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Archive for August, 2018

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love: Book 21 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on August 26, 2018

Once comedian Steve Martin was asked for an advice he would like to give to up and coming comedians and he said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” That precisely is the main theme of the book “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You” written by Georgetown University professor Cal Newport. The book offers his insights on how people can achieve their goals and use their skills to create a fulfilling and passionate career. Whether you’re at the beginning of your career or trying to move up the ladder in your professional journey, the aim should be to master your craft to the point where people can’t help but notice.

Cal Newport uses a simple, useful framework to emphasize his points. He has been a popular blogger and this transition to writing a book seems effortless. While reading, you clearly realize he has been thinking very deeply about this topic using his own as well as several other case studies. He offers several steps to becoming so good others will have to pay attention.

Don’t follow your passion.

Really?? But then that’s what entire world was preaching about! What will happen to bestseller self-help books telling you to always always follow your passion and the whole wide universe will conspire in your favour to achieve your dreams? Hold your horses. I don’t know whether you should follow your passion or not but Cal Newport does present some convincing arguments against chasing your dreams. You must be passionate about your work but “following your passion” is not going to get you there because it has inherent fundamental problems.

so goodFirst is that most people don’t have a shit bit idea of what they want to do. Most often than not we tend to assume that people have a pre-existing passion they can identify and use to make career decisions. Sorry. I rarely see such people. “Follow your passion” is flawed, and can be harmful. It often leads to frequent job/career changes and anxiety/angst when people fail to find their dream jobs. So throw out the passion hypothesis. Let’s put it this way, the better you get at something, the more it becomes a “passion”. There is another assumption that if you really like something, then you’ll really like doing it for a job. “We don’t have much evidence that’s true,” says Newport. He gives an example of amateur photographers or bakers who open up businesses but end up facing extreme financial difficulty that leads to unhappiness. “That’s because having work that you love is a lot more complicated than, ‘Hey, I like this thing! If I do it for work, I’ll like my work!'” explains Newport. The better strategy is to “let your passion follow you, in your quest to become so good you can’t be ignored”.

Build Rare And Valuable Skills.

Quoting the author, “She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.

It took Martin, by his own estimation, ten years for his new act to cohere, but when it did, he became a monster success. It’s clear in his telling that there was no real shortcut to his eventual fame. “[Eventually] you are so experienced [that] there’s a confidence that comes out,” Martin explained. “I think it’s something the audience smells.” The author suggests to try something that’s interesting to you. The only criteria you should have for your career is that it fits your values and rewards skill with more options and flexibility. He uses a very interesting term here-Career Capital which is basically marketable skill. You need to build something deep inside you to allow you to master over your chosen profession. Fundamentally, you need to have something that’s valuable and rare, if you want a career that’s valuable and rare. Career Capital. That explains why doesn’t everyone have a job they love and a career they’re passionate about? Because they’re hard to get. As your skills grow, you start becoming more valuable. Later on, you can capitalize this skill acquired over hundreds of hours of practice into better opportunities.

Mastering skill through deliberate practice.

You need to spend decades in school/college and work crazy hours to become a top doctor. You need to pour over hundreds of pages of balance sheets to understand a business and become a value investor. To gain mastery over your chosen subject, you need to have insane work ethic, talent, and the willingness to say No to a lot of stuff. To illustrate this point, Newport gives you lots of examples. He further adds, settling into a career path is only the first step. Thereafter, you need to get a hold over the skills you need to become irreplaceable. Once you manage to do that, you’ll gain career capital that you can offer in return for a great job. “Until you become good, you don’t have leverage”.

However, you need to watch out for a common mistake; Hitting the performance plateau. Quite often, people build their basic skills quickly at first, but once they’re comfortable, they stop getting better because they’re not stretching themselves,” says Newport. So try to become a craftsman. Use deliberate practice. You need to identify a clear, specific stretch goal based on your skill and then push yourself beyond your comfort zone. Aim for ambitious projects, don’t hesitate in asking for honest feedback, experiment with new ways to develop your skills. Train like an athlete, musician, or chess player. The more mastery you acquire, more control and satisfaction you will garner.

Newport also introduces this idea of “the law of financial viability.” He explains, “People will only give you money if they’re getting value for it. You know you’re getting better at something if more money is being offered to you.” According to him, money offered to you is a neutral indicator of the value of your skill. Money is not the goal, but rather a great source of honest feedback.

Gaining more control.

In author’s words- “Once you’re really good at something, that by itself isn’t enough,” says Newport. “You have to use your skills as leverage to take control of your working life, whether through your work hours, vacation time, or projects.” Acquiring skills should lead to more control of your career to gain benefits that resonate with you. But you can only get control if you have worked on previous steps;- building career capital and required skills. Then you have a choice. You become valuable and rare, which means you have leverage. And once you have leverage, you can decide what you want. Find your own matrix and go after it.

Find your mission.

Cal Newport says, “One way to find great meaning and satisfaction in your work is to end up with a mission that organizes your goals and working life“. You can still manage to love your work without a mission but having a mission helps a great deal in attaining job satisfaction. However, finding your mission should not be your first step. It should be rather your last step. First, you need to get really good in your field. And why is that? Because, having a career mission is similar to a scientific breakthrough – it’s an innovation at the very cutting edge of your field, so you can’t know about it until you get there. Only when you establish strong expertise can you really identify a real, sustainable, impactful mission. Big things start to happen when you get really good at something. Plain and simple.

To sum up, Cal Newport says, passion is a side effect of mastery. He shares various examples of the people who have pursued the path of Career capital-mastery-craftsman mindset in real-life and have made it extra large. He offers anecdotes of his own research and interviews in addition to career profile summaries of key people. Following these steps, one can have the ultimate blend of autonomy, mastery and purpose that makes work truly fulfilling and enjoyable. Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy Cal’s book!

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World- Book 20 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on August 19, 2018

Remember the Ents? Tree-like characters who watch over the forests in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? They were there since time immemorial. Adept at moving around, talking and reciting poetry, the Ents were magical creatures. They felt so appealing that you almost wished them to be real and not just a part of fantasy. There is a high probability of your wishes might be coming true once you go through “The Hidden Life of Trees”, a fantastic book written by a forest conservationist in Germany. Peter Wohlleben invites us to re-examine our “vegetative” notion of trees that we walk by every day and take for granted.

Peter Wohlleben, in his disarmingly candid and unemphatic fashion, opens your eyes to the hiddentrees wonders of nature. He calls trees sentient, communal and learning machine. In his opinion, trees care for their young ones and neighbours as much as we do. They may even have emotions and feel pain. Not everyone concurs with this tree-hugging author but we need to remember that Peter has the care of a forest of venerable beeches in the Rhineland municipality of Hümmel in central Germany, so he knows whereof he speaks. Written in a down-to-earth tone, and drily humorous prose style, The hidden life of trees comes as radical.

This book opened my eyes to the world of beeches, oaks and other species with almost human like qualities. The growth of the trees is so slow that we tend to misunderstand them. It can only be measured in multiple human lifetimes and yet in the words of author- “under the canopy of the trees, daily dramas and moving love stories are played out.” Trees have different temperaments — beeches are sociable, willows loners, birches bullies. Trees in Europe behave differently than trees in USA. Like humans and animals, they have different dynamics and social life. The only difference is, it is being played out much too slowly for our fast paced understanding.

Trees are social beings capable of mutual help, and the forest provides the right level of observation. They reveal themselves to form communities and have co-evolved in and for that particular environment. We have houses acting as our defence against the forces of nature whereas, trees generate their own protective environment. For instance, when a storm strikes them, the diversity of their trunks will enhance their resistance. They do not all sway in the same way rather they knock against each other and thus provide one other with a buffer, thereby decreasing the risk of uprooting.

treeI remember reading in my childhood about Jagadish Bose’s discovery that plants, like animals, too had “feelings”, and reacted when “hurt”. This must have felt like a far-fetched idea a century ago. But Peter Wohlleben, confirms that botany has always walked along Bose’s premise. These fascinating creatures are not much different from us; they possess a “language” of communication, nurture their young with a kind of tough “maternal instinct”, can “taste” and “smell”, help each other when in trouble and have a way of pushing back pesky insects and parasites who feed on them. Primeval forests – i.e. “natural” forests have a layer of fungus called mycelium under the top soil, which connects individual trees with each other. Dubbed appropriately by the Nature magazine as “Wood-Wide-Web”, this layer forms a kind of dense “social” network, which trees use to exchange nutrients and food, to “support” those sick or weak and to “inform” each other of threats — a kind of behaviour that was thought to be sole prerogative of the animal kingdom. In a teaspoon of dirt, many miles of fungal filament exist. They filter out pollutants and in return they take a cut of the sugar the tree produces. Exchange offer. Give and take. Basic rule of nature. See!

It was mesmerizing to read about how trees help each other out. Imagine, channeling sugar and energy to the stump of an important tree, centuries after its death or mother trees doling out tough love to offspring that grow nearby, providing them with shade so they do not grow too fast in the sunlight and exhaust themselves early in life. Just the way, we humans feed our children, a parent tree also feeds nearby offshoots through their roots while they wait, in the shade, for a large tree to fall and allow them to flourish. Trees that grow too quickly tend to develop thick stature and shallow roots which increases their risk of toppling in case of adverse natural conditions. So sometimes, continuing to shoot upward is not exactly the best idea. They also face a fierce competition to get the maximum sunlight for photosynthesis.

When an insect attacks the tree, it secretes bitter toxins that deter the enemy from continuing its pursuit. On the cue, neighbouring trees of the same species, start producing same toxins, protecting them against the attack in advance. They possess a secret language of scent by which they communicate with one another about predators and fend off large herbivores. Marvellous “warning system”! The author also argues about how electrical messages supposedly transfer between root membranes.

Trees are found to be producing an extremely resistant material: bark. Damaged bark triggers a race to survival. Hence a tree tries to rebuild it before its inert tissues become seriously damaged and colonized by predators. At the same time, trees are always in a fierce competition with each other for light because it ensures growth so beeches in Europe for instance, intercepts as much as 97% of light once it reaches adulthood leaving the reeling trees in its shade. Different trees have different requirements and growth strategies. A yew tree can grow in the shade and live for a thousand years whereas a birch spreads its lightweight seeds far and wide to multiply at unmatched speed. Similarly, a pine tree can withstand freezing temperatures whereas willow and alder like to flourish in flood-prone areas by keeping their roots underwater. All these multitudes of behavioural pattern help in bringing stability to the forests.

The author confesses that when he began his career as a forester he “knew about as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about the emotional life of animals”. He further says, ‘‘it is generally accepted that we know less about the ocean floor than we know about the surface of the moon, we know even less about life in the soil’’ and he seems determined and passionate enough to change this. Peter Wohlleben makes a compelling case for a gentler approach to forestry. The tone of the book is chattily engaging with several quips and contagious puns. This is no dry scientific book. It rather moves you with its depiction of fascinating world of trees. Humans need to stop meddling with forests. It’s best that they are left to themselves. This book should be a required reading for every forester. A whole generation will see trees in new light if information contained in the book should be made available to school children. So next time you walk into a forest, keep in mind that you are not alone. And while you’re at it, as Wohlleben recommends, “take a closer look at what you might have taken for granted. Slow down, breathe deep, and look around”.

Some interesting facts from the book-

The oldest tree in the world is an ancient spruce in Dalarna province in Sweden that’s an incredible 9,550 years old.

Electric signals pass along the roots of trees at the rate of one-third an inch per second.

The biggest organisms on earth are Fungi. Honey Fungus which is found in Switzerland, covers a mind-boggling 120 acres and is about 1,000 years old. Hold your breath now; another in Oregon is estimated to be 2,400 years old, covers 2,000 acres and weighs 660 tons!!

A fifth of all animal and plant species found on the planet depend for nutrition or habitat on dead wood.

Old wood stores far more carbon dioxide than younger, slimmer trees.

In the spring, as new leaves unfurl, water flowing upward through trunks can be heard with a stethoscope, Wohlleben writes. Some trees contain about as much liquid in their trunks, roots and leaves as humans; others may be able to drink well over 100 gallons of water a day.

Go for it. Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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A Study in Scarlet- Book 19 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on August 12, 2018

Never really I felt intrigued by mystery and charm of Sherlock Holmes until I saw Robert Downey Jr. Portraying the famed detective with wit and élan on the big screen. Benedict cumberbatch further piqued the interest in his career defining TV series. Subsequently I had my first go at Holmes recently and I must admit, Arthur Conan Doyle here created a character who has become one of the most enduring figures in the popular imagination. A study in Scarlet was published during the era when detective fiction was still in its infancy. This short and quick read introduces us to a young Sherlock Holmes, just setting out on his newly invented career of ‘Consulting Detective’ more than a century ago.

sherlockA Study in Scarlet was an easy read with catchy dialogue and smooth flow of events. And that perhaps is the reason behind longevity of this book and its characters. Sherlock Holmes is a well known crazy genius in literary parlance. Here, he comes across as a very cheerful, detail-obsessed, eccentric, aloof, sarcastic, loves to be flattered, and is bluntly honest. I would rather call him a cocky genius thanks to my weird imagination of Robert Downey playing him in the loop. Perhaps, it helps me in making the plot relatable.

A Study in Scarlet gives you a good background to the relationship between Holmes and Watson, and the psychological journey as Watson slowly becomes aware that Holmes is a truly extraordinary character. Initially, it does come as a teacher-pupil relationship considering how sharp Sherlock comes across whereas mumbling-bumbling Watson’s complete lack of talent for observation and deductive reasoning. I felt fascinated with Holmes’ “attic theory” of the brain. Once you listen to him explaining all the smallest details, it feels very obvious but then it was not. He first displays his talent as a violinist then exhibits mood swings ranging from morbid depression to fierce energy. We are also introduced to the Scotland Yard chumps Gregson and Lestrade, who are keen to take credit for his sleuthing. You may also feel surprised with presence of street urchins employed by Holmes as his junior detectives and absence of Meerschaum pipe and his worst nemesis, Moriarty.

A study in Scarlet has two distinct half; in fact second half that talks about tale of horror, survival, and revenge in the early Mormon settlement of Salt Lake City is so distinct that you might suspect a glitch by your publisher had stitched the first half of a Holmes mystery to the second half of a western thriller. I did glance through the end to confirm whether I am reading the same book. The dark depiction of Latter Day Saints is kind of shocking and the atmosphere is like a tale of attempted escape from an evil cult or a religious inquisition. Portrayal of Utah valley Mormonism by Conan Doyle must have caused sensationalism when it was first published. But in the end, both half links up beautifully in a logical sequence, helped greatly by Sherlock’s explanations.

I was surprised at how readable this book was. It’s both well written and well narrated and language has a nice flow to it. I would have personally preferred to linger the suspicion for a while more but Holmes unravelled the case way too quickly even by his own standards. This was my first Sherlock Holmes read but I am pretty sure I will be coming up with more reviews on his other classics. You can’t have enough of Sherlock’s wise-cracking but that’s all very elementary, aint it?!

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

 

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How to Get Lucky: 13 techniques for discovering and taking advantage of life’s good breaks- Book 18 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on August 5, 2018

Cheesy title, eh?! Usually that reminds of those pirated, poor-printed copies of Shiv Khera types books? Actually it’s not. You can tell it’s a deceptively superficial book that focuses on luck in an interesting way that you wouldn’t disagree with. Max Gunther’s How to Get Lucky emphasizes about randomness of our existence and how to make it work for us. It’s more about how to play odds and position yourself in places where randomness of life works best in your favour. How to get lucky is a practical book which relies heavily on fascinating examples from real life. Though, if you are a man of faith, you might not agree with all his points. Max Gunther is also the author of ‘The Zurich Axioms’ which is considered an investing classic.

I have always found concept of randomness as the root of our lives. As Taleb propagates, it is somethinghow-to-get-lucky-max-gunther1 that drives our life and despite best of our plans and actions, things are more determined by randomness or chances than we would like to believe. Max Gunther takes a dig at successful people using the same theory. He talks about propaganda and hypocrisy often peddled as the secret of success. How to get Lucky makes you think why is it that people who owe their break to serendipity would rather yap endlessly about the good, old work ethic, or their god-given talents? Most of the successful people don’t really mention luck as the crucial factor in their stardom. And why is that? Well, if you credit luck for all that you have achieved it somehow demeans your great feats. Surprisingly, public always gobbles “only hard work” blabbering.

How to get lucky offers some great examples of serendipity and luck factor. For instance, The lady who made the Crossword what it is today admits candidly that many people could have done what she did. In other words, she was simply in the right place at the right time. Similarly, Charles Darrow (the inventor of Monopoly, was told by Parker Brothers that the game violated 52 rules for parlor game design and it was initially turned down) and Margaret Mitchell (who had used some of her “Gone with the Wind” manuscript to prop up a piece of furniture) are fine examples of luck factor. World has no dearth of smart, hard-working, talented people, however you need luck to make it big in life. Max Gunther wants you to think about probabilities and how to increases your chances in the roulette of life. So how to improve one’s chances of being lucky? The author believes he has 13 techniques that can increase one’s chances of being lucky:-

    • Make the distinction between luck and planning – balance your actions by considering both. Do acknowledge the role of luck in your success. If I talk in terms of stock market, multibagger returns of 2016-17 was not just your skills. Everything flew. Dogs, cats and small caps. So chill.

    • Find the fast flow. Be around people, situations where things are happening. It’s extremely important to build connections, relationships and networks. This especially applies to me!

    • Take risk in measured spoonfuls. Dip your toe into risks, don’t dive in. Risk and reward go together. People who prefer comfort zone, don’t take risks, rarely get lucky. It’s more like you have to get in there and put small amounts at risk to understand what works for you.

    • Run cutting – know when to “cash in your chips” to be ahead.

    • Don’t push your luck. Remember, booking your profits? Don’t target riding things all the way. Leave a bit for herd and suckers.

    • Select your luck. Luck selection is too crucial if you want to make it big. – be ready to cut your losses. Many a times things don’t go your way so don’t let your ego or loss aversion come in the way. Tell yourself ‘you were wrong’ and move on.

    • Take the zigzag path. Luck is never linear. It happens randomly. Road to success has several paths. Choose the method you feel most comfortable with. It’s okay to follow some obscure totem if it helps in increasing your confidence.

    • Be a pragmatic super-naturalist. Use faith or non-faith, etc. as it works for you.

    • Visualize the worst case scenario. Every opportunity entails some risk. Measure it. Be prepared for catastrophe.

    • Stay silent. Keep your mouth close – don’t speak unless you absolutely must or you may regret it later. Control the urge to indulge in excessive communication.

    • Recognize non-lessons. Sometimes there is nothing to learn. It was just random. Period.

    • Accept an unfair universe. Deal with this reality rather than pining over it. Fairness is a human concept.The rest of the universe knows nothing about it. So don’t go around thinking you “deserve” good luck or “didn’t deserve the tragedy that happened”.

    • The juggling act – always be working Plans B, C, D, etc. as well. If you want to be lucky, get busy. Some things will work out if you are positioned rightly.

    • And the last point is, find your destiny partner. Destiny pairing refers to constantly watching for connections that could create opportunity.

Gunther explains all the thirteen techniques lucidly and tells you how to how to start applying these lessons effectively. Yes, it’s important to be intelligent, intellectual, hard working and leaving nothing to chance but of course, luck, chance, and serendipity play enormous roles in all of our lives and we all know it. It’s much more art than science. A good, easy read all in all.

 

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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