Lean Startup book review

Posted on November 29th, 2011 by John Nicholson

We’ve been drinking the Lean Startup kool-aid here at Marketade … and boy does it taste good.

Here’s my review of the book by Eric Ries.  Its ideas and stories are among the most inspiring and mind-altering that I’ve read in a long time.  I hope you’ll read it.

Please share your questions, reactions, and experiences below.

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Increase your self-control: a review of Willpower

Posted on September 27th, 2011 by John Nicholson

For our latest newsletter I’ve written a review of Willpower, the new book from NY Times science columnist John Tierney and FSU psychologist Roy Baumeister.  It’s the best book I’ve read in a while and I encourage you to buy it and then share your reactions below.

If you want to read another review the book, check out Steven Pinker’s review in the NY Times.  Pinker’s a tough critic, but he describes it as an “immensely rewarding book, filled with ingenious research, wise advice and insightful reflections on the human condition.”


Using persuasion science to improve your website

Posted on May 23rd, 2011 by John Nicholson

For the new issue of our newsletter I review Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, a book from 3 leading social psychologists, including heavyweight Robert Cialdini.  It’s a fun book and has applications for just about anyone.

Check out my review first.  If you want more examples from the book I’ve included 5 more below, along with a takeaway.  They may be hard to understand without the full story, but they’ll hopefully make the book more appealing for those among you who, like me, like seeing numbers.

1. How do you get more employees to enroll in company-sponsored retirement programs?

Takeaway: Test offering fewer product choices.  This paradox of choice stuff is fascinating but as I’ve written previously there are some questions around it.  Still it’s certainly worth testing fewer vs. more choices for your products/services.

2. How do you get more people to vote in a political election?

Takeaway: Consider adding a “labeling” section to your website like this that emphasizes traits that you want in your clients.

3. How does a waiter increase tips?

Takeaway: Give gifts that are unexpected and personalized.

4. How do you get more people at work to complete your survey?

Takeaway: Personalize important requests and communications as much as possible.  Handwrite thank you notes after job interviews.

5. How do you get homeowners to put up large “Drive Carefully” sign in front lawn?

Takeaway: Use trials and no-commitment monthly plans.  Get your foot in the door.

Have questions or reactions relating to the book?  Have other persuasion tips?  Share them below!


Review of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

Posted on March 21st, 2011 by John Nicholson

In our latest newsletter we’re trying out a new “practical book review” feature that focuses on work-related takeaways from something we’ve recently read and enjoyed.  First up is a book called Rapt and you can read my takeaways here.Rapt

I originally included a longer summary and critique section in the article, but I decided to strip it out after realizing how bored I get when reading book reviews by amateurs.  You can read that section below if you’re interested:

Rapt is a survey of recent scientific research on the topic of attention, by pop science writer Winifred Gallagher. Here’s the book in a nutshell:

  • Your life is the sum of what you focus on.
  • Recent science shows how finite a resource attention is.
  • Minimize involuntary, bottom up attention, which focuses on the novel and flashy; this served us well when tigers were a threat but not in a world of constant alerts and distractions from smart phones and the Internet.
  • Maximize deliberate, top down attention by choosing activities where you can achieve a flow-like state of intense focus – whether it’s writing a report, talking to a friend, or playing tennis.
  • With practice, you can achieve this state of “rapt” attention regularly, leading to a more productive, fulfilling life.

If you’ve done meditation or yoga, Gallagher’s emphasis on being present or in the moment will sound familiar.  So too if you’ve read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on “flow” or any of a growing number of happiness and performance researchers.  What’s unique about Gallagher’s treatment is her diversity of sources (mostly contemporary scientists but also classical philosophers, psychologists, and novelists), her narrow focus on the subject of attention, and her ability to weave this topic through a wide range of applications: work, relationships, creativity, disorders, motivation, health, and religion.  I enjoyed the book overall.  Gallagher clearly did a ton of work reading and talking to experts in each of these areas, and drawing out their work’s relevance to attention.

That said, I found the writing to be, well, not the most attention-grabbing at times.   She spends too much time summarizing and quoting her sources, and not enough time synthesizing the research, presenting her views, and developing a unique voice of her own.  It sometimes feels too much like a series of interviews or book reports.  I also wanted to hear more of her practical suggestions for living a focused life.  Or maybe, as an attention-challenged person myself, I just wanted them presented in a more digestible way.

While I didn’t love the book, I still am very grateful to Gallagher because her findings and framework have helped me in some key ways, as I describe in my takeways article.  And I have yet to seriously what she presents as the most promising long-term tool to improve your ability to focus: regular meditation.  That’s on deck.

Do you have tips for improving concentration at work or elsewhere?  Please share them below.

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