Work Rules!

Work Rules! is written by Google’s head of human resources. The book talks about company culture and how to empower employees, performance management systems used at Google and how to hire best talent and reward high performing employees. There are many similarities between Facebook and Google, I wanted to understand the thinking behind some of our internal processes by learning more about Google’s HR. Here are some bits I found interesting:

  • Most assessment occurs in the first three to five minutes of an interview with the remaining time being spent confirming that bias
  • It’s impossibly difficult to take an average performer and through training turn them into a superstar. There are examples of people who were mediocre performers and went on to greatness, though most of those successes are a result of changing the context or type of work.
  • We now prefer to take bright, hardworking student who graduated from the top of her class at a state school over an average Ivy League grad.
  • People usually live up to your expectations, whether those expectations are high or low.
  • What managers miss is that every time they give up a little control, it creates a wonderful opportunity for their team to step up, while giving the manager herself more time for new challenges.
  • If you set a crazy, ambitious goal and miss it, you’ll still achieve something remarkable.
  • Normal distribution is popular because it describes the distribution of many things: height, weight, extroversion and introversion etc. However, human performance follows a power law distribution for most jobs. A small group of elite performers dominate through massive performance.
  • We have many cases where people at more “junior” levels make far more than average performers at more “senior” levels.
  • If you work on the wrong thing, it doesn’t really matter how hard you work, because it’s not going to make a difference.
  • Work consumes at least one-third of your life, and half your waking hours. It ought to be more than a means to an end.
  • A bad hire is toxic, not only destroying their own performance, but also dragging down the performance, morale, and energy of those around them.

The book contains many anecdotes from Google that are interesting. It also illustrates how analytical and data driven even Google’s HR department is. I’d recommend it if you’re interested in scaling up a growing company or want to learn more about HR processes in tech companies.

September 28, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up


Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant, a job that I didn’t know existed. She teaches people how to organize their houses and cabinets in Japan. Initially, I questioned why I purchased a book on tidying your house. It seemed like a waste of time to read 200 pages on something so simple, thinking a book on such a simple subject wouldn’t teach me much. However, I was wrong. It turned out to be a great exercise in letting go and diving deeper in why we want to keep things.

I like how Marie desconstructed the purpose of items like photographs, gifts, books and papers in your house one by one and explained their reason for existence and why you can get rid of them. The part about organizing books was the most enlightening part for me:

  • Read books: You’re inclined to keep them thinking you might want to read them again. The reality is, you are going to read very few of your books again. You can get rid of them
  • Unread / half read books: You keep these thinking you might read them sometime. The author claims, “this is your chance to let it go. The book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it. There’s no need to finish reading books that you only got halfway through. It will be far better for you to read the book that really grabs you right now.” So get rid of all those unread books. “The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it. To avoid missing that moment, I recommend that you keep your collection small.”

There were other techniques listed in the book that could be applied to different areas in your life:

  • The first step is to visualize what the inside of your drawer will look like when you finish.
  • Don’t tidy up incrementally, tidy up in one go. Don’t tidy up by location (living room, bedroom etc.), instead tidy up by category (like all clothes, all books etc.)
  • The most important part of the book is giving you a framework for deciding on what to keep and what to throw away. The criteria is, “does it spark joy?” If it does, keep it, if not, dispose of it.

There’s a good mix of philisophical and practical matters in the book as well. The author claims: “As you put your house in order and decrease your possessions, you’ll see what your true values are, what is really important to you in your life. At their core, the things we really like do not change over time. Putting your house in order is a great way to discover what they are.” Another theme was showing gratitude.

  • “To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. Express your appreciation to every item that supported you during the day.”
  • “Presents are not “things” but a means for conveying someone’s feelings. You don’t need to feel guilty for parting with a gift.”
  • The act of folding is far more than making clothes compact for storage. It is an act of caring, an expression of love and appreciation for the way these clothes support your lifestyle.
  • It is not the number of folds but rather the amount of pressure applied that causes wrinkling. Stacking is very hard on the things at the bottom.
  • “Clutter is caused by failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not effort needed to get them out. Store everything similar in the same place or in close proximity.”
  • Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.

I watched a few videos on KonMari method of folding clothes and started practicing it to organize my drawers. I also threw away a bunch of books that I would have kept otherwise. I rarely apply things I read in books, so this book was a great success in getting me to action.

Overall, it was one of the best books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended!

September 27, 2015

How to be Parisian Wherever You Are

How to be Parisian Wherever You Are is a fun, playful book written by four Parisian women. The content is pretty spontaneous and full of random things: food recipes, movie suggestions, place recommendations, Paris cutouts, common words between English and French etc. The content is pretty lightweight, but what I really enjoyed about was the mood conveyed and how it made me feel. Through imagery and the feminine touch in the language, I felt like I was understanding what being a Parisian woman was like.

The description of the ideal man was the highlight of the book for me:

  • He’s not muscular. (You’d rather think of him reading a book than lifting weights.)
  • He’s unshaven. (Just enough so that you never fully see the man behind the stubble.)
  • He’s clean. (But makes sure it’s not too obvious.)
  • He’s funny. (Until he disappears.)
  • He’s got something special. (And it’s not a car.)
  • He’s got class. (But it’s unintentional.)
  • He’s a bad boy. (But you always forgive him.)
  • He may not be perfect, but at least he really exists.

Overall, it’s a light read for summer and a good way to dream about visiting Paris.

September 15, 2015

sarp centel

Sarp is a software developer. He writes about technology, books and software.
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