Three Books On Living and Dying

when-breath-becomes-airI read Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air  this weekend. It is a great book; one worth owning, so you can refer back to it at moments of need.

I dog-eared several pages of my library copy, which I’ll share below. But, first, I want to mention to other books that are favorites by doctors.

First is The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks.

the-man-who-mistook-his-wife-for-a-hatThis book shows shares stories from Sacks’ practice, working with people who have neurological conditions. His patients were men, women, children, old, young, from many countries and means.

He writes about their conditions with a combination of curiosity, wonder, and compassion. Ever the detective, he describes how each situation presented its unique challenge for diagnosing and often, though not always, treating.

how-we-dieNext is How We Die, by Sherwin Nuland. Using a series of stories as the set up for each chapter, Dr. Nuland describes the variety of ways that people die, from old age, to infectious disease, to massive trauma, by way of accident or intent (e.g., homicide and suicide), and other causes of death.

In each case, he transitions from a vivid, personal accounting of death from the perspective of the patient, to a scientific, clinical description of the chemical, biological, and physical forces that combine to bring about the end of life, from whatever triggering event(s) occurred.

But, far from cold-hearted, the book is an honest, comforting accounting of a subject that is too often avoided, even though it is a universality that every human being shares — from the richest to the poorest of us.

So, I recommend these three books to you, providing a trilogy of insight on humanity and death.

In closing, some of my favorite passages from When Breath Becomes Air.

kalanithi[For brain surgery patients], “the question is not simply whether to live or die, but what kind of life is worth living. Would you trade your ability – or your mother’s – to talk for a few extra months of mute life? The expansion of your visual blind spot in exchange for eliminating the small possibility of a fatal brain hemorrhage? Your right hand’s function to stop seizures? How much neurologic suffering would you let your child endure before saying that death is preferable? …What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?”

= = =

“In that first year (of medical residency), I would glimpse my share of death…At moments, the weight of it all became palpable. It was in the air, the stress and misery. Normally, you breathed it in, without noticing it. But some days, like a humid, muggy day, it had a suffocating weight of its own. Some days, this is how it felt when I was in the hospital: trapped in an endless jungle summer, wet with sweat, the rain of tears of the families of the dying pouring down.”

= = =

“Death comes for all of us. For us, for our patients: it is our fate as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms. Most lives are lived with passivity towards death — it’s something that happens to you and those around you….Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you  are ceaselessly striving.”

= = =

kalanithi-family“There is only one thing to say [to your child(ren)], who is all future, overlapping briefly with you, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

That message is simple.

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

END

Getting Hooked On Products

I recently swept through the book Hooked, by Nir Eyal. It was an easy read, presenting in clear, simple language mostly repackaged concepts from prior work of others.

I have no quarrel with that, btw, as I’d assert nearly every new best-selling book is a repackaging of prior work. The business book marketplace is built upon the premise of an endless appetite people have for insights, methods, and other promises of some slight advantage.

Who isn’t seeking knowledge that will “get you a step ahead” of your competition? But, back to Hooked

I jotted down a few of the more noteworthy take-aways, that I’ve shared below. If you are further intrigued by persuasion, reputation, and other topics of involving the intersection of technology and human behavior, read one of my posts from a few years ago and seek out the book Persuasive Technology.

So, without further delay, my Hooked excerpts:

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img_9715_srgbWhen it comes to shaking consumers’ old habits, naïve entrepreneurs often find that better products don’t always win — especially if a large number of users have already adopted a competing product.

A classic paper by John Gourville, a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, stipulates that “many business innovations fail because consumers irrationally overvalue the old while companies irrationally overvalue the new.”

Gourville claims that for new entrants to stand a chance, they can’t just be better; they must be nine times better. Why such a high bar? Because old habits die hard and new products or services need to offer dramatic improvements to displace the old routines.

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img_9717_srgbWhile user habits are a boon to companies fortunate enough to engender them, their existence inherently males success less likely for new innovations and startups trying to disrupt the status quo. The fact is that successfully changing long-term user habits is exceptionally rare.

Altering behavior requires not only an understanding of how to persuade people to act — for example, the first time they land on a web page — but also necessitates getting them to repeat behaviors for long periods, ideally for the rest of their lives.

Companies that succeed in building a habit-forming business are often associated with game-changing, wildly successful innovation. But like any discipline, habit design has rules and caveats that define and explain why some products change lives while others do not.

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img_9719_srgbIn his book “Something Really New: Three Simple Steps to Creating Truly Innovative Products,” author Denis J. Hauptly deconstructs the process of innovation into its most fundamental steps.

First, Hauptly states, understand the reason people use a product or service.

Next, lay out the steps the customer must take to get the job done.

Finally, once the series of tasks from intention to outcome is understood, simply start removing steps until you reach the simplest possible process.

Consequently, any technology or product that significantly reduces the steps to complete a task will enjoy high adoption rates by the people it assists.

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img_9721_srgbExperiences with finite variability become less engaging because they eventually become predictable.

=  = =

END

Two quick End-Notes:

  1. You probably noticed, but the figures lacked any correlation to the content. They just happened to be the more interesting ones to me in the book
  2. If you are interested in my most highly recommended books from the past 20+ years, then browse my Amazon bookstore — enjoy!

This Is My Family

family 1

Not long ago, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me.

If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do. Chances are, you won’t truly understand it. But, hopefully, it will leave a mark on your memory, that causes you to remember singular images and phrases, as I did.

I won’t say much about it, other than to say the narrative device is that of a father’s extended letter to his son.

What I will mention is the depiction of the Dream that Coates writes about, as a central construct of the book. There are people (the “Dreamers”) who live their lives in total unquestioned, unthinking immersion in the Dream.

coates bookThen there are people who live their lives outside the Dream, or perhaps better said: excluded from the Dream. Perhaps, even better, threats to the Dream.

Shortly after I read the book, I had a dream inspired by the book. I dreamed that I awoke one morning to find that every black person was white and every white person was black.

As a newly transformed black man, living in Austin, you can imagine the scene I encountered going to work that day. Overnight, downtown Austin was transformed into a city that much more resembled downtown Atlanta or Memphis.

More remarkable was how I was treated, in my dream. All of a sudden, I felt an attitude that was colder, less helpful, more suspicious towards me. People took a slightly wider berth walking by me on the street.

Servers seemed a little slower to ask me for my order or if I needed help at the store. Was I just imagining it, or was this overnight change in how I felt real?

And then, I began to think about who I was…nothing about me had changed — I was the same person in every way — except that my skin was now black. My skin pigment was darker >> that was it!

Yet, as my dream leaped ahead (as REM-sleep dreams are wont to do), I began to experience discrimination, from the petty (name calling) to the significant, like being denied job interviews, passed over for leadership roles, getting fewer financial and VIP privileges than my white peers.

family 2

And, as I looked ahead – and backwards – I saw the accumulation of this discrimination across generations of my family. From the non-violent injustice of exclusion from schools, communities, and social groups, to the violence of confrontation, struggle, and crime.

Often, the violence was wrought by the desperate and those lost of hope of the same color skin as their closest neighbors, because they were nearest and easiest to rob.

And, the whole picture seemed so ridiculous to me. It seemed such a preposterous thing — that the color of one’s skin was the thing that triggered this generations-long, no, this millennia-long dividing of the powerful and the powerless.

It made no sense; there was no justification. Logic yes, in a perverse way, as a contest to get and keep power. But justice — as represented by life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the promise that all people are created equal — no.

And, in my dream, I finally began to develop a new awareness of the profound, unholy, and completely immoral unfairness of it all. This new, internal knowledge of what others deemed my “place” in life, and that of my family’s, was totally, comprehensively unacceptable.

I awoke and shared my dream with Rebecca. And, I thought about the Dream. And, I thought about members of my family who live in the Dream — both the black and white members of my family.

family 3Because, you see, the photos in this post are members of my family — my real family. They are my nephews, nieces, brothers, and cousins through marriage.

They are Larry, Lindsey, Shani, Logan, Harper, Ryan, Lori, Maya, and more!

They are smart, talented, strong, beautiful, funny, hard-working, loyal, trustworthy, silly and fun!

I love them and am thankful to be in the same family together.

I know that no amount of dreaming on my part, nor clearing away the real life miasma of the Dream that Coates writes of, can ever help me fully comprehend a life of fundamental unfairness.

Of being born the wrong color…or the wrong caste, tribe, gender, nationality — or any other irrational, inequitable “wrong” that absolutely lacks any connection to the true, the holy, the righteous.

So, I’ll leave you with this one question. Ask yourself: “Who is my family?”

You Can Measure Brand Value

I’ve written about the value of branding before and why it matters. One way to assess the value of a brand is measuring its consumer-based brand equity, or CBBE.

By definition, CBBE is the differential effect that brand knowledge has on consumer response to the marketing (specifically, the promotion) of that brand. The figure illustrates this differential effect.

CBBE-exampleLet’s say your competitor is Brand A and you are Brand B. Then, let’s say that you have very closely competing products, in terms of key functions and features that are important to customers.

Finally, let’s say you both spend approximately the same amount on promotion for your respective products, to educate and motivate customers to buy them.

All things being equal, the larger result of purchases of your product (Brand B) versus your competitor’s (Brand A) – as represented by the dollar signs “$$$” – is the measure of CBBE.

In short, you could say that your brand equity is the aggregate of that differential effect, on an annualized basis.

Or, in other words:

  • IF you run four major campaigns during the year,
  • AND sell an average of $250,000 more than your competitor each campaign,
  • AND spend roughly the same amount on promotion as they do,
  • AND use approximately the same techniques (i.e., couponing, PR, etc.),
  • THEN your CBBE is $1M or more, per year.

That’s one way that branding delivers value to your business.

Here’s another…

Brand value is a significant contributor to the intangible assets, specifically, what is known as goodwill, of a company.

When you look at a balance sheet, the major components include Assets, Liabilities, and what people refer to as Owner’s Equity. Assets include tangible assets (like cash, bonds, etc.) and intangible assets. Goodwill is a key intangible asset.

CBBE-balance sheet

In accounting terms, when a company is acquired, goodwill amounts to the excess of the “purchase consideration” (the money paid to purchase the asset or business) over the total value of the assets and liabilities. It is classified as an intangible asset on the balance sheet, since it can neither be seen nor touched.

Over the past several decades, intangible assets generally – and goodwill, specifically! – have represented an increasing percentage of acquisition costs…largely, many would say, due to the growing added value that effective branding represents to a firm.

In our rapidly evolving mobile/social/location-based digital economy, there are evermore services for helping companies increase their CBBE.

CBBE-influencers

For example, new services like HYPR Brands and Narativ that provide access to large networks of brand ambassadors — who themselves are key influencers in specific categories — are becoming powerful allies to brand building.

For marketers, the key is to be committed to measuring your CBBE and be bold about arguing the business case for your brand-building programs, when it comes to budget allocation and strategic initiatives for the company.

You are the stewards for one of the most valuable assets and powerful tools that your company has in its quest to lead your market segment. Don’t forget that!

Ebook to Softback: The Digest for Students of Entrepreneurship

SBF 2016-2I’m excited to announce that a revised and updated 2016 edition of the Naturally Caffeinated ebook is now available for download.

Further, the ebook is now a “pbook” — a “physical” book, printed as a softback, that you can buy for $10.

For an author-signed copy, send me an email using my Contact page. I’ll send you a link to a secure Paypal page.

A lot has happened since the 1st edition of the ebook was published a year ago.

May 2015

The ebook, sub-titled “Addicted to Entrepreneurship,” was first made available for download, with a new, dedicated Naturally Caffeinated blog for communicating updates, events and more.

We were grateful for the early support and reviews like these:

“I’m flattered to be included. I do wish Steve tremendous success with both the book and the Community!” -Guy Kawasaki, Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Evangelist 

“Your Ebook is now in my iBooks! Awesome pieces of advice!! So many are hard learned.” -Dr. Steve Elmore, Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Head of Customer Success, Convo, Inc.

“…very well written and seems to hit all the high points of the subject. I applaud your effort and am sure this will be useful to many, many readers.” -Ben Dyer, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, The University of Texas at Austin, Cockrell School of Engineering

“A refreshing and effective guide to help jump-start your new venture.” -Dr. Lynette Reed, Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) and Author, Researcher, Consultant

June 2015

The Community Edition of the ebook was launched, in collaboration with the online publisher, Weeva.

A “pay it forward” project from the beginning, the book’s goal was always two-fold:

  1. to provide lessons learned and stories of inspiration by experienced entrepreneurs for students of entrepreneurship and first-time founders
  2. to donate any proceeds from books sales and other fund-raising raised to programs providing entrepreneurial experiences and education among teenagers

nc-authorsBy soliciting men and women founders from around Austin and the world, we were able to capture the experiences and stories of more than 70 entrepreneurs, with insights in every aspect of new ventures.

July 2015

We agreed to publish two version of a hard back edition of Naturally Caffeinated, combining the original ebook content and the contributions from guest entrepreneurs like Jimmy Treybig, Jan Ryan, Admiral Bobby Inman, Kerry Tate, and many many more!

This edition is available for purchase on Amazon and at the Weeva online book store, where you can also download an excerpt from the hard back edition.

August

We announced that TEDxYouth@Austin – the country’s largest licensed TEDx event focused on young people – would be the first recipient of proceeds raised with the book.

September

PwC, Bridgepoint Consulting, Concepture, and Powershift Group hosted the Naturally Caffeinated: Community Edition launch party at Powershift’s offices, two blocks west of the Capital.

Q4 2015

NC-suzi sosa LinkedIN postLots of promotion and sales of the hard back book, including a great series written by Weeva, highlighting a variety of contributors’ posts, like this one by Suzi Sosa – Are There Gender Differences Holding Women Entrepreneurs Back? and this one – Would You Trade Places with Me? by Greg Businelle.

January 2016

Presentation of funds raised through Naturally Caffeinated to TEDxYouth, from on-stage at the Paramount Theater, during The Austin Forum’s January monthly meeting.

February

TEDxYouth@Austin 2016 was held at Westlake High School in Austin.

March

We began discussing plans for revisions to the ebook edition of Naturally Caffeinated, along with a limited run of printed, softback copies of the book for sale.

April

WIT kidsWe announced that WIT – short for “Doing Whatever It Takes” – would be the second recipient of proceeds raised with the book.

May

We debut the revised and updated ebook, as well as The Digest, at a series of events, including the Small Business Festival, featured in the photo at the beginning of this post.