My Week of Consumption and Reviews

Poke the Box by Seth Godin — 3/5 

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via amazon.com

I tolerated reading Godin’s latest motivational booklet, “Poke the Box,” which deserved the $1 I paid for it.  Unlike the other books I’ve hated so far, this book keeps the anecdotal to a minimum and keeps the wisdom pithy.  Though this book may have been much too short at 97 pages to be even considered a book at all, it makes sense.  There is simply not enough content to stretch across hundreds of pages for this genre.  

Anyway, my lukewarm endorsement is already a phenomenal statement coming from someone who has had a fairly negative reaction to the self-help genre of books.  The other book I attempted to read this week was Never Eat Alone, but I had to stop due to an allergic reaction to Ferrazzi’s purely marketing driven strategies.  The point I had to stop was when Ferrazzi claimed that the return on investment of amassing a finite personal network was infinite.  How on earth can any businessman legitimize the idea that a return was infinite?  Has any businessman ever learned math?  How is this not the birth of a Ponzi scheme?

Has no business school ever taught the idea that a finite resource is a zero sum game?

Well, my internal dialogue supposes that maybe it’s because I’ve never gone to business school that I can’t seem to grasp the ideas that are behind business.  This leads me nicely to the next sensational, storytelling/journalistic piece, The Big Short.  The Big Short profiles some men betting on systemic failure of the banking industry and some ideas behind the collapse of it.

 

Michael Lewis has an ability to tell real world events as if it were not a real world event.  Maybe this surrealism serves a literary purpose?  What struck me most, if Lewis’ facts are straight, is that the banking industry is run by incompetent management who are duped by the most “clever” of the dunces, all of whom are surrounded by mindless yes-men.  Lewis seems to indicate the 2008 collapse started a decade ago when these banking institutions began to lend money out like crazy and then towering bad investments on top of it.  But Lewis’ earlier book about the collapse of savings and loans in the 1980’s seems to indicate an identical problem going just a bit further back.  It appears as if no one in the banking institution had any self-awareness or ability to think critically about what they were doing, ever.  

 

And here is my fucking theory: a towering institution of incompetence can do nothing but generate more incompetence.  Going back to Ferrazzi again, I wonder how could it be possible that businessmen are taught hard facts about something being lead and then be expected to sell it as pure gold?  How can a businessman learn that the his goods are finite but sell it as infinite?  I think the only way to maintain this illusion, for the institution of business to perpetuate itself, is to maintain the level of stupidity.  No critical thinking means business runs smoothly, and the money must flow.

 

I don’t believe I have an entirely pessimistic perspective on the business world.  I admire entreprenuers as if they were some kind of superheroes.  I picked up Never Eat Alone because it was recommended reading for the entreprenuerial type by the entreprenuerial type.  Now, that I have questioned this book, I have to question the list as well.

 

I also played Dinner Date, winner of the Indie Game Fest 2011:

 

This perhaps the first ever First Person Subconscious game, where the player acts as a mere subconscious to the real consciousness running throughout the game.  It is somewhat pricey for about half an hour of entertainment but definitely worth it for the ingenuity. 

The Art of Nonconformity: The Art of Self Promotion

The Art of Nonconformity is a marvel in marketing genius.  To be honest, I was fooled and also convinced by several other bloggers who endorsed his book.  I had no idea about the blog behind the book, which offers some free samples of the book’s content and hides the rest behind an email subscription.  I decided to buy this book to support a blogger and a local Northwest author.

What immediately struck me about this book was that it was extremely anecdotal.  I expected this from the “average” self-help book, so why does a book that proclaims itself “nonconformist” use a typical format?  While, the stories of a non-conforming man who has traveled the world would make a good book by itself, it comes across as marketing gimmick in this book.  Later Guillebeau even admits that he needs to move on from being the man who roamed about in Africa.  I suppose the first half of the book should be titled “Stories and Inspirations of a Non-conformist.”

The dichotomy

Guillebeau makes his case somehow, by arguing that he is a completely below average guy whose roots began with dropping out of high school and going on to community college; yet he is able to pursue a unique lifestyle that is also extremely profitable.  It seems completely uncharacteristic for an average guy to have such major ambitions.  However, he milks his average roots in order to fuel inspirational bullet points.  These are, admittedly, very valid points, except the part where he suggests you do not need to have any skills to manage what he has done.  

The author says that higher education is not necessary to achieve his kind of success, as it is part of a system which exists to sustain itself rather than providing the best interest for the individual.  Then he provides an alternative: a DIY Masters’ degree for under the cost of 10K.  Yet, he has himself gone to spend much more to attain a Masters’ and write a thesis on alternative lifestyles. Then he contemplated getting a post-doc.  Guillebeau preaches a principle of spending money on what he values, therefore by spending for his degree, he values education. Yet he seems against the idea of education as a route for his readers.

Guillebeau: Yet, even you Average Joe, with no formal education or skills, can be just as awesome as me!

Me: But I’m not average.  I picked up your book because you said it was the Art of Nonconformity, which implies that the reader is already well aware of some alternative lifestyle.

Guillebeau: Blah, I’m selfless and look at all these charities I work for and give to! Blah, blah, Africa, blah.

Me: I have no interest in these charities or contracting malaria in Africa.  

Guillebeau: Hey aimless audience, figure out what you’re gonna do and do it!  You can do it.  Look at these fools who didn’t start.  Look at these awesome people who did!

Me: Wow! I’m so convinced at this point, you can say anything and I will believe you!

Guillebeau: I mean just look at me.  Look at me!  I know exactly what my goals were, went to school a lot, and look how I made a ton of money.  But you guys don’t need to go to school, have any skills, or generally even know what you’re doing.  You can do it just like me.  You just have to do it for yourself, screw what everyone else thinks.  Also you have to work hard.

Me: Yay!  

The Great Persuader

My favorite part of his spiel is when he persuades me to get off my ass and do something.  Anything.  He has hit the target very precisely why I procrastinate or feel blocked from achieving my goals.  The internal critic being myself and the external critics or the “gatekeepers” of the world, actively serve to prevent progress.  He can be dangerously persuasive to the point that I start to believe that I also want to travel the world.  In the end, I think these parts of the book is more of a Cliff’s Notes version of something more fundamental, which I believe is critical thinking, or learning to think about thinking. I highly recommend this book, Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life, instead of reading Guillebeau’s book.

How it’s Done?

Eventually, after a smattering of inspirational quotes thinly held together by Guillebeau’s exposition and tales, the author does go on to detail how he managed to pull of his idea of an alternate lifestyle, including visiting every country in the world.  The section about travel hacking is pretty cool, although nothing new by now.

He suggests achieving financial independence.  There is a large section about personal finance, which is pretty accurate but nothing new.  Then he suggests that financial independence is not amassing large amounts of wealth, but is about experiencing life today.  This is more of a practical nature.  He is getting better by the end of the book but still strays off into anecdotal land, because he really has no real advice to give except how he did it.

Finally.

At first I found this book inspiring, but ultimately the inspirational high wore off and I finished the book feeling slightly panhandled.

Other Books

Most reviewers compare this book to the The 4-Hour Workweek, but have panned as a greater theatrical masterpiece.  I’d say that Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success is the more sober and scientific look into what it takes to become a nonconformist.  

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