The AwkEng Super Condensed Book Report: April 2021 Edition

Hi all!

Here's my super condensed book report, covering what I've read in the last few months, sorted by rough order of recommendation.

User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product

User story mapping is a powerful technique for taking complex topics topics and using a narrative structure as a framework to organize what could otherwise be an overwhelming amount of information.

My favorite analogy in the book was between engineering requirements and documentation and a vacation photo. We might both see a photo of two kids on the beach, and agree that it's a photo of two kids on the beach, but unless we actually get together (preferably face to face) and talk and tell a story about the photo, or the requirements document, important nuance will be lost. Stories are meant to be told. Maybe the photo was the first day after a long trip, and the kids were exhausted, and cranky, but we finally got them out on the beach and it really felt like we settled into vacation.

Highly recommend the first few chapters, the back half of the book gets into more detail and nuance and loses strength.

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones


Pop psychology at it's best. I loved this book. Effective, useful information for understanding and designing habits. By making things obvious (i.e. a cue), attractive, easy, and rewarding, we can design systems and habits that naturally take advantage of our own, built in behaviors.

A good chunk of the book also makes logical arguments and provides inspiration as to why learning how to build, or break, habits is incredibly important.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Every now and then, I come across a book that contains unbelievably important ideas, yet is in drastic need of an editor. This is one of those books.

In short, the author makes a persuasive, research backed argument that's it's universal to the human condition that people enjoy spending time, and that happiness comes from, focused, skill based activities. Using skills leads to development of the skills which leads to growth of self. The activities can include cooking, singing, sports, manual labor, knowledge work, and so on. In this light, he also breaks down why mindlessly watching TV (this was a pre-internet era book) can be so entertaining, but also so unfulfilling.

At the end of the day, the meaning of life becomes somewhat circular, as it reflects the meaning that you give to it. Read a summary of this book, if not the book itself.

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention

I'm inspired by companies that find success not just by doing things differently, but by believing and trusting in their own people. Further, they don't just pay lip service to that idea, they really mean it, and their company policies reflect that. The expense policy is "Act in Netflix's Best Interest." That's it. The rest of the book is nuance and detail about how they went about making that (and other policies) happen.

My big takeaway was a story about feedback. If you have a bad meal at a restaurant, for example, and don't give feedback, it's not that big a deal, but if you don't give feedback to your boss, or your boss's boss, or the even the CEO, millions of dollars could be at stake. And of course, that can be the hardest person to give feedback to. And Netflix has developed a culture where that happens. Routinely.


The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

Buckle up. This is the ugly hard parts of being a CEO. Firing people, demoting friends, deciding to sell the company, etc... Ben Horowitz's company was weeks away from bankruptcy when he decided that a potential way out was to bring a tech company public in the middle of the dot com crash. Totally insane. Great reading for someone who's in or about to be in a leadership role.

Pricing with Confidence: 10 Ways to Stop Leaving Money on the Table

Talk to your customers about what's valuable to them. That's it. It's ok to charge more for more and to charge less for less, especially when there's a real difference between the two.

I was blown away about a story in a supply chain negotiations for commodity automotive components, They negotiated a premium on commodity parts because they (surprise!) talked to customers, and learned that on time delivery guarantees were worth paying more for. Even in commodity markets, there is opportunity to create differentiation.

Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love

There's a lot of good content in this book about Product Management, but it covers so much, that it get's stretched thin. Of course, being a good Product Manager requires a broad swath of knowledge and skills, so naturally it would have to cover a lot. (I do think I may have gotten more out of this book because I had a lot of relevant background knowledge that made it more accessible.)

I think my biggest takeaway was the importance of giving small, capable teams, with as few external dependencies as possible, complete autonomy and responsibility for a product and it's business outcomes. I can't recommend it wholeheartedly unless you're in a CEO or Product Manager role.

I have more books, but this report was getting long, so I'll save them for next time. 

Best regards!

aka THE Awkward Engineer

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published