Reading list 2019

After summarizing what I read in 2017 and 2018 respectively, it’s time to eventually reflect on my past 12 month, Jan – Dec 2019. Also this year, I learned a lot.

I started the year with All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin. It’s about telling stories, and telling them in a true and inspiring way. Coming directly from the master story teller, it contains a lot of ideas – while all of these will need practice (and likely a lot of failures on the way).

Then, an excellent read with Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio. It came before Ray put much of his content so broadly online and on social media. And even today, I’d recommend a thoughtful read of this content instead of just grasping bits and pieces from tweets. Ray adresses decision making at its root, for your personal life and at the workplace. Deciding once and following your rule book reduces your daily decisions as well as increases the likelyness for success.

After this, I came across The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird. The analogy to earth, fire, air, water and the quintessential element matches chapters understand deeply, fail to succeed, be your own socrates, look back look forward and transform yourself. After having read Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow a few years ago, this is another perspective on how to learn thinking and apply it more effectively and how this can have a highly positive effect on your performance.

Culture Infusion: 9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture by Kerry Alison Wekelo is a very practical approach on how culture affects a work environment. She is telling a story from her influence at a company called Actualize where she helped transform the company to adopt a focus on people, work-life balance and aligning the award system with goals. Nothing out of band what one would expect, at the same time she highlights well how challenging the implementation of these principles into a corporate culture can be.

Then I derailed to Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. Actually, it’s an excellent book, but the concept of vulnerability and how she describes many examples, didn’t resonate with me. I dragged on this book for months. That said, the concept of vulnerability is highly valuable, and I took away many little insights. If you want to get into this topic, listen to her talk The Power of Vulnerability.

Then came The Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle. I was truly inspired by the approach that Bill Campbell took, first as sports coach, then as coach for many big players in the Bay Area, including Google. A person so determined, so clearly and straightforward minded and focusing on building relationships over almost anything else. This book isn’t really teaching you to coach better, and is more inspirational and actionable – but I turned the pages quickly.

A fun read was Ultralerning by Scott Young. He took the challenge to complete the MIT in less than 2 years and avoid speaking English for one year to learn four new languages. He outlines a practical guide to learn through focus, drill and retention. It contains fun stories of other ultralearners, shows how we could do much more while learning and truly shows that the sky is the limit with regards to acquiring knowledge and use it in practice.

Eventually I couldn’t escape the many recommendations to read a Yuval Noah Harari book. I chose 21 lessons for the 21st century. The expectations were probably too high to be overwhelmed. However, I truly like his fact-based approach to think about challenging topics like war, god, liberty or meaning. He conveyed the information very objectively, and some points had a lasting impact on me. However, the topic range is enormous and while he did his research and came to a pragmatic conclusion for each of them, I’m sure there are many other possible inputs to consider and sharpen each of the topics further.

As a long-time reader of Farnam Street’s blog, I had to grab a copy of The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts. I just love their focus around mental models and our challenges when making decision. This book didn’t reveal anything truly new since most of the content has been made available online, but it was a different experience to use dedicated reading time to go through them a bit more structured than a randomly timed tweet. For me, time worthwhile spent.

After having read Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse, I had to compare this to a showmaster’s version of it. The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. I had low expectations, except a very practical approach to the infinite game thinking. With that in mind, I was glad that Simon Sinek mentioned James Carse version in the first few pages to get this off the plate. Great. And then, yes, it was followed by many, many examples from the business world. Some of them interesting, some of them an interpretation of Simon Sinek into this model. So overall, a relativley fast read and a lightweight introduction compared to James Carse’s harder to read and abstract version.

As the last book of the year, I got Start Finishing by Charlie Gilkey referred. As many time management books, also this was filled with good advice. One of them stuck with me: Thinking of different time frames – yearly plans, monthly plans, weekly plans and well, daily plans. I mean, everyone knows this and everyone applies this already. Right? True. Not a novelty. But very nicely framed, and I started applying this to my personal work schedule with initial tangible output. So that alone buys the book for me.

Podcasts and Newsletters

I continued following the daily blog post from Seth Godin. After having followed him for a few years, nothing outstanding. But every time I am impressed how concise he’s able to make a point and I feel like I need this daily push.

I listened to most podcasts from Farnam Street, impressed by their ongoing focus on decisions and mental models. The guests have impressive background and interesting stories.

I started reading through the long blogs from the Silicon Valley Product Group, providing useful context around OKR setting, product management and team alignment.

So what’s coming in 2020?

Well – more or less a continuation of above. So far I can reveal that I finished Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed and started Leadership is Language by L. David Marquet.

What are yours? (Tell me on Twitter.)