Posts

Hey, I’m Conor. I’m a data scientist and writer living and working in New York.


What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Vagabonding, Principles, The Alchemist, Drive, Blue Ocean Strategy, Hooked

Vagabonding, Principles, The Alchemist, Drive, Blue Ocean Strategy, Hooked

Over the past 3 months, I’ve been reading more than ever. Nothing insane like you hear from some others out there, but definitely an increase over my normal frequency.

Admittedly, a lot of this has to do with spending more time on my own during my solo travel. Any time I was taking a break from sightseeing, moving from one place to another, or eating a meal by myself, I would fire up my Kindle and read for a little.

I’m planning on keeping this habit up as we move into next quarter, but I’ve realized that going through a book cover-to-cover and then setting it down isn’t enough. In order to better retain and understand what you read, you need to take time to reflect on the information and summarize any key findings and lessons.

This post is my way of doing this while also sharing my insights and book recommendations with you. You’ll find the 6 books that I recently read below with a short summary followed by some takeaways from me and finally, a link to check out the book if you’re interested.

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel

I read this novel by Ralph Potts a few years ago after Tim Ferriss’ endorsement and recently read it a second time prior to leaving for my backpacking trip. It touches on a bunch of long-term travel topics that came in handy for me and really helped shaped my view of travel.

“Vagabonding is about gaining the courage to loosen your grip on the so-called certainties of this world. Vagabonding is about refusing to exile travel to some other, seemingly more appropriate, time of your life. Vagabonding is about taking control of your circumstances instead of passively waiting for them to decide your fate.”

Some takeaways

  • Long-term travel is more do-able than you probably think right now.

  • Prepare for your trip, but don’t overprepare.

  • Vagabonding is a mindset that you can adapt and learn from, even if you don’t plan on taking off and traveling right now.

  • Little serendipitous experiences will likely be what you cherish the most.

Despite all of the stories and personal testimonies that the book contains, it’s actually more of a guide than anything. It includes advice on finances, handling adversity, assimilating to travel, determining your destination, and plenty of other things. You can check it out for yourself here.

Principles: Life and Work

I had heard people raving about this book for a long time, so it was probably long overdue that I looked into it. When I finished the book, I think my first thought was, “Wow, Ray Dalio is the man.” Not for the reasons you might think, not for all his success as an investor and entrepreneur, but for taking the time to synthesize all of his learnings into such a detailed and insightful little resource.

“Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life. They can be applied again and again in similar situations to help you achieve your goals.”

Some takeaways

  • When making decisions, choose rational thinking over emotions.

  • Don’t assume you’re right, ask yourself: “How do I know I’m right?”

  • Radical transparency is uncomfortable but it pays off in the long-term.

  • Create an idea meritocracy, a place where the best ideas win out no matter where they come from.

There’s plenty of other lessons that I took away from the nearly 700 pages in Principles, but I’ll leave those for you to discover on your own. If you’re crunched for time, I found the “Life” portion of the book that comes first to be the most helpful. The “Work” section seemed to repeat some of these common themes. You can check it out for yourself here.

The Alchemist

I know I’m not alone in saying that I love Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The book is extremely popular and for good reason. That’s coming from someone who doesn’t read a ton of fiction. Nonetheless, the story of the young shepherd and his self-discovery contains tons of wisdom that we should all think about and apply a little bit more in our own lives.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

Some takeaways

  • When you want something, the universe conspires to help you achieve it.

  • The fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself.

  • Every search begins with beginner’s luck and ends with a severe test.

  • Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out to be a threatening place.

It’s funny how fiction can teach us just as much as nonfiction. If you’re at a point in your life where you’re chasing a goal or approaching a turning point of some kind, pick up this book. At under 200 pages, you can read it in one sitting. You can check it out for yourself here.

Drive: The Truth About What Motivates Us

I’ve been thinking a lot about goals, motivation, and purpose lately. I turned to this book by Daniel Pink to try and make sense of things, and it really did help. The book is centered around the things that have motivated humans throughout history and why our current approach isn’t optimal for satisfaction or effectiveness. Pink argues that rewards and punishments are outdated and instead, we should focus on mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

“Effort is one of the things that gives meaning to life. Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it. It would be an impoverished existence if you were not willing to value things and commit yourself to working toward them.”

Some takeaways

  • Extrinsic motivators aren’t effective for complex tasks.

  • Goal setting is dangerous and should be prescribed selectively.

  • The best work comes when the reward is the activity itself.

  • We enjoy a challenge, especially one that we can work autonomously on.

This might seem pretty straightforward, but look closely at office culture and the mechanisms put in place to motivate employees. You’ll likely find a pretty big disconnect between the ideas in this book and what actually goes on at work, even if things are getting better with time. There’s a TED talk on the topic and you can check out the book for yourself here.

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant

Another extremely detailed book, I really enjoyed Blue Ocean Strategy. The novel is focused on providing a systematic approach to avoid competition in business. It starts by explaining why you should care about “blue oceans” and then quickly moves into tools and techniques to discover them.

“Blue oceans, in contrast, are defined by untapped market space, demand creation, and the opportunity for highly profitable growth. In blue oceans, competition is irrelevant because the rules of the game are waiting to be set.”

Some takeaways

  • Don’t try to outperform competitors.

  • Value innovation is the key to creating a blue ocean strategy.

  • Simultaneously pursue low cost and differentiation.

  • Creating new markets can be a systematic endeavor.

My favorite books out there inspire some sort of mindshift or revelation. When I finally set Blue Ocean Strategy down, I found myself brainstorming all sorts of new projects and ideas that I hadn’t thought of before. The concepts relayed have the unique effect of changing how you view innovation. You can check it out for yourself here.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Hooked does an excellent job of conveying how products manipulate us by forming habits, and why these habits are so essential to their success. The book explains a 4-step framework that leads to habit-building. The framework goes as follows: Trigger, Action, Variable Reward, and Investment.

“To build a habit-forming product, makers need to understand which user emotions may be tied to internal triggers and know how to leverage external triggers to drive the user to action.”

Some takeaways

  • Successful products form habits, and it’s usually intentional.

  • Variable rewards outperform constant ones.

  • The product and habits you’re building should make the user’s life better; if not then reconsider the ethical implications of what you’re doing.

  • The four-step process isn’t linear, it loops and continues continuously.

Of the four steps outlined above, I found the chapters dedicated to variable rewards and investment to be the most fascinating. The reasoning behind variable rewards and the mechanisms put in place to ensure a user investment really stuck with me. You can check it out for yourself here.

Wrapping Up

That does it for now! Moving forward, I’ll be putting out more recommendations and learnings on the things that I read so stay tuned for that. Of the books above, I would probably most strongly recommend Principles and Vagabonding as the ones most likely to produce a mindset shift of some kind. Enjoy, and until next time.

Conor Dewey