Saturday, February 17, 2018

Review: The Big Short

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book!

An-insider-turned-into-critical-observant Lewis, having worked at the Wall Street before, uncovers the story of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. This crisis originated in the subprime mortgage industry in the US - but has eventually not left untouched any country on Earth.

Lewis tells the story through those few who not only saw the crisis coming, but also actively bet on it. That is, they put their (and their investors') money and reputation on this bet. And this is the beauty of this book - picking some real people actively preparing for the financial Armageddon and by that unfolding the story of the very core of the rotten financial instruments that the Wall Street geniuses have come up with. It is both psychological thriller and socioeconomic analysis at the same time - not many authors have the gift of keeping reader very engaged and providing analysis of complex topics at the same time.

One the book's main messages for me is that the more complex the system becomes and the more chains of command it consists of, the less transparent and more prone to fail it becomes.

And more concretely - for investors - if you are not sure you understand what you invest in, seriously consider not doing that, even though short-term returns feel appealing.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Review: Elu läbi taksopeegli

Elu läbi taksopeegliElu läbi taksopeegli by Alan Adojaan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Võtsin selle raamatu lugeda kuna käisin koos Alaniga koos loengutes Tartu Ülikoolis. Alan kirjutab ladusalt ja lõbusalt. Kuid kokkuvõtvalt on see kogum taksondusega seotud lühilugudest, millel omavahel ei ole mingisugust seost. Kuigi mõned lood on põnevad ja (traagi)koomilised, on need niivõrd lühikesed ja neid on nii palju, et kokkuvõttes jätsid need mind lugejana pigem külmaks.

See on nagu anekdootide raamat - loed läbi, mõnes kohas muigad ja mõnes kohas naeratad, meelde jääb mõni üksik, kuid kuu pärast ei ole enam midagi meeles. Kui aga tahta kerget lugemist, siis ei ole see üldse paha valik.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review: Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and SlowThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Daniel Kahneman received a Nobel Prize for Economics - and this book summarises what for. This prize is well-deserved.

Kahneman exposes countless studies, surveys and examples of when our irrationality prevails in decision-making. We believe we are more rational than we truly are. But irrationality as such is not bad - we would be quickly mentally overloaded if we were taking rational choices at every step. Intuition is another word for irrationality...

However, it is useful to be aware of our irrationality. In some situations - for example, when an important decision is to be made, when we react to something in the ways that surprise ourselves, or when we seemingly don't understand why other people behave the way they do - it is worth to take a step back and analyse the reasons for that.

Most of our decisions are guided by so-called System 1, a quick and intuitive part of our brains. But sometimes - rather rarely - the so-called System 2 is switched on, an analysing part of our brains. The System 2 is most of the times in a stand-by mode. It is interesting to think how easy it is to turn the System 2 into an active mode.

Kahneman provokes the reader by giving many mental exercises - which often produce "aha!" moments. Illustrations of the principles of this book come from family life, friendships, business, court, financial investment domain, politics, education - so, our lives.

The book itself - although extremely useful - is quite long and at times repetitive. The same concepts are illustrated by different sides of the story, so to say. But once you get the point, the additional examples are not that insightful anymore.

It took me several months to read it through, think, write down some thoughts, read further. Time well spent!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Poliitpäevik

PoliitpäevikPoliitpäevik by Viktoria Ladõnskaja
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aus ja avameelne, samas lühike ja kuidagi kiirustav. Viktoria kirjutamisstiil ei ole ülikooli ühisaegadest õnneks muutunud - sama huvitavad metafoorid ja sõnamängud.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Leading from a distance - personal learnings

Remote work is hardly surprising for anyone - especially in the area I work in, IT. Software developers, testers, designers have worked remotely for many years now - and it is often claimed to be "the future of the workplace".

However, remote management is not as often talked about.

It is not as straightforward indeed - as a manager, one has few pre-packaged specific tasks to fulfill. As a leader, one shall rather... well, lead. But what is leadership besides communicating to the people, both internally and externally?

For the past seven months I have been located several thousands kilometers away from both my colleagues as well as clients. The business department I am responsible for has more than 30 people. I am visiting our office and our clients on average every 1,5 months. Otherwise, I have on average 3-5 videoconference calls every day (and an impressive amount of e-mails and text chats).

So, here are some reflections so far:

What is good about remote management:

  • It pulls you out of your familiar environment, it gives different room for thoughts and innovative ideas
  • It provides a push for greater efficiency - being stripped away of usual working methods, you are pushed to think differently
  • Whenever you come to office, it feels like a special occasion both for you and your colleagues
  • Less disturbance and more room for concentration (like with any remote work)
What is difficult about remote management:
  • No social source of motivation (not having your excellent colleagues nearby)
  • No possibility to have spontaneous (but meaningful) lunches or talks in the coffee corner
  • If there are videoconferences with several people and someone is showing something on the screen or whiteboard, it is difficult to see it
  • (this is by far the most difficult) If the Internet connection is slow - or even down - the bad video/audio quality can ruin the whole experience of the calls or videoconferences - and be highly inefficient
  • It requires strong discipline (like any remote work)
Additionally, I live in Central Asia, while the office and clients are 3-5 hours "behind" me in Central / Eastern European time zone.

Upsides of working remotely 3-5 hours ahead of the time zones of your colleagues / clients:
  • Allows "slow" start of the day - provides flexibility to use this time for sports (e.g. swimming in my case), reading interesting articles or books, playing with kids
  • Allows to start working day before everyone else and focus on tasks requiring concentration
  • Allows to do personal duties (like shopping, hairdresser etc) in the mornings when there is least demand and fewest other customers
Downsides of being several hours ahead of your colleagues / clients:
  • Sometimes need to take meetings during late hours
  • Need to operate in 2-3 time zones simultaneously - sometimes creates mental errors as of at which time I have which appointment
Preconditions of remote management - it is only possible if:
  • The teams and people in general are, to a very large degree, self-going and autonomous 
  • There is a very strong middle-management level (in my case, team leads) 
  • There are frequent video conference calls with the key people 
  • Need physical presence time-to-time (once every 1-1,5 months in my experience is a good frequency)
All in all, what is my evaluation of this experience so far?

 At times challenging, but very stimulating and useful if not lasting for too long.

I am happy to work in and have a strong impact on an organisation allowing me such management experiments. :)

Monday, October 02, 2017

Book Review - Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates UsDrive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I generally like books substantiated by and based on the research. This one is. It explores human psychology in light of what motivates us as humans to do what we do. It refers to several psychological experiments done over the past decades.

Not surprisingly, it is not money (money is more of the "hygiene factor"). It is the purpose of what you do, the possibility to be better and better in what you do and the autonomy of your actions.

All of that is presented in a clear, structured and even entertaining manner. Many examples and some helping illustrations.

However, I missed the team / comradeship as one of the motivating factors.

I also found the explanation of purpose to be too "grandiose", missing the link to the ones the activity is directed to (your customers, your partner, your kids, your colleagues etc).

The last 1/3 of the book was too American chewed-and-overchewed DIY approach ("10 tips how to do it at work"). The first 1/3 is quite powerful though.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A proof that environmentally friendly behaviour makes economic sense

One thing I enjoy about living in Almaty, Kazakhstan is an abundant supply of fresh and tasty vegetables, fruits and berries - with so much sun and Uzbekistan (with several harvest a year) being relatively close one gets much better selection than in the Northern Europe.

I do the shopping of fruits and vegetables at the same small store run by a Tajik family. All the berries are packaged in plastic containers like this (and the rest of fruits and vegetables in the countless plastic bags) which come "for free":
It is not a secret that production and throwing away the plastic has created a gigantic problem for the nature - and it only gets worse. So what I did is basically re-using those plastic containers - washing them and bringing back to the family I buy berries from. I did it few times already - and the guys were positively surprised (recycling is not very "in" in Kazakhstan unfortunately).

What have I gotten in return besides a good feeling of doing something good for the environment? Discounts on every shopping I do there plus selection of the freshest stuff (the seller guys have become much more helpful and started to treat me with more special care "Do not take these tomatoes, let me pick better ones for you"). So, every time I go there I not only get a little bit less costly shopping, but also fresh selection - which means less potential waste and less need for an additional shopping.

Environmental behaviour can result in a win-win-win situation (for the seller, for the buyer and for the environment!
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