No shortcuts in this summer reading list
Hard-truth reading recommendations
While you’re taking it easy this summer, I offer some hard-truth reading recommendations for you. In alignment with my blog series — Running with the bulls without getting trampled — my picks for your summer reading promise no shortcuts.
Some of our hard-working interns run their own book club here at Russell Investments. With their input and that of my colleagues, here are our recommendations for your summer reading:
$18 billion. That’s how much money was estimated to be lost in the Bernie Madoff investment scandal, including losses by some of the world’s most sophisticated investors. In Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of CounterIntuition, author Michael J. Mauboussin explains that even the most intuitive people make wrong decisions sometimes. Mauboussin is Director of Research at BlueMountain Capital Management and an adjunct professor of finance at Columbia Business School. He’s written extensively about discerning the difference between luck and skill. In this book, he lays down some simple rules to avoid what he calls mental missteps, which are akin to cognitive biases. The book is highly critical of so-called ‘experts’, and instead encourages the consideration of alternative options. In other words, Mauboussin encourages us to think twice and then promises that sounder judgment will result.
The author explains that his method may be more work, at least in the short term, than relying on intuition. But, it will likely be more successful — as intuition can fool a person into thinking their first instinct is the right way to go. And as far as summer reading, Mauboussin tells plenty of engaging stories to prove his points, even as he promises no shortcuts.
See if you can make it through this next review without a distraction from a digital device.
Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who gained fame from his blog, Study Hacks, where he writes about ‘how to perform productive, valuable and meaningful work in an increasingly distracted digital age’. It was on his blog where Newport coined the term ‘deep work’, which inspired the title for this book, and which refers to studying for focused chunks of time without distractions. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World argues that the constant pokes from smart phones and email seriously degrade our ability to complete activities of real cognitive worth.
Newport espouses the benefits of being left completely alone to work on difficult problems. He offers practical advice: Track how much time you spend on focussed work. Only respond to emails that truly matter and skip the rest all together. Schedule periods when you allow yourself to use the Internet and avoid it completely the rest of the time.
In a world where technology constantly fights for our attention, this book provides a way to fight back. The next time you feel overwhelmed at work by being pulled every direction at once — and it will most likely happen today — remember that there is another way. No shortcuts here, either, but the solutions offered feel both meaningful and achievable.
The Elements of Style
Lastly, I recommend an old book that has little to do with investing, but everything to do with clear communication: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. And yes, that’s the same White who wrote Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Continuing our no-shortcuts theme, Strunk and White outline time-tested tips for good writing, with tips on how to ‘use the active voice’, and ‘avoid extraneous words’. The authors take their own advice on brevity, with the book coming in right around 100 pages.
Strunk was an English professor at Cornell University and wrote the original edition of this book for his students to use in his college classroom. In 1957, one of those former students — E.B. White — was tasked with revising Strunk’s work and making it suitable for the reading and writing public. White described the task as an attempt to cut ‘the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin’. The book has been in print ever since.
It may seem like hubris to talk about tips for good writing in a blog post I’ve written, so I will pause here take a moment to read through this post again to see what extraneous words I can cut. I hope you’ll take moments of your own and consider these books. No easy solutions. No shortcuts. Just recommendations for the hard and rewarding work of decision making, focussed thinking, and clear communication. I can think of no better way to relax by the pool.