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November book reviews: Zero to One, Educated, Traction, and Never Split the Difference

I’ve decided to write book reviews for the books I read this month. This is because in the past, I haven’t monitored what I’ve read, how much I’ve read, and how much I remember what I’ve read.

I don’t care particularly how much I’ve read, because I read plenty. But I want to work on my reading diet and on my retention. So I’m writing these reviews to (1) note what I’m reading and (2) aid my retention.

Jk. That was all confirmation bias, I’m just writing this cuz it’s fun

Zero to One, by Peter Thiel

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Impressions:

While many people I know have hyped this book, I’ve put off reading it for years now. I can understand the hype. Peter Thiel has presents a unique and persuasive worldview with clarity and elegance.

I’m not sure if the book will leave an impact on my life. But the book made me think, a lot. Especially on how to be an original thinker. Overall, the abstract concepts he presents are so thought provoking.

My Favorite Takeaways:

  • How to distinguish between perfect competition and monopoly. Businesses in perfect competition have their profit margins go to zero. Businesses that are monopolies can set the price and command great profit margins. So, build monopolies.

Characteristics of monopolies: 10x improvement, network effects, economies of scale, brand. In early days, monopolize a small market, then expand to other markets.

This raised my aspirations. I shouldn’t settle for building a small business. I should build a lasting company, with monopoly characteristics.

  • The difference between a definite and indefinite future. If you believe in a definite future, you plan for the future based on reasonable bets of what’ll happen. If you believe in a hazy/indefinite future, you don’t plan, or at least, you make a risk-averse plan.

Peter Thiel prefers a definite view.

This concept blew my mind. I realized I treat the future as indefinite and hazy. My goals and interests change all the freaking time. And so I’ve believed I can’t predict my future.

You can only connect the dots looking backwards. - Steve Jobs

I want to see my future as more definite, and reason how my current actions A and B lead to some predictable outcome C.

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Educated by Tara Westover

Impressions:

This book was gripping. I was surprised I finished it, because I told myself I didn’t think it was interesting. It didn’t follow any of traditional plot structures, as it was a memoir, but still, it was a page turner.

I could relate to Tara Westover’s struggles with parents and family. Parts resonated enough for me to put down the book and stare off into the distance.

That said, the book lacked a literary quality—the themes didn’t develop as well as I would’ve liked. The scenes blurred together, and the main messages weren’t shown subtly, but explicitly told to us in part 3.

It was an OK read.

Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

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Impressions:

A thorough beginner’s guide to marketing. One of my favorite business reads in a while, 5 out of 5 stars. I love business books where the information is actionable and concrete. Will revisit and reread sections. The book had great structure, which I appreciated too.

My favorite takeaways:

This book begins with key ideas about traction. Then, it continues to explore each of 19 traction channels in a chapter.

  • Spend 50% of time on product, 50% of time on traction, even in the early days.

The authors list four situations in which a business can fail even with product market fit.

  1. Company still lacks viable business model (customers aren’t paying?)
  2. Customer acquisition cost is too high
  3. PMF, but market is too small with no clear adjacent market
  4. PMF, but hella competition => hard to get customers

This is a counterpoint to YC, which suggests focus on only product development first.

  • Bullseye is to traction as Lean Startup is to product development.

Bullseye framework:

  1. Outer ring: Brainstorm a channel strategy for each channel and how you might implement it.

  2. Middle ring: Pick 3 of the most promising strategies, and run cheap quick tests in parallel.

  3. Inner ring: Find your promising channel, then double down on it. Drop the rest.

Note Andrew Chen’s Law of Shitty Clickthroughs: Eventually, all sources of traction will become dry. Thus, repeat Bullseye.

There’s detailed reasoning behind this framework in the book.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss

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Impressions:

Remarkable book. It’s the book on negotiation, but in large part, it’s also a book on active listening, which can take you far. I’ll need to reread this. The author was long-winded, and the book a drag in parts, but the content more than made up for it.

I know this book can transform my interactions with people if I apply and practice what I’ve read. But if I don’t, I’ll get no benefits.

My favorite takeaways:

I plan on remembering and practicing four tactics from this book. And forgetting everything else.

  • Mirroring: Repeat the last 3 words or critical 1-3 words of what the person has said. Mirroring makes people want to talk.

I’ve noticed it’s kinda weird over chat though…

  • Labeling: Identify the person’s emotional state, and label or mislabel it. Use the sentence stems:

It seems like… It looks like… It sounds like…

  • Accusation audit:

Label the other person’s negative emotions about you. List every bad thing they could say about you, at the start of the conversation.

ex. Listen: I totally understand if you think I’m withholding information from you, trying to confuse you, or even outright lying to you.”

I already use a variant of this, where I give a three part apology when I’m in trouble to defuse the tension. Great with the parents.

  • Calibrated questions

When you hear something you don’t like, don’t just say no.” Ask open-ended how” or what” questions like, How am I supposed to do that?” or What are we really trying to accomplish here?” They prompt longer answers, which reveal key information. They also introduce ideas and requests without seeming pushy or aggressive: you ask without asking.

I want to use this when I disagree with people.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading! I’ll try to do this for December too.

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