Reading is the most important thing I do for my own professional development. I love learning and exploring new ideas and then sharing them with others (like you).
I try to be strategic in my reading, which is why this isn’t a list of books that only came out this year. It includes some new, some old but they all teach an important idea or concept I was interested to learn more about.
My professional reading in 2019 fell into two broad categories: behavioral psychology and business strategy. I’m eager to learn more about how our brains work and how to leverage that knowledge to affect change. I’ve also been focused on growing the six companies in our inaugural Startup Caucus cohort and learning about sales, marketing, and strategy to better support them.
I’m always looking for good recommendations and keen to hear what you read this year. Email me: [email protected]
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think
The world is a much better place than we imagine it to be, but that’s not our fault. In Factfulness, Rosling explains how are brains crave drama and how, if unchecked, “prevents us from seeing the world as it is, and leads us terribly astray.”
“When people wrongly believe that nothing is improving, they may conclude that nothing we have tried so far is working and lose confidence in measures that actually work.“ Rosling provides a framework highlighting ten instincts that often lead us astray and how we can work around those instincts. Acknowledging these instincts and how they can lead you astray will make you better at making decisions.
Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers
Geoffrey A. Moore
Crossing the Chasm is about understanding the nature and desires of different categories of customers for a given product (or idea). The distribution is shaped like a bell curve but there’s a huge gap – the chasm – between innovators and early adopters on one side and the rest of the market (the mainstream) on the other. Products, companies, and ideas die in the chasm if you don’t know how to bridge it.
Moore offers important insights into what different customer types want, how they make decisions, and how you convince them to use your product or service.
Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most
What’s the best way to make decisions for the future? That’s the central focus of Farsighted, whose author explains that “to make successful decisions, you need to have a better-than-chance understanding of where the paths you’re choosing between are going to take you.”
In order to get a glimpse of those possible paths, you have to take in a multitude of ideas from various perspectives and experiences and consider what they mean and how they could affect your decisions. Last year, I recommended Thinking in Bets, which helped me understand that you can make the correct decisions based on the information you have available and still reach an undesired outcome. Farsighted teaches you how to see those possible outcomes.
Simulations are a key strategy in this book because they “make us better at predicting, and successful predictions make us better decision-makers.” And while it’s true that “most scenarios end up failing to predict future outcomes,” writes Johnson, “the very act of trying to imagine alternatives to the conventional view helps you perceive your options more clearly.”
Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior
Invisible Influence dives into the psychology behind how integral social influence is in affecting our behavior – without us even realizing it. A key insight in this book seems really is that “familiarity leads to liking.” It’s the reason airwaves are overloaded with ads in the final weeks of a campaign: the more someone hears a message or sees a candidate, the more they like them.
Berger describes the various mechanics of social influence and how we can harness their power. This book includes lessons directly from the world of politics and how important signals, like party or candidate, determines our attitudes to a policy. He also highlights a study that found telling supporters a candidate was slightly behind in the polls raised 60 percent more money than telling them he was slightly ahead.
This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until Your Learn to See
Seth’s books – and his podcast, Akimbo – have a knack for cutting through the noise and buzz of marketing and distilling concepts to their essence. In his newest book, he reminds readers that marketing is about making change happen. Put another way, we should always be driving action.
This is Marketing explores the tension between attention and permission in marketing and how “the shortcuts using money to buy attention to sell average stuff to average people are an artifact of another time, not the one we live in now.”
The better way, permission-based marketing, “recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing.” In politics, as voters show signs of fatigue and become increasingly more difficult to reach, the candidates and causes that have permission assets rather than interruption assets will win in the long run.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
In this book, psychologist Angela Duckworth describes the concept of grit, how high achievers share this characteristic, and why, more than anything else, it’s essential for success. Not talent, not passion, not skills, but the strength to “fall seven, rise eight” is what matters.
“Enthusiasm is common,” writes Duckworth, but “endurance is rare.” The good news is we can learn and practice grittiness but too often in our culture we convince ourselves that high achievers have some innate ability we lack. “Nobody want to show you the hours and hours of becoming,” explains Duckworth. “They’d rather show the highlight of what they’ve become.”
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
“There are only two ways to influence human behavior,” writes Sinek,” you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” But if you want to build a loyal, lasting relationship you can’t use manipulation. “Those tactics win elections, but they do not seed loyalties among the voters.”
When it comes to inspiring supporters rather than manipulate, “people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”
“When an organization defines itself by WHAT it does,” cautions Sinek, “that’s all it will ever be able to do.” But “knowing WHY is essential for lasting success and the ability to avoid being lumped in with others.”
People crave authenticity in their candidates, celebrities, and entertainment and Sinek articulates how WHY is essential:
“Being authentic is not a requirement for success, but it is if you want that success to be a lasting success…Authenticity is when you say and to the things you actually believe. But if you don’t know WHY the organization or the products exist on a level beyond WHAT you do, then it is impossible to know if the things you say or do are consistent with your WHY. Without WHY, any attempt at authenticity will almost always be inauthentic.”
Turning the Flywheel: Why Some Companies Build Momentum and Others Don’t
This is a brief monograph – just 40 pages long – that is packed full of valuable insights that translate well from business to politics. Collins outlines a model he calls the Flywheel that captures the repeatable process a company uses to go from good to great, explaining that “greatness is an inherently dynamic process, not an end point.”
It’s important to capture and repeat this process because as Collins writes, “The greatest danger in business and life lies not in outright failure but in achieving success without understanding why you were successful in the first place.”
Collins offers another concept: “fire bullets, then cannonballs” to illustrate how successful organizations make big bets after they’ve validated the success of their Flywheel to know that the bet would pay off.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Sticky ideas “are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact – they change your audience’s opinions or behavior.” The authors identify six principles that make ideas sticky: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. They use the acronym SUCCESs to help you remember these principles.
The book explains the characteristics of each principle and how people like us – who are trying to drive messages and action – can leverage these principles. One key idea in this book which I don’t think is commonly understood in our industry is that, “in making ideas stick, the audience gets a vote.”
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Robert B. Cialdini
In this classic of behavioral psychology, Cialdini describes the six weapons of influence: consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. In each case he gives examples of how they can be used and abused, and if we desire, to be avoided.
The tactics of compliance work because we need mental shortcuts to avoid overwhelming our cognitive capacity with too many decisions. As the demands on our attention grow, Cialdini explains, our reliance on these shortcuts will grow. Unfortunately, so will the bad actors who try to exploit them. In politics, we need to be familiar with the weapons of influence but also how to make use of them responsibly.