10 really short book reviews plus reflection on those reviews

I’m going to make this a regular feature of the blog (at least that’s the plan) – so I’m going to be kind of making up the rules of the reviews as I go along. I’m going to try to keep them to 100 words or less but I haven’t figured out how I’ll rate them yet. If you’ve read any of them, or have any specific questions, let me know.

Full disclosure: I keep an ‘I’m reading’ list on my profile on LinkedIn and will be using the reviews there as the basis for my reviews here. If I could just import them here, I would, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to embed them right now. Also, by doing it this way it forces me to think about what has changed since I wrote that review, and the update will hopefully make the review more accurate.

The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization
by Thomas Kelley, Jonathan Littman

I’m only through the first two parts of ten, but I can say already that if you’re interested in making a design-focused organization, or even just improving your marketing through empathy and understanding your customer, you’re going to want to have this book on hand. Update: I’ve kind of stalled on this one, though it isn’t because I don’t like it – I just got caught up in a few other books at the same time. While this book is not exactly how-to, it has a lot of great ideas and case studies to make things happen and provide inspiration.

13 Things that Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
by Michael Brooks

This book is blowing my mind. There are so many interesting scientific anomalies that currently exist – from death as an aberration to the problem (or not) with dark matter – this book is definitely for the scientifically curious. Update: (I wrote the previous part a few weeks ago) I actually just finished this book last night. The last few chapters were not as good as the first few, but it’s hard to say if that was due to the mysteries being less interesting or me getting a bit tired of them. Maybe 11 things that don’t make sense would have been better.

Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative
by Edward R. Tufte

So far this is simply an amazing book about the role of design in great communication. When you read the part about the Challenger Disaster you will learn about statistics, understanding data, and communicating risks properly. Edward Tufte is a true gem. Update: we both hate PowerPoint. That is all.

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days
by Jessica Livingston

This book is great for anyone interested in entrepreneurship in general or specifically tech start-ups. It is really making me want to get something rolling on my own, which is both distracting and very exciting. I highly recommend this book. Update: I still highly recommend this book. I haven’t picked it up in the six months since I read it, but I do still plan on using one of the interviews as a basis for a one hour lesson in my entrepreneurship class at BrainBoost.

Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56
by Rafe Esquith

I’m about to be teaching a course again and this book is giving me a nice grounding in the non-technical aspects of teaching that I want to accomplish, or re-accomplish, as it were. Very entertaining and enlightening. Update: I am teaching that class now, as above, and this book was inspiring, but perhaps it’s more for someone who hasn’t done a lot of teaching. Then it will really get you excited to teach.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
by Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

I’m reading this book because I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to books about the brain, how it works, and how we can improve outcomes for people in general. If we can improve the lives of others by changing design, why shouldn’t we? Let the default be a great option. Update: Started reading this again recently. It’s still pretty awesome, and definitely a great place to start if you’re fairly new to the subject.

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
by Jim Collins, Jerry I. Porras

A great book if you ever need to create a BHAG for a company you know little about and then give a presentation to its CEO less than 48 hours later. The Sauder MBA Capstone program – good times! Update: I haven’t looked at this one for quite a while now. It’s not for everyone, but it is particularly useful if you own/run/work for a small business and you want to set a course for the future.

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits
by C.K. Prahalad

A great book that features tonnes of actual pragmatic advice and lessons learned from companies opening up the bottom of the pyramid. Perfect for anyone interested in making the world a better place through business. Update: This book makes you want to move away and go help the less fortunate all over the world. That feeling passes – however, that is probably a good thing, as there is always a lot of good you can do in your own backyard – like volunteer in Vancouver.

Duct Tape Marketing: The World’s Most Practical Small Business Marketing Guide
by John Jantsch

Another book I’m only part way through, but this one has had some real gems in it. For example, mapping your customers out to see any interesting relationships between them. What if half your customers all came from the same neighbourhood? What does that tell you? Maybe you have an evangelist there, or maybe seeding a new neighbourhood with customers would be a good idea as perhaps it’s just friends talking to friends? You never know what you will learn from this exercise – and this is just one among many. Update: See, this is why I force myself to do this – why haven’t I picked this one up in a few weeks? I need to finish this one right away.

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
by Dan Roam

Clearly I’m reading way too many books at the moment, but this is also a keeper. It helps show my current theme/interest, which is learning to communicate more effectively and efficiently through a number of different mediums. A lot of what I have found in here is fairly intuitive, however, like many things in life, forcing yourself to sit down with the intuitive can sometimes be quite enlightening. Update: I’m guilty here – I’m totally skimming the exercises and that is making the whole experience a lot less useful. I will update this one again in the next set of reviews assuming I go back and do these drawing exercises. Mea culpa.

One of my favorite Tufte posters – click for full-size:

Tufte on PowerPoint

The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint