn out, with plenty of illustrative stories sprinkled throughout. Perhaps the one area that's lacking is an equal analysis of how to balance the pros and cons created by scarcity.


Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing
Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing
Price: $7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Idleness is not laziness, June 28, 2014
Idleness is not laziness. In fact, idleness may be an important and necessary condition for processing and synthesizing information to create new ideas and connections. The key observation and premise of the book is that latest experiments in neuroscience indicate that our brain is, in fact, extremely active when we are "idle", and that the involved regions may play an important role in helping with "creativity". As such, perhaps in our quest to fill our calendars we may have inadvertently blocked ourselves from the creative breakthroughs that we all seek?

The book is based on limited studies (and our overall understanding of this space is poor, to say the least), so the conclusions are to be taken with a grain of salt. Similarly, the used language is imprecise and at times simply wrong (e.g., the many comparisons of linear vs. nonlinear systems), but despite all that, still a thought provoking and very interesting read.


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