Checking it twice…

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Title: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Date Completed: 1/17/2011
Author(s): Atul Gawande
Copyright: 2010, Picador
# pages: 193
Genre: Business
ISBN: 978-0-312-43000-9

I saw this guy on the Daily Show and thought it sounded like an interesting book. I was right. The concept for the book is that you can eliminate errors and improve quality by using a checklist for some of the most common tasks in your business.

The majority of the book focuses on the medical industry and on flying, but you don’t have to be a doctor or a pilot to understand the premise. Most people won’t be surprised about the fact that a pilot uses checklists during every flight. There is the pre-flight checklist, the pre-taxi checklist, the pre-landing checklist. We are not surprised that our pilot goes through a checklist to make sure everything is working before taking the plane into the air. Of course, they also have an engine failure checklist and a checklist for what to do if the door to the plane is opened during flight.

It is a little harder to imagine that in the middle of a crisis the pilot would say, ‘well, shoot, the engine just stopped working. Can you get out the checklist so that we can see if we can figure this thing out?’

But, that is exactly what they do. When Sully landed the plane on the Hudson, he used a checklist. Pilots know that when you are in a sticky situation, it is easy to forget things that might seem obvious, so the checklist ensures that you’ve done the things you should.

If a pre-flight checklist is standard procedure, then surely there is a pre-surgery checklist that doctors use, right? Nope. Atul Gawande set out, with the World Health Organization, to see if implementing such a checklist would improve the overall success rates of surgeries. What they found is astonishing. During a trial period using the checklist, there was a 36 percent drop in major complications after surgery and a 47 percent drop in deaths. All for the cost of asking 7 questions before giving anesthesia and another 7 questions before making this incision.

Seven simple questions. Want to know what they are? I suggest you put this book on your list and find out!


One Amazing Woman

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Title: Happiness: Elizabeth I CEO

Date Completed: 3/3/2010

Author(s): Alan Axelrod

Copyright: 2000, Prentence Hall Company

# pages: 261

Genre: Self Improvement/Leadership

ISBN: 0-7352-0357-1

I’ll start by saying that I am both a business geek and a history geek so I’m coming at this with a bias.  I really enjoyed this book.  So much so that I think it should be required reading for any high school or college business course.  But, you don’t have to be in business to get something from this book.

First of all, it is possibly the best summary of the English history during Elizabeth’s reign that I’ve come across.  The first 21 pages are a quick recap of the events leading up to Elizabeth’s coronation, and the major milestones during her long reign.  I’ve always had trouble keeping track of the Henry’s, Mary’s, and Catherine’s.  Get the book just for this summary.  I’m pretty sure you will read the rest, but if you don’t you won’t have wasted your time or money.

Second, I think there is a lesson to be learned from someone who’s father had her mother beheaded, half-sister had her thrown in jail, and still led the country without a grudge, or a feeling that she was owed something.  How many of us could leave that baggage behind and accomplish the amazing things she did?

Finally, you don’t have to be in business to be a leader.  The leadership lessons in this book are applicable to all areas of life.  Axelrod uses examples from events in Elizabeth’s life to demonstrate the lesson to be learned.  One of my favorites is regarding the English defeat of the Spanish Armada.  This is possibly the most famous clash with the Spanish – because it makes for good movies.  However, there were lots of other ways that Elizabeth got at the Spanish.  She knew she couldn’t take them on in an all-out war because England didn’t have a full army.  But, she did have the ability to hit them in small ways.  For example, she funded Sir Francis Drake to raid Spanish ships and takes resources that hurt them strategically.  He raided as a privateer, basically a pirate, not as an official representative of England.  The leadership lesson is that it isn’t always necessary to go all-in when you need to accomplish something.  If you don’t have the resources, you might be able to hit strategically and still accomplish your goal.  Well, I don’t say it as eloquently as Axelrod, but that’s why he is a published author and I’m not.

One more thing…did you know that Virginia is named for Queen Elizabeth?  Me neither.  Virginia – for the Virgin Queen.  Ok, maybe she felt she was owed a little something.

The Monk and the Scientist

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Title: Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Date Completed: 2/26/10

Author(s): Matthieu Ricard

Copyright: 2003, Little, Brown and Company

# pages: 237

Genre: Self Improvement

ISBN: 978-0-316-05475-1

Over the last three-ish years, I’ve become very interested in learning more about the brain.  In the course of reading about new scientific lessons about how the brain works, I learned of a study using Buddhist Monks to understand the different ways the brain works.  I have also read a lot about Buddhism, so this really caught my eye.  So, when I saw this book, I was really excited to get my hands on it.

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist Monk who works with the Dalai Lama.  He is one of the monks who was hooked up to a big machine and studies while meditating.  Interesting enough, in-and-of itself.  But, wait!  There’s more!

Matthieu Ricard is also a scientist who mapped the genes on the chromosome of Escherichia coli bacteria at the Pasteur Institute.  There, he worked with Francois Jacob, a Nobel Prize winner.  I mean, come on.  This guy seems to always work with the greats.

So, the book is a combination of Buddhist philosophy on happiness mixed with the stark realities of the science that backs it up.  In the author’s words, ‘One goal of this book is to identify the inner conditions that favor happiness and those that hinder it.’  I think this is what makes the book interesting.  It is a mix of science, psychology, and spirituality that flows from topic to topic while keeping your interest.

I must say, and this is totally of subject, that there is one thing about the book that I won’t quickly forget.  Throughout the book, Richard describes people in ways that you would generally expect.  The great philosopher Aristotle.  Tibetan hermit Xu.  Eminent scientist Ekman. But, a line that made me laugh out loud was the great pessimist Arthur Schopenhauer. I mean, who wants to be forever know as a great pessimist?  So, I looked him up on Wikipedia.  They call him a great pessimist too.  I suddenly feel much better about my accomplishments in life.  I may not be working along side a Nobel Prize winner, or the Dalai Lama.  But, I am confident that I will not have ‘the great pessimist’ on my tombstone.  And for that, I am grateful!


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Title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Date Completed: 2/14/10

Author(s): Robert Pirsig

Copyright: 2005, HarperPerennial Modern Classics

# pages: 430

Genre: Philosophy

ISBN: 0-06-083987-2

This book has been on my reading list for a very long time.  It is a modern-day classic that was written in 1974.  I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was really excited to dig right into the book.  Little did I know what I was up against.

ZAMM is two books in one.  There is the story of the author and his son as they ride across the country on their motorcycle.  It is the traditional story of a father and his son trying to figure out how their relationship works.  The second is a story of a (literally) crazy professor who is obsessed with defining the word ‘Quality.’  This is the philosophy part of the book.

You know how in college, you would read a book about a guy on a motorcycle wearing a scarf, and then you’d get to class the next day and find out it wasn’t really about a guy on a motorcycle wearing a scarf?  The motorcycle represents our vulnerability and the scarf represents the character’s attempt to block himself off from the vulnerability?  Well, I was the person who just always thought it was about a guy, a motorcycle, and a scarf.  I never really got the whole meaning behind the meaning thing.

This book is one of those really deep books that assumes that you are the kind of person who gets the meaning behind the meaning.  I’m glad I read it, but I’m also glad it’s over.  I know it isn’t a glowing review, but as with all books, you should read it for yourself and make your own judgment.  That’s what I love about reading.  It introduces you to new things and you get to make up your own mind about whether or not you like them.  There is a whole world out there to learn about.  Go read!

Where everyone is named Martha

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Title: Founding Mothers

Date Completed: 1/30/10

Author(s): Cokie Roberts

Copyright: 2004, William Morrow

# pages: 282

Genre: History

ISBN: 0-06-009025-1

This book should be required reading in high school.  Cokie Roberts has written the history of the American Revolution through the eyes of the women who supported our Founding Fathers.  Although I found this angle interesting, the thing that I really enjoyed about the book was that it gave me a real feel for what it was like to live during the revolution.

I’ve read a lot of history books.  Every one I’ve read has been focused on the key players – which, of course, were all men.  A by-product of this focus is that we have learned a lot about both the battles and the politics of the very early years of the United States.  But, we’ve never learned a lot about the non-military, non-political life the people of the Revolutionary years led.  This is what I found most fascinating about the book.  Not to take away from the main purpose of the book, which I also found interesting and learned a lot from.

One funny fact that I learned from the book is how many Martha Washingtons there were.  It seems that every female child born immediately following the Revolution were named Martha Washington.

An interesting part of the culture in these early years was the very common practice of sending your children to live with other people in other cities.  The husband goes off to battle in Philadelphia.  The wife, who lives in Rhode Island, decides to spend the winter months (when the battles were on hold) in Philadelphia with her husband.  She sends her children to live with a friend in South Carolina for six months.  And, if the wife dies while on her trip, the kids just stay with the friend.  Potentially until they get married and start their own family.  The book had many examples of children and parents being separated for the majority of the child’s life.

There are also a lot of stories about how the women were really business owners (although they would never call themselves that) while their husbands were off at war, or in later years, off forming the new government.  In the decades that it took to gain our independence and set up our government, many of the men were living somewhere other than home.  While they were gone, it was up to the women to earn enough money to cover the expenses at home and the expenses incurred by their husbands.  These women were enterprising – something that I’ve really never seen in the books that I’ve read.  They set up import/export businesses, were responsible for identifying new markets for existing crops, and knew how to be as frugal as possible when necessary to make ends meet.

If you read this book, let me make one suggestion.  Keep a piece of paper near-by so that you can make a little family tree type chart.  About halfway through the book, I was wishing I had such a chart to keep track of all of the people.  It is hard to keep track of everyone when they are all named Martha!

Kinsey Millhone

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Title: H is for Homicide

Date Completed: 1/20/2010

Author(s): Sue Grafton

Copyright: 1991, Fawcett Columbine Books

# pages: 256

Genre: Fiction/Mystery

ISBN: 0-449-00063-X

I’ve been reading Sue Grafton’s ‘alphabet’ series for many years.  She just released ‘U’ this past fall, and I’m looking forward to reading it.  The problem is that my local library branch doesn’t have all of the letters of the alphabet, so I’m not able to just go in order.  And, as a result, I got to page 132 of this book before I realized that I’ve read it before!  I should have kept track from the beginning, but alas, I didn’t and now it is a crap shoot each time to remember which letters I’ve read.  Never fear…I finished the book.

The alphabet series is about Kinsey Millhone, a thirty-something private detective in the 1980s.  She is solving a case in each book – without the benefit of the internet or cell phones.  She uses good old fashioned detective work to solve her cases.

H is for Homicide is actually not a very good name, now that I think about it.  Although there is a homicide, it is really a very minor plot in the book.  The overall case involves Kinsey going undercover in an insurance fraud crime ring.  One of my favorite characters in this book is the dog – a pit bull.  He also has a minor part in the book, but I’m always partial to the canines!

If you’ve never read any of the alphabet series, I would recommend them to those of you who like the Private Investigator genre.  I’ve enjoyed all of the ones that I’ve read…just don’t ask me which ones those are!

Book 22 – Live Long and Prosper

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Title: Chasing Life

Date Completed: 1/14/2010

Author(s): Sanjay Gupta, MD

Copyright: 2007, Warner Wellness

# pages: 162

Genre: Health/Wellbeing

ISBN: 0-446-19498-0

 I picked up this book because it was on sale.  I didn’t know anything about it, but I am familiar with Sanajay Gupta, so I knew it would be focused on health.  I must say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The book looks at practical ways to increase your life-span.  However, the focus is on making sure that all of your years are active, productive years.  It doesn’t do you any good to live to be 100 if you spend the last 20 of those years unable to get out and enjoy life.

 Although there is nothing new and earth shattering in the book, I thought it was a unique approach to the topic.  If you want me to summarize the book for you, you should eat healthy, exercise, socialize, and not smoke.  See, nothing earth shattering.  But, what Gupta focuses on is the very practical information you should know about these topics.  For example, he takes some very common ‘urban legends’ and gets down to brass tacks.  For example, there is a section about using plastic in the microwave.  We’ve all heard that you shouldn’t use plastic when warming your food because of the chemicals that are released.  He talks about this in detail, including telling you when it is ok and when it isn’t.  Generally speaking, you don’t have to worry about it.

 There is a large section that discusses cancer and other medical issues that gets pretty technical.  There were a couple of pages where my eyes glazed over and I felt like I needed to go to medical school to get it.  But, the concepts still got through. 

 I enjoyed the book and think that it is a good, fast read if you are looking for some practical tips about how to improve your over all health.  There is something in this book for everyone.

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