60 Books, 10 Lessons. What I Read In 2017.
The day after Christmas 2016 I shared the 10 lessons learned from the 40 books I’d read last year. ~200K views later I knew without a doubt, even in January of 2017, that I would be writing a follow-up post :).
This is that follow-up. One of the best comments on last year’s post was that I share this before Thanksgiving to ensure folk can add the books to their holiday shopping lists . I got the chance to read this many books again this year due to a lot of travel in the first half of the year and an ACL rupture that kept me bedridden for a few months in the second half of the year.
Let’s dive in!
Failing is not the risky thing. The risky thing is not doing the thing you were called to do.
2017 was the year that I embraced the desire to earn money from writing. And it worked out well. Even if it hadn’t, not taking the plunge would have been a failure for me. The books that really helped me along in taking the plunge include ‘Real Artists Don’t Starve”by Jeff Goins, ‘Deep Work’ & ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ by Cal Newport, ‘ How To Self-Promote Without Being A Jerk’ by Bruce Kasanoff, ‘The One-Page Marketing Plan’ by Allan Dib, and ‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon. Will I do it forever? I don’t know. Doing the work of writing every single day has helped me clarify what I should focus on to achieve the heights that I aspire to.
Sorry Mother, curiosity is the only thing that will save the cats.
I asked a lot of questions as a kid and, in her moments of fatigue with having to handle four boys, my mum would say ‘hush, curiosity killed the cat.’ Thank God I didn’t listen! There is so much happening with technology today — AI, robots, neural implants, etc. – and the only way humans will thrive in these times is to stay curious and learn as much about this as possible. Must read books to get your head around the advancements in technology include ‘Machine, Platform, Crowd’ by McAfee & Brynjolfsson, ‘The Industries of Future’ by Alec Ross, ‘Bold’ by Peter Diamandis, ‘Dark Pools’ by Scott Patterson, ‘The Fuzzy and The Techie’ by Scott Hartley, ‘Algorithms to Live’ By Christian and Griffiths, ‘Attention Merchants’ by Tim Wu and ‘Irresistible’ by Alter, Adam.
Master consistency and quality will follow.
Time and time again the books about self-development or growth in business suggested that the more you do a thing, the better you get at it. It’s true. I’m testament to that, and I’m still just scratching the surface of what I believe is possible. Show Your Work’ by Austin Kleon, ‘Creative Confidence’ by David Kelley, ‘Eats Shoots & Leaves’ by Lynne Truss and ‘Lead With A Story’ by Paul Smith.
Originality Is Overrated:
and it’s probably why you haven’t started on your calling yet. There was a period this year when I read every Haruki Murakami book I could get my hands on — ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’, ‘Norwegian Wood’, ‘After The Quake : Stories’ and ‘The Elephant Vanishes’ — I wasn’t sure why at the time. For a period before that, I’d reread a couple of Malcolm Gladwell books (‘What the Dog Saw’) because, in response to the question of which writer I would most like to mimic, I’d selected Gladwell. I stole and modified the story->hypothesis->dissonance creating conclusion of Gladwell and wrote a few viral posts. ‘Real Artists Don’t Starve’ had offered up that you have to elevate the work of the masters you copy and , focusing on utilities and strategy, I’d crafted my own niche style of writing based on Malcolm Gladwell’s style. Only when I was laid on my back for several weeks, due to an Achilles rupture did I realize that the Murakami binge was again to give me a style to steal (with my own twist) for my novel ‘Nana and her Robot Suitor’ (due in January). It’s ok to creatively steal from your influences (and credit them), just make sure you elevate the work with your own unique perspective.
Your Intersections Will Provide Your Competitive Advantage, Embrace Them:
The next line is not a humblebrag, it’s a brag; no one writes more fun incisive articles at the intersection of utilities (boring), innovation (supposedly complex) and strategy than I do. And that’s because I embraced my intersections and continue to read books to help me hone what is a unique perspective on a staid industry being disrupted by the technology of the day. Time and time again, the books that helped me learn more and hone this skill by writing every day, are books written by authors who absolutely know their intersections. Some of these books are -‘Antifragile’ by Nassim Taleb, Tim Wu with ‘Attention Merchants’, Chip Kidd with ‘Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design’, Graham Moore with ‘The Last Days of Night’, ‘The Ripple Effect’ by Alex Prud’homme and Derek Thompson with ‘The Hit Makers’. What are your interactions? Hone your craft. I’m still trying to find my feet but this past year was the first time I earned money from ghostwriting (speeches, articles, company reports and manifestos etc) at the intersections of the things that I’m pretty good at. Embrace your intersections. Focusing on doing the work was helped by reading ‘Essentialism’ by Greg Mckeown and ‘Hustle’ by Neil Patel.
We Are Both Ignorant of And Paranoid About The ‘Accidents’ Of Our Technology:
In ’All Our Wrong Todays’ (A Novel) Elan Mastai shares the idea of the “accident”, suggesting that “when you invent a new technology, you also invent the accident of that technology”. When we invented the car, we also invented the car accident. Present day tech advancements (Artificial Intelligence, Biohacking, Cryptocurrencies etc), are inevitable. And so are the accidents. Not a new concept, just one that is very relevant today. Several experts covered these — ‘Radical Technologies’ by Adam Greenfield, ‘Deep Thinking’ by Garry Kasparov, ‘Present Shock’ by Douglas Rushkoff and ‘The Shallows’ & ‘Utopia is Creepy’ by Nicholas Carr — and point to a world that might be filled with more technology accidents than we desire. This was also covered in non-fiction by Dave Eggers in ‘The Circle’. Being an optimistic realist, I’m constantly dealing with the tug and pull of technology/its accident: the optimist in me believes in and is super excited about the exponential nature of the technology and how beneficial all these advancements will be! But the realist in me recognizes that the accidents will also be exponential and mostly impact those least able to even benefit from the technologies. And that worries me.
The Next Huge Global Startups Will Come From Focusing On The Extremes Of Either Servicing The Largest Firms or By Providing Great Service To The Customer Of 1;
We now have the technology to build businesses at scale with just a few people (WhatsApp) or by granular customization of products to predict and serve the most quirky needs of every customer. As Scott Galloway says in ‘The Four’, and something that the big tech firms have moved away from, “the majority of stakeholder value created in the last decade has been a function of removal” (see below). More on this thinking can be found in ‘Thanks for Being Late’ by Thomas Friedman (despite the infamous chart), ‘Bold’ by Peter Diamandis, ‘Wild Ride’ by Adam Lashinsky, ‘End of Average’ by Todd Rose and ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Harari (probably the best book I read this year. It’s a toss-up between this and ‘Deep Work’).
Despite what it seems, Apple/Facebook/Amazon/Microsoft/Alphabet will all give way to other companies eventually:
these companies are doing so many things right now and, time and time again, as pointed out in most of the books about these companies (‘The Four’ by Scott Galloway being the best of the lot, ‘Throwing Rocks At The Google Bus’ by Douglas Rushkoff, ‘The End of Big’ by Nicco Mele, ‘Good Strategy, Bad Strategy’ by Richard Rumelt), their ability to compete and compete well will be impacted negatively by the seeming lack of focus. Because focus still trumps everything else when it comes to building a business. This is how the tech companies will be beaten; by a group of focused and passionate entrepreneurs who pick a product/service/use case that the top tech companies are working on but aren’t prioritizing.
There are no unintended consequences, just consequences we did not consider when we designed the product.
History rhymes and businesses follow a cycle. Whatever impact our new technology -AI, VR, intelligent devices etc — will have, we’ve seen the cycle before. We might not know exactly how it will impact people but, directionally, we have a sense of how it will go. Gary Kasparov lays this out in ‘Deep Thinking’ and we’d do well to gain an understanding of these technologies from books like ‘’Machine, Platform, Crowd’, ‘Industries of the Future’ offer as to how we should manage the power that will be in the hands of those who control the technology. As Adam Greenfield lays out in ‘Radical Technologies’ “networked digital information technology has become the dominant mode through which we experience the everyday. In some important sense, this class of technology now mediates everything we do”. So how will we ensure that we develop products that do not continue to skew our thinking and screw up the mediation? By asking the ‘More Beautiful Questions’ (Warren Berger), understanding customers better through ‘Psychology’, accepting that we are wrong more than we admit (‘Being Wrong’ by Kathryn Schulz) and looking to the past to understand ‘How We Got to Now’ (Stephen Johnson).
Because it’s possible does not make it inevitable:
Time and time again I speak to entrepreneurs with great and possibly impactful ideas. But they assume the inevitability of their ideas. This is not the case. Read a few books (‘Brazillionaires’ by Alex Cuadros) and you will realize that, while it has something to do with the quality of the idea and the resources, it is primarily about the people. It’s all about people…
A question (I get a lot) is ‘how and why do you read so much.’ I answered the how above (I carved or was forced to make time). The why; I read a lot because I write a lot (strategy and narratives), and to fuel my writing (my work) I need to read. Otherwise, I would have little to write about. Luckily for me, I love to read. Love.
I hope the lessons and the books help you navigate our pretty complex world