My Year with The Next Big Idea Club

My Year with The Next Big Idea Club

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This post contains affiliate links. If you join The Next Big Idea Club or purchase products through my links, I will earn a commission. Opinions are entirely my own.

 

Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been a member of The Next Big Idea Club, the nonfiction book subscription club curated by Susan Cain, Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant, and Daniel Pink. Each quarter, a nice blue box arrives with two pristine hardcovers, plus other trinkets (e.g., book summaries, bookmarks, tote bag).

 

Keep reading to find out more about the club and my reflections on reading the selections so far. First, more details on The Next Big Idea Club.

 

 

How The Next Big Idea Club Works

 

There are three membership levels that you can choose from: Hardbacks, E-books, or Express Membership (you supply your own books). The club reads two books each quarter. Here’s the breakdown of the pricing:

 

Membership Option Billing Frequency Cost/year* Cost/quarter* Equivalent Cost/month
Hardbacks Annual $215.00 $53.75 $17.92
Quarterly $236.00 $59.00 $19.67
E-Books Annual $189.00 $47.25 $15.75
Quarterly $196.00 $49.00 $16.33
Express Membership Annual $89.00 $22.25 $7.42
*Bold face = actual amount billed

 

The Hardbacks subscription—the one I have—comes with a free tote bag and a bonus book. And if you pay the annual fee, you get 10% off.

All of the subscriptions include:

  • Access to video shorts by authors, reading guides, and author interviews for current and past seasons.
  • Access to a Facebook community forum to interact with authors, curators, and attend live Q&A sessions.
  • A donation to kids in under-resourced communities, in partnership with The Future Project.
  • For a limited time, you also get one year of Business Insider PRIME ($99 value) included with your subscription.

 

If you want to check out the club before paying for a membership, you can get a 2-week trial with the Express Membership.

 

I’ve read 6 books with the club so far and these are the ways that The Next Big Idea Club (NBIC) has added value to my life.

 

Exposure to New Books and Ideas

 

As with any good book clubs, NBIC exposes me to book selections I wouldn’t necessarily read otherwise. I would submit that this is the highest value a book club could offer, as it expands the horizon of our reading diet (as opposed to just reading books that are already aligned with our pre-existing worldview).

 

I’ve appreciated the way NBIC has expanded my exposure to certain issues and ideas, the most impactful being the principles behind building modern-day movements in New Power and the issue on free speech on college campuses in Uncensored . I was always interested in social movements and campus life, but these books introduce new questions to probe, new challenges to push through, and new paths to consider, like the ones in the next two points.

 

Big Ideas Take Time

 

Here’s the thing about big ideas: They’re big.

 

They’re not easy life hacks that you can implement and get results in two days. They need to diffuse into our minds. Their essence and principles need to be extracted. And finally, they need to be tested in our real life applications.

 

All of this takes time.

 

Sure, there are actionable steps proposed in each of the book, but the full truth and power of the ideas are not going to manifest fully unless you apply them in a sustained manner over an extended amount of time.

 

Changing culture isn’t easy, building endurance definitely isn’t instant, creating movements and paving a career may take years, engaging in difficult conversations and learning are lifelong pursuits.

 

The span of big ideas is measured in lifetime.

 

Why the long timescale? Because the true work of implementing big ideas is difficult, which brings me to the next point.

 

From Analysis to Design

 

One thing emerges for me as I read through the books: With big ideas, there are the easy part and the hard part of the work.

 

The easy part: Reading the books, critiquing the ideas, and talking about them.

The hard part: Asking how the ideas would inform my life and work decisions, and putting them into practice.

 

The easy part: Thinking about other people who should read the books and implement the ideas.

The hard part: Reflecting on how I contribute to or hinder the progress to a better world, as proposed by the books.

 

The easy work is done at an analytical distance. The hard work is internal and will step on our toes.

 

For me, the question is, how do I move from being a recipient of these ideas to a contributor. From consumer to creator. From analyst to artist.

 

While discussing the Culture Code , I posed a question to someone who is in a position of power, “What are the ways you intentionally shape the culture of your company?” The person paused to reflect and said that the answer is not fully obvious right now.

 

I think often there’s disconnect between engaging intellectually with the ideas vs. bringing them to real life. And it’s always easier to apply them to other people.

 

This question of artistry and design is where NBIC is pushing me to go.

 

(By the way, NBIC is not without criticism—see this blog post by Diana Senechal, which relates to this and the last point. As a NBIC member, I think it’s incumbent on each person to assess the truth of the principles in their own life and work, and not get too wrapped up in the “bigness” or trendiness of the ideas.)

 

Community: Where Ideas Brew

 

Ideas need communities. Communities are where ideas incubate and evolve. For me, the most valuable aspect of NBIC is the community—both the existence and the quality—it fosters.

 

I have found the Facebook community to be an enlightening space where thoughts get exchanged in respectful and considerate ways (much needed these days).

 

But of course, nothing replaces the meeting of minds in flesh and blood. I’ve truly enjoyed the NBIC Meetup groups (shout out to Carrie Sheaffer for organizing the Denver Meetup) and spending time with people whose common preoccupation is learning.

 

Beyond the NBIC-labeled communities, though, I have been in many conversations with others who ask about the club, the books, and by extension, the subject matter of the books. In a way, being a member of NBIC helps me find my tribe in and out of the club. And for this, I am really grateful.

 

Does The Next Big Idea Club sound like something you’d like? Join or check out the free trial here:

For another review of the club, see this post.

Photos by Johnny Loi.

Kinship: A Better Model for Altruism

Kinship: A Better Model for Altruism

This is the second post of the Understanding Poverty series.

 

“I do what I do because I’m broken too.”

 

Coming from Bryan Stevenson, lawyer, civil-rights activist, founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a MacArthur Fellow, renowned speaker and social justice leader, those words, I must confess, are perplexing.

 

Is it sympathy? Empathy? Some poetic pathos? It sounds so very virtuous, yet I don’t really understand what he means.

 

In this New Yorker profile, Stevenson tells the story of Jimmy Dill, his client whose execution he tried, unsuccessfully, to overturn. Just before Dill was executed in 2009, he spoke to Stevenson.

 

“I’ve been in that setting before, but there was something different about this, because the man had this speech impediment,” Stevenson said. “He couldn’t get the words out, and he was going to use the last few minutes of his life—his last struggle was going to be devoted to saying to me, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I love you for what you’re trying to do.’ I think that’s what got to me in a way that few things had. And I, for the first time in my career, just thought, Is there an emotional cost, is there some toll connected to being proximate to all this suffering? I think that’s when I realized that my motivation to help condemned people—it’s not like I’m some whole person trying to help the broken people that I see along the road. I think I am broken by the injustice that I see.”

 

Shared Brokenness

 

As he stands with the condemned, marginalized, and “broken,” Stevenson becomes broken too. His humanity is altered as a result of his proximity to those who suffer.

 

In my reading, I’ve come across this sentiment multiple times. In Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service, Mary Poplin writes about Mother Teresa’s journal entry in December 1948, where she says,

 

What poverty. What actual suffering. I gave something that will help her to sleep—but the woman longs to have some care… confession and holy Communion.—I felt my own poverty there too—for I had nothing to give that poor woman.

 

In standing with the poor, Mother Teresa came to a realization of her own poverty too.

 

The Missionaries of Charity, in fact, commit themselves to four vows, namely poverty, chastity, obedience, and free service to the poorest of the poor. They want to be one with those they serve, for how could they understand the poor if they are not living as they live.

 

What Stevenson, Mother Teresa, and the Missionaries of Charity have, to me, is more than just a feeling bad about the poor. It’s way beyond sentimentalism. It’s even deeper than feeling bad enough to do something about the poor. It’s more like entering into the experience of the poor and the marginalized, and being one with them.

 

Kinship, Our Mutuality

 

I found the expression of this shared brokenness most eloquently articulated by Gregory Boyle, in his books Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion and Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, where he shares stories and lessons from his work with Homeboy Industries, a rehab and re-entry program for gang members in Los Angeles.

 

In Tattoos on the Heart, he quotes Elaine Roulette:

 

Sr. Elaine Roulette, the founder of My Mother’s House in New York, was asked, “How do you work with the poor?” She answered, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.” It’s as basic as crying together. It is about “casting your lot” before it ever becomes about “changing their lot.”

 

Kinship is more than doing things for others. It’s more than the “power dynamics” between the service provider and the service recipient. It’s about mutuality—a changing of both parties as a result of being proximate with each other.

 

Often we strike the high moral distance that separates “us” from “them,” and yet it is God’s dream come true when we recognize that there exists no daylight between us. Serving others is good. It’s a start. But it’s just the hallway that leads to the Grand Ballroom.

 

Kinship—not serving the other, but being one with the other. Jesus was not “a man for others”; he was one with them. There is a world of difference in that.

 

I think Stevenson finds kinship with his clients. I think Mother Teresa finds kinship with Calcutta’s poor. I think Boyle finds kinship with the “homies.”

 

In this kinship, what they feel is not wholeness or some self-fulfillment from doing something altruistic. Rather, a mutual brokenness, but also awe and dignity in those who are demonized by society.

 

In the Christian context, I can’t help but think of Jesus. Could it be that He experiences kinship with us?

 

Jesus’ strategy is a simple one: He eats with them. Precisely to those paralyzed in this toxic shame, Jesus says, “I will eat with you.” He goes where love has not yet arrived, and he “gets his grub on.” Eating with outcasts rendered them acceptable.

 

What would it be like to feel the kinship of God?

 

To be continued…

Photo by Nathaniel Tetteh on Unsplash

Understanding Poverty: The Reading List

Understanding Poverty: The Reading List

This is the first post of the Understanding Poverty series.

 

For the past several months, my reading theme has been understanding poverty, particularly poverty in America. Some of the questions that driven me throughout this quest were: What are people’s lives like at the bottom of the market? What are the biggest struggles of their lives? How do they cope? What government policies help people’s lives? What policies worsen their lives? Where did the negative attitudes towards the poor come from (living in America, I sensed this from various sources)? From the religious standpoint, what should the role of religious institutions be? What should the attitude of a Christian be? What are the biblical perspectives on the poor?

 

Poverty, being such a complex subject, cannot be summarized neatly in a series of books. My quest hasn’t ended and I feel like this reading list has only skimmed the surface lightly. But I decided to begin a series of posts on my reflections throughout this journey to organize my thoughts, share learnings, and begin a conversation with you, readers of the blog. I am very much a blank slate on the topic–I do not know much. So I’m eager to learn.

 

As the launchpad for the essay series, I’m sharing my Understanding Poverty Reading List, which is likely to evolve further. If you have recommendations to add to my list, let me know!

 

1. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It deals with the deep struggle for housing for the poorest of the poor in America. One of the biggest points of the book is that eviction is not only caused by poverty, but it also causes poverty. Matthew Desmond wrote out his research brilliantly in a very engaging narrative nonfiction form. He followed the lives of several families and individuals for an extended amount of time and recorded their challenges every step of the way.

Desmond’s work has also been spotlighted in the news recently. His Eviction Lab at Princeton University just released a nationwide database on evictions. For the nerds out there, he has made the raw data available for you to crunch and analyze, and share with your communities.

 

2. $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

This book was what sparked my quest into the topic of poverty. I got it through a Kindle sale a few years ago because the title was very intriguing. Imagine, I got it for $1.99, the same amount some people live on for a day. $2.00 a Day also follows the lives of a few people, but also covers some policy background that has historically impacted–for better or for worse–the lives of the poorest in America. Several common themes emerge from this book and Evicted, especially on how people cope at this level of poverty.

 

3. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy has been credited as one of the explainers of the protectionist movement that arises from those who feel left behind by globalization, modern economy, and society. I don’t think J.D. Vance set out to play this role–he was really just telling the story of his upbringing–but he certainly opened the eyes of many to a specific culture and community that doesn’t really get represented much in most media. I can’t really do it justice in this summary, other than to say, it’s an important read.

 

4. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Bryan Stevenson is my modern-day hero. In Just Mercy, poverty intersects criminal justice and race. While Hillbilly Elegy is about a poor white community, Just Mercy sheds lights on those who have historically bore the brunt of injustice in criminal law, the poor blacks. One of Stevenson’s main talking points is that in this country, you get treated better by the law if you were rich and guilty than if you were poor and innocent.

Stevenson’s work with the Equal Justice Initiative has also been spotlighted in the news very recently with the opening of the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice dedicated to African Americans terrorized by lynching in 19th and 20th century America.

 

5. Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service

Mary Poplin wrote about her experience working with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. This book is not about poverty in America, but it is about poverty and the heart of an immensely influential figure in human history. To me, Poplin becomes a vehicle that carries a common-to-me mindset and attitudes towards this radical social justice work, and how Mother Teresa’s approach challenges these mindset and attitudes.

 

6. Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption

Similar to Finding Calcutta, Katie Davis’ radical decision to live in Uganda and her mission to love, love, and love the children there is a challenge to a complacent, convenient, and comfortable involvement in social justice work, especially in the Christian context.

 

7. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Greg Boyle’s work with Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in Los Angeles that provides gang members with jobs and support, is simply incredible. But this book, and Boyle’s message, stands out to me in that he doesn’t focus much on how to help the poor. His main message is to be with the poor. He calls it kinship, something I will talk about extensively in the essay series, as it unlocks a profound way of thinking about altruism for me.

 

8. Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship

See #7 above.

 

9. The Other America – A Speech from The Radical King (Free)

This is Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech on the lives of “the other America”, the part where rights are not fully realized. It’s a great reminder that there are lives out there that may be very dissimilar to ours, and we ought not to close out minds and hearts towards those “other people.”

 

To read

 

10. The Other America: Poverty in the United States

 

11. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

 

12. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

 

I think this initial reading list gives a glimpse on how complex poverty is. It intersects housing, race, crime, drugs, abuse, and many other big issues that are not easily summarized, let alone solved. But I don’t believe in a fatalistic view that says if you can’t do anything about it, why bother knowing at all. I think there’s value in understanding what’s going on, even if one still doesn’t know what to do with it at the moment.

I fully realize that the point of view I take here is one of privilege–everything about poverty in these books is foreign to me. Each of this book opens up a whole new world that I am not familiar with, or even aware of. But I guess there’s a first step for everyone. And this is mine.

 

Let’s Talk About Books: 3 Things I’m Doing

Let’s Talk About Books: 3 Things I’m Doing

Books, I find, demand not just to be read, but also to be talked about. They are keen for us to agree and disagree with their contents. They invite us to engage and complement their ideas, and thus enrich the greater dialogue that they are a part of.

 

Each book is a community. At least, it has the potential to be one. At its fullest realization, fellow readers gather to engage each other in conversations in book clubs, forums, or casual hangouts.

 

Finding communities in our modern lives, however, is not always easy (see Tribe: Home in Community). But how awesome it is to find one with kindred minds and spirits.

 

A Craving for Community

 

My reading has been quite consistent over the past few years, as my Goodreads account can testify. But as the knowledge and information piles one on another, book after book much without an outlet, my craving for a book community has peaked. I need to talk about what I’ve read!

 

Reading is great, but to have a conversation that goes along with it is superb. Conversations let you digest the books more deeply, exchange ideas and point of views, and probe more interesting questions. Thoughts become more complex. Differences in perspective emerge, and nothing sharpens and refines your views than sitting face to face with others who can challenge your thoughts.

 

Driven by this craving, I finally sought out my tribe. These are the 3 things I’m doing to talk about books these days.

 

3 Things I’m Doing to Talk about Books

 

1. The Next Big Idea Club

 

I’ve been seeing the Facebooks ads for The Next Big Idea Club that feature Adam Grant or Malcolm Gladwell for a few months. Spot on targeting there. What’s a bookworm to do but to click away.

 

The Next Big Idea Club is an online book club for nonfiction lovers, curated by Adam Grant, Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, and Daniel Pink. I mean, their nonfiction credibility is through the roof. If there’s any book club to join, this is the one. After all, I own each of the four’s books.

 

How it works: The curators pick the best nonfiction works of the year for the club to read together, one book a month. It’s a subscription service, so you can either get the quarterly mailing of the hardcover books, ebooks, or just the bonus materials. The bonus materials are author interviews by the curators, video lectures, and a closed Facebook group for discussions. There are also live Q&A sessions with the authors. For every subscription, book donations to students in under-resourced communities are made.

 

It’s all top notch. People post really thoughtful reflections and questions on the Facebook group. And the books are brand-new releases. We’re currently reading The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle.

 

If you’re a nonfiction lover, definitely check it out.

 

2. Business, Books, and Brews Meetup

 

This meetup in Boulder is awesome. What could be better than talking about books in a coffee shop for 1.5 hours? Everyone seems to be so pleased with finding the group and having an outlet to geek out about business books.

 

Our next meetup will be on Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (who is mentioned three times already in this post). If you’re in the Boulder area, come join us!

 

3. My Reading Interview Podcast

 

It tickles me that I have to start a podcast to get to talk about books to long-time friends. So millennial. But these interviews are fantastic because it’s difficult to have an extended, focused conversation about books and reading when 1) they live far away, and 2) kids may interrupt in-person conversations.

 

There are self-motivated learners everywhere. Famous people get a lot of podcast airtime, but really, gems of insights are always nearby from people we interact everyday. I want to uncover these gems, somehow.

 

If you enjoy listening to conversations about books, check out my Reading Interview Series!

 

I actually have not decided whether to keep going indefinitely, or make this a finite project. I told myself to try 6 episodes first and then decide. If you have feedback or comments, please let me know!

 

How do you find ways to talk about what you read?

 

Best Books of 2017: Part 2

Best Books of 2017: Part 2

It’s time for the 2nd installment of best books of 2017. This year has been an especially good reading year for me, clocking at 54 books of different varieties. Part 1 of my 2017 favorites can be found here. For the whole reading list, check out this link below:

I read a lot of great books this year, but the ones that made this list were the ones that I felt were fantastic reads.

1. Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

As a new parent, I found this book super entertaining. Gaffigan is one of my favorite comics, and these funny stories about his family of 7 (5 kids) and parenting are hilarious and refreshing, especially if you want to escape high-brow, too-intellectual topics for a while (anyone tired of politics this year?). I recommend the audio version, which Gaffigan performs himself.

 

2. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Deep Work is for anyone who’s looking for tips on working in a focused way and achieve excellence in a world where we’re dinged, pinged, alerted, and notified constantly. Newport’s advice is practical, but he also recommends different productivity strategies based on the nature of your work (i.e., this is not the type of book that offers a singular method and is adamant about it).

 

 

 

3. The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin

Nicely coupled with Deep Work. While Newport focuses mostly on the logistics of productivity, Waitzkin focuses on methods of mastering new skills. He taps into his deep experiences as a chess child prodigy and martial arts competitor. True to its title, the book teaches you how to surpass learning as a way to satisfy curiosity or to become more knowledgeable, into a realm of expertise where learning turns into art. I can’t recommend this book enough.

 

 

4. Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by Janna Levin

The discovery of gravitational waves shook the world, in a good way, when it was publicized in early 2016. The quest earned Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2017. But the search for these elusive waves began many decades before and involved numerous scientists with varying personalities and quirks. Their tireless toils lead us to understand a bit more the nature of our universe. This book tells the story of this quest, one of humanity’s most noble quests, I daresay, from the beginning. A marvelous story.

5. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

These days, it’s not outrageous to make the claim that Elon Musk is probably the world’s most interesting living person. His name has become synonymous with the most outrageous and audacious projects that Silicon Valley has ever undertaken. Yet Musk’s life story told in this book makes this man even more interesting, if that is even possible. He lives a gutsy life, which is such an understatement. This book was published in 2015, yet merely two years after, it feels outdated already simply because its subject has continued moving, creating companies, and undertaking out-of-this-world projects. It’s a fantastic biography.

 

6. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder is a heartwarming story of a boy with facial differences who attends school for the first time. Making friends, being kind, facing bullies–all things character building, for kids and adults alike, are touched here. I’ll be reading this with my baby one day.

 

To see the previous best-of lists, check out these links below:

2017: Best Books of 2017 Part 1

2016: Best Books of 2016 Part 1, Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015: Best Books of 2015 Part 1, Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

What are your best reads in 2017?