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Two Reviews: Drive and Hit Makers

I'm still trying to catch up on my goal of writing at least a short review for every book I read in 2019. As such, I thought I could pair two reviews into one post for a pair of business/ pop psychology books I read in recent months.

First though, a short digression...

One criticism of many business/ general non-fiction books seems to be that the central thesis of these books can be summed up in a single chapter or so, and that much of many of these books is just repetition/ filler/ fluff. Indeed, several successful companies and products have sprung up out of this very thesis and have offered to save busy people time through providing summaries of non-fiction books. While I agree with the central premise that many business/ general non-fiction books have a lot of repetition, the irony is that when I've tried out these summaries, I've retained virtually none of what I read/ listened to. It's only through that repetition and spending extra mental time with the ideas presented that I've ended up a) being convinced of the ideas and b) retained them in any meaningful way. Perhaps I'll write a more extensive post on this at some point, but for now, here are the reviews.

Hit Makers by Derek Thompson

Hit Makers examines and dissects what makes something--from paintings to music to products--popular (eg a "hit"). The central premise of the book is that hits are born where fluency (the thing in question seeming familiar to the person consuming it and therefore being easily digestible) meets novelty (the thing seems fresh and to some degree challenges). If you have the former without the latter, the thing seems boring and doesn't stand out. If the opposite is true, the consumer/ end user gets frustrated and moves on.

The other interesting idea in the book that stuck with me was Thompson's attempt to refute the myth of virality. Thompson argues (compellingly) that things seldom truly go viral and that most of the things that people claim "went viral" usually got a jump start by being broadcast by a single person with a very large audience. I found this to be a particularly interesting and useful distinction for anyone (an artist/ writer/ entrepreneur) trying to make something "catch on."

Ultimately, I enjoyed Hit Makers quite a bit, though I found many of the examples given to be less compelling/ memorable than many of those found in, say, the work of Malcolm Gladwell; however, if this particular topic interests you, or you're just a fan of pop psychology/ business books generally, you'll probably want to add this to your reading list.

Drive by Daniel H. Pink

Drive makes the compelling case that our current system of rewarding people (usually employees) with direct, "if/ then" incentives, has things completely backward. Direct rewards, the book argues, actually often hurt long-term performance and motivation. Instead of these rewards, the book makes the argument that the things most important to motivate are:

1) Autonomy - the ability to direct how/ where/ when one goes about their tasks

2) Mastery - the opportunity to become really good at something over time

3) Purpose - a connection between what one is working on to some higher order goal

While I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to everyone, I do think that it has some very useful insights for managers faced with the task of motivating employees on a regular basis. Additionally, the book is likely also highly relevant for educators and parents trying to find a better way to motivate students and children.


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