I just spent two months looking after my three month old son (Kal). I really enjoyed the time we had together and it was wonderful to focus on family and interests outside of my job at Automattic.
Time with my Son
The majority of my time was spent with my son, Kal, and with immediate family. I have a lot more empathy for my wife as looking after a baby is harder work than I had expected.
Bonding: I think most of the value of the parental leave value was for me to bond with Kal. I’m still not completely sure he knows who I am 🙂
Bathtime: I give him a bath every day before bedtime, where I play him a new song each day on Spotify. It’s a fun little routine and something I’ll continue doing even when back at work.
Sleep Training: We finally did this about half way through my parental leave and it was a game changer. It was amazing to get 6+ hours of uninterrupted sleep again although I wish it was more consistent.
Walks: Every day, I’d take him on 1-2 hour walks in the baby carrier which was both good exercise for me (and when I listened to audiobooks and podcasts) and also relaxing for Kal who loves being outside.
I made a concerted effort to eat better, exercise more, read/write and brush up on my programming ‘skills’:
Health: After Kal was born, I was not at my healthiest. I worked on eating better (less sugar and carbs, less frequently drinking alcohol) and adding in more strength and HIIT training (Peloton classes and Kettlebells) in addition to walking, running and cycling. I am already feeling better and want to codify and adhere to new habits over the next few months.
Africa Investing: I set up a rolling fund (focused on early stage investing in Africa) to offer my friends/family and extended network access to both this asset class (private technology companies) and emerging market (Africa). This is an extension of the part time angel investing in Africa I’ve been doing for six years.
Future of Work: I spent some time learning, thinking and writing about different ideas mainly about the future of software development and investing. I made a few small investments (in support of these ideas) in entrepreneurs all over the world, mostly co-investing with folks I’ve known for a long time.
My wife and I also finally completed some life admin, such as moving out of our NYC apartment and finding childcare for when we are both back to work. We are hoping to move back to NYC once the weather improves and vaccinations are distributed widely (hopefully Q2 2021).
We are looking forward to life getting back to more ‘normal’ and being able to have closer physical interactions with friends and extended family.
This is a list of the last 20 books I read in chronological order, and a * next to the book means I particularly recommend it. For each book, I write 1-2 takeaway points while I’m reading, not necessarily at the end. I enjoyed almost all these books, and learned a lot from them. I ‘read’ almost everything via Audiobooks on 1.4x speed.
This is a follow up from my last post in 2019 (19 Books in 2019), I’m committed to reading at least as many books per year as the last two digits of the year, increasing the total number of books I read by one per year. My timing is a bit off, as I usually publish these in the summer, but I’m sure I’m going to slip at some point so the buffer is welcome.
The most impactful book I read was ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. I changed my sleep habits, bought an Oura Ring and now understand how caffeine, alcohol, and screen time, and my room conditions affect my sleep cycles. I also now try and sleep 8 hrs a night versus claiming that I don’t need it.
Factfullness (Hans Rosling): Smart people all over the world are wrong about basic facts. In the developed world and as a society we systematically think that the developing world is less developed than the reality. The perception of the % of folks vaccinated, % of children completing primary school, infant mortality are all wildly off. When looking at metrics about developing countries, try not to think about these metrics in isolation – compare them to prior metrics and look at them as %s of the total pool, as many are designed to illicit an emotional response.
*Trillion Dollar Coach (Eric Schmidt): All the best athletes in the world have coaches so why don’t all the best executives? The book opened my eyes to having an external perspective of someone who ‘is on you team’ and forces you to ask the hard questions of yourself. I’m now personally experimenting with coaching, through Automattic.
What You Do Is Who You Are (Ben Horowitz): It does not matter what you write down about your company’s culture. If you, as a leader, don’t lead by example and deeply embody this culture no one will ever adopt it. Culture is constantly evolving and needs constant, deliberate attention as your company scales (more people, more locations etc).
**Why We Sleep (Mathew Walker): This book made me take sleep much more seriously. Alcohol, fatty food, and blue light really mess up REM sleep. REM sleep is super important across every age bucket of our lives and we don’t know all the details. It makes adults creative and helps us store and process information as well as recover. Only drink caffeine in the morning as It has a 6hr half life and blocks the tiredness receptors. Don’t have heavy meals or alcohol close to bedtime, limit screen time and sleep in a cold, dark room.
*Prosperity Paradox (Clay Christensen): Western folks have good intentions but a poor understanding of what it takes to make an impact in developing markets. Corruption is sometimes the only thing people can ‘hire’ for a job to be done, and a cost of doing business. Clay was a Professor at HBS while I was there, and he died this year after a long battle with cancer (RIP).
*This Is Going to Hurt (Adam Kay): It’s really tough to be a junior doctor in the UK. There are long hours, poor pay and lack of recognition associated with the work. Doctors are forced to self sacrifice on personal relationships – friends, partners etc that most people don’t really understand. Even though there is a serious message, this book is very funny.
Shape up (Ryan Singer): This books is about building software at Basecamp. They break development into shaping, betting, and building. They focus on product teams operating in small groups with a few senior people scoping and deciding what problem spaces and projects to work on. Their system pairs well with Basecamp the product, and I imagine this book is also a sales channel for them.
The Expectant Father (Armin Brott): Practical advice for having a baby (I’ll be a dad soon). There are some good summaries for how your (female) partner might feel at each stage and how to be supportive throughout the pregnancy process. I realized that I was a stereotype.
*Fooled By Randomness (Nassim Taleb): People who are ‘successful’ may have been lucky (where they fell on the probability distribution). Don’t listen to everything these successful folks proclaim as there is a lot of confirmation bias and ‘insights’ might not be causation driven, just random. Don’t only rely on empirical evidence, it’s not a substitute for sound theory but it’s a good complement.
*Black Swan (Nassim Taleb): We don’t think of probability distribution enough or as frequently as we should. Confirmation bias of only looking at the survivors / successful people. When considering the future, design systems that are robust (anti fragile) to extreme scenarios (black swans). I read this right when Covid-19 started so it was particularly topical.,
*Elon Musk (Ashely Vance): Elon has a strong drive, attention to detail and work ethic which translates to both vision and very high standards. His personal life has probably suffered because of this intense focus. He has always been intensely curious.
The High Growth Handbook (Elad Gil): This is more of an actual ‘handbook’ which you can refer to as you are building your startup or working as an operator. Contains information on hiring, firing, boards, fundraising, and lots of good interviews with successful operators.
*Let My People Go Surfing (Yvon Chouinard): He’s an authentic founder and designed his company authentically which translated to a very strong company culture and very loyal customers (I’m one of them). He did not copy operating models, he innovated in new methods of working grounded by his principles such as generous parental leave for employees.
*American Kingpin (Nick Bilton): The story of Silk Road (Online black market) by an idealistic founder who seems like many Silicon Valley technology entrepreneurs on paper and practice. He justified the more unethical actions, which crept up incrementally on the way through a creating a separate persona (DPR – Dread Pirate Roberts).
**Ride Of A Lifetime (Bob Iger): Care for product and for people goes hand in hand. Approach people with respect and empathy – no matter their position. At some point you have to trust your gut on big decisions (Pixar, Lucas Film, Marvel, Twitter). Only focus on things which can be big enough to warrant your time (trombone oil analogy). I grew up loving old Disney movies, all the Pixar stuff, and X-Men and Star Wars so this was a fun behind the scenes read for me.
**What It Takes (Steve Schwartzman): Determination, and persistence are critical to success. When you work at great places and go to great schools you’ll meet great people and so try to get into those places. Listening intensely as this gives you strong recall – he never takes notes, but remembers a lot. It’s just has hard to start a stand business as it is to start a big one so don’t start a small business.
Trailblazer (Mark Benihoff): Try to do well by doing good – don’t compromise on these principles. Unconscious bias is prevalent in tech, and values that are first stated and then executed work (lead with actions not words). I did not love the book, and found Richard Branson’s book much more inspiring and relatable.
*Finding My Virginity (Richard Branson): Show people respect and be humble when you are in a position of power. Make writing a part of your day. Work when you feel effective, take the time off you need. Family and health are incredibly important. I enjoyed reading his stories – he is very charming and weirdly relatable. I enjoyed hearing the M-Kopa reference, as I’m also an investor in the company.
Man’s Search for Meaning (Victor Frankl): The state of mind of a person is highly linked to the state of body (leading indicator). Humans are always looking for a reason to be happy. His recount of life in the Nazi death camps brings these principles to light in a powerful way.
Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman! (Ricard Feynman): Be intensely curious and learn how things work from first principles – don’t just memorise the answer. It can help you learn more new things and draw parallels across areas that most others are unable to do. A lifelong of learning new skills (e.g. he learned Portuguese, Painting, Drumming) can bring joy, meaning and open up new relationships in your life.
I started listening to books via Audible and it’s really helped me ‘read’ more, and am consuming books at about 3-4x the rate that I did in 2018. I prefer audio for most stories, and especially for autobiographies spoken by the author themselves.
I also decided to write 1 line for each book that I read to remind myself of one thing that I learned, which helps me remember some of my learnings from the book.
I’ve starred (*) my faves in the list (in the order I ‘read’ them)
*Never Split the Difference (Chris Voss): Negotiation is about empathy, and understanding the person. At the end of the negotiation, that person should want to negotiate with you again. Identify, Label, and ask questions starting with ‘How can I’. Get people to say ’that’s right’ and agree before moving the negotiation forward.
Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kannemann): System 1: gut and System 2: logic. Often times each system can betray the other system. Presenting the same thing in different ways can profoundly change the way it’s perceived. Different people behave totally differently in the same situation given their personal circumstance.
Mindset (Carol Dwek): Growth mindset people derive value and joy from learning, effort and progression, Fixed mindset people derive value and self worth/unworth from comparative outcome.
The Outsiders (William N. Thorndike): Profiles of 8 successful CEOs – all super analytical, excellent capital allocators (including aggressively buying back stock), and focused on generating cashflow and value for investors. Great CEOs hire young, less proven leaders and incentivize them with value creation.
**7 Habits of highly effective people (Steven Covey): I really enjoyed this book.Do things that have meaning to you, value relationships, have a family mission statement and make sure everyone understands expectations and roles and responsibilities. Talk openly about problems and issues.
**Principles (Ray Dalio): When you talk to people actually be open to your idea being wrong and really listen to their point of view, especially if they have high believability. Have a set of founding principles which you run your life (e.g. meaningful relationships and meaningful work), and company and make sure that the people around you know and are bought into those principles. Idea meritocracy is his general framework – make your passion and your work one and the same.
*Homo Deus (Yuval Harari): Suicide rates are high (2/100 people who die, kill themselves), What’s more important – intelligence or consciousness? What happens when algorithms know us better than we know ourselves from our actions (but what about our deep conscious being)? What happens when all the tasks what we do now can all be done better by non-conscious beings (Robots)?
*Red notice (Bill Browder): make sure you always do what is right and if you see an opportunity that you have unique insight on, make sure to execute on it.
*Born a crime (Trevor Noah): being able to communicate and be accepted in lots of wide groups is incredibly useful in life, and allows you to build bonds with people.
The hate u give (Angie Thomas): it’s hard being a young black person in the US and they will be subject to a level of discrimination that I’ll never experience.
The 10x Rule (Grant Cardone): I did not really enjoy the book. He biases to action and high effort/action to be productive – termed at ‘Massive Action’ and feels like it’s targeted towards people with high levels of inertia. This is counter to a lot of smart folks in the value investing world – e.g. Warren Buffet.
*Shoe dog (Phil Knight): trade prevents war, and helps create empathy for each other. Phil reads to learn before every important tasks. America is no longer the entrepreneurial shangri la. Find your calling because you’ll be able to keep motivated with bumps along the road.
Sapiens (Yuval Harari): I forgot to write anything for this book so this is a bit weak – there are so many themes about culture, religion, socieatal norms that I learned about that I was ignorant to .
*Thousand Splendid Suns (Khalid Hosseni): Life was very hard for women in the 90s during the Afghan war. Men who beat their wives are cowards, and this book makes you hate them even more.
First 90 days (Michael Watkins): Leaders try and do too much upfront. Focus on learning and getting to know the team l, culture, process and product. Make sure you have a quick win or two. Make sure you write down your plan and are in sync with your manager.
Extreme ownership (Jocko Willink): I thought the book was a bit gimmicky. There are no bad teams only bad leaders, leader is ultimately responsible. Make sure teams understand the why and are empowered to ask when they don’t understand. Simplicity is important.
Enders shadow (Orson Scott-Card): Building relationships and trust is as important as being a great strategist.
*Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson): The criminal justice system is broken in the US with so many black people incarcerated, even as children for their lives. More insight into the lives of poor, black people in America.
21 Lessons (Yuval Harari): This is the 3rd book I’ve read from Yuval Harari who I really like – his clarity of thought is exceptional. This book covers topical issues like AI/Future of Work/Universal Basic Income (UBI), Religion/Country design, Mental health /Aging and Wellbeing.