Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Q&A with Dan Smith, author of "How to Think Like Steve Jobs"

What do you admire most about Steve Jobs?

Jobs was a one-off and did some incredible things, though he had plenty of flaws too. But I think the thing I most admire was his commitment to refining an idea until it was as perfect as it could be. He gave us a conveyor belt of iconic products but they weren’t realised in sudden flashes of inspiration. He had the vision to see the potential of a good idea but was also prepared to put in the hard graft (and extract it from others too!) to ensure the dream became reality. A rare trait that set him apart.

What is something that most people don't know about him?

In his younger days, he would give himself a foot spa by sticking his feet down the loo and pulling the flush!

What's one of the most easily applicable things from this book?

An easy lesson to understand but very difficult to put into practice is not to rest on your laurels. From the earliest days of his career until his death, Jobs was always looking for the next idea while perfecting his current one. If you do a lot of plate spinning like that, some of the plates will fall and break but he was not afraid of a bit of smashed crockery, and neither should we be. For a man with the Midas touch, Jobs had a lot of projects to his name that were not successes. But he learned from those, used the experience to fuel his successes and didn’t allow the accompanying plaudits to make him complacent.

Who else reminds you of Steve Jobs?

A difficult question, because he was a one-off. In certain respects, there are echoes of the famous (and just retired) manager of Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson. Both men were incredibly driven and kept going long after they had every right to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their success. Both could also bounce back from adversity and repeatedly cofounded critics who wrote them off along the way.

Which chapter was the most fun to write?

It’s a book full of short chapters and each one was fascinating to research. I found it very insightful to take a closer look at the people that had inspired him, so perhaps I’d plump for that one.

What new projects are you working on?

The next in the ‘How to Think Like…’ series – this time about Nelson Mandela. Clearly a very different kind of character but another icon who has helped shape the world in which we live.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

5 Questions with John Torinu, author of “The Company That Solved Health Care”

How did this book come about?

The book came to life through the experiences of taming run-away costs of health care at my company, Serigraph Inc. We simply couldn't afford the hyper-inflation any more, not if we wanted to keep offering a full package of benefits to our co-workers. So, I asked them to help me manage health and health costs in innovative ways. They responded and we have tamed the beast. I thought the rest of the country should know about what's possible with grassroots reforms. Hence, the book.

What was the most intriguing chapter to write?

I think the most mind-opening experience was to see what "lean" health care providers can offer. They are taking the errors out of medicine and mountains of wasted time and resources, Most hospitals and clinics are grossly under-managed, almost pandemoniums of redundant and unnecessary activities. `Their intentions are the best, but the inefficiencies are staggering. Lean disciplines, similar to those that have greatly improved quality and lowered cost in manufacturing, tackle those inefficiencies. Theda Care in Appleton, for example, has eliminated millions in dollars in waste and has immensely improved quality. Believe it or not, its people have eliminated infections in its operating rooms. We give incentives to our co-workers to use that "center of value." The chapter on "lean" providers reports that prices there are 30-40% below those we pay elsewhere.

What's the main message you'd like readers to walk away with?

I would like readers to come away with the understanding that good management and innovation can reform healthy care economics. It's not going to happen with top-down mandates. It is going to happen from the bottom up, when every American takes responsibility for his or her health and spending on medical treatments.

What's the future like of health care in America?

The performance of America's health care system on the medical side is often sensational. Many cancers, for instance, have become treatable instead of fatal. My titanium hip with a ceramic coating allows me to cross-country ski in marathon competitions. Amazing. And that progress will continue. But the economic side of U.S. medicine is a disaster. The soaring costs are bankrupting companies, governments at all levels and individuals. But private sector reforms prove that costs can be controlled with proper behaviors. Those reforms will be adopted across the land, because they will have to be. The financial pain is so great that such costs reforms are inevitable.

QWhat projects are you working on next?

Our next goal at Serigraph is to get every one of our diabetics under control, as measured by three blood tests. Diabetes is a nasty disease with ugly consequences, and it very expensive to treat. Our on-site doctors, nurses and dietician are intensively coaching each diabetic and pre-diabetic employee to follow necessary regimens. It's working. We have cut our out-of-control diabetic numbers sharply. We won't be satisfied until they are all in control. We are attacking other chronic diseases in similar fashion. Some 80% of U.S. health care costs stem from the chronic diseases. Of late, we have made huge progress on obesity, which, of course, ties back to diabetes. A group of 60 employees has lost more than 800 pounds of weight over the last year .

5 Questions with Ray Moynihan, author of "Sex, Lies and Pharmaceuticals"


What's this book all about for people who haven't heard?

The  book is about the making of the new big blockbuster medical condition -
a condition called "Female Sexual Dysfunction". It reveals how drug
companies are actually helping to construct some of the basic scientific
building blocks of this condition - in order to help build markets for their
new products.

How did the book come about?

I have been an investigative journalist reporting on the business of
healthcare for many years - and I became interetsed in the way part of drug
company marketing strategies were aimed at "creating the need" for their new
products. One of the ways they help to "create the need", is by shaping
perceptions of the conditions their drugs target.  In about 2002 I attended
a "medical education" seminar on female sexual dysfunction, and I realized
there was a big fascinating story here.

What's the main idea you want people to realize?

That marketing is merging with medical science - and that when they hear
claims about sexual disorders and dysfunctions being widespread- they need
to be a little skeptical.

What's the response been to the book?

Very positive. all over the world. The only important criticism that I have
seen has come from the association representing the pharmaceutical industry
in Australia. They accused me of using sex to sell something.

What's next for you?

Growing some vegetables, playing some music, doing some more dancing,
hanging out at the beach some more, and getting on with the journalism.

5 Questions with Brad Warner, author of Sex, Sin & Zen

What is the traditional Buddhist viewpoint on sex?

In ancient Buddhist tradition monks, both male and female, were celibate. For lay people there were only 4 rules. No sex that is unlawful, no sex with anyone still under the protection of their parents, no sex with criminals and no sex with those who are married or engaged to someone else. After a while a large list of sexual regulations for monks was developed. But later on this was abandoned and there was only one rule, do not misuse sexuality. This applied to both monks and lay people. 

Since the Meiji Restoration of the 1860s, Japanese Buddhist monks, again male and female, are no longer required to observe the rule of celibacy. But generally speaking, they remain celibate during their training period, which may be a few months or a few years. 

There are no restrictions on sex other than this. For example there is no idea that pre-marital sex is forbidden. There are no ideas that homosexuality is wrong. And so on. It is up to each individual to decide for herself or himself what constitutes the misuse of sex. 
Has the book caused any controversy in the Buddhist circles?

Not really. Most Buddhists have been very supportive of the book. On the other hand, I've noticed that a lot of the Buddhist magazines in the West are not reviewing the book. I suspect this may be because they are uncomfortable about taking any specific position on the ideas I bring up in it. They're aware that the rules about sexual behavior for Buddhists allow for a great deal of openness. But I think that the cultural background the editors and their readers are steeped in makes it difficult to acknowledge the implications of this idea. So they don't want to say anything either positive or negative about it. It will take time before this can change. 
Which chapter was the most fun to write?

I had a lot of fun interviewing Nina Hartley. She is a porn star who was raised by two Buddhist monks — one male, one female. So Buddhism has very much influenced her life. I asked her to talk about how she can do what she does for a living and still feel she is not violating the rule against misusing sex. I think her answers are really interesting. 
What can Buddhism teach people about sex?

I think Buddhism can help us get over some of the hang-ups that Christian-based culture has about sex. It's not necessary to indulge in wild sexuality and so forth. But it's good to be a bit less concerned about the morality of sex. Yes, sex can sometimes be immoral, depending on the specific circumstances and who is involved and so forth. But the very act of sex itself is neither moral nor immoral. We've been living with the idea that sex itself is wrong for far too long. It's good to see another way. And it's good to have some kind of spiritual support for the idea that sex isn't such a big deal. 
What new things do you have on the horizon?

I'm trying to write a book about God and one about Godzilla. I'm not sure which one will win out. Who is stronger? God or Godzilla? I'm also constantly on tour doing lectures and running retreats all over the world. My blog,, has all the information.      

5 Questions with Don Easton, author of Samurai Code

What was the inspiration behind writing this book?
My inspiration for Samurai Code came from a sympathy I have felt for some people who are basically 'unseen' by society. During my 20 years of undercover I met a couple of people who were like the actual characters in the novel (Ophehlia/Melvin). Basically these people need a lot of help but are considered like 'Nobodies' and their disappearance is not missed. In one situation I encountered a criminal organisation who intended to have new members to the organisation murder these type of people as a test of loyalty.

What's been the response so far to it?

The response has been good and I believe the sales are brisk.

When you write do you have a plan on how the story will unfold, or does a lot of it come to you as you go through the process of writing the book?

When I actually write, I prepare a synopsis of the entire story and then write from there. Some times it changes a little to match certain characters who do not like to follow a synopsis (smiles).

What aspect of Japanese culture do you feel is brought out the most in the book?

The Japanese culture is limited in the novel, with the exception of their love for onsens and also a tendency to be very loyal to their bosses.

What's next for yourself?

My next project is to start novel number six. At this time I am still decided on which story to tell.

5 Questions with Tom Vandenberghe, author of Bangkok Street Food

What inspired this book?

I lived in Thailand for a while (2 years) when organizing culinary trips for a travel agency in Belgium. It struck me how Thai people are obsessed with food and how much this is a part of their social life and behaviour. Food and especially hawker food is plenty full in Thailand, you could say it's the heart and soul of Thai cooking. As a first time visitor it is hard to find your way trough the maze of street food stalls. In writing the "Bangkok street food" book, I tried to help the reader how to recognize certain food stalls and their typical dishes. The book is as much a guide book as a cooking book. Out of a passion of street food and the culture of eating out in the streets which I wanted to share with other people with the same interest.

What's special about Bangkok street food?

We managed to do all photography on the field, no studio work in this book, this helps to identify the dishes at the food stalls and is quite exceptional for a cooking book. The book is as much a guide book as a cooking book.

What are the people like in Bangkok?

People in Thailand are generally open and friendly toward tourist. Thai people like to help and please people. In Bangkok, like in many cities around the world the hasty and busy life of a city reflects itself in the social behaviour, but even then Bangkokians and Thai are still people that like to enjoy eating and life in itself?

There are many beautiful images in the book, anyone stand out to you as the best?

The picture on the front page where the girl is cooking and launching at the same time. Not only because I ate probable hundreds of times at her food stall but it reflect the posting attitude towards life and the passion for cooking.

What's your favorite dish?

Tom yam kung, probably Thailand's most famous dish. The sourness of the lemongrass, galanga ginger, Kaffir lime leaves and spiceness of the chillies make this dish a taste and experience that you will never forget.

5 Questions with John D. Luerssen, author of U2 FAQ



How'd the book come about?
I have been following U2 for nearly 30 years. From about 1981 to 1987, they were one of my favorite bands alongside groups like The Clash, The Replacements, R.E.M. Elvis Costello, The Cure and Echo & the Bunnymen. I kind of lost interest around the time of Rattle & Hum a bit but Achtung Baby rekindled my fascination. I also loved 'All That You Can't Leave Behind'. Anyway, I had written a book on Weezer called 'Rivers Edge' a few years ago for ECW Press that got a lot of attention and in the years since I've kept busy writing about music for Spinner and magazines like American Songwriter.

Somehow Robert Rodriguez -- who launched the FAQ series for Backbeat with The Fab Four FAQ and Fab Four FAQ 2.0 -- sought me out and asked if I would be interested in contributing to the series. I came up with a short list of bands like Radiohead and Bruce Springsteen and U2 was at the top of the list. I drafted a quick proposal and they asked me to write it but the deadline was a little tight. This was in December 2009. I turned in the first complete draft on April 1st. I tweaked it a little into the summer and it went to press in late September. We made it out for the back half of 2010 which was the plan. It was adventurous but I'm thrilled with how it turned out.

What's the most interesting fact about U2 most people don't know?
Bono and The Edge almost walked away from it all.

Most people may not remember that U2's Christianity was a key driver in the group at the outset. Bono, The Edge and Larry plus some friends and members of their crew were involved in a Dublin based Bible group ran by a guy named Chris Rowe called The Shalom. The band's bassist, Adam Clayton, was the lone dissenter and resident partier at the time who hung with the group because he loved rock & roll and the camaraderie of his mates. But after U2 first cracked the U.S. with Boy and went home to work on the October album in the summer of 1981, The Edge and Bono -- who had become local stars in Dublin and Ireland in general by now -- were feeling pressure by The Shalom's leaders to give up playing rock & roll. Mind you, they rarely drank, never did drugs nor hook up with groupies -- all of which was  pretty unorthodox for popular bands at the time. The point is that they never embraced the lifestyle.

Soon enough, Larry Mullen started to think The Shalom was off base trying to tell them what to do and he left the group -- which by now had set up a camp with tents and communal living which Bono and Edge were trying to help to finance, even though they still had little money. Anyway, one afternoon The Edge had been swayed by the pressure and told Bono that he's quitting the band. He's dedicating his life to Christ. And Bono tells Edge he's quitting U2 with him.

So they go to break the news to Paul McGuinness, who has just booked another North American tour. McGuinness can't believe what he's hearing. He tells them to go away for a few hours and think about the decision some more and when they return he guilts them into staying with the group because they have all these commitments to their crew, record label, booking agency, etc. Once they are out on the road, headlining East Coast venues they resume life as normal and never look back. By early 1982 they were opening for The J. Geils Band.

What makes U2 such a special band?
They may have come from other mothers but Bono, Adam, Larry and Edge are a band of brothers. They all know each other's weaknesses and strengths and cumulatively they make some of the greatest music in the world. Bono may seem like an ego maniac to some, but its only these three others -- plus manager Paul McGuinness -- who can bring him down to size. And sometimes, with a band as big as U2 -- that's exactly what's required. Name another band that has had the same founding membership for 35 years. It's very hard to do.

What was the most interesting thing you learned about them from this book?
For me, I think the neatest revellation actually comes in the Forward, which John Griffith, formerly of the Red Rockers, wrote for me. He talks about being out on the Unforgettable Fire tour opening for U2 in 1985, as their popularity was cresting in advance of Live Aid. For some reason, the Red Rockers' own tour manager went off the rails and took off with their gear and clothes and basically left them high and dry. Bono got word of it and the band donated four thousand bucks -- a lot of money in 1985 -- so that they could carry on and finish the tour with some dignity. I thought that said a lot about who they were then and who they became. From their commitments to Amnesty International and Greenpeace to Bono's commitments to absolving third world debt and trying to get AIDS medicines to Africans, they may have become the biggest band in the world, but they also are the biggest band in the world with a conscience.

What's next for you?
I am currently at work on a Springsteen FAQ for Backbeat which I'm super excited about. As a New Jersey native weaned on Bruce, I can't think of a greater honor. I think that's coming out in 2012. I'm also launching my own series of Rock & Roll Quote Books this year. Between all that, my day job, my wife and kids and my constant tinkering on and obsessing over a 9 year old Volvo convertible, I'm hoping to still have time left over to paint my house this year. Seriously.