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This holiday season, I focused on reading books that represented events or people that changed our perspective on the world for better or worse, plus I added in two books for fun. Here’s a brief summary:

American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind behind the Silk Road by Nick Bilton – this is an extremely well-written book that describes the creation and operation of the Silk Road in the style of a page-turning thriller. Ross Ulbricht, who created Silk Road is from the town that we live in (Westlake in Austin, TX). On the one hand, it is scary to think of what he created in such a short-time frame. On the other hand, it illustrates how hard it will be to truly slow down illicit activity via the dark web with the present rules we have in place. Impossible would be the right word. Recommended by John Cunningham.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann – this book describes the early days of how the FBI began by centering on a series of murders that occurred in Oklahoma impacting the Osage Indians. This is another well-written book that is a great reminder of why we need a strong FBI. Recommended by Christopher Martin.

Kissinger by Walter Isaacson – Walter Isaacson has become my favorite biographer to read. This volume on Henry Kissinger is unsparing in its unveiling of how Kissinger, Nixon and their teams developed policy, focused on world order and, quite frankly, lived in a continually semi-paranoid state. Isaacson has a gift for putting all of the information out on the table in a reader-friendly approach. Next book I will read of his is on Leonardo da Vinci.

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day by Joel Selvin – Woodstock was heralded as a breakthrough event that was not nearly as well planned as many thought. The west coast version of Woodstock turned out to be Altamont, an event where “planning” was not necessarily an operative word.   It became symbolic as an event that signaled the end of the “innocence” of the 60’s. The Stones, by the way, are one of my favorite bands of all time, so easy to read. Recommended by Mike Marinello.

Since it was a time to chill out during the holidays, I also read two fiction books, which I don’t do a lot of.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty – this satirical book about a fictional town called “Dickens” within Los Angeles and a race-related trial that ends up in the US Supreme Court are all you need to know, other than this won the Man Booker Prize, which automatically puts this in the “must read” column. Love the Man Booker Prize selections each year. Recommended by Michael Roth.

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille – I have been a long-time fan of Nelson DeMille’s work, particularly The Gold Coast. A fun, relatively quick read about a plot that rolls out in Cuba. Will stop there.

In Q1, I plan to read more on Blockchain, related technologies and global issues.

Happy New Year! Please keep the recommendations for books coming in.

Best, Bob

Many of the answers in life are common sense.  We just choose to ignore them.  We always have a “good reason”, but every now and then, we just have to call ourselves out and say to ourselves “nope, you’re not as smart as you think.”

Slightly more than one year ago, I finally admitted this to myself and on November 17, 2016, I received a vertical sleeve gastrectomy performed by Dr. Paul Cirangle.  This is otherwise known as “making my stomach smaller”.  Today, I am 95 pounds lighter and a lot smarter about how I stay healthy.

I like to say that the answers were always hiding in plain sight.  I just chose to ignore them.  In the spirit of inspiring others to think about their long-term health, here are my top 11 insights.

#1 – Listen to your friends – Jim Weiss, who had similar surgery nine years ago, is someone I talk about business with on a regular basis.  He would occasionally ask me about my weight, mention his experience and provide me with Dr. Cirangle’s information.  Jim knew I would eventually see the answer right in front of me and act before I knew it.  I’m thankful Jim cared more about my health than I did at the time.

#2 – Focus on the numbers that matter – what’s your waist size and your BMI (body mass index)? If you are putting on weight, just admit it.  Don’t rationalize that it is ok.  Weight gain is a slow-motion movie.

#3 – Weigh yourself every chance you get – maybe your blood pressure is fine.  Or you don’t have diabetes.  You have some rationale.   You are ignoring the part of the iceberg you can’t see.

#4 – Think of fuel vs. food – my food pyramid starts with protein, then vegetables and usually ends there.  I don’t start with carbs or sugars or anything else with no real value.  I think of how the body is fueled, not how it is fed.

#5 – Imagine your coach blowing the whistle – would your coach say it is ok to sit on your butt watching games or would they tell you to get moving?  I imagine my coach is there every day.  So, if I need to, I do a workout at 10pm or go out for a 2-3 mile walk at night in whatever city I am in.  It’s not that hard actually.  It’s really just taking that first step each time.  Right coach?

#6 – Partners matter – my wife, Donna, is highly focused on eating right, exercising and staying in shape.  It allows us to keep a clean house and limit temptations.  If you live with someone else, you are in it together.  So, if you are that other person, ask if you are helping or hurting.

#7 – Don’t overthink devices, but use them – I didn’t sleep enough.  I didn’t weigh myself often.  I didn’t track what I ate every day.  Now I do via a Fit Bit watch, a Fit Bit Aria scale and the MyFitnessPal app.  For the cost of one expensive dinner, I can now track myself every day all year round.

#8 – Realize why we overeat – our stomach contains cells that contain Ghrelin, the hunger hormone that drives our appetite.  With far less Ghrelin receptors, I am just not all that hungry.  Your need for that next slice of pizza is more your body playing with your head than it is a physical need.

#9 – Who needs sugar? – I drink my coffee black, drink water with crystal light and just don’t drink sodas anymore.  The world hasn’t ended.

#10 – Moderation is my middle name – I took a one year hiatus from alcohol. It wasn’t really that bad.  And now I have new rules in place.  I won’t drink unless I am at a special event on a personal level.  Gone are the days where I will drink on an airplane, for example.

#11 Establish new rules – I exercise 3-4x per week.  I don’t miss.  I always reach 90-120 grams of protein a day.  I don’t miss.  Basically, I have rules for how I will live each day.  None are hard, all are easy to follow.

So, on a weekend of being thankful, I want to express thanks to my wife, Donna; my surgeon, Dr. Paul Cirangle; my friend, Jim Weiss; and all of my friends who have been encouraging, inspiring and behind me 110% to get healthy for the rest of my life.

Note: surgery is a personal decision.  I found that the surgery was the right move for myself.  I can take the weight off and keep it off forever, which is my goal.  How you lose weight is a personal choice, so I will never advocate one way. 

This fall I chose a theme of “science and technology” and then realized via this reading list how, once again, teams are so important to anything successful that occurs in life.

Here is what I read and learned about:

No One Cares About Crazy People – by Ron Powers – the author’s family includes two sons with schizophrenia, which provides Powers with a bird’s eye view into our broken mental health system.  In great detail, he interweaves the history and failures of our approach to mental health in parallel with the struggles and bias his own children have faced.  A worthy read and one that you hope becomes outdated soon.

Machine Learning: The New AI – by Ethem Alpaydin – the MIT Press has an excellent series of books describing what’s next in as close to laymen’s terms as you can hope for with otherwise highly technical subjects.  Machine learning (ML) is a discipline that we use every day at W2O Group to power our analytics work. In my view, ML will be mainstream knowledge for every communicator and marketer within five years.  We all tend to think that new technology is just for the geeks, but advances like ML are actually making it easier for all of us to geek out and make a real difference in how we analyze our world.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End – by Atul Gawande – Dr. Gawande is an exceptional author, who chooses, in this book, to make us think about how we age in U.S. society and how we can improve on a healthcare system unprepared for change.  My biggest takeaway is that we’ll do more for those in the last years of their lives via common sense decisions than we will, in most cases, through medical interventions.  A wake up call on how to think about geriatrics.

Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes – by Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy – the authors illustrate how “Cassandras” often tell us what will happen, but we choose to ignore them.  From Katrina to Fukashima, few disasters were surprises.  I found a real parallel here for all of us who innovate.  It is often hard to convince people about how the world may change, since they like to root their decisions in the current environment.  It’s more comfortable.  Until ISIS forms or a city floods or a power grid is shut down.  Exploring why we fail to listen is…..worth a listen…..

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry — by Neil deGrasse Tyson – this is the holiday gift choice in this list by a wide margin.  Neil does such an excellent job of explaining our universe in bite size chunks that we can all understand.  I know more about our moon, supernovas and how the universe is expanding from this book than what I learned from all prior books put together.

Together is Better – by Simon Sinek – you know him as the famous Ted Talk guy who “starts with why”.  Using a similar approach, he talks about the power of teams and how we can all more effectively work together.  I found it particularly resonant as I thought about how important it is for the mental health world to partner more effectively or how the best care occurs when healthcare professionals team up to provide the best care for the aging patient, regardless of their position or how we could all do a better job listening to new ideas to further our goals.

It was an interesting set of books to read.  Now, for the winter, I am planning to focus on individuals who have impacted our history (e.g. Kissinger) and just read some books for fun, many of these books are past recommendations from all of you.  Thank you to Will de Groot for the Being Mortal book and Jim Weiss for Together is Better.

Best, Bob