What I read in 2019 - Part 1

Warren Buffett, in a recent article, gave away his number one secret to success: go to bed smarter each day. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are each pivotal leaders, but they also spend a good amount of reading. If these 2 men can carve out time to read, surely I had no excuse to not read more.

Last year, I read 27 books. While this was the first year I kept track of every book I read, it was far more books than I had ever read in a year (excepting that one summer I fell in love with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series). This year, I set out to read 36 books in a year, or 3 books a month. A full 9 books more is a lofty goal, one that I had accomplished by September 2019. In all, I read 52 books - 1 book a week. This greatly surpassed my target and surprised even me.

As this list is nearly twice as many books as 2018, I decided to split this into 2 parts, starting with the books I read from January to about June.

While I read some of these books for fun, many I read to learn something, and most taught me something, whether I was looking for it or not.

Ghosts of Darke County II

My family hails from western Ohion, and many still call Darke County home. I read this book for fun, but learned that given a niche enough subject, you can publish a book regardless of your story telling abilities.

1177 BC

The ancient Mediterranean was far more cosmopolotian than we might expect. Merchants and artisans worked with the major empires and culture centers of the 1300s and 1200s BC. But around 1177 BC, this trade network collapsed. THe Minoan and Mycenean cultures in Greece declined, then disappeared. Asia minor, the Levant, and the Middle East also sufferred similar fates. Egypt was the only major power to survive, though it declined greatly.

While outside forces such as the elusive ‘Sea Peoples’ destroyed cities and caused havoc, this collapse is the first recorded systems collapse in history. We can document the trade before 1177 and see that the interdependence on trade grew, became brittle, and small changes such as invasions, delay in trade ships, and the removal of parts of the system caused a domino effect that brought the entire system down.

When we build software systems, are they robust enough to avoid an entire system collapse Or, are they brittle and so interdependent that a failure in one system cascades to others?

Magic of Impromptu Speaking

I picked up this e-book for free from Amazon Prime. It was brief, but offerred some good advice on speaking in impromptu situations. It demistified impromptu speaking by suggesting that speakers in these sitatuions are prepared with stories that they can use in multiple situations.

The Oz Principle

All of the leaders at my company were asked to read the Oz Principle. The book talks of taking persona accountability. If you see a problem, own it, solve it, and fix it. It gives many examples of this, including a story of a truck driver delivering technology company Teradata’s first data warehouse hardware to a client. When he had his truck weighed at a weigh station, it was overweight by 500 lbs. In order to meet the delivery deadline, he lost as much extra weight he could spare, stashing it in the woods near a rest station so he could meet the weight.

Having worked for Teradata, it was odd to hear a story such as this that was not used internally to bolster its own culture. As leaders, we need to look to our organization’s past to remind us of the culture we stand for.

Joy, Inc.

Joy, Inc. is written by the founder of Menlo Innovations, a software consulting firm that trives on joy in the workplace. By using eXtreme Programming (including pair programming) and a reconfigurable workspace, Menlo Innovations attracts hard workers, delivers amazing products, and has a work environment that people enjoy.

How to be a Productivity Ninja

My wife picked this book up for me for Christmas and I was intriqued by the title. This book rehashed a number of productivity ideas I’ve encountered in other books, while turning a few into their own idea. The most interesting idea that I came away from this book was that in knowledge work, we operate in 2 modes: boss mode and worker mode. In boss mode, we make decisions and organize the work. In worker mode, we focus on execution. It’s critical for us to delineate these 2 types of work and avoid switching between the modes more often then necessary.

The 5 Love Languages

A co-worker recomended this book years ago. I finally decided to give it a read, as I suspected that my wife and I were speaking 2 separate languages. This book helped me build my vocabulary in the different love languages so I could better communicate with my wife.

Good to Great

I read (ok listened to) this book to fill a gap in my education. This is a classic business book, referenced in numberous other titles, yet I had never actually read it. The audio book was read by the author himself, which turned out fantastic in this case. It felt very conversational, and he broke from the book time-to-time to add additional information, anecdotes, or explannation.

There were numerous key take-aways from this book, which is to be expected from a book that is referenced often. One that sticks out to me is the groundhog principle - the idea that you should do one thing very well. The advice is directed at businesses, but I can see it applying to individuals as well.

Developing the Leader Within You

One of the many books by John C. Maxwell, Developing the leader within you discusses the author’s view on leadership (it is influence and inspiring/motivating others to action to accomplish a vision) and how it differs from management (which is about ensuring work gets done by more direct means). If you are a fan of John C. Maxwell, you will enjoy this book. But, if you only want to read one book from John C. Maxwell, you are better off looking to some of his other titles.

10% Happier

In the world of meditation, this book kept popping up. The author, a national journalist and TV anchor, talked of his journey to adobt a mindfulness practice of daily meditation. With recounted tales of many discussions with gurus, the author talks of the real struggles of trying to match up mindfulness with the American drive to achieve. But through mindfulness, the author stated he feels 10% happier than without it. After reading other books on mindfulness, it was refreshing to read someone’s first hand account and realize I’m encoutering many of the same struggles.

The Fearless Organization

I’ve found myself studying the concept of Psychological Safety quite a bit in the last year. Psychological Safety exists when you are free to speak your mind without fear of reprucussions. Nurses feel psychologically safe when they can ask a doctor if they intend to leave out a commonly prescribed medication. If they fear ridicule or retribution for broaching the subject, then many things will go unsaid. By asking, the doctor can explain the reasoning or make a life-saving correction. Either the nurse gets better of the patient is better taken care of because the nurse felt psychologically safe to speak up.

We must be careful that by addressing a problem head-on, we still do so in a healthy way Psychological Safety does not give anyone free reign to be a jerk or disregard other people’s feelings.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

This is a classic written by Dale Carnegie, founder of the Carnegie Institute, in the first half of the 20th century. This is the original self-help book, which discusses how to influence people. Be careful not to criticize is one piece of advice. Despite it’s popularity over the years, it’s a struggle to read for a modern reader. The advice is sound, and it holds up well, but the writing style and examples feel dated.

Good Leaders ask Great Questions

This book, written and narrated by John C. Maxwell, talks through the idea that a leader should ask questions more than he or she answers them. But this book also talks about questions a leader should ask him/herself on a regular basis. From this, I crafted my own lists of questions, including:

  • When will I recharge my energy today?
  • How will I manage my attention?
  • Whar are the spotlight moments of my day - those moments where my presence will be on display?

By considering these question often, I can consider my behavior and adjust where needed.

Lord of the Rings

I last emersed myself into Tolkein’s world in college. So this year I wanted to return, seeing if I could better follow the obscure references to the larger world Tolkein created. He built such a deep world that one could spend days, weeks, months, or even years diving into the various elements of Tolkein’s world, its history, and the legends and mythos of good vs. evil he evokes in his books.

How to Break 90

In an effort to branch out, I picked up a few books at my local library to break the pattern of business books. I included in this list a couple books on golf, including this one.This book introduced a number of golf tips, but the best was to consider your personal bar to be a bogey, or one stroke over par, on every hole. If you plan for that, you set your expectations lower, but it also allows you to approach each hole with a more conservative approach. By playing it safe, you grant yourself the space necessary to better manage the course.

The Coaching Habit

This book I listened to for free from Hoopla with a public library card. Aimed at manager’s who want to approach their one-on-one’s with their direct reports from a coaching mindset. The author provides 7 questions to guide the conversation and to help coach their team member, starting with the simple “What’s on your mind?” If the conversation lulls, or there seems to be more to the situation. follow with “And what else?” The book covers good advice for someone who striggles in these situations.

The Art of the Short Game

This book on golf focussed on those shots around the green, from 100 yards out or closer. This book gave a number of great tips, but the best advie I took from this was a better unsterstanding of the charecteristics of wedges. The author also suggested picking one wedge and learning how to hit the ball various distances with that club instead of carryig lots of wedges. He still recommends 3 different wedges, the number he uses himself. As I carry 4 wedges and try to use them for different distances, it made me re-examine the clubs I keep in my own bag.

Finite and Infinite Games

Most games we play are finite games. They have agreed upon rules, clear players, and distinct winning conditions. Baseball, Basketball, Chess, and Golf are all finite games. It’s clear when these games are finished; they last a finite amount of time and end with a clear winner.

But there are games where the rules change, players join or drop out at will, with no distinct start or end. These games are called infinite games. Politics, Business, and life are all infinite games. Calvinball, played in the 90s newspaper comic “Calvin and Hobbes” by the two title charecters pitted against eachother, is another example of an infinite game. Just as one player was about to score or win, the other would change the rules, keeping the game alive. In an infinite game, the outcome is not to win, but to keep playing. Much of life we encounter is an infinite game, and we should approach it as such.

Eat that Frog

This book on productivity is named after one of many suggestions in the book, namely that one should start each day by tackling the biggest problem (aka, eating the biggest frog). That way, the day can already be seen as successful as the biggest, scariest task (aka frong) has been take care of. Everything else should be easy after tackling that task.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - Smoke and Shadow

I spent a few weeknds over the summer re-watching the Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series with my son. After finishing the series, I picked up this graphic novel to see where the story continued.

Dilbert: Don’t Stand Where the Meteor is assumed to Strike Oil

Needing a break from a lot of non-fiction books, this was just a fun comic book of the world’s favorite cubicle dweller.

The Intellectual Devotional

A key of my moring routine was spending a couple minutes reading from books that I could use as daily devotionals. This one was perfectly crafted for me, teaching a different topic each day in one of seven different subjects, one subject for each day of the week for 52 weeks. There is a full series now, but this was the original, covering the widest range of topics.

A Discourse on the Impostures of Witches

Doing genealogical research one day, I came across this book by John Brinley, first published in 1680. This is a masterful reprint of the original and is a time capsule into the language, writing style, spelling, patterns, and book printing styles of the late 17th Century.

The book itself is a view into how some depict and think of witches around the time of witch trials. The author aims some of his arguments at atheists, by relying on arguments in the bible to sway the - revealing a logical loophole that might be attributable to a rhistian centric view of the world.