Monday, 30 August 2010

Video: The Machine that Changed the World

This 5 part documentary chronicles the history of computers from the 17th century to 1990 – from Charles Babbage’s vision of a calculating machine, to the Personal Computer of today.  It takes the viewers back to the original motivation for creating such machines, and outlines the many breakthrough innovations such as integrated circuits, and why they are significant.  This is a very well done documentary.


Book: Good to Great by Jim Collins

Score: 4.5/5

In this book, author Jim Collins tries to answer the question “why did some companies start from a normal/good/bad performance to achieve great results later”.  A case study method was used where companies fitting the criteria of such performance leap were chosen, and another set of companies with roughly comparable performance and industry were chosen as comparisons.  Collins and his research team then tries to look for patterns in the good-to-great companies.

I really enjoyed reading this well researched book.  In many instances it’s as if Mr. Collins was reading my mind.  As I thought “well, what if x happens”, and his next section would address x.  Many insights were dispensed in this manner, demystifying many common beliefs about a successful company or leader.  I highly recommend this book.

I feel I can’t do justice to the insights of the book without all the context, so here’s the ending thought from the book for you to think about what’s your motivation for greatness:

When all these pieces (from the book) come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life.  For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life.  And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.  Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution.  Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Book Afterthought: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Score: 4/5

Delivering Happiness is written by the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh.  Zappos is an online company that sells shoes, a bit like the Amazon of shoes.  Zappos had gone from zero to 1 billion in revenue in 10 years through exceptional customer service, with jaw-dropping policies such as 365 days return period for shoes sold online.

In this book, Tony outlines how he grew up and ended up being the CEO of Zappos, what lessons he had learned through running the business, and where he sees the company and going in the future.

It’s a great book and easy to read.  I especially enjoyed the candor and a little weirdness of Tony.  The later part of the book was a little long and repetitive, but overall I really enjoyed the book.  Below are some of my favourite moments/quotes.

1. Much of our sense of reality is perception.  At one point Zappos was weeks from going out of business from lack of cash.  The source of funds was unclear.  During this time Tony took a trip he had planned for a long time to climb a mountain, and here’s his experience:

The next four days hiking up Kilimanjaro tested my physical, mental, and emotional strength.  We hiked twelve hours a day…I ended up getting a cold, with a cough and runny nose.  The dryness at higher elevations caused me to get a bloody nose.  Half the time spent hiking was with tissue paper stuck in my nostrils, making breathing even more difficult.  And even though I’d taken altitude sickness medication, the high altitude resulted in headache, vomiting, and diarrhea.  I was only carrying a day pack, but my shoulder and back started acting up and spasming…There were no showers or bathrooms…This entire experience was by far the hardest thing thing I had ever done in my life.  It was testing every ounce of willpower I had.  After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached the summit just as the sun was rising.  I couldn’t believe that we had actually done it.  We were standing at the highest point in all of Africa, looking down at the clouds below us, with the sun directly in front of us, its rays welcoming us to the beginning of the new day…In that moment, I thought to myself, Anything is possible.

2. There is a time to harvest, and a time to sift:

“In the pursuit of knowledge, something is added every day.  In the pursuit of enlightenment, something is dropped every day.” – Lao-tzu

3. Great quote to live by:

“No matter what your past has been, you have a spotless future.” – Author Unknown

Hope you enjoy the book!

Book afterthought: The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

Score: 4.5/5

I actually started this book about 3 years ago, but only recently had the discipline to finish it.  The World is Flat is a book about globalization in the 20th century – what are the significant historic events that caused it, how technology helped to level many playing fields, how companies and individuals are and should cope, and what economic and geopolitical implications it has on the world at large.

Written by Pulitzer prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman, this book is a great introduction to the understanding of globalization.  It was easy to read, and covers many areas – education, technology, politics, and economics.  Though the book is 3 years old now and some examples are not as timely, many lessons are valuable nevertheless.  Below are some of my favourite parts of the book.

1. If you are not interested in your job.  Be careful if your competitors love what they do, because “Nobody works harder at learning than a curious kid”, and when the learning is materialized, it becomes a significant force.

2. Speaking about a key cause of violence:

This humiliation is the key.  It has always been my view that terrorism is not spawned by the poverty of money.  It is spawned by the poverty of dignity.  Humiliation is the most underestimated force in international relations and in human relations.  It is when people or nations are humiliated that they really lash out and engage in extreme violence.

3. About the tech bust’s lesser known impact on India’s tech industry:

India didn’t benefit only from the dot-com boom; it benefited even more from the dot-com bust!  That is the real irony.  The boom laid the cable that connected India to the world, and the bust made the cost of using it virtually free and also vastly increased the number of American companies that would want to use that fiber-optic cable to outsource knowledge work to India.

4. Why oil dependency hinders growth in oil rich countries:

Nothing has contributed more to retarding the emergence of a democratic context in places like Venezuela, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran than the curse of oil.  As long as the monarchs and dictators who run these oil states can get rich by drilling their natural resources – as opposed to drilling the natural talents and energy of their people – they can stay in office forever.  They can use oil money to monopolize all the instruments of power – army, police, and intelligence – and never have to introduce real transparency or power sharing.  … They never have to tax their people, so the relationship between ruler and the ruled is highly distorted.  Without taxation, there is no representation.

It had been an insightful read, and I hope you find this book equally useful to you, too.