I’ve been ranging far afield from my usual tech histories over the last few weeks. Here are my recent reads.
Startup Boards: Getting the Most Out of Your Board of Directors (Brad Feld)
My advice on this book is sort of like the movie Fight Club. The first rule of Startup Boards is: don’t read Startup Boards. The second rule of Startup Boards is: don’t read Startup Boards. Don’t be fooled by the Amazon rating. Brad Feld, whose books I usually enjoy, mailed this one in via a co-writer. This book has all the liveliness of reading an articles of incorporation. If you are completely new to boards and can manage to keep your attention on the pages, you may learn a thing or two. If you have any experience in working with boards, you will likely find very little value in this book. I only wish I could unread this one.
The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager's Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life (Mike Matheny)
As a baseball geek, I enjoyed this book; as an entrepreneur, there was not much to take away here. The most interesting section was Matheny’s forming of a “personal board”, staffed by people who had an active interest in his personal and professional success. This board advised him in his post-baseball career, and he credits them with helping land the job as the manager of the Saint Louis Cardinals. It made me think: we all should have a personal board. Fortunately for us, Mike's personal board was of no assistance in helping him beat the Red Sox in the 2013 World Series.
The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World (Steve Levine)
While working as an EIR in starting my current company, I worked down the hall from a co-founder of A123. I unfortunately never took the time to hear the great story of the rise and fall of one of the top U.S. battery companies to come out of the energy craze of the 2000s. The Powerhouse is the story of the race to create a disruption in the energy market through the invention of a new type of lithium-ion battery. It is a surprisingly engaging narrative that combines technology, greed, deception and public policy. The book gives you an appreciation for how government and investor greed can foster market bubbles, and for how entrepreneurs can lose themselves blindly pursuing these bubbles. I also now know why my iPhone battery seems to be a little less effective each time I charge it. ;)
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Ed Catmull)
There are many things I did not know about Ed Catmull, the former co-founder/president of Pixar and now head of Disney Studios. I had no idea he attended Utah University with fellow classmates Jim Clark (Netscape, Healthon), Alan Kay (PARC, Smalltalk, e-books) and John Warnock (Adobe, PDF). I also did not know he was a computer science major that found his passion in helping enable creative people achieve their potential. The book reads at times more like an autobiography, but does have large sections dedicated to best practices / lessons of leading creative teams. Unfortunately many of the ideas do not translate cleaning outside animation, but it still remained an entertaining read.
The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living (Amit Sood)
My wife bought this book for me after watching me struggle through my latest phase of startup stress. While my oldest son thinks a few of the concepts are a little “hippyish” (e.g. kind attention), the chapter “The Brain: Why Your Mind Wanders” is justification by itself for reading the book. Understanding the two modes of the brain, and how decreasing your “default mode” can reduce your stress is a very powerful revelation. The author provides actionable changes you can make to retrain your brain and increase your focused mode in order to improve both your personal and professional life. These techniques are a more modern and actionable alternative to meditation, which is something that I have never quite been able to commit myself to doing.