Books I’ve Read – 2019

One of the most popular posts I wrote in 2018 recapped the books I’d read throughout the year, so I’m bringing it back in 2019.  I’m undecided on the format so it may change from time to time, but the three most likely candidates are:

  • Three takeaways, primarily consisting of the three passages I found most interesting
  • One big lesson / theme
  • Intuitive point v. counter-intuitive point (this is my favorite, but I am unsure it will apply to every book)

Below are the books I’ve finished in 2019 in reverse chronological order.

11. The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life

We will see it repeatedly among great salespeople, this acceptance of rejection and failure as essential to building the muscles necessary for eventual success. They do not avoid rejection, but see it as a vaccine that strengthens their ability to resist the personal battering inevitable in a life in sales.

Declarative knowledge is knowing that something is the case, as opposed to procedural knowledge, which relates to how to do something.

Crystallized intelligence is what you develop through study and experience, facts, book smarts, and wisdom. Fluid intelligence is what you use when you don’t already know what to do. It is nature to the nurture of crystallized intelligence. These two forms frequently interact.

The objective in sales becomes the same as that in the rest of your life, to respect others and do the best for them. Then you don’t have to be a salesperson about what you do. Selling becomes an activity consistent with who you are

10. Atomic Habits

I don’t think I’ve read through any book this quickly in a long time. It was a great read from beginning to end. Much like Deep Work, this is a book I’ll continue to go back to periodically as a reference.

1. Cue -> Craving -> Response -> Reward is the major theme of this book. The key to building great habits is the addition or removal of the cues that cause the cravings then rewarding yourself for the right response.

2. Law of least effort – over time we’ve evolved to conserve as much energy as possible. This means we’ll always naturally do the things that require the least amount of effort if we let our natural evolution take hold.

3. People with the best self-control actually create environments where it’s easy to have it. Ex. no social media apps on phone, clear desk, etc.. They create fewer opportunities for the bad habit to take hold. Relationships with your environment matter. Ex. if you want to be more disciplined with your schedule, have a planner on your desk at all times.

4. Bonus for me as a parent: habits normal in your culture are the most attractive. Ex. if you read more, it’s likely your kids will enjoy it too.

9. Energy: A Human History – Richard Rhodes

This is a great high-level, but in-depth read on the role energy consumption has played in the human experience. Given the current levels of news coverage climate and grid resliency are getting, I highly recommend this one for anyone looking to learn more.

Fair warning, it is dry in the early going, but gets much better post the turn of the century when vehicles reach the masses.

  1. The great human project, is the progresive alleviation of human suffering.
  2. Energy sources take 40-50 years to go from 1% of consumption to 10%, if the source is going to occupy 40-50% it takes approximately a century from 1% to do so.
  3. Energy is one of the original sectors of venture capital, from whale oil to the discovery of new technologies the orginal contract structures and risk/reward calculations involved energy.

8. Farsighted – Steven Johnson

Really enjoyed this book for mental mapping around decisions with a lot of unknowns.  First half is really great, then the second half became redundant.

  • There are three types of unknowns:
    • Knowable unknowns – those you can research and can be found via good mapping of the problem
    • Inaccessible unknowns – the information to solve the problem exists, but for some reason can’t be obtained
    • Unknownable unknowns – uncertainies that arise from the unpredictablity of a system
  • The most essiential form of doubt involves questioning the options that appear to be on the table.  Making complex decisions is not about mappting the terrian that will influence each choice, but instead is a matter of discovering new choices. The key is to trick or train your mind into realizing additional options / possibilities exist.

7. Loonshots – Safi Bahcall

A must-read for anyone working in a large organization or startup that is now in the position of protecting franchise products.  Bahcall’s writing style is very enjoyable, he uses stories from history as the narrative for his unique insights. The stories also cover a wide range of industries from biotech to technology to military so there’s something for everyone for the entirety of the book.  My favorite takeaways:

  1. P-type v. S-type loonshots – product innovations are harder to develop and being a continual “hit-maker” is difficult, but competitors often die quickly.  e.g: streaming video  Strategy loonshots are difficult to understand or spot because of their complexity as a result competitors die more gradually but the strategy is hard to replicate.
  2. The Moses Trap – it’s easy to make sure ideas only advance at the pleasure of leadership, but a balanced exchange between those in the field and leadership making loonshot decisions is required to continue innovating in a way that grows power within a market.
  3. The Magic Number – balancing career and company interests is a tough challenge for any leader, Bahcall offers his reasoning as to why 150 is a magic number and the variables that prove it.

6.  Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Making Things – William McDonough and Michael Braungart

I really enjoyed this take on the history of our industrial processes, even if I strongly disagreed with some of the takes in the middle to latter half of the book.  Early on, the break down of linear processes built for an increasingly exponential world had me nodding along as our legacy manufacturing processes were largely built with nothing but growth in mind without considering several variables we did not understand at the time.  Given what we know today, would we choose differently?  A few key takeaways:

At its deepest foundation, the industrial infrastructure we have today is linear: it is focused on making a product and getting it to a customer as quickly and cheaply without considering much else.

To achieve their universal design solutions, manufacturers design for a worst- case scenario; they design a product for the worst possible circumstance so that it will always operate with the same efficacy.

Today’s industrial infrastructure was designed to chase economic growth. It does so at the expense of other vital concerns, particularly human and ecological health, cultural and natural richness, and is unintentionally depletive of resources.

5.  Best Practices for Equity Research Analysts: Essentials for Buy-Side and Sell-Side Analysts – James Valentine

Not as helpful as I had hoped.  I was looking for a book that would help me develop new frameworks for both quantitative and qualitative financial research. This book is not that – it’s more focused on the day-to-day of a great research analyst including where to get information and time management.  I did still pick up a few helpful tips like sector analysis and critical factor flow charts, but the book spends several chapters on Excel, information sourcing, statistics, etc.. all of which I already knew.

4. Red Notice – Bill Browder

It’s not often that I read a book mostly for fun, but I heard great things about this story so I decided to give it a shot especially since I’ve been behind the pace I’d like to have for the year.  Bill Browder’s story is amazing, he certainly followed the Keith Rabois approach of being the best at one thing, unfortunately, that thing was making money in Russia.  What follows is an unbelievable story of fraud, theft, and murder by some of Russia’s top oligarchs.

3. Influence – Robert Cialdini

This book highlights the 6 principles on which we all make our decisions, it’s a great book for anyone in sales or marketing that wants to better understand the behavioral psychology behind our decision-making process.

Lesson: We all make decisions on stereotypes, our rules of thumb that classify things intuitively.  Once we see a trigger connected to one of the six principles of decision making we almost always answer in the affirmative. This process has allowed us to advance as a species in that we’ve extended the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.

2. How the Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone – Brian McCullough

I knew a lot of the basic history behind the web and the dot-com bubble, but this book was a fascinating story of how it all came together, fell-apart, and came together again. Highly recommend if you’re interested in learning more about the dot-com era. There’s one thing that’s clear from this book: luck and timing matter.

A few favorite takeaways:

  • Microsoft was hesitant about the internet because it didn’t see how it would make money.
  • AOL bought Time Warner after considering eBay but didn’t want to double down on the web.
  • The middle-class suffered two major bubbles within 7-8 years after being told to a) invest and hold internet stocks and b) buy a home it’s a safe investment. Both of these events are likely to have played a role in the distrust we currently see in our political and economic system.

1. It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

I mentioned on my Twitter feed that this book was the first one I’ve ever read where one minute I was in staunch agreement and the next I was thinking “that will never work for most companies”.  It was the inspiration for format number three above and so I will use it here.

Intuitive: Your company is your product and so tweaking it in the same way you would actual software makes sense. Elon Musk has championed this theory in the past, build the machine that builds the machine.  Less waste, more production, and few distractions.

Counter-Intuitive: No long-term planning, make it up as you go. While I agree that no one knows what the world will look like in 36 months, it’s a great exercise to anticipate and think through scenarios.  Yet, the book is spot on here, “Seeing a bad idea through just because at one point it sounded like a good idea is a tragic waste of energy and talent.”