Indecision

“The trouble with going on living would seem to be the mortifying implication that somehow you approve of yourself.”
Dwight Wilmerding undergoes a mental crisis in the days leading up to his high school reunion, breaking it off with his girl in NYC, losing his job, flying to Ecuador, taking a drug that helps him make decisions, partaking of local hallucinogens & tree roots that cause hair loss. The book is delightful, if irritating in a persistent, under the skin, prodding kind of way. Dwight is EveryMan in the postmodern sense– if only we could all attain his clarity. Better than average writing, and first mention of 9/11 I’ve come across in fiction (I’m sure there’s more…) nicely juxtaposed against taking ecstacy in the wee hours pre-attack.

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Never eat alone

Skimmable wisdom from the networker extraordinaire. Basically, help others connect, build and utilize your network, merge personal with professional contacts, have fun doing it. Be yourself and vulnerable to connect at a more real level with people. Birthday rememberance is a nice touch to reaching out to the corners of your network not as frequently accessed.
Nothing earth shattering, but quite readable.

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Adventuring in Belize

A somewhat average guide to Belize; several things worked against it– minimal maps, dated information (written in 1994, Hoffman suggests writing away for information from the mountain lodges before you go– as in POSTAL mail) and no web addresses. It did have a few things going for it– instead of the usual list of places to eat generated by a journalist only in the area for a few weeks, Hoffman takes a more realistic approach and asks locals what their favorite spots are. And he interjects personal travel tales to liven up the prose– like diffusing a gasoline theft at Guancaste National Park with humor (Thirsty? I have water.)
Best snorkeling near Placencia: Man-of-War Cayes and Laughing Bird Caye

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Moon Handbooks Belize

More goodness from Moon Handbooks. I like their guidebooks in general because of the detailed mapping and off the beaten track information. This was more of the same.
The trip is now looking like this:
* Northern Cayes (San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker)
* Cayo District (San Ignatio as a base to see Caracol, Rio Frio, HIdden Valley Falls, Xunantunich and Tikal)
* Placencia in the Southern Coast
* Orange Walk: Chan Chich Lodge???

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Andes to the Amazon

Incredibly readable travelogue with tales from my kind of adventure– bushwacking through countries without hotel reservations, camping on beaches, bicycling across South America. Bruce and Tess jump headfirst into their surroundings and experience local life as authentically as possible.
The book covers journeys during a 20 year span from 1976 through 1997, all in the Mexico, Central and South America region. Their first trip to the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico entails 3rd class trains and buses, camping in hammocks on the beach, visiting the Mayan ruins during off peak times (early morning, late afternoon) when they had the sites to themselves. Their second trip finds them in Guatamala, visiting Tikal and climbing volcanoes.
The fourth trip is a 3 month bicycle trip through Central America, with a month in Costa Rica, a month in Nicaragua/Honduras, and a month in Guatamala. Costa Rica adventures hit all the places I remember– the Osa Penninsula, Manuel Antonio, Monteverde cloud forest, Arenal volcano, Tamarindo. The Nicaragua and Honduras chapter was in marked contrast to idyllic Costa Rica– bombed out cars from the constant war zone, poverty, highlands Indian culture, local markets, monarch butterfly migration, learning tortilla-making, visiting their charity case, and manic bus rides.
The fifth trip is to Ecuador and Peru– first a stop in the Galapagos Islands where they charter a boat to take them around all the various islands. Then they fly to Quito before climbing Cotopaxi Volcano, in Ecuador, going through glaciers and snowfields. Then they get on their bikes and travel throughout Ecuador, Peru and the Amazon basin, opting to eat food from locals along the way instead of packing a camping stove. Many side trips to catch sight of rare birds, insects, and trips to nature lodges.
The final trips are in Baja, Mexico. These trips were too short for my preference.
Exhausting and invigorating to read.

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It’s Not What You Say… It’s What You Do

Enjoyable read with good ideas.
Building blocks:
1. Clear Direction: clear expectations that are SMART (specific, measurable, accountable, realistic, and time-bound). Guidlines for expectations: divide big ideas into small bites, get feedback, be hands-on, not what you say but what you do (follow through yourself). Negotiate boss’s expectations if unclear- get them engaged and listen.
2. The Right People: hire attitude over experience.
The 5 traits of personality:
* Conscientiousness: inclination to be responsible, careful, organized, perservering, dilligent
* Openness: broad-minded, curious, insightful, original
* Agreeableness: forgiving, kind, courteous, and supportive
* Extroversion: outgoing, gregarious, sociable, ambitious
* Emotional Stability: measured, calm, appropriate, secure, rational, optimistic
How to screen for right attitudes: plan interview in advance, get them talking freely, ask what they did (give me an example of…), trust your gut, see how they deal with conflict, keep assessing for 1st 90 days.
3. Obtaining Buy-In
* Outmaneuver CAVE people by kicking off with WOW! event, blitzkrieg them (follow thru quickly), create disciples from rank/file, take success story straight to the top
* Create a HOT team (don’t be unfair, mean, rule-bound; do like your people, believe in them, listen, make teamwork engaging, let them decide)
* Lead a HOT team: distribute the coaching relationships & they will lead themselves
4. Individual Initiative
* Share your purpose; look at your biz through eyes of a customer; ask yourself & your people “What gets you out of bed in the monrning?”; motivation stem from defeating common enemy?
* What motivates you– what 1st attracted you to this line of work, what parts of work life do you use when not at work? if pay was cut 50%, what tasks would you keep?
* Show more respect (lack of respect leads to lack of initiative)
* Find the line between enough and too much accountability; how much control will the group have over the outcome? how good at giving useful feedback?
*****
Get Team Member’s Expectations by Asking Them
* Review personal and job history, establish rapport & trust. Once comfortable:
* What would you like to be earning in next 12 months? 24? 5 yrs? Why? What would you do with that money? What kind of percentage increase would that take? Have you ever accomplished a similar increase? What did you do to get that increase?
* What professional advancement would you like to achieve over next 2, 5 years? Have you been promoted like that in the past? What did you do to earn the advancement? What new skills did you master? What accomplishments preceeded the promotion?
* What are the top 3 skills that qualify you for this job? (examples that prove they exist and make a difference?)
* What would you like to be able to do better? What else?
* What do you need from me?
Another way: give an assignment. Take 48 hours to prepare an answer. It’s the end of the new year, on track for hitting your goals. You’ve just received a great review, exceeding expectations. In a paragraph or 2, write what you did to earn this glowing review

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The Likeability Factor

It should be no secret that likeable people are more likely to get ahead in the world. If people like you, they’re more willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, or a second chance, or a job, or their phone number. This was an enjoyable, quick read, filled with common sense. One idea that has stuck with me is the concept that the barriers between work and non-work are completely gone now– in the past, someone could be a jerk at work then come home to be the perfect father. Now, your friends and neighbors can google you to see your full reputation. I think it’s just good practice to be a positive human being wherever you are.
So how do you raise your L-factor? By improving your likeability (friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness). Friendliness is obvious, but woefully missing in today’s world. Relevance is the idea of bringing value to someone else. I could be the nicest person in the world, but if I didn’t have anything to offer you, I wouldn’t be relevant to you (e.g. I operate a corner store 2 blocks away from the corner store that you frequent– we’ll never meet). Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s place and feeling (or attempting to feel) what they feel. Realness is your ability to be all of these things but still be yourself. Don’t pretend to have an interest in 19th century literature just because I do.
Bottom line– if the entire world raised their personal L-factor, it would be a happier place to be. Make it a goal to make someone smile each day.

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Coach

A short memoir by Lewis about his high school baseball coach whose intimidation, intensity, and belief in him changed his life. Coach Fitz, a New Orleans legend amongst teenage boys, gave the ball to Lewis to pitch his way out of a jam, once the star pitcher was ejected. The effect of Fitz’s talk on the mound was to inspire confidence in Lewis, to say “there’s no one I’d rather have out here in this life-or-death situation” and Lewis believed in himself, believed this was his chance to show the world and himself what he was made out of. And he did it.
The essay is set against a backdrop of Fitz being harrassed by current day parents whose coddling of their children gets in the way of Fitz’s tough talk.

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Nine Lives of Leadership

This eBook (PDF available for download from 800-CEO-READ blog) was more of a teaser than an actual information source. Each chapter pimps a different book that Haneberg reviews, providing a quick glance into the work, but not much else.
I’m motivated to get more info on topics 1, 2, 3, 6, 8.
1: Go Deep Fast- Develop Strong Relationships As A Catalyst for Success
* pimping: Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
* quick learnings: Seek to serve others, be generous, don’t be a deadbeat, continuously seek new connections
* recommendations on getting started: share your passions, get a buddy to motivate your connecting efforts
* followup info: subscribe to tip-of-the-week emails at nevereatalone.com
2. Organic Leadership- What you can learn from the career-paths of highly successful mega leaders
* pimping: Nobodies to Somebodies: How 100 Great Careers Got Their Start by Peter Han
* Haneberg’s favorite lesson: “Become the Big Fish by Mastering the Small Pond” (you can learn more and advance quicker in a smaller company)
* Han’s tips: Always be open to change, Top leaders aren’t always Straight-A students, Learn from more than one mentor, Go crazy in the office but sane at home (Work-Life Balance!!!), Focus on your strengths while knowing your weaknesses
3. Hot teams: How you can improve results and satisfaction by optimizing team member performance
* pimping: It’s Not What You Say… It’s What you Do by Laurence Haughton.
* Best tip: Don’t let corporate crap roll downhill to your employees. And get a coping strategy to rid yourself of that crap (yoga?)
* How to build a Hot team: right people (duh!) who mesh well together, notice what works & what doesn’t, let your people decide, don’t go crazy with policy/procedure, believe that people want to do good work.
* Final tips: Make it simple, search for disconfirming evidence, keep track of decisions/intentions/outcomes, read the book Fooled by Randomness
4. Let’s get radical: Add Energy/Velocity to You & Your Employees’ Career Growth
* pimping: Radical Careering: 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job/Career/Life by Sally Hogshead
5. Start-up spirit: Infuse the work environment with start-up energy while leveraging established processes
* pimping: Think Big, Act Small by Jason Jennings
* Building blocks: Be down to earth, Keep your hands dirty, Make short-term goals and long-term horizons, Let go, Have everyone think/act like an owner, Invent new businesses, Create win-win solutions, Choose your competitors, Build communities, Grow future leaders
* Questions to ask potential employers: To what degree do depts proactively collaborate and share info? How do senior leaders assess the health/sucess of the company & what metrics do they consider most important? How does the company plan for the future? How does the company decide whether to create/launch new products or retire products? Would the average team member feel their contributions are rewarded? Which accomplishments of yours do senior managers recognize as being most important? How does innovation occur within the company? What forums/meetings/processes foster and consider new ideas from employees? Which niche does the company serve– how are the products special and unique?
6: The Clarity State: Make tough decisions in an easier & more effective manner
* pimping: The Right Decision Every Time by Luda Kopeikina.
* Most interesting aspect: correct decision occurs when the decision maker is totally congruent with the decision, NOT by the outcome.
* Bad habits for managers: Multi-tasking, Competing, Working all the time
* Tips: Leadership is self-development; Have a clear objective; Stop worrying, start acting; Develop vision.
7: Organizational DNA: Determine your organization’s predominant style and use this to drive change
* pimping: Results: Keep What’s Good, Fix what’s Wrong by Gary Neilson.
* What type of org do you work for? Free assessment here.
* Most companies are passive-agressive.
* Tips: Take an “it starts with me” approach– make a difference; Make decisions stick; Assume everyone wants to do a good job
8: Emotional Acumen: Increase employee’s impact and influence
* pimping: The Likeability Factor by Tim Sanders
* Life is a popularity contest– people want to work for and wth people they like
* 4 Aspects: friendliness, relevance, empathy, realness
* Take the likeability assessment from Tim’s site.
* Raising Likeability: Unfriendliness is a weakness (failure to control yourself); email is coldest form of communication; empathy is most difficult to learn
* Final tips: Manage people, not things; judge things not people; Smile in every way (including email); Improve your personal resume every year.
9: Betting at Work: Up your odds for success
* pimping: Make your own luck by Eileen Shapiro.
* Synopsis of tips: Evaluate Upside/Downside, Assess the need for radical shift

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Benjamin Franklin

An insightful study of Franklin’s life in all its complexity. With his Poor Richard tales of frugality, and his Parisian chameleon blending into luxurious style, he was a master at adapting to the situation and was our “Founding Yuppie” as a huge proponent of the middleclass. Born in Boston, he ran away to Philadelphia at age 17, trying to run his own printing press business and chaffing at the reins his brother placed on him while apprenticing. Franklin always found solace in travel– his first trip to London was at age 20. After returning to the colonies, he continued with his printing business, raising ideas and opinions through anonymous submissions to his paper. Realizing the power that the position of postmaster held, he began to solicit the appointment, eventually winning it (which resulted in extensive travel throughout the colonies). Meanwhile he busied himself with scientific experiments (lightning rod, using oil to still water, etc.) and became famous in France for his electricity experiments. He ended up spending his remaining years (until age 84) as a public servant, serving in some capacity as a US representative abroad or as Pennsylvania state president.
Franklin had a common-law marriage wtith Deborah, a Philly woman who never ventured out of the city, but had several flirtations with women throughout the rest of his life. Franklin spent 15 of Deborah’s last 17 years away from her in Europe. Prior to his marriage, Franklin sired an illegit child, William, whom he brought back with him from England and raised as his own son. This was the first in a long line of illegit children, as William went on to have illegitamite Temple, who had a few children of his own out of wedlock.
Franklin was the only person to sign all 4 documents cruicial to the formation of the US– Declaration of Independance, French treaty, peace accord with Britain (ending Revolutionary War), and the Constitution.
Update: Tom Peters just posted a hurrah to BF.

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Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People

This is a good back-to-basics book on financial health. Quinn’s first rules:
* Only a few things work, and they work really well.
* Set up a system that runs automatically and you can’t fail
* Success comes from starting right, then keeping your itchy fingers off
On saving– make it automatic, with 401k deductions from your paystub and automatic deposits into investment accounts. Compound interest really works. Think twice before purchasing toys or non-essentials. Keep a 3 month cushion fund for emergencies. Enroll in DRIPs. For retirement, you MUST save 10-15%. Pay off everything (retirement, debt, cushion fund, college plans) before prepaying your mortgage.
Check your credit score annually (for free). Auto/home insurance: shop around, and opt for the highest deductable (to ensure lowest monthly rates). Make a will and living trust. She’s got great info on buying a house, mortgage types, how much house you can afford, ARM vs. fixed rate, etc.
There’s also chapters on reducing debt and saving for college.
Her best chapter was on No Worry Investing. Since I’m currently invested in stocks only, this was a big wake up call for me, and a lot of the info resonated– I’m not a professional investor and I can’t put enough time into managing my investments to ensure that I end up ahead. So why don’t I just dump everything into an index fund and call it a day? She loves the Vanguard Target Retirement funds b/c they diversify, choose appropriate assets for age/situation, hold down costs, limit your risk. Index funds are also big with her- particularly the Vanguard S&P 500 index fund. Index funds consistently beat out actively managed funds over time, and they’re cheaper– win/win!
Her recipe for success with No Worry Investing:
1. Funds that track the entire US stock market (Fidelity Spartan total market, Vanguard Total Stock Market, T.Rowe Price Total Equity index)- 40%
2. Funds for international stocks (fidelity spartan int’l fund, Vanguard Total Int’l Stock fund)- 20%
3. Index fund for REIT (Vanguard REIT index)- 10%
4. Bond index funds (vanguard total market bond index fund, fidelity US bond index fund)- 20%
5. Commodities index fund- Pimco’s Commodity Real Return Strategy Fund- 10%
Other funds of interest:
1. Funds that track S&P 500 (Fidelity Spartan 500, Vanguard 500 index)
2. Funds that track small/midsize stocks (Extended market funds)
3. Fund for socially conscious investors (Vanguard Calvert Social Index fund)
She wraps up with her last rules:
* You can’t see the future
* If you’re saving money steadily, that doesn’t matter
* All that really matters is getting more out of life

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New Ideas From Dead Economists

Applying past economic theories to contemporary issues, Buchholz takes an entertaining tone and leaves us with a mildly interesting work. From my newbie’s perspective, there was too much information packed into 300 pages, so I’m left slightly confused still. Here’s what I currently remember:
Absent-minded Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations, pub 1776) praised free trade and the division of labor- specializing and dividing tasks to explode production capacity.
Thomas Robert Malthus was primarily concerned about population growth and its effect on happiness.
David Ricardo favored free trade without tarrifs or restrictions. He saw 2 possible futures for Britain- protectionist island barring foreign goods, or an extroverted trader. The former would lead to a weakened economy. Free trade makes it possible for households to consume more goods regardless of whether trading partners are more or less economically advanced. “If French farmers are willing to feed us for less than it would cost us to feed ourselves, let us eat French food and spend our time doing something else.”
John Stuart Mill- tumultuous life, went from rationalist to romanticist. Wrote Principles of Politcal Economy in 1848. From this we get the non-flat income tax (2 tiered) which encourages work and income, and high estate tax, which also encourages work.
Karl Marx- capitalism is a necessary precondition for socialism. Alfred Marshall & the marginalists- elasticity of economy. Thorstein Veblen (Theory of the Leisure Class). Maynard Keynes- smarty pants Cambridge man- savings exacerbate recession.

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Why smart people make big money mistakes–and how to correct them

Yes, I’m still on the economic book bent.
This one was well-written and entertaining. Basic premise is that we prevent ourselves from making good financial choices, by simple human pyschology. We mentally account for money differently based on source of money (i.e. you go out and think nothing of spending that birthday check on an expensive coat, but you’d never do that with your paycheck) and keep pouring cash into the car that keeps breaking down simply because we have already put so much into the car so far.
Other tricks used against us are the anchoring effect of a listed price– maybe something isn’t worth $200, but when we see it marked down from $500 to $250, we can’t resist buying it. Anchor effect also hugely impacts the final price on your house sale. Overconfidence in our own abilities to time the market or to have the inside scoop on a stock also hamper us. On the opposite side, the herd effect of “everyone’s buying it” similarly hampers effective financial decisions.

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