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Irfan A. Alvi RSS Feed (Towson, MD USA)

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Organize for Complexity: How to Get Life Back Into Work to Build the High-Performance Organization
Organize for Complexity: How to Get Life Back Into Work to Build the High-Performance Organization
by Niels Pflaeging
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.43
18 used & new from $7.71

3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but overhyped?, September 12, 2014
I guess I'm not as enamored with this quick read as other reviewers, maybe in part because few of the ideas are new to me.

Drawing on modern understandings of complexity, the author recommends that organizations have a relatively decentralized non-hierarchical network structure which is dynamic, so that it can flexibly adapt to and be 'pulled' by changing market conditions, with individual and collective learning being continuous processes. The emphasis is on social aspects, teams, collaboration, and group/organizational performance, rather than incentivization or evaluation of individuals. The role of leadership is to foster all of this, along with much attention to helping bring the right people into the organization, rather managing top-down with a heavy hand.

This is all fine, but I think the author sometimes pushes these ideas to a radical extreme (eg, no overtime pay or bonuses), without presenting evidence that doing so will work in practice. And I suspect that the zingy style of the book is also motivated by the author's desire to promote himself as an organizational consultant.

So overall, I'd say that the book has good ideas, but somewhat overstated and overhyped. Read with an open mind, but also take things with a grain of salt. Don't get overexcited and start changing everything tomorrow.

Fundamentals of Ground Engineering
Fundamentals of Ground Engineering
by J. H. Atkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.45
37 used & new from $28.26

3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't seem ideal for any audience, September 11, 2014
I had high hopes for this book, but came away from it with mixed feelings and a bit disappointed overall.

On the positive side, I like the bite-size format of the book.

But on the negative side, while the title is "Fundamentals of Ground Engineering", much of the material is at grad school level, and not explained in this book with enough depth and patience to enable the reader to understand it unless the reader is already familiar with it from other reading. Tied with this, I think there's too much emphasis on conveying concepts via mathematics rather than words. And further in this vein, the content of the book seems better oriented towards academia rather than practice, even though the book lacks sufficient thoroughness for academic use.

Unfortunately, I envision putting this book on the shelf and not referring to it much or at all in the future, since better references are available for my needs as a practitioner.

Aristocrats | Boing, We'll Do It Live!
Aristocrats | Boing, We'll Do It Live!
DVD ~ Bryan Beller
Price: $22.48
19 used & new from $14.31

5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff!, September 10, 2014
Music isn't a sport, so I won't say Guthrie Govan is the *best* guitarist in the world. But I will say that I can't really think of anyone better. Simply phenomenal.

Marco Minneman is a highly regarded drummer as well, and deservedly so. There's a reason he nearly got the gig with Dream Theater. He has chops to spare, but musicality too. I was intrigued to discover that he's also a decent guitarist.

Bryan Beller was new to me, and frankly I wondered if he could hang with these guys. Yes, I think so. He's not a flashy bassist, and his chops are never in your face, but his bass covers the bottom end well - always makes sense for the music, and well executed.

As a trio, they have real synergy, they're a real band, not just three great musicians. They each bring different stylistic tendencies and they fuse them well, apparently a result of enjoying composing and performing together.

So that means that I do like the music. If I was forced to pick a category, I'd call it jazz-rock fusion, but I think their spectrum is actually broader than that. Elements of metal, even country. Reminds me of The Dregs sometimes, but the music is still uniquely that of The Aristocrats.

As far as the DVD production qualities, the Blu-Ray is sharp, and more importantly to me, the sound quality is really good.

Bottom line, this performance captured on DVD is a real treat, and is one I'll be returning to on a regular basis.

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)
Price: $17.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, September 9, 2014
I went into this audiobook somewhat skeptical about the author's motives, but I knew that Zappos was a fairly successful company, and that their culture has something to do with that, so I thought I'd give this book a try and approach it with an open mind.

I'm glad I did! I'm convinced that Tony Hsieh and Zappos are the real deal. Tony is a *very* sharp guy and a quality person, combining inquisitive intellect, analytical ability, humility, creativity, a passion for business which emerged at a young age, and genuine goodwill toward others (desire to "deliver happiness"). Correspondingly, Zappos has a culture which reflects who Tony is, involving commitment to customer service (trying to exceed expectations), sincere regard for its employees and even its vendors, and long-term orientation. The result of this unique culture is that Zappos has grown enormously, and Tony has become quite wealthy (presumably along with other shareholders). But it was also interesting to see how many times Zappos came close to not making it, and the perseverance and risk tolerance that were needed to get through those tough times. Success didn't come easy, it was the result of a learning process involving plenty of trials and tribulations.

I and my own company share some traits with Tony and Zappos, and reading this book has motivated me to embrace who we are and go further in that direction, so this is certainly an influential book for me.

And regarding the skepticism part, yes, the book does serve as a marketing tool for Zappos, but there's nothing inherently wrong with that if Tony is generally speaking truth, which I think he is.

Racing Safely, Living Dangerously: The Hard Life and Fast Times of a Motorsports Mogul
Racing Safely, Living Dangerously: The Hard Life and Fast Times of a Motorsports Mogul
by Bill Simpson
Edition: Paperback
37 used & new from $2.86

4.0 out of 5 stars Colorful, September 3, 2014
Bill Simpson is fairly well known in the motorsports world, especially because of his involvement in safety. I enjoyed reading this autobiography, though, as a safety person myself, I was disappointed that the discussion of safety aspects was fairly superficial, despite Simpson being among the key players during the mid 1960s to mid 1970s when great strides were made with safety.

Overall, what I learned is that Simpson isn't atypical among people who become very successful as business founders/owners.

He had a rough childhood and, though a bright guy, dropped out of school in the 8th grade (reflecting a degree of nonconformity), probably then starting his working life with a bit of an inferiority complex which he was motivated to overcome. Related to that motivation, he read books to help fill gaps resulting from his incomplete education, and also had a capacity to work very hard with a single-minded focus, a focus he initially applied to participating in the "crazy" worlds of drag racing, then amateur club racing (crashing regularly), and finally pro racing (including Indy 500), where he performed decently, though never truly making it to the top (lack of funds was surely a factor).

Through his involvement in racing, he witnessed an appalling amount of injury and death, and ultimately made it his life goal to do something about that by developing products to make racing safer, hence founding the company that bears his name. As a result of lots of R&D trial and error, networking, and marketing, the company did fairly well, though it didn't take off until he quit racing and focused solely on the business - "Safety was never something I could think about for eight hours a day and then forget about at night. It was always a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week deal." And even then, the success of the company wasn't a steady climb, there were some major ups and downs, including lawsuits and near bankruptcy, and Simpson showed the tenacity to weather these storms and persevere.

The business never provided Simpson with the same exhilaration that racing once did, but he didn't regret giving up racing because he recognized that continuing to race without being 100% focused on it was risky. He likened business to war, and was routinely angered by competitors copycatting his ideas. He never had timelines for his company, he just wanted to see it continue to grow, which it certainly did, though he acknowledges that lucky timing was a factor, coinciding with both growth of the motorsports business and increasing attention to safety after many racing heroes died. And though he became wealthy, and appreciated what money can buy, money was always a byproduct rather than the goal itself, the goal being to provide the best safety products available.

But Simpson's focus on racing, safety, and his company came at a dear price: "The personal side of my life has been a total failure. An absolute, complete and total failure." He was married and divorced three times, and accepts most of the blame. He had two sons, but didn't spend much time with them when they were young, which he clearly regrets. He also regrets not having had much of a childhood himself, since he started working so early. Surely a factor in all of this was his sharp temper - perhaps related to his hard-driving and perfectionistic personality - which harmed not only his family relationships, but also his friendships and his business. And yet, because he's convinced that he saved many lives through his contributions to motorsports safety, he claims that he would do it all over again the same way, if he had a choice; I'm not sure I believe him, and suspect that he's consciously or subconsciously compelled to assuage his regrets, but read the book and judge for yourself.

Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence
Mind Gym: An Athlete's Guide to Inner Excellence
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)
Price: $9.95

2.0 out of 5 stars Cliches ... very rudimentary, September 1, 2014
Don't make the same mistake I did. While the average rating for this book is nearly 5 stars because most of the 'reviews' are 5 stars, the 'most helpful' reviews rate the book much lower, and those are the ones to pay attention to.

As they note, this book is basically a bunch of rudimentary self-help cliches which are loosely connected to sports via many short anecdotes drawn mainly from baseball, golf, and basketball (and thus not representative of a broad range of sports). As a result, there's almost nothing in the book which is truly specific to sports and there's no deep insight useful for athletes or coaches. It's just standard and fairly obvious stuff like work hard, be disciplined, be confident, focus, visualize perfect execution, be persistent, learn from your failures, perform in the moment but take a long-term perspective when training, don't try so hard that it's counterproductive, etc.

I came away from the book quite disappointed. Maybe teenagers would benefit more?

Einstein's Genius Club: The True Story of a Group of Scientists Who Changed the World
Einstein's Genius Club: The True Story of a Group of Scientists Who Changed the World
Offered by Audible, Inc. (US)
Price: $11.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Misleading title, interesting book, August 25, 2014
Strange that I'm the first person to review this book ...

Anyway, the title and book description are misleading. There's very little discussion about what Einstein, Russell, Pauli, and Godel talked about. In fact, there's debate about whether such meetings even took place at all, at least with all four of them present simultaneously.

Instead, the book provides somewhat detailed bios of the four of them, as well as shorter bios of other people they interacted with, such as Bohr, Oppenheimer, Wittgenstein, and many others. The book also provides a popular history of the early phase of the development of modern physics (with some tolerable inaccuracies), and its application in the development of the atomic bomb.

This is certainly stimulating subject matter, I learned some new things, and the book is generally well researched and well written. But, again, the scope isn't what the title and book description imply, so I feel that there's false advertising going on, hence my deducting two stars.

Happiness: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Happiness: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Daniel M. Haybron
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.17
64 used & new from $6.31

3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat rambling, and no new key insights, August 21, 2014
Written by a philosophy professor, this book is wide ranging and probing in its exploration of the topic of happiness (and related topics), but unfortunately I didn't get much out of it. We get a knowledgeable tour of many trees, but without the benefit of a clear overall map or otherwise getting a sense of the overall forest. With some effort, the main broad conclusions I was able to draw were:

- We'll be most satisfied with our lives if we live them in accordance with our values.

- Those values will preferably be aligned with the way the world actually works, as well as our individual, human, and social natures. So our relationships with other people matter a lot, and 'good' personal attributes like virtue, empathy, integrity, character, responsibility, caring, etc. are important. We should also choose wisely as far as the people we spend time with.

- We need a balance between engaging activity and relaxation. Stress needs to be managed, and we need to be resilient so that we can handle inevitable tough times. It also helps to have a connection with nature and a general attitude of appreciation of what life offers (glass half full).

- We need enough money and material resources to have basic security, and some freedom and options as far as how we spend our time. Beyond that, money and material resources are of limited benefit. So choose your career carefully based on your interests, personality, and abilities, don't simply chase after money and status.

Of course, this is all fairly standard wisdom, so this book only reinforced what I already knew, rather than adding to or deepening my understanding. But perhaps others will get more out of the book than I did.

Weekend of a Champion
Weekend of a Champion
DVD ~ Jackie Stewart
Offered by Prime Merchant
Price: $17.44
40 used & new from $12.98

5.0 out of 5 stars A documentary which successfully transports you to another time and place, August 21, 2014
This review is from: Weekend of a Champion (DVD)
Because of his character, racing achievements, and leadership in promoting safety (and other worthy causes), Sir Jackie Stewart is among my few heroes. This documentary provides a wonderful and candid window to see Jackie in his racing prime, and in the process also gives us a fascinating view of F1, Monte Carlo, other drivers, their significant others, and much else during those days. Fascinating to see what's changed and what's stayed the same since then. In that regard, the retrospective discussion between Jack and Roman Polanski at the end of the documentary is great as well.

101 Things I Learned in Business School
101 Things I Learned in Business School
by Matthew Frederick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.00
103 used & new from $1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A fun book on business, August 20, 2014
This is a fun little book. Every time I'd open it up to read a few pages, I found it hard to put down and wound up reading much more than I planned. While the book may not produce Eureka! moments for readers already somewhat versed in business, it still contains many useful nuggets of business insight and wisdom, presented in an engaging way. A good book for newbies to get a sense of what business is about, and for veterans to take a step back and survey the big picture of business.

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