Review – The Art of War
Review / December 27, 2017

Review: The Art of War is a collection of stratagems (bite-sized, aphoristic strategic teachings) by chinese military commander Sun Tzu (or Sun Zi or a dozen variations) – and well over 2500 years old. So why this review? Because The Art of War still makes the management book bestseller lists (like here, here, here or here). This review is based on the annotated german translation by Patrick Lindley of the 1910 english translation by Lionel Giles. There are several versions around, so your experience may vary slightly. I chose one of the tackier cover arts for this blog post, by the way.   The Art of War of the past Sun Tzu, as a seasoned general, has a pragmatic view of war and combat. Peace is best for everyone, but if war is inevitable, unnecessary battles have to be avoided. If a battle is inevitable, it should be fought with as few casualties as possible. According to Sun Tzu, to achieve this goal one needs preparation, discipline and execution.   To prepare for war, the wise leader adopts a holistic view of war, and takes into account the terrain, weather and timing, numbers and motivation of troops on both sides,…

Review – Leading with Kindness
Review / December 24, 2017

Review: When it comes to books on leadership, Leading with Kindness  is about as generic as it gets. Two leadership educators interviewed a bunch of leaders (with a slight bias to banking and investment) and aggregated their leadership experiences. A good, efficient and ”kind” leader sets expectations, sticks to the truth and focuses on mutual gain and growth. Baker and O’Malley then simply define this set of features and behaviors as “kindness”. The funny thing is, Dale Carnegie wrote pretty much the same in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People – in 1936. I found Leading with kindness very confusing. Books I read are never short of lists, but this one takes the cake. Baker and O’Malley start simply enough with three traits of kind leadership, that get their own chapter each. Every single chapter, however, meanders off into increasingly nested sub-lists that form sub-chapters, with several additional bullet point lists. And in-between the confusing list-within-list structure, some leaders offer their own three or so steps to leadership success. I had problems to keep track of which list-level the passage I was reading belonged to. The authors try to adopt an entertaining, positive tone, but only succeed…

Review – Uncommon Sense
Review / November 21, 2017

Review: A tall tale of market efficiency, informed choice and the quest for the right discount rate. I’ve been reading on modern economics lately. Some authors challenge dearly held economic assumptions, others use new and radical methods. Uncommon Sense is the old-fashioned kind of economics. The kinda bad kind. Becker and Posner curated a collection of their blog posts, each one written by one author with a commentary of the other. I did not check if the book content was directly taken from the author’s blog, or if some updates have been made. They muse on different topics, arranged by overarching themes, and they offer their economic and legal view on affairs. Applying economic principles to affairs things are not typically appraised by economic value is a neat idea. Bring down any decision to a sum of money that the alternatives will cost or bring in, and everything gets easy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work all the time. Here are some examples from Uncommon Sense where I believe that the authors go awry.   They never think far enough Love is transactional, remember? Becker and Posner would like to take it one step further and define marriage purely as a contractual…

Special Review – Kickstarter Roundup October 2017
Blogging , Special Review / October 30, 2017

It’s time for a special review, where I have a look at other media, and this time I want to talk about crowdfunding. I did support some projects in the past, so I wanted to look into Kickstarter.com,  the biggest crowdfunding website, to see if there are some interesting books to be found. For those of you who don’t know what crowdfunding is, here is a short introduction. A creator initiates a project by opening a project page on Kickstarter (or another crowdfunding platform). There, he or she presents a pitch and every information that they think will get people to fund (“back”) their project. The backers decide if they want to pledge some money, to receive rewards. These rewards usually come in tiers, where a higher pledge means a better reward. Typical reward tiers range from adding the backer to a mailing list (for a very low amount of money pledged) over the thing that the project is about (like a pair of shoes or a book or tickets for a performance) to special editions, meetings with the creators and other goodies at a higher price. The creator will get the backers money if, and only if, the specified…

Review – Everybody Lies
Review / October 24, 2017

Review: A good coffee should be dark, intense and rich in taste, right? That’s what you and me will tell when asked. Based on consumer research, coffee companies will create new coffee roasts that are extra dark and strong and full of flavour. Then you and me are going to completely ignore those and go buy something mild, probably with a lot of milk and sugar in it. Because everybody lies. There is a difference between action and intent. We may mean what we say, but we do not follow through. What we actually do is what we really, secretly and often subconsciously mean. That is why everybody lies. When we voice our preferences and opinions, even to ourselves, we are always feeling constraints to remove the edges, to be acceptable to others, to fit in. Even under absolutely no legal or moral restrictions we adapt our opinions to what we perceive to be the public opinion, an effect known as social desirability bias. Ultimately, Everybody Lies is a book about Big Data, and about revealing the truths by mining it. Stephens-Davidowitz brings colorful anecdotes from horse races, political campaigning, sex, marketing and other fields to illustrate the power and…

Review – Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Review / August 17, 2017

Review: Many books on success out there summarize as “Look at these successful people! Study their habits and learn their ways, so you will be successful, too!”. Actually, I have reviewed a prime example here. Barking up the Wrong Tree presents a nice counterpoint and states that imitating the successful does not necessarily make successful. Instead we get a thorough analysis of perceived and real success factors, somewhat hidden beneath anecdotal evidence and academic namedropping. Did you know that good and bad traits come with the same package? The exact same factors that make people highly creative also deteriorate their moral compass and mental health. In fact, creativity is strongly associated with dishonesty and mental instability.  The same factors that allow you to adapt and excel at school stop you from standing out at work. People with  top grades from prestigious universities typically don’t change the world. At the top ranks of disruptive businesses you find people with kinked CVs, and a history of mediocre test results. Most schools reward conformity over genius, allowing people with top grades to easily rise to middle management, but rarely above. Barker speaks of “filtered” and “unfiltered” leaders, that either comfortably adapt into a…

Review – Homo Deus
Review / June 8, 2017

The End of Strife: The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are Famine, Plague, War and Death – pop culture does not always get this right – and after defeating the first three we might now just continue and conquer Death, too, and see, where this leads us as a species. Homo Deus starts with a rather bold claim: throughout history, famine, plague and war were the central topics of human life, and recently, all three of them have been made all but irrelevant. For all of history, humans have lived a couple bad days away from starvation, a couple bad rats away from the pocks and a couple bad words away from an all-out war against their neighbours. There are still starving people in the world, but no longer because there is not enough food for them, but because letting them starve furthers someone’s agenda. We talked about his before. There are still infectious diseases in the world, but they remain local outbreaks, and we no longer perceive them as a force of nature, but rather as a consequence of our own lack of hygiene and prevention. And there are still combats fought in the world, but they are no…

Review – Die Kunst, ein Egoist zu sein (The Art of Being an Egotist)
Review / April 7, 2017

Review I try to review only books that were published in english, but I got this one for cheap and did not notice its language constraints until after I read it. So I thought, whatever. If the book had an english title it would be something along “The Art of Being an Egotist”. Enjoy. The phrase “egotist” is usually understood as an insult. Kirschner tries to put a positive spin on the word, defining it as a person who understands their own needs and capabilities and tries to gain maximum pleasure within this frame. This is an interesting parallel to the latest philosophical fad, modern stoicism. The difference is, that Kirschner does not prescribe a static ideal lifestyle to reach, but instead encourages the reader to evaluate and choose their goals. According to the author, everybody is an egotist anyway, but most people suppress their nature to please others. To the author, an egotist is taking responsibility for their actions and behaviors. Kirschner wants us to evaluate what we do for ourselves versus what we do for others. Do we pursue the career we want, or the career others want us to have? Do we buy luxury goods because we…

Special Review – 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person | Cracked.com
Special Review / April 1, 2017

Key points People need things from you, and will value your ability to provide these things What you are inside is important, but other people can’t see it Learn, train and improve to make your inner qualities shine   Author affiliations David Wong is an executive editor and writer at Cracked.com.   Review copy free online article   Review It’s April Fool’s Day, but instead of a hoax I decided to do some kind of special edition. So today we’ll have a look at an online article instead of a book. Cracked.com is a very dangerous site if you are the tiniest bit nerdy. Its main content, list-based humour heavy on pop culture references, is presented with just the right mixture of clickbait and substance to prompt hour-long reading binges. Between the fun, however, lurk some more serious pieces of actual journalism, just to add some flavour to the mix. And then there is one article that they repost every year since 2012, titled “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person”, and that’s what we will talk about. Staying true to its host site, “6 Harsh Truths” is a list counting down six behaviors and attitudes that…

Review – The Dilbert Principle
Review / March 25, 2017

Review First of all, I am a huge Dilbert fan, although I have never read the comics at work, especially not during that dozy hour right after lunch.   Maybe you have heard of the Peter principle. People get promoted for being competent at their current position, so it is certain that everybody ends in a job they can no longer fill competently. The Dilbert principle is similar, but postulates an earlier reason for executive incompetence: incompetent people are rapidly transferred to positions where normal people do not have to see them every day and where they cannot touch anything dangerous – to management. Most management books are written by and for managers. There are good reasons for this, for example few non-managers have the required of free time and hubris to write a management book. But this also creates a bias which may be one reason why ridiculous company policies still thrive. The Dilbert Principle offers a different perspective, looking at management actions through the eyes of the office workers affected by them. Adams brings up diverse topics that determine (and sometimes plague) the daily grind in the cubicles, from consultants to employee motivation programmes. Each chapter gives an…