10 Amazing Books I Read in 2016
At the start of the year, I tasked myself to read fifteen books in 2016. It was a modest goal to begin with. I hoped to start at fifteen and then move to twenty, and go slowly up from there. Little did I expect to more than double the amount of books I ended up reading—32 to be exact.
I read everything from marketing books to fiction, history and biographies and everything in between. So from all of that, I’ve decided to put together a short list of the best non-fiction books that I read over the year with a short summary and one thing I took away from them.
BOLD – Peter Diamandis
Diamandis is one of the biggest promoters of “moon shot” thinking—Silicon Valley’s buzzword for big, risk-taking ideas. In this book, he takes you through some of the many ventures he’s started with nothing more than a little bit of boldness. He then lays out a practical guide to working with freelancers, using crowdfunding and more. If you’re looking to create big ideas of your own, this is the book for you.
Takeaway: When trying to promote a new project, there’s a line of credibility—or super-credibility, as Diamandis says—that will help you get attention. This means either finding highly respected people or putting together enough evidence to make your audience sit up and take notice. He did this with the first XPRIZE, promising $10 million to the winner before he had even raised the money. But when the prize was announced to the press, Diamandis made sure to surround himself with people that pushed him past the line of credibility and made the public take the XPRIZE seriously.
The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday
Instead of an obstacle being in your way, what if it was the way? Hardships and failures are just a natural part of life. It’s how we bounce back that matters. Using the works of famous stoics and successful people throughout the ages, Ryan Holiday puts it all together in a straightforward and succinct book that can be read in a few sittings. All the stories in this book can help inspire you to continue in your quest for success despite the hardships that are in the way.
Takeaway: A lot of people complain about where they are in life and then don’t do anything about it. Complaining becomes a sort of release. Believe it or not, though, control and action are entirely in your hands. All you really need is to take the first step. With a little bit of self-awareness and discipline you can start figuring out strategies to tackle your problems and build a plan to act on it. The rest is about momentum.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future – Ashlee Vance
In a brilliant biography of one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our generation, we get to see what’s behind the genius of Elon Musk. By putting blind faith in his visions and through stubborn determination, Musk has created multiple billion-dollar companies. Some of his principles and work habits might be destructive for most people, but there’ still plenty worth looking at.
Takeaway: Never rule out a crazy idea because even if it’s improbable now, it might not be impossible in the future. Musk’s interest in colonizing Mars began in 2001 when he met the Mars Society. Enthralled by their ideas, he became obsessed with sending humans to the barren planet. SpaceX’s revolutionary reusable launchers came as a way to cut down on costs so that a trip to Mars would be more viable. Big innovations become nothing more than little steps towards Musk’s ultimate goal.
If I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead – Jerry Weintraub
Through pure charm and perseverance, Jerry Weintraub, climbed his way to the top of the show business ladder. He was a promoter, agent, Hollywood producer and friend of some of the world’s most powerful politicians. With his outrageous anecdotes, you get an insight into the sales, business and relationship building techniques of one of the most influential men in entertainment.
Takeaway: Persistence is very important in any walk of life. It was the only way a young Weintraub could work with Elvis at the height of his fame. At the time, Elvis was managed by Colonel Tom Parker. So Weintraub called him about signing Elvis and got laughed off the phone. He called back. Every day, for an entire year, until finally, Parker agreed if Weintraub could bring him a million dollars in 24 hours. Not to be stopped by that minor roadblock, he picked up the phone and eventually got the money.
Contagious – Jonah Berger
A must read for any marketer or small business owner. Jonah Berger uses psychology to delve into why and how certain brands succeed and others don’t. He maps out six approaches to marketing and uses successful case studies to support why they all work. Find out why a secret bar is fully booked every night or how fifty dollars got a blender company 200 million views on YouTube. It’s all in psychology.
Takeaway: Social currency is a very important factor in how small, niche businesses gain viral attention. People love being in the know and appearing interesting to others. We get a rush from sharing stories about things that no one else knows about. A lot of brands are able to capitalize on this by positioning their products as just niche and specific enough that people feel the need to share to impress their friends. Get it right and watch word of mouth spread like wildfire.
On Writing – Stephen King
Stephen King is one of the most celebrated writers in history but it didn’t come easy. In this book, the great author talks about his childhood and how he came to become a writer. The second half of the book has more direct lessons about storytelling and grammar. With marketing and business being so heavily reliant on storytelling nowadays, this should be a very important resource when creating your brand story.
Takeaway: Putting in the time and immersing yourself in your craft is the true path to mastery. Even though Stephen King, like many talented people, started young, it’s his work ethic that got him to where he is. When he’s not writing, King spends the rest of his free time reading. He doesn’t care if the books are good or bad. By exposing himself to other authors, he’s able to subconsciously learn what works and what doesn’t. It really shows in his writing. Immersion in your industry gives you a broader knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. It allows you to stay ahead of trends and create mental associations that could slip by the competition.
Mindset – Carol Dweck
In Mindset, Carol Dweck covers the differences between a growth and fixed mindset. Some people are naturally positive while others are prone to negativity. Dweck uses stories suited for every situation in personal life, business or parenting and shows how having a growth mindset could just change your life for the better.
Takeaway: The growth and fixed mindsets are developed from childhood. Children who are praised for their talent and achievement avoid harder tasks for fear that they might lose that praise. For children, and even adults, to have a growth mindset, you need to focus on the effort that they put into a task, even if they don’t succeed. This way they learn to understand that effort rather than talent is the stick by which we measure success. These are the people more likely to bounce back from failure and work harder on more difficult problems.
Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon – Brad Stone
Like many of the greatest business leaders past and present, Jeff Bezos is as abrasive as they come. His stringent management at Amazon and hostile tactics towards whole industries has made him and the company many enemies. But through it all shines a story of a young genius who capitalised on his opportunities at the start of the internet boom to create one of the biggest retail empires in the world.
Takeaway: One of Jeff Bezos’ pet peeves is the PowerPoint presentation. Instead, anyone presenting to Amazon’s CEO has to do so in the form of a six-page narrative. This process is so much more effective because it forces a person to put down the details of their plan and create a story around their idea. With slides and bullet points a lot can slip through the cracks and employees can get away without answering the right questions.
Ego is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday
Ego can be one of the most dangerous things in our lives. We all have ego to some extent but for some of us it’s damaging to our careers or even our well being. To illustrate this point, Ryan Holiday uses stories of how ego brought down powerful people and humility helped cement others into legend. The latter might not be the quickest path to fame and power but with patience and stoicism, you can make a lasting impact in your field.
Takeaway: Focus on the long term benefits of humility rather than the short term rewards of ego. Allowing other people to fuel our egos only sets us off in the wrong path, makes us complacent or hard to work with. Focusing on inner fulfillment, however, removes the need to impress others and can help you avoid the damaging effects of a big ego.
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
Believe it or not, habits are completely in our control. This book shows the power of using cues and rewards to help us reverse bad habits and build good ones. It also shows how organizational habits can affect the entire culture of a company. Duhigg lays out the steps leaders can take to create environments that promote success.
Takeaway: A keystone habit is a small first step for an organization to overhaul its entire culture. This section of the book uses Alcoa, one of the world’s largest producers of aluminum, as an example. Paul O’Neill, newly appointed CEO, decided that his focus was going to be on worker safety instead of profits. Every small change they made revolved around this idea. Soon, as safety numbers rose, so did productivity as lower level employees felt able to add their own suggestions. The profits just followed.
This list in chronological order, not based on which book is best. The takeaways in this post might be brief but all the books listed have much more to offer. Each one can help in a different area of business or marketing and they all have something important to give.