As I am writing this 2017 is coming to an end, and as I looked back I noticed that in the past 52 weeks, I’ve picked up and finished exactly 52 books. With a risk of sounding presumptuous, here is the very best of them, and why I think they are awesome. First, the full list.
The Tao of Pooh | The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy | The Call of the Wild | 12 Years of Slave | The Adventure’s of Barden Beedles | Emergency | The Sixth Extinction | The Complete Turtle Trader | Chaos Monkey |The Promise of Francis | The Art of Happiness | Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing | Quiet | Norse Mythology | The Warrior of the Light | Total Recall | The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt | The Wright Brothers | Animal Farm | Stone Soup | Sapiens | Homo Deus | The Call of Cthulu | Alibaba | The Prophet | The Happiness Project | The Innovators | The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success | How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia | Leaders Eat Last | Letter to a Hostage, Letter to a General | Predictably Irrational | The Story of Ferdinand | The Undoing Project | Modern Romance | Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart | Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! | The Giving Tree | The Little Books of Trading | Good to Great | Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son | Tools of Titans | Man’s Search for Meaning | The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck | Thank You for Being Late | Contagious: Why Things Catch On | Zero to One | Amazon: The Everything Store | The Industries of the Future | Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World | Delivering Happiness | As a Man Thinketh.
Tools of Titans
This book an exhaustive list of tips and tricks collected by Tim Ferriss from his prominent guest on the Tim Ferriss show. It features insights into the lives of such people as Tony Robbins to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Scott Adams to Amelia Boone. But between all the advice of all the extraordinary people in this book there is one that struck me very hard, as it pretty much strategizing all of your time. If you want to succeed, you can either try to be the best, meaning number one, at one thing e.g. swimming; or you try to become become top 25% at two things.
Most people do not have what it takes to become the best at swimming, playing the piano or programming software. It is a well-established theory, that to reach mastery in a particular skill requires 10.000 hours of deliberate practice.
However, most people have at least two things they can become top 25% at. What happens if you combine those talents? You end up with something much more special and unique, and you gain a competitive advantage.
If you don’t know what the other thing you should focus on should be, the advice is to get really good at public speaking or selling. If you can do that, those are pretty universal skills, that will get you miles in front of the people trying to be number 1.
Man’s Search for Meaning
The author, Victor Frankl, was a Jewish psychologist and concentration camp survivor in the WW2. While most people perished, Frankl somehow managed to find meaning in his situation.
A lesson worth remembering from his accounts and observations is that people with a purpose in their life, that being anything from a child, a spouse or a life’s project - had a much higher chance of survival than the ones with no purpose.
Often times size and muscle didn’t matter much. The will to live doesn’t come from physical strength, but from a determination to survive to finish you mission in life.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Defintely the best self-improvement book, completely debunking positive psychology, and replacing it with objective honesty. Awesome lesson?
You are always responsible, for how you deal with things. You reaction to the stuff that happens to you, are completely up to you. Experiment: if you open your door tomorrow and find a orphan left on your door step, you are not responsible for that baby being there … but you are responsible for what happens next.
Thank You for Being Late
This book is about how to survive in the age of acceleration. Because sometimes it feels like the world is spinning faster and faster. Before you figure out how to buy your first Bitcoin, there is already 300 new crypto-currencies that are trending.
But funnily enough, the lesson I think back on when I remember this book is the following sentence. Everyone needs someone to tell them I believe in you.
Contagious: Why Things Catch On
If you work in marketing, your boss have most likely at some point in time, asked you to make viral content. But virality is next to impossible to predict (and often not the best objective for a business).
But Jonas Berger, the author of this book, and his team distilled thousands of pieces of content that had gone viral, and found six principles that makes content more spreadable.
While some principles can be present or not, one is (almost) always there: Social Currency. What this means in practice is that we share stuff to make us-self look good. You spread stuff, because you are rewarded with a public perception you crave. In other words, you tell an interesting fact to seem smart, you share a secret to make your peers aware that you are in the know, you tell a joke to seem funny. Not consciously, but unconsciously.
You would be surprised how few companies think about how their audience wants to be perceived by the peers. I can tell you right now, most don’t.
Zero to One
This book taught me more about business than three years of business school. So do yourself a favor and buy this instead.
The idea that stuck with me the most is Thiel’s observations that the most common reason for business failure is their inability to distribute effectively, or said in plain english, most businesses suck at marketing.
With so many possibilities today, where should you focus you efforts? Should you advertise on social media, make a podcast, or pick up the phone and start dialing? While many contemporary dogma says you need to be where your customers are, today it is more important than ever to focus on what brings results for your product. You cannot afford swear by one way today. You need to test what works for your product, and you need to test it rapidly, and once you find out what makes the best result, double down your efforts on that tactic.
That also means picking up the phone; especially if your product is expensive. No one is going to hand you a million for a product because they saw a Facebook ad.
Amazon: The Everything Store
I knew next to nothing about Jeff Bezos and Amazon, as I am living in Scandinavia where Amazon is just now introducing itself. But a look at Jeff Bezos and how he runs his business will make you reevaluate what you learned at business school. Jeff Bezos governs his affair by very few and simple principles (which is in itself a principles). These are the following
The first principle is always customer focus. Most companies say they focus on the customer, but next to none actually go out of there way to do what is best for the customer. To give an example, most people in Amazon’s management was opposed to free delivery with Amazon Prime. Why would they invest so heavily in logistics if they could not generate revenue on it? Because paying for shipping sucks, and that is what Jeff Bezos realized. It was a major barrier for purchase, so he removed it. Which leads to next principle …
Long term vision. Or what Jeff Bezos calls a willingness to be misunderstood for a long time. Again, prime is a great example. It was a major cost when invented, and it was not estimated to increase sales enough to make a return for 7 years. But they made it anyway, calculating it as a long-term marketing cost (which is a sort of sub-principle: consider customer service a marketing cost).
Third principle, is super simple: Invent. If you have a problem, start inventing a solution. Jeff Bezos have gone out and said that there should be no barriers of entry. Most companies have gates you need to pass to get a budget approved for a project. But if you need to solve a problem fast, invention and innovation is the best way to do it, and even a well-meaning gate keeper slows that process.
The Industries of the Future
Where will the next giant leap in in consumer technology come from? Most likely US, more specifically Silicon Valley, MIT or Stanford.
But where will the next innovation in computer security be? Most likely Isreal. What about agriculture? Many point to New Zealand. What about government innovation? Try Estonia. The thing is, it is difficult to dream up problems to solve if you are not in close proximity to the problems. The problems you see everyday, like not being able to get a taxi, create solutions like Uber. This Alex Ross dubs domain expertise, and was an aha-moment for me, as the dogma I have been taught is, go to Silicon Valley if you want to be an entrepreneur.
I am normally not a particular fan of prediction books as I am pretty convinced know one knows, and most of this book was not particularly different from the ones I have encountered before. However, two concepts comes up surprisingly often in conversations.
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Reading this book was an eye-opener. I have always though of Genghis Khan as a barbaric savage horseman, not too far form the villain of the first DIsney Mulan film. But as it turns out, he wasn’t. Genghis was a masterful general, leader and strategist when it came to everything but his family.
One principle I was surprised to learn from this book was Universalism. Contrary to popular dogma, the mongols was an inclusive people. If you had a talent anything from engineering to poetry, you had a place in the Mongol empire, no matter if you were christian, muslim or jew; black, white or asian; man or woman (the mongol empire was later ruled by a court of women descendants of Genghis).
Genghis Khan lived between 1162 to 1227, which is worth remembering when we talk about this, as that level of inclusion is rare in today’s age.
Most companies have corporate value that are decided by management. But the majority of those values never leave the executive branch, and more often than not, they never leave the paper they were written on.
How many companies do you know that are willing to hire and fire, solely based on corporate values? That weigh cultural fit over professional competences? And that won’t even allow processes based workers e.g. accountants and lawyers to not include themselves in them.
This is where Zappos comes in. Their corporate values was not defined by their CEO, but by the employees. All-in-all, Zappos conduct business as business should be conducted.
As a Man Thinketh
It is no coincidence I have left this work for last. It is one of the most important works I have come across it is only 18 pages, and you can find it for free at www.gutenberg.org so there is no excuse not to read it.
It hurts to read, because it rings true to so many things you know, but choose to ignore. Those things are what keeps you from resolving the things you complain about, or accomplish the things you have put your heart on.
The truth that man is the causer (though nearly always is unconsciously) of his circumstances, and that, whilst aiming at a good end, he is continually frustrating its accomplishment by encouraging thoughts and desires which cannot possibly harmonize with that end.
One thing that really frustrates me is how little I remember after reading a book. So I began collecting the points while I read, and then write them into one long text.
That turned into something that looks like a book. Now, this was meant for myself only, so you will probably find a lot of spelling mistakes and grammatical error, but if you can use this for anything, feel free to download it. Under each concept, you will find a couple of names. This is either the author or protagonist in the book (whoever the concept comes from originally). This is my way of keeping track of where I found what, so I can find the original source should it be necessary.
My plan is to update it every year, which I realize will turn into a huge collection.