This article was originally published on Linked In.
On route to Sweden this year, I met an amazing 78-year-old young man (yes, you read it right. YOUNG!) who talked to me for over 5 hours on a 10-hour flight. We discussed oldest human civilizations, evolution, philosophy, culture, gender equality and what not. Couple hours into our conversation, I asked, ‘Sir, Have you read Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel? It might interest you.’ He gave me a nerd look and said, ‘Parimala, what do you mean by asking if I read books. Of course, I read books. I am a professor emeritus at Lund University.’ I was baffled. Here, I was, murmuring about things I know, to a learned man who did not throw an air of attitude or ego around a less learned individual like me. Apparently, this wonderful man grew up amidst 3000 books at his home where books were his best friends for most of his childhood. He has another 3000 decorated beautifully in his home and reads about 75 books a year on average. He speaks about the origin of chilies, with the same ease as about a 3rd century BC Ganesh idol in Gudimallam.
The Power of Reading
The wise professor on the plane told me three things:
1) Your history knowledge is poor. You must read more (my friends know I read a lot and here was a man telling me to read more. I love it though)
2) You are such a poor listener. Listen.
3) Throw your phone in the garbage and focus on experiencing life
Reading and Writing books do exactly the same things he said I was not good at. They enhance knowledge about our roots. They help us to listen better. They help us dump technology in exchange for a good time with books that transform us into a real wonderland with utmost easy.
I read few books this year (broadly in two categories – technology and learning) and I’ll share few nuggets from some of them in this post.
The Enchanted Objects – David Rose
David Rose is a gifted innovator of our times. He does not go about putting chips under the human skin or USB's in our heads. He humanizes technologies in ways I have not witnessed before. He worries about old people forgetting to take their medicine. He worries about people needing to remember right things at the right time. He dreams about augmenting human capabilities.
His book Enchanted Objects aims to create enchanting experiences for people using technology without disrupting human feelings/emotions.
My favorite quote: “I’m particularly interested in your willingness to flex and consider the world from three perspectives: technology, design, and business. It takes a polyglot to understand and make smart decisions about human-centered products, so your ability to understand and communicate with other scientists, engineers, designers, psychologists, executives, and entrepreneurs – as well as customers and users – is essential to taking part in the next wave of the Internet.”
If you want to humanize technology, do yourself a favor and read this book.
The User Experience Team of One – Leah Buley
“Cut the crap, do what needs to be done.”, writes Leah Buley who has worked on many user experience projects as a one-woman army. In her view, many people make their way into user experience by crossing over from an adjacent field. These crossovers are the people who are carrying UX forward, taking it to new levels and new organizations.
A quotable quote from the book: “Finishing a UX project is like sweeping a floor. You get the big pile easily, but those last few specks of dust are impossible to ever really clean up. You just keep cutting the dirt pile in half until finally you’re left with an acceptable amount of grime to put the broom away and get on with the next thing. Suffice it to say, the work is never really done.”
If you are a UX team of one (which most UX folks are), this one is for you.
Lean UX – Jeff Gothelf
This book teaches you how to apply lean principles to improve the user experience. The book is so lean; you can read it in a couple of days.
Few quotes from the book: “Best experience never gets built.” and “Test your riskiest assumptions first.”
The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
In my experience, it is the boring stuff that people do that lead to great things in the first place. I could not say it any better. “I have learned from both my own successes and failures and those of many others that it's the boring stuff that matters the most”, confesses Eric Ries.
Another good quote: “The question at the heart of lean - which of our efforts are value-creating and which are wasteful?”
Free to Learn – Peter Gray
Peter Gray is an American Psychologist who found that play was critical to raising happy and self-reliant children, who can grow up to become better students of life. To his son, the school was a prison, and he had done nothing to deserve imprisonment. This experience and the decisions he took thereafter to educate his son, became the basis for this book. He writes about hunter-gatherer communities and how children were educated using play. This is a necessary read for every parent, educator, and mentor who teachers, mentors, inspires or guides people.
A noteworthy quote from the book: “Free play is nature's means of teaching children that they are not helpless. In a play, away from adults, children really do have control and can practice asserting it. In free play, children learn to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and abide by rules, and get along with others as equals rather than as obedient or rebellious subordinates. None of these lessons can be taught through verbal means; they can be learned only through experience, which free play provides.”
When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
Paul Sudhir Arul Kalanithi was an Indian-American neurosurgeon and writer. His book When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir about his life and illness battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. Death is a white elephant in the room. It is so certain, yet we live our lives thinking it is never going to hit us. Paul documents his life as he approaches death and how his wife Lucy (the couple was heading for a divorce before Paul was diagnosed with cancer) stood by him after learning about his condition. They even chose to have a baby, Cady, knowing that the Paul might not be around in her growing up years. Cady did fill his last days with joy and a peaceful death. Paul, not once asks, ‘Why me?’ He handled this with such courage that Cady, Lucy and his entire family and everyone who knew him will learn from his courage.
Paul’s note to Cady: “When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man's days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”
A heart-wrenching, soul-stirring story of hope!
The Dance of the Possible – Scott Berkun
“We always have more freedom than we think, we just forget.”, says Scott Berkun. If you do not have the freedom to read his books or blogs, then just know that you forgot and do remind yourself. Scott is one of the consistently wonderful writers of our times. He wrote this short book about creativity.
“We can learn three simple rules from our ancestors in this regard: 1. if there’s something you want to do, you must simply go and do it. 2. If you want to be better at something, do it more often. 3. If you want to improve faster, ask someone who knows more than you to watch you and give their advice.”
“The shower is one of the few places left that we all must go where there are no advertisements, no news, no screens and no input for our minds. We relax, we sink back into the comfort of our bodies, and our brains slowly recover from everything we’ve asked them to do all day long.”
What I like about Scott is that he does not claim to know everything. He makes an attempt to do so. If you think you are not creative enough, Scott will surely tell you, you are creative! How? Go read this book.
The Dip – Seth Godin
The Dip is an old classic from Seth Godin. Seth’s microblogs are good enough to inspire you to do good work. His books with classic examples and metaphors can push you to your limits.
Favorite quote from the book: “The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that's actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path The Dip is the combination of bureaucracy and busy work you must deal with in order to get certified in scuba diving. The Dip is the difference between the easy "beginner" technique and the more useful "expert" approach in skiing or fashion design. The Dip is the long stretch between beginner's luck and real accomplishment. The Dip is the set of artificial screens set up to keep people like you out.”
Another one: “But what if I fail? We all get to laugh at you.”
The Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls - Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
This year, I started reading kids’ books thanks to my older kid. This book illustrates the tales of 100 extraordinary women from across the world spread across multiple centuries. These tales highlight the challenges that women faced, as back as 700 BC and how they fought through it.
Few notable quotes from women across generations:
"You hold all life's possibilities in the palm of your hands" - Fado Dayib's mother
The stars are not very different from us: they are born, they grow old, they die - Margherita Hack
"If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it" - Grace Hopper
The time is now - Wangari Maathai
I, for one, am proud of this book.
With this, blogging for 2017 comes to an end and it shall begin in the new year.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year 2018!