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.)

Reading list 2018

After a slow start in 2017, I got to a few more books in 2018. I’m highly satisfied with the outcome regarding my learning, my acquired inspiration, and generally the selection I made to invest my limited reading time.

I started with A Second Chance: For You, For Me, And For The Rest Of Us by Catherine Hoke. It’s a fascinating story of Catherine believing in people that are at the bottom of their life, often 20 years or more in a high security prison. She brings them back to society. Not only in a safe way, but also making them successful entrepreneurs of small businesses.

A Beautiful Constraint : How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden was an inspiration read on how to frame challenges differently. It taught me to avoid seeing constraints as excuses to not pursue the next adventure, but instead see them from a different angle and leverage them to my advantage.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek is a classic based on his famous TED talk. As expected, the book isn’t revealing anything new. That said, I found it worthwhile time spent to inhale more of this simple, yet compelling idea by reading through a long list of good and bad examples.

Talking about “why” – I then moved on to understanding why the young generation needs to find purpose in everything they do. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink puts it in a usable framework. Valid for every generation. But especially good for dealing with the younger one.

The hardest read from a pure “understanding English” (which is my second language) was Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. It took me a while to digest his ideas. But ever since I’m defining my infinite games and actually started to pursue some of them.

Then, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown got recommended to me, and I’d say it was the most influential book in 2018 for me personally. It’s a lot about saying “no” to clutter and “full commitment” to what’s essential in your life.

Another big one was Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker. Bill Gates mentions it as his new favorite book of all time. It adjusted my world view towards being more optimistic about where the world is heading. It’s towards less children dying after birth, less illiteracy world wide, better medication for the poor or many more people getting out of poverty.

Back to reality, Plain Talk: Lessons from a Business Maverick by Ken Iverson is a convincing story why working smarter over the course of decades outperforms those who look at short-term profit and squeezing out every penny of their employees. It’s about the believe in people and leveraging their will and motivation.

I hesitated for a while, but then still jumped onto It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. I followed Jason Fried for a while already, and I’m working in an environment that isn’t crazy by many of those means. Still, it contained a lot of useful hints on how to do better, and again, believe in the individual.

Ok, too much philosophy, let’s do something for real. Measure What Matters: OKRs: The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth by John Doerr presents a 25 year old concept that John Doerr brought to Google and many other companies. The forword by Larry Page, as well as a recommendation by Bill Gates, gives this concept and book additional weight. While the concept is an old hat, it’s revamping goal setting into an easy to understand and execute framework.

The year couldn’t have ended with more insight into the meaing of life than reading Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust by Viktor E Frankl. If you’re searching for purpose, or simply want to get reminded of the darker times almost a century ago, reading Frankl’s stories from his 5 years of imprisonment in concentration camps is putting everything you do into a different perspective.


During my commute, podcasts work better than reading. I started to listen to Akimbo by Seth Godin, which enhances Seth’s daily inspiration with a weekly 30min talk. Some of the talks from The Knowledge Project by Farnam Street are really twisting my perspective on our world. And Adam Grant interviewed a set of interesting people in WorkLife.

So what’s coming in 2019?

At the time of this writing, I already completed All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin (no, I’m not switching jobs). To move on, I’m thinking of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (Yuval Noah Harari), Principles: Life and Work (Ray Dalio), Mandela’s Way: Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage (Richard Stengel), The Infinite Game (Simon Sinek) and many more. What are your recommendations for me? Contact me, or tweet a reply.