What I Learned From Reading in 2015

These are some of the books I read this year, that helped me be better at my job. Taught me something about myself. Made me a better person (I hope) or taught me about history and the world around us.

From Waking Up I learned that how we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the nature of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives. Naturally I’m a very positive person however I didn’t realise how much of life is spent in a neurotic trance — the mind racing with self defeating thoughts and internal arguments — until I started meditating.

From Bird by Bird I learned that good writing is about telling the truth and that perfectionism is a form of idealism, while mistakes and messes are an artist’s true friend. I don’t need a roadmap before I sit down to write, I simply need to start and the words will flow. This is true if you follow the first rule of telling the truth.

From The Traveler’s Gift I learned to accept full responsibility for my past. Where I am today — mentally, physically, emotionally and financially — is a direct result of my past decisions. If something is missing in my life it’s not because of other people, my own genetics, or where I grew up, it’s because I decided so. Owning this idea of responsibility makes the future exciting because I get to decide it.

From The Unpublished and Ogilvy on Advertising I learned how to write better. Specific tips include writing the way I talk. Using short words, sentences and paragraphs. Never using jargon words. And reading my copy out aloud and then editing it like crazy until it’s crystal clear.

From How To Deliver a TED Talk I learned how to structure a talk using premise and proof. Start with introduction first, then tell a story (proof) and follow up with an assumption that something is true (premise). Do this back and forth and end with a conclusion. It’s simple yet so effective and all the best TED talks do it.

From The Short History of Nearly Everything I learned what a miracle it is to be alive and how lucky (and unlucky) we are to call earth home. Life is incredibly complex and fragile. You’ll feel pretty small and insignificant after reading this. It’s a big world out there.

From Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman I learned the value of being curious. As a kid I would always ask my parents things like, why is the sky blue, why do people go to work and what causes tidal waves? Mr Feynman taught me never to stop asking why.

From Superintelligence I learned about Artificial Intelligence (AI). As this technology evolves the human race will need to settle on some conclusions about what is right and what is wrong. If AI was developed 150 years ago when slavery was common practice, can you imagine the world today? Think of AI as a choose your own adventure, I just hope we choose wisely.

From Conscious Business I learned that I need work more on authentic communication. “We tend to see ourselves primarily in the light of our intentions, which are invisible to others, while we see others mainly in the light of their actions, which are visible to us.”

From the Checklist Manifesto I learned how the human memory and attention can fail us when it comes to routine tasks. Used by doctors to pilots to that guy tying your bungee cord to your legs, checklists can save lives. The key is to keep them short, simple and exact.

From The Alchemist I learned that “…it’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” Currently working at a startup with big dreams, I know this to be true.

From Who I learned a process to follow when hiring people and what to look for in job candidates: “A players tend to talk about outcomes linked to expectations. B and C players talk generally about events, people they met or aspects of the job they liked without ever getting into results.”

From Collapse I learned how great societies of the past like Machu Picchu, and Inca Pisac, collapsed. In most cases it’s because the kings and nobles at the time, failed to recognise problems. “Their attention was evidently focused on their short-term concerns of enriching themselves, waging wars, erecting monuments, competing with each other and extracting enough food from the peasants to support all those activities.” Sound like some countries today?

From Quiet I learned that I’m more introverted than extroverted and that our perceptions of each are greatly misguided. Leaning towards introverted doesn’t mean I’m reserved and shy, but rather, I prefer one on one conversations over group discussions and like my own space to work alone.

From Mindset I learned the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. The latter is a belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. If your child does well on a test score, it’s better to congratulate them for their hard work than tell them the result was because they are talented. The difference is subtle but powerful.

From The Truth I learned that “…love is not about finding the right person. It’s about becoming the right person.” In relationships we tend to judge the other person when things go wrong rather than looking inward.

From The Black Swan I learned that the events that have the biggest influence on history — September 11, the Kennedy assassination — are events that are rare and unpredictable. “History does not crawl, it jumps.” Yet all our preventative measures are based on past experiences, never the unforeseen.

My favourite read of 2015

From Sapiens I learned that… “Any large-scale human cooperation — whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe — is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.” None of these things exists outside of the stories that people invent and tell one another.

I hope this post inspires you to read more. Hopefully what I learned in 2015 can help you in 2016. Happy new year.

Ps. While writing this post I got the unfortunate news that my grandma had passed away. She was an avid reader and encouraged my love of books growing up. This post is dedicated to her, she will be sorely missed.

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