2016 in Books: Better Late Than Never

Better late than never. I’ve set a goal during 2017 to read 52 books, totaling up to one a week (after reading 21 in 2016, I’m more than doubling that). I’m already on my way to accomplishing that goal, but I wanted to remember all the books that I read in 2016.

I read Made to Stick approaching it from a business perspective and how to brand things, appeal to customers, all that jazz. Instead, I walked away with a new take on how to communicate any idea that I have, regardless of the context.

I helped to create the curriculum for a venture capital class early in 2016 and read this to use it as the book for the course. Far and away the best introduction to VC you’ll find that isn’t written like a master’s thesis.

In the past, I frequently referenced Innovator’s Dilemma, talking about jobs-to-be-done and needing to be aware of the lower-end or unserved portions of the market. I figured, if I was quoting it so much, I should probably read it.

I don’t know that I’ve had a similar reaction to any book I’ve ever read. I jotted down several ideas that came to my mind, but the overall feeling was surprising. I saw this giant, awful financial system that came crashing down because of greed and laziness. And amidst the crumble, there were a few smart, hard-working, sometimes moral people who recognized what was wrong, and did something about it. They couldn’t fix it, but they knew better than to play along with the stupidity. These are the notes I wrote down after watching finishing the book, and then watching the movie:

Thoughts from the Big Short

  • Messy is messy. If it doesn’t cause joy, get rid of it
  • Every second you have is too valuable to waste being angry.
  • As soon as an idea pops into your head, put it in the chamber and ACT.
  • Learn everything from everyone
  • “No one reads those mortgages but the lawyers.” Work hard. Know the details. Natalie Portman missed the Star Wars premiere to study for college.
  • Don’t waste time!! You don’t have a lot of it and you’re not that smart so make the most of it.

This changed my perspective on history, realizing how small the pivotal moments really were. An underlying assumption in this book is that democracy was key to the salvation of the world, and that Christianity played an imperative role in that democracy.

You go to Disneyland and you get this image of Walt Disney as the grandfather of the “American imagination.” You watch movies like Saving Mr. Banks, and you see some little foibles, like a smoking habit. But reading this book, you realize the creative but cutthroat genius that Disney was. He was just as inspiring and terrifying as characters like Steve Jobs.

I took U.S. History in high school. I know that the American revolution was important. But reading a book like this shines a human light on those events. And that changed the way it impacted me as I think about how these were normal people, just like me. Could I rise to the occasion just like they did?

I started with a general history of the beginning of the revolution, and then I got specific. The impact this book had on me deserves its own post. I appreciate very much the kind of person John Adams was. In Hamilton: the Musical they make an off-handed joke about John Adams, and surprisingly, it bothered me a lot. I feel a kinship with John Adams, often in his failures more so than his successes.

I’ve watched movies. I’ve read books. I’ve seen movies that were based on books I read. But this was the first time I had read a book when I had already seen the movie. I read very little fiction. This was the only fiction book I read all year, and while I enjoyed it, I was still much more interested in the historical context Brown used to tell a story.

I just couldn’t read a fiction book without adding a non-fiction perspective.

Nail it Then Scale it is another book that I frequently recommended to people to read, but had never read it myself. While the concepts in the book are interesting and useful, it was a difficult book to get through. The writing and flow felt fairly sporadic.

I read the majority of this book on the subway between Boston and Cambridge. The whole time I was reading it, I was struck with one diagram in particular. Thiel talked about how we view the future:

It was the optimistic view of a definite future that put a man on the moon. It’s the optimistic but indefinite view that sends college grads in swarms to jobs like investment banking and law. We can’t create the future, so lets make money off the people who do.

You don’t think about Brigham Young as an entrepreneur, but he literally built a large portion of the economy of the west, regardless of what you think of him. He was engaged in so many different business ventures and colonization efforts that it’s hard to say he was a “this” or a “that.”

My wife and I read this together, reading two or three stories each morning. It’s one thing to see these posts on Facebook and appreciate them, and move on. I noticed, while reading them in the morning, that I thought about those people’s stories throughout the day. I thought about how I’d like to be them, how I would react to their experiences. More than anything, Stanton’s work does wonders for your level of empathy.

The 7 Habits is a perfect example of a book that could change people’s lives if effectively implemented. Most people read books like this and think, “those are great.” And then go back to life as usual. Reading 7 Habits, I kept thinking, if only there was a process to take these concepts and really educate people (myself included) in how to change our lives to better live these principles.

Again, a book I talked frequently about. Quoted regularly. Had taught classes on. But never fully read. I tried the audio-book about a year ago, but my thoughts are too sporadic to stay tied to an audio-book for too long.

This might be one of the stranger picks on my list. I picked this up in the Boston airport after hearing about it on a podcast. The concepts at times felt a little too new-agey for me, but I took the core message to heart. We all have clutter in our lives, and having a serialized process to deal with it can make a huge difference.

I started reading this book for a class, but finished it because I liked it. I thoroughly enjoy books that take complex concepts and try and make them approachable.

I was gifted this book by a very good friend. At first, it was to help me prepare for a job interview. But after awhile, I realized that it wasn’t just another Innovator’s “INSERT BUZZWORD HERE” book. Instead, it was a revolutionary approach to entrepreneurship, whether you’re building something from scratch, or internally within an existing company.

I’ve always had this internal religious dilemma. Christ says to love one another, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick and afflicted. But at the same time, a lot of Mormons are very successful, very financially stable. And the dilemma comes when you see wealthy people with two houses, big fancy cars, or boats, and the world still has poverty. But it can’t be everyone’s responsibility to take care of every poor person in the world, right? My Mom has always said that helping people is important, but if you make yourself poor in the process, you become a burden on others. Social entrepreneurship says the same thing, your solution can’t burn millions of dollars in the process, it has to be sustainable.

Speaking of social entrepreneurship, this was the last book I read for the year. This was, by far, the best introduction to social entrepreneurship I’ve ever read. They focus on each phase of creating a social solution with insights like understanding the world; envisioning a new future; building a model for change; and scaling the solution.

After reading all these books, I keep coming back to one idea: empathy. The better you empathize with people, the better you are at just about everything. Reading about people’s experiences gives you an insight to components of life that you’ll never live yourself. Especially in entrepreneurship; empathizing with people will lead to more impactful solutions.