Reading Notes: Don Quixote

Author:  Miguel de Cervantes

Format:  Audible

Subject:  Chivalry

Rating: 6/10


Wow, Don Quixote is an absolute beast of a novel.  The story’s protagonist, Alanso Quixano, is an old man who has read way too many books about chivalry, goes insane, and dubs himself a Knight Errant.  And he gives himself the name Don Quixote, and recruits a local farmer by the name of Sancho Panza, to be his squire.

He re-imagines the world he interacts with.  Windmills become giants, Inns become Castles, prostitutes become Ladies…    He re-dubs a local farm girl to be, Dulcinea del Toboso, and declares his undying love for her.  And his love for Dulcinea remains a driving force for Quixote throughout the novel.

During the first part of the book his adventures bring him to stiff inn-keepers of payment (who ever heard of a knight errant paying for anything,) fighting windmills he believed to be giants, and setting prisoners free.  He also sequesters himself in the mountains as self punishment until he receives a letter from his beloved Toboso.

Eventually, a book is written about the adventures of Don Quixote.  And the duo is ultimately brought into the care of a Duke and Dutchess who pretend to be admirers.   However, the two actually developed several schemes designed to further humiliate the knight and his squire including: making Sancho a governor of an island, Sancho beating himself to break a curse on Dulcinea, and baiting Sancho to pull out his own beard to resurrect a dead woman.

Quixote’s adventures are finally brought to and end when he is challenged to a dual by Knight of the White Moon, (who is actually an ordinary young man from Quixote’s home town.)  The terms of the dual require the loser to give up Chivalry for a period of one year.  After losing his final dual, Quixote, retires back to his home and formulates a plan to be a Shepard.

What I Liked Most:  I really enjoyed Don Quixote’s faithful squire, Sancho Panza.  He is someone of a simpleton, and often serves as the fall guy for many of the procrastinator’s mis-adventures.  In many ways, he serves as the books stooge and comic relief.

Central Themes:  

  • If you never try anything great, you will never achieve anything great. (Don’t allow others to stop you from achieving something they thought to be impossible.)
  • Believe in yourself.  Don’t give up on your dreams.

What I Liked Least:  I was always taught to write as concisely as possible, and to avoid unnecessary words.  Apparently, this rule doesn’t apply to novelist.  The story contains many, many, many long-winded, letters, songs, and other side-stories that I personally don’t think added a lot of value to plot.

Twist Ending:  The ending is somewhat anti-climatic.  But, I was surprised that before Don Quixote passed away, he renounced the books of chivalry and forbade his niece to marry any man that read them.  Cervantes apparently intended the novel to expose books of chivalry as garbage writing.

Favorite Quotes:

  • What man can pretend to know the riddle of a woman’s mind?
  • Take my advice and live for a long, long time. Because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.
  • What is more dangerous than to become a poet? which is, as some say, an incurable and infectious disease.

Side Note:  I began this book on 12 September, so it took me the better part of three months to finish it.

Reading Notes: Rework

Author:  Jason Fried / David Heinemeier

Format: Audible

Subject: Human Behavior

Rating: 3/10


I find the concept of rebuilding the workplace and starting a business is very exciting.  However, this book falls flat.  I don’t remember how it found its way onto my reading list.  Its most redeeming quality is that it is very short.

The book can be summarized as follows:  “Everything you think is wrong!  This is how we did it at 37 signals.”

What I Like Most:  The book is a short read.  The audio-book is just under 3 hours.

Good  Ideas:

  • Planning is overrated.
  • Hold meetings at site of problem, not in meeting room. Invite as few as possible.
  • Hire only as a last resort.
  • Don’t create policies because one person did something wrong once.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “If circumstances change, your decisions can change. Decisions are temporary.”

Reading Notes: The Power of Habit

Author: Charles Duhigg

Format: Audible

Subject: Human Behaivor

Rating: 10/10


This book explains why we habitually do things that are bad for us, and why we often struggle to introduce habits that are good for us.  Most of what we do everyday are actually habits.  Habits are in effect, short cuts, that eliminate the need to make decisions, and to save mental energy.  Our brains establish habits for pretty much everything.   and they do so without regard of whether the habit is good or bad for us.   What our brains do know, is that if they perform the habit, they will get a shot of dopamine.

A habit loop consists of four parts and three steps.  The three steps are: a cue, a routine, and a reward.  The three steps perform a habit loop.  We experience a trigger, we perform a routine, and then we get a reward.  Performing the habit loop delivers a powerful shot of dopamine to our brains.  But at the heart of a habit is the craving.  The reward we receive from the habit satisfies one of our cravings.  Cravings are what makes habits so difficult to eliminate.

We could try to simply resist the craving, but trying to change habits through sheer willpower is very difficult.   Willpower is finite.  If we try to introduce a habit through sheer willpower, then we will need to conserve our willpower for the moment(s) that we expect to perform the new activity.

However, if we can introduce the new behavior by re-engineering one of our existing habit loops, then we are much more likely to succeed.  The easiest way to re-engineer a habit is to keep the old cue, deliver the old reward, and change the routine.

In order to change a routine, we need to understand what cue triggers the routine.  Cues almost always fit into one of 5 categories:  Location, Time, Emotional State, Actions of Others, Preceding Last Action.   We also need to identify the reward and underlying cravings the habit is trying to satisfy.  We can find an appropriate substitute reward by recognizing the cue, changing the reward, and then waiting 15 minutes to see if the craving has been satisfied.   If it has, we have just found a new routine that we can begin executing the next time the cue is triggered.  Otherwise, we substitute a different reward, until we do satisfy the craving.

Habit Loop

Favorite Quotes:

  • The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.
  • Champions don’t do extraordinary things.  They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.  – Tony Dungy
  • We are what we repeatably do.  Excellence is not an act, but a habit.
  • But to change an old habit, you must address an old craving. You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before, and feed the craving by inserting a new routine.
  • Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits.
  • Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.  (As a side note, my wife considers family meals as sacred.  And by doing so, she has introduced an excellent keystone habit into our family’s routines.)
  •  Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.
  • When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making.
  • Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.


Reading Notes: Creativity Inc: Understanding the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Author: Ed Catmull

Format: Audible

Subject: Culture

Rating: 10/10


This book is very much the story of Pixar.  Which is a story that I found very enjoyable in itself.  But, the book also contains a lot of ingredients that make the company such a success.  Catmull, who is one Pixar’s co-founders, does an excellent job sharing his experiences over the decades long time frame the book covers.

Catmull believes that creative problem solving is critical for businesses is any industry.  The book outlines the process of making creativity a part of an organizations daily culture.

A hallmark of a healthy and creative culture is that people feel free to express ideas, opinions, and criticisms.  The word honesty carries baggage that can hold people back. So, encourage candor over honesty.  Pixar puts smart people in a room together to solve problems, and encourages them to use candor in their conversations with one another.  They refer to these meetings as a Brain Trust.

An Effective Feedback system is built on empathy; an idea, that we are in this together.  The purpose of feedback is to move the process forward.  Effective feedback requires candor, trust, and empathy.  A note is a good way to give feedback.  A good note is timely and specific, it should inspire,  it clarifies what is wrong or missing, it doesn’t have to include a fix to the problem, and it makes no demands.

Catmull also stresses the importance of “Getting the Team Right.”  He believes that great teams are far more important than great ideas.  He also encourages managers to hire people that are smarter than they are and have a lot of potential. (“hire for potential, not the past.”)  Find, develop, and support good people.    A good team is made up of people who complement each other.   Understand the mix of talent in the group, match the right people with the right task.


What I like most about the book:  

I really enjoyed listening to the many challenges that were overcome while making Pixar hits such as  Toy Story, Up, Monsters Inc.

Favorite Quotes:

  • The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
  • Quality is the best business plan.
  • If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.
  • You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.
  • Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.
  • Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.
  • Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.
  • If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it.
  • What is the point of hiring smart people, we asked, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken?
  • You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.
  • Be patient. Be authentic. And be consistent. The trust will come.
  • It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose.
  • Societal conditioning discourages telling the truth to those perceived to be in higher positions.
  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convicted you are right.
  • Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do.

Reading Notes: Zero to One

Author:  Peter Thiel / Blake Masters

Format: Audible

Subject:  Entrepreneurship

Rating: 10/10


Zero to One is easily the most interesting book that I have read in the past several years.  And, that is saying a lot since I was initially very skeptical about including it on my reading list.  The book held my attention from beginning to end.  Thiel’s covers a variety of topics that are designed to get the reader thinking.  At its core, Zero to One, is essentially a book of ideas.  And many of those ideas challenge the status quo.

Blake Masters narrated the Audible version of the book.  His dictation style has a nice flow to it.  Other narrators could learn a thing or two from him.

Zero to One vs Zero to N:

  • Zero to One: is vertical progress. New technologies. It creates something where nothing existed before.
  • Zero to N: is horizontal progress. It is the act of iterating over existing technology.

Thiel’s Core Beliefs:

  • Globalization is doomed without technological innovation
  • Capitalism is the opposite of competition
  • We can shape our core future

Lessons Learned from Bubble vs Thiel’s Viewpoint:

Lessons Learned?

Creating a Monopoly:

  • Must be a order of magnitude better than the next option (10x)
  • Target a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors
  • Once you dominate the niche market then expand to adjacent markets
  • Don’t disrupt
  • Avoid first mover advantage; target making the last great development in a specific market and reap the rewards of a mature ecosystem.
  • Founders should know each other very well before starting the company.
  • Everyone should work in the same physical space. (No telecommuting.)
  • Everyone should be a full-time employee.
  • Lower CEO pay increases the chances for the start-up to succeed.
  • Advertising Works

Maintaining a Monopoly:

  • Create Network Effects: the more people using your product, the greater the network effects are.
  • Economy of Scale: Lowers production and distribution costs
  • Branding: Increases awareness.

Theil’s Seven Questions All Businesses Should Answer:

  1. Engineering – Can you create a breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  2. Timing – is now the right time to start your particular business?
  3. Monopoly – are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. People – Do you have the right team?
  5. Distribution – Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  6. Durability – Will your market position be defensible ten or twenty years into the future?
  7. Secret – have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Sales people compared to their products:

  • Advertising -> Account Executive
  • Customers -> Business Developer
  • Companies -> Investment Bankers
  • Yourself -> Politicians.

Theil’s Favorite Interview Question:

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

  • Causes people to reflect on self-created knowledge.
  • To become socially unpopular by taking a different stance.
  • Rationale: brilliant thinking is rare but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Other Ideas:

  • Entrepreneurs should create monopolies
  • Competition lowers price and eliminates profit.
  • Capitalism generates profit.
  • Even a bad plan is better than no plan.
  • School and College prepares you to be average at a lot of things.       And an expert at nothing.
  • Success is not a matter of luck.
  • If you cannot beat your rival it may be better to merge with them (Paypal: Thiel and Musk)

Reading Notes: The Outsiders

Author:  William N Thorndike Jr

Format: Audible / Kindle

Subject:  Capital Allocation

Rating: 8/10


The outsiders is an investigation into what makes a truly great CEO.  The Outsiders is written about eight exceptional CEOs.  These CEOs delivered returns that trounced the S&P500 over the long-term.  These CEOs are in many ways the polar opposite of the household name CEOs we think of today.   The book spends a significant time covering the importance of sound Capital Allocation strategies.

Useful Quotes:

  • CEOs need to do two things well to be successful:  run their operations efficiently and deploy the cash generated by those operations.
  • There are two basic types of resources that any CEO needs to allocate:  financial and human.
  • Stiritz “disdained the false precision of detailed financial models” and instead focused on a handful of key variables:  market growth, competition, potential operating improvements, and cash generation.
  • These CEOs “used leverage selectively, bought back a lot of stock, minimized taxes, ran decentralized organizations, and focused on cash flow over reported net income.”
  • Warren Buffett has proposed a simple test of capital allocation ability:  has a CEO created at least a dollar of value for every dollar of retained earnings over the course of his tenure?
  • Buffett believe the key to long term success is “temperament,” a willingness to be “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when they are fearful.”
  • Buffett upon finally closing Berkshire’s textile business: “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
  • “It is impossible to produce superior performance unless you do something different.” – John Templeton
  • You are not wedded to a particular business or industry

 Capital Allocation Tool Kit

  • Raising Capital:
    1. Tap internal cash flow
    2. Issue debt
    3. Raise Equity
  • Deploying:
    1. Invest in existing operations
    2. Acquire other businesses
    3. Pay down debt
    4. Issue dividends
    5. Repurchase stock


Reading Notes: Exceptional Selling

Author: Jeffrey Thull

Format: Audible / Kindle

Subject:  Sales

Rating: 7/10

I recently told my boss that if I had to do it again, I would have focused my early career in sales.  Great sales people are immensely valuable and incredibly hard to find.   A few weeks later, a member of our board of directors recommended I read Exceptional Selling.  In fact, he was even kind enough to send an electronic copy of the book directly to my Kindle.  But as usual, I opted for an Audible copy as well.

Thull’s research is based on some of the most successful salespeople in the world.  And one key point that stuck out to me is that the most successful salespeople in the world are comfortable talking about pricing.  Their comfort is driven by the understanding of the value they bring into collaborating with the customer in an effort to solve the customer’s problems.  Thull also spends a lot of time covering his four-step sales sequence: “Discover, diagnose, design and deliver.”

Side Note: Hat Tip to Mickey Miller for recommending this book.

Qualities of a good Diagnostic Sales Proposal:

  1. Contain no surprises (good or bad.)
  2. Will have the customer’s fingerprints all over it (uses language and terminology used by the customer.)
  3. Will Solicit feedback (which allows for fine-tuning before the final proposal.)
  4. Will be formally presented, in part by the customers own people.


  • We need to be professionally involved and emotionally detached from our customers.
  • The customer is the judge and the jury in the sell, but you are the expert, the guide.
  • Silence is a sign of wisdom.  It is okay to think.

The Value Triad:

  • Sources of Value
  • Uses of Value
  • Absence of Value

Key Thoughts:

  • When you’re feeling pressure, you’re doing something wrong.
  • Do not answer unasked question.
  • The initial contact with a prospective customer is the most critical.
  • Salespeople are guilty until proven innocent.
  • When in doubt, do the opposite of what a salesperson would do!
  • In absence of quality decision process, the decision will degenerate to the lowest common denominator: price.
  • Diagnosis is something you do with your customer, selling is something you do to your customer.
  • You can’t lose something you don’t have.
  • You are either part of your system or someone else’s.
  • Do Not allow the customer to self diagnose.
  • One opinion does not make a consensus.
  • People never say what they really mean at first.
  • You must always protect the customers self esteem.
  • Needs do not equal expectations.
  • You have competitors;  your customers have alternatives.
  • The purpose of a proposal is to reinforce decisions that have already been made.
  • When you are presenting on a piece of a larger solution, don’t confuse selling with installing.
  • Professionally involved, emotionally detached.
  • If you don’t have a cost of the problem, you don’t have a problem.

Reading Notes: The Willpower Instinct

Author:  Kelly McGonigal

Format: Audible

Subject:  Willpower

Rating: 7/10


McGonigal points outs that there are three distinct types of willpower:  I Want Power, I Will Power, and I Won’t Power.  When most of us think of willpower, we are actually thinking of “I Won’t Power.”  We are exercising “I Won’t Power” when we try to resist instant gratification such as eating a cookie, or binge-watching a favorite show.  “I Will Power” comes into play when we sacrifice comfort in the present moment, in order to achieve a larger payoff in the future.  We exercise this power when we save for retirement, or invest 4 years in college in order to have our dream career.  Lastly, we have “I Want Power.”

McGonigal gives several tips for developing and maintaining self control, and cites multiple studies that support the sometimes counter intuitive findings.  I plan to add a kindle electronic copy of this book to my library, and I may have a few future post about my experience with the willpower exercises in the book.

Side Note:

I can’t quite remember how this book wound up on my reading list.  I do know that the I find the topic of willpower to be interesting.  But I’d expect the key selling point was actually a TED Talk that I watched a few years ago;  The speaker was none-other, but the authors twin sister Jane McGonigal.


What I liked Most About the Book:

Key Takeaways:

  • Willpower is like a muscle, it becomes exhausted over time.
  • Willpower is like a muscle, it can be trained.
  • The simplest way to improve willpower is to meditate which increases the blood flow to the pre-frontal cortex.
  • Start Meditating with 10 minutes a day and work toward 20 minutes.
  • “Pause and Plan Response” when dealing with internal conflict.  This redirects energy from your body (Fight or Flight) to the brain.
  • The excitement of anticipating a reward is almost always greater than the excitement from actually receiving the award
  • Dopamine’s primary function is to drive us to seek happiness, not to actually make us happy.
  • Self-Criticism drains the willpower, leads to low motivation and loss of self-control.
  • We overestimate our future selves ability to address the willpower issues we face today.
  • We don’t control our impulses, we only control our reactions.
  • Do most important task first.
  • Avoid decision-making fatigue; try to make decisions as quickly as possible.
  • Sleep is critical to recharging your willpower.

Best Methods for Dealing with Stress:

  • exercising/playing a sport
  • praying/religious service
  • reading/listening to music
  • spending time with family and friends
  • Meditation/Yoga
  • Spending time on a creative hobby

Reading Notes: Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few

Author:  Robert B. Reich

Format: Audible

Subject:  Capitalism

Rating: 7/10


Economics to be a pretty captivating subject, so long as it doesn’t get too deep into theory.  I also enjoy listening to ideas that are somewhat counter to my own.   Its an exceptionally effective way to broaden one’s views.  Reich’s writing is based on the idea that we spend most of our time debating the wrong question:  Free Market versus Government.  He argues that (rightly so,) that the Free Market cannot exist without the government, and that the real question is how should the laws that govern the free market be determined.

Reich focuses a lot of his attention on laws governing bankruptcy, property,  and contracts have changed over time.  He highlights those changes as specifically helping corporations and the wealthy while weakening the every day citizen.  Reich truly believes that capitalism can exist in a manner that is much more beneficial to the masses. His final call to action is that Americans don’t have to accept things the way they are.

What I liked Most About the Book:  It served as an excellent reminder that the free market is fundamentally a human construct.

Memorable Quotes:

  • The idea of a free market separate and distinct from government has functioned as a useful cover for those who do not want the market mechanism fully exposed. They have had the most influence over it and would rather keep it that way. The mythology is useful precisely because it hides their power.
  • Government doesn’t intrude on the free market. It creates the market.
  • The free market does not exist in the wilds beyond the reach of civilization. Competition in the wild is a contest for survival in which the largest and strongest typically win. Civilization, by contrast, is defined by rules; rules create markets, and governments generate the rules.
  • Economic historian Karl Polanyi recognized, those who argue for less government are really arguing for a different government—often one that favors them or their patrons
  • Moreover, people who believe the game is rigged are easy prey for political demagogues with fast tongues and dumb ideas.

Reading Notes: Men Are Waffles, Women Are Spaghetti

Authors:  Pam Farrel / Bill Farrel

Format: Audible

Subject:  Relationships

Rating: 5/10


One morning last fall, I was having a casual conversation with a coworker about a remodeling project my wife and I were planning.  “I drive my poor wife crazy,” I said.  We will be discussing the project and next thing I know she is rambling off a seemingly never-ending list of ideas, questions, and concerns.  My response, “Whoa, one thing at a time!”  That is when my coworker laughed, and jokingly told me that I was a waffle.   She told me about a book she had read with her husband as part of their small group at church.  I was immediately intrigued.  In fact, I downloaded the book and began listening to it that day on my way to lunch.

The title of the book aptly defines its thesis that men process thoughts and emotions very differently than women.  Men tend to compartmentalize thoughts and emotions and subsequently deal with them one at a time.   The author relates these compartments to the individual squares you see on a waffle.  On the other hand, women tend to approach thoughts an emotions as part of a grand picture where everything is interconnected with everything else.  Hence the term spaghetti.  When you combine the two concepts, you wind up with spaghetti and waffles.

What I liked Most About the Book:  The title says it all.  Having a better understanding of how men and women process thoughts and emotions differently pays some hefty dividends.  The concept helps me communicate better with my wife, friends, and coworkers.

What I liked Least About the Book:  The author took an exceptional lesson and stretched it way to far.  This book could have easily been about a quarter of the length.  After the author teach the title-lesson, they spend the rest of the book desperately trying to project other aspects of their individual personalities and marriage onto the audience.

Memorable Quotes:

  • A man will strategically organize his life in boxes and then spend most of his time in the boxes he can succeed in.
  •  The bottom line with men is: they feel best about themselves when they are solving problems. Therefore, they spend most of their time doing what they are best at while they attempt to ignore the things which cause them to feel deficient.