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Michael A. Robson "21tiger - Books Biz Asia" (Shanghai, China)
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Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming
Frogs into Princes: Neuro Linguistic Programming
by Richard Bandler
Edition: Paperback
25 used & new from CDN$ 23.79

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Badly Edited, but Incredibly Smart, Jan. 6 2012
You may have heard of NLP, but if you haven't it's not your fault: Neuro Linguistic Programming (fittingly) has been simmering below the surface of the public consciousness for a few decades now. NLP is the study of how our minds use, interpret and process language and thought. This seemingly geeky subject turns out to be incredibly fun and useful, if you can figure it out. Using NLP in your day to day life effectively is kinda like the 'stop the bullets in mid-air' scene in The Matrix. Yes, I'm talking about hypnosis. Buckle up.

To start, I found the title 'Frogs into Princes' (though obscure to the casual Barnes and Noble shopper) brilliant in what this book is attempting to do. As any Westerner reading this will immediately understand, the reference is to many a fairy tale about a princess's relationship with a shapeshifting frog (in some versions, the princess would turn a frog into a prince with her kiss). Presumably, there is supposed to be a lesson in there about how looks can be deceiving (don't judge a book by its cover etc), but there's more to it than that. The writers of this book, esteemed NLP researchers and pioneers Richard Bandler and John Grinder, were therapists. This book is actually a transcription of a three day course given to NLP Students who wanted to use the ideas to treat and heal psychologically damaged patients. The idea is that if you can change the way people see the world, you can give them a better outlook, and they'll go back to being healthy happy productive members of society. Sound crazy? What do you think Tony Robbins has been doing for the last 30 years?

Okay, let's dig in: Neuro Linguistic Programming (in laymans terms: using language to train/encode the mind) is the process of talking someone (eg. a patient, a friend, a loved one) into seeing the world in a different/new/broader way. Again, if you've ever seen demonstrations of Hypnosis, you know exactly what this looks like, and how powerful it is, and how fast it can take effect. But that's a terrible example, because most intelligent people turn their nose up at Hypnosis and dismiss it as a hoax, or a scam. So here's my bombshell'my red pill, if you will' to you: what if I told you that you're performing Hypnosis on yourself and others all the time?

It's true. After all, if Hypnosis is so powerful that you can 'activate' it just by talking, don't you think you'd be 'doing it' all the time? Sure. And you are doing just that. It's just that, when you do it randomly, the cause and effect is completely missed, and so you think nothing of it. When we feel a little depressed, or ecstatic, we chalk it up to 'animal spirits' or a 'mood' or a large intake in calories, or certain chemicals (eg. coffee, beer, etc). We find lots of different reasons for our emotions, none of them straightforward, or reliable. In other words, we just accept that our 'moods' are largely random, and we try to deal with them ebbs and flows as best we can. We 'use' NLP like a youngster swinging a baseball bat at a Piñata. Sometimes you hit something, sometimes you hit others, sometimes you hit yourself. Without even the faintest knowledge of how to use NLP, you end up using it randomly. As a result, you're skeptical that it even exists.

According the NLP, our emotions and memories can be linked to auditory, kinesthetic and visual cues. Have you ever noticed how you feel a 'certain way' whenever you walk into a library, or an examination hall? For some people it's a positive feeling (the love of knowledge), for some people it's a negative feeling (the bitterness of academic failure). Maybe you feel a 'certain way' whenever you go into a loud dance club. The trick to NLP (and the purpose of this book, and NLP training in general) is understanding how to change these associations to give people more power.

And so the first detractor says,
'But Mike, I feel great in a club because logically it's a fun place to be.'

And the next detractor chimes in,
'But Mike, I feel nervous in a club because logically it's an uncomfortable place to be'

How can both be true? The truth is the Dance Club (either the visual stimuli, or the music, or the feeling of being there) isn't logically or necessarily anything. We just associate it with our previous experiences via visual, kinesthetic and auditory cues that get triggered when we go there. If our associations are positive we'll look for positive points and highlight them. If our associations are negative (eg. a barfight, rejection, seeing your ex-lover with someone else), we'll do the reverse. Do you have a love song from your childhood that gives you goosebumps? Maybe your favorite hip hop song from the 90's that brings back memories. Of course you do. Why do we have these bizarre connections? Probably because that's the way our brains store memories: linkages between audio/visual/kinesthetic stimuli can protect us for future events. You know, like associating the sound of a lion's roar with panic/terror.

So in this world, we walk around touching things, talking to people, and logging events and memories, like a huge relational database. Maybe you almost drowned one time in Hawaii, so you developed a phobia of swimming. It's not crazy, because Logic doesn't exist. Logic is just a matter of association. Is it logical to be afraid of the dark? Probably. Do monsters exist? Of course not. So why are we so scared to walk around the attic in the middle of the night? Probably because we associate the darkness with every scary movie (bathroom scene, shower scene, being chased through the woods at night scene) we've ever watched in our entire lives. The scarier the movie, the stronger the connection.

Boo.

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Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism
Borderless Economics: Chinese Sea Turtles, Indian Fridges and the New Fruits of Global Capitalism
by Robert Guest
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.53
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts off nice, then devolves into Cheerleading. Not bad., Dec 21 2011
The thing that you have to understand about Economists is that they're generally an optimistic bunch, but they're really annoyed by the complications of'reality. They love models: models are perfect and simple. Because they omit externalities and oddities, they work perfectly. The simplest of models involve but two variables: wine and cheese, money and time, socks and shoes, and so on. As you progress further in your studies of the dismal science, you must heartbreakingly accept that in the real world, there is almost no application for a two-variable model.

It's heartbreaking because in the sterile simplicity of Economics, the world works perfectly. Everyone who wants a job, has one; everyone who wants to borrow money, can; if you want time off work, you just work fewer hours. In the world of Economics we are all Utility Calculators, and we're very good at what we do. We scan the job market for opportunities, spot them, and train to be the next Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, or Homer Simpson, depending our utility/salary demands (shockingly, no one ever chooses to be homeless, or a drug addict, or unemployed in this model).

In the world of Economic models, not only do we all have jobs, but we all have jobs that we're good at, so we make a lot of money. On top of that, we enjoy our jobs. In other words, if you simplify the model enough, you can actually create the conditions for perfect Human Capital Allocation.

My point is this: there are a few differences between the skills in this world, and where they are most needed (likewise, the low-skill human labor, and where that's needed). It's just of a pain in the butt that these two groups can't find each other more easily. If they could, so theorizes Robert Guest, we could solve most if not all of the world's problems. In a perfect Economic World, every product has the perfect price, there is no Economic profit, and everyone is maximizing their happiness. How adorable.

This is a book about the growing importance of Diasporas, and what it means for all of us (regardless of which country we hail from). So what's a Diaspora, anyway?

di·as·po·ra'
[dahy-as-per-uh]

1.any group migration or flight from a country or region. Synonyms: dispersion, dissemination, migration, displacement, scattering. Antonyms: return.

2.any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland, especially involuntarily, as Africans during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

So what happens when the simplicity of Economics smashes head on into the stone cold reality of governments, politics, culture, religion, racism, language, and other barriers? Koreans can work in the USA if they're willing to learn English and speak it 24/7. No shock there. Americans can work in Paris if they can learn French and take up smoking. Anyone (for example a Mainland Chinese) who doesn't have the right Passport, can't leave the country without an invitation letter from Harvard. So, this is the world we live in: some privileged few can re-allocate their Human Capital if they're willing to overcome real barriers, but many cannot. Robert Guest (big shot at The Economist) is suggesting that if we didn't have'er'countries, we wouldn't have all these problems. You could take it a step further and suggest that if we didn't have ownership/territory/property and all the resulting wars, the world would be a much nicer place. But that isn't going to happen anytime soon either. Once again, the model, beautiful as it is, crumbles when we touch it with our clumsy human hands.

Real Economic development still comes from the top: great countries with great leaders instilling the big three (education, health and wealth) in a populace in a balanced distribution. But there are a few things we can spread across the world without a visit to the Chinese Consulate: ideas (this might explain why some of the most totalitarian states monitor and block Internet access to 'radical thinking'). The great thing about Diaspora Networks is that they're usually made up of the best and brightest. The Mainland Chinese who got into Ivy League schools still make up some of the brightest the country has to offer. With their experience abroad, they represent a fine blend of East and West. They can pick and choose what they like and what they don't like about both. And maybe, just maybe, they can return to their home country and report, and share, and improve things. For that there are three requirements: first, you must leave your home country; second, you must return to your home country; third, you must love your home country enough to want risk everything (your career, your family, your friendships) to change it.

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The 22 Immutable Laws Of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand
The 22 Immutable Laws Of Branding: How to Build a Product or Service into a World-Class Brand
by Al Ries
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.32
42 used & new from CDN$ 3.32

3.0 out of 5 stars Great Ideas, but this book is dated. Ignore the 'prognostication', Dec 7 2011
What is a brand? Is it a name? A logo? A funky design or attitude? A brand is a symbol for an idea. More specifically, a brandname is a word that can be uttered in any country, in any 'language' and mean the same thing. If a company is consistent and strong in repeating the same message over and over, in time, its brandname will become synonymous with an idea. If the company keeps changing its stripes, the name never catches on, and means nothing. McDonalds is about Family Food. Subway is about Fresh. Pepsi is about Fun

If you get really good at this, as a Brand Manager, and you create a brand new product and its name can describe an entire category. A few examples of unbeatable brandnames often mistaken for actual words:Xerox.Band-Aid.RollerBlade. Even the iPod for a time was the 'placeholder' word that meant 'Digital Music Player'.

Moreover, brands are not only synonymous with ideas, they're synonymous with colors. Again, this only works if, after decades of promotion, the company has been consistent:Coca Cola is Red. IBM is Blue. John Deere is Green

The list here is short, because frankly, many companies screw this up. They pick the wrong color. They don't pick a color. They pick two colors. Pepsi, though a very successful company, foolishly picked Red and Blue as their colors when going up against the Red of Coca Cola (the leader in the market). Obviously, they should have just gone with deep Blue. They figured it out eventually, but they're still stuck with a blue and red logo. Oops.

Not only are companies brands, but people are brands too:

How can a man or woman have a strong brand? Stephen King has a brand (though recently he's moved away from horror). Stanley Kubrick had one. So did Steve Jobs. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James have brands too (you have to actually have a brand before you can get paid to put it on a shoe or T-shirt, by the way). Anna Kournikova used to have a brand, but she doesn't play tennis anymore.

These are names. And these are people who at some point in their lives were the first at doing something. They found their niche and they excelled. They achieved tremendous success often at a young age.

And yes, People can have colors. In the latter half of his career, Steve Jobs was almost never seen (even by his family) without his signature black mock turtleneck. Remember Eminem's white T-shirt and dyed hair? Same thing. When Eminem went away from that, he largely went away from the spotlight. He's basically a producer now.

How do you build your corporate and personal brand? Surprisingly, it's not done with ads. In a bit of brilliant irony, most people watching TV (eg. Superbowl ads) assume that advertisements are trying to push a companies products and brands to growth. After all, don't we hear about a company for the first time, when their new product comes out?

No. Wrong. That might be what some short-lived companies are trying to do, but that's not possible. The only way to grow is through publicity. And how do you get publicity? How do you get in the New York Times and Financial Post? You get there by being the first and the best. Only when you've achieved something of this stature do you start advertising'not to grow marketshare, but to maintain marketshare you already have. Maybe that's why Amazon.com doesn't need to advertise. And up until recently, Microsoft Windows didn't need advertising either. How could these two companies advertise when they seemed to have no competitors?

So look at your own career right now: are you the best in the city at anything? Best in the Country? Best in the world? How can you be number 1 at something? Shrink your focus until you are number one.

So, how do you grow? By always being #1, not by growing so much beyond your niche that you're no longer number one. Read that last line again. Look at Amazon: they used to be the worlds biggest bookstore. Now they're calling themselves 'Earth's Biggest Selection'. Kinda vague and'is it even true? Probably. But it also means now they're competing against' Wal-Mart. Was that the original Amazon brand? Buying clothes and electronics? No way. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is very smart, so he can probably pull it off, but it also leaves room for other companies to swoop in and focus on books. That's probably what the guys at Barnes and Noble are telling themselves.

Hopefully, you don't have to worry about competitors like Amazon. Hopefully you don't have to worry about what color their logo is, and what their market share is, because hopefully your company, your product (and your ideas and your personality) are so good that you don't have to own a current market, because you created a new one and own that.

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Print Is Dead: Books in our Digital Age
Print Is Dead: Books in our Digital Age
by Jeff Gomez
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.24
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it! Wow. Perfectly said. Books/Movie/Music. It's all in here!, Nov. 15 2011
I just wanted a book about the Publishing Industry. Okay, what I really wanted was an eBook about the Publishing Industry, published in the five years. What I found was much, much, more.

The more you try to understand what's happening to the Publishing industry, the more you start thinking about what's already happened to the Music and Film industry. It's all part of the same story.

The Internet = Disintermediation. Taking out the middle man. Here we are, in 2011. Gone are Tower Records and Blockbuster Movie rentals. Many of their competitors have been sold off, and everything (legal and illegal) is going digital, and put up on the web, to be shot between our phones, tablets and connected TVs. This is the dream, right? But if it means Artists aren't making any money (so they quit making art, and become bankers) then what's it all for? We need to understand how creative professionals (no matter what form their creativity takes) are going to deal with the onslaught of the Internet.

In 1995 Bill Gates put out a memo to Microsoft Executive Staff, warning that if the company didn't brace itself for what he dubbed 'The Internet Tidal Wave', most, if not all, of their core businesses would be threatened. Microsoft changed, and Artists need to change too. Napster may be long gone, but in its stead is the generation of kids that grew up and went to college with the notion that Media (all media, not just music) should be totally portable and dirt cheap (preferably free).

Not only are publishers being asked to totally change what they do but artists are too. 'Content creators' are now asked to use the Internet to:

a) create their own audience and community before the Publisher even thinks about signing you
b) get the rewards of their handwork in a time when almost everything is available on filesharing sites
c) decide between digital and paper/print distribution
d) contend with Environmental effects of their work (eg. paper sucks)
e) contend with the evaporation of major brick and mortar bookstores (and media resellers in general)

Part of the reason for that last point is Amazon, the ultimate online retailer. You can buy anything on Amazon, but at it's core, they are still a bookseller. And to sell more books, without any experience in hardware design, they decided to build an eReader called the Kindle. With version 4 (and a color version) hitting the' um'Internets this month, not only has the Amazon Kindle legitimized digital reading (just as Apple legitimized legally downloaded music), they've inspired copycats (like Barnes & Noble's 'nook' device), overturning the entire Book-buying experience. The Kindle really has become the iPod for books (a faint dream back in 2007), with its own burgeoning line of color cases and accessories, and finally, a big brother Kindle, the Kindle Fire, will expand into the world of tablets. If you were a fan of Steve Jobs for his product designs, and his vision, you can't help but see a bit that in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. It's just a different kind of mastermind.

And what about us, the readers? How have we had to adjust to all this super fast, super convenient, and super cheap media? Well, one quirky drawback to the disappearance of old media (like print newspapers and magazines) is that the Book Review section is getting thinner and thinner. Book reviews are being squeezed on both ends, as the demand for newspapers, and the interest in books in general diminishes (in favour of Youtube, Twitter, Blogs, etc).

Book Reviews in Magazines and Newspapers used to serve a function: An in-depth look at great books was needed precisely because there are so many thousands and thousands of books published each year, and on top of that, they take so long to read that it would be a tragedy to waste your time reading bad books. If you go in to watch a movie and it stinks, you're still going out, you're still munching on popcorn, you lean back in a soft chair, mouth agape, and it's over in a couple hours. Read a bad, boring, stupid book, and you've flushed a good 15 hours of diligent reading down the drain. So what do we have now? Well, one of the leftovers from old media is the New York Times Bestseller list.

Speaking of wasting a few bad hours reading bad books, how about burning a couple weeks reading TV hosts rant about Politics (pick your favorite hate-monger). Because the NYT has massively slashed the Book Review budget, they've essentially thrown their hands up and said, 'Well, I don't know.. here's the most popular books this week. Maybe there's something good in there.' And I don't blame them: after all, very few people actually read books! (As Steve Jobs once quipped), but that doesn't mean I have to like it. And it doesn't mean we have to join in the masses of illiterate zombies. This is what I love about 21tiger and the readers of this site. Not only are you guys reading, but you're doing it not by abolishing iPads, or websurfing, like some Amish throwbacks, they're making a point of adding books to their mix of media. Who knows, maybe even in a prominent place.
And you're doing it in ways that the Internet was built for: by sharing great books, great movies, and great online articles on social networks like Facebook, you're actually helping your friends find great content and great art'in many ways, the hardest thing to do online, find the very best stuff. And more than just reading great stuff, we should all aspire to create great stuff, whether you're a writer, design, musician or not. Understanding how to stay relevant and thrive in the 21st Century, when almost everything is being digitized and put on the web, matters to all of us.

Surf's up.

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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
99 used & new from CDN$ 0.22

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Engaging, and Genuinely Eye opening. Typical Gladwell., Nov. 7 2011
Years ago, Legendary NBA Coach (recently retired) Phil Jackson started handing out books to his players, to rectify any flaws or hone any mental aspects of the game in the offseason. If a player had a problem with his jumpshot or defense, that could be rectified in practice, but if a player had an overarching attitude problem, or consistency problem, maybe that would have to be rectified with reading, and contemplation. And so, as far back as the Chicago Bulls era, Phil was handing out what he thought were great books, each one suited for each unique player's game, personality and weaknesses.

A few years ago, I remember hearing he gave 'Blink' to Kobe Bryant. Kobe, more than anything, has been known for these insane last second buzzer beater shots. He's taken tons of them. And if you factor in all the shots he missed, frankly, his hit/miss ratio isn't even that good. As the leader and captain on the team, he keeps finding himself with the ball in his hands at the end of games, and usually, he can get a shot off. Phil knew that Kobe was under incredible pressure late in games, in moments where every millisecond counts, and that's why he gave Kobe this book. If Kobe could just stop thinking altogether, he'd know exactly what to do. What could you improve if you could switch off your mind in the clutch?

This review is going to sound like a Coda to the Steve Jobs book from last week. It just turned out that way. Steve, time and time again, relied on his intuition, laying waste to months and months of work, design, coding, budgets etc. What is our Intuition, really, and why is it so damn smart (at some things), if our senses and hunches seem, at first, so vague?

First, let's go back to early stages of Man's evolution. We know that at some point, we were moving around, we were mobile, and we probably travelled in packs and tribes. How did early Man communicate? I can only speculate that there were a lot of visual signals (pointing, imitating large animals, etc), sniffing, tasting, yelling, whimpering, and so on. In other words, even if you toss the spoken word completely, you're still left with 5 senses, and those can still be employed to communicate (as a modern analogue, pro sports works, as does Improv Theatre, as Gladwell highlights in the book). Just look at a baby: the baby doesn't know what's going on, but instinctually does certain things to get what she wants. She's communicating at primitive levels. And we humans, in the modern era, do a weird thing: We teach ourselves to talk, to read, to study. We even learn thousands of very specific words to describe the world around us. Many of us even learn multiple languages. But if you really think about it, from Shakespeare to Stephen King, writing, at its best, is attempting to describe indescribable things. Writing and speaking, are, by their very nature, bastardizations, muddled, rough, approximations of pure thought and feeling. Verbal and written communication is inherently unclear and abstracted. So where am I going with this? Body language and instinctive forms of communication are pure, and it's that 'language' we have to relearn, if we want to read systems and situations holistically. There is holistic communication going on, whether we like or not, it's just a matter of understanding the signals.

Kobe Bryant dribbling up the floor with 11 seconds on the clock, down by three, isn't thinking (we hope) logically, but watching the floor for the tiniest of gaps, perhaps even noticing which of the opposing players is breathing heavily, or limping slightly. Where is the weak point?

Why do some electronics companies spend so much time trying to design beautiful packaging, that seems to cradle the device like a precious jewel? Ultimately the packaging is going to be thrown out, right? The answer is that more companies are realizing that the whole experience of using a product contributes to the 'Customer Satisfaction Rating' and if you push up that rating high enough, you get a sense of what kind of high price you can charge. That's perceived value. Visual, auditory, olifactory (eg. New Car Smell); it's obvious that all senses contribute, but perhaps those senses about a product, about a person, about a situation, are the most important of all.

Over and over again, we chastize ourselves for 'judging' people who dress like hoodlums, or look a little rough around the edges, but ultimately, aren't we just battling our own inner intuition? When we sit down to lunch with our high school friends, and one of them is wearing a beautiful gold watch, we subconsciously attribute positive traits to him, suddenly our minds start turning: 'How did he afford that?', 'What did he say he did for a living? Something financial?' We intuitively know everything we need to know about this person in just a few seconds, as long as we ignore everything we think we know, and listen to what our senses are telling us. Yes it's tricky. It's tricky because people often lie to us to improve their outward image/appearance. Toss out the company line, read the body, and the truth is right there, staring you in the face.

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Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China
Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China
by John Pomfret
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.71
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece. Heroic., Oct. 14 2011
About 4 years ago, I first made it to China, landing in Hong Kong, and then dragging my worldly possessions into Shenzhen the following day. At the time, I could read and speak a little Chinese, learned mostly from textbooks. My listening skills were hardened by countless hours of Zhang Yimou movies, and late night Mandarin radio shows. What followed was the most intense year of 'Chinese Lesssons' I could have asked for.

Shenzhen in those days (and yes, 4 years ago, in Shenzhen, in ancient history) was pretty much devoid of foreigners. My first year was disorienting, and thrilling. Apart from overcoming huge language barriers, it was my first time to meet and befriend Mainland Chinese. John Pomphret's story, exceptional and poignant, reminded me of that first year.

About thirty years ago, Pomphret made a similar trek, through Hong Kong, into Shenzhen, and on to study at Nanjing University, one of the very first Americans to ever live in the 'new China', after its doors opened in 1979. 30 years on, I'm struck with the timelessness of the Chinese people; very little has changed since Pomphret first got here. Sure, Nanjing and Shenzhen have modern skylines(recently I studied Google Maps to find my old apartment in Futian district; it really is breathtaking), billions of dollars of investment, and every foreign brand store there is, but the people have changed little. I suppose they call that culture' one that I, like Pomphret, try to understand more, and the locals insist a foreigner can never comprehend.

For the Chinese, the struggle is not just economic, but of morality. The very foundation of society is threatened when your leaders reek of hypocrisy and cynicism, and feast on the sumptuous life, while the good people have nothing. There are two roads out of hell: you can run from it, or you can learn the rules, and jump into it. This dichotomy splits China in two. Those who want to stay and play, and those who wish to leave and start a new life.

Through a thick forest of gut-wrenching sadness and tragedy, flashes a new light. Isn't it funny, in times of peace, romantic advances can be boring and staid; in times of war, love is emboldened, it's called to action. In a thrashed environment, triumph is much sweeter, it makes you cheer, and it makes you well up with joy. China, it turns out, does have heroes. And when you meet them you will wrap your arms around them and cherish them. Here are the stories of how five of Pomphret's classmates triumphed.

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The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business
The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business
by Josh Kaufman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.94
36 used & new from CDN$ 14.35

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, but reads like a Textbook. What did you expect?, Oct. 1 2011
'You dropped 150 grand on an education you could have gotten for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.' Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting

In The Personal MBA Josh Kaufman makes a very compelling case (as does Will Hunting) that for people considering an MBA, the economics aren't that great. For many graduate students (not just Business majors), it feels like a Casino: everyone takes the tests, and gets primed, then takes out a huge loan from the bank (often a six-figure amount) hoping that when they come out the other side, there will be an awesome, high-paying job waiting for them. It's a financial transaction, not really an educational one. In fact, much of the education gleaned from an Master in Business Administration is theoretical and marginally updated from the projects and Case Studies done in Bachelor of Business and Economics programs; after all, how can you possibly sit in a classroom and 'learn' how to be a Manager, or an Executive? Of course you can't. But the schools are more than willing to let you try, as long as the cheques clear.

Provided those cheques do clear (in many states in the US, the juice, as they say, is running the day you take your first class, not after you graduate), students can expect a marginally better income (in this economy? yuck) awaiting them on the other side; it turns out they're getting a crash course in finance after all! Ouch.

In the beginning of The Personal MBA, Kaufman reveals something striking: research shows there is little evidence that getting an MBA has any correlation with long term success in Business. Top tier Business programs make sure that they only accept brilliant students, which is why many go on to greatness. Business schools make it their business to take credit for other people's work'namely, your undergraduate degree, and your having studied for the GMAT. In a perfect world, you'd be better off, studying for the GMAT, applying to Harvard Business, getting accepted, and then refusing to attend (and pay the exorbitant tuition, and 2 years of your life), then bragging on your CV that you were accepted at Harvard, and applying for a plum job with a Fortune 500 company, ready to put you through the Management training program.

Why doesn't anybody do that? Because the MBA itself acts as a signal to help simplify the recruiter's job: he or she doesn't want to read 5,000 CVs. Reading 50 is a lot faster. It's that simple. Which 50 get the job doesn't really matter. When the eventual 20-something is hired, he or she will proceed to the actual training program, and begin to be molded into the perfect Hewlett Packard / Cisco/ Apple/ GE/ Nike/Starbucks Manager. That's right: real companies don't hire college grads and just plop them in a management or executive role. They have training programs. They have quarterly reviews. They promote you based on progress, not based on your GPA.

Where else did you think you would learn how to be a Manager?

Unfortunately there's no way around it. Since MBA students are required to pass the GMAT first, a fundamental understanding of business and finance is required before you set foot on a real campus. If the Personal MBA (book, and accompanying website) is going to attempt to replace an actual MBA, they must put the reader through the paces of very fundamental Business Concepts.

Business and Finance majors (like myself) will find much of this familiar, but that shouldn't take away from Kaufman's impressive achievement here. He's taken 2 years of Education and compressed it into a fantastic 400 page reference material. Kaufman will hold up the six-figure MBA and declare that by buying this book you're effectively saving $99,982, but of course, you're not getting a piece of paper either.

So for anyone who didn't graduate in Economics of Business,this book is a great summary of the definitions and concepts that took us about 4 years to get through. And it's pretty much the same material (minus countless case studies and Powerpoint presentations) you'd get from top-tier business programs.

So what do I suggest for young career-minded readers?

The point of an MBA, traditionally, was not for a 19 or 20 year old to 'train' to be a manager (whatever that means) but for a middle-manager to train to be a leader in his current company. An ideal situation would be to get a job (any job) with a great company and work your way up, and eventually have your boss pay for your education. The company will consider the investment in human capital worth it if they see potential in you, and will also have you promise to stay with the company for at least a few years upon graduation, so they can benefit from their investment.

Education is great. If I didn't believe that, I sure wouldn't have started a blog about it. But so is avoiding foolish six-figure debt. Consult your boss, and consult this book before proceeding.

(PS. Yes, I've graduated from a post-secondary International Business program. That one came with a five-figure student loan, not six.)

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The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
by Eric Ries
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.81
40 used & new from CDN$ 9.90

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Want a million ideas on how to improve your next Project? Buy this., Sept. 19 2011
In David Fincher's 1999 cult classic, Fight Club, there's a scene where Tyler Durden and the Narrator are cruising down the highway talking about the future of their boxing club (first fight's free, then you franchise out, etc). They're arguing about who's in charge, what's the goal of the group, how to deal with growth: they're entrepreneurs and they've both come up with something great, that seems to be catching on. And what does Tyler Durden do? He takes his hands off the wheel, and lets the car go where it wants. The car steers itself, and Tyler hits the gas.

This would be a great opening for my Lean Startup review, had Tyler and the Narrator not gone off the road. The car was destroyed, but the leaders survived, and got a little wiser. Was that a Pivot?

This book is not just about small tech startups, though if you've heard anything about it (the buzz has been building around the interwebs for about 2 years now, mostly on tech sites), you'd be forgiven for the assumption. Frankly, if this book was just about starting tech companies in Silicon Valley, it'd be pretty boring, aimed at a very very niche audience. It's neither.

The brilliance of this book is that it's ideas (admittedly borrowed somewhat from Lean Manufacturing) can be applied to almost any project, service, or company. It will make your venture faster, smarter, and cheaper. In fact, you can even use the principles in here if you want to keep your job (you're not an Entrepreneur, you're an Intrapreneur' I like that).

So why is Entrepreneurship (for example) so scary? Because we always hear about how 90% of small business fail within a year. No one doubts the numbers, or bothers to look them up. We just decide not to take the gamble. This book can actually pare down that 90% figure drastically, and help you learn and iterate your business fast. It's ok to get a little excited at the thought.

So why the Brad Pitt reference? Because a big reason of why so many small businesses fail is because they're just about what the designer, the entrepreneur, wants. And that's no way to run a business. The key should be to very quickly figure out what your customers want (also known as marketing). The Lean Startup will get you working on a quick and dirty 'version' of your company fast, so you know if the company has a chance, before you scale up and make a huge expensive mistake. When you let go of the proverbial steering wheel, the point is to let the customers design your products, your website, even your company logo.

Do you think Tim Ferriss named his own books, or picked the right color combinations for the cover art? Think again. He tested tons of different combinations (either using online tools, or 'physical' tests) before he nailed the NY Times bestselling combination. Smart. He replaced assumptions with results.

And when your car crashes, you shouldn't worry if your original plan was a bust. You learn. Learning is the point (more important even than money). You dust yourself off, and get started on a new revised strategy. Pivot. Hm. Maybe it wasn't such a bad metaphor after all.

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Your Brain At Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
Your Brain At Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
by David Rock
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.94
48 used & new from CDN$ 15.19

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very heavy, but absolutely brilliant., Sept. 14 2011
I know what you're thinking: a book on how to use your brain? It's not so intuitive as you think. As it turns out, the brain has been one of the least understood 'realms' in science, and only very recently are some huge discoveries being made that totally change the way we view, and hopefully, use it.

Ok, so let's start with one of the oldest most clichéd metaphors out there: your brain is a computer. It's a good one. Our brain can save, store, and interpret, and manipulate terabytes of data per day. It takes in and saves audio files, visuals at super high res, tons of systems, names, trivia, thousands of words, in multiple languages, all interlinked for instant access. But we find the brain so much more powerful and creative than actual Personal computers (and even super-computers), that we make the fatal mistake of assuming that our brains can do anything. They can't, mostly because of evolution.

You see, we took tens of thousands, if not millions of years to evolve into the current homo-sapien brain. But in just the last 30 years of 'Computing Evolution': the computer industry has exploded with innovation in both hardware and software: modern PC's are getting faster and more capable every year. Meanwhile, our brains are pretty much the same as they were 100,000 years ago. It turns out our brains are like your 5 year old Dell laptop that keeps freezing up whenever we have more than five programs running: we suck at multitasking. And yet, Multitasking has been a buzzword for years now. Ever since we got hooked on emails, text messages and Instant messaging clients, we've convinced ourselves that we're really working at 100% capacity. We're not. We're just bouncing from one stimuli to the next.

Although we stink at serious multitasking, we're really good at reconfiguring a handful of ideas (about 4). Think about going to the mall, doing a little shopping, then stopping by the bank, and finally picking up laundry and going home. What sounds like a blah afternoon, is actually a miracle of 'map' modelling, and mental simulation. Plotting out the whole trip in terms of Geography, Location, Time, with a reasonably accurate estimate of when you'll return home,Takeout Chinese food in hand, is the power of parallel processing.

Not only should we be simplifying the number of things our brain is trying to understand and resolve, we need to give it lots of energy as well.Your brain needs energy and rest to be creative, regardless of your IQ. That means scheduling parts of the day when you can actually be creative. Musicians often spend all night in the recording studio (often intoxicated), but get most of their writing done in the early morning. Why? Because the nature of combining different elements, different lyrics and melodies'the creative process'needs energy and rest.

And rest doesn't just mean sleep. Scientists, over and over, are finding that some form of self-reflection, or meditation, is the key to coming up with solutions to nagging problems. We consider this the sub-conscious mind 'taking over' and trying to solve a problem that your conscious mind has been fretting over for days.

There is so much great stuff in here, about interpersonal relationships and working with colleagues and family members, but I agonized over whether to recommend this book, because it is heavy. It's a book about how your brain works (arguably more complex than understanding the nature of the universe), but done so well and thoughtfully, that it serves as a very cool user manual for, well, homo sapiens. Enjoy, and take lots of notes!

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Outliers: The Story of Success
Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.52
85 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking, Aug. 25 2011
'I'm a very lucky guy'
William H. Gates Jr., Philanthropist

Recently, I had drinks with a former colleague, who was bemoaning the pressure her parents were putting on her to get married. It was a common theme around Shanghai, young people under untold amounts of pressure to live up to some impossible standard; whether it was money, relationships, work, manners, education'parents just want what's best for their kids, and believe that pressure is a good way to do it. They care about their retirement, and know that investing energy in their kids can, almost always, lead to a more financially stable and comfortable retirement (not to mention, more grandkids).

But if you examine the richest, most successful people in the world, they seemed to get there by doing something crazy, regardless of the financial upshots. Actually, when the 'lucky' Bill Gates started poking around with computers, there was no software industry to speak of. His parents were lawyers, and expected him to go on and be one too. The entire Silicon Valley phenomenon arose out of Southern California University labrats tinkering with new designs, and ultimately founding their own companies (famously Hewlett Packard; most recently, Google).

To have pressured Bill Gates at the age of 13 to get into Computers would have quite literally required knowledge of the future of business, the internet, and the multibillion dollar computer industry itself. No one could have known (even if Bill's parents were so inclined'they weren't). No one could have possibly known, and no one could have possibly 'forced' Bill into loving those drab black and green screens (which very likely decimated any chance at a social/love life for the following 10 years). The one thing he did have, however, was passion. And passions a funny thing. If you're passionate about fashion, or technology, or sports, or even law, you can burn hours and hours studying and practicing it, without getting tired, or exhausted. And it turns out, it's exactly this kind of energy you need to get to 10,000 hours.

Malcolm Gladwell famously noted that in every child prodigy, young genius, or early Millionaire story, there was a race to hit 10,000 hours of experience. Whether it's dancing, playing an instrument, cold calling sales, playing basketball, there seems to be a very clear distinction between those who've hit the 10,000 hour mark, and those who don't. And the key, is to hit it very early, so you can be the most talented guy/girl in your age group, and rake in all the glory. The only way to do that, is to have an edge. For Bill Gates, it was his Private High school's computer lab. For the Beatles, it was playing bars in Germany for 8-12 hours a day.

And here's the rub. If you work really hard, you'll still need about 10 years to hit that experience level (to be considered an expert). If you want to learn something just for the money, you probably won't get there, but even if you do, you might not even get rich, because you need to begin your 'studies' 10 years in advance. Steve Jobs didn't do it for the money. How could he? Circuit boards attached to wooden panels? How could anyone think that that was a multibillion dollar idea. Found Apple Computer over a Harvard MBA? No way.

And so when it comes to financial success, there is an element of luck involved. You can be great, and you can get a college degree, even a Master's degree, but if your parents insist upon a certain level of financial success, they just might be pushing you in the wrong direction. Bill Gates was.. well, lucky that Software turned out to be a big deal (in fact when he first started, no one was paying for it. He had to convince people to actually pay for Software).

So what constitues luck. First you have to have some opportunities, and a bit of luck, maybe you're born in the right year, the right gender, with the rig parents, with the right connections. More than anything, you have to truly love doing something that only 10-15 years later turns out to be a goldmine. If you start something with purely financial motivations, you'll drop it, or go on to have a mediocre career.

And it's not good enough to be smart. You have to have social skills too. It's not about your SAT scores, its about what people say about you when you're not around. It's about your ability to pitch and persuade. It's about your background, your family. If any of these things is missing, you won't get there. And being born into a great loving family, may just be the luckiest thing of all.

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