Book Notes: Writing for Story by Jon Franklin

I highlight and take notes when I read nonfiction books. Once I finish a book, I format and edit my notes so that I can easily remind myself of what I learned without having to re-read the book. These notes are not a substitute for reading the book, they only serve as a reminder of key concepts.


Shorter form writing (or presenting, video creating , etc…) is more difficult because every sentence is more valuable and needs to deliver a message.

Basic short story form: conflict, then resolution.

“Chance…favors the prepared mind.”  It’s hard to discover a specific story.  But if you keep opened minded looking for stories, you’re bound to run into good ones eventually.

A story must show a relationship between character, situation, and action.  If any pieces are missing, then it won’t be a good story.

Introducing a complication, internal or external, introduces tension and suspense.  “The world is chock full of complications” – you just need to learn to be aware of them and spot them.

Find complications by looking for action – figure out the motive for the action and you’ll likely find the complication.

Resolutions break the tension that are created by complications.  Stories without resolutions make poor stories.

“Negative lessons are painful and inefficient…What the reader really wants is to be shown some insightful choices that have positive results.”

Resolutions must come from the character’s own efforts otherwise they are unsatisfying.

Outlining a the story.  First, conflict: “Cancer strikes Joe”.  Limit to 3 words, verbs must be string.  Second, resolution: “Joe overcomes cancer.”  Use these 3 word phrases to outline.

Once conflict and resolution identified, write action statements that will help develop the character towards the resolution. Each statement identifies the end of that section.  Eg:

Complication: Ducker gambles life
Development:
1. Ducker enters brain
2. Ducker clips aneurysm
3. Monster ambushes Ducker
Resolution: Ducker accepts defeat

Flashbacks are allowed once per conflict resolution, usually after an interesting complication.  Flashbacks are disorienting, so you have to use them after the most gripping part of the story to keep readers reading.

“The simpler an outline is, the more it focuses your thoughts on the important relationships in your story”

The resolution must always match the conflict – if not, rewrite one of them.

Each of the three actions should be related to the resolution.  They should show the process.  Cut out unnecessary actions.

“Foreshadowing is the technique by which the writer unobtrusively inserts details early in the story that will allow him to conduct his dramatic scenes without the necessity of explaining background details.”  This is what comics do – to give a good punchline, the setup needs to happen early on so the final delivery can be quick and impactful.

Don’t spend lots of time on a rough draft.  Writing you spend lots of time on becomes precious and difficult to cut later on.

Follow your outline.  Add the beggining lines, foreshadowing, at the end.  If you start straying from your outline stop OR adjust your outline and make sure it still makes sense.

Polish is not that important.  Good story is.

Don’t mistake style for substance.  It’s okay to mimic certain styles, but there still needs to be a good story there.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Key points:

  • Use action verbs
  • Show, don’t tell
  • The strongest thought should appear at the end of a section.
  • Cut out unnecessary parts
  • Foreshadow events
  • “Simplicity, coupled with clarity, equals elegance”

NOTE: Links to products in this post go through my Amazon affiliate account so if you use my links to buy something, a small percentage of that sale will go towards funding my book buying habit.

Book Notes: The Art of Readable Code by Dustin Boswell

The Art of Readable Code by Dustin Boswell

I highlight and take notes when I read nonfiction books. Once I finish a book, I format and edit my notes so that I can easily remind myself of what I learned without having to reread the book. These notes are not a substitute for reading the book, they only serve as a reminder of key concepts.


The fewer lines a variable is in scope, the shorter its name is allowed to be. Variables used in larger scopes must be less ambiguous so they are allowed to have longer names.

Don’t use project specific abbreviations — someone new to the project won’t know what they mean. “So our rule of thumb is: would a new teammate understand what the name means? If so, then it’s probably okay.”

“The clearest way to name a limit is to put max_ or min_ in front of the thing being limited.”

“In general, adding words like is, has, can, or should can make booleans more clear.”

“The best names are ones that can’t be misconstrued — the person reading your code will understand it the way you meant it, and no other way.”

“Everyone prefers to read code that’s aesthetically pleasing. By “formatting” your code in a consistent, meaningful way, you make it easier and faster to read.”

“The purpose of commenting is to help the reader know as much as the writer did.”

More comments aren’t necessarily better — the comments take up valuable screen real estate, so if there is a comment in the code “it better be worth it”.

“Don’t Comment Bad Names — Fix the Names Instead”

“Instead of minimizing the number of lines, a better metric is to minimize the time needed for someone to understand it.”

“The simplest way to break down an expression is to introduce an extra variable that captures a smaller subexpression. This extra variable is sometimes called an “explaining variable” because it helps explain what the subexpression means.”

“One technique [to clean up code] is to see if you can solve the problem the “opposite” way. Depending on the situation you’re in, this could mean iterating through arrays in reverse or filling in some data structure backward rather than forward.”

In general, keep scopes short and finish tasks as quickly as possible.

“The more places a variable is manipulated, the harder it is to reason about its current value.”

“The advice for this chapter is to aggressively identify and extract unrelated subproblems. Here’s what we mean: Look at a given function or block of code, and ask yourself, “What is the high-level goal of this code?” For each line of code, ask, “Is it working directly to that goal? Or is it solving an unrelated subproblem needed to meet it?” If enough lines are solving an unrelated subproblem, extract that code into a separate function.”

“Code that does multiple things at once is harder to understand. A single block of code might be initializing new objects, cleansing data, parsing inputs, and applying business logic, all at the same time.”

Break code up into small, easy to understand fragments. This makes understanding easier and reduces potential for bugs.

“do only one task at a time.”

“When explaining a complex idea to someone, it’s easy to confuse them with all the little details. It’s a valuable skill to be able to explain an idea “in plain English,” so that someone less knowledgeable than you can understand. It requires distilling an idea down to the most important concepts. Doing this not only helps the other person understand but also helps you think about your own ideas more clearly.”

“This chapter discussed the simple technique of describing your program in plain English and using that description to help you write more natural code. This technique is deceptively simple, but very powerful.”

“Knowing when not to code is possibly the most important skill a programmer can learn. Every line of code you write is a line that has to be tested and maintained. By reusing libraries or eliminating features, you can save time and keep your codebase lean and mean.”

“When you start a project, it’s natural to get excited and think of all the cool features you’ll want to implement. But programmers tend to overestimate how many features are truly essential to their project. A lot of features go unfinished or unused or just complicate the application.”

NOTE: Links to products in this post go through my Amazon affiliate account so if you use my links to buy something, a small percentage of that sale will go towards funding my book buying habit.

Book Notes: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

I highlight and take notes when I read nonfiction books. Once I finish a book, I format and edit my notes so that I can easily remind myself of what I learned without having to reread the book. These notes are not a substitute for reading the book, they only serve as a reminder of key concepts.


Regardless of all of these techniques, you always have to stay emotionally cool or none of them will work. Let knee-jerk reactions pass and pause in silence instead.

“Contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do.”

“Good negotiators, going in, know they have to be ready for possible surprises; great negotiators aim to use their skills to reveal the surprises they are certain exist.”

You have to stay open minded about a negotiation — best to “[hold] multiple hypotheses” to better understand where someone is coming from.

“Most people approach a negotiation so preoccupied by the arguments that support their position that they are unable to listen attentively.”

“The goal is to identify what your counterparts actually need…and get them feeling safe enough to talk and talk and talk some more about what they want.”

“There are essentially three voice tones available to negotiators: the late-night FM DJ voice, the positive/playful voice, and the direct or assertive voice.” You should use the positive/playful voice majority of the time. Rarely use the assertive. FM DJ voice is downward inflecting and says you are in control.

“While mirroring is most often associated with forms of nonverbal communication, especially body language, as negotiators a “mirror” focuses on the words and nothing else. Not the body language. Not the accent. Not the tone or delivery. Just the words.”

Paraphrasing what the other person just said is another form of mirroring.

“By repeating back what people say, you trigger this mirroring instinct and your counterpart will inevitably elaborate on what was just said and sustain the process of connecting.”

“The results were stunning: the average tip of the waiters who mirrored was 70 percent more than of those who used positive reinforcement.”

Label how someone is feeling — this will make them feel listened to as well as make them continue to talk — either because you labelled their emotions accurately or you purposefully did not.

“In every negotiation, in every agreement, the result comes from someone else’s decision. And sadly, if we believe that we can control or manage others’ decisions with compromise and logic, we’re leaving millions on the table.”

“Saying “No” gives the speaker the feeling of safety, security, and control. You use a question that prompts a “No” answer, and your counterpart feels that by turning you down he has proved that he’s in the driver’s seat.”

“Gun for a “Yes” straight off the bat, though, and your counterpart gets defensive, wary, and skittish”

“That’s why I tell my students that, if you’re trying to sell something, don’t start with “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” Instead ask, “Is now a bad time to talk?” Either you get “Yes, it is a bad time” followed by a good time or a request to go away, or you get “No, it’s not” and total focus.”

“Sometimes, if you’re talking to somebody who is just not listening, the only way you can crack their cranium is to antagonize them into “No.” One great way to do this is to mislabel one of the other party’s emotions or desires.”

“Another way to force “No” in a negotiation is to ask the other party what they don’t want. “Let’s talk about what you would say ‘No’ to,””

The best way to get a response to an email — send a question that you know the response will be no: “Have you given up on this project?”

Don’t strive for “yes” in negotiations — yes means someone is agreeing with you just to finish negotiating. Strive for “that’s right”, where someone is truly agreeing with you.

Use pauses to encourage people to keep talking. Can also use phrases like “Yes,” “OK,” “Uh-huh,” or “I see”.

Use paraphrasing + labeling to try and get a “that’s right”.

NEVER compromise/split the difference: “To make my point on compromise, let me paint you an example: A woman wants her husband to wear black shoes with his suit. But her husband doesn’t want to; he prefers brown shoes. So what do they do? They compromise, they meet halfway. And, you guessed it, he wears one black and one brown shoe. Is this the best outcome? No! In fact, that’s the worst possible outcome. Either of the two other outcomes — black or brown — would be better than the compromise. Next time you want to compromise, remind yourself of those mismatched shoes.”

“We don’t compromise because it’s right; we compromise because it is easy and because it saves face. We compromise in order to say that at least we got half the pie. Distilled to its essence, we compromise to be safe. Most people in a negotiation are driven by fear or by the desire to avoid pain. Too few are driven by their actual goals.”

Don’t think that any negotiation has a deadline — rarely are deadlines hard set.

Acknowledge the other person’s fears all up front: “”I got a lousy proposition for you,” I said, and paused until each asked me to go on. “By the time we get off the phone, you’re going to think I’m a lousy businessman. You’re going to think I can’t budget or plan. You’re going to think Chris Voss is a big talker. His first big project ever out of the FBI, he screws it up completely. He doesn’t know how to run an operation. And he might even have lied to me.””

Make them feel like they have something to lose: ““Still, I wanted to bring this opportunity to you before I took it to someone else,” I said. Suddenly, their call wasn’t about being cut from $2,000 to $500 but how not to lose $500 to some other guy.”

“Instead of saying, “I’m worth $110,000,” Jerry might have said, “At top places like X Corp., people in this job get between $130,000 and $170,000.””

If you can’t negotiate money, start negotiation other things: vacation, work hours, etc…

When talking numbers, use precise ones — $102,378 instead of $100,000 — it makes it seem like you’ve done a calculation.

If negotiating salary, establish success criteria — next time you will then able to negotiate for an even higher salary when you prove that you did well.

Calibrated questions: “queries that the other side can respond to but that have no fixed answers. It buys you time. It gives your counterpart the illusion of control — they are the one with the answers and power after all — and it does all that without giving them any idea of how constrained they are by it.”

Most of the time, calibrated questions use “how”, “what”, and sometimes “why”.

“Another simple rule is, when you are verbally assaulted, do not counterattack. Instead, disarm your counterpart by asking a calibrated question.”

“When someone’s tone of voice or body language does not align with the meaning of the words they say, use labels to discover the source of the incongruence”

Try to get the other person to commit to you three times. After the first commitment, try summarizing (paraphrase + label) to get the second commitment, and then try calibrated (“how”,”what”) questions about success criteria to get the third commitment.

The first time they agree to something or give you a commitment, that’s №1. For №2 you might label or summarize what they said so they answer, “That’s right.” And №3 could be a calibrated “How” or “What” question about implementation that asks them to explain what will constitute success, something like “What do we do if we get off track?”

“At the front counter the young lady asked me if I wanted to join their frequent buyer program. I asked her if I got a discount for joining and she said, “No.” So I decided to try another angle. I said in a friendly manner, “My name is Chris. What’s the Chris discount?” She looked from the register, met my eyes, and gave a little laugh. “I’ll have to ask my manager, Kathy,” she said and turned to the woman who’d been standing next to her. Kathy, who’d heard the whole exchange, said, “The best I can do is ten percent.””

If you are pushed to go first to name a price, allude to what some other high-end client would pay “Harvard business school would pay $20,000 for my services”.

The Ackerman model of bargaining: 1. Set your goal price 2. Make your first offer 65% of goal 3. use empathy and different ways of saying no until the other side counters and increase your offer each time to 85%, 95%, and eventually 100% of goal 4. make the final amount not-round $23,768 instead of $24,000 — maybe the non-round figure is all you have in the bank! 5. At the final offer, offer a non-monetary item to prove you are at your limit.

“A more subtle technique is to label your negative leverage and thereby make it clear without attacking. Sentences like “It seems like you strongly value the fact that you’ve always paid on time” or “It seems like you don’t care what position you are leaving me in” can really open up the negotiation process.”

“But the moment when we’re most ready to throw our hands up and declare “They’re crazy!” is often the best moment for discovering Black Swans that transform a negotiation. It is when we hear or see something that doesn’t make sense — something “crazy” — that a crucial fork in the road is presented: push forward, even more forcefully, into that which we initially can’t process; or take the other path, the one to guaranteed failure, in which we tell ourselves that negotiating was useless anyway.”

NOTE: Links to products in this post go through my Amazon affiliate account so if you use my links to buy something, a small percentage of that sale will go towards funding my book buying habit.

Book Notes: The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business — by Josh Kaufman

The Personal MBA Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman

I highlight and take notes when I read nonfiction books. Once I finish a book, I format and edit my notes so that I can easily remind myself of what I learned without having to reread the book. These notes are not a substitute for reading the book, they only serve as a reminder of key concepts.


The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. — RALPH WALDO EMERSON

If you put the same amount of time and energy you’d spend completing an MBA into doing good work and improving your skills, you’ll do just as well.

Whoever best describes the problem is the one most likely to solve it. — DAN ROAM, AUTHOR OF THE BACK OF THE NAPKIN

What you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And, with that system, things gradually fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

Every successful business (1) creates or provides something of value that (2) other people want or need (3) at a price they’re willing to pay, in a way that (4) satisfies the purchaser’s needs and expectations and (5) provides the business sufficient revenue to make it worthwhile for the owners to continue operation.

At the core, every business is a collection of processes that can be reliably repeated to produce a particular result. By understanding the essentials of how complex systems work, it’s possible to find ways to improve existing systems, whether you’re dealing with a marketing campaign or an automotive assembly line.

There is a difference between (A) what an MBA does to help you prove your abilities to others and (B) what getting an MBA actually does to improve your abilities. They are two different things. — SCOTT BERKUN, AUTHOR OF MAKING THINGS HAPPEN AND THE MYTHS OF INNOVATION

College: two hundred people reading the same book. An obvious mistake. Two hundred people can read two hundred books. — JOHN CAGE, SELF-TAUGHT WRITER AND COMPOSER

3 problems about MBA programs:

  1. Often times not worth the cost.
  2. Too much theory, not enough real world problems.
  3. MBA programs don’t guarantee high paying jobs.

Business schools don’t create successful people. They simply accept them, then take credit for their success.

Business school is a big risk. Should you choose to enroll, the only certainty is that you will shell out about $125,000. Such a figure correlates to a $1,500/month non-deductible loan repayment and a ten-year period of time in which you will not be able to save a red cent.

According to Pfeffer and Fong’s study, it doesn’t matter if you graduate at the top of your class with a perfect 4.0 or at the bottom with a barely passing grade — getting an MBA has zero correlation with long-term career success. None.

The quickest and easiest way to screw up your life is to take on too much debt.

Financial stress can destroy relationships, threaten your health, and jeopardize your sanity.

When you first start to study a field, it seems like you have to memorize a zillion things. You don’t. What you need is to identify the core principles — generally three to twelve of them — that govern the field. The million things you thought you had to memorize are simply various combinations of the core principles. — JOHN T. REED, REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT EXPERT AND AUTHOR OF SUCCEEDING

Your job as a businessperson is to identify things that people don’t have enough of, then find a way to provide them.

Some businesses thrive by providing a little value to many, and others focus on providing a lot of value to only a few people.

So often people are working hard at the wrong thing. Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard. — CATERINA FAKE, FOUNDER OF FLICKR.COM AND HUNCH.COM

10 ways to evaluate a potential market for a new business. Rate on scale of 0–10. Sum of 75+ is potential for an idea.

  1. Urgency
  2. Market size
  3. Pricing potential
  4. Cost of customer acquisition
  5. Cost of value delivery
  6. Uniqueness of Offer
  7. Speed to market
  8. Up-front investment
  9. Upsell potential
  10. Evergreen potential

The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time. — HENRY FORD, FOUNDER OF THE FORD MOTOR COMPANY AND ASSEMBLY-LINE PIONEER

When any two markets are equally attractive in other respects, you’re better off choosing to enter the one with competition. Here’s why: it means you know from the start there’s a market of paying customers for this idea, eliminating your biggest risk.

Some ideas don’t have enough of a market behind them to support a business, and that’s perfectly okay. That doesn’t mean you should ignore them: side projects can help you expand your knowledge, improve your skills, and experiment with new methods and techniques.

Don’t be shy about showing potential customers your work in progress.

Nobody — no matter how smart or talented they are — gets it right the first time.

Pick three key attributes or features, get those things very, very right, and then forget about everything else… By focusing on only a few core features in the first version, you are forced to find the true essence and value of the product. — PAUL BUCHHEIT, CREATOR OF GMAIL AND GOOGLE ADSENSE

Any engineer that doesn’t need to wash his hands at least three times a day is a failure. — SHOICHIRO TOYODA, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION

People don’t buy quarter-inch drills; they buy quarter-inch holes. — THEODORE LEVITT, ECONOMIST AND FORMER PROFESSOR AT HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL

Most drivers don’t buy expensive off-road-capable vehicles because they actually drive off the road. They buy them because off-road capability makes them feel adventurous and bold, capable of meeting any driving challenge.

Believe it or not, it’s often wise to turn away paying customers. Not every customer is a good customer: customers who require more time, energy, attention, or risk than they’re worth to your bottom line aren’t worth attracting in the first place.

Your job as a marketer isn’t to convince people to want what you’re offering: it’s to help your prospects convince themselves that what you’re offering will help them get what they really want.

Raising your prices can increase demand by appealing to a more attractive type of customer.

The best salespeople are the ones who can listen intently for the things the customer really wants.

If you discover why, how, and how much your offer will benefit the customer, you’ll be able to explain that value in terms they’ll understand and appreciate. Understanding the value you can provide your customers is the golden path to a profitable sale.

Present yourself to the prospect as an “assistant buyer.” Your job is not to sell the prospect a bill of goods: it’s to help them make an informed decision about what’s best for them.

Accepting this small offer creates a psychological need to Reciprocate, subtly stacking the deck in the salesman’s favor. Prospective car buyers who accepted this free offer were far more likely to purchase a vehicle, add optional accessories, and agree to less attractive financing terms. As a result, these customers spent thousands of dollars more than the people who did not accept anything from the salesman while negotiating. That doesn’t make rational sense, because the coffee or cookies cost the dealer very little, but Reciprocation makes it more likely that the buyer will “pay back” the favor with a much larger concession.

Colloquially, this approach is sometimes called the “take the puppy home” strategy. If you visit a pet store and meet an adorable puppy, but you’re not sure whether or not you’re ready to commit, the pet store will tell you to take the puppy home on a trial basis. “If it doesn’t work out,” the salesman says, “you can always bring it back.”

Do whatever you can do to provide something that unexpectedly delights your customers.

Finance is the art and science of watching the money flowing into and out of a business, then deciding how to allocate it and determining whether or not what you’re doing is producing the results you want.

Accounting is the process of ensuring the data you use to make financial decisions is as complete and accurate as possible.

The Cash Flow Statement is straightforward: it’s an examination of a company’s bank account over a certain period of time.

The Income Statement contains an estimate of the business’s Profit over a certain period of time, once revenue is matched with the related expenses.

A Balance Sheet is a snapshot of what a business owns and what it owes at a particular moment in time. You can think of it as an estimate of the company’s net worth at the time the Balance Sheet was created.

Believe it or not, there are only four ways to increase your business’s revenue: Increase the number of customers you serve. Increase the average size of each Transaction by selling more. Increase the frequency of transactions per customer. Raise your prices.

If you want to do good work, taking care of yourself isn’t optional. Nutrition, exercise, and rest are the inputs your body converts into productive energy. Poor (or too little) input inevitably reduces the quantity and quality of your output.

People respond twice as strongly to potential loss as they do to the opportunity of an equivalent gain. Eliminate this perception of risk by offering a money-back guarantee or similar Risk Reversal offer, and people will feel the decision is less risky, resulting in more sales.

Great management is boring — and often unrewarding. The hallmark of an effective manager is anticipating likely issues and resolving them in advance, before they become an issue.

Some of the best managers in the world look like they’re not doing much, but everything gets done on time and under budget.

The problem is, no one sees all of the bad things that the great manager prevents. Less skilled managers are actually more likely to be rewarded, since everyone can see them “making things happen” and “moving heaven and earth” to resolve issues — issues they may have created themselves via poor management.

Limit scarcity by:

  1. Limited Quantities
  2. Price Increases
  3. Price Decreases
  4. Deadlines

It’s perfectly okay to change your Goals. Sometimes we think we want something, only to find out later that we don’t want it so much anymore. Don’t feel bad about that — it’s called learning.

The more people know your capabilities and respect the Reputation you’ve built, the more Power you will have.

Comparative Advantage also explains why diverse teams consistently outperform homogenous teams. Having a wide variety of team members with different skills and backgrounds is a major asset: it increases the probability that one of your teammates will know what to do in any given circumstance. If every team member has the same skills and the same background, it’s far more likely the team will get stuck or make a preventable error.

There’s a reason high-performing surgical teams, military units, and sports teams tend to be small and focused: too much time spent in communication and coordination can kill a team’s effectiveness.

Everyone has a fundamental need to feel Important. The more Important you make them feel, the more they’ll value their relationship with you.

People will be more receptive to any request if you give them a reason why. Any reason will do.

The most effective testimonials tend to follow this format: “I was interested in this offer, but skeptical. I decided to purchase anyway, and I’m very pleased with the end result.”

Dale Carnegie recommends “Giving others a great reputation to live up to.” He was a wise man — raise your expectations of others, and they’ll naturally do their best to satisfy those expectations.

Here’s the golden rule of hiring: the best predictor of future behavior is past performance.

Checking references at this point is a good use of time. Question should be simple: Would they work with the candidate again? If they hesitate or talk around the question, it’s a no. If you can’t reach a reference when you call, leave a message and ask them to contact you if the candidate is extraordinary. If they are, you’ll receive a return call. If they aren’t, you won’t.

Finally, give promising candidates a short-turnaround project or scenario to see how they think, work, and communicate firsthand. Small projects tend to work best for skilled technical employees, while scenarios work best for candidates who will be responsible for product creation, marketing, sales, business development, finance, and management roles. The outcome of the assignment should be a deliverable of some kind: a report, a pitch, an asset, or a process.

If you want to build a system that works, the best approach is to build a simple system that meets the Environment’s current selection tests first, then improve it over time. Over time, you’ll build a complex system that works.

The more tightly coupled the processes in a system are, the more likely failures or delays will affect other parts of the system.

Self-education, whether it’s about business or anything else, is a never-ending process.

NOTE: Links to products in this post go through my Amazon affiliate account so if you use my links to buy something, a small percentage of that sale will go towards funding my book buying habit.