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Another round of books

August 23, 2011

The Logic of Life-Tim Harford: This book is one of many in a category called Behavioral Economics that I like a lot.  This book like the others uses both real world examples(like those in Freakonomics) taken from observations in the real world and what I would call classroom experiments which are contrived and can be replicated in any classroom.  These type books show how some very odd behaviors can be rationally explained.  It doesn’t mean that we are rational from an objective point of view, but that we do act the way we do for some very specific reasons/incentives, etc.  Tim Harford also wrote a book called The Undercover Economist which is also very good and is more market oriented than “life” oriented.

Blue Ocean Strategy-W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne: This is a business book about shaping your company around “blue oceans.”  The premise is that most companies’ products are competing in red oceans, meaning contested market spaces.  Instead of competing in the red oceans where the only thing consumers want is more for less, the company should focus on opening up new market spaces, blue oceans, by differentiating their product by adding features that consumers want, and taking away features that are being fought over but are not really relevant(which sounds like common sense, but is tough to actually figure out).  The book gives very good examples and ways to implement the strategy.  I really took away a lot from this book after doing the market research and product development for my internship this summer and wish I had read it before I went.

The Prodigal God-Timothy Keller: A short book about the parable of the prodigal son and how most people miss one of the main focuses of the parable.  They understand the prodigal son and loving father, but they don’t dwell on the older son who is just as (if not more) important.  It is a very quick and easy read and Keller almost makes this one parable seem like the guiding tenet of the Bible or at least the Gospel.

The Wisdom of Crowds-James Surowiecki: Is a book on many subjects, but mainly economics and psychology.  The premise is that decisions by many are usually as good if not better than decisions by individuals, even if that individual is extremely smart.  Now a few parameters do have to be met:  that the group is diverse(meaning they have different knowledge from each other), decentralization(people can specialize and draw on local knowledge-and not have to all be working on the same thing), independence(they aren’t influenced by others), and a way to aggregate their individual decisions.  If groups have these four things than they usually are smarter even than the individuals that comprise it.  With this information he shows good decisions of crowds, bad decisions(when one of the criteria wasn’t met), and questions why we have individuals running say a corporation.  It was a very interesting book, especially after Taleb’s Black Swan.

Siddhartha-Herman Hesse This was a short book set in India during the time of the Buddha.  The main character, Siddhartha, not the Buddha, is trying to find Oneness, or peace.  He wanders around and tries different doctrines, different lifestyles, etc. attempting to find this peace.  This book reminded me a lot of the Alchemist, in that he has this steadfastness for following his goal no matter where that takes him, (and it takes him to a place similar to where the Alchemist went in my opinion).  It too has a bunch of good inspiring quotes too if you’re into that.  It really surprised me a lot though when I found out the guy who wrote this book was German.

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