Preview: When to Rob a Bank

Could not think of a more focused book title: When to Rob a Bank from the Freakonomics dynamic duo of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Looking forward to reading this book. I have never been disappointed in the research and economics of their stories. When to Rob a Bank marks the 10 year anniversary of their original bestseller Freakonomics.
when to rob a bankFrom their legendary initial release Freakonomics and their follow-up bestseller Superfreakonomics to their book Think Like a Freak and even to their highly anticipated movie. When to Rob a Bank should be a very enjoyable read and an opportunity to review some of their most striking stories.

And I must admit after living in Chicago the segment of the Chicago mother looking to inspire her son was a story I felt many around Chicagoland could understand to some degree.

Their approach to telling stories on their blog over the last ten years led them to some amazing stories …. and some that totally missed the mark.

A collection of their best blog posts has been compiled into When to Rob a Bank.

Pearl Harbor revisited

Ran across this in my Facebook feed yesterday. It was a post from RantPolitical. Its nothing more than Pearl Harbor revisited, a post of interesting facts surrounding the Japanese attack.

Yet first “fact” presented (screenshot below) was an accusation President Roosevelt knowingly led America into war. The announcement just this week that the Defense Department will exhume the remains of our fellow patriots killed aboard the USS Oklahoma.

Pearl Harbor conspiracy
For over 40 years the US Government classified a secret study by the RAND Corporation regarding our growing role in Vietnam’s internal conflict. Simply known as The Pentagon Papers the 48 volume study was commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The formal report titled United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense was leaked to the New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg, a RAND analyst who previously served as a US Marine first lieutenant commanding a rifle company in Vietnam in the 1950s.

So where does this all lead? One thing about History: In time when evidence is presented through the process of discovery, a deeper analysis can be established.

Relations between the U.S. and Japan were frail (at best) as Japan expanded war into Indo-China by defeating the French. Its clear war was in the air. Yet The Pentagon Papers reveal numerous communications between U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Kichisabura Nomura, Japan’s Ambassador to the U.S. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor Roosevelt famously announced to Congress:

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.”

Volume V-B1: The Roosevelt Administration 1940-1945 also contains a classified memorandum sent by President Roosevelt to Japanese Emperor Hirohito saber rattling the Emperor regarding Japan’s occupation of Saigon. Roosevelt suggested unless Japanese forces withdraw he would consider sending the U.S. military to Saigon to confront Japanese troops and restore French rule in Indo-China. This memorandum (beginning on page 27 of Volume V-B1) was transmitted to the Government of Japan on December 6, 1941.

War between Japan and the U.S. was literally hours away. The declining dialog clearly indicate war was only a matter of time. Is it enough to suggest a conspiracy that Roosevelt was leading America into war? That may still be a debate issue. However to label it “fringe fanaticism” with little evidence…I recommend reading the entire V-B1 volume in detail.

Need, Speed, and Greed Preview

Just started reading Need, Speed, and Greed: How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness, and Tame the World’s Most Wicked Problems.
Need, Speed, and Greed: How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness, and Tame the World's Most Wicked ProblemsMust say its another refreshing look at how we must innovate in today’s global world. Written by Vajay Vaitheeswaran of The Economist, it is providing so far excellent lessons for any company, non-profit, innovation center or educational organization.

Addressing global health and education is just the beginning. Need, Speed, and Greed is laying out how companies must adjust (via lessons from IBM, Google and P&G) or watch the world run you over and out of business.

The one thing Need, Speed, and Greed is making very clear: we are now able to collaborate in a global view with advanced technologies and new open business thinking to solve complex problems around the globe.

This is shaping up to be the kind of book every school kid in America should be reading.

Latest read: Creativity, Inc.

Not long ago I began reading Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration the story of Pixar written by co-fonder Ed Catmull. On the surface one may consider this a story about animation movies beginning with Toy Story.

Creativity, Inc.Some may want this to be a historical look at the company from Lucasfilm and their acquisition by Steve Jobs to the merger with Disney. Others want to see the inside of Pixar as Jobs ran the company. However this book is about management.

Managing one of the most successful entertainment companies is not an easy task. And here Creativity, Inc. shines in revealing deep lessons running a developing company, how to manage creative people and how to change the world. Yes indeed.

Clearly anyone who manages people should read this book. If you work as a designer or in an artist agency it is damn well worth your time.

Pixar’s lessons will have even greater impact if you enjoyed their movies with your children because Ed reveals details of how Pixar struggled to make their amazing animations. His details will surprise you. More importantly you will see how you can apply his lessons in your life.

Just imagine the company owning a string of incredible movie releases failed often and quickly but rose to maintain an incredible company. The lessons in management by Ed Catmull are some of the most rewarding that I have learned to manage teams in a long time.

Latest read: Too Big to Know

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger is an amazing look at how vast amounts of knowledge in our digital world has changed our ability to not only comprehend data, but how data and the internet rewire how our brain’s process information.
Too Big to KnowIn a way this book is about networks of knowledge stored in databases and in people. So what happens to all the knowledge and expertise we now confront? Outside of it being somewhat accessible on the net, the large amounts of data are forcing us to reimagine data infrastructure.

This is pushing development of large “big data” solutions that will have the ability to process and dashboard results that are more easily “digestable” for larger and larger groups of people across the spectrum.

Weinberger confirms that there is so much data, information & knowledge today for the first time in our collective history that no single person can process it all. And that is not always a good thing. He stated “We see all too clearly how impotent facts are in the face of firmly held beliefs. We have access to more facts than ever before, so we can see more convincingly than ever before that facts are not doing the job we hired them for.”

And at the same time accounting for human nature – access to more data will only reinforce the worse as illustrated by Cass Sunstein: “Studies have shown that when people speak only with those with whom they agree, they not only become more convinced of their own views, they tend to adopt more extreme versions of those views.” And now you know the rest of the story.

Took Big to Know reveals in chapter eight how we are managed today. In the past we learned about Jack Welch of GE. He was the final, top decision maker for his company. But today with wikis, blogs and mobile technology GE’s strategic plans are made from the bottom up: “The CEO of General Electric could be entirely off the grid, but still GE’s engineers, product managers, and marketing folks are out on the Net, exploring and trying out the ideas that affect their branch of the larger decision tree.” Its the Wikipedia approach to business today. And this is also something Weinberger acknowledges in Don Tapscott’s work Wikinomics.

Finally I could not agree more with Weinberger’s example in chapter five regarding a marketplace of echoes. He describes the impact of David Halberstam‘s award winning The Best and the Brightest (my review here) “Halberstam attempts to explain how the Kennedy White House, so full of superbly educated, dedicated men, could have failed so badly in Vietnam. The book’s world is populated by household names now known in few households: McGeorge Bundy, George Ball, Chester Bowles . . . the events it discusses are distant, recalled most often as an analogy to our worst current mistake. But Halberstam’s question remains deeply unsettling: How did the best and the brightest get us into the Hell of Vietnam? If these men, so well educated and so worldly, erred so badly, how can we trust the advice of lesser men?”

No better lesson on diversity than our failure in Vietnam. This is a very good book.

Latest read: The Signal and the Noise

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t by Nate Silver is another great book that completely absorbed my attention. This book offers in sights to many audiences. From weather forecasts, the Wall Street financial crisis in 2007, playing poker to even understanding and identifying signal relationships regarding the attacks on Pearl Harbor and New York on 9/11.
The Signal and the NoiseThe Signal and the Noise offers readers Silver’s insights on Bayesian thinking. Actually the book applies Bayesian in all the books lessons.

He nudges us to remember this when applying predictions in our own professions. Actually Nate’s study of predictions affects just about everything we do in life.

The strongest lesson for me is about understanding data-driven models can lead to tragic outcomes. He warns us about noisy data and Big Data that can set off false readings with horrific consequences. This alone makes this book a pretty important read.

Silver’s chapter on baseball and references to Michael Lewis‘s bestseller MoneyBall actually reveals to the reader the best thing math geek and baseball scouts can do is collaborate together to make the game more accurate in evaluating talent. Great lessons in applied statistics. Take this as just one key book in helping to improve your job and your life.

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