Reading Notes: Don Quixote

Author:  Miguel de Cervantes

Format:  Audible

Subject:  Chivalry

Rating: 6/10


Wow, Don Quixote is an absolute beast of a novel.  The story’s protagonist, Alanso Quixano, is an old man who has read way too many books about chivalry, goes insane, and dubs himself a Knight Errant.  And he gives himself the name Don Quixote, and recruits a local farmer by the name of Sancho Panza, to be his squire.

He re-imagines the world he interacts with.  Windmills become giants, Inns become Castles, prostitutes become Ladies…    He re-dubs a local farm girl to be, Dulcinea del Toboso, and declares his undying love for her.  And his love for Dulcinea remains a driving force for Quixote throughout the novel.

During the first part of the book his adventures bring him to stiff inn-keepers of payment (who ever heard of a knight errant paying for anything,) fighting windmills he believed to be giants, and setting prisoners free.  He also sequesters himself in the mountains as self punishment until he receives a letter from his beloved Toboso.

Eventually, a book is written about the adventures of Don Quixote.  And the duo is ultimately brought into the care of a Duke and Dutchess who pretend to be admirers.   However, the two actually developed several schemes designed to further humiliate the knight and his squire including: making Sancho a governor of an island, Sancho beating himself to break a curse on Dulcinea, and baiting Sancho to pull out his own beard to resurrect a dead woman.

Quixote’s adventures are finally brought to and end when he is challenged to a dual by Knight of the White Moon, (who is actually an ordinary young man from Quixote’s home town.)  The terms of the dual require the loser to give up Chivalry for a period of one year.  After losing his final dual, Quixote, retires back to his home and formulates a plan to be a Shepard.

What I Liked Most:  I really enjoyed Don Quixote’s faithful squire, Sancho Panza.  He is someone of a simpleton, and often serves as the fall guy for many of the procrastinator’s mis-adventures.  In many ways, he serves as the books stooge and comic relief.

Central Themes:  

  • If you never try anything great, you will never achieve anything great. (Don’t allow others to stop you from achieving something they thought to be impossible.)
  • Believe in yourself.  Don’t give up on your dreams.

What I Liked Least:  I was always taught to write as concisely as possible, and to avoid unnecessary words.  Apparently, this rule doesn’t apply to novelist.  The story contains many, many, many long-winded, letters, songs, and other side-stories that I personally don’t think added a lot of value to plot.

Twist Ending:  The ending is somewhat anti-climatic.  But, I was surprised that before Don Quixote passed away, he renounced the books of chivalry and forbade his niece to marry any man that read them.  Cervantes apparently intended the novel to expose books of chivalry as garbage writing.

Favorite Quotes:

  • What man can pretend to know the riddle of a woman’s mind?
  • Take my advice and live for a long, long time. Because the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die.
  • What is more dangerous than to become a poet? which is, as some say, an incurable and infectious disease.

Side Note:  I began this book on 12 September, so it took me the better part of three months to finish it.

HBR Video: Reinventing Performance Management

I stumbled across this today at  It covers the process that Deloitte used to revamp its internal review process.  It was forced to make the change because its previous process had the following issues:

Performance Management Issues

  • Annual process wasn’t timely.
  • Goals changed throughout the year.
  • Inconsistent skills ratings from one person to another.
  • The process took thousands of hours and didn’t produce very good results.

Qualities of High Performing Teams:

  • A change to use your strengths every day
  • Inspiring Mission
  • Coworkers commitment to quality

New process focuses on four future statements.  Managers are asked to mark how much they agree with these statements:

  • I would reward this person the highest possible increase and bonus.
  • I would always want this person on the team.
  • This person is at risk for low performance.
  • This person is ready for promotion today.

Deloitte’s research shows a direct correlation between the frequency of conversations and the engagement of team members.

Weekly Check-ins:

  • Set Expectations
  • Review Priorities
  • Comment on Work

Deloitte’s new performance management focuses on

  • See performance accurately.
  • Reward it Accordingly.
  • To inspire better performance in the future.

The system is designed to focus on future performance, not past performance.

Reading Notes: Rework

Author:  Jason Fried / David Heinemeier

Format: Audible

Subject: Human Behavior

Rating: 3/10


I find the concept of rebuilding the workplace and starting a business is very exciting.  However, this book falls flat.  I don’t remember how it found its way onto my reading list.  Its most redeeming quality is that it is very short.

The book can be summarized as follows:  “Everything you think is wrong!  This is how we did it at 37 signals.”

What I Like Most:  The book is a short read.  The audio-book is just under 3 hours.

Good  Ideas:

  • Planning is overrated.
  • Hold meetings at site of problem, not in meeting room. Invite as few as possible.
  • Hire only as a last resort.
  • Don’t create policies because one person did something wrong once.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “If circumstances change, your decisions can change. Decisions are temporary.”

Reading Notes: The Power of Habit

Author: Charles Duhigg

Format: Audible

Subject: Human Behaivor

Rating: 10/10


This book explains why we habitually do things that are bad for us, and why we often struggle to introduce habits that are good for us.  Most of what we do everyday are actually habits.  Habits are in effect, short cuts, that eliminate the need to make decisions, and to save mental energy.  Our brains establish habits for pretty much everything.   and they do so without regard of whether the habit is good or bad for us.   What our brains do know, is that if they perform the habit, they will get a shot of dopamine.

A habit loop consists of four parts and three steps.  The three steps are: a cue, a routine, and a reward.  The three steps perform a habit loop.  We experience a trigger, we perform a routine, and then we get a reward.  Performing the habit loop delivers a powerful shot of dopamine to our brains.  But at the heart of a habit is the craving.  The reward we receive from the habit satisfies one of our cravings.  Cravings are what makes habits so difficult to eliminate.

We could try to simply resist the craving, but trying to change habits through sheer willpower is very difficult.   Willpower is finite.  If we try to introduce a habit through sheer willpower, then we will need to conserve our willpower for the moment(s) that we expect to perform the new activity.

However, if we can introduce the new behavior by re-engineering one of our existing habit loops, then we are much more likely to succeed.  The easiest way to re-engineer a habit is to keep the old cue, deliver the old reward, and change the routine.

In order to change a routine, we need to understand what cue triggers the routine.  Cues almost always fit into one of 5 categories:  Location, Time, Emotional State, Actions of Others, Preceding Last Action.   We also need to identify the reward and underlying cravings the habit is trying to satisfy.  We can find an appropriate substitute reward by recognizing the cue, changing the reward, and then waiting 15 minutes to see if the craving has been satisfied.   If it has, we have just found a new routine that we can begin executing the next time the cue is triggered.  Otherwise, we substitute a different reward, until we do satisfy the craving.

Habit Loop

Favorite Quotes:

  • The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.
  • Champions don’t do extraordinary things.  They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.  – Tony Dungy
  • We are what we repeatably do.  Excellence is not an act, but a habit.
  • But to change an old habit, you must address an old craving. You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before, and feed the craving by inserting a new routine.
  • Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits.
  • Studies have documented that families who habitually eat dinner together seem to raise children with better homework skills, higher grades, greater emotional control, and more confidence.  (As a side note, my wife considers family meals as sacred.  And by doing so, she has introduced an excellent keystone habit into our family’s routines.)
  •  Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.
  • When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making.
  • Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.


Reading Notes: Creativity Inc: Understanding the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Author: Ed Catmull

Format: Audible

Subject: Culture

Rating: 10/10


This book is very much the story of Pixar.  Which is a story that I found very enjoyable in itself.  But, the book also contains a lot of ingredients that make the company such a success.  Catmull, who is one Pixar’s co-founders, does an excellent job sharing his experiences over the decades long time frame the book covers.

Catmull believes that creative problem solving is critical for businesses is any industry.  The book outlines the process of making creativity a part of an organizations daily culture.

A hallmark of a healthy and creative culture is that people feel free to express ideas, opinions, and criticisms.  The word honesty carries baggage that can hold people back. So, encourage candor over honesty.  Pixar puts smart people in a room together to solve problems, and encourages them to use candor in their conversations with one another.  They refer to these meetings as a Brain Trust.

An Effective Feedback system is built on empathy; an idea, that we are in this together.  The purpose of feedback is to move the process forward.  Effective feedback requires candor, trust, and empathy.  A note is a good way to give feedback.  A good note is timely and specific, it should inspire,  it clarifies what is wrong or missing, it doesn’t have to include a fix to the problem, and it makes no demands.

Catmull also stresses the importance of “Getting the Team Right.”  He believes that great teams are far more important than great ideas.  He also encourages managers to hire people that are smarter than they are and have a lot of potential. (“hire for potential, not the past.”)  Find, develop, and support good people.    A good team is made up of people who complement each other.   Understand the mix of talent in the group, match the right people with the right task.


What I like most about the book:  

I really enjoyed listening to the many challenges that were overcome while making Pixar hits such as  Toy Story, Up, Monsters Inc.

Favorite Quotes:

  • The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
  • Quality is the best business plan.
  • If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.
  • You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.
  • Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.
  • Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.
  • Getting the right people and the right chemistry is more important than getting the right idea.
  • If you aren’t experiencing failure, then you are making a far worse mistake: You are being driven by the desire to avoid it.
  • What is the point of hiring smart people, we asked, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken?
  • You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.
  • Be patient. Be authentic. And be consistent. The trust will come.
  • It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.
  • If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose.
  • Societal conditioning discourages telling the truth to those perceived to be in higher positions.
  • There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convicted you are right.
  • Measure what you can, evaluate what you measure, and appreciate that you cannot measure the vast majority of what you do.

Happy Birthday BASIC

The first version of BASIC came to be on this day in 1964.  Time magazine did an excellent article about the history BASIC a few years ago.

I still have vivid memories of coding my first dungeon crawling game in GW-BASIC when I was thirteen.  I have been coding in one fashion or another for more than 25 years now.  And that experience has served me and my career very well.  I wouldn’t be nearly as good at problem solving without it.

CNBC interview with Bill Belichick

The greatest coach of all time doesn’t spend a lot of time giving interviews, so this is definitely worth a watch.

Quotes from the Interview:

  • “Every battle is won before it is fought.” – Sun Tzu
  • “A battle plan is great until you go into battle, then it doesn’t mean anything.” – General Dwight Eisenhower
  • “Don’t be afraid to use a good idea.”
  • “Good players can’t overcome bad coaching. It’s impossible”


Reading Notes: Zero to One

Author:  Peter Thiel / Blake Masters

Format: Audible

Subject:  Entrepreneurship

Rating: 10/10


Zero to One is easily the most interesting book that I have read in the past several years.  And, that is saying a lot since I was initially very skeptical about including it on my reading list.  The book held my attention from beginning to end.  Thiel’s covers a variety of topics that are designed to get the reader thinking.  At its core, Zero to One, is essentially a book of ideas.  And many of those ideas challenge the status quo.

Blake Masters narrated the Audible version of the book.  His dictation style has a nice flow to it.  Other narrators could learn a thing or two from him.

Zero to One vs Zero to N:

  • Zero to One: is vertical progress. New technologies. It creates something where nothing existed before.
  • Zero to N: is horizontal progress. It is the act of iterating over existing technology.

Thiel’s Core Beliefs:

  • Globalization is doomed without technological innovation
  • Capitalism is the opposite of competition
  • We can shape our core future

Lessons Learned from Bubble vs Thiel’s Viewpoint:

Lessons Learned?

Creating a Monopoly:

  • Must be a order of magnitude better than the next option (10x)
  • Target a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors
  • Once you dominate the niche market then expand to adjacent markets
  • Don’t disrupt
  • Avoid first mover advantage; target making the last great development in a specific market and reap the rewards of a mature ecosystem.
  • Founders should know each other very well before starting the company.
  • Everyone should work in the same physical space. (No telecommuting.)
  • Everyone should be a full-time employee.
  • Lower CEO pay increases the chances for the start-up to succeed.
  • Advertising Works

Maintaining a Monopoly:

  • Create Network Effects: the more people using your product, the greater the network effects are.
  • Economy of Scale: Lowers production and distribution costs
  • Branding: Increases awareness.

Theil’s Seven Questions All Businesses Should Answer:

  1. Engineering – Can you create a breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  2. Timing – is now the right time to start your particular business?
  3. Monopoly – are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. People – Do you have the right team?
  5. Distribution – Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  6. Durability – Will your market position be defensible ten or twenty years into the future?
  7. Secret – have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

Sales people compared to their products:

  • Advertising -> Account Executive
  • Customers -> Business Developer
  • Companies -> Investment Bankers
  • Yourself -> Politicians.

Theil’s Favorite Interview Question:

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”

  • Causes people to reflect on self-created knowledge.
  • To become socially unpopular by taking a different stance.
  • Rationale: brilliant thinking is rare but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Other Ideas:

  • Entrepreneurs should create monopolies
  • Competition lowers price and eliminates profit.
  • Capitalism generates profit.
  • Even a bad plan is better than no plan.
  • School and College prepares you to be average at a lot of things.       And an expert at nothing.
  • Success is not a matter of luck.
  • If you cannot beat your rival it may be better to merge with them (Paypal: Thiel and Musk)