Essential Reads for Your Daily Commute (or anytime, really). What are you reading?

Once upon a time I worked for a company that made a name for itself by creating a social cataloguing app on Facebook called “Visual Bookshelf” that enabled people to share books they’ve read, were currently reading, or planned to read in the future.

Back then, I wasn’t a voracious reader, so I didn’t utilize the app to share my paltry library with others, but times have changed and so has my commute. These days, I spend at least an hour traveling to and from work and I fill the time by devouring audiobooks on Amazon’s popular Audible service, for which I pay $15/month and receive a monthly book credit. The service allows listeners to download books, speed narration up or slow it down, and “clip” 30-second snippets, which is basically the digital version of highlighting or bookmarking a page. It’s been pretty game changing.

Being that Summer is a great time of year to get some solid reading/listening in, I figured I’d share some of my favorite audiobooks of late. The books on this list have been both entertaining and educational, leading me to learn a boatload about business & life during times I’d otherwise be just slogging through the daily grind listening to music or glued to Facebook. It’s been enlightening to say the least. No matter your profession, if you’re human, I’m confident you’ll derive some benefit from any of the books on this list.

In full disclosure, some of the descriptions below have been plucked from the Audible synopses and modified slightly.

Currently Listening To:

Grit: The Power of Passion & Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Written by prominent psychologist Angela Duckworth, this book details her theory that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a focused persistence called “grit”.

As a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Duckworth created her own “character lab” and set out to test her theory. The resulting read is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down and how that — not talent or luck — makes all the difference. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins

Collins gained notoriety for his book “Built to Last,” which showed how great companies triumph over time and how long-term sustained performance can be engineered into the DNA of an enterprise from the very beginning.

“Good to Great” focuses on how companies that perhaps weren’t “built to last” can course-correct and develop into lasting brands.

Over five years, Jim Collins and his research team have analyzed the histories of 28 companies, discovering why some companies make the leap and others don’t. The findings include:

  • Level 5 Leadership: A surprising style, required for greatness
  • The Hedgehog Concept: Finding your three circles, to transcend the curse of competence
  • A Culture of Discipline: The alchemy of great results
  • Technology Accelerators: How good-to-great companies think differently about technology
  • The Flywheel and the Doom Loop: Why those who do frequent restructuring fail to make the leap

It’s really quite fascinating and the theory & strategies presented are good to keep in mind.

Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends by Martin Lindstrom

I’ve always been fascinated by consumer behavior and human psychology. If you’ve ever wondered what lies behind the marketing and/or turnaround strategies of major brands, you’ll love this book. In it, Lindstrom details his adventurous and fascinating research into “what makes customers tick.” His insatiable curiosity and ability to identify popular trends from even the smallest, most inconspicuous details will definitely wow you. Some examples include:

  • How a noise reduction headset at 35,000 feet led to the creation of Pepsi’s new trademarked signature sound.
  • How a worn-down sneaker discovered in the home of an 11-year-old German boy led to LEGO’s incredible turnaround.
  • How a magnet found on a fridge in Siberia resulted in a US supermarket revolution.
  • How a toy stuffed bear in a girl’s bedroom helped revolutionize a fashion retailer’s 1,000 stores in 20 different countries.
  • How an ordinary bracelet helped Jenny Craig increase customer loyalty by 159 percent in less than a year.
  • How the ergonomic layout of a car dashboard led to the redesign of the Roomba vacuum.

Have Listened To:

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Dr. Travis Bradberry

Anyone that has worked with me knows that I place greater emphasis on hiring the right people vs. hiring the smartest people. This is not to suggest that intelligence isn’t important, but simply that it’s not the be-all-end-all. I believe that the right people are not only intelligent, but also possess uncommonly high levels of self-awareness, humility, vulnerability, curiosity, and, as Angela Duckworth puts it, grit. This is especially important in managerial roles as well as those that are client-facing or require lots of interpersonal, cross-departmental collaboration.

In this book, prominent psychologist Dr. Travis Bradberry delves into what separates Intelligence Quotient, known as IQ, from Emotional Intelligence, known as EQ. He posits that “knowing what emotional intelligence is and knowing how to use it to improve your life are two very different things. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is a step-by-step program for increasing your emotional intelligence using the four core EQ skills — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management — to exceed your goals and achieve your fullest potential.

According to Bradberry’s studies, 90% of top performers exhibit high EQ and EQ is twice as important as IQ in getting where you want to go in life. Who wouldn’t want to learn how to do that?

Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

In this fantastic book, renowned psychologist Kristin Neff challenges listeners to flip the age-old saying “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” on its head by encouraging people to “do unto yourself as you would do unto others.”

The basic premise is that this world of ours is such a ultracompetitive, fast-paced place these days and the pressure to do more by being better, faster, and smarter than everyone else is high, particularly in the United States. The rising popularity of social media makes it easy for people to publicize how great they/their lives are, which in turn makes it easy for others to keep up with the proverbial Jones’, or feel inadequate by comparison. It’s no wonder, then, that we so easily beat ourselves up, thereby making it challenging to cement a consistently high level of self-esteem.

Neff points out that “even when we do manage to grab hold of high self-esteem for a brief moment, we can’t seem to keep it. Our sense of self-worth goes up and down like a ping-pong ball, rising and falling in lockstep with our latest success or failure.”

Fortunately, there is an alternative to self-esteem that many experts believe is a better and more effective path to happiness: self-compassion. The research of Dr. Kristin Neff and other leading psychologists indicates that people who are compassionate toward their failings and imperfections experience greater well-being than those who repeatedly judge themselves. The feelings of security and self-worth provided by self-compassion are also highly stable, kicking in precisely when self-esteem falls down. This book powerfully demonstrates why it’s so important to be self-compassionate and give yourself the same caring support you’d give to a good friend.”

This was probably one of the most eye-opening books I’ve listened to in my entire life. If you’re someone that is highly critical of yourself, I highly recommend this!

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found a Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris

I never would have thought a book focusing on Buddhist philosophy and meditation could also be wildly entertaining, but 10% Happier is just that. In it, hyper-competitive, prominent news anchor Dan Harris details his journey to becoming what he calls “10% happier.” What makes the book so intriguing is that Harris was a free-wheeling adrenaline junkie obsessed with little more than his career advancement in the highly competitive world of TV broadcasting until one day he had a cocaine-induced panic attack live on nationally televised Good Morning America (watch the beginning through 1:33, if not all). Admittedly a skeptic of “all that meditation garbage,” Dan’s hilarious narration of his “journey to enlightenment” can resonate with anyone. Imagine how hard it must be for a news broadcaster to go to a week-long retreat where talking is forbidden…

Whether you’re a skeptic yourself, have embraced & found inner peace, or are somewhere in between, this book offers an entertaining perspective that is both amusing and enlightening.

The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future by Steve Case

As an early adopter of America Online back in the mid-90s and someone that has worked for three companies backed by the former AOL cofounder, I was eager to read his latest New York Times best-selling book. People can say what they will about the AOL/Time Warner merger, but let’s face it: Case helped bring the internet into mainstream and has since invested in a lot of revolutionary companies through his venture capital fund, aptly named Revolution.

Narrated by Case himself, this book highlights his vision for what he calls “The Third Wave” (of the internet). His theory is that just like “AOL and other companies introduced early consumers to the Internet in the first wave; search giants such as Google and companies such as Apple have led us into the second wave, the app economy; and the third wave will be “the Internet of things”, in which every experience, product, and service will be transacted online.”

It’s a solid listen that I’d recommend to anyone, but especially those just beginning their careers.

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

This is a must-read for anyone that has worked in a startup, particularly one that has scaled to a point where “adults” were hired to help navigate the notoriously choppy waters that lay between startup and mature, scalable, profitable business.

Written by well-known former tech journalist and contributing writer to HBO’s satirical show “Silicon Valley,” Dan Lyons, Disrupted provides an entertaining, albeit biased and one-sided, perspective of life at hyper-growth startup companies through the lens of more seasoned professionals. Narrated by Lyons himself, this book is chock full of sarcasm, skepticism, & criticism that one can’t help but find amusing, despite a clear lack of objectivity.

Personally, I think it was pretty messed up for Lyons to write the book, name names, and essentially slander a company that managed to go from small startup to successful publicly traded company; and I think in the end he just comes across as a grumpy, jaded, old sourpuss, but it’s amusing nonetheless, especially if you’ve worked in the type of environment he critiques.

So that’s it! A summary of some of the books I have read and am currently reading. I’m always looking to add to the list of books I’d like to read in the future, so please feel free to share some of your favorite books in the comments section and I’ll add them to my Audible wishlist!