“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” Ray Bradbury

March was a nine-book month for me. That is going to slow down immediately, but still, that seems to me to be a good, solid number. Twenty-four for the year. All were business books, as I accepted an offer to join a new company – a fintech startup, small, growing, funded, connected – and I wanted to level up by getting new ideas. As they were non-fiction, I approached them in a more opportunistic manner, in order to maximise the return on the investment of time. I read them, but in some parts I – sigh – skimmed pages to see if there was something of value, and skipped them if I thought the answer was no.

I wouldn’t do that with fiction, and I feel guilty that I did it with non-fiction. I also don’t like looking back and realizing that I only read things that were strictly…functional. That is changing post-haste.

The top books for the non-fiction month:

  • Escaping the Build Trap, which gets a TON of attention, and, for the most part, is really solid. It has a good reputation for a reason: it offers some improved practices for virtually any organization, and it makes product people feel like their jobs are the most important in the company.
  • Remember It!: The Names of People You Meet, All of Your Passwords, Where You Left Your Keys, and Everything Else You Tend to Forget. This was fun, but also had real-world implications. The core lessons: pay attention, use your visualization abilities to see things, and turn them into actions. Of all the books I read this month, this has had the greatest, and strangest, real-world implications. I have already used it to remember what I wanted at the grocery store, and I want to use it for phone numbers – I will be doing that soon.
  • Obviously Awesome: How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get It, Buy It, Love It. This was a great book, a real paradigm-shifter. Positioning informs – or can inform – most of the decisions that occur in a business, so paying attention to it can be really helpful in seeing how the business should be making decisions. Plus, Dunford is absolutely hilarious, and I laughed out loud in several places. I would recommend this to anyone who works in any capacity.
  • The Sacred Seven: Product Management. This was a gift from the CTO of the company that I just left; it is really outstanding for giving a product manager an overview of what is involved in the job, and I recommend it more highly than most other books.

I had a conversation about business books with a friend this month, and it struck me – shocker! – that business books are not like recipe books – or, at least, are not like good recipe books. A good recipe book will give the reader the information that they need to consistently and reliably recreate a dish, over and over again. I think people often see business books in the same manner: people strive to have a Lean Startup, for example, but if Lean Startup had a recipe for business success then every business that used its methodology would be successful. If a company strived to work like Google worked, or Netflix, or Zappos, they wouldn’t be able to anticipate the same success as these companies did. The problem is that companies adopt practices wholesale, without looking at the context of the practice or their specific business, and then they wonder why they failed. Was it because they weren’t lean startupy enough? Was their unlimited holiday policy really unlimited enough? Was the ping-pong table they bought to try to foster a creative environment off-balance in some way? Business books have ideas, that should be cherry-picked. They should still be read, but they should not be treated as gospel.

That was a revelation to me.

I have been on half-furlough now since at least November; it is strange to think that soon I will be working full-time again. Strange and terrifying and wonderful. One of the negatives about taking a new job is the fact that I won’t have as much Daniel time as I have had recently; I will be working, putting in hours.

Which is absurd, in knowledge work. Employers don’t ever want employee time; they want employee value. In knowledge work, they can’t really calculate value, but they CAN track time, so they require workers to put in hours, which causes confusion between the two. I can see, say, a more direct link between hours and value in a manual job, but in a knowledge environment, value should be encouraged and rewarded, not time spent doing something. If time is critical, the employer could end up having employees who just show up and don’t add anything.

Which I think happens more than we want to admit. A lot more.

March Making: I wanted to make something new this month, but couldn’t decide what it would be. Then I was on a Zoom call, interviewing a potential hire, when I saw that my hair was out of control. As soon as I got off the call, I opened YouTube and found a ten minute video on how to cut hair. Five minutes later (I got the gist pretty quickly), I was standing in the bathroom, naked, an antique mirror hanging from the door so I could see the back of my own head in the medicine cabinet mirror, clippers in my hand.

Thirty minutes later, I showed Alice.

“So…are you ever going to get a haircut from a barber again?” she asked.

I said yes, I would, but then she told me that she didn’t think I needed to – that it looked fine. Then, a few days later, on a call with my family, my mom asked where I got my hair cut.

“It looks great!” she said.

So. I still want to go back to my barber as soon as I can, but if lockdown hits us again, I will be able to stay semi-sharp. And that is what I made this month.

Before I turned the clippers on, I just looked at myself in the mirror and decided that I was really good at cutting my own hair. And it turned out to be true. So the lesson for March, and the future: when you are about to do something, just remember that you are really, really fucking good at it.

He always shouts “jump! Jump!” at skateboarders, which has made him some friends at the park.

Mother’s day ended up being strangely melancholy for me, but not for any reason connected to Alice or Daniel or anything that happened in my childhood that I have repressed until now. I woke up, meditated, wrote, then went for a run; when I got back, Daniel was up and Alice was still in bed. I brought him into my room and we wrapped presents, which I do only marginally better than he does, and then he carried them to the bed in his little hands, proud as punch that he could make Mommy so happy just by giving her things in paper and then helping to rip them open. Then, I took him out for a walk to give her some time alone. The walk started off well – he has started laughing uproariously whenever he says certain things, so for most of the walk, he would say “Wet one” (which he associates with farting, and which I may or may not have taught him), “Growling” (growling), and “Hiccup” (hiccuping), and then he would giggle when I said them back to him. We stopped to pick up some flowers and two croissants, then we played a game where I stopped at every intersection and let him decide in which direction we would walk. He brought us deep into Leith, and I started heading back home by giving him limited options – “We can go left or straight but not right.” When we got to Dalmeny Park, there were two police cars parked near an entrance, so we stopped to look at them, and then stopped at the fence and watched a woman who was learning to skateboard but kept falling, and a man jumping rope to metal music blaring from portable speakers, and none of it struck me as particularly mother-focused, but what do I know. We watched six Spaniards playing basketball; I asked him if he wanted to go into the park, and he said “Enh!” which is what he says instead of “yes.”

A man was standing at the entrance with two children. He was in a windbreaker, and I noticed him because he looked like a slightly less-emaciated Lord Voldemort, and each of the kids had a scooter and a superhero-themed helmet and a bunch of flowers that had the same plastic wrapping that our flowers had, making me think that they had also purchased them for £1.79 at Lidl. He was speaking very earnestly to them in an Eastern European language, and they were nodding and looking across the park. We walked to the basketball court to watch the Spaniards play some sort of modified game of Horse, and I fed Daniel croissant (he shouts “Unh! Cwa! Sahn!” when he wants more). After a while, I asked him if we could go, and I started pushing the buggy back toward the gate just as the older one of Voldemort’s sons was passing us, going further into the park on his scooter, flowers pressed to the handles. I watched as the father launched the little brother unsteadily after, wobbling, holding his flowers and, bizarrely, blowing a bright red whistle to a steady beat that must have been pounding in his head. I pushed our buggy onto the grass to give him a wide berth on the path, smiling to let him and his father know I understood the difficulties of being a father letting one’s children move through the world, even if I don’t, even if I am a helicopter parent who cries sometimes when I think about Daniel going off to school, or walking outside with his friends without us. Maybe the father was from Montenegro; I smiled more broadly to let him know that I comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people, and I wondered why he was standing at the entrance to the park and not coming in.

Regardless, the dad didn’t see me. I looked behind me, and saw the children approaching a woman on the far end of the park, walking very slowly, so distant I couldn’t make out her facial features. I looked back at the man, and he was staring past me – either at the kids or at the woman waiting for them to cross the length between the two adults. I looked at her, and she was kneeling down to greet the oldest one; I looked back at the dad and he flipped up his hood dramatically and turned to walk away from me and from them and from her.

“Bye! bye! bye! park!,” Daniel said, waving two little croissant-filled fists. We walked around the park and down the sidewalk and to the other end. We passed the kids and the woman as they were walking out; she was holding the flowers, and talking to them quietly, earnestly. “Bye! bye! bye! park!,” Daniel kept saying. Then he shoved a piece of croissant into his mouth.

A little while later he farted, giggled, and said “Wet. One!” which made me smile. The trip still made me sad, and I was happy to get home and see Alice.

And a week later, Daniel turned two. He seems to keep getting more and more complicated – he is making up games with us and telling us the rules (“Daddy! Stand! There!”), developing preferences (carrots over green beans), and becoming more affectionate. Yesterday, he knocked on the door while I was working; when I opened it, he just stood there. “Do you want a hug?” I asked, and he just nestled into me, so I knelt down and held him for almost five minutes before he shoved an elbow into my neck and shouted “Down!” A few days before that, he was standing in the hallway when I walked out, just looking at the ground. When he saw me, he just said “Cuddle,” and lay down on the ground and I ran over and wrapped my arms around him.

So if these are the terrible twos, I will be very grateful indeed. I suspect they are not – that he will get more difficult and complicated. But I also hope he keeps coming to me when he wants a hug, because I really love hugging him.


  1. Discovering the world through a child’s eyes makes the mundane magical and you do it so well! You are a wonderful father, husband and human being, Andrew.

    Liked by 1 person

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