Category: Book

Imagine Going to University in North Korea

Imagine going to University and having no access to the internet. Imagine not being allowed to have a mobile phone. Imagine not being allowed to leave the campus. Imagine eating the same food day in day out and following the same routine every hour of every day. Imagine doing all of that willingly, because you know nothing different.

That is the life of the elite students in North Korea.

I recently read the book ‘Without You, There is no us’ by Suki Kim. Suki is a South-Korean born, American living, journalist. In 2011, she went undercover as a missionary teacher in North Korea to teach English to the elite students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST).

Being the same age as the students she was teaching, I read this book with a view for comparison. At times I didn’t believe what I was reading as the level of awareness and willingness to try new things or hear new ideas from the students was almost zero. They couldn’t comprehend the idea of an essay. They used any chances they had to either boast about the Great Leader or to in some way abuse America. Yet as I read more, I felt more sympathy as in their environment, it was virtually impossible to know better.

I’ve tried to think about the main things I have learnt from this book to be able to put it in this post. However I don’t feel as though I can express in words or a list, what it is I’ve learnt. The book was an eye-opener – into the North Korean regime, the trapped world of a student but also the characteristics of human nature that we all share.

Suki has given a TED talk about the book. I encourage you to at least watch this, however I think the book is very powerful to help gain an understanding of the world we live in, so in my opinion, it should be read.

The Social Animal

I have recently read ‘The Social Animal’ by David Brooks.

Fiction and Non-Fiction combined, the story follows two characters all the way from birth to death. The book explains the process of how our lives unfold and how our mind adapts. It explains the motives and imagination of a child, the emotions of falling in love, the influences of work and the desire to find meaning in life.

The book also ‘jumps out’ at key points to go into more details about the world around us. For example, the impact of different schooling systems, or how voters really act around election periods.

I had considered writing about my favourite part, or what I had learnt. In truth, I can’t pick one area and any attempt to share what is taught would only undermine the power of the book.

In short, this is potentially the best book I have ever read and it is a book I will tell everyone to read. For a short overview of the book, David Brooks has given a TED talk on the topic, however nothing will beat reading this book!



Motivation Isn’t Hard To Find

“I just can’t find any motivation” is NOT an excuse for poor performance. Motivation comes from within. You either make it or change what you’re doing.

How we’re motivated has evolved. The traditional techniques of carrots and sticks from ‘Motivation 2.0’ no longer work.

We now crave Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose – laid out in ‘Motivation 3.0’. These are the views of Daniel Pink, in his book – The Drive.


(Yes, this is the motivation TED Talk guy)

Drive explains how businesses need to catch up with science in terms of how to motivate people. Motivation is intrinsic and people will work when they are self-motivated. However the book only talks about the side of the employer – what about the employee or individual, how do they motivate themselves?

The phrase “I just can’t find the motivation” is probably most common at University, yet university doesn’t lack aspects that should push you:

  • Making your £9000 a year count
  • Knowing that a high grade will help you get a good graduate position
  • Knowing (from past experience) that you will only be annoyed if you leave an essay until the last minute

Yet, so many students will head to the bar before heading to the library, and you know what, with the above as motivators I’m not surprised people lack motivation. The above are either external influences or aren’t the final outcome. Not sure what I mean? Let me explain.

“I want to do well in my exams because I will get a good grade and therefore a good job.” True, good grades can help get a good job. But if you use this as your motivator, you won’t feel motivated. This is a line that you’ve been told, you haven’t decided it for yourself.

“I’m not going to leave this essay until the last minute like last time.” And then you do! Of course you do, you still get the work done and submit it. Why do you leave it until the last minute, causing frustration? Most likely because you believe you can complete the work to 60-70-80% of your ability and still do fine. If the final outcome (the grade) isn’t that important to you, then the build-up won’t be so important.

So how do you ‘find’ motivation?

You don’t. You make it.

Motivation is an intrinsic force that you must create. Understanding why you are doing something will help. This why must be decided by you, not told by someone else! For example, if you tell yourself to finish an essay by Friday so you can go away for the weekend, you’re probably going to finish it by Friday.

Ask yourself these questions:

1 – What is the final outcome from this work?

2 – How much do I care about this work?

3 – If I slack off, will there be consequences?

4 – What can I gain from doing the work?

The answers to these need to be decided by you and can be seemingly unrelated. For example, you could answer question 4 by saying “yes, I can gain a strong work habit that will help me in the future”, or answer question 3 by saying “I won’t have time to go to the bar”. By understanding the total impact of what you’re doing and your personal motives, you are more likely to get the motivation you need.

If after answering these questions you don’t feel motivated, then chances are you don’t care about what you’re doing. That’s fine, stop doing it.

Is Technology Invading Our Privacy?

This week I finished The Circle by Dave Eggers. In the book, The Circle is the world’s largest technology company, it has the best online services and the lead when it comes to hardware. It is viewed as the best place to work as you get access to exclusive technology and insights. However, early in the book you begin to wonder if it really is that great!

the circle


Whilst I listened to the audiobook, the story felt a little like a fantasy; the employees are being covered in wearable tech, the governments are entering ‘complete transparency’ meaning they have a live camera and microphone on them at all times. It all felt a little over the top.

However it didn’t take me long to see the overlap with today’s technology. Only a few days later my brother came home with a new smart wristband, talking with amazement about how it tracked everything from his sleep pattern; his heart rate and alerting him when he has a new follower on twitter.

‘Complete transparency’ isn’t so alien either. Millions of snapchat videos and periscope streams mean that we are more likely to be filmed when we either don’t realise or want to on a regular basis!

The uses and advancements of technology in the book were extremely concerning, so should we be concerned?

I say, not yet!

Advancements in technology are amazing and they do provide endless benefits. Whilst many can be sceptical or hold back, I try to embrace technology as much as I can and I think others should as it is only going to continue moving forward.

However, what is important is the need for privacy. I would love to know how I had slept the previous night or know my heart rate when working out, however I wouldn’t want that information to be accessible for all to see and know.

Unfortunately social media is making many people feel that they must share all details of their life, this is where we need to be concerned. The loss of privacy can only end badly.

Without the choice to have privacy when using technology, it soon heads towards a 1984 scenario …. and if you don’t know what I mean  then 1984 must be next on your reading list!

TESTS – Do Them!

Assumptions can be dangerous. They are good to create, but not good to follow!

Assumptions aren’t fact, they are theories you’ve created and no matter how much you think you’re right, you can’t prove it…. Well not yet!

I’ve just finished reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

lean startup

This book it regarded as one of the best business and entrepreneurship books going and I cannot disagree one bit! It is by far one of the best books I have ever read and a must read for anyone even remotely interested in business.

The book is full of stories of large companies in their very early days. The start of dropbox and groupon to name a few. Hearing about their humble beginnings put into perspective the importance of aiming high – they start out no different to any other company.

Besides being drawn into to hear the stories he told, the book is full of great business advice. Two stood out for me:

1 – Know what you’re assuming

You may not realise it but most startups have at least one critical assumption that if proven wrong, means failure.

It is vital that teams take the time needed to identify the assumptions their product or service is making.

Let me give an example –

uber – a hugely successful startup makes a huge assumption that people are willing to get in a car with a person who isn’t even a proper taxi driver.

Airbnb – they assumed that people would be willing to let strangers stay in their house!

For both of these, if they were false, the product wouldn’t work!

Once these have been identified, they must be tested. You can’t assume they are either true or false. Imagine, before the success of Airbnb, if someone told you people wanted to let strangers stay in their house? You’d probably think it’s absurd.

However on the opposite, even if something seems trivial, if you can’t guarantee it, find out!

2 – Testing from day one!

I had always seen the value in testing products, you can hear from customers what is good and what isn’t. However I had always assumed this had to be an almost final product. Not the case!

In the book, countless stories of testing from day one are told. Testing small features, colour changes, ideas and theories. Not can be guessed and anything that can be measured should be.

You wouldn’t build something people don’t want, but unless you find out from those people, you can’t know what they do want!

My testing experience

After reading a chapter on testing, I decided to test some of my thoughts for my latest project.

I wanted to test some different features to see how people would react. I dumbed down the process but kept the user experience as similar to the real thing as possible. I set out guidelines, offered a reward and spread the word.

The uptake was a disaster! No one was interested in testing the features, even with a free gift on offer!

The first question people might ask is, “How did you publicise the testing, did you personally ask people to be involved?”

Well, I didn’t personally ask people, however I made sure they were aware of it. This was key as it actually helped me learn something else. How I packaged and sold the actual idea mattered! People weren’t buying the vision I was selling and so that needed to change. ‘Forcing’ people into the testing would have clouded that result.


In short; read The Lean Startup, know what you’re assuming and never stop testing!

#TheMoment – the speed of social media

Around 30% of the world’s population are active social media users. That equates to approximately 2.078 billion users!!

global digital snapshot

On average 500 million tweets are sent per day. The average shelf-life of a tweet is only 2.8 hours! With all this activity how can businesses be heard?!

social shelf life

Success on twitter is all about capturing #TheMoment

the moment 1

“Content marketing is a lot like trying to catch a wave – timing is everything. Too early, and nobody cares. Too Late, and someone else has caught it.” – David Schneider

#TheMoment is a book all about twitter moments and their power.

The book shows how businesses have been forced to alter how they control their brand image online. No longer do companies have time to thoroughly plan and verify their content. Sometimes you only have a window of a few minutes to capture the attention of your customers. If you have too many hurdles in place you will miss it every time!

Social media gives companies a platform to interact with their customers in real-time, reacting to what’s happening NOW.

One of the best moment captures came from Oreo Cookie during Superbowl XLVII. When the lights went out it took just five minutes for the page to tweet:
oreo cookie dark

With just over 15k retweets, this is one of their best performing tweets to date, and it was created without long planning and verification!

Be seen

I currently run multiple social media pages and each and every day I am battling to get my content to stand out and be seen.

The first challenge is to get a user to stop and look at my post. Trying to not blend in is a priority! A good way to solve this is with pictures; they’re colourful, attract the eye and also take up more space!! Meaning it takes longer for the user to pass you, increasing the chances that they will look at your post!

But attracting the attention isn’t enough. What I find funny about social media users is how precious they are with their time. Users can spend hours online however with the amount that’s available online, time dedicated to each individual post is very small, if at all! So how can you actually get a user to part with just a few seconds of their time to read your post?

This is where language plays a part. The wording needs to be easy to read, informative, interesting and thought provoking – all in 140 characters. This is where some businesses blow the competition out of the water.

Improving the appeal of posts is a skill I am far from mastering but each day I’m learning new things, exploring new ideas and testing new theories.




Why People Don’t Understand You

Now, you’re probably wondering why a blog titled “Why People Don’t Understand You” has a picture of Stephen Hawking. Well, this post was actually inspired by his book “A Brief History of Time”.

breif history of time

In this book Stephen Hawking talks about some of the most complicated theories known to mankind, as the cover suggests, it covers everything from the big bang to black holes. He talks in detail about scientific principles and theories that some of the greatest minds alive are still trying to understand.

My science knowledge is limited and although I enjoyed the subject at school I didn’t carry it on past GCSE’s, however I found myself engrossed in this book. I was amazed by the stories he told and the theories he explained. I listened intently to learn more and more.

The reason I enjoyed this book so much is the same reason it is a best seller – everyone can understand it.

As I listened to the audiobook I was amazed by the way he could make something so complex sound so simple and it opened my eyes to value in being able to communicate this way.

There’s nothing more frustrating than have an amazing idea or thought and attempting to tell someone about it but they don’t get as excited as you do. Chances are they don’t understand it as you do.

This reminds of me something my A-level tutors told me when we first began to write essays – “assume the reader is a beginner and explain everything”. Whilst this can be laborious it has value and ensures you get your message across.

If you want people to be engaged and excited by what you’re saying you must make sure that your wording is appropriate and your explanations are clear, otherwise they will lose focus. Just think back to the last time someone tried to explain something complicated to you and you couldn’t follow – for me that’s probably my last lecture! – I bet you lost interest and disengaged from the person talking.

So the next time you need to explain something complicated or share a thought you’ve had, just think ‘how would Stephen Hawking explain this?’ and you’re good to go!