4 Book Recs to Challenge how You Think About Work

At Effectively Human, we believe there’s more than just learning to write code as a Software Engineer. Morgan shares his Top Four books for expanding the way you think, problem solve, and work.

[00:00:00] Today, we are going to talk about a couple of book recommendations.

Welcome to Effectively Human, where we discuss how to close the knowledge gap between technology and the people who use it. Each week, your host Morgan Lopes will share real life practical tools on how to bridge the gap. Let’s jump in.

In technology there are all kinds of thoughts and discussions and debates and dialogues around concepts and principles throughout tech. Some of these will serve us well, while many kind of aren’t our thing. That’s totally fine. Today. These four book recommendations are not about writing code. There are tons of resources online and books about the skill of writing code, clean code. How to think about all of the different [00:01:00] things. When it comes to the technical skills of writing code.

Today, I want to focus on developing the perspectives, the discipline, the thinking that serves software engineers and knowledge workers well. These books will not have suggestions to write better code. But they will hopefully change the way that you think about the work or push us to new levels of understanding. When it comes to the soft skills and the disciplines needed thrive in a tech career.

The first book we’re going to talk about is called Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Anders Ericsson is the author and Robert Pool and in Peak  they dive deep on the process and the way by which people achieve mastery. They talk about this concept of deliberate practice. So it’s not enough to just show up and do the work, but it’s about being deliberate and understanding all of the micro skills and behaviors that add up to [00:02:00] excellence and mastery.

 In the book the authors make the point that, for most of life, our physical ability-that which we were born with-does not actually give us that much of an advantage. They do make an exception for certain sports, for instance, like basketball that yes, your physical abilities give you an advantage. But for most of life, that’s just not true.

From other things where our born physical abilities do not give us an advantage. We can learn the steps of mastery. Two examples that he gives: the first is that of developing perfect pitch in singing for a long time. It was believed that either you were born with it. Or you weren’t . Those that had perfect pitch it was some birthright, but what they’ve actually found out through many, many years of research is perfect pitch can be developed. Sure. Many people start at a better place, but there’s actually a school in Japan that they reference in the book that every student who left that school had perfect [00:03:00] pitch.

I didn’t go in school with it, but they left school at a very young age with perfect pitch. They dove a little bit deeper and even did a study on people later in their life. And they did find that there’s a correlation between the age with which you learn something like perfect pitch, but by and large, it was not required that you were born with these skills.

So perfect pitch was once believed it was something you were born with. Then over time we found that, actually those skills can be developed. And they talk about examples of how that happens. The next example that they used throughout the book is that of chess and a psychologist took each of his three daughters  and raised them to become chess Grandmasters. Now, the way in which he did, it was pretty clever. There are plenty of the merits that might be debated when it comes to great parenting, but he used his family as a control study to see if it’s possible to raise chess Grandmasters. What’s interesting about this particular experiment.

It was done in a time when many believed chess was the game of [00:04:00] men, specifically educated men. And this researcher, not only took women, but actually in their adolescence, when they were children, he raised them into chess Grandmasters, which fundamentally changed the way people thought about chess. But he was doing this in pursuit of a deeper understanding about expertise.

So Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. A great read, as we think about learning something new, developing skills and pursuing expertise. How should we think about getting best in class?

The next book that I love and would highly recommend is The Compound Effect. The compound effect was written by Darren Hardy and it talks about how to jumpstart your income, your life, your success by making small investments over time.

Now we think of investments. Often in the form of money, but the reality is investments come in the shape of time, energy, thought. And the author does a great job of nailing home the fact, that the things that have the highest [00:05:00] return over the course of our lives are those which we invest in consistently.

Consistent effort over time. An example that he pulls from in the book is that of a penny. So imagine I were to ask you to choose between two options. The first option is a million dollars. I will give you a million dollars right now. The second option is: I will give you one penny and doubled that daily for 30 days.

So the first option, a million dollars right now, the second option, a penny doubled daily for 30 days for one month. Many of us just in hearing that would think, well, of course, million dollars right now. That seems like a really great bet. A penny just seems too small and doubling it doesn’t really make an impact, but of course, as it starts to wear on you a little bit, like, okay, well, why would we have this type of word problem  if there wasn’t a catch?

 And the catch is, a penny doubled daily for most of the 30 days is less than a million dollars. I believe it’s somewhere around a 27 or 28, right. Almost right to the end. [00:06:00] It is still less than a million bucks. So if you took that million dollars and stopped, you’re doubling at day 15, then the million dollars is a better bet.

But when you let it go to the full amount to 30 days, it is well over a million dollars. And the idea that a penny, something so small when compounded consistently can have disproportionate results. The catch is, we have to wait longer to get it. It doesn’t come immediately, but consistent effort applied over time can have a big, big impact.

This matters in software engineering because the skills needed to become great rarely, come through a single book, a single moment, a single workshop, a single course, they add up. There’s so much information to learn. We cannot learn it all at once, but we need to make slow, consistent contributions to our learning, to our understanding, to our experience and that adds up over time. So that’s The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy.

Next, we are going to talk about a book called Deep Work. [00:07:00] Deep work was written by a guy named Cal Newport. And there are two concepts that he talks about within deep work that I find resonate really well in tech as software engineers and for people to be mindful of when doing work that requires there’s a lot of thought. A lot of focus and attention. The first is flow. The idea of flow is based on this belief that our most significant contributions in life and our careers in our work will come from periods of uninterrupted focus of what he calls deep work. But that allows us to unlock a state of flow where we are moving in and among the ideas and thoughts, concepts almost effortlessly. But in those periods we can produce disproportionate results.

Another part of the deep work concept, but also that serves us really well in the digital space is that of “knowledge work”. For many of us, it’s probably our grantdparents our great grandparents, but they made money with their hands. Whether they [00:08:00] were in factories or building and creating almost all of it was done with their hands. Today, most of the jobs and opportunities that provide the most money, the most fulfillment, the most enjoyment are those of knowledge work. We aren’t using our hands to create the work. The creating is done in our minds. We may use our hands to touch a keyboard or to write something out, but that is just a mechanism by which we bring our ideas to life. So the book is Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Now, let’s talk about Mindset. Mindset is a book written by Carol Dweck and it was one of the first books that talks about the dichotomy between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Now, when it comes to a fixed or a growth mindset, it’s first worth recognizing that she is not making the point that we are either one or the other. That you are always fixed or always in a growth mindset.

However, she does talk about, for many of us, we [00:09:00] have a default, we have a predisposition to lean one way or another. People operating from a fixed mindset, believe that they are along for somebody else’s ride that they are the victim or that things happen to them. Those operating from a growth mindset think that they have a sense of autonomy or control over their life, their happiness, their destiny, where they want to go. And they believe the world is malleable. And that if they don’t like the ride, then they have autonomy to change it and evolve. There are plenty of examples  in life, where we are taught a fixed mindset. Much of school, where we are expected to show up and complete a test.

And someone gives us a grade which consists of a hundred points, and we get some percentage of a perfect score. All of these things reinforce a fixed mindset. I’ve found very few things in life. Once we leave school, actually function that way. Most situations, most events, most [00:10:00] tasks can be completed a number of different ways.

Many of the decisions that we make and the outcomes that we achieve aren’t binary right wrong. There are constant tradeoffs in work and Mindset unpacks a lot of those. How that impacts us, how we should think about shifting our perspective, some of the downsides and pros and cons to fix mindsets and a push toward having more of a growth mindset and influencing the way in which we see the world.

This matters in technology because there are no right answers. Google many years ago had the mantra of “Don’t be evil.” I believe that they’ve since changed that, but what’s challenging about that is evil in many cases is very relative. There are things that we could do in service to our job, to our career, to our team that feel like a win for us but in many cases come at the cost of others.

And so this challenge is [00:11:00] something that we face a lot in technology. So, Mindset. By Carol Dweck discusses a lot of this tension. And I think brings to the front of mind, one of the most important things to keep in mind in technology, which is there is not a right answer.

There are opportunities to grow and flex and evolve if we look for them, but we at least have to know the challenge is happening and that this dichotomy is something that is continually applying pressure to us.

So there you have it. Four great books, none of which talking about writing code, but all challenged the perspective and the discipline in our thinking when it comes to success in tech.

 Peak, The Compound Effect, Deep Work and Mindset. I hope you enjoy.

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