It’s been a pretty good year this, at least as far as my reading list goes. The full list of 34 books I’ve completed in 2016 (the two favourites on top, then in no particular order):
Top#1: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (Adams, Scott)
My favourite book of this year. Plenty great ideas in this one, some of which I’m subconsciously implementing for over 15 years, but works to an incomparable greater effect as a conscious daily practice. One example: if you hunt for deer, you want to improve your chances by going to the forest, learning about how deers behave, and perhaps getting a gun. (Replace deer with whatever you want achieve.)
Top#2 The Elephant Vanishes (Murakami, Haruki)
I’ve found Haruki Murakami by accident when I was looking for contemporary urban short stories on the Interwebs. This was the book that came up first on Amazon, I’ve read the first chapter and I was sold immediately. Excellent read, full-heartedly recommended.
Blind Willow Sleeping Woman (Haruki Murakami)
Another collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami. After the Elephant Vanishes I was sucked into his world, and this book gave exactly that: more of the same drug.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Gladwell, Malcolm)
The way Malcolm puts disadvantages and advantages into perspective is brilliant. Goliath might have been a massive fellow, but it would have been useful only in close combat: as soon as David chose slingshot as a weapon and dismissed sword & armour to be more agile, he became the natural favourite. (Translate this to your startup, and you’ll be killing it.)
The Art of the Deal (Trump, Donald J.)
I’ve read it over the spring when no one would have considered a Trump presidency, apart from, perhaps Scott Adams who blogged about Trump’s persuasion skills for a while. The realisation that Trump could become president hit me while reading his book: the way he brought massive projects to life is the exact way you can win anything (and the way I’ve accidentally lead an ad agency to success some ten years ago): by telling appealing stories that people remember.
It’s actually one of my favourite books this year but I wouldn’t tell anyone. Read it as if someone else wrote it.
The Tao of Warren Buffet: Warren Buffett’s Words of Wisdom: Quotations and Interpretations to Help Guide You to Billionaire Wealth Enlightened Business Management (Buffett, Mary)
One of my favourite learnings of this year is from Warren Buffett, although not exactly from this book: write down the 25 goals you want to reach in life. Put them in order: on top the ones you absolutely, must achieve, and the goals you care about less in the bottom. Now circle in the top 5 and cross out the bottom 20: the crossed-out ones are the ones that divert your focus and keep you from reaching the most important goals.
The book offers similarly smart business management insights.
The Magic of Thinking Big (Schwartz, David J.)
It’s a “whether you think you can do it or you think you can’t you’ll be right” self-help book, but the one of the few that passed my well-trained bullshit filter. Recommended for those times when you can’t seem to get up to speed.
Revolution (Brand, Russell)
“When I was poor and I complained about inequality they said I was bitter, now that I’m rich and I complain about inequality they say I’m a hypocrite.” He’s a great writer, yet this book doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I’d recommend reading Russell’s Guardian posts or watching his stand-up shows instead.
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days (Livingston, Jessica)
A list of interviews with companies that we don’t really look at as startups any longer: Apple, Paypal, Gmail, Trip Advisor and many others. It’s a time-travel to the 2000s (when I too started to work for one of the first Internet companies and created my first startup). Absolutely loved it.
Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (Kleon, Austin)
It’s more a nice gift to creative people than a book, at least in a sense that it can be read during a a short plane ride. I also like the way it’s drawn-and-written, sort of Wait but Why? style.
Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy (Fielding, Helen)
I’ve read the latest Bridget Jones book mostly because my girlfriend was laughing on it so hard. For me it was rather difficult to get in the head of a 50-year old lady dating men in their 30s, but it’s all in all a fun read.
God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment (Adams, Scott)
Upmost fun. In my 25+ years of studying mathematics I’m quite used to playing with abstractions. This book offers exactly that sort of fun.
All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World (Godin, Seth)
Absolutely fantastic. Stop thinking about marketing in a way that worked in the TV-era: we can’t buy eyeballs any more. The only thing that works today is developing the story, one that’s important to others.
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (Godin, Seth)
Another one from Seth Godin, I’ve read it because the other book of his was so brilliant. This one is great too, but it’s almost the same thing: read whichever comes first.
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (Godin, Seth)
And one last one I’ve read from Seth Godin this year, about becoming irreplaceable in the new economy. (Quite along the lines of Yakuzuzu’s “what would you do if you didn’t need to work any longer?”) A bit longer than it should be and pretty repetitive, so if you can multitask somewhat, listen to the audiobook version in the background.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Adams, Douglas)
The first time I’ve read the series I was about 16, and I accidentally bumped into the book when I was moving stuff in my old room. I’m 32 now, and it’s not the same experience really, but the Hitchhiker’s Guide is still upmost fun.
Cat’s Cradle (Vonnegut, Kurt)
Starts with a story based on Ede Teller, the weird Hungarian physicist who was one of the inventors of the atom bomb. That part is awesome. Then it becomes weirder and weirder.
Breakfast of Champions (Vonnegut, Kurt)
It’s another nice-and-easy Vonnegut novel. Excellent story, I love the style, the fun scenes and jokes, though I don’t remember too many details. Great read to switch off after a long day.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Heath, Chip)
Excellent, hands-on advice with plenty examples in the book. Look for opportunities to change the environment in order to shape your behaviour. (Habits for the win!)
Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Kiyosaki, Robert T.)
Recommended by many, it’s a great book for people who are not entrepreneurs. I forward the title to my friends who are thinking about becoming investors or seem to have gotten stuck in a rat-race – for already entrepreneur folks it’s just stating the obvious. (Doesn’t do any harm hammering it though.)
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (Thiel, Peter)
Great and inspiring, but if you read one or two articles from Peter Thiel’s blog, you probably get the same effect. The main point is that the author prefers startups that invent something out of thin air rather than the ones that merely improve on stuff.
Monty Python Live! (Chapman, Graham)
It’s scripts, drawings and stories from and about the Flying Circus series. After reading the book, I started to work on another script with no delay – I guess it’s what you’d call inspiring.
Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth (Weinberg, Gabriel)
It’s a users manual to startup marketing, listing the 19 marketing channels Gabriel wrote about. Don’t read the book, read the Medium post and actually implement it in real life.
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time (Ferrazzi, Keith)
The best takeaway from this book is already explained in the title: meet people, make strong relationships, and do fill your lunchtime, dinners etc. with those meetings. The book hammers this in across a few hundred pages.
Is It Really Too Much To Ask? (World According to Clarkson, #5) (Clarkson, Jeremy)
Collection of stories by Jeremy Clarkson. If you like him in Top Gear / Grand Tour, you’ll like this book.
The World According to Clarkson (World According to Clarkson, #1) (Clarkson, Jeremy)
Same as all other books in this series really; see above.
The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That is Connecting the World (Kirkpatrick, David)
It’s the story of Facebook. If you only have two hours, just watch the movie. I had one great takeaway from the book I didn’t remember from the film: Zuckerberg kept working on other side projects for quite a long time while developing Facebook.
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph (Holiday, Ryan)
Stoicism repackaged really, so it’s a good gateway drug for friends who haven’t been bitten by it. It inspired me to practice cool-headedness.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Duhigg, Charles)
Most of the stuff we do in a day is controlled by our subconscious, so as soon as we get the habits most things will fall into place. Great book, highly recommended (as well as most interviews with the author).
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business (Duhigg, Charles)
The difference between internal and external locus of control, and the fact that this can be changed by simple nudges. (Note to self: re-read this as soon as you become a father.) Also from Charles Duhigg, also very highly recommended.
The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life (Roth, Bernard)
The core takeaway was identifying the difference between trying and doing: most barriers only exist in the mind. By saying you’ll try you identify yourself as a “trier”, by saying you’ll do it you automatically enable your “doer” mode.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Bach, Richard)
I’ve read it on Scott Adams’ recommendation for a “weird story”. It was less weird than boring.
Ego Is the Enemy (Holiday, Ryan)
Two super-important things that stuck with me. First, there is a danger in applying career labels: are you a “filmmaker”, “writer”, “investor” just because you’ve done that once? Do you want to do something else at any time?
And second, stay a student for ever and more: “You can’t learn something you think you already know.”
How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie, Dale)
It’s a psychology book written exactly 80 years ago and it still works: always think about what the other person is thinking about. Motivation only goes as far as you can align others’ goals with yours. Already forwarded to many of my friends.
This is my editorial for the first-ever print issue of Yakuzuzu Magazine.
The worst idea in the world is, if you ask me, to start yet another magazine. There are too many out there already and if not, everyone has a blog, Snapchat or Instagram just to make sure more content gets created than what gets consumed.
No one has time to read.
Twitter is the first social media that is written and read almost entirely by automated bots.
And then here’s the thing: all Yakuzuzu articles, everything that we’ve ever written and will ever write will be available for free on the interwebs. Not necessarily right away, not necessarily in the most convenient format available, but: freely accessible for everyone. It would be very much against our spirit to keep any piece of knowledge behind bars: the world is a much better place now than when I was born, exactly because of free information flow and open source.
With that we have: the content that’s available for free. A format that’s too expensive to create and is fairly bad for the environment. And yet, these ten grownups, our editorial team, decided to make it happen. Is it all ego? Is it all because we want to see our own work printed? Oh yes, you bet, some if it is ego.
And another part of it is the notion that we need to find the right space in our lives for reading. Spinning up is easy, it’s calming down that’s hard to do. The way we consume information seems to be optimised for speed: you read scrolling news headlines on CNN, while the anchor is talking, while you’re scraping Twitter on your phone.
I think this should be changed. In the spirit of slow living: what’s urgent is mostly not all that important. A book or an article is only as good as the thoughts it inspires, and for that, half the work happens in your mind.
So grab a tea, clear up your next hour or two, and enjoy reading, touching and smelling: Yakuzuzu Magazine, Volume One.
I have to travel more than usual lately, back-and-forth between London, Lisbon, Budapest, Berlin and Rome, averaging 3-flights-weeks since September. Yesterday I was at the point where I’ve bit the bullet and paid for an airport hotel, just to skip the hassle with transfer at 2am in the morning.
It was awesome! On paper I didn’t win much, only perhaps a good shower right before the flight (which I could have had in the lounge anyway), an hour of extra sleep and the piece of mind with traffic. As an experience however it’s been great: I chose a small bread-and-breakfast in Bishop’s Stortford, a few kilometres off Stansted Airport. It’s easy to get to from where I work at Liverpool Street, and they also have a cheap-and-easy bus connection to the airport at 4am, unlike most villages in the area where you’ll pay £20-25 for a taxi in the morning.
For only £55 I got: a short walk in a pretty village with view to the night sky (outside of town you get to see the stars), to-go breakfast from an amazing host, a nice comfy bed and an easy, 20 mins transport to the airport in the morning without the one-hour safety buffer.
And the best of it all: Ryanair flight attendants who fly out from Stansted in the morning seem to be staying in the area – that means a pretty nice morning ride with all the beautiful girls (and guys), who share fun stories on the way to work.
I have many friends who are millionaires, many who are geniuses with an over-160-IQ, and friends who are just super-successful in other ways.
You’d be surprised to know how many of those friends are unhappy.
Happiness has no objective measure of course. Nick Vujicic seems to be pretty happy with no limbs, though when you look at the facts, strictly in an objective manner, you should think that he wakes up every morning feeling miserable. Yet, he has no arms or legs and he seems to be totally fine with it. His wife is totally fine with it. His kid is.
Happiness doesn’t seem to have a reliable subjective measure either. Whatever you do today, there is at least one thing that you’re better at than any of your friends. You’re an amusing success story for your own 6-year-old self. Does it feel like it?
Of course it doesn’t.
Jim Jefferies says in one of his stand-ups:
“When I was a young comic all I wanted to do is to go on stage for 5 minutes and make people laugh. Then I thought: “they better pay me”, and then they started paying me and I went: “I’m better than these cunts, I’m going to be a headline act”. I became a headline act, and then I went to the annual festival, did that, and then I went: “Alright I better move to America to record my DVD”. So I recorded my DVD in America, and now I want to be a movie star and you know what, I’m not a movie star and I want to kill myself.
That’s retarded! I’ve gone further than a man of my looks or intellect should ever go. At this moment I’m in a sold out theatre in fucking West London, this would be a dream of mine as a child and do you know what I’m going to do tonight? Cry myself to sleep.”
We are told to find our true passion, our one-and-only calling, but that’s no easy task either. Is your true calling to draw? Are you more passionate about photography, sports or playing Monopoly with your friends? If you started a Youtube channel about playing Monopoly right now and a gazillion people followed you, would you be happy? Would you want another gazillion people to follow you the very next day? Or, would you feel like a scam, a nobody, a sellout, for settling with this one passion while leaving the rest to rot?
Passion is overrated.
When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, he had two other projects he was working on. I’m sure that if you asked right now, he could tell which one he is more passionate about. I’m not so sure whether he knew it back then.
Waiting for passion to find you will never happen. It’s not about luck: if something doesn’t cost you anything, it is, per definition, worthless. You have to go out and hustle, keep bumping your head into hard things.
Our magazine, Yakuzuzu is with the ones who try and try, and try again once more even when everything seems to be against them. With the ones who are lost: the entrepreneurs, the artists, the wannabies who don’t think they know anything and aren’t afraid to learn. Yakuzuzu is with the clueless, who are ready to look beyond the surface.
If it sounds like you, you might enjoy reading The Clueless Manifesto.
Ping, ping, ping, it’s 22:45 and I keep getting notifications. Emails, Facebook-messages. The whatever Slack named their diarrhoea.
It’s 22:45 and Sunday. I needed to catch up with work so I sat down in front of the screen in super-efficient power-through-emails mode. Music usually helps: Infected Mushrooms cancels out everything while I write code. Radiohead helps to bring out my creative spirit.
And two and two always makes a five
It’s the devil’s way now
There is no way out
Thinking about it, when was the last time I’ve listened to an entire album in one sitting? From the beginning, to the very end, waiting for the hidden track after the 8-minute silence. I don’t even know when was the last time I could listen through one single song without interruption.
If there’s nothing going on outside, I’d go ahead and interrupt myself.
Ping, ping, ping, Slack won’t shut up.
One more ping I hear and I’ll throw my laptop through the closed window.
You can scream and you can shout
It is too late now
Because you’re not there
If offered a Snickers, a Milky Way and an Almond Joy, participants would always choose the Snickers. But if they were offered 20 candy bars, including a Snickers, the choice became less clear. They would sometimes pick something other than the Snickers, even though it was still their favorite. When Glimcher would remove all the choices except the Snickers and the selected candy, participants would wonder why they hadn’t chosen their favorite.
Turns out that the brain is an expensive thing to run. If you want to dig deeper, here’s your entrance to the rabbit hole: a fascinating article on the Neuroscience Behind Bad Decisions.
Nothing can prepare you for the bus ride we were just about to take. Getting lost on a highway. Illegal border crossing. Crashing into an airport bus bay. Police escort in Vienna. All this with a scheduled, international coach service.
On the outside of it, all Budapest-to-Vienna coach services look the same. I therefore chose the one that fit my schedule the best and bought a one-way ticket with Orangeways. Then I went to the station, had a coffee and got ready for the 3-hour trip.
The plus side: we reached our destination, it didn’t take much more than 2 hours extra, and I probably learned to yell directions in Romanian.
Let’s start from the beginning.
It’s a Thursday morning, and I’m waiting for the scheduled 9am Budapest-Vienna service to arrive. Clearly, it won’t be on time, no coach service in Europe has ever been on time, but this one now is in serious trouble.
They are late, it turns out, because our bus is still on the road somewhere far away, and the chances that it would arrive on time equals to it and all its passengers evaporate in the Summer sun. Orangeways, luckily, has a plan B: another bus and another driver.
The replacement service arrives, the driver has a look on his face which makes it obvious for the most untrained mind-reader that he didn’t exactly sign up for this trip. The bus and the driver look like they’ve been stolen from a Kusturica movie.
Well, he looks like he was stolen from the movie, and the bus looks like it was stolen by him.
A small, loud guy with a hoarse voice, a scar face and the moves of a featherweight box champion. And he arrived with this bus.
Neither the bus nor the driver has ever been to the western part of Hungary, let alone Austria, but that’s exactly what the GPS is for. The GPS takes 15 minutes for the driver to switch on, and since he can’t find Vienna airport in the point-of-interests list, he decides to put the border town as destination and so we get started. We are only 15 minutes late.
Close to the Austria-Hungary border then, although there are no scheduled stops until the airport, the driver calls for a 10 minutes break. 10 becomes 25, in the end of which he desperately wants to find someone who speaks Hungarian and has been to Vienna before.
Now, at this point, I’m writing code in the back of the bus and have absolutely no intention in helping out. I’m quite sure that we will reach Vienna in one way or the other, and have plenty better to do than navigating a clueless driver for the rest of the trip, on a scheduled coach which I paid $19 for.
Which is all cool, because by the time I thought this through, a Hungarian-speaking Romanian guy already took the navigator seat. Suddenly time became the most pressing issue, so the driver tried to convince the three people who’ve bought their ticket to Vienna airport to get off in Vienna city instead.
It may have worked much better if he did speak languages, because now he is only yelling “Airporto? Fluggafen!” on increasing volume levels. At this point, one of the Flughafen guys removes his bag from the overhead lockers, leaves the bus and starts to run towards the motorway.
I’m one-hundred-percent sure that this is a movie.
We are still in Hungary, but there will be a point in the not-too-distant future when we will cross the border. Normally it’s not an issue, because it’s as simple as following the motorway.
The driver is nervous though, which, in my head, immediately means that, one, he has no idea that Hungary and Austria are both part of the Schengen area, and two, he surely, definitely, must have stolen the bus.
On the border the former customs buildings still exist, and that’s the place where you can buy vignettes for the motorway. I’ve never seen an operating coach service do this, so it’s definitely a first, and it’s also a first trying to enter a car’s lane with a massive vehicle. We took a couple of wrong turns, got super-lost among the parking 18-wheelers and tried to pass through an operating police station.
Good news is that Austrian police are actually pretty cool, and instead of yelling the driver’s guts out, they simply point him to the right direction. We are on our way now to Vienna airport.
After the border crossing experience we are not an international coach line but a school bus. Random strangers are chatting loud with each other, some are singing, and when the driver seems to be contemplating the wrong exit, everyone keeps yelling directions in any language.
Everyone, except the two guys in the front, who have a plane to catch. They jump up to grab their bags when we reach the departures building. The driver is happy too, so happy that he doesn’t notice the bus bay’s overhead signs and crashes into them.
Now it’s only until Vienna city, we have the address, the address is in the GPS, where can it go possibly wrong?
Let’s just say that Vienna is a big city with many roads, high traffic and such exotic transport vehicles like, say, the tram. Quite confusing for a first timer, small wonder that we had the chance to meet the Austrian police once again.
Sometimes, the Internet is right.
What’s the secret of creating products that age well?
I’ve been cleaning up my old disks this weekend and found these screenshots of webpages from 8-10 years ago. I used to send these pictures to designers to explain art direction choices, so this collection is essentially an insight into graphics trends a few years after the millennia.
Shortlisted here, five webpages that look a bit more fresh than the rest. Let’s revisit them briefly: which designs could you get away with today (and why)?
A fun exercise for the next art direction meeting: how would you change your products right now to make sure they will look ok-ish in 2026?
There was just one thing left for me to do on this tech meetup: I wanted to talk to the guys who made an open-source 3D printer that can be assembled at home by normal people, for buttons.
Tech meetups are events where geeks go to demo their products and inventions. These evenings offer an opportunity to discover new ideas and, right away, ask questions from the people who invented them or know the most about related technologies.
The 3D printer guys were nowhere to be found after the demo, but their table was open and full of 3D-printed objects. Those all looked cool, and I was wondering what kind of garbage I would manage to make if I had a 3D printer at home. Alex, the guy next to me was thinking the same, though he apparently knew his way around the technology.
He explained about accuracy levels and said that you don’t need to use this rigid plastic, you can print with all sorts of materials: you could create rubber-like stuff too. Wink. This was the first time I’ve ever talked to Alex, and I knew we will be friends.
Meetups are also a good way to mingle with the local startup community. We are in Berlin now, which is one of those large international cities where seemingly no one was actually born, but plenty people flocked to from all around the world. Every conversation starts with a good five minutes of the prison-talk: why are you here, how long are you staying, what do you normally do?
On startup events you constantly bump into those Zuckerberg-wannabes who either left their job to work on a side project, or are prepared to do so in the near future. Their most important task for the night is to approach every investor-looking person with a 3-minute elevator pitch, and try to say something that triggers their “I want to invest in this company with no delay” instinct.
This startup event was no different. I was rather suspicious when, to answer the “what do you normally do” question, Alex took out his phone and opened the Photos app.
“It’s going to be a PDF demo. Let’s run away!”, I thought.
He then proceeded to show a bunch of pictures, high-quality 3D renders of his furniture line. “Cool designs though.”, I thought then.
“I designed this Kivo system,” Alex started to explain, “where you can create any sort of environment out of triangles. If you want a silent room to make phone calls, make a booth. Or, create separators between different areas in the office. A meeting room. Individual work stations. A tent.”
I wanted to say something smart, so I went on: “triangle was my sign in kindergarten”. Luckily, Alex didn’t take my clever remark as smugness.
“That’s exactly where the inspiration comes from! When I was a child, I’ve been using a towel, carpet and other daily necessities to build special spaces for myself. Now, I wanted to create something that looks nice but is also very useful. We made these triangular modules durable but very lightweight, and chose the materials so that they are environmentally friendly.”
At this point I’ve only seen the designs, and I’m just about to learn how successful of a business this is: Kivo is part of the global Herman Miller brand now, used in offices all over the world, from London to Hong Kong.
[My interview with Alex continues on Yakuzuzu.]