My 2018 Book List So Far (in no particular order)

Cross-posted from LinkedIn

This year, I resolved to read a lot more, and lately I've been getting up extra early, not looking at my phone, and sitting down with coffee and a book. Mostly on dead trees, from my neighborhood libraries. I've lately adopted David Cancel's habit of capturing interesting passages or quotes on the fly through my Instagram story feed, but I also wanted to summarize for myself some of what I've read and what I've taken away so far in 2018. There are some themes here - entrepreneurship, self discovery, leadership - but I wouldn't say I've chosen these titles methodically. Hopefully y'all will find this useful as well, and perhaps have some suggestions about what inspired you and what I should be reading next.

Becoming Steve Jobs - Brent Schlender

Jobs has reputation as a tyrant - overconfident in his own ideas, insensitive to and impatient with others, generally hard to work with/for. Some stories I've heard from people who knew him reinforce some of those ideas, as do other biographies like Isaacson's Steve Jobs. Schlender's book is a more nuanced view from a journalist that knew Jobs intimately since 1986. A lot of the book focuses on the in-between years - after Job's dismissal from Apple in 1985, the journey of NeXT and Pixar, and the eventual return to lead Apple in 1997. It's a story of growth, mellowing, and leadership. It also emphasizes the qualities of Jobs that inspired so many to be so loyal for so long. He applied enormous pressure, but inspired those he worked with to focus on excellence. He also focused on his family, and the lives of his employees on a really human level.

He wanted everyone working from the same playbook, and he wanted that game plan to be crystal clear. He couldn't afford any of the strategic confusion that had hampered the direction of the NeXT computer.

'Steve didn't believe in reviews,' remembers Jon Rubenstein. 'He disliked all that formality. His feeling was 'I give you feedback all the time, so what do you need a review for?' At one point I hired an executive coach so that I could do three-sixty reviews with my own team. He was a really good guy, and I tried to get Steve to talk with him, but he wouldn't. In fact he asked me 'What do you need that for? That's a waste of time'.

Saying no - to software features, new projects, new hires, boondoggle conferences, all kinds of press queries, even to Wall Street's desire for better guidance on future earnings, and anything else deemed extraneous or distracting. Above all, saying no became a crucial way of keeping everyone, including himself, focused on what really mattered. The sheer simplicity of the [product] quadrant strategy had laid the foundation for an organization that would say no again and again - until it said yes, at which point it would attack the new project with fierce determination.

It's not about how fast you do something, it's about doing your level best.

What's the truth of your ambition? Do you have the humility to continually grow, to learn from your failures and get back up? Are you utterly relentless for your cause? Can you channel your intensity and intelligence and energy and talents and gifts and ideas outward into something that is bigger and more impactful than you are? That's what great leadership is about.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike - Phil Knight

Phil Knight's life story in his own words, with much of the focus on the early years of Blue Ribbon Sports, the shoe importing company he founded in 1964 with his ex-coach Bill Bowerman that would eventually become Nike. I found it fascinating to understand how close to the edge he ran the company, with tons of leverage and multiple near misses with bankruptcy. It's a study in tenacity and grit - Phil worked full time as an accountant at PWC while getting BRS off the ground, negotiating with manufacturers in Japan - and a bit of a spiritual journey as well, with a 20-something trip around the world to find himself mixed in.

Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

Belief is irresistible

You are remembered for the rules you break. (Quoting MacArthur)

I'd read somewhere that the geese in the rear of the formation, cruising in the backdraft, only have to work 80 percent as hard as the leaders. Every runner understands this. Front runners always work the hardest, and risk the most.

The Reputation game : the art of changing how people see you - David Waller and Rupert Younger

Great book of case studies (with a British slant) on PR, outlining how reputations are built and lost, and critical differences in capability vs. character. I didn't take notes or clip quotes aggressively from this one, but found it an interesting and quick read for anyone that works with brand or PR.

... a lack of innovation [is] one of the downsides of a closed network

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win - Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Ex-SEAL officers with tours in Iraq turned corporate consultants deliver a concise set of examples from their military service and their consulting practice around key points of their leadership strategy. It's not groundbreaking, but it's refreshing to see key concepts laid out directly. First, no excuses - you own everything you do, don't blame others when you fail. A zen approach. Second, keep moving, bias for action. Third, process and discipline is important - it helps you automate the baseline so you can focus your energies on things that require dynamic and creative thinking. Fourth, leadership is bidirectional - it's incumbent on all leaders to push up as well as down.

The simplicity cycle : a field guide to making things - Dan Ward

I grabbed this on a whim from a library shelf without realizing it was authored by a colleague of my wife. I hate to admit it, but I abandoned it about halfway through (sorry Dan). Ward draws a graph of complexity vs goodness, and uses it throughtout to illustrate how to optimize between the two, drawing system design towards simplicity. We've all seen feature bloat slowly make products too complex to onboard users into, slower to use, and brittle. I especially liked the idea of "the Special Piece" - an element of a design or architecture that "we've been looking for all along without quite knowing what it looked like or even whether it existed at all." It bends the slope of complexity back towards higher simplicity.

Rework - David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

The first manifesto (not counting the 37signals Blog) from the creators of Basecamp (among other SaaS offerings). A really quick read refreshing in its bluntness about all the shit we don't really need to succeed in business. Fancy offices? Do we even need an office. Venture Capital? How much do we give up in control of our destiny? Do we have to grow bigger/faster than we ought to? Business plans? How often do they come true? It's antithetical to how much of the software industry works, but inspiring for potential entrepreneurs who are interested in doing work they are driven and fulfilled by.

Ever see the weapons prisoners make out of soap or a spoon? They make do with what they've got. Now we're not saying you should go out and shank somebody - but get creative and you'll be amazed with what you can make with just a little.

When you put off decisions, they pile up. And piles end up ignored, dealt with in haste, or thrown out. As a result, the individual problems in those piles stay unresolved. Whenever you can, swap 'let's think about it' for 'Let's decide on it''

Do everything you can to remove layers of abstraction ... The problem with abstractions (like reports and documents) is that they create the illusions of agreement. A hundred people can read the same words, but in their heads, they're imagining a hundred different things.

Good enough is fine ... part of this is recognizing that problems are negotiable. Let's say your challenge is to get a bird's eye view. One way to do it is to climb Mount Everest. That's the ambitious solution. But then again, you could take an elevator to the top of a tall building. That's the judo solution.

Don't confuse enthusiasm with priority ... let your latest grand ideas cool off for a while first. By all means, have as many great ideas as you can. Get excited about them. Just don't act in the heat of the moment. Write them down and park them for a few days. Then, evaluate their actual priority with a calm mind.

Don't write it down ... How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't. Listen, but then forget what people said ... Your customers will be your memory. They'll keep reminding you. They'll show you which things you truly need to worry about.

Everything is Marketing

Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual - Jocko Wilinik

This is another book I picked up on a whim after enjoying Extreme Ownership. Unlike that book, which is rigorously structured to illustrate key concepts, Discipline Equals Freedom is more of a staccato delivery of exhortations to motivate. It's also printed in white on black. Altogether, a tough book to stick with that doesn't offer the reader much more than Wilinik's prior work.

Endurance : a year in space, a lifetime of discovery - Kelly

As a space geek, I loved the detail of this book, from peeing on the wheel of the bus in Kazakstan on the way to the launch site (because Gagarin did, so every other Soyuz traveller does), to the details of fixing the toilet on the International Space Station. It's a study in both self-reliance and teamwork, in addition to documenting the history of the shuttle and ISS and the impacts mentally and physically of space travel and isolation.

A Good Country - Laleh Khadivi

A novel about the immigrant experience of a muslim family and the post 9/11 slide of a good student, a surfer, a stoner, into the world of extremism as he tries to find his identity and escape growing isolation in Southern California. It's beautifully written with rich imagery.

Player Piano - Kurt Vonnegut

A 66 year old novel that's prescient in today's era of the rise of concern around the future of artificial intelligence. In Vonnegut's world, the machines aren't hyperminiaturized circuits and gates like today's computers, but big clanking works of brass, glass bulbs and the like. Nevertheless, their ironbound algorithms control all facets of life, running factories, deciding production plans, and preordaining individuals into castes of engineers, managers, or consumers. We're a long way from a general purpose artificial intelligence, but what scares people today is the black box nature of algorithms that decide pieces of our fate. Credit scores. Ad targeting. Social media. We're probably closer to Vonnegut's world than we realize. Will there be a Paul Proteus that throws a luddite's wrench in the works?

Charlie Munger : the complete investor - Griffin

Mostly a collection of quotes from Munger, Warren Buffet's investment partner at Berkshire Hathaway, Buffet himself, and others with a similar worldview on value-based investing. The biggest takeaways for me were about pragmatism and learning. First, Munger and Buffet attribute their success not to being the smartest guys in the room, or willing to take the biggest risks, but rather, they've avoided being stupid, consistently. They also look for sure things they know lots about, and unflinchingly will discard opportunities that don't fit that into a "too hard" pile. Second, they're learning machines, devoting much of their time to reading, and to developing a clear understanding of their "circle of competence" within which they operate and will not stray from.

The only duty of a corporate executive is to widen the moat. We must make it wider. Every day is to widen the moat. We gave you a competitive advantage, and you must leave us the moat. There are times when it's too tough. But duty should be to widen the moat.

You gotta work where you turned on

What matters most: passion or competence that was born in? Berkshire is full of people who have a peculiar passion for their own business. I would argue passion is more important than brain power.

I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don't believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it up all yourself. Nobody's that smart.

Part of the benefit of creating a checklist is the process of writing down your ideas. I have always loved the point Buffet made about the importance of marking the effort to actually put your ideas in writing. I'm Buffet's view if you cannot write it down you haven't thought it through.

The best thing a human being can do is help another human being know more.