March & April Combined Book Binge

Time for another recount of the content I’ve been consuming.  I missed my March post, so I figured it would be fine to do a combined effort.

First up:

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

In my last post I mentioned that I got a recommendation to tune in to Seth and got the opportunity to hear him firsthand on Design Matters.  Well, here’s the first full Seth book I’ve consumed and it didn’t disappoint.  If I had to describe what this book contains – I would say that it is a near manifesto for the modern artist.  The world is run by industrialists and the artist is trying to break through.

I appreciate how Seth frames the concept of an artist – he unpacks the term and invites or ENCOURAGES everyone to identify as such.  Being an artist means being emotionally invested, showing up, giving a shit.  That giving a shit, caring, connecting is ALL there is.  That you succeed in the world by connecting, by sharing your art.  These concepts and ideals resonate deeply with me.  He also explains how vulnerable and gutting it can be to live as an artist – something I’ve felt and experienced several times.

During the course of listening to this book I was on site with a client.  We got to a certain point, agreed on the direction and visualizations, then shared them with the broader team.  The broader team came heavy with design suggestions – most notable the green/red discussion came in to play.  I welcome these challenges and as an artist and communicator it is my responsibility to share my process, listen to feedback, and collaborate to find a solution.  That definitely occurred throughout the process, but honestly caused me to lose my balance for a moment.

As I reflected on what happened – I was drawn to this idea that as a designer I try to have ultimate empathy for the end user.  And furthermore the amount of care given to the end user is never fully realized by the casual interactor.  A melancholy realization, but one that should not be neglected or forgotten.

Moving on to the next book:

Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

This one landed in my lap because it was available while perusing through library books.

A quick read that talks about how to succeed in business.  It takes an extreme focus on being married to a vision and committing to it.  The authors focus on getting work done.  Sticking to a position and seeing it through.  I very much appreciated that they were PROUD of decisions they made for their products and company.  Active decisions NOT to do something can be more liberating and make someone more successful than being everything to everyone.

Last up was this guy:

Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte

A continuation of reading through all the Tufte books.  I am being lazy by saying “more of the same.”  Or “what I’ve come to expect.”  These are lazy terms, but they encapsulate what Tufte writes about: understanding visual displays of information.  Analyzing at a deep level the good, bad, and ugly of displays to get to the heart of how we can communicate through visuals.

I particularly loved some of the amazing train time tables displayed.  This concept of using lines to represent timing of different routes was amazing to see.  And the way color is explored and leveraged is on another level.  I highly recommend this one if the thought of verbalizing your witnessing of Tufte’s strong tongue-in-cheek style sounds entertaining.  I know for me it was.

February Book Binge

Another month has passed, so it’s time to recount what I’ve been reading.

Admittedly it was kind of a busy month for me, so I decided to mix up some of my book habits with podcasts.  To reflect that – I’ve decided to share a mixture of both.

 

First up is Rhinoceros Success by Scott Alexander

This is a short read designed to ignite fire and passion into whoever reads it. It walks through how a big burly rhino would approach every day life, and how you as a rhino should follow suit.

I read this one while I was transitioning between jobs and found it to be a great source of humor during the process. It helps to articulate out ‘why’ you may be doing certain things and puts it in the context of what a rhino would do. This got me through some rough patches of uncertainty.

The next book was Made to Stick by the Heath brothers

This was another recommendation and one that I enjoyed. I will caveat and say that this book is really long. I struggled to try and get through a chapter at a time (~300 pages and only 7 chapters). It is chocked full of stories to help the reader understand the required model to make ideas stick.

I read this one because often times a big part of my job is communicating out a yet to be seen vision. And it is also to try and get people to buy-in to a new type of thinking. These aren’t easy and can be met with resistance. The tools that the Heath brothers offer are simple and straightforward. I think they even extend further to writing or public speaking. How do you communicate a compelling idea that will resonate with your audience?

I’ve got their 2 other books and will be reading one of them in March.

Lastly – I wanted to spend a little bit of time sharing a podcast that I’ve come to enjoy. It is Design Matters with Debbie Millman.

This was shared with me by someone on Twitter. I found myself commuting much more than average this much (as part of the job change) and I was looking for media to consume during the variable length (30 to 60 minute) commute. This podcast fits that time slot so richly. What’s awesome is the first podcast I listed to had Seth Godin on it (reading one of his books now) – so it was a great dual purpose item. I could hear Seth and preview if I should read one of his many books and also get a dose of Debbie.

The beauty of this podcast for me is that Debbie spends a lot of time exploring the personality and history of modern artists/designers. She does this by amassing research on each individual and then having a very long sit-down to discuss findings. Often times this involves analyzing individual perspectives and recounting significant past events. I always find it illuminating how these people view the world and how they’ve “arrived” at their current place in life.

That wraps up my content diet for the month – and I’m off to listen to Seth.

Book Binge – January Edition

It’s time for another edition of book binge – a random category of blog posts devised (and now only on its second iteration) where I walk through the different books I’ve read and purchased this month.

First – a personal breakthrough!  I have always been an avid reader, but admittedly become lazy in recent years.  Instead of reading at least one book a month, I was going on small reading sprees of 2 or 3 books every four or five months.  After the success of my December reads, I figured I would keep things going and try to substitute books as entertainment whenever possible.

Here are a few books I read in January:

The Functional Art by Alberto Cairo

I picked this one up because it is quintessential to the world of data journalism and data visualization.  I also thought it would be great to get into the head of one of the instructors of a MOOC I’m taking.  Plus who can resist the draw of the slope chart on the cover?

I loved this one.  I like Alberto’s writing style.  It is rooted in logic and his use of text spacing and bold as emphasis is heavy on impact.  I appreciate that he says data visualization has to first be functional, but reminds us that it has to be seen to matter.  It’s also interesting to read the interviews/profiles in the end of the book of journalists.  This is an excellent way for me to shift my perspective and paradigm.  I come from the analysis/mathematical side of things – these folks are there to communicate stories of data.  A great read that is broken up in such a way that it is easy to digest.

Next book was The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte

Obviously a classic read for anyone in the data visualization world by the “father” of modern information graphics.  I must admit I picked up all 4 of Tufte’s books in December, and couldn’t get my brain wrapped around them.  I was flipping through the pages to get a sense for how the information was contained and felt a little intimidated.  That intimidation was all in my head.  Once I began reading – the flow of information made perfect sense.

I appreciate Tufte’s voice and axiom type approach to information graphics.  Yes – there are times when it is snarky and absurd, but it is also full of purpose.  He walks through information graphics history, spotlighting many of the greats and lamenting the lack of recent progression (or more of a recession) in the art.

I have two favorites in this one: how he communicates small multiples and sparklines.  The verbiage used to describe the impact (and amount of information) small multiples can convey is poetic (and I don’t really like poetry).  His work on developing and demonstrating sparklines is truly illuminating.  There were times where I had dreams of putting together some of the high “data-ink” low “chartjunk” visuals that he described.  And his epilogue makes me forgive all the snarkyness.  The first in a series that I am ecstatic to continue to read.

The last book I’ll highlight this month was a short read – a Christmas present from a friend.

Together is Better by Simon Sinek

I’m very familiar with Simon – mostly because of his famous TED talk on starting with why. I’ve read his book on the subject as well. So I was delighted to be handed this tiny gem.  Written in hybrid format of children’s book and inspirational quote book – this is a good one to flip through if you’re in need of a quiet moment.  Simon calls himself a self professed optimist at the end, and that’s definitely how I left the book feeling.

It aims at sparking the inner fire we all have – and the most powerful moment: Simon saying that you don’t have to invent a new idea and then follow it.  It is perfectly acceptable to commit to someone else’s vision and follow them.  It frees you completely from the world of “special,” new, and different that entrepreneurial and ambitious types (myself) get hung up on.  You don’t have to make up an original idea – just find something that resonates deeply with you and latch on.  That is just as powerful as being a visionary.

The other part of this book devotes a significant amount of snippet takes on leadership.  A friendly reminder of what leadership looks like.  Leadership is not management.

I’ve got more books on the way and will be back in a month with three new reads to share.

Book Binge – December Edition

I typically spend the end of my year self reflecting on how things have gone – both the good and the bad.  Usually that leads me to this thoughtful place of “I need more books.”  For some reason to me books are instant inspiration and a great alternative to binge streaming.  They remind me of the people I want to be, the challenges I want to battle and conquer, and seamlessly entangle themselves into whatever it is I am currently experiencing.

Here are 3 of my binges this month:

First up: You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living Your Life by Jen Sincero

This is a really great read.  Despite the title being a little melodramatic (I don’t really believe that I’m not already a super badass, or that my greatness isn’t already infiltrating the world), Jen writes in a style that is very easy to understand.  She breaks down several “self help” concepts in an analytical fashion that reveals itself through words that actually make sense.  There’s a fair amount of brash language as well, something I appreciate in writing.

Backstory on this purchase:  I actually bought a copy of this book for me and 2 fellow data warriors.  I wanted it to serve as a reminder that we are badasses and can persevere in a world where we’re sometimes misunderstood.

To contradict all the positiveness I learned from Jen Sincero, I then purchased this guy: The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.  (Maybe there’s a theme here: I like books with profanity on the cover?)

Despite the title, it isn’t about how you can be indifferent to everything in the world – definitely not a guide on how to detach from everything going on.  Instead it’s a book designed to help you prioritize the important things, see suffering as a growth opportunity, and figure out what suffering you like to do on a repeated basis.  I’m still working my way through this one, but I appreciate some of the basic principles that we all need to hear.  Namely that the human condition IS to be in a constant state of solving problems and suffering and fixing, improving, overcoming.  That there is no finish line, and when you reach your goal you don’t achieve confetti and prizes (maybe you do), but instead you get a whole slew of new problems to battle.

Last book of the month is more data related.  It’s good old Tableau Your Data by Dan Murray + Interworks team.

I was inspired to buy this after I met Dan (way back in March of 2016).  I’ve had the book for several months, but wanted to give it a shout out for being my friend.  I’ve had some sticky challenges regarding Tableau Server this month and the language, organized layout, and approach to deployment have been the reinforcement (read as: validation) I’ve needed at times in an otherwise turbulent sea.

More realistically – I try to buy at least 1 book a month.  So I’m hoping to break in some good 2017 habits of doing small recaps on what I’ve read and the imprint new (or revisited) reads leave behind.