I love books. Since I could read I have had my head buried in a book. I read anything I could get my hands on. When I ran out of books, I reached for anything. Not sure there are many nearly 40-year-old males who have read all the Babysitter’s Club books (Thanks sis). My local library was my haven when I was a kid and I’m stoked that I have a great local library in my neighbourhood now. My reading preferences have changed a little over years. I don’t read much fiction anymore. I prefer biographies and books on education, personal development and sport. This post is a little share of some of my favourites from the past year:
Peak by Anders Ericsson
Ericsson’s 30+ year dedication to studying the habits and performance of expert performers is what Peak is all about. After hearing him explain his work on so many podcasts, I was bursting to read this one. In Peak, Ericsson lists ‘deliberate practice’ as the reason why expert performance is achieved by some and not others. Deliberate practice involves deconstructing the performance of elite performers to determine the vital components required for superior performance. From here, the development of mental representations, short intense feedback looks and targeted practice of the components are used. A short paragraph doesn’t do the book justice. A definite must read.
Beyond Measure – Margaret Heffernan
This little gem was inspired by Margaret’s Ted Talk and there is so much wisdom packed into this one. Heffernan shares insights on building great organisational culture and practice. She explores the topics of social capital, conflict, productivity, creativity and structure. Some of my favourite pearls of wisdom are listed below.
3 qualities of great creative problem-solving teams (p24)
Giving each other time to talk
Social sensitivity – tuned into each other’s moods
“Network nodes – real influences of organisations; the people who intersect with the most people” (p30)
How many people do you intersect with at your school or business?
20 Hours – Josh Kaufman
An afternoon of TED talks led to Josh Kaufman’s book. I read this one after Ericsson’s book because I was instantly intrigued by the seemingly opposite approach to mastery. Kaufman references Ericsson’s work quite significantly. The difference is that Kaufman is not on a pursuit to excellence, just a pursuit to being good. In the book, he deconstructs skill acquisition and learns a range of new skills in just 20 hours. The three-stage model of skill acquisition he outlines is:
Cognitive (Early) stage – understanding what you’re trying to do, researching, thinking about the process, and breaking the skill into manageable parts.
Associative (Intermediate) stage – practicing the task, noticing environmental feedback, and adjusting your approach based on that feedback.
Autonomous (Late) stage – performing the skill effectively and efficiently without thinking about it or paying unnecessary attention to the process.
Kaufman’s Ted Talk is a good place to start for those who are interested in checking out more.
Show your work and Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon
These little gems were discovered via my local library. They are really easy to read and this is brilliant because you jump back into them over and over again. In Show your Work, Kleon lists ten reasons why you need to let the world see your work. He talks about ‘being an amateur’ and having a beginner’s mindset. He also talks about volume being key and that using Jerry Seinfeld’s chain technique is a great way to keep the creating streak alive. Don’t break the chain. In Steal like an artist, Kleon lists ten strategies to help you create original work. My favourite is below:
Step 1: Wonder at something.
Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.
You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about.
What do you wonder about?
Smart change – Art Markman
I discovered Art via a podcast and found his insight into how the brain works fascinating. Smart Change really helped me understand how habits are formed and the conditions required to change them.
“It is crucial to make daily progress on long-term goals. A contribution is not made in one sprint.”
Markman outlines some really effective and simple to use techniques to help you change your behaviour.
Ted Talks – Chris Anderson
Who better to share tips and techniques for improving your public speaking than Chris Anderson, the curator of Ted. Anderson uses Ted examples to share different techniques to help speakers of all abilities improve.
“Overstuffed equals under-explained” – So often we try to say too much and in the end all we do is leave our audience confused or unsatisfied.
“To say something interesting, you have to take the time to do at least two things
Show why it matters…what’s the question you’re trying to answer, the problem you’re trying to solve, the experience you’re trying to share?
Flesh out each point you make with real examples, stories, facts
A really insightful and practical book.
Smarter, faster, better – Charles Duhigg
I discovered this book as I have a lot of the books I read via a podcast interview. Srinivas Rao and his Unmistakable Creative podcast is a gold mine for great new books and authors. Duhigg’s book analyses the following areas; Teams, Decision making, Focus, Goal setting, Motivation and Managing Others. I really enjoyed the hero narrative he used to introduce and conceptualise each area. The story of the world’s automotive plant being turned in the world’s best through the use of lean manufacturing was by far my favourite. The power of process and people shining through. A true strength-based approach to working.
“Lean manufacturing – built to exploit everyone’s expertise”.
Originals – Adam Grant
I have Hamish Curry to thank for putting me on to this one. In Originals, Grant explores original thinkers and dissects their practices to discover how they come up with original work. I really like the way Grant writes. He can make the incomprehensible accessible. Practical and insightful, Originals is for anyone interested in creating. Start creating now as the volume of work you create helps increase your capacity for originality.
Tools of Titans – Tim Ferris
I am a huge fan of the Tim Ferris show podcast. The quality and diversity of Tim’s guests are second to none. In Tools of Titans, Tim shares the habits and insights of these famous, infamous and downright amazing people. This book is huge but easy to read. I find that I just dive in randomly and read a few pages. Tim’s interviewees for the podcast/book are so diverse that you can’t go wrong reading the book in any direction.
Deep Work – Cal Newport
As is evident by my recent writing, this book has had a profound impact on me. Deep work is “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” Newport provides evidence, strategies and anecdotes to support his push for people to explore deep work. In a world where distraction is rife, being able to block it all out and concentrate deeply is becoming in Newport’s words, a superpower. A read for anyone currently questioning their current ability to connect with their work.
Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
This book was a gift from my sister and I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nike as a brand is the epitome of confidence and high performance. I had no idea their beginning was the complete opposite of that. Phil Knight writes with a vulnerability that I really liked. It made his story really accessible.
The Rise of Superman – Steven Kotler
This book I discovered once again by podcast. Podcasts sure are the new book tours. I love it because I am constantly exposed to new ideas and authors to read. Kotler’s book is about the rapid rise in performance of extreme adventure athletes due to flow state. This book meshes two loves of mine: sports and performance improvement. Kotler provides a window into the mindset and psyche of athletes who push the boundary to achieve beyond what man believed to be possible. Take for example, Tony Hawk. He was the first to complete a 900 (a skateboard trick that requires two and a half spins in the air). Nobody thought this trick was possible. Tony is arguably the greatest ever. A few years later, a 12-year-old named Tom Schaar completes it. Schaar has even gone on to extend the trick and the new bar is a 1080. For those interested in the world of optimal performance, this is a must read. Inspired by this book, I am currently rereading “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
These books have helped shape my thinking over the past year. What books have done the same for you?