It was another great year (albeit a bit down compared to year’s past) for my Audible subscription and I was able to do more actual reading this year than any year in recent memory. Below are my top 15 books of 2017. Thanks to the Brown County Library Big Book Sale in October, I was able to add about 60 books to my anti-library so I hope next year’s list is even longer.
By: Adam Grant
As the title implies, Adam Grant looks at original and creative thinkers and how they do things differently to succeed. He explains that many creative types procrastinate because they like to think as long as possible on project before beginning work. He also looks at some of the world’s most famous innovators and shares common traits that made them originals.
By: Marshall Goldsmith, Mark Reiter
We generally would like to change some part of our lives for the better but we also underestimate how triggers reshape our thoughts and actions. There are alot of fallacies of using willpower or being able to hold accountable for change. Triggers are neither inherently good or bad, but we can design them to bring about the change we are seeking.
13. Automate This
By: Christopher Steiner
In the computer age, algorithms are becoming more and more mainstream. This book looks at how algorithms are changing our world and how when misguided can lead to errors like a $23 book being listed for $23,698,655.93 or in worse cases, major changes to financial markets. Algorithms drive almost all digital and internet based activities from a simple web search to personal assistants and self driving cars. I was amazed at how dependent we are to ensure that they work as expected.
12. The 12 Week Year
By: Brian P. Moran, Michael Lennington
As mentioned in Originals above, many people wait until the last moment to get things done. In a traditional 12 month year that normally means people really kick it into action in November in December to make annual goals. The 12 week year changes this, where every week is a month and there is a focus on what is truly important on getting those things done.
By: Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
One of two books on my list from Nobel Prize winner, Richard Thaler. This book is about using behavioral economics to design the outcome you want, or for what’s in the best interest of the person such as companies making a 401k contribution the default so that employees have to make a concerted effort to not contribute. This is a great read for anyone interested in UX or a/b testing.
10. Finding Your Element
By: Ken Robinson
Sir Ken Robinson is one of heroes. He is a thought leader in changing a traditional education system that disregards creatives and those who think and learn differently than other students. This book is about finding what resonates with you to do work you were born to do. Most people who are doing work in their element, don’t even know it because it feels so natural.
By: David Eagleman
This book is about what goes on behind the scenes in your brain and how our subconscious has a major impact on what we do every day. Our ideas that we think we come up with in an instant are really the results of our subconscious working all the time. We even don’t know how we change lanes. It also shows how injuries to the brain can alter our personalities entirely.
8. Boys Adrift
By: Leonard Sax
As a boy who didn’t do well in school, this subject is very near and dear to me. The five factors Dr. Sax discusses in the book include changes to academia and how play has been removed from Kindergarten, a focus on learning by knowing instead of learning by doing, and the over medication of children, particularly of creatives. There are also environmental factors that he discusses. Since reading this book, I have heard (mostly mothers) talk about their sons facing many of the issues discussed in this book.
7. The Human Brand
By: Chris Malone, Susan T. Fiske
I like to read this book in tandem with Start With Why by Simon Sinek because as Simon encourages companies to start with why, this book covers the how. The recurring theme is that companies must act with both warmth and competence. The book is filled with great examples of beloved brands that faced a PR crisis or just do a great job of authentically connecting with their customers. My favorite example was from Domino’s CEO J. Patrick Doyle when he did commercials calling out their own mistakes and stating that they would do better. When asked what would happen if the commercials failed, Doyle said “then the next CEO will have a big problem on their hands.”
6. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
By: Mark Manson
In life, we only have so many fucks to give, yet we spend them on things that don’t really matter. We give a fuck about how we compare to others or how other people think about us. We give a fuck when a teenage cashier doesn’t let us use a 25 cent coupon that is a day past the expiration date. Not giving a fuck doesn’t mean you don’t care about anything, rather it means being smarter about how you spend the fucks you have.
5. Checklist Manifesto
By: Atul Gawande
This is a great book for anyone who has proofed copy 8 times but still sent out something with an error or an email with placeholder copy still in place. Dr. Gawande explains how when hospitals started using checklists for routine tasks, other ailments and infections dropped tremendously. Checklists are a nuisance because they make us feel stupid, like “of course I washed my hands before surgery” but often simple things like that were overlooked. I have created over 25 tradeshow programs in Marketo and they aren’t very complicated to build, however this year I created a checklist in Trello of everything I have to do to create one and it involves over 70 separate tasks. I guarantee you that if I don’t use the checklist, I will miss a piece at some point. This should be required reading for all teams.
By: Richard Thaler
We all claim to be rational people and yet we act irrationally. We live in a busy and complex world so we use heuristics to do what feels right. If you paid for tickets to a concert but got very sick that day, would you still go? What about if the tickets were free? Would you make a bet on a coin flip where if it ended up heads you’d win $100 but if it ended up tails you’d lose $100? Richard Thaler does a wonderful job of explaining what an Econ (rational person) would do in these circumstances but shows how we actually act, backed by research and statistics. This book is a must for all marketers.
3. No One Would Listen
By: Harry Markopolos
Harry Markopolos tells his story about how he tried to warn everyone, including the SEC about Barry Madoff almost a decade before he was arrested for running the largest Ponzi Scheme in history. Madoff always made money, even when the market was down. People wanted to believe that he was just that brilliant. When you look back, it all seems obvious that he was doing something illegal but no one wanted to hear it. Like kids at Christmas, we throw out the facts and the logic and paint the picture we want to believe.
By: Greg McKeown
Most things don’t matter, or matter very little. What if we turned our attention to doing less but better? Instead of saying yes to every request, start saying no and only focus on the most important tasks. We live in a busy world, full of distractions and this book helps me focus on the “vital few versus the trivial many”. We all know about the Pareto principle where 80% of outcomes are based on 20% of work yet we still take great pride in doing alot of things and spreading ourselves thin. Instead, we should focus on the 20% of work that will lead to 80% of results. My favorite line from this book is “if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will”.
1. Ego is the Enemy
By: Ryan Holiday
I found out about this book from Derek Sivers and I have listened to it 4 times this year. A common theme of a lot of books on this list is that there is so much noise in life that we need to filter out, including our own egos. Ego is an unhealthy belief in our own importance. We get concerned with our status and how we’re perceived. We lose sight of who we are and what we are trying to accomplish. Ego derails us from the truly important work. This book is about doing work not because you’ll be rewarded, but instead because it is best for you. If you have ever been turned down for a job, promotion, or pay raise and you couldn’t believe the other party didn’t see how wonderful and brilliant you are, you need to read this book. It will bring you back home quickly. You’re never the best and there will always be someone smarter than you. One of the examples from the book is from a speech from John Boyd where he asks his soldiers, “Do you want to ‘be someone’ or do you want to ‘do something’?” That is the question, to be or to do. Stay humble, stay hungry, and remember who you are.