Leaders are Readers

We believe in the power of a good book.

Books serve as a mirror or a trigger (or both). They inspire us to think. Or take a new, unique perspective.

All of that, plus… Phil just likes to read (a lot). We thought we’d take advantage of it. Here is a list of Phil’s 2017 reads, along with a short description and whether he recommends it. We hope you enjoy!

If you’ve read and been inspired by any of these recommendations please let us know in the comments. More important, if you have a book to recommend please add that too! Happy reading!

Books I’ve Read – 2017

Giftology by John Rhulin: This book teaches the importance of giving gifts as part of your business-building strategy. Only recommended if you own a business and are looking for ways to build client relationships, but the strategy and tactics are practical and useful.

What’s Your Message? by Cam Bar: Provides some good practical advice on speaking and communication, especially if you have anxiety about speaking. However, the advice on practicing is pretty bad, especially for non-professional speakers. Michael Port’s Steal the Show is a much better resource for tips on practicing.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz: Hard to get through the beginning, but the last two-thirds are packed with really great business advice. Highly recommended if you are a manager. Required reading if you own a company.

Secrets of Dynamic Communication by Ken Davis: This is a very good book in the speaking and communication genre. His SCORRE system is a great way to organize your thoughts for a speech. Whether you speak from a platform or in business meetings, you will benefit from this organization system.

Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein: This book covers a lot of the core ideas we teach and the concept of “humble inquiry” itself is highly approachable. Some of the examples and stories don’t always do a great job of illustrating the ideas being taught. But if you are a fan of Approachable Leadership (and if you’re reading this you probably are) you will get a LOT out of this book. Highly recommended.

The Little Things by Andy Andrews: I’ve probably referred to this book more than any other this year (with Tools for Titans coming in a close second). It is short and sweet, but it is packed with some great ideas and stories. In my top 5 books of the year.

The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen: This book is a little (maybe more than a little) depressing, but it is a tour de force. Cowen’s argument is that the “haves” in our society are more and more detached from everyone else and are just holding on to keep things the way they are. That’s not going to last. And the results won’t be pretty.

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris: Amazing book. It’s basically a “greatest hits” summary of Ferris’ top podcast interviews over the last few years. Interspersed between the summaries are quick chapters by Tim where he ties interviews together or adds his own thoughts about what is being discussed. Highly recommended. Another top 5 for the year.

Pendulum by Roy Williams & Michael Drew: I re-read this after I kept getting reminded of its themes in multiple post-election conversations I had with friends and colleagues. The basic argument is that our society swings in 40-year generational cycles from peaks of “me” to “we” just like a pendulum. It isn’t in my top 5 books this year (I think Roy Williams’ Wizard of Ads books are better) but it is for sure in my top 5 of important ideas for the next few years.

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts: Watts teaches that our need for security is what creates anxiety and the more we seek to know, the less we understand. His message is one of simply being present and getting comfortable with uncertainty. This was a great read, especially on the heels of The Complacent Class (and Pendulum).

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis: I was at a dinner party and my friend Patrick reminded me of this classic. As Lewis walks through his own conversion experience he lays out a compelling argument for Christian virtues. It was really interesting to read this right after Alan Watts. Both authors land in essentially the same spot. Lewis says, “The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose.”

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin: Franklin’s story is inspiring and he led an unbelievable life (and the autobiography only covers part of it). His outline of the 13 virtues and his system for self-improvement and living a virtuous life are classic and as relevant today as when he put them to paper (I use them myself). I’m glad I read it, but stylistically it wasn’t as compelling as it could be. Didn’t make my top half for the year.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: While on its face this is a book for artists like writers or painters, the big takeaway is that once you “go pro” in whatever you do, you have to do it every day (otherwise you’re an amateur, not a professional). Once you decide to go pro, your enemy is “the resistance” – all the things that distract you from your art or work. Pressfield’s story is inspiring but also sobering… going pro means a lot of work and there are no shortcuts.

Pivot by Jenny Blake: If you are in a transition phase in life where you are thinking about making a job or career change, I think this book has a lot of great advice. Since this isn’t my situation it wasn’t really speaking to me.

Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln by James Humes: Humes is a legendary speech writer who you may have never heard of (I hadn’t). But his advice for speaking is incredibly powerful. Whether you get paid to speak for a living like I do, or just speak to persuade people in meetings, you will find a number of practical takeaways that will make you a much more powerful and persuasive speaker. “Leadership is selling. And selling is talking.” Great book.

Scientific Speed Reading by George Fox: This was supposedly recommended by Tim Ferris (saw it in an article I read) and for the life of me I don’t know why. I already read fast, so nothing in here was new, but even if this was the first time I saw this material, it wasn’t really very helpful or practical. Not recommended at all. The good news is it is really short (I literally read it standing up in my hotel room in 30 minutes).

Deep Thinking by Garry Kasparov: Kasparov has literally been on the front lines of artificial intelligence and machine learning for decades. He has some great insights about what AI and machine learning can and can’t do. He’s also one of the greatest chess players in history. If you aren’t big into chess (I am), you probably won’t like this book as much as I did. Still it is a great window into how AI and machine learning has actually impacted a highly intellectual human activity.

High Output Management by Andy Grove: This book was recommended about 50 times (barely an exaggeration) by Ben Horowitz. I can see why. Andy Grove built Intel, including leading it through a complete revolution of its business model. This book is a great, practical guide to managing a company. It would be one of my top 5 books if I hadn’t read Lean Startup right after it. But it is highly recommended.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries: So far the best book I’ve read this year. I should have read it years ago when it was first recommended to me. As soon as I finished I made a bunch of Flashcards to study and cement the lessons taught (this was before I read Make it Stick, which recommends the same process 🙂 It is a business strategy book, management book, and leadership book all rolled up into one. One of my top 5 and highly recommended whether you are a business owner or manage a department within a business (he has lots of advice for “startups” inside of bigger companies).

Make it Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Rodiger, Mark McDaniel: This book blows up a bunch of myths about adult learning and offers a number of practical suggestions on the research-backed way to train and teach adults. Destroys myths like you should teach based on different “learning styles” or that “cramming” is an effective way to learn. If you teach or design training this is must read material. Recommended.

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mazarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald: Quite an eye opener. The bottom line is about 8 in 10 of us are more biased than we think we are and we are mostly blind to this implicit bias. The book offers a number of self-tests and exercises you can use to evaluate yourself. Valuable book. Recommended.

Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design by Perry Marshall: The big idea of this book is that evolution – especially the idea that it is driven primarily by random mutation – is a fatally flawed theory; that DNA is a code; and that a code must have a code maker (i.e. DNA did not appear by some cosmic accident). Perry is so certain of his theory that he’s offered a $10 million reward for anyone who can prove it wrong. If you’ve ever wondered about how we got here on this rock flying around in space I’d highly recommend this book as a starting point.

The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer: While I do have some concerns about the research (a pretty small data set with some significant gray areas as far as coding anecdotal responses), I never felt like these problems were reasons to reject the overall conclusion of the studies: we feel good on days that we make progress and bad on days we don’t. This is a good, accessible book on motivation with a sound model. While I prefer Drive! by Dan Pink to this one, I do think it’s valuable.

Draw to Win by Dan Roam: This one was recommended by Michael Bungay Stanier at Box of Crayons. I really enjoyed it and spent the night after I finished it drawing for the first time in… let’s just say decades. Dan Roam makes the argument that 2/3 of our brain is designed to process visual information and the big takeaway is that the person who draws the best picture wins. I plan to add drawing to my toolkit after reading this.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon: This one has also been on the list a while, and seemed like a natural follow up to Dan Roam’s book. The big takeaway here is that in today’s world we should always be showing our work. Not just the finished product. All of the work. By curating the things we are working on day to day, we get feedback all along the creative process and it also helps keep us honest about doing our great work (versus giving into the “resistance” – hate to have to tweet that you spent the last 3 hours on social media)!

Phil’s Top 5 Book Recommendations of 2017

The Lean Startup

My favorite read of the year (so far!). See my review below.

Tools of Titans

Packed with practical tools and advice. See my review below.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

The surprising science behind why everything you know about success is mostly wrong. See the review below.

On Trails: An Exploration

If you like hiking, or being outdoors, or have ever wondered about the paths beneath our feet, this is your book. Beautifully written.

The Little Things

I’ve re-told 3 stories from this book about 50 times. And it completely changed how I eat bananas. See my review below.


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