Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Review: Thoughs on Design

Thoughts on DesignThoughts on Design by Paul Rand
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A book by the 20th century's guru of visual design.

Short, precise and effective.

Beauty and utility shall be integral part of design.

Simplicity in design is good.

Using symbols as design elements is smart.

Visual repetition creates emotional comfort.

Isolated symbols (such as letters, numbers, punctuation marks) can be a good idea.

This short book only scratches the surface of semiotics of visual communication though. And it is only based on (and illustrated by) a very narrow field of design - graphical advertisement and corporate logos.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Review: Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too

Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live TooSiblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too by Adele Faber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's quite an eye-opening book for a parent of two (or more) children.

Most of the parents dream about their children to become the best friends. It's just that it sometimes doesn't happen. And sometimes we as parents just need to accept it. However, this book gives some invaluable advice on how not to make things worse. Indeed, there is so much we as parents can do to screw relationship of siblings - and all that with only good intentions...

The basis for everything is respecting, acknowledging and verbalising the child's feelings instead of dismissing them ("You cannot say so about your sister!").

It is also important to focus on each child individually - no comparison, no locking into roles (of the youngest one, of the "boy in the family", of "our musical talent", of a victim).
Children don't need to be treated equally. They need to be treated uniquely.
The book makes an important point about how to solve the siblings' arguments: we as parents should not interfere at all times and try to solve all arguments making children solely dependent on our judgement. We should assist them to verbalise their anger, to set certain limits and to help to establish the rules - but most of all, treat our children as individuals capable of solving their arguments by themselves.

There are much more great ideas like having family meetings on difficult subjects, setting signs for private property and avoiding trap of "togetherness" ("Our family needs to do things together - and have fun together!").

The lyrical epilogue of the book is worth a mini-book on itself - so emotional, so sad and so encouraging at the same time.

If I only could follow all those good pieces of advice at all time - also in the moments of frustration or exhaustion :)

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Review: Catalonia. A Cultural History

Catalonia: A Cultural HistoryCatalonia: A Cultural History by Michael Eaude
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've read this book before my first travel to Barcelona and Sitges.

I can recommend it to anyone travelling to Catalonia and looking for a deeper historical context behind the great cultural monuments of Catalonia (architecture, paintings, literature, music) compared to a Lonely Planet type of a travel guide. It has definitely given me better understanding of Catalan psyche - reflected in the way Catalonia looks and feels today from a stranger perspective.

When reading, it really felt the author was a fan of Catalonia (which is good), at the same time being quite critical about many of its historical and contemporary developments.

In some places the book might have benefited from a wider historical context (it assumed the reader was rather well aware of general history of Spain), in some places it felt too detailed (like verbal description of some details of buildings). In some places it was too much influenced by author's political views. However, there is a clearly a lot of research behind the book, citations of several other authors - and last but not least - love for this unique region in Europe.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: Start with Why

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take ActionStart with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book is what McDonald's is for dining out. If it is the very first time you eat outside and you happen to go to McDonald's, you can be thrilled by all the colours, menus, and efficiency of operations. However if you happen to visit McDonald's after having been to unique restaurants with special styles, menus, interiors and music it feels... well like a fast-food place.

The idea of the book is powerful (define the purpose first, proceed acting based on that - and never lose the sight of it). But that's about the only powerful idea in the book, however repeated over and over again. In addition, the author does not fail to mention 174 or so times how great company is Apple. No research, no interviews, no studies, no first-hand experience, not so original ideas either.

If anyone is looking for very simple leadership lessons, want some well-branded and well-processed fast-food for the brain, this might be a proper book.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Review: The 80/20 Principle

The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with LessThe 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less by Richard Koch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

80/20 principle (20% of effort gives 80% of success, 20% of problems cause 80% of grief, 20% of clients bring 80% of profit etc) is very powerful in itself. Its power lies in its simplicity and potentially ubiquitous application in business, personal life, investment, studying - anywhere really.

The book brings some thought-provoking examples of 80/20 principle in action. However, it is very repetitive and often quite superficial. Its instructive style (do this in your life and happiness will come) is also quite annoying.

300-350 pages of the book could well be substituted by a longer article.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review: Managing The Professional Service Firm

Managing The Professional Service FirmManaging The Professional Service Firm by David H. Maister
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was one of best business management books I have ever read so far. Although based on research articles published mainly back in the 1980s-1990s, it is a priceless collection of well-structured thoughts on how to manage people, clients and organisation of a company providing professional services (such as law practice, accounting, management consulting, custom software development, training etc).

There are so many questions discussed that a manager of a professional service firm (or a business unit) faces on an everyday basis. Almost every chapter has some eye-opening observations and conclusions. Here is a selection of some:

How clients choose a service provider?
It is inherently uncomfortable experience – and it is important to be emphatic towards your (potential) clients.

What a buyer looks for in a service provider?
Someone who listens, who is sensitive, helpful and is well prepared.

How to predispose your client towards selecting you as a service provider again and again?
Through building personal relationship, going the extra mile in the assignments you do, constantly investing into own asset building.
"Above all else, what I, the client, am looking for, is that rare professional who has both technical skill and sincere desire to be helpful, to work with both me and my problem.”

What is a good marketing?
It should be a seduction, not an assault. Instead of screaming “Hire me!” it should attract clients by doing something that causes them to want to take the next step (such as telling you about their problems).

How to manage smart professionals?
They are people getting bored easily and they are always seeking out new challenges. One therefore needs to constantly satisfy their drive for the new, the unfamiliar, the challenging.

What kind of a leader is best for a professional service firm?
Someone who is a good coach. The only truly effective way to influence people is an one-on-one, highly individualised counselling.

What is a source of motivation of highly intelligent people one works with?
How highly motivated I am to fulfil some task depends on whether I can see where the challenge in the work lies, and whether or not I feel that piece of work is a “worthy” application of my talents.

How to create strategy for a professional service firm?
Professional marketplaces are too changeable and fluid to “bet the firm” on a single vision of the future. Besides, most analytical exercises on “where the market is going” tend to result in firms reaching the same (obvious) conclusions as their competitors. Rather, the goal is to create the responsive organisation.

What one can learn from the best organisations in its class?
These firms create an atmosphere of a special, private club where people feel that “we do things differently around here, and most of us couldn’t consider working anywhere else.
„While all professional firms will assert that they have the best professionals in town, those firms claim they have the best firm in town, a subtle but important difference.“

How to make a firm truly collaborative?
Groups don’t cooperate, people do. If some person has worked with another person in another unit, there is a greater chance that help with be forthcoming. Hence, firms should create opportunities for individuals to get to know each other and work together.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Review: Kõik on suurepärane. Mälestusi Eesti kolhoosist

Kõik on suurepärane. Mälestusi Eesti kolhoosistKõik on suurepärane. Mälestusi Eesti kolhoosist by Sigrid Rausing
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Huvitav vaade Eesti elule 1990-te alguses Läänest tulnud antropoloogi poolt, kes elas kohalikega Noarootsis umbes aasta aega. Kõige huvitavam oli minu jaoks eestirootslaste ajalugu läbi sajandite, samuti isiklikud autobiograafilised seigad autori elust (nii-öelda seiklused post-sovjetlikus Eestis).

Samas aga jäi minu arvates osa tema kui antropoloogi tööst tegemata - ta ei mõistnudki lõpuni kohalike inimeste ideaale, rõõme ja unistusi. Ta jäi natuke pinnapealsele tasandile - kirjeldatud ja läbi mõtestatud sai ennekõike see, mis jäi silma ehk materiaalne vaesus, alkoholism, abiorganisatsioonide töö, Lääne kaupade järk-järguline tulek ja muud nähtused, mis olid 1990-ndatel üle Eesti hästi nähtavad.

Raamatu suur voorus on ausus ja kirjelduste täpsus.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Review: Persuasion

PersuasionPersuasion by Jane Austen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A classical novel featuring some aspects of life of the English aristocracy in the beginning of the 1800s. The main character, Anne Elliot, got persuaded that she should not marry a young man called Frederick when she was in her early 20s. Then she persuaded herself that she still should - 8,5 years later.

It is essentially a love story, and a good one. It is especially noteworthy that it was written by a woman - can't think of any other more or less famous (and good / readable) female writer before Jane Austen. The characters are interesting, although, typically for the classical books of that time, archetypal to the degree of a good-guys-and-bad-guys-fairy-tale (one sister beautiful but stupid, another one hyperemotional and egoistical, the third one proper and smart)

I, however, kept on thinking while reading this novel how enormous the society inequality was in the England of the 1800s (like anywhere in the world back then, really). The aristocracy had all the time in the world for having long romantic walks, sporting, hunting, dining, attending concerts and private parties, shopping and visiting each other - while the rest 95% of society was there to labour for the privileged ones. This 95% rest does not exist in the books of Austen - like they did not exist in the mental world of the aristocracy that one reads about.

It was enjoyable to read the book in beautiful English of 200 years ago. And this was one of the most elegant and charming love confessions I have ever read (Frederick to Anne):

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. [...] For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? [...] A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never.”