Jun 20 2011

Why the West Rules…: A Book Recap

Why the West Rules – for Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future is a phenomenal book if you enjoy the History Channel or Discovery’s Planet Earth series. If this isn’t you, then you should stop here and go back to watching TMZ.

The book tracks what the author defines as social development from 14,000 BC until the present, followed up by some reasonable predictions for the future. It can be dry at times but much more often than not it’s a very interesting and insightful read. Here are my main takeaways:

  • Human beings are lazy, greedy and frightened animals.
  • They are constantly looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways to do things.
  • This search fuels innovation and growth in regards to social development.
  • A specific time and place gets the thought that it needs for that time and place.
  • The most important factor for determining why the West currently rules and why anyone has ruled at a given time is geography.
  • The West’s reign may or may not be overtaken within the next 100 years.
  • Social development is exponentially higher now than at any other point in history.
  • The next 50-100 years (leading up to the singularity) might possibly be the most important and exciting times in the history of the human race.

In conclusion, this is my conclusive sentence. Consider this book recap concluded.


Sep 10 2010

How to Negotiate: 2 Book Recaps

I recently read 2 different negotiation books: Bargaining for Advantage and Getting to Yes.  I read BfA first but I think if you are going to read both, you should do so in the opposite order. I found that GtY did a better job at giving practical advice for everyday negotiating and communicating, whereas BfA was a more about different strategies and tactics to use. I’d characterize BfA as a more advanced book with tactics that should be used once you feel comfortable using the basic principles outlined in GtY. Though I recommend both books, read GtY if you’re going to pick just one. As a reminder, this is a book recap, not a review. Without further delay…

Getting to Yes

The underlying principle behind Getting to Yes is that negotiations should be a cooperative problem-solving process with the goal of finding the best solution for the mutual gain of both parties. It then outlines several strategies for getting there, with other useful information included for when the other party doesn’t see it that way. Here are the main strategies discussed:

Establish Criteria

Creating an objective standard in which to judge things against helps create an environment of cooperative problem-solving. The standard can be something that: you decide together (we want Italian food within 10 miles), already exists (standard govt. building codes), is based on past behavior (my last oil change was $X) or is based on market standards (the Kelly Blue Book value of a car). The key is to frame each issue as a joint search for an objective criteria you can agree on. Negotiating and agreeing upon criteria leads to fair agreements almost every time.

Separate the People from the Problem

The main idea here is to remember that, ideally, you are 2 (or more) parties that are working together towards the best agreement for your mutual gain. This section of the book discusses many points, but the main thing to remember is that we’re all just people and relationships are a very important part of the negotiation process.

Concentrate on Interests, not Positions

Ask a lot of questions, and listen for the answers. Most people won’t come out and just tell you what their real interests are. They’re usually buried under a bunch of positions. It’s the “why” hidden behind the “what”. Your job is to figure out why the other party has taken a certain position. This is the fastest path to finding mutual gain. Example: A guy wants $1000 for his car and is firm on the price. You ask why and find out it’s so he can buy a new TV. Well you happen to have a friend that can get a TV at a 20% employee discount. So you pay $800 for the car and your friend helps him get the TV he wants at a discount, and you take your friend out for some beers as a thank you. Everybody wins, and none of it happens if you didn’t take the time to find out why the guy was so firm at $1000.

Improve your BATNA or Adjust the Leverage Equation

BATNA is your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. The better your BATNA, the more leverage you have when negotiating. Even if you don’t tell the other party, you’ll FEEL better. An easy example is getting another job offer to help negotiate your first one. BATNA also can go the other way. By bombing a country, you’re effectively worsening their BATNA to force them to negotiate. Yes, war is a negotiation tactic aimed at reducing the other side’s leverage.

The last important item I took away from the book is a technique for how to state your position on something. Always give the reasoning first! Once you state your position, the other party is thinking of a reply or is busy being affected emotionally by your position. They are not listening to your reasons. I think this advice applies very well for all communication. Whenever you need to say anything with a qualifier or you want to give your reasoning for something, do it up front. People will actually hear and process what you have to say and will be much more able to understand where you’re coming from when it comes time to say the thing you want to say.

Overall, I highly recommend that everyone should read Getting to Yes. You negotiate something almost every day! Wouldn’t it be better if everyone treated it as cooperative problem-solving?

Bargaining for Advantage

First off, there are 4 + 1 key habits to good negotiators:

  1. The willingness to prepare
  2. The confidence to set high expectations
  3. The patience to listen
  4. A commitment to personal integrity

The “+1″ is the ability to see the other side’s point of view, which is mainly achieved by listening and asking thoughtful questions. This point was discussed in Getting to Yes as well and is something that people often easily forget. Instead of thinking of the next thing to say, just listen. I have personally found this advice to be essentially a requirement on the improv stage.

Each person has their own personal negotiating style, and each situation has its own negotiation type. In some cases, preserving the relationship is more important than “winning”. Being able to recognize your negotiation style and the type of negotiation you are in is crucial to your preparation. You’re going to negotiate differently with your spouse than with a used car salesman.

The last big takeaway from the book is that information is king. Ask questions. The more information you have about the other side (their wants, their needs, etc.) the better off you are. Stop focusing on what you want and focus on what THEY want. That’s when you can really discover their true interests, and you may find they line up with yours a lot better than you had thought. Conversely, if you are in a competitive situation (divorce, house sale, market transaction), you want to hold as much information as you can. This seems pretty obvious when you think about it!

Overall, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from the combination of both books. Now it’s up to me to put the techniques into practice!


Jul 6 2010

Sway: A Book Recap

I hesitate to call this a book review because like my previously mentioned “skill” in reviewing wines, my thoughts on books can usually be summed up in just a few simple sentences. However, I would like to start discussing the books I am reading for a couple of reasons. The first is to force me to summarize books in a concise way so that I can go back to my notes in the future to “reread” the book without actually reading the entire thing. I’ve read many books that I thought were insightful and informative, yet I half-forget or mis-remember important points when I try to recall them later. This leads to many “you know what I mean?” and “it was something like that” quotes when trying to explain the author’s ideas to others. I’m thinking that writing some notes will help me remember the important takeaways. The second reason is to help my readers (all 3 of them) discover some of the good ones and maybe also prevent them from wastes of time. Hence the first post in the “A Book Recap” series.

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior was a great read. I really enjoy psychological books that explain little parts of how our brains work and why we as humans do the things we do. You will notice my fondness for these types of books as this series plays out. I recommend Sway as it’s a quick read yet it is jam-packed with useful information. The authors, Ori and Rom Brafman, use great examples to back up their points and they do it concisely. They also have great first names.

The general structure of Sway leads the reader through many reasons why and in what types of situations we act irrationally. Each chapter covers a different reason and there are multiple case studies and other examples from daily life to support the idea being discussed. Most, if not all, of these made sense to me which made me happy. I don’t like things that don’t make sense. Unless it makes sense that it doesn’t make sense. Got it? Good.

Below are the reasons the book gives for our irrational behavior. I guess they’re spoilers but you’re really missing out on the great case studies and supporting evidence by not reading the actual book. Not to mention the author’s suggestions for combating these “sways” in the epilogue. And at 180 pages, it’s an easy read! Here are our most popular sways:

  • Our fear of loss – which is much more powerful than our excitement for gain.
  • Commitment and difficulty letting go even when we know we should.
  • Value attribution – incorrectly judging a book by its cover or letting our perceived value of something influence other characteristics.
  • Diagnosis bias – labeling of people, things or ideas based on an initial opinion and an inability to reconsider those judgments down the road.
  • Cultural norms regarding fairness – being upset at someone else for being unfair and punishing them even if it’s to your own detriment as well.
  • Altruistic motivation vs financial motivation – these two separate incentives for doing something don’t work at the same time.
  • The lack of another dissenter – agreeing with others for fear of being the only one to dissent the group opinion.

Well that’s it; stay tuned until next time. You might read something amazing or I might give away something valuable and you wouldn’t want to miss out on that. Think of what you could lose!