Knowledge advice: 2 Ways to read a book and improve your understanding

Do you read? Yes? Then this post is for you.

If not, consider why to read.

As you may know, there are different purposes for reading: for pleasure or information. When you pick up a book for information, your intention dictates how to approach the book: do you do investigative reading and exploratory reading?

Exploring the unknown

If we do not know what to search for, exploratory reading is the way. Assume you are new to a field. Overviews on the topic are rare to find. To reduce the so-called unknown unknowns to the known unknowns, we have to create a knowledge map.

If you want to be fast, you can skim the book. Sometimes scanning is not enough, and it is better to read quickly over parts of a book. After we finish the explorative task, we do not know the answers. Still, we have an idea of the responses we will find most likely find.

Investigating the known

Once we know what to search for, the task becomes more apparent, while not necessarily easier. We read investigative. Assume you have a particular question or are only interested in a specific topic. This question can come from your knowledge map or anywhere else.

Nowadays, access to information is easy. Our brain is easily overwhelmed by too much information. It is necessary to filter the important from the less important. We need to separate the wheat from the chaff. While a book may be helpful, maybe not all the book’s insights are valuable.

Knowing how to google is most often a quicker solution to many problems. Google acts as a natural filter for information. (And with this, I do not mean the advertisement-based filter bubble).

What if google does not know the answer? Assume the question is quite creative and the topic quite particular. You are on your own, and you have to deal with the raw material yourself.

Approaching a book with a question

The most important part is to have a question.

In many sciences, work usually starts with a hypothesis. The aim is to prove or falsify this hypothesis.

We do not need to go so far as to create a hypothesis, but we can think of questions we believe the book can answer for us.

Example: Influence by Robert Cialdini

An example is in order here.

I recently read Influence by R. Cialdini. Summaries of the book are available in many places.

As detailed in How to read a book, an informative book should lead to possible actions. For the book influence, there are two main activities possible: we can defend ourselves against psychological triggers, or we learn how to exploit these triggers.

The primary question is:

How to defend against triggers?

The best self-defense is the offense. However, Cialdini blames the exploitation of these principles for hindering their beneficial use as social shortcuts.

This accusation raises the question:

Why apply the principles of psychological influence in your communication?

and related to this one:

How to use them?

Now we have generated some initial questions.

The answers: go back to the book or the summary of the book with the questions. Try to find more specific questions.

Try these priceless mental tricks to gain the upper hand in pointless conflicts

Imagine your last stressful situation. Your face is getting red. You start to stammer and justify yourself. What if you had some superpowers that prevent these things from happening?

The book “Influence” by R. Cialdini deals with the psychology of influencing other people. He describes the conscious and unconscious actions to sway other people in our desired direction. My intention is not to provide a summary of the book. Different people have done an excellent job on this, such as this one.

Understanding is always the first step. I will point out where you might have come under the influence of these principles. And how you can defend against it the next time.

Getting active

We best learn from our own experiences. To get the most out of this post, try to develop a situation in your own life where you experienced something similar.

1. We give, and we take,

Communication is about giving and taking. We listen, and we expect to be listened to in return. Communication can also consist of following someone and being followed. This action relates to the principle of reciprocation. It relies on the fact that favor is to be met with favor. A frequent exploitation is to provide “false” favors. Sometimes your adversary will present this favor as a concession on his part. Then you feel obliged to meet it with a reciprocal concession.

A genuinely gifted exploiter can not be spotted. He will always find the sweet spot of having his advantage. Worse, did you ever wonder why some people never give something in some groups? And why do they get away with it? The explanation is that we adapt to unfavorable give-take balances. This misbalance is especially treacherous as there is no defense over a longer time frame. If you conclude that you are always on the losing side one day, this principle could have been at work.

Defend against hidden agendas

In my opinion, a robust value system is essential. Actively remind yourself what you want to achieve. Why do you do something? In what manner do you want to accomplish a task?

2. Little strokes fell great oaks

We all want our actions to chain to each other like a red thread. We want to be consistent with our past actions. Our actions are repeated commitments to ourselves. And if we’re going to have a strong story, we need consistency in our commitments.

A strong story and red thread is the path to a fulfilled life.

However, it makes us predictable and, in consequence, exploitable. Your aggressor will use an elaborated strategy to move you to a particular action. Somebody else can ask you to perform acts of ever-increasing size, which are more to his advantage than to yours. Long periods with repeated commitments are required.

Usually, you start this chain of your own choice. So eventually, everything seems to have been your choice. At work, many group meetings work with this principle. In addition, “commitments are most effective when they are active, public, and effortful.” That is why you have such a hard time getting out of the situation.

Reflection is the key

Luckily there are two good defenses. First, listen to your stomach. If it tells you there is something wrong early on, take a step back. Secondly, while listening deeply into your body, ask the following questions: “With all I know now, would I decide differently?”, “Would I make the same choice again?”. Your subconsciousness will answer with a feeling of uneasiness. You then can clearly explain to the other party why you will back out of the deal without getting angry.

3. Nobody wants to be alone

We laugh if other people laugh. We are brave if other people are brave. We are social animals, and as such, we have a social autopilot that usually guides us. This primitive part of our brain is the power source of group dynamics. People exploit this by fake triggers or false authenticity.

Learn to read the crowd

A natural resistance comes with the label of a loner. But try this: Become sensitive to situations where the autopilot works with inaccurate information—false laughter, rehearsed dialogues, and the key trigger in a business context: fake authenticity.

You will require a good knowledge of humans. Looking at a group of people, do you notice something strange in their behavior? Do words and action not fit together?

4. We all want to be liked…

… and we all want to like other people.
“He was such a nice person…” is the quote regarding your local neighborhood serial killer. Being liked is something we all desire. Many know that attractiveness, similarity, familiarity, and compliments make us more desirable.

In addition to these four, there is also a less known fifth factor: cooperation. Cooperation is an active association of ourselves to somebody. There is also guilt by association; the famous reputation is all about this. This effect is known as the halo effect. It works for things and attitudes, even the language. Suppose your opponent is saying “We” vs. “You” or “They.” in that case. In that case, they try to shift possession of the subject under discussion. The messenger is associated with the message.

The art of the deal

Maybe that is not what Donald Trump meant but focus on the deal. Separate the message from the messenger. This approach will protect you against the lighter cases.

The more notable cases are easier to spot.
If you like somebody quicker than expected, reflect on whether he stands to gain. The stronger the effects, the more likely you will discover them with this defense. Think insurance broker or car dealership.

5. Following is easy

Authority has a place in the world. No order without authority. The fraudulent authority also concerns the designation of experts and therefore is highly relevant in work environments. The trick is to tell apart the real from the fraudulent authority.

Learn to read humans

Two questions reveal the manipulator: “Is this authority truly an expert?”, “How truthful can we expect the expert to be here?” Car dealerships, advertisements, clothing styles, and titles are just the tip of the iceberg. Many applications are much more subtle. Especially in work environments, people quickly title themself as an expert.

6. Fear of missing out

The final principle is widely in action today—the principle of scarcity. “Last item in stock, no new delivered” – this slogan tries to coerce you into spot buying?
This human reaction to such an offer results from a limitation of future freedom of choice—the choice to buy.

There are many examples: restricted teenage love or media manipulation-exceptional messages seem more critical than abundant messages.

This principle relates to the contrast principle. Everything in the world is relative. The bad news needs to be even worse if everything else is terrible.

. “There is neither luck nor bad luck in the world, there is only the comparison from one state to the other”

Monte Christo

Be self-aware

For buying stuff, the defense is easy:

  • 1. Listen for the internal arousal that accompanies the perception of scarcity. “The joy is not in experiencing a scarce commodity but in possessing it.”
  • 2. Ask yourself why do you want it. Owning or using?

For information, we need to treat the messenger as an authority. As such, the defense against authority comes into play.

How to apply the principles without being unfair

The best defense is the offense. How can you use the principles to frame ideas? In a series of articles, I will not only show how the principle influences you but how you can influence others in your communication.

Quotes about storytelling

fountain pen on black lined paper

Sometimes one person said it all. You read a phrase and it is all there. This is my selection of quotes on storytelling.

  • “The world’s second oldest profession”
    – Gershon & Page: What storytelling can do for information visualisation
  • “People have begun to forget how powerful human stories are, exchanging their sense of empathy for a fetishistic fascination with data… the human stuff is the main stuff, and the data should enrich it”
    – Jonathan Harris
  • “Data journalism is not graphics an visualizations. it’s about telling the story in the best way possible. someties that will be a visualization… but sometimes it’s a news story. sometimes ust publishing the number is enough”
    – Simon Rogers
  • “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel”
    – Maya Angelou
  • “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories that you tell.”
    – Seth Godin
  • “Your purpose is to make your audience see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. Relevant detail, couched in concrete, colorful language, is the best way to recreate the incident as it happened and to picture it for the audience.”
    – Dale Carnegie
  • “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”
    – Brandon Anderson
  • “Everything is more compelling when you talk like a human being, when you talk like yourself.”
    – Ira Glass
  • “Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others.”
    – Otto von Bismarck
  • “Some of his stories became my stories, and just by telling them again and again, he gets to stay alive forever. That’s the magic of storytelling. It’s a time machine that can heal the world.”
    – Kevin van Valkenburg
  • “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.”
    – Mark Twain
  • “We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
    – Mark Twain

How to find material to read and how to dig through it.

In which order to start reading your booklist?

Three years ago I run into the question “What are the best sources to read on programming?”

No matter your field of expertise, you certainly have asked yourself the question: How do I best inform myself on topic X.
You can search for your answer on web pages and blogs. For many daily life questions like “What is the best way to cook an egg”, this is the way to go. But what about “I want to become the best manager in the world?”. Where do you find the answer to this question? Sometimes it is good to read a good old honest book.

Quickly, you will find books. Many books. In fact, after one hour you will have more books than you can read in one year.
Looking over your list of books, the question certainly arises “In which order to start reading?”.

Quickly, you will find books. Many books.

Sunken cost

The issue you face is the following:
There is always a lack of time for the most interesting things in our life. Especially reading. In addition, starting a book, which turns out to be boring and useless is frustrating. You spent your time and energy on this book even though it gave nothing or little back to you.

This means the book selection process is almost as important as reading the book. At least if you want to go beyond skimming many books and not only read books on your chosen topic the entire day. Some people recommend Blinkist to get a first impression of the book. I advocate another process: Manage your booklist.

Managing your reading list

In the beginning, there is always the question of the start point.

The best method to answer “Where to start?” is a meta-search.

What is a meta-search, you may ask?

You ask a lot of people in which order you should read their booklist.

Ask your colleagues, ask your boss, friend, neighbor, gardener, you name it.

Every suggestion of a book gets a +1. You then rank all those answers and voila – you have done a meta-search and compiled your booklist.

To google or not to google

If you are new in a community or there seems to be no community, it may be hard to find the people, who know all the answers. Luckily you and I know a guy who has most of the answers. Google. “Best books on …” is usually a good phrase to start. The search results feature web pages with lists of books.

Once you have several such lists the process becomes simple.
Ask each list like you would ask a person.
List all the books and mark +1 for every time a book appears on a list.

The problem with google is its simple-mindedness of google.
Depending on the topic, there is no direct answer from google. The art is how to find interesting books via google.

Considering my original problem, programming books, there has been an evolution since I first searched. This question is so popular nowadays, that “what is the best book for programming” actually returns pretty good results. Piere de Wulf has automated the process:

As of the time of writing this is the third-best result of the google search.

Digging through your reading list

Great now you have a nicely ordered list. You start and we see us in three years when you are finished? Not so fast. You should not blindly follow the lists.

Depending on your needs reading the list from top to bottom is not what you want. Usually, you have your very own taste on what you think is important. This means you still need to read the descriptions of the book and why each listed author thinks it is a good book.

Building your reading list is a process. While reading something you will stumble across new sources. As soon as the sources appear twice you can start ranking. Sometimes you get a book recommendation from a trusted source. It would be stupid to put this book at the very bottom of your reading list.

Happy Reading!

Why yet another storytelling blog

How we got here

So you want to do storytelling? Telling tall tales? But how to start? You are probably much in the same situation as I was in late 2019:

I had a story to tell, of this I was sure but I did not know how to tell it. Nor did I know where to start to learn how to tell it.

Originally, I decided to start a blog to gather resources about storytelling. Very soon I got overwhelmed by the sheer material out there. Just checking the calendar: it is already July 2021. Certainly, it took some time to get here. I used this time to dig into the topic and to clarify my blog’s purpose:

My main idea for the blog was storytelling. I want to write about the topic of effective communication and getting the point across. How to not get lost in the myriad of options that we have today.

I know not every much more precise, but I hope it will help me.

So let’s descend into the mine of storytelling.

What is storytelling?

The most obvious way to obtain this answer could be to look up Wikipedia.

“Storytelling describes the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment.”

A glance over this article reveals: storytelling is quite a vast field.

The two most prominent and established thematic fields are storytelling in fiction and storytelling in marketing.

Storytelling in fiction is the very process of writing a story.
Storytelling in marketing is the process to wrap the product in a story to provide a better possibility for the customer to identify with his potential next buy.

Business storytelling

I will try to write about a far less popular part of storytelling:

Storytelling in business decisions.

“Business decisions” generally means a very large field.

Aspects of business storytelling:

  • How to pitch your business idea?
  • How to build a team?
  • How to sell your products?

Business storytelling as an engineer

Due to my background as a scientist and engineer, I will restrict myself to the question:
How to influence business decisions as an engineer?


  • You have an idea, which you think to be great. How do you convince other people that it is a great idea?
  • You want to change the course of things in your department. What do you need to do?
  • You did something brilliantly in a small team. How do you scale your idea to a larger team, in short how to make your ideas grow?

Impact without power

These situations are certainly applicable to many professions. A recurring theme is acting impactful without formal power. There is a high probability that this getting more important as the knowledge economy spreads and we all want to sell on the “marketplace of ideas”.

The rise of influencers on platforms such as Youtube and Instagram is one such aspect.

At the same time, many big companies aim to democratize decision-making and reduce silo structures by fostering internal communication platforms. In a knowledge network power arises from being a node with many connections. The connections can be two ways, like in a classic network or one-way like for the modern followers.

What to expect

The aim is to have an overview of some good resources on storytelling. In addition, I want to explain key elements like the influence of the audience, story structure, and of course story delivery.

Stay tuned for the next article!

I only understand trainstation

If you a native English speaker you certainly got confused by the heading. The phrase was double dutch to you. But fear not you are not alone.

Traveling around the world

Corona restrictions are easing in many developed countries and air traffic bans are lifted.
Many people plan their next vacation. And with that the comes the question should you only travel to countries where you speak the language? Or are you one of the global cosmopolitans who are at home everywhere.

Regardless of the group you belong to, you certainly know this desperate feeling when you run out of words to make yourself understood in a foreign tongue.

Imagine you next trip to Italy and your hotel suite with a view on the river. And then picture yourself that you arrive in that hotel and are shown to your room. Your host is of the most amiable nature. He opens the door and points to your abode for the next fortnight:
A humid cramped room with a look in the back yard, which is full of waste bins and air conditions outlets.

Desperately you try to explain that this can not be your room. Your host keeps smiling and answers with a long explanation in Italian.

At this point the feeling of despair is rising in you, you holiday is certainly doomed.

Proverbs around the world

Of course travel is something which is done by every culture and this situation or similar situations are known to every traveler.

Similar situation also arrive in daily live. You understand the language you collocutor is using, but not the sense of the words. Be it because he is talking gibberish or because the topic is intellectually over your head.

Most interestingly the pro-verb different cultures use to describe the feeling in these situations vary quite dramatically.

I stumbled on this in a magazine article by Martina Koch, originally written in German. I could not find the article and translate the content here to English.

The drum is in (the city of) Harasta, but the marriage is in Duma.
Harasta wa I ‘irs fi Düma ()

I listen to a book from the heavens.
Wo zai ting tianshu

Eh? I only understand train station
hä? Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

That is Volapük to me
Tio estas volapukajo por mi
Esperanto; Volapük is another artificial language

I only understand stone plate
J’ y comprends que dalle

I do not even understand oink
Den katalawäno gri

I understand neither upwards nor downwards
Eg skil hvorki upp ne niöur i ~essu

I did not understand any dried fig
Non ho capito un fico secco

I can not attach a tow to it
Ik kan er geen touw aan vastknopen

I am sitting here as in a Turkish sermon
Siedze jak na tureckim kazaniu

I am looking at a new Gate like a sheep
Ja smotrju kak baran na novye vorota
– Russian

That is chinese to me
Me suena a Chino

I understand mushrooms
Tomu jä houby rozumim

If I had understood something, I would be an Arabian.
Anladiysam Arap olayim

There are some similarities. The verb understand appears almost in every language, but not all.
Russian and polish are quite figuratively expressing the confusion. Russian goes so far as to compare the situation a confused sheep.

Next time you are confused when traveling, think about it this way:
the people confusing to you would be equally confused, if they were to visit your own country.

Finding your personal blog’s purpose and name

Journey to a personal blog

Welcome to Story Melange.
What is Story Melange?
Story Melange is my personal blog where I write about topics that I am interested in.

In this article I want to share some thoughts about creating a personal blog.

A blog needs two things:
– The blogs main purpose
– A name for the blog

Finding the blog’s purpose

So you want to start a blog? Great. Frequently, personal blogs feature a collection of diverse topics. Countless are the numbers of blogs that were started, but later abandoned. Hopefully this blog will survive at least several years.

In my research on blog creation I found one important aspect touching the heart of the blog: its purpose.

Hosting and website creation are important, the content is far more important.
As already mentioned, many personal blogs write about various topics. However, over time it is easier to create new content and attract followers, if you have a purpose. Having a purpose does not necessarily mean that you always write about about the same topic. The different topics can be slightly related. And of course you can explore side-topics. Think about computer roll playing games. There is the main story-line and there are many big and small side quests.

Only you can discover your blog’s purpose. Good points to start the exploration of the purpose: What was your motivation when you decided that you want to create a blog? Do you intended to help someone with your blog?

My main idea for the blog was storytelling. I want to write about the topic of effective communication and getting the point across. How to not get lost in the myriad of options that we have today.
The next blog post will shed some more light on this.

If you are not able to identify your blog’s purpose, but still feel the urge to write a blog, go for it.

A frequent tip is to just start and see what works.

Finding the blog’s name

Once you answered the question of the blog’s purpose, it is time to name your blog.

You need a name for several reasons. My non exclusive list:

  1. Your own identification with your blog.
  2. You need to host the blog somewhere.
  3. If you want people to read the blog, the name should be intelligible and easy to remember. If you do not want anybody to find your blog go for “x2s5qm24”.

There are many good resources to help you.

See for example: or

There are different flavors of blog naming:

Use your name

Many people choose their own name or add a profession, e.g. mrsmithwriter.
Use an abbreviation of your name: dolind.
If you are an engineer or software developer, a good option to include .tech in the domain name.,

This is also helpful for your CV. Consider the two email addresses and which one looks more professional.

For the first address, the conveyed message hopefully is: I know my way around in the internet and in technology.

Your Business

The other route followed by many blog creators. Name the blog after your business idea. However, considering specific ideas the idea is best represented by its very own domain. Chances are high that you pick something you will later abandon for something else.

The blogs purpose

Closely related but slightly different: name the blog with regard to its purpose.
This should help the readers of the blog to associate the blog with a specific solution or a reliable source of information.

My blog’s purpose is storytelling. As I currently do not want to limit the blog the much, the scope will still be quite large.

Some names already existed or were even registered as a trademark. Other names were quite artsy and on second thought too complicated, gallimaufry, Story Entangled or Story Potpouri.

Reflecting on different blog names I was sipping my wiener melange when it dawned on me:
I had found my blog name.

With the choices we make in our lives, we create our very own mixtures from the possibilities and flavors the society offers. These mixtures, these melanges, which we create are the stories of our lives.

Welcome to Story Melange and enjoy your coffee.