Mind

My Top 5 Books From 2019

Reading has always brought me tremendous joy. It’s an activity in which I get to jump in and out of reality & imagination, sharpening my tools while also trying them out in my day to day life.

In 2018 I set out to read 100 books by 2023. Here’s a list of the top 5 books I read in 2019 that had an enormous impact on my way of thinking.

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1.      Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony de Mello

Anthony de Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist who gave many lectures about spirituality over the course of his life. This book is a compilation of the key lessons he gave around the topic of awareness and in these pages lie many “aha-moments”. This is a book to be read once a year to reset your mind.

We are often trapped in ways of thinking without knowing and this book will open your eyes to that. De Mello doesn’t preach any religion in it, rather he uses reason and philosophy to help us understand important mental traps that hold us back in life.

“When you said, ‘I was a success’, you were in error; you were plunged into darkness. You identified yourself with success. The same thing when you said, ‘I am a failure, a lawyer, a businessman’. You know what’s going to happen to you if you identify yourself with these things. You’re going to cling to them, you’re going to be worried that they may fall apart, and that’s where your suffering comes from.”

2.      The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

“If we mortals are to uphold our end of the human-computer symbiosis, if we are to retain a role as the creative partners of our machines, we must continue to nurture the wellsprings of our imagination and originality and humanity.”

Similarly to his book “Steve Jobs”, Walter Isaacson left me inspired and speechless about the dynamics of human collaboration and limitless thinking that has led us to our present day.

It’s no easy feat to build a personal computer, or a software, or a encyclopedia 85-times the size of Britannica, or much less a search engine that emulates human-ranking thinking. But these were all contributions from many of the great companies we know today – Apple, Microsoft, Wikipedia and Google.

Despite the endless patent wars we see in the news, purists believe that none of these ideas “belong” to anyone. These were all expansions on a single idea originated 150 years ago by Ada Lovelace. The idea that humans and machines one day would not be put against each other, but rather collaborate to achieve unimagined feats.

3.      Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

“Power is concerned with what has already happened; strength with what has yet to happen. Power is finite in amount. Strength cannot be measured, because it is an opening and not a closing act. Power refers to the freedom persons have within limits, strength to the freedom persons have with limits”

James P. Carse is a professor of history and literature of religion at New York University. In this book Carse eloquently explains all the games hidden in our every day lives.

There are two types of games: finite and infinite games. “Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.” From this simple deduction, Carse dissects all the elements that make each game unique and relevant within our lives.

When I first read this book I had 78 highlighted passages… there are way too many golden nuggets hidden in these pages, and very much like Awareness, this is a book that must be read at least once a year.

4.      Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction with this book. It is written in the form of a letter to his son about the symbolism and struggles of being an African American in the United States.

This is an absolute masterpiece that will open your eyes to how racism has shaped the history of America and continues to be a problem today. What I thought I understood was a tremendous understatement to what Coates so brilliantly writes to his son.

“We should seek not a world where the black and white race live in harmony, but a world in which the terms black and white have no real political meaning.”

This is required reading for anyone looking to understand how racism truly manifests itself around us. It is the first step towards true empathy in a world so divided by race, religion and place of birth.

5.      Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

This is one of the most complete books about the evolution of human societies that I’ve ever read. It has also won a Pulitzer Prize, Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, the Rhone-Poulenc Prize, and the Commonwealth club of California’s Gold Medal.

Diamond does an incredible job explaining how and why certain societies advanced ahead of others by digging deep into their abilities to raise large mammals, grow certain foods, leverage their climate and landmass to migrate and trade with other groups as well as their exposure to animal diseases that helped them develop antibodies against certain viruses and bacteria.

This all-encompassing chronicle shines light into how the geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern societies we see today and answers a lot of questions that you may have never thought of.

Bonus: Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley & David Kelley

The brothers Tom Kelley (partner at IDEO) and David Kelley (founder of IDEO and of the Stanford d.school) are two of the most influential masterminds in the design thinking world. In this book they reflect on the power of creativity and how all of us can unleash our creative powers to solve problems around us with the user at the epicenter of it.

Design thinking has become a powerful way of thinking to finding innovative solutions to the hard problems of today and of the future. It all revolves around 2 key elements: empathy and prototyping.

This is a powerful book that will help even the most seasoned creative thinkers to cause long lasting impact on the solutions to the problems they are working on today and on the innovations of tomorrow.

What do you have in your reading list for 2020?

PPA

The Mysterious Power of Our Unconsciousness

Do you know that feeling when something inside your mind already knows what to do, but you’re still trying to reason your way around it?

That “something inside your head” happens to be your instincts.

The same way the Canadian Geese know when it’s time to fly south, your mind knows when it’s time to let go, or when an opportunity is right for you, or when danger is around the corner.

We all neglect our instincts because we live in a world where reason rules. We must always be in control. We must always know what is going on, and if something doesn’t make sense, we shouldn’t listen to it.

In Blink Malcom Gladwell tells us a little bit about what happens in our unconscious, and why we should listen to it more often.

What’s Behind that Locked Door

What's hidden behind that door can help you make major life decisions.

What’s hidden behind that door can help you make major life decisions.

Baseball movies. We have all watched one. Where the entire franchise decides to draft a particular player because of its batting percentage and other loads of stats, but that one old man who has been around the game for decades tells them otherwise. He tells them that that other player that has a lower batting percentage is a better choice for the team. Nobody wants to believe him, and as it turns out in the end he was right.

That old man does something that those businessmen and statisticians don’t often do: he listens to that little voice inside his head.

Gladwell tells the story about one of the world’s top tennis coaches named Vic Braden who began noticing something unusual whenever he watched a tennis match.

In tennis, the players are given two chances to serve the ball across the net, and if they fail twice in a roll the point goes to the opposition. That’s called a double-fault. In professional tennis, double-faults happen once every 100 serves or so. Those are very rare.

Vic Braden began noticing that milliseconds before any player would serve he knew whether he/she would commit a double fault. He decided to bring his friends along and keep track of how many times he would get it right: he would call out loud (not that loud, since that would distract the players) whenever a double-fault was about to happen and they kept a tab of his success rate. In the course of numerous games he would get twenty out of twenty right!

Vic would spend numerous nights sleepless trying to figure out how he was doing that. He wasn’t noticing anything unusual about the player’s form, or the wind direction, or anything else; he just knew it when it was about to happen.

That snap judgement Braden was making in the blink of an eye was coming from what was behind that locked door in the back of his mind.

How our Unconsciousness Works

Behind that locked door are infinite amounts of information that Vic Braden had been collecting over the course of his career in tennis. Information that most of the time went unnoticed by his conscious mind, but his unconsciousness picked it up.

In an experiment ran by a psychologist named Norman R. F. Maier we can see exactly how much influence our unconsciousness has over our conscious decisions.

He tied two ropes to the ceiling of a room full of objects far enough that you couldn’t touch both at the same time, and asked people to come up with as many ways as possible to tie both ropes together. There are four possible solutions to this problem:

  1. stretch the rope as far as possible, anchor it to a chair, then go and grab the other rope
  2. tie an extension cord to the end of a rope so it is long enough to reach the other rope
  3. grab one rope with one hand and use a pole to bring the other rope towards you
  4. swing the first rope back and forth and simultaneously grab the other rope and attach them together

Most people figured out the first three solutions. But the last one, only a few thought of it. Ten minutes later, Maier would walk across the room without telling them anything and swing a rope by the window. Right then and then people would think aha! and went on to figure out the fourth solution.

After the experiment, he asked the people how they thought of swinging the rope, and most people answered that they didn’t know, it just came to their minds.

Norman concluded that our unconsciousness can pick up on things that our consciousness cannot. We can only process so many things at once in our minds, but behind that locked door our unconscious can process a lot more.

Survival Instincts

Malcom Gladwell points out that throughout the lifetime of a police officer only about 10% of them get involved in a real life shooting. And from the testimonials that the police departments get, it is nothing like what we see in Hollywood films.

We can find a few descriptions in common as we read the testimonials:

  • I couldn’t hear anything
  • My vision went blurry and I could only see the target
  • I could watch my bullets entering the suspect’s body

All of these seem strange, and almost impossible. But that is a perfect example of our instincts taking over.

Dave Grossman, a former army lieutenant colonel and author of On Killing, argues that the “optimal” state of arousal is when your heart rate is in between 115bpm and 145bpm. In that window our instincts are believed to serve us the most good and we can make snap decisions very quickly.

Larry Bird had the ability to slow things down and make instinctive decisions in the blink of an eye.

Larry Bird had the ability to slow things down and make instinctive decisions in the blink of an eye.

Larry Bird was one of the greatest players to ever play in the NBA. He was known to have “great court vision” and a “feel for the game” that very few others had. He claims that in the final moments of the game the stadium would go quiet and he could not see anyone in the stands. As a result, he could knock down the game winning shot more times than not. He played at that “optimal” range of beats per minute.

The reason why we hear stories of people doing impossible things in moments of stress is because some people manage to operate in the optimal heart rate range when faced with “danger”. And if it wasn’t for those very same instincts humanity would not have survived as long as it has so far.

When to Listen to Your Instincts

The question that you’re left with by the end of Blink  is: “when should I listen to my instincts and when should I reason through a problem?”.

Gladwell says that we should consciously analyze a problem when the issue is straight-forward, such as planning your work schedule or negotiating a better price in a purchase. When questions of analysis and personal choice start to become more complicated, we should rely on the big computer hiding behind that locked door since it can handle more variables than our consciousness.

Our unconsciousness is there for a reason, and it has helped humanity survive through over 200,000 years of danger. Neglecting it would be foolish of us, the same way it wouldn’t be very smart to solely rely on it. Starting to develop a better feel for when to listen to what’s behind that locked door is what will strengthen your decision-making skills.

 

PA