Book Notes: The New Digital Age

newdigitalageIn The New Digital Age – Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and BusinessEric Schmidt and Jared Cohen take you though a futuristic view of a hyper-connected planet with all of its promises and challenges.  From the future of war and cyberterrorism to virtual hate crimes, online identity and cyber discrimination, the authors offer a unique and thorough take on what lies ahead for all of us.

For those willing to take the leap into The New Digital Age, take some comfort in knowing that it isn’t another technocornucopian book about widgets and gadgets.  It’s instead concerned with humans and our role in our digital future (‘The importance of a guiding human hand in the new digital age.’)  Schmidt and Cohen remind us that despite what communication technology may allow, what we do with it us up to us.  In an increasingly tech deterministic world, this core message bears repeating (so read this paragraph again).

And now for the big caveat:  A book that portends the coming digital age from two of the world’s most prescient thinkers has relegated dialog about health to just a couple of pages.  Really?  The collision course of health and technology is perhaps modern civilization’s most pressing angle.  This omission represents a lost opportunity for readers.

The authors make several references to the coevolution of two civilizations, one virtual and one physical.  Fascinating.

“These civilizations will coexist in a more or less peaceable manner, with each restraining the negative aspects of the other. The virtual world will enable escape from the repression of state control, offering citizens new opportunities to organize and revolt; other citizens will simply connect, learn and play. The physical world will impose rules and laws that help contain the anarchy of virtual space and that protect people from terrorist hackers, misinformation and even from the digital records of their own youthful misbehavior…”

The concluding thoughts were both powerful and reassuring:

“The case for optimism lies not in sci-fi gadgets or holograms but in the check that technology and connectivity bring against the abuses, suffering and destruction in our world. When exposure meets opportunity, the possibilities are endless. The best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of life around the world is to drive connectivity and technological opportunity. When given the access, the people will do the rest. They already know what they need and what they want to build, and they’ll find ways to innovate with even the meagerest set of tools. Anyone passionate about economic prosperity, human rights, social justice, education or self-determination should consider how connectivity can help us reach these goals and even move beyond them. We cannot eliminate inequality or abuse of power, but through technological inclusion we can help transfer power into the hands of individual people and trust that they will take it from there.”

While a provocative read, I’d recommend a pass on The New Digital Age for my health-focused readers.  A must-read, however, for budding futurists.

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Blogs, Books and Fantasy

A few years ago when I was shopping Colic Solved I had a conversation with an editor at a prominent NY publishing house.  We got talking about parenting titles, the book market and what makes certain books move.  When I expressed concern that my book might not meet the promise that the title suggested, she immediately dismissed my concern and told me something that I have never forgotten:  Books are about fantasy.

When someone goes into a book store they engage in fantasy.  In parenting we imagine that we can potty train our toddler in 4 days.  In the business section we can can manage an organization with the discipline and efficiency of a Navy SEAL.  In the fitness and nutrition aisle we believe that we can look and feel like a million bucks for just $12.95.  Fiction, of course, is all about escape.

It’s the same with many of the blogs we visit.  The most successful sites offer a promise of that we can do better or what we can become.  Complicated topics are confidently summarized in four points.  Perhaps we aspire to the ideas that the best writers offer or maybe we want to be a bit like them.  And you can’t deny the element of imagination on social platforms where we all represent ourselves in just the right way.

Fantasy, it seems, drives a lot of what we do.

The link to Colic Solved is an Amazon affiliate link.  If you’ve got a miserable baby, grab a copy.  Because you have no idea how good it can be.

Saving Kindle Notes to Evernote

I read about one non-fiction book per week and I find it hard to remember the details of what I’ve read.  The interesting quotes, passages, and definitions are at the front of my mind while I’m reading but months later the details can get fuzzy.  Solution: put the notes into Evernote.  Evernote is a simple but brilliant application that allows you to capture ideas, links, screenshots and content of just about any type.  Your information is kept in the cloud and simultaneously updates on your iPhone (or Android), computer, and iPad.  These days I do all of my reading on my iPad Kindle app – book highlights are easily retrievable on the web and pulled into Evernote.  Here’s my process:

1.  Read and highlight.  I read and highlight portions of text I want to remember.

2.  Review.  When I finish the book I go to, sign in and review my notes.  I delete the highlights I think I don’t want to keep.  I try to restrict what I keep in order to keep it manageable.

3.  Copy and paste.  I then copy and paste each highlight as a new note in Evernote.  I give each note a short title that captures and identifies the gist of the passage.  I use a few tags for easy retrieval.  Each book has its own notebook.

This takes about 30 minutes per book and serves as great preparation for the reviews you see here at 33 charts.   It also pays off weeks and months later when I want to recall a key point or definition.  Best of all, I can access these notes on my mac, iPad or iPhone.  Given the hours I invest in grasping a book’s ideas, it’s a worthwhile investment for long-term retention.

Here are what highlights look like on the Kindle site


Here are what my notes look like on Evernote

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4 Reasons You Should Read Enchantment

Last week I read Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki.  Enchantment is a modern guide ‘the art of influence and persuasion’ that offers solid, practical advice on how work with people to get things done.  It’s a unique manifesto for personal conduct – a guide to the moral exertion of influence.

Read EnchantmentHere’s why:

It’s written for everyoneEnchantment is a roadmap for personal conduct in the new economy.  Yet the message of how to wield influence reaches well beyond the tech world where Kawasaki lives.  Unless you live under a rock, this book will help you think about how you work with people.

Easy voice.  Beyond its engaging content, Guy’s voice is easy and fluent.  At just a couple hundred pages you can get the message in a couple of evenings of reading.

The author’s lived the message. Books of this type are too often theoretical.  Enchantment is based on the hard-won experience of one of tech’s most visible influencers.  All of its advice is supported by solid experience and examples.

It’s realEnchantment is based in common sense, something desperately missing in our over-hyped, fast moving world.  It covers the waterfront from the appropriate, metered use of foul language to how to dress.  While you many not agree with all of it, Guy’s confident commitment to how to do things right is, by itself, enchanting.

In the end, this book’s core message is something that all of us should live by:  Be likeable, be trustworthy, have a great cause.

I’m working on it.


Book Notes: Connected

This week I read Connected – The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.  It offers a powerful look at how connectedness influences behaviors such as happiness, loneliness and even the predisposition for suicide.  Christakis and Fowler introduce the idea that social networks obey the Three Degrees of Influence Rule, which means that our behaviors impact on our friends, our friends’ friends, and our friends’ friends’ friends.

The authors offer a strong case against our longstanding reductionist bias towards individualism in health.  It seems that the bigger picture and how we connect may be ultimately more important than who we are individually.  This counterintuitive message supported by exhaustive clinical examples drives Connected and positions it as a critically important book.  While I avoid the use of tired terms like ‘paradigm shift,’ it probably has a place when describing the book’s premise.

While well-referenced, Connected was heavy at times.  I found myself desperate for a little more extrapolation from the authors – I wanted their ideas and interpretation more then their compulsively collected evidence.

The authors finish the book with a provocative view of how we might see ourselves in the near future:

The great project of the twenty-first century—understanding how the whole of humanity comes to be greater than the sum of its parts—is just beginning. Like an awakening child, the human superorganism is becoming self-aware, and this will surely help us to achieve our goals. But the greatest gift of this awareness will be the sheer joy of self-discovery and the realization that to truly know ourselves, we must first understand how and why we are all connected.

Overall I loved the book.  I would recommend Connected for anyone serious about understanding how social networks influence behavior.  For the simply curious it may be a bit heavy.

The link above to Connected is an Amazon Affiliate link


Book Notes: The Social Animal

This week I read The Social Animal by David Brooks.

The Social Animal looks to tell us how we become who we are – how we develop wisdom and character. The source of who we become lurks below the surface and is inherently linked to our early relationships.  Despite Brook’s compulsive research, this is not a science book – it’s ultimately about emotion and love.

…People are still blind to the way unconscious affections and aversions shape daily life.  We still have admissions committees that judge people by IQ measures and not by practical literacy.  We still have academic fields that often treat human beings as rational utility-maximizing individuals.  Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of the hard skills, while failing to develop the moral and emotional faculties down below.  Children are coached on how to jump through a thousand scholastic hoops.  Yet by far the most important decisions they will make are about whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise, and how to control impulses.  On these matters they are amost entirely on their own.  We are good at talking about material incentives, but bad about talking about emotions and intuitions.  We are good about teaching technical skills, but when it comes to the most important things, like character, we have almost nothing to say.

The Social Animal had me thinking hard about how we train doctors.  We need to look beyond the reductive reasoning that makes up the way we think and about patients and their diseases.  Medical education should think more about emergent systems, or the way different elements come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.  If the concept excites you, I suspect you’ll enjoy this book.

Weaved throughout his well-referenced mashup of science, sociology and neurology, The Social Animal tells the story of a fictional couple, Erica and Harold. This entertaining fictional narrative illustrates the intuitive roots of human behavior and supports Brook’s assertion that we’re not rational, but social animals ruled more by the unconscious.

It’s a substantial book at over 400 pages but it moves along. I found Brook’s message to be heavy and at times and had to stop at times to process his logic.  I think however this is a function of the subject matter rather than his writing.  The Social Animal is a commitment that will force you to think beyond what you’ve been forced to understand regarding human nature.

The link to The Social Animal is an Amazon Affiliate link.

Book Notes: The Emperor of All Maladies

I recently read The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee,  a rich account of how modern medical science has come to understand and treat cancer.  Cancer, I learned, is largely a preoccupation of modern times.  Cancer was hardly a concern before the early 20th century when pneumonia and tuberculosis were the number one killers.  We now live long enough to witness this natural progression of what our genes ultimately have in store for us.  This book is cancer’s biography.

There are too many compelling subplots in Emperor to recount.  For me the story how William Halsted and his radical mastectomy set the stage for a century of surgical breast care is alone worth the read.  And every pediatric trainee should study the early history of ALL treatment and the work of Sydney Farber.  Throughout the author maintains a thread of his own story as an oncology fellow at the Dana Farber.  He uses this to pull us into the stories of several of his patients, a feature that made Emperor human.

Perhaps the most important part of the book comes in the final chapter.  After 450 pages detailing the 20th century quest to ‘cure cancer’, it is suggested that cancer may well be stitched into our genome.  A natural derivative of aging and regeneration.  Through its intrinsic integration with natural processes Mukherjee lays the foundation for the idea that cancer may be an inevitable part of who we are.

Cancer, we have discovered, is stitched into our genome.  Oncogenes arise from mutations in essential genes that regulate the growth of cells. Mutations accumulate in these genes when DNA is damaged by carcinogens, but also by seemingly random errors in copying genes when cells divide. The former might be preventable, but the latter is endogenous. Cancer is a flaw in our growth, but this flaw is deeply entrenched in ourselves. We can rid ourselves of cancer, then, only as much as we can rid ourselves of the processes in our physiology that depend on growth—aging, regeneration, healing, reproduction…

It is possible that we are fatally conjoined to this ancient illness, forced to play its cat-and-mouse game for the foreseeable future of our species. But if cancer deaths can be prevented before old age, if the terrifying game of treatment, resistance, recurrence, and more treatment can be stretched out longer and longer, then it will transform the way we imagine this ancient illness. Given what we know about cancer, even this would represent a technological victory unlike any other in our history. It would be a victory over our own inevitability—a victory over our genomes.

Mukherjee is a beautiful writer.  He has the gift a written voice that can carry off science in a way that keeps you engaged.  His use of language had me re-reading sentences and paragraphs.  The length of Emperor was tolerable for just this reason.  I would recommend it for those deeply interested in cancer’s story.

The link above to The Emperor of All Maladies is an Amazon affiliate link.

Book Notes: Poke the Box

Poke the Box is Seth Godin’s latest book/manifesto.  This is different from his other books in that it runs only 70 pages and is published as part of a new venture with Amazon called The Domino Project.  You may remember last year Seth Godin rocked the world by suggesting he was done with mainstream publishers.  This is where he’s landed.

Poke the Box is a short, 70 page manifesto about the importance of starting.  Godin makes the case that the ability to take initiative is a trait that consistently characterizes those who succeed.  The ability to begin creating is what separates the talkers from the doers.  Not making lists, planning, organizing, networking, or amassing followers.  Starting.  There are how-to steps here, just a foundation for taking a new approach to what you do.  This is a sequel to Linchpin.

I struggle with this myself.  Around the first of the year and well before I read Poke the Box I committed to spending a little less time around the water cooler and more time creating.  Thus I’ve been a little less visible on Twitter.  I’m desperately working to shut off distractions.  Poke the Box resonated with me.

Consider this quote about Godin’s friend and Twitter.  It’s worth processing:

Apparently, my friend has set the phone to chime every time one of the people he follows on Twitter posts something. This gives him the chance to read it and respond, making him, presumably, a truly valuable follower. He’s hoping that polishing his relationships in this way will act as a form of networking, making him more integrated into the Tweeters’ lives and perhaps businesses. All this polishing. Stand on an urban street corner and you can see it happening. Dozens of ostensibly busy people, staring at their palms and their fingers, polishing their relationships. The challenge is that it’s asymptotic. Twice as much polishing isn’t twice as good. Ten times as much polishing is definitely not ten times as good. Whether you’re polishing a piece of furniture or an idea, the benefits diminish quickly. The polishing turns into stalling. I wonder what would happen if instead of rushing to Twitter, my friend used that chime to do something original or provocative or important? What if the chime was his reminder not to polish, but to create?

In a way that only Godin can do he marries motivation with raw logic.  I would strongly suggest that if you are in the business of doing or creating, drop what you’re doing (temporarily) and read Poke the Box. It’s a quick read.

The Amazon link above is an affiliate link.

Thinking in Synch

Yesterday morning I posted a brief review on Kevin Kelly’s new book, What Technology WantsGreg Smith remarked that he’s half-way through it.  In a Twitter exchange with Kent Bottles later in the day I shared that I just started Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together.  Turns out he just finished it.

Serendipity?  Hardly.  It’s synchronicity with people who share my ideas and values.  Among other things, we share an interest in reading books that expand our understanding of where all this technology is headed.  And I know that when see a link or book recommendation from Kent, Greg or any number of the people with values I trust, I’m going to find something consistent with my interests.

These more-than-coincidence book comments are evidence that I’ve tuned my human signal to just where I need it.  This is why I get the information I need from Twitter rather than any kind of aggregating home page.  Those I follow provide a unique degree of customization unavailable anywhere else.

Of course the danger of such a scheme is the creation of an echochamber where you hear only what you want to hear – a type of social health psychomanipulation.  But I think recognition of this possibility is the first step to prevention.

While I’d tell all of you to follow Kent, Greg, me or whomever, do it only if they bring you what you need.  My signal’s not your signal.

The link to Alone Together is an Amazon affiliate link.  The image comes via Double-J design.

Book Notes: Where Good Ideas Come From

Did you ever wonder how innovation happens?  I just finished Where Good Ideas Come From – The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Berlin Johnson which tackles this very question.

Drawing from examples across multiple disciplines, Johnson builds the case that throughout history and nature there are recognizable patterns associated with innovation.  By embracing these patterns he argues that we can build environments that nurture good ideas.  Ideas breaks the roots of innovation down into seven patterns, each constituting a separate chapter.

Where Good Ideas Come From suggests that in the end openness and connectivity may be more valuable to innovation than purely competitive mechanisms.

“If there is a single maxim that runs through this book’s arguments, it is that we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them.  Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the “natural” order of things.  But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments.  Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine.  They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders.  They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.”

In the final chapter he builds the contrarian case that financial rewards are less likely to spur real innovation.  Purely incentivized innovation, he suggests, facilitates barricades and secrecy “making it harder for the open patterns of innovation to work their magic.”

Ideas is something of a natural follow up to The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air, both of which I have read and recommend.  Johnson has even suggested that this represents the conclusion of what he views loosely as a trilogy in human innovation.

Read Where Good Ideas Come From.  It will force you to make connections in areas you never knew existed.  Ideas will challenge you to think across disciplines – a concept sorely missing among the medical-industrial complex.  But as an incorrigible SBJ fanboy my glowing recommendation may not carry the weight of other more prestigious and less biased publications.  So take it for what it’s worth.

Just for fun, listen and learn about the Steven Johnson’s writing habits.  I love hearing how successful people work.

If you like the sounds of this I’m guessin’ you’ll like The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley or Making Ideas Happen by Mark Belsky.

(The above Amazon links are affiliate links)

Book Notes: Content Rules

I just finished Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman.  As you might imagine, this book is all about content.  How to make it remarkable and how to give it wings.  It was good for me.  It made me think critically about what I’m making and where it ships.

This is the closest how-to book that I’ve seen for businesses and individuals figuring out how exactly to nail a blog, podcast, case study, webinar, or Ebook (and there’s a killer chapter on the difference between an Ebook and a white paper).  This is the book you give to your friend who needs to understand that as businesses or organizations we have an imperative to create content.  Handley and Chapman bring deep practical experience in a way that’s easy and readable.

8 key points on content that I packed away on Evernote:

No one cares about your products or services. View yourself as a source of information or an expert, not a salesperson.

Frequent and regular content builds a relationship. The content you create will position you not just as a seller but as a reliable source of information.  And content doesn’t expire.  Jay Baer calls content an ‘information annuity’.

Content drives conversations. And conversation engages your customers.  Any questions?

Content is a social object. Each piece of content should be viewed as a social object that exists beyond its original platform.  Content should be given wings so that it can be shared across the web.

Play to your strengths (Content Rule #11).  You don’t have to create everything and publish everywhere.  You just have to do a couple of things really, really well.  I’ve found this to be a critical piece of advice for busy physicians.

Reimagine; don’t recycle your content (Content Rule #5).  How content is going to live in different channels needs to be an intentional, up-front part of content strategy.  Too often this is an afterthought.

Do something unexpected (Content Rule #8).  Occasionally adding an element of surprise to your content drives viral sharing and enhances your company’s personality.

Voice is critical in the development of great content. Voice is the way your writing sounds when its read.  And a unique voice is critical to success in social media.  You have to stop sounding like everyone else.  While most organizations spend their time thinking about design, logo, graphics, few spend as much time on the particulars of their content like voice.  Amen.

This book is important because all of us have become de facto publishers.  This includes hospitals, medical groups, individual physicians and providers of all types.  And by publisher we’re referring to the creation and delivery of relevant, valuable information to those we serve.  Content Rules is a great starting spot but also offers depth to someone already in the game.  You can preview Content Rules here.

Content Rules is part of the David Meerman Scott New Rules of Social Media Series from Wiley.  I’m planning to read all of them.