Friday, March 27, 2015

Good to Great by Jim Collins

I'm not sure where I heard that this was a business classic, but I heard it somewhere, so obviously, I was going to read it when I saw it. The edition I read was published in 2001, so it's a little outdated (For example, Fannie Mae, one of the "great" companies, has been taken over by the US federal government in 2008 due to the subprime mortgage crisis), but I think the principles hold true.

In essence, the book says that "great" companies has, as far as I can see, two key traits:

One, a level 5 leader. A level 5 leader is one who is humble and unassuming, but has a will of iron.

Two, the company is disciplined enough to carry out the "hedgehog concept", which is basically to identify the thing you can be best in, and that you're passionate about and can make you money, and then pursue it with a single-minded focus.

And that's it. Surprisingly, things like CEO pay methods (stock options vs a standard pay, etc) don't really matter. What matters is that you have the right CEO who can put the right people in place, and who doesn't care about leaving a great legacy (i.e. the next guy crashes, and people go "oh, only that guy can run the company"), leading to a company that can be great.

The last chapter of the book looks at his previous book "Built to Last", which I actually want to read now, and after that are the FAQs, Appendices, and Notes for each chapter. So the book was actually much shorter and much simpler to read than I expected.

I can definitely see why this book was heavily recommended by a person or book I no longer recall. It's very accessible, and the findings make sense. I'll probably be sharing this with Amberbrook, the charity that my friends set up.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres

I was actually looking for Under the Banner of Heaven in the library when I came across this book. I think I've also seen it mentioned in Longreads, so I decided to pick it up. After all, I've heard of the phrase "drink the kool-aid", but have no idea what's the story behind it.

And the story is... really heartbreaking.

Jim Jones, the founder and pastor of People's Temple Full Gospel Church ("Temple" for short), started out with a message of racial equality. But in the end, he let almost 1000 people, about 300 of them children/infants to their deaths in a mass murder-suicide. Why? This book charts the degeneration of Temple, and the deception of the congregation, who honestly believed that by following Jim Jones, they would be working towards a fairer, better America. But in the end, through fear and persuasion, they all drank poison and died agonising deaths, with very few survivors.

What I noticed, was that the more Jones twisted the Bible, the more he started to use fear, threats, and intimidation to rule his congregation. In the end, Jones declared himself God, but instead of performing miracles, used tricks to keep people in line.

Another thing that struck me is the number of people who are complicit in this crime. Jones grows increasingly deranged and fanatical as time goes by, but if it weren't for the lawyers or members of government (both in the US [at the start] and Gunyana), the press who allowed themselves to be bought and all the members and accomplices that helped him carry out his tricks. True, some defected, but until they defected, they carried out a lot of serious damage. This tragedy wasn't the work of one deranged man, it's the result of a lot of misguided people unknowingly working together to help a madman.

This book is eye-opening. I had not heard of Jonestown and this tragedy before, and I wonder why it has been forgotten. It's a reminder that tragedies are around the corner, and that things with the best intentions can be twisted, and people with the best of intentions can be deceived.

My thought when I finished this book was "what a waste". If Jim Jones had kept his grasp on sanity, and a firm grasp on Scripture, we could be now reading about how the Temple was a driving force for equality and racial integration in America. Instead, we're now reading about how a madman managed to kill so many people.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

This Is Not A Writing Manual by Kerri Majors

Due to NaNoWriMo, the NLB's eBooks program was recommending me a bunch of writing books. It took me some time after Nano, but I decided to take a look at their selection. I've heard of this book before (I think), so I decided to give it a go. After all, I'm still on my NaNoWriMo high.

This is Not a Writing Manual is catered towards young writers (for some reason, I think young female writers instead of people like my brother. I don't know why, it's just a feeling I got), and it's divided into three parts:

Part 1: The writing process. This was pretty interesting, and since it covers things like drafting, feedback (how to take feedback), revision, what you can learn from soap operas, and much more. I really like the advice of leaving your ego at the door. This was probably the most useful section to me.

Part 2: The Writing Life. Here, she talks about workshops, writing groups, and classes. She strongly strongly recommends writing classes. Sadly, I don't think there is a writing class in my uni. I do agree with the writing circles thing though, she praises Figment, and I'd like to add in WriteOn as a way to get good feedback (My review of Figment vs WriteOn vs Wattpad here).

Part 3: Looking ahead - Supporting yourself, Getting Published and not Getting Published. This part... I didn't like so much. Perhaps it's because we got off on the wrong foot, when she started by debating whether writing was a hobby or a job. I agree it can be a job (there are plenty of self-publishing authors who make a full-time living at this). But she calls her writing "work" but her friend Phils attempts at triatholons and photography a "hobby". But wait, Julia Child's writing is a job. And her conclusion is "writing is not a hobby because it's too much work." Uh well, yes, it is work, but it's also fun. Every hobby is going to involve work (except perhaps doing TV drama marathons. Although I suppose the work needed to get back to normal will be tremendous). So yes, I disagree with her here - I think writing can be a hobby or a job, depending on what you want.

The second thing is about self-publishing. She talks about it briefly, basically saying that it's a lot more work than traditional publishing, but you know, it's gaining respectability. So far so good, but then she says "You will also have to swallow Amazon's (or Barnes and Noble's, or Apple's) standard profit-sharing rate for e-publishing." Because my latest reading-up topic is self-publishing (one of the not-so-weird topics, I used to google the weirdest stuff), I really wish she actually gave figures. For Amazon, it's 35% or 70%. That's still more than traditional publishing, where it's between 8%-15% based on type of paper book and volume, and 25% of ebooks. (And don't forget, agents get 15% of your cut) So even the highest tradpub royalty rate is lower than Amazon's lowest rate. When you think about it this way, paying Amazon 30% to sell your books is really cheap.

Woah, that deviated quickly. Ok, back to topic - The craft section of this book will be inspiring to a young author. Part 2 may or may not be helpful depending on where you live, but Part 3 is meh. I would say this is for the author-to-be's, those that need a dose of encouragement.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Teaser Tuesday - Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

Teaser Tuesday time! Today, I started Sleeping Murder, which I didn't know was Miss Marple's Last Case because the library tag obscured most of the title. All I saw was "Agatha Christie" and since I didn't recognise the blurb, I decided to borrow it.

I just started, so Miss Marple hasn't appeared yet. I wonder when she will....

"I went through her clothes because the doctor asked me to. And there's a suitcase gone and enough to fill it - but they're the wrong things." (Page 125)
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. To participate, just share two sentences from a book you're reading and share it.

What is your teaser this week?