Book Review: The 4-Hour Work Week

4hwwYou all, I think this guy may be a sociopath. And he wants me to join him.

This book is exactly what the title suggests: a (supposed) guide to working just a few hours per week and joining what the author Tim Ferris calls “the new rich.” Ferris sets out to teach you how to “DEAL” –Define your financial goals, Eliminate stuff that will interfere with them, Automate income, and Liberate yourself to travel the world. Yeah, it’s that kind of book.

I was grossed out right off the bat. Ferris starts off with the hard pitch, telling you about all the ridiculously wonderful things he has done in his life, how much money he has coming out of his ears, and how super awesome things are for him –and how he can help you have a super awesome life if you’re pumped up enough to do what’s right for you and seize this amazing new opportunity! Everything about the tone of it made me think I was listening to the Shamwow guy strut around on a stage.

He tones it down after the introduction, but it’s clear that Ferris is recommending a “take care of numero uno at all costs” kind of approach to life. In fact, he comes across as a straight up scumbag in places and he has credibility problems as a result. He often tells you to only look out for yourself and break certain social contracts, especially as they relate to work. Some examples:

  • Negotiate a work at home agreement, then travel the world when everyone else thinks you’re working at home.
  • Avoid getting assigned work or interacting with people by “training” coworkers to not interact with you
  • Hold back your best work performance for your work at home days so it looks like you’re more productive when working remotely
  • Start a side business on company time
  • Test market a new product by placing Google adword ads, then just take people to a “page under construction”
  • Use loopholes in rules to win –-in his case, a kickboxing tournament in China.

And so on. One of the net results of all this is that I don’t trust him at all and would want nothing to do with him if I met him.

But then again, maybe trust isn’t a necessary ingredient here. Instead, Ferris heaps on more advice, tips, tools, testimonials exercises, and product recommendations than I’ve seen so far in this exercise. The book aims to be a practical workbook for achieving the lifestyle the author (supposedly) has. It throws so much against the wall, everyone is guaranteed to find something useful or at least thought provoking. You will find something to try or change, and you will be told exactly how Ferris thinks you should do it. I, for example, actually took away a few new ideas for time management and prioritizing work. I also found his chapter on oursourcing tasks to virtual personal assistants in India fascinating and practical in a crazy, outside the box kind of way.

So despite sounding like the lovechild of motivational speaker and the ShamWow guy, you can’t say that Ferris is just throwing around empty platitudes. The book is replete with practical, clear, and doable advice and tools. Along with the “get rich easy” promise, I can see why this made the book so successful.

Book Review: Gamify

gamifyI admit it: as someone who blabs on about the psychology of video games and as someone who is an industrial-organizational psychologist, I should know more about gamification. But I don’t. So I picked up this book.

Burke isn’t a psychologist or a game designer. He’s an analyst with Garnter, a very large marketing research and consulting company. He specializes in gamification, which he defines as the the application of game mechanics and experiences to motivate people. GAMIFY is meant to teach you how to create a gamified experience for employees, students, customers, or anyone else with a common interest or goal. The front half of the book goes through each of these groups and explains how gamification has worked for them, citing examples and case studies. The back half of the book details Burke’s 7-step process of “player experience design” that aims to create an effective gamification …thing. I still don’t know what the propper noun is here.

I think the first section is just full of example after example of gamified systems, and it could have been pared down quite a bit. At just 162 pages the book is already slim –probably intentionally so– but I think much more attention could have been given in the back half to the nuts and bolts of gamification. Burke lists out a lot of sub-steps and topics to keep in mind, but their treatments are always cursory –just a paragraph or two each. The book would have benefitted from exercises, case studies, tools, forms, and other practical aid. As it is, it’s a primer on gamification at best.

Burke also eschews any discussion of how fields like psychology, communications, economics, human-computer interaction, user experience design, or even game design could help the gamification process. Probably because he’s not trained in any of them. Nor does he really engage in any kind of evidence-based or data driven argument, which IS odd for someone with his background. The book would have benefitted from it, and I’m left dubious about what is truly understood about gamification by those with an empirical bent.

Finally, and this probably stands out to me because of who I am, but I’m kind of irked about how little Burke understands video games and how dismissive he is of them. I understand that the goal of gamification is NOT to turn something into a video game. But I think successful video game (and board game) design has a lot to illustrate about effective gamification. Instead, the author just seems to hand wave them away with generalities like “Video games have a constant barrage of lights and sounds that make playing the game an exciting experience.” Which depicts only a surface level familiarity with games and a limited understanding of why they are appealing (hint: it’s not just the pretty graphics). Indeed, perhaps someone should write a book about what video games can teach us about effective gamification…

Book Review: What Video Games Can Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

literacySometimes it’s good to read something outside your area of expertise and comfort zone. WHAT VIDEO GAMES HAVE TO TECH US ABOUT LEARNING AND LITERACY is first about the academic study of learning and education, second about linguistics, and a distant third about video games. I’m only knowledgeable about one of those things, but I still got a lot out of it.

The author, James Paul Gee, is as of now a 67 year old linguistics professor at Arizona State University and he essentially writes what the book’s title promises: an exploration of what good game design suggests for improving classroom education. He explores how the way players tackle new identities is similar to what they need to do to learn from texts and classroom lessons, for example. He explains how video games take players through tutorial levels illustrates the best kind of contextual learning of new material. He describes how cultural norms and models of “good” behavior vary from group to group the same way they do in some video games. He describes how learning and problem solving in video games is distributed and social in nature, just like how it is in real life but unlike how it usually is in classrooms.

Gee, by his own admission, came to appreciate video games late in life and that colors some of his discussion of games. All his examples are dated at this point and there’s little perspective on recent changes in the gaming landscape, such as casual games, mobile games, or serious games. As such, you shouldn’t come looking for any examination of games as a larger cultural force or a discussion of how their design has evolved. Gee is firmly focussed on the topics of pedagogy, often viewed through the lens of linguistics. The terms and models he uses are highly academic and usually took careful reading on my part to grasp. But Gee spell is all out if you’re willing to pause and mouth the words to yourself when needed.

So while not for a casual or general audience, it’s a book that’s full of interesting ideas that I may take and borrow from, especially as they relate to identity, roles, social learning, and communication in video games. But what you won’t get is a recipe or checklist approach for gamifying learning or any other activity. It’s all theory and very little practice. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoyed the book, but I am glad I read it.