First off, I didn’t realize it, but last week was my 150th post! It snuck up on me, unlike my 100th post in March of last year. If all goes well, I should hit my 200th post in February of next year.
I was listening to a recent podcast episode from the Tim Ferriss Show where he interviewed author Jim Collins. In the latter half of the episode, they discuss Collins’s latest publication, a monograph that expands on his flywheel concept that he introduced in an earlier publication, Good to Great.
What I found most interesting was his reason for releasing a monograph (which comes to a total of around 45-pages). He stated that one option was to release it as an appendix to a future edition of Good to Great since it was material that has been expanded since the original publication. However, he decided against this idea since it would force anyone who already purchased Good to Great to buy a second copy of it, which seemed unnecessary.
A second option would be to release it as an article, either in a magazine publication or online. His reasoning against this, however, is that articles and blog posts are too ephemeral, and would likely not get the traction he was seeking. He wanted something that wouldn’t be forgotten immediately in the wash of news and opinions that are put out there for consumption multiple times per day.
Instead, he opted for a somewhat outdated option of releasing a monograph.
What struck me most was his comments concerning idea mediums, which reminded me of a few of my rants on animated bibliographies. His reason to avoid writing a separate book to expand on the flywheel idea is that he doesn’t see value in taking a relatively small idea and working to inflate it to 300 pages.
[Collins] “A piece of writing has a natural length. A symphony has a length. “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones has a length. You wouldn’t say, “Well we should make ‘Gimme Shelter’ a 72-minute piece.” It’s the wrong length for “Gimme Shelter,” and writing is like music. It has an appropriate length for what the music is trying to do, to be. What I realized back in 2005 was sometimes you could have something that is a powerful extension idea or an ideal, it really shouldn’t be a book. It’s not enough to be a book.”
This is a good comment on the self-help book publishing industry’s trend to push out books that have a few novel insights and a huge amount of commonly-cited research studies that fit the narrative (and confirmation bias). In fact, it reminds me of a video essay I watched recently which articulates (better than I) the problems with the self-help genre overall.
This certainly won’t stop me from reading self-help books, and I’m still knee-deep in many other animated bibliographies – I’m a bit of a glutton for punishment.
However, I think this insight is fantastic and expresses why some ideas don’t deserve to be turned into books (unless it’s a book of essays). It makes sense that some ideas have a natural size, and the size should be commensurate with the number of pages devoted to explaining it. While the industry does not incentivize these examples of smaller publications, I think it’s a great solution to the need to pad out books with the same sources and the same studies.
And now for something lighter. The last few weeks, I’ve been discussing some pretty heavy topics, so I thought for Family Day, I’d share something a little on the lighter side that makes me happy.
Killswitch Engage (KSE) is a band that I really like. I think since 2012 I’ve seen them play every time they’ve swung through Ontario on tour with the exception of once, tallying around 7 or 8 shows. A friend who accompanies me to the shows joked that it’s getting to the point where we buy tickets to KSE shows for an excuse to see the other bands they are touring with.
Six years ago this month, they released their lead track and video from 2013’s Disarm the Descent, In Due Time.
The video kicks off with some behind the scenes footage of the band and crew, interspersed with footage of the band playing their instruments. While this is going on, the camera follows behind the band’s vocalist, Jesse, as he enters the space, walks up to grab the microphone, and launches into the song’s vocals.
If you know nothing about the band, you might not connect the visuals with the band’s history, but let me show you why this is such a cool visual metaphor. I’m not entirely sure that it was intentional (I haven’t read anything to support my idea), but even if it was deliberate it’s a really cool way of visualizing the band’s history up until that moment.
The band, while going through a few member changes in its early days since forming in 1999, was made up of guitarists Adam and Joel, bassist Mike, drummer Justin (who joined in 2003), and vocalist Jesse. In 2002, just as they released their sophmore album Alive or Just Breathing, Jesse announced abruptly that he had to quit the band for personal reasons. It was a sudden departure that left the band hanging. The band added Howard Jones to the lineup, and they broke it big with 2004’s The End of Heartache, which launched them into the charts and cemented them as one of the biggest bands in the genre.
Fastforward to 2012, and Howard announces his departure for the band. There was some uncertainty at the time as to whether the band would continue and under what conditions, but it was quickly announced that Jesse would return to the mic. Jesse was not a stranger to making music at the time, having worked on a side project with some of the members of KSE called Times of Grace in 2011. KSE toured and completed their album through the end of the year and released Disarm the Descent in early 2013.
Now, if you take the history of the band into account, go back and watch the video from the start through around the 34 second mark, and what you see is a visual representation of the band up until that point. You see the band playing, making music but without a vocalist to sing their lyrics. Then, from outside, you watch Jesse walk up to the group, rejoining them in time to begin the first verse. The band was an entity that was already out there, working hard, and Jesse gets welcomed back, fitting in naturally with the group. The group had continued on without him, and Jesse returned to help give voice to their music.
It’s a beautiful representation, and something of an easter egg for the fans.
As an update to last week’s post, my boss confirmed with me that I wasn’t being offered the position. While technically I’m in the running since HR hasn’t sent me the official email to say they have selected another candidate, my boss gave me the courtesy of not making me wait for HR to seal the deal. And so, here I am, posting again about how I didn’t get the job.
Reflections and Learnings
One benefit of this round of interviews is that I was interviewed by my direct boss and one of the managers I support. This means that I have access to much better feedback than what HR can give me. Both bosses have offered to sit down with me and go over their notes from the interview, with specific feedback on how I could do better. They are both invested in my improvement.
My boss mentioned when she told me I wasn’t getting the job that there is still room to redefine my current job. Since then, I’ve been doing a comprehensive deepdive into my job and mapping it out. I pulled my last performance appraisal and am looking over what I do well (my strengths) and identify where I need to improve. This will give me a good lens to look for courses or opportunities to grow and better demonstrate my experinece.
Both bosses commented that I delivered a good presentation. This is good to note, because I can take stock of how I chose to research and present the information. HR sent me links to resources, and one of my bosses said I was the only one to name drop them during my presentatiton and interview, showing I did the work.
The more indepth feedback will help me address one of my interviewing weaknesses – I tend to ramble because I haven’t adequately prepared canned stories that showcase my abilities. With their specific feedback I can reflect and collect stories of how I problem-soved issues, which will help me articulate my value.
While it might be the case that I lost out on the job because I was in competition with a better qualified candidate, I need to remember to always express my value to the employer. I need to answer important questions like “What can I do for the employer? What problems will I address? What money will I save? What opportunities will I exploit?” etc. I will need to reflect more intentionally on what I bring and give it a narrative that tells a story.
Most importantly, I need to prepare so I can have more self-confidence. You can’t sell a product if you don’t believe in it 100%, and I sadly still lack confidence in my value.
As one of the managers and I were chatting afterwards, he said there is a saying in his home country of Romania, which roughly translates to “a swift kick in the butt is still a step forward.” I think this is a good perspective to take.
Last week I interviewed for a new position in the office. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very good in interviews. As of writing, I have not heard back whether I’m moving to the next round of interviews (successful candidates will have a further interview with the manager and an interview with the College President), however I’m not overly optimistic that I’ll be selected.
When I say that I don’t do well in interviews, I have to own the fact that not doing well in interviews is wholly my fault. For last week’s interview, I spent time studying for the position and about engineering educational accreditation processes, and constructing a presentation about the key domains of the accreditation process, but I spent next to no time preparing my answers to the interview questions themselves. My preparation was largely to watch two mini-courses on Lynda.com on interview prep, and to take notes on some case examples I could bring up for achievement or behaviour questions. Only the night before, for about twenty minutes, did I have my wife run some sample questions past me. My lack of preparation and practice on answering questions is entirely on me.
I did have one insight, though, that gives me some solace. In thinking about how poorly I thought my interview went, I reflected on how many interviews I’ve done in my career to date. This was my 5th interview, and only my third interview for a non-entry level position. I realized that one of the reasons why I was so unprepared, and why I didn’t spend more time prepping my answers is that I don’t know how to prepare for a mid-career interview. The phrase “what got me here won’t get me there,” comes to mind in this scenario. I don’t yet have a clear picture of what I should be aiming at in interview questions.
I know the mechanics of the interviews – I should be demonstrating value to the employer and painting a picture of what I can do for them. I should consider what their questions are trying to elicit from me and tailor the response accordingly. When giving a behavioural- or achievement-based answer, make sure to ground the example using the STAR method (situation, task, action, results). Link strengths back to the job competencies, and identify weaknesses from the job competencies that I’m actively addressing. I know these facts, but because I lack confidence in myself I have a hard time selling it to others because I don’t believe it for myself. No amount of resentment towards the dog-and-pony show process will elevate me above other candidates.
If I want to succeed, I need to get better at playing their game.
I have carried some form of notebook for the last seven years or so. It started back at the tail end of grad school where I felt I needed a way to help me remember important appointments, meetings, and to capture to-do items. I started off by purchasing a Moleskine weekly calendar, which was great, but my cheap student mind didn’t like the added cost of the specialty book, whereas I could make the same book from a regular, ruled Moleskine. For the next two years, I would measure out the spacing and draw in the lines for the year. I appreciated the simplicity of the task and found it almost meditative, however I grew tired of having to do this at the start of each year.
Later, I switched from larger Moleskine notebooks to smaller, pocket books. Over time, I adopted the Field Notes brand of pocket notebooks as my go-to medium to capture thoughts, though I do keep an assortment of notebooks on hand (or on my shelf) for specialty purposes. The early days of Field Notes had me using a notebook until it was full, whether this was notes from a single month or from multiple months.
Eventually I settled on using one book per month, and started a fresh book every month, regardless of whether I fill the book or not. In this post, I’ll show you how I set up a notebook for the month of January, and provide some commentary on my choices.
The first step is to get a fresh notebook. You don’t have to use Field Notes, but I like the brand and the quality of the product. My only criteria when selecting a book is I prefer at least 48-pages that uses good paper and a grid pattern (either solid lines or dots). The paper is important because I use a specific kind of pen (I’ve settled on the Uniball Deluxe Micro as my preferred pen) that can easily bleed or smudge on poor quality paper as I write leftie.
The next step is to go through and number all of my pages. This is important because after I’m done with a book, I use an index (see below) to capture important pages that I want to reference in the future. The index does not capture any of the standard pages I set up at the start of the month, nor does it capture my individual days. Instead, it captures main to-do lists, important notes, or other things that I’ll need to find later. For instance, I use these physical books to remember passwords I rarely need to type. If I update a password, I note the date in my online calendar with a book reference (month, year, and page), so that I can go back and see what I set the password to. This doesn’t work when I’m out of the house, but I find this helps with keeping my rarely used passwords secure (instead of constantly answering security questions to reset the password).
After the index, I titled the second page my dream scratch pad. This is where I can do pie-in-the-sky thinking about things I want to do, accomplish, strive towards, covet, etc. To be honest, I rarely use this page, but I like to keep it on hand in the same place.
Next, any major to-do items get carried over. A lot of these have been on my carried-over to-do’s for some time, but I don’t want to forget about them (things like rolling over my passwords regularly, or little things I want to do around the house. If to-do items can be grouped under a specific theme (say, specific home repairs), they get their own lists later in the book. This page carries over everything else.
Next is my tracker page. This is where I track habits and other regularly occurring items so I can see them at glance. I list the dates along the left side (weekends get doubled-up so I can fit the entire month in), and each category of things to be tracked gets its own column. Some metrics are good things to track, while some of them I want to use to monitor my general health and well-being.
Since the entries per day are pretty short (not a lot of space), I keep this facing-page blank for additional notes on the month, if I need it.
On page 6, I capture my intentions and goals. I track goals and intentions a few ways. First, I have a “soul,” “mind,” “body” theme which allows me to focus on specific areas of my life (soul – social, philosophical, spiritual, etc.), (mind – learning, planning, etc.), and (body – physical health and wellness). I realize you can’t try and change too many habits at once and be successful, so these are just ways of helping me to prioritize things into themes, short-term and longer-term goals, and things I want to change. If page 6 is my capture page, page 7 would be where I would focus myself to a limited number of things. I would pick something from the previous page and devote more time or attention to it with specific plans and actions.
On page 8, I track some specific health indicators – my weight on the scale (left side), and my waist measurements (on the right axis) over time (the x-axis). Static views of single health metrics aren’t very helpful, so I’ve chosen to track weight and my waist as a better indicator of my overall progress in fitness. I’ve also started tracking blood pressure, which I input results for the day the data is collected as the systolic/diastolic reading.
Then, on page 9, I borrow a system I found on Reddit to track excuses. This is where I can measure intentions against action. For instance, if I set an intention to exercise and I skip it, I can capture what my excuse is for skipping it, assess whether it is legitimate (yes/no), and make notes on any ways I can mitigate the reality or implement solutions to keep my intentions.
Finally, on page 10, I start my first entry. Every day that I record in my notebook will receive a new page. I put the date across the top, then fill in tasks for the day, ideas, interesting quotes, or things to remember. Sometimes I’ll migrate thematic lists into this section, such as tasks I need to complete as Board Chair or for things around the house to repair.
This is the system I currently use. It borrows from a couple different sources, such as the original Moleskine planner I began with, elements from the Bullet Journal method, and good ideas I’ve found rambling through sites like Reddit. The notebook set-up iterates over time. I add and remove things depending on how useful I find them. Some of the items discussed above might get removed soon since I haven’t done a good job of keeping up with them, and therefore are no longer useful to me.
It is a little tedious to set up a new notebook every 30 or so days, but on the whole I like the systems I’ve developed and have found it immensely useful in my day-to-day life.
Share with me down below what kind of systems you use to help keep yourself on top of things. I’m always looking to borrow good ideas! I hope you found something here that was useful.
Here it is, my yearly update on what I read over the last 12-months. Overall, I far exceeded my 2016 and 2017 lists in terms of the number of books (42 in 2016, 44 in 2017, and now 57 in 2018) and even the number of pages (4,600 pages more over 2017’s total).
Saga, Volume One
Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
12 Rules for Life
Skin in the Game
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Proust and the Squid
Lords and Ladies
Thinking in Bets
Yuval Noah Harari
This Is The Year I Put My Financial Life in Order
Men at Arms
The Achievement Habit
Discover Your Inner Economist
The Five Love Languages: Men’s Edition
David and Goliath
Feet of Clay
Own the Day, Own your Life
Tribe of Mentors
Better than Before
Books for Living
The Last Continent
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Daniel H. Pink
A Higher Loyalty
Why Buddhism is True
Elon Musk (Biography)
What the Dog Saw
The Daily Show: An Oral History
If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late
James J. Sexton
A Life in Parts
5 Love Languages
The Last Man Who Knew Everything
David N. Schwartz
Hector Garcia and Francesc Mirales
The One Thing
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
This Is Marketing
The Souls of Black Folk
W.E.B. Du Bois
The Artist’s Journey
Running Down a Dream
Zen to Done
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
As I mentioned last week, I have some thoughts and reflections while reviewing the list. First, when I was selecting my best 5 for the year, I noticed that the books in the latter part of the year were ones I felt resonate with me the most. I think this is for two, related reasons. First, this was a huge year for my wife and I. We renovated our old house, sold it, bought a new house, renovated the new one, moved cities, got married, and got me a new car. We had so much packed into one year on top of work and family, that the year seemed to have flown by without me realizing it. Someone pointed out to me that there was a Winter Olympics at the start of last year – I couldn’t believe it and had forgotten all about it.
The second, somewhat related reason is because of the sheer volume of books finished, I don’t think I gave the material time to properly settle in my mind. Fifty-seven books is a huge amount, and I think that by the end of the year, I couldn’t really remember what I had read during the first half of the year. Instead, most of the impact was felt in the readings from the latter half of the year. That’s not to say that the books from the start of the year are forgotten, because I feel that lessons taken from Skin in the Game and from Sapeins, for example, are prominent in my mind. It’s just that they didn’t really stick out in my mind at the end of the year when I was picking my top reads of the year.
Another reason why I think I have a hard time remembering what I read from the start of the year is because the vast majority of the books finished this year were audiobooks. Thanks to Audible and the Libby app, I was flushed with books to go through. And because I listen to books at a minimum of 1.5x speed, I can get through the books at a far faster rate than if I were carving out time to read physical books. This has its advantages, such as being exposed more rapidly to new ideas. However, this advantage comes at the cost of little overall integration of the information and general lowered retention of information over time. The speed at which I’m listening to books is more like skimming than true reading.
Nevertheless, I’m very satisfied with my accomplishment for the year. I’m not really interested in trying to top this list intentionally next year. I will keep reading/listening/consuming books at whatever rate I happen to finish them, but I will go with whatever pace I happen to settle in, rather than trying to hit weekly or monthly targets.
For the upcoming year, I’d like to try and move away from the self-help, business, and animated bibliography genres of books, and instead tackle more books on history, biographies, and fiction that’s not just Terry Pratchett (though I will still keep ploughing through the Discworld series – that’s not changing any time soon). If you have any book recommendations, feel free to let me know! I’ve already got “Educated” by Tara Westover and “When They Call You A Terrorist” by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele on my bookshelf as recommended by friends. I’m always on the lookout for the next book to read.
As of writing, I have powered through 55 books this year. I choose the word “powered” deliberately, and I’ll have more to say about that next week when I list all the books I read for the year. But in the meantime, I’ve been doing some reflecting on the year that is about to close, and I thought about the books that stuck with me the most.
In no order, here are the top 5 books I read this year.
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Shoe Dog details the early history of Nike’s founding and the struggle of getting the company off the ground. While there are things that Knight did that had questionable ethics, you can’t deny that he and his team worked incredibly hard to secure their place in the world of shoes. The story was compelling and hooked me in from the outset.
Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull
Another founder’s story, Catmull relates the history of Pixar’s founding and eventual merge with Disney. If I was going to use one book to teach me leadership (especially when leading creative teams), this would be the bible to follow.
The Daily Show: An Oral History by Chris Smith
I loved the Stewart years of the Daily show, but if I regret one thing, it was that I didn’t watch it sooner. I didn’t have the understanding of politics and history to get the show’s message while I was in high school. In fact, I only came to the Daily Show after getting into the Colbert Report midway through undergrad. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the show under Trevor Noah’s leadership, but it hasn’t been the same for me. This book helped me catch up on the early history of the show and gain some context of the show while I was a viewer. Finally, it answered my burning question of why Stewart decided to step away from the desk.
The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester
This book was so good, I gave it to my grandfather as a Christmas gift. Maybe I’m biased because I work in an office full of engineers, but the history of precision engineering was amazing. Winchester tells a compelling story of the various leaps forward in precision engineering, from machining and designing systems in entirely new ways. While you might not think a history lesson of machining would be interesting, I urge you to check this book out.
The Last Man Who Knew Everything by David N. Schwrtz
The biography of Enrico Fermi’s life was a thrilling ride. I like reading about the education and early development of brilliant thinkers, and Fermi didn’t disappoint. Fermi is known for his uncanny ability to derive equations from first principles, and to understand systems almost intuitively. Combine that with his ability to “eyeball” problems and create stunningly accurate approximations, it’s no wonder that he’s considered the father of the atomic age. While it’s a shame that his work did create such devastating destruction during the war, the man himself was charming and well-worth getting introduced to.
Next week, I’ll list all the books I’ve read in 2018. In the meantime, have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and I’ll see you in 2019.