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Book Review – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

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influenceA lot of the time in my position as Product Manager is invested in convincing people (mainly developers, but also managers, and sometimes even customers) of my ideas. So being persuasive is an trait that I need to master to do my job well (at least from my point of view). Because of this, Influence was a must-read for me, which I did a couple of years ago, and I decided to re-read it recently after Scott Adams referenced him so much in his blogs. Good decision.

As many previous books about behavior show, we (a.k.a humans) are easy to manipulate. Way too easy. And in his book, Cialdini gives a number simple and straightforward of techniques to use in our everyday life, both to convince others of our ideas, and to identify when others are using these techniques to make us do things we should (probably) not be doing. And don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to manipulate my co-workers to do my bidding so I can do whatever I want. But if you can convince someone of something in 15 minutes instead of an hour, time is saved. And when I’m wrong I don’t try to convince others that I’m right. So disclaimer over, let’s talk about the book :-).

One of the first and most impressive examples of persuasion is the use of a reason when asking for something. For example “I need to do X because Y”. The word “because” is very powerful because “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we give a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do[my emphasys]”. Take the example in the book, where an experimenter wants to cut in line to use a Xerox machine. In the control group, the experimenter asked the person in the machine “Excuse me, I have five pages, May I use the Xerox machine?” In this case, only 60% of people complied. After this, the experimenter asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” A startling 94% of those asked complied. But it doesn’t stop here, you don’t need a real reason, you just need to have a reason. The sentence “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” An impressive 93% of those asked complied (!!!). Incredible.

There are many other examples like this, some using the scarcity principle, the principle of social proof, anchoring, consistency, authority, and many others.

So why do all of these “cheat sheets” work? As the author writes in the book’s epilogue: “Very often in making a decision… we don’t use all the relevant available information; we use, instead, only a single, highly representative piece of the total. [and] Despite the susceptibility to stupid decisions that accompanies a reliance on a single feature of the available data, the pace of modern life demands that we frequently use this shortcut”. But thanks to him, we now know better.

Written by vainolo

September 12th, 2016 at 7:39 am

Book Review – The Lean Startup

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I approached this book with some skepticism. After having read “Who moved my cheese”, which is basically a repetition of a very simple idea for about a hundred pages, I expected something very similar here. I was very wrong. Not only was it a pleasant reading experiences, the book has many insights and teachings that are very important not only for entrepreneurs and startups, but probably any modern information worker who wants to succeed in his life.

My first surprise came in the introduction: “The stories in the magazines are lies: hard work and perseverance don’t lead to success”. There are so many places in the net that preach that if you work hard and follow your dream, you will succeed. This is not true. Hard work is definitely an important factor, but there are many others (and luck is definitely one of them).

Chapter 3 talks about learning, and start with a very strong concept that today is probably common sense: if you measure progress by making sure that work is finished, you are doing it wrong. You can finish on time, under budget, and with great quality… but if nobody is using your product then you have nothing. In the world of daily software updates, where you can measure what value you are giving to your customers, this should be your first priority. Understand what your customers want/like, experiment with them, find what they will want next, and iterate continuously (and yes, “learning is the oldest excuse in the book for failure of execution” :-)). “our job was to find a synthesis between our vision and what customers would accept; it wasn’t to capitulate to what customers thought they wanted or to tell customers what they ought to want”. From my experience we are usually wrong about what our customers want, and our most important job is not to try and predict what they want, but to let them tell it to us in the easiest way possible.

The concept of the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and why lean manufacturing works, which shows that short iterations and continuous improvement are not only for the software industry, but for any industry that desires to build products that delight customers. This book theorizes that behind every technical problem there is a human problem, and because of this we should use the “five whys” method, to dig out this human problem. While I completely agree with the theory, the five whys will only work in work environments where employees feel that they can talk without getting blame. And sadly most places I know are not like this, mainly because we are humans and like to have someone to blame for problems.

I could go on and on, but better if you read the book and enjoy it. You will learn a lot from it. You can buy it from Amazon, and I’ll get a cent or two, which makes me feel good even though the gain is purely symbolic :-).

Written by vainolo

September 2nd, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Thoughts

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Book Review – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


I heard a lot about this books many years ago and never got my hands on it, but after my latest streak of philosophy reading, it came back to my head, and with amazon giving me the possibility to read a book whenever I want, I started the journey.

The book starts pretty simple, a story, nothing deep. A parent traveling with his kid in a road trip he calls a “Chautauqua”. But then things get complicated, with Phaedrus getting into the story, trying to find the meaning of quality. And the search gets complicated with each turn of a page… and the amount of concentration needed to keep following the book.

And what exactly is quality? I tried to understand if he finally found the answer, but I don’t think he really found it. But there are some interesting insights

“No academic discipline is without both substantive and methodological aspects. And Quality had no connection that he could see with either one of them. Quality isn’t a substance. Neither is it a method. It’s outside of both. If one builds a house using the plumb-line and spirit-level methods he does so because a straight vertical wall is less likely to collapse and thus has higher Quality than a crooked one. Quality isn’t method. It’s the goal toward which method is aimed.”

As a software developer, I found the search for Quality very related to coding. There are many ways to write code, and most will agree that there is “quality” in the code. And while most people can’t say exactly how “quality” code is written (although some guidelines do help), most people that read a piece of code can tell you if it has quality or not.

The book also bashed the modern Academia as it is today, where students are taught to learn what is taught and not to ask themselves new questions all the time. As a former member of the academy (full time PhD student), I sadly agree with most of what the book has to say.

Overall, a very good read. The first half of the book (more or less) is easy to read, and after that it gets more complex. But worth it.

Some quotes I really liked:

“The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling”

“I believe in ghosts. Modern man has his ghosts and spirits too, you know.” “What?” “Oh, the laws of physics and of logic…the number system…the principle of algebraic substitution. These are ghosts. We just believe in them so thoroughly they seem real.”

“This is the ghost of normal everyday assumptions which declares that the ultimate purpose of life, which is to keep alive, is impossible, but that this is the ultimate purpose of life anyway, so that great minds struggle to cure diseases so that people may live longer, but only madmen ask why. One lives longer in order that he may live longer. There is no other purpose. That is what the ghost says.”

The range of human knowledge today is so great that we’re all specialists and the distance between specializations has become so great that anyone who seeks to wander freely among them almost has to forego closeness with the people around him

“This divorce of art from technology is completely unnatural. It’s just that it’s gone on so long you have to be an archeologist to find out where the two separated”

To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow

The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality

Written by vainolo

May 9th, 2014 at 8:24 pm

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