Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Sam Zell book review – Am I Being Too Subtle?

I had no idea about Sam Zell before reading his book (which I only found out via Brad Feld), Am I Being Too Subtle?: Straight Talk From a Business Rebel. He runs Equity Group Investments, and their tagline is: “We identify opportunities others don’t — and invest like others can’t.” Do visit their website, it really is quite interesting. I tremendously enjoyed the book, I highly recommend reading or listening to it.

Here are some notes I made from his book.

  • always have a sense of urgency
  • trade conformity for authenticity
  • be blunt
  • culture is king
  • read risk – always understand the downside
  • listen. There is great value in this because you then know the motivations of folk.
  • look for clarity. Drown out the noise. Conventional wisdom tends to be a lot of noise.
  • “If you are really good at what you do, you have the freedom to be who you really are”
  • His daily routine: workout at 4.45am, then in the office by 6.30am, and stays there till 7pm. And he still does this at age 75!
  • Where there is scarcity, price is no object
  • There is value in tenacity
  • Use simplicity as a strategy
  • Strive to be asset rich, cash poor
  • Weak economies breed troubled companies
  • “Competition is great for you, but I’d rather have a natural monopoly; if I can’t have that I will take an oligopoly”
  • Board of Directors tend to have “good resumes whom are often past their prime”
  • Board members should be viewed as cheap consultants to the business. Management team should use them regularly.
  • Do not depend on people unless you understand their motivations. Listen to know their motivations!
  • When people ask Sam Zell what he does? “I am a professional opportunist.” (what a great job title)
  • He is always at his best when the scenario around him is at its worst
  • We should never get into a phase of “irrational denial” (like if people get cancer, you don’t get treatment, you will die)
  • Always make lists. Check them off.
  • “Liquidity equals value”
  • Find good companies with bad balance sheets
  • It is important to have owners, not just managers, in leadership positions
  • See micro-opportunities in macro events
  • Real estate tends to lag the general economy. So it falls slower than the rest of the economy when there is pain.
  • Sam is not pessimistic, but realistic. Go in with eyes wide open.
  • In real estate, he tends to assign walk scores. Takes number of steps to public transport. To the nearest Starbucks. Etc. This will tell you value of property.
  • “Please God, give us one more oil boom and we promise we won’t screw it up.”
  • “Everyday you choose to hold an asset is a day you choose to buy it.” Therefore if you get an offer greater than what you would pay for the asset today, you should sell!
  • Calculate risk, know what the downside is. Ask: if all goes wrong, what do I get from this deal?
  • “I don’t like auctions unless I am running them.” Bidding wars are something he doesn’t like to participate in.
  • Experience – you understand risk only this way. Experience teaches you how to minimise the downside.
  • Be an optimist. Focus on what is next. Do not lament on what could have been.
  • Emerging markets have built-in demand.
  • Global business requires:
    1. good partners
    2. aligned objectives
    3. vision, direction, strategy
  • Sam describes himself as the Chairman of everything but the CEO of nothing
  • Radius theory of business is the number of people between you and the decision. This will affect your ability to succeed.
  • Businesses that delegate too much fail as well.
  • Culture can either inspire or stifle innovation/creativity.
  • Fast decision making and autonomy is what usually wins out.
  • Be ready to pivot
  • Spot opportunity early for long term gains.
  • He is a voracious consumer of information. Reads 1 book per week. Knows how to get relevant information. Reads 5 newspapers per day and 5 magazines per week.
  • “If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas”
  • In everything you do, always be thinking of the next deal. Play it straight. You can be successful AND ethical in business. Do you consider their circumstances over your own? Loyalty definitely matters.
  • Always be tenacious, optimistic, have drive and conviction.

Molly’s Game: constant reinvention and perseverance

I recently saw Molly’s Game on a flight. It was so good I ended up getting the audiobook, to see if I missed out on anything. Molly Bloom (her Wikipedia page is a great read) is an entrepreneur. She trained to ski (and had a tough father, and siblings who skied better than her), but due to injury decided it was time to go find herself. From a terrible job as an assistant, she quickly began running poker games for her boss. When her boss decided to cut her off, she became independent and anticipated player’s needs and became an even greater success. Her games even brought in Hollywood celebrities.

When she exited the LA market, she did games in New York. So no stranger to starting from scratch, in an industry that she was already well-versed in. Eventually the law caught up with her, and she had to give up her high life. But with grit, the rebirth seems to have been writing her story, which became a movie that Aaron Sorkin directed.

Constant reinvention and perseverance. Those are my takeaways from both the book and the movie. I recommend watching the movie, then deciding if you are still interested before getting to the book/audiobook.

Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process

I was about to purchase Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee, but then I read Who Can Afford to Write Like John McPhee?. Apparently most of the book has already been published in The New Yorker. So I might just settle for the audiobook, and/or read the articles in Instapaper (probably both; to listen to it in transit, with the ability to highlight notes in the articles).

First, I needed a table of contents. Then I found pretty much all his work at his author page. Now the articles, presented in order:

Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

I listened to Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and I quite enjoyed it. Its clear you need to rest for success.

Some key takeaways: rest, take regular vacations (maybe coupled with a think week), have focused mornings (when the alarm goes off, don’t read social media or your email; have a plan for what you want to achieve before being interrupted – consider this your leader time), allow your mind to wander, and exercise regularly.

Some quick notes:

  • Rest is not the adversary of work. Rest is the partner of work. They complement and complete each other.
  • A stoic would say, no good life without good work. One provided means to live, while one gave meaning to life.
  • If you want rest you have to take it
  • Learn to breathe (I think this is something the Apple Watch helps with as well; it reminds you from time to time to take a breather for a minute, and then it quantifies it for you as well).
  • Rest in ways that are challenging or rewarding
  • Long creative lives tend to be lives rich in work and rest. Don’t worry about age
  • Don’t say labor rather than contemplation is what gives you success – this is why you have workaholics
  • Do you have convergent or divergent thinking? Wikipedia has some good reading on this: Convergent thinking, Divergent thinking.
  • Brief periods of mind wandering boosts creativity
  • Associative thinking – maybe this is why people like working in cafes
  • Deliberate practice
  • Have focused mornings
  • Inspiration must find you working
  • Awake and aware or asleep and cleaning up – our brain can only do one not the other (our brains don’t multitask)
  • There’s a link between lack of sleep and dementia as well as sleep disturbance and dementia
  • Vacations are like sleep. Take them regularly.
  • Build rest into your schedule
  • Use recovery activities to help with creativity (why exercise is useful)
  • Exercise regularly. Otherwise strenuous exercise will tire you out!
  • Finishing an entire book is close to manual labor according to Murakami (quote from: Haruki Murakami: Writing Novels Is an Endurance Sport)
  • Exercise in your mid life (40–50s) will really help you later in life
  • To stay ahead, it’s necessary sometimes to step back
  • Bill Gates think week – he spent a week away from everyone including family to read and figure out new things. Very interesting concept, WSJ In Secret Hideaway, Bill Gates Ponders Microsoft’s Future reports its a twice yearly ritual for him.
  • The Samsung Electronics sabbatical plan is quite interesting; you go around the world, immerse in local culture, and it helps the company overall. Read Why Samsung pays its stars to goof off.
  • Depth of experience abroad is important. More important than breadth, i.e. just travel abroad. Working in 2 countries a year is good but 8 will be too much (I personally like this idea tremendously; it also makes for diverse networks).
  • Detachment is important during a sabbatical
  • Annie Dillard: “who would call a day reading a good day? But a life spent reading, that is a good life” (full quote)
  • From a book in 1895, titled The Use of Life by John Lubbock, he makes a distinction between idleness and leisure: “Leisure is one of the grandest blessings, idleness one of the greatest curses. One is the source of happiness, the other of misery.” People sometimes mistake rest for idleness but this is obviously a mistake.

Trust Agents

Remember Trying Audible Gets You Two Free Audiobooks. Listened to Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust and had a few takeaways:

  • Make us want a product. Make us trust a person. 
  • Trust agents plant seeds that bloom into evangelism on their own. Simply to create a positive impression of the brand. 
  • Acknowledge. Apologize. Act. 
  • Always be connecting. 
  • Mastermind groups – likeminded people to call your own. Connect with others. This is an idea from Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich. 
  • Ronin – masterless samurai. I had no idea about this before, but I have certainly read up on the Ronin since.
  • Have a wide network and you will never be in need of work.

Again, like most books on social media, this probably made a lot of sense to read in 2010, but listening to it now is also just as good. Even if you’re adept at social media, you will still learn something new which is a good thing. 

Audible: Crush It, The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk

I’ve been an Audible subscriber for many years, but it’s only been in recent times that I’m listening to audiobooks a lot more diligently (cutting out many podcasts in favour of this; good production quality and it’s not conversational, means you kind of win in terms of knowledge and time). Why not try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks?

Today I’ll talk about two Gary Vaynerchuk books: Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion and The Thank You Economy. These were both very easy listens, and Gary is known as a social media maven with his WineLibrary.tv and now his agency. I didn’t quite enjoy that he went off-script a lot, which made these books very podcast like.

As for the positives? Learn how to build your personal brand, why great content matters, the importance of authenticity in your messaging, and how to monetise your passion and create a new life for yourself. I know social media (or at least I think I do; I was an early adopter of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) so it may be useful for some but not necessarily all folk.

The Thank You Economy had a bit more for me:

  • B2B buyers are really also individual customers – there is a human behind the purchasing decision. This is where social and a good relationship makes sense
  • When you spend money, do you spend it back on your customers (i.e. Throw a party) versus spending it thru an intermediary (i.e. Run a billboard ad). This could be interesting from the standpoint of booth vs party
  • Word of mouse (you click nowadays!)
  • JDV Hotels took to social media very well and they have a program to wow guests (and they have empowered their employees). They comb your social media profiles and listen to you. Was very impressed by the authenticity.
  • Handling a public customer complaint is better than praise. Handling criticism > praise. Social media is public. This is important.
  • Business is personal. B2B too.
  • Don’t be afraid to say what you think. But don’t forget to listen
  • The humanisation of business is what social media is doing

There were a few other interesting case studies as well, so I can highly recommend listening or reading The Thank You Economy.

I also found the idea of having a Chief Culture Officer as an interesting idea. His bet on virtual goods, for me at least, wasn’t true (so I tweeted him) — the idea that we’ll all be buying lots of them pretty quickly.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time I’ve written about him: An Entrepreneur’s Life Video had some notes too.

Many of these tips are timeless, and can be applied even if social media isn’t hot any longer. If you had to pick between the two, I’d go for the Thank You Economy. But why pick, when you can Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks?


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