Back in 2016, I realized that I wasn’t spending enough time reading, and decided that I’d commit to reading one book a month. And I tried writing a quick review on this blog, in a way to keep me honest.
Well, I only kept up with the reviews for about a year, but thankfully I kept up with the reading. And I thought I’d share some of the books that I read in 2017, with some quick thoughts. By the way, when I talk about audio books or plays, I usually get them through Audible.
Fair warning. The topic of one of these books may be considered inappropriate (although it's about the business side of it), and the language contained in the title might be considered inappropriate (although it's got the %#@ in it). In both cases I read the books for the business content.
“Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations,” by Thomas L. Friedman. I’m actually just finishing this book right now, and it’s pretty darn good. A great review of the simultaneous explosions of technology, social communication and climate change. 3 tremendous change agents, but with some concrete perspectives that offer rational, quasi-realistic hope for the future. One of the better reads of the year. Give it an A.
“Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing - Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth,” by Renee Mauborgne, W. Chan Kim. A sequel to “Blue Ocean Strategy,” this book deals with the concept of businesses creating Blue Ocean market space. A Blue Ocean is where you’re providing a unique product offering with little or no competition. A Red Ocean is a market space that is filled with competition (think sharks). This book is more about the creation and implementation of a Blue Ocean offering, with some specific steps and processes to get there. A good book, not a great one. Give it a B.
“The Art of Invisibility: The World's Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data,” by Kevin Mitnick. Ok, this is a great book for getting an idea of how hard it is to be completely invisible and yet still engaged with the world. Starting with giving homeless people cash to go buy cell phones for you (notice the plural), to creating accounts for use with Dark Web resources, it’s quite the journey. The first half of the book gives great insight into all the ways that our day to day actions create footprints that can be tracked. This is particularly helpful to understand some of the reasons why security is such a complex concept these days. The second half of the book gets a bit bogged down into the details, often going deeper than is needed just to communicate the concepts. Give it a B+.
“A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.” By Mark Twain. This one’s an audio book. It’s narrated by Nick Offerman, who’s best known for his work on the show “Parks and Recreation.” It’s been years since I’ve read this book, but Offerman is absolutely the perfect narrator for this work. And this book is just as timely today as it was when first written. And Offerman makes Twain even better. And that’s tough to do. Give this an A-.
“The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever,” by Michael Bungay Stanier. Focused on changing from a managing style to a coaching style, it’s your standard “how to” book. Not a bad read, but I don’t see it as life-changing. Rate this a C+.
“Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise,” by Anders Ericsson, Robert Pool. A really eye-opening dive into the concept of developing expertise. Offering a compelling argument that the concept of “you’re born with it,” probably isn’t the case. And that unfocused practice is nowhere near as beneficial as one might think. Really interesting. Rate this an A.
“The Butterfly Effect with Jon Ronson,” by Jon Ronson. This is also an audio book. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to include this book in the list due to its topic. But the topic is actually quite fascinating, and a rare insight into how tech can be impacting industries in unexpected ways. The topic is…what the impact of free porn did to the adult entertainment industry. It’s actually a fascinating glimpse into how industries can be created, destroyed and then re-invent themselves. It’s absolutely a business discussion, although some of the topics are definitely on the adult side of things. I’ll never think of a stamp collection in the same way again. Give this one a B.
“Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It...and Why the Rest Don't, Rockefeller Habits 2.0,” by Verne Harnish. Business frameworks are a dime a dozen. They all say the same thing. Build good habits, create solid goals, measure progress, communicate effectively, be happy. I’m a survivor of a couple of companies that went the strategic planning way back in the 80’s and 90’s. Thankfully those days are gone. Traditional Strategic Planning always seemed to be lacking in flexibility and feedback up and down the line. I’m buying into the Rockefeller Habits for moving Simplex-IT forward. It includes some pretty effective communication and planning tools, and seem to be bound in reality. It helps that I’ve been involved with a few workshops about the Habits. Grade this a B+.
“The X-Files: Cold Cases.” Original cast. This is actually an audio drama (which I do enjoy) based on the TV show “The X-Files.” With the original cast, this picks up a few years after the end of the TV series. Several episodes, often drawing from earlier episodes. Pretty good, but really depends on your enjoyment of the original series. Give this a C.
“Barking up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong,” by Eric Barker. Yet another book about how to be successful. Not bad. Any book that simultaneously draws from Genghis Kahn and Albert Einstein is ok by me. Evolutionary, not Revolutionary. Give it a B+.
“The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds,” by Michael Lewis. How do we make decisions? I’ve never seen anything meaningful except for exercises meant for creating priorities, weights and measures and the like. This is the first book that really goes deep into the mechanics of decision making. Really fascinating process and completely new insight. Give this one an A-.
“Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant,” by W. Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne. I talked earlier about the sequel to this book. I gotta be honest. I struggled with this book. The topic and primary concepts are great. Blue Ocean equals unique offering without competition, Red Ocean equals common offering with great competition. But the book really failed to engage me. Give it a C.
“Sherlock Holmes,” by Arthur Conan Doyle, read by Stephen Fry. Introductions by Stephen Fry. If you are a fan of Sherlock, run, do not walk, to this audio book. Between the characterization that Fry brings to the introductions that drip with love for the “world’s first consulting detective,” this is an incredible journey that is nonstop for almost 63 hours. That’s right, 63 hours. Rate this an A.
“When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi. Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, at age 36. This was just as he was finishing his training as a neurosurgeon. His tail of transformation from doctor to patient, facing his mortality with both calculating knowledge as well as irrational fear and hope was eye-opening. Grade this a B.
“Norse Mythology,” translated and read by Neil Gaiman. Another audio book. As a kid, they might have taught Zeus, Apollo and Venus in school, but give me a good tale of Odin, Fenris, Thor and the Midgard Serpent any day of the week. Norse Gods are, more than anything else…human. They’re frail, they’re mortal, some of them die…well, most of them (spoiler alert!) do. A great collection of tales, told well. Like the Thor movies? Too bad. You’ll forget them and want more of these guys. Rate this A-.
“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life,” By: Mark Manson. Ok, don’t let the title fool you, this is a serious book about attitude and life choices. And don’t ignore the title of the book. It doesn’t hold back the language. But I thought the author did a great job of using it to accent and push the point. But not for “giggle points.” And I think the author makes a great point. It’s important to actually give a hoot about important things. But it’s also equally important not to give a hoot on things that aren’t important. And I gotta admit, I listened to the audio book for this one. And yup, there’s a lot of cursing. Give this puppy some soap to wash his mouth out and an A-.
“Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World,” by General Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, David Silverman, Chris Fussell. Ok, full confession here. I first heard General McChrystal speak at a conference last year. When I read the info on the speaker, to be honest I prepared for a talk about dedication, training, perseverance and your traditional inspirational talk. Which would have been fine, but I don’t actually gain a lot out of that sort of thing. Boy was I wrong. From the start this guy had me in full-tilt listening mode (even got my picture taken with him afterwards, which I don’t do a lot). McChrystal was head of the Joint Special Operations Command and let it through some significant organizational changes based on changes he and his group observed owing to new technologies and new organizational (and informational) structures held and implemented by the enemy. The book isn’t a narrative, but an exploration (using understandably his military experience as a baseline) into how the 21st century is bringing overwhelming change to structures, and how optimization isn’t the goal it used to be. Give this puppy an A.
So there you go. My reading for 2017. It’s odd that next year I’ll have a book out that might be on people’s reading lists. Here’s hoping I get better than a C.
What should I read next year? Let me know by emailing me at Bob@Simplex-IT.com!