What We’re Reading

From habits to rifles to strategy to nuclear accidents to North Korea, here’s what some of us have been reading this December!

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
Super short read from the man behind PayPal and Founder’s Fund that lays out his overall business ethos. Book title neatly sums up this ethos: 0 to 1 is the creation of something completely new to the world, and hence a valuable monopoly market. This should be goal of all companies, and startups are better equipped to do so than large firms. Going from 1 of something to many is simply sustaining innovation, leads to competitive markets and destroys economic profit. Most interesting chapter was definitely “Secrets.” Not necessarily antithetical to the principles of open innovation, but emphasizes the need for new discovery in addition to sourcing known solutions to defined problems.

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser (currently reading)
Slightly dry read from the same guy who wrote Fast Food Nation. Book interweaves the minute-by-minute account of a large mishap at a nuclear missile silo with detailed histories of the people, places, and decisions that have shaped US nuclear weapons policy. Interesting read for any of us who have ever had a lab mishap or ever had a R&D/new product development project get hijacked. The same things happen to nuclear physicists—only on a much grander and dangerous scale!

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Fascinating to learn about the science behind habit formation, and particularly, habit change. Hope to be able to apply these learnings to help design a successful product for the project I am currently working on!

Fastcompany article on lingerie A/B testing
I thought this article about A/B testing was interesting, especially because of our current projects. From the article: “Through its research, Adore Me has found that the right model matters even more than price. If customers see a lacy pushup on a model they like, they’ll buy it. Put the same thing on a model they don’t, and even a $10 price cut won’t compel them. Pose matters as well: the same product shot on the same model in a different posture can nudge sales a few percentage points in either direction. Another test found that a popular model can sell a more expensive version of the same garment.”

Social Machines: How to Develop Connected Products that Change Customers’ Lives
by Peter Semmelhack

I dug into this book wanting to hear from others building smart product businesses. It’s a short, interesting read with good tips on designing social features for smart products. Also liked its emphasis on thinking about IoT business models.

I just finished reading The Orphan-Master’s Son by Adam Johnson, a dystopian novel set in North Korea. A terrific, darkly comic book.

A brief overview of the Mosin Nagant rifle.
This is the reference website for information about the Mosin Nagant rifle. Particularly, the 91/30 models that were the commonly issued rifles for Russian troops during WWI and WWII. I own one and I am always trying to gather information on this piece of history.

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
This book talks about the chasm that needs to be crossed for marketing a high tech (innovative) solution to the mass market. It is usually easy for innovative solutions to get attention from early adopters, but only a few of them can successfully cross the chasm to the mass market.

The Effective Executive
by Peter Drucker
Timeless—everyone should read at least once a year. The measure of the executive, Peter F. Drucker reminds us, is the ability to “get the right things done.” This usually involves doing what other people have overlooked as well as avoiding what is unproductive. Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge may all be wasted in an executive job without the acquired habits of mind that mold them into results.

Drucker identifies five practices essential to business effectiveness that can, and must, be learned:

  • Managing time
  • Choosing what to contribute to the organization
  • Knowing where and how to mobilize strength for best effect
  • Setting the right priorities
  • Knitting all of them together with effective decision-making

Ranging widely through the annals of business and government, Peter F. Drucker demonstrates the distinctive skill of the executive and offers fresh insights into old and seemingly obvious business situations.

Successful large account management by Miller Heiman
Provides methods to successfully manage and identify large accounts and keep them engaged by:

  1. knowing who you are dealing with
  2. knowing what is important to them
  3. being transparent about your goals

Hooked, by Nir Eyal
The book does a terrific job at connecting behavioral science directly to customer engagement and new product development. It reveals four simple steps, all part of habit-forming, viral solutions: trigger, action, variable reward, and investment. Nir spent many years helping startups, researching human behaviors, and teaching others how to make viral products. His book is written for product managers, designers, and leaders who want their solutions to stick out from the crowd. Highly recommended!

The Innovator’s Method by Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer
The one book to read for managers and executives wanting to understand the basic principles of innovation. It walks the reader through lean startup, design thinking, business model innovation, agile development, and makes sense of all the tools out there and applies them corporate settings. Disclaimer: this book is very special to me for many reasons. As the lead researcher and research team lead for Prof. Furr, it is great for me to see the hard work of many years finally come alive. The book also heavily features Ricardo dos Santos, 4iNNO’s Director and former Qualcomm’s New Business Development Lead, and his many lessons learned from leading and practicing corporate and startup innovation for years.

Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds
, Charles MacKay
A thorough review over the last millennium of the perpetrators and nature of mass social delusions, including the likes of Prophecy, Alchemy, witchcraft, etc.  Very interesting.

Conclusion: People en masse can be very gullible and dangerous.

Business Adventures
by John Brooks
Warren Buffet recommended Business Adventures by John Brooks to Bill Gates and both claim it to be the best business book they ever read. This is a 40 year old, out of print book that I couldn’t put down. I typically do not like history, but most of the 12 stories seem like they were written today. Related to Innovation—XEROXXROXXEROX is remarkable look at the huge R&D Xerox made but never commercialized because the ideas “were outside the core of the business”. Such single minded focus opened the doors for the likes of Microsoft and Apple. Great read—if you find it in print!

The Rosie Project: A Novel by Drake Simsion
After a great success with Bill Gates recommendations, I tried one of his fiction recommendations, The Rosie Project: A Novel by Drake Simsion. I took it on vacation and ended up reading it out loud to my wife and we couldn’t put it down. The main character is a genetics professor with Asperger Syndrome making a project out of a search for a wife. Too many times I wondered if I am too logical and schedule constrained to see the world passing me by!

by Laura Hillenbrand
The Peripheral by William Gibson

I like to read history & sci-fi (ways to avoid repeating the bad past; aka make progress).

Mekhala Raghavan, PhD

Senior Associate