A Reading List: Navigating Uncertainty During COVID-19
A Quarantine Edition for Reflection and Personal Growth
2020 has been a chain reaction of unprecedented events. In March, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic with the widespread virus of COVID-19. This lead to exacerbating effects on economies, governments, businesses, employees, families and individuals worldwide. The anxiety around the uncertainty of the state of health and the economy is concerning. Each week feels like an entire year, each day comes with its own challenges, and each individual is going through their own version of this time.
To sustain a positive personal growth trajectory, I channeled my emotions towards learning through books. I expanded my knowledge on topics such as global economic trends, leadership, design, technology, psychology, philosophy and entrepreneurship. Below is a list of books (and key takeaways) that gave me a new perspective on how to process the world around me during this time.
“Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work.” — James Clear
1. Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Hans Rosling wrote Factfulness as a means to combat the widespread and devastating ignorance about global health, population and income data. His goal was to help people build a fact-based world view in the 21st century.
Key takeaway: The world is no longer divided into the two categories ‘developed’ and ‘developing’. Hans provides a new framework to understand the world across four income groups (courtesy of Gates Notes).
2. The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
Robert Iger, former CEO of the Walt Disney Company, takes us on a journey of humility, secession, and leadership in his memoir. His story ranges from his early days with ABC working in broadcast television to changing the landscape of Disney through innovation, acquisitions, and strategic talent management.
Key takeaway: “Take responsibility when you screw up. In work, in life, you’ll be more respected and trusted by the people around you if you own up to your mistakes. It’s impossible to avoid them; but it is possible to acknowledge them, learn from them, and set an example that it’s okay to get things wrong sometimes.”
This article gives an extended glimpse into the lessons learned from Iger’s incredible storytelling.
3. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
As humans we experience complex emotions — from happiness and sadness, to anxiety and anger, we are often unaware of how to process our emotional state of mind. Eckhart Tolle provides a spiritual guide for understanding emotional states, rising above the ego, and living in the present moment.
Key takeaway: “To dis-identify from thinking is to be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behavior, especially the repetitive patterns of your mind and the roles played by the ego. Anxiety is driven by a factor in the past or future, focus on the present, what is in front of you.”
4. Harry Potter by J.K Rowling
I’ve been judged many times for not having read Harry Potter as a kid, but here I am fifteen years later freaking out about “he who should not be named” and the “chosen one.” The Harry Potter novel series was a magical and enchanting journey. Through the seven books, the emotional attachments and bonds created with the fictional characters is like no other. It is truly a remarkable series to read, regardless of age.
Ps. Secretly I wish I could cast spells and be friends with wizards *expecto petronum!*
5. Hooked by Nir Eyal
The technologies we use today have turned into addictions. We open social media apps to satisfy the craving of wanting to know more information and evoke a sense of belonging. Nir Eyal describes the ‘Hook Model’ which is a four-step process that companies use to create habit-forming products to influence consumer behavior.
Key takeaway: “Every behavior is driven by one of three Core Motivators: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain; seeking hope and avoiding fear; seeking social acceptance while avoiding social rejection.”
*As a Product Designer the Hook Model is a helpful framework for analyzing user behavior, motivations, and triggers when designing features to drive user retention and engagement.
6. Change by Design by Tim Brown
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, describes the approach of creative problem solving by adopting a design thinking mindset for innovation. A few approaches include: putting people first, a culture of experimentation, the design of experiences, and the importance of storytelling.
Key takeaway: “Design has the power to enrich our lives by engaging our emotions through image, form, texture, color, sound, and smell. We use our empathy and understanding of people to design experiences that create opportunities for active engagement and participation.”
7. Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley’s famous VC, draws on his experience at PayPal and Palantir to offer ideas and suggestions to emerging technology startups. Going ‘zero to one’ means going from nothing to something — this is the greatest leap possible. To go from zero to one is to conjure something into existence from a dark void of oblivion. In other words, Zero to One is about how to build companies that create new things.
Key takeaway: “Conventional beliefs only ever appear arbitrary and wrong in retrospect; whenever one collapses, we call the old belief a bubble. But the distortions caused by bubbles don’t disappear when they pop. The internet craze of the ‘90s was the biggest bubble since the crash of 1929, and the lessons learned afterward define and distort almost all thinking about technology today. The first step to thinking clearly is to question what we think we know about the past.”
8. Atomic Habits by James Clear
Atomic Habits reveals practical strategies on how to master tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results. James Clear draws on ideas from biology, psychology and neuroscience to create a 4-step guide for making small incremental changes to create good habits and break bad ones.
Key takeaway: “The key to finding and fixing the causes of your bad habits is to reframe the associations you have about them. It’s not easy, but if you can reprogram your predictions, you can transform a hard habit into an attractive one.”
The article Atomic Habits: Lessons Learned has a curated list of remarkable quotes from the book.
9. The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo
I consider Julie Zhuo as one of my digital mentors. Her book takes us on an engaging, humorous, and witty journey of becoming a manager. She describes the importance of self awareness and managing oneself, understanding personality traits of individuals, creating a safe space for a team to thrive, and nurturing culture for personal and professional growth.
What I loved most about this book was the honesty and humility behind her personal story, insights, and advice.
Key takeaway: “This is how anything in life goes — You try something, you figure out what worked and what didn’t. You file away lessons for the future. And then you get better. Rinse, repeat.”
10. Educated by Tara Westover
In her memoir, Tara Westover describes her upbringing in a survivalist Mormon family in rural Idaho. She emphasizes the importance of education to enlarge her view on the world. I had the good fortune of witnessing Westover in-person as my graduation commencement speaker.
Key takeaway: “Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Returning to where you came from will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself — even gold appears dull in some lighting — but that’s the illusion. The most powerful determinant of who you are is inside of you.”
11. Girl Decoded by Rana El Kaliouby
Rana el Kaliouby is a pioneer in artificial emotional intelligence (Emotion AI). She is the CEO and cofounder of Affectiva, an emotion measurement technology company spun out of the MIT Media Lab. Rana takes us through her upbringing in the Middle East, how she broke through traditional patriarchal roles, and became a leader in enforcing the human element to technology.
Key takeaway: “AI will likely disrupt business and make many repetitive jobs obsolete. But Emotion AI will empower human beings to strengthen our uniquely human skills, the very skills that will be in great demand. This is how we retain our EQ in a tech-driven world.”
*This was one of the most inspiring books I’ve read, with many parallels to my personal story and ambitions.
12. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
In his candid and moving memoir, Trevor Noah, current host of The Daily Show, tells us stories from his childhood in South Africa. His autobiography draws in his upbringing under apartheid, his relationship with his mother, and his experience growing up as a biracial person under a system of racial classification.
Key takeaway: “Learn from your past and be better because of your past, but don’t cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.”
13. The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi
Kishimi dives into Alfred Adler’s theory of psychology: all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. The book follows a dialogue between a philosopher and a young man who guides him through the concepts of self-forgiveness, self-care, and mind decluttering. It is a deeply liberating way of thinking, allowing one to develop the courage to change and ignore the limitations that one might be placing on oneself.
Key takeaway: “No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on. That you, living in the here and now, are the one who determines your own life. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.”
Check out this article for more key takeaways on The Courage to Be Disliked.
These books have guided me through self-reflection on the values I want to live by, the energy I want to put out in the world, and the qualities I want to embody, especially during times of uncertainty.
As we enter into a new normal of social distancing and remote work, I’m just getting started. There’s a plethora of books out there that I’m curious to make my way through. Stay tuned for updates.