Category Archive: Books

  1. How Changing Your Beliefs Can Help You Achieve More: Carol Dweck – Mindset

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    growth mindset

    “For twenty years, my research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you commit to and accomplish the things you value.”

    Carol Dweck

    Changing your mindset can completely affect they way you lead your life. It can be the difference between stopping at a plateau of accomplishment or continuing to flourish throughout your life. The good news is that by understanding how mindsets work, you can change your mindset and help teach others how to be more effective. According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” people fall into two primary groups: having a fixed mindset or having a growth mindset.

    What is a Fixed Mindset?

    Someone with a fixed mindset has learned that their basic qualities, like intelligence and talent, are fixed traits. They are focused on demonstrating their existing skills instead of improving them. They believe that they don’t need to put in effort because they are naturally good at some things and bad at others. However, this is not true.

    What is a Growth Mindset?

    Someone with a growth mindset believes that their abilities can be developed with hard work. They may have some initial strengths, but those are just a starting point which can be built upon. This mindset encourages the learning process. Failures are seen as part of the path toward achievement and motivation to work harder. Virtually all great people have these qualities.

    How Your Mindset Impacts You

    Once you understand the two mindsets you will start to see them in yourself and others. I immediately remembered back to Math class in high school. I received low grades in Math because I just assumed that I wasn’t good at math and didn’t want to put in any extra effort and fail. I had been told that I was really talented with art and computers which tends to ingrain thoughts of all skills being fixed.

    Carol Dweck has done a number of studies on the affects of the two mindsets in children. In one study, she gave 5th graders three consecutive tests. The second test was purposely so difficult that every child would fail it. This way she could see how they’d bounce back on the third test based on differing feedback. She found that when students were praised for their ‘effort’ on the tests, they finished the 3rd test with scores that were 30% higher than the first test. Students praised for their ‘intelligence’ were discouraged by their failure and had scores that were 20% lower. This is why it’s so important to praise others for the work they’re putting in rather than their innate brainpower. Instead of being devastating, failure becomes a learning experience.

    Another issue with the fixed mindset is that it prevents people from trying things and reaching their full potential. Dweck did another study with children and found when offered the option of redoing an easy jigsaw puzzle or moving onto a harder one, those with a fixed mindset wanted to re-do the puzzle they already solved. These children told researchers that smart kids don’t make mistakes and thus were afraid to make one. Children with the growth mindset thought it would be strange to do the same puzzle again and wanted to learn something new. The growth mindset is focused on becoming smarter rather than the immediate gratification of success.

    How to Develop a Growth Mindset

    A growth mindset is something that you can nurture and cultivate within yourself. People may argue that we are all predisposed to certain skills based on our genetics. While it is true that at top performance levels genetics may be a limiting factor, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon where you’ve started and even excel beyond most people. Richard Branson (founder of the Virgin Companies) struggled in school as a child because he is dyslexic. Instead of viewing this as crippling, he learned to work around it and built one of the largest companies in the world. Ultimately, a person’s potential is unknowable.

    I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

    Michael Jordan

    To develop a growth mindset, begin by listening to your internal voice. Fixed mindset thoughts are things like: “What if I fail”, “I’m just not good at this”, “It’s not my fault”, or when receiving feedback “They don’t know what they’re talking about”. Realize you can interrupt this voice and change it. Start to catch these thoughts and change them to a growth mindset by saying: “How can this help me?”, “This is an opportunity to improve”, “I just need to keep at it and work harder”.

    Additional Growth Mindset Tips

    • Adopt a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.
    • Don’t ignore feedback that can help you improve, ask for this feedback.
    • Think of life as a continual process of learning. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.
    • Own your mistakes and failures. Learn from them and stick to it rather than running from them.
    • Look for friends, partners, and experiences that will challenge you to improve.
    • Focus on your dreams and set goals that you’ll need to work at to improve on your current position.

    How to Teach a Growth Mindset

    Once you’ve established your own growth mindset, you can also encourage this mindset in others. These are really important skills for parents and teachers to ingrain in their students. You can also be an example to others by responding to comments about how talented you are by telling them how much effort and practice you’ve put into your skill.

    Additional Growth Mindset Teaching Tips:

    “Parents should praise children for their effort, their concentration, their strategies,”

    Carol Dweck
    • Explain the mindsets and how they work.
    • Teach children that as you practice and learn new things, your brain makes new connections which makes you smarter.
    • Dweck mentions schools using a grade of “Not Yet” instead of “Fail” to show that knowledge is a growth process.
    • Praise others for their focus, work, and improvement rather than their talent. Instead of “You’re so smart!” say “Good job. You must have worked really hard!”. You might think praising someone’s intelligence helps their self-esteem, but it actually jeopardizes it and increases the fear of failure.
    • Instead of deflecting a failure by saying “You were great” or “You deserved to win”, encourage any progress and point out there is an opportunity to continue to grow and find future success.

    More on the Growth Mindset

    If you’d like to learn more about mindsets, I’d recommend reading Carol Dweck – Mindset or listening to the audiobook. She also did a TED talk which I’ve included below.

  2. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

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    zero to one book

    Zero to One by Peter Thiel is an interesting look at how large companies are built. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Thiel, he was a founder of PayPal which eventually sold to eBay for $1.5 billion. Later, he made the first outside investment of $500,000 in Facebook and joined its board. After that Thiel created Founders Fund, a venture capital fund with investments in Airbnb, Spotify, and Lyft. He’s also the founder of Palantir Technologies which analyzes large sets of data for customers like the US government. Thiel writes from a place of experience on how startups can successfully go from inception to dominating their market.

    “Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”

    The most interesting points in Zero to One are where conventional thinking is challenged (contrarian thinking). Peter Thiel disputes the general consensus that competition is a good thing. His argument is that competition places the focus on one-upping the competition, rather than trying to make leaps in innovation. He uses Microsoft and Google as an example of two companies that have released products focused on competing with each other rather than using that effort to innovate in a space where they can control the market. This allowed Apple to carve out their own space and become more valuable than both companies.

    He argues that our educational system isn’t structured to help us build great companies. Instead, schools encourage students to learn very little about a wide variety of things to pass tests. In fact, they’re setup to fail people who might be extraordinary in a particular field and push everyone who passes into cookie-cutter jobs. He was on this path himself until he was turned down for a clerkship. This disruption ultimately led him to the entrepreneurial path where he found success creating companies.

    The most common way to create a company is to identify a need in the market and make improvements on what is currently being offered (or just copy them and try to get some small market share). Thiel considers this a “zero to n” approach (simply increasing the number of offerings available). The alternative approach that his book focuses on is a “zero to one” approach; starting from the ground up and creating something that doesn’t already exist. This allows the company to create a monopoly where they don’t have to focus on competition. When you think of a monopoly, you may picture some evil businessman plotting in his ivory tower, but Thiel’s contrarian view is that a monopoly is ultimately a good thing in business. He suggests it’s the only way to build a large, dominant company that is truly innovative.

    While most of the book covers Thiel’s view of the world and why businesses are successful, toward the end he covers his approach to investing and some thoughts focused on creating a startup. He suggests starting a company focused on small niche and then expanding to a broader customer base (e.g. PayPal starting with eBay Auctioneers). He lists seven questions that every business needs to answer:

    1. Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
    2. Is now the right time to start your particular business?
    3. Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
    4. Do you have the right team?
    5. Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
    6. Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
    7. Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

    Overall, this book had some helpful insights and some thought provoking ideas. It’s not exactly a step-by-step guide to creating a company, but rather a view into Peter Thiel’s philosophy, experience, and the commonalities that he has discovered working with a string of successful companies.

    Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

  3. How to Read More Books Using Audiobooks

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    how to read more with audiobooks

    Discovering the Problem

    When I’ve gone through the process of setting goals for myself, I have often attempted to read more books. Typically I’ve set a numerical goal (for example read 12 books, so I can read at least one book per month), but have either found myself not accomplishing the goal or finding myself in September having only read several books and trying to play catch-up. This year I finally figured out how I can consistently finish books and have really been enjoying it.

    The first step to solving this problem was figuring out why I kept failing at this reading goal. I have a hard time sitting somewhere quiet and focusing on reading without getting distracted or falling asleep. This makes reading a book take a really long time. Even if I’m enjoying the book it’s hard to get in a good consistent rhythm of reading, which led to a lot of partially finished books.

    How to Read More Books

    So the issue wasn’t setting an unrealistic goal or forcing myself to do something I hated, it was finding a better method to approach the goal. The first thing that I decided to try was switching to audio books. I had tried Audible in the past and had some success, but ended up having similar issues with falling asleep and then losing my place in the book, which was frustrating. So in addition to switching to audio books, I also switched the context where I was listening to them. I’m in the car at least a couple times a day (if not more) and it’s a perfect place where my mind is alert and there aren’t many distractions. I used to always listen to music in the car, so I just switched to listening to audio books. In just this short amount of time I can finish around 2-3 books a month. I’ve also found that going for a walk is a great time to listen, for similar reasons to being in the car (alert, captive mind). Not only am I going to easily achieve my goal this year, but I’m really enjoying it and learning a lot.

    Finding the Optimal Path

    My biggest take-away from this experience is that it can be extremely helpful to take a step back from what you’re doing and see if there is a better approach. To reach your goal try changing things like your environment, the tool you’re using, your sequence of actions, or even digging into your motivation for doing this in the first place. Even if you’re finding some success currently, you might find that there is a much easier path.

    Here are some of the books that I’ve enjoyed so far this year (I may write some more about these in the future):