10 amazing books I read in 2017

Plus 3 honorable mentions

Entrepreneurship

Phil Knight may not be as famous as the brand, Nike, he created and not as rich as Bill Gates, but his biography is definitely as fascinating as the top selling novels.

I started reading this book for one hour in the day, and later I decided to spend an extra hour at night, just before sleep, because I couldn’t wait the whole night to read another chapter.

Soon I regretted. I couldn’t get enough sleep because I was reading two hours at night instead of one.

It feels real. A business that started out from almost nothing. A young man who struggled, lost his direction, but kept pursuing his dream. Success that came from years of hard work and risk taking.

It is full of wisdom. Here are a few:

Life is growth. You grow or you die.

You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past.

How can I leave my mark on the world, I thought, unless I get out there first and see it?

When you see only problems, you’re not seeing clearly.

It’s hard. It’s painful. It’s risky. The rewards are few and far from guaranteed. When you run around an oval track, or down an empty road, you have no real destination. At least, none that can fully justify the effort. The act itself becomes the destination. Its not just that there’s no finish line; it’s that you define the finish line. Whatever pleasures or gains you derive from the act of running, you must find them within.

It puzzled me why large firms failed to innovate products that customers want. There are countless of examples where large firms, even with sufficient money and human resources, are beaten by startups. Why does history keep repeating itself?

The author, Clayton Christensen, is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He was awarded the world’s most influential management thinker in 2013.

In this book, Mr. Christensen proposed a theory supported by extensive evidence, plenty of examples and clear explanations.

Some inspiring quotes from the book:

The techniques that worked so extraordinarily well when applied to sustaining technologies, however, clearly failed badly when applied to markets or applications that did not yet exist.

First, disruptive products are simpler and cheaper; they generally promise lower margins, not greater profits. Second, disruptive technologies typically are first commercialized in emerging or insignificant markets. And third, leading firms’ most profitable customers generally don’t want, and indeed initially can’t use, products based on disruptive technologies.

This is one of the innovator’s dilemmas: Blindly following the maxim that good managers should keep close to their customers can sometimes be a fatal mistake.

Do not read this book if you are not a leader of your company, or you will be upset about how bad those leaders are doing, and may even consider leaving your company.

Every company has goals. Most of us have yearly or quarterly goals, and some have monthly goals or even weekly goals. Having a goal is like making a wish. Strategies are how one should do to achieve goals. Leaders often mistake goals as strategies. Without strategies, we will keep doing what we are doing and things will keep going wrong.

In his book, Richard Rumelt, an American organizational theorist, and Emeritus Professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, helps you identify strategies, process good strategic thinking and deal with challenges. Some inspiring quotes from the book:

A leader’s most important job is creating and constantly adjusting this strategic bridge between goals and objectives.

Bad strategy is long on goals and short on policy or action. It assumes that goals are all you need. It puts forward strategic objectives that are incoherent and, sometimes, totally impracticable. It uses high-sounding words and phrases to hide these failings.

Many people call the guiding policy “the strategy” and stop there. This is a mistake. Strategy is about action, about doing something. The kernel of a strategy must contain action.

Did you ever wonder how Facebook and Pokémon Go make their apps so addictive? Tip: It’s not luck.

If you know a bit of psychology, you may already know the basic 3-step habit forming process — trigger, action and reward. In his book, Nir Eyal added a forth element, investment (or sometimes called commitment) to the Hook Model and emphasize that the rewards have to be variable.

You will understand and learn how to apply the Hook Model to your products from this book illustrated with plenty of real-world examples. You can find some of these ideas on Nir’s blog.

Some of the best quotes from the book:

… all humans are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain; to seek hope and avoid fear; and finally, to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection.

Variable rewards are not magic fairy dust that a product designer can sprinkle onto a product to make it instantly more attractive. Rewards must fit into the narrative of why the product is used and align with the user’s internal triggers and motivations.

In Mahalo’s case, executives assumed that paying users would drive repeat engagement with the site. After all, people like money, right? Unfortunately, Mahalo had an incomplete understanding of its users’ drivers.

If you have ever grumbled at your mother telling you to put on a coat or felt your blood pressure rise when your boss micro-manages you, you have experienced what psychologists call “reactance,” the hair-trigger response to threats to your autonomy. However, when a request is coupled with an affirmation of the right to choose, reactance is kept at bay.

No matter what industry you are working in, your work depends more or less on software. Understanding the nature of software development definitely helps us get better outcomes and do our work more efficiently.

Ron Jeffries is a co-founder of Extreme Programming and one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto. Unlike other books in this category, this book is not the answers to common problems in software development. It helps readers organize thoughts and discover natural ways to cope with software development challenges by themselves.

The contents are organized in a way that is comprehensible by readers who are not software engineers. Software developers who are practicing Agile usually find this book valuable in many aspects not limited to software development. It reminds you to stop and think why you are doing what you are doing, and what values our deliverables have.

Some intelligent quotes from this book with over 100 pages of wisdom:

For feature-by-feature development to work, the software needs to be nearly free of defects at the end of every two week iteration. It needs to be nearly free of defects all the time. To be sure we’re free of defects, we need to check everything, all the time.

Under pressure, teams give up the wrong things. They don’t test enough; they leave the code in poor condition. This reduces value, increases the delay to getting the value, and reduces the value they can deliver later.

Instead of giving your team more time, I suggest giving them less. Ask your team to produce a fully integrated product increment in one week instead of two!

We need steady progress. To keep progress steady, we need a clear, clean design all the time. To accomplish this, we must refactor.

Leadership

This is one of the must-read books for leaders or would-be leaders. Be warned, this book could be scary to read. You will learn that only 13% of employees are engaged at work, and how your poor leadership style is killing your people and in turn, your business.

Simon Sinek is the author of the best seller Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and the speaker of the 3rd most popular TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

Like other books from Simon Sinek, he used biology, psychology and animal instinct to explain why and what we should do as a leader. It’s inspiring merely reading some of the quotes from this book:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

As the Zen Buddhist saying goes, how you do anything is how you do everything.

It is not the genius at the top giving directions that makes people great. It is great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius.

We are not victims of our situation. We are the architects of it.

Leadership is not a license to do less; it is a responsibility to do more.

Leaders are the ones who run headfirst into the unknown. They rush toward the danger. They put their own interests aside to protect us or to pull us into the future. Leaders would sooner sacrifice what is theirs to save what is ours. And they would never sacrifice what is ours to save what is theirs. This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.

In his book, David Marquet shows us how a commander managed to convert the worst submarine in the Navy into the best. His story illustrates why leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control, and creating leaders rather than forging followers.

Teamwork in the Navy shares many similarities with that in commercial organizations. Top-down management style, for instance, won’t delivery the best outcomes in the Navy and in organizations because usually the management, who is the decision maker, is not the one who is closest to the information necessary to make the decision.

This book argues that the traditional leader-follower management style is the source of low morale and disengagement of employees. Instead, what David Marquet proposed is the leader-leader approach — lead to create more leaders who are better, stronger and more competent than us.

Some of the best quotes:

People who are treated as followers treat others as followers when it’s their turn to lead.

One of the things that limits our learning is our belief that we already know something.

Don’t move information to authority, move authority to the information.

If all you need your people to do is follow orders, it isn’t important that they understand what you are trying to accomplish.

When you’re trying to change employees’ behaviors, you have basically two approaches to choose from: change your own thinking and hope this leads to new behavior, or change your behavior and hope this leads to new thinking.

Self-improvement

There are two things that are unique to The Inner Game of Tennis. First, this book was first published over 40 years ago and it is still very popular among readers who want to unleash their potentials. Second, the author, Timothy Gallwey, who is not a psychologist but his discoveries are re-discovered by psychologists a decade later.

Timothy found, like most of us, that we perform worse when we are stressed. He proposed that everyone of us has two “selves” — “self 1” and “self 2”. We are always playing a mind game between the two selves, mostly unconsciously. “self 1” is our body that perform actions and “self 2” is our mind that criticizes the actions performed by “self 1”. If left uncontrolled, “self 2” is the one who makes things worse when we are stressed.

Through the theories proposed by Timothy, this book explains how “self 2” misbehave and how we, the conscious mind, can control “self 2” and let “Self 1” perform the best we can.

If you like The Inner Game of Tennis but find it difficult to apply the theories at work, you must check out Timothy’s other book, The Inner Game of Work.

Here are some more discoveries you can read from this book:

When the mind is free of any thought or judgment, it is still and acts like a mirror. Then and only then can we know things as they are.

But who said that I am to be measured by how well I do things? In fact, who said that I should be measured at all? Who indeed? What is required to disengage oneself from this trap is a clear knowledge that the value of a human being cannot be measured by performance — or by any other arbitrary measurement.

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.

Fighting the mind does not work. What works best is learning to focus it.

In Adam Grant’s words, people can be categorized into 3 groups — most of us are matchers, some are takers, and few are givers. For every action we do, we want it to enrich our life. So which type of people you want to be? It turns out that the answer is not that simple as explained in this book.

What do we really want? Money? Think again. Happiness, maybe?

This book guide readers to understand what you actually get when you give. Happiness could be one of the outcomes, among many other (good) things. It gives us an inspiring idea of “how” to success.

My favorite quotes from this book:

Being a giver is not good for a 100-yard dash, but it’s valuable in a marathon.

When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. In contrast, when givers like David Hornik win, people are rooting for them and supporting them, rather than gunning for them.

“When you meet people,” says former Apple evangelist and Silicon Valley legend Guy Kawasaki, regardless of who they are, “you should be asking yourself, ‘How can I help the other person?’ ”

… hiring stars is advantageous neither to stars themselves, in terms of their performance, nor to hiring companies in terms of their market value.

Groups reward individual sacrifice.

You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody.

The more you give, the more you want to do it — as do others around you. It’s like going to the gym. If you’ve been working out your kindness muscles, you get stronger at it. — Nipun Mehta

According to the research by Angela Duckworth, the most important factor of success is neither talent nor luck, but the perseverance that keep doing what we do even after failing a thousand times. “Grit” won’t guarantee success but it gives us a better chance to success.

Don’t tell someone you like doing something or certain hobby unless you have been doing it for at least two years. It’s because practicing certain skill involves several stages. At first, it is fun to do certain things that motivates us to continue doing. Then, we get a bit better doing it so we can achieve greater enjoyment. But soon we will find that we are near our peak level of skill and it is usually very hard to advance further, and thus our enjoyment shrinks. Most of us will just find something else interesting to do. But few of us will keep going, face the challenge and conquer it. This is where we can obtain ultimate enjoyment.

Some inspiring quotes from this book:

It soon became clear that doing one thing better and better might be more satisfying than staying an amateur at many different things.

Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.

I won’t just have a job; I’ll have a calling. I’ll challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I’ll get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.

Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.

Honorable mentions

In his book, Ash Maurya provides readers a step-by-step guide to create lean business plans for startup companies. Success is not guaranteed, but it is a very good starting point.

Instead of creating a detailed business plan, Ash asks the readers to create a simple one, test your plan, and iterate from there. The goal is to learn and remove uncertainties as soon as possible so you can create products that customers want.

Some quotes from this book for entrepreneurs:

Life’s too short to build something nobody wants.

Customers don’t care about your solution. They care about their problems. — Dave McClure

Your customers’ customers are your customers.

All men dream: but not equally. Those that dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. — T.E. Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia”

Carol Dweck divided human minds into two types — fixed and growth mindsets. People with a fixed mindset tend to think that their abilities are limited and the world wouldn’t change much no matter what they do. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, think that abilities improve if they try hard, and nothing is impossible if they try hard enough.

For most of us, we would like to have a growth mindset that gives us the potential to change the world. The good news is that even if we have a fixed mindset now, we can still develop a growth mindset with the help of this book.

Whether we want to develop a growth mindset for ourselves or for our children, this book definitely helps.

Some quotes from this book:

“Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort?” If so, he says, “You may be outscored but you will never lose.”

I don’t mind losing as long as I see improvement or I feel I’ve done as well as I possibly could.

Don’t judge. Teach. It’s a learning process.

Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better?

What can we learn from a man who lived 2000 years ago? It’s a lot!

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor and philosopher two thousand years ago. Every day he had to meet with endless people with different background and ambitious. He had to make the toughest decisions as an emperor. Imagine how a human being can cope with cruel life.

Marcus wrote down his thoughts about how to live a good life in his diary, Meditations. Most of these thoughts are organized as short sentences each. So it could be easy to read and hard to comprehend at the same time.

Some quotes that inspire deep thinking:

You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.

Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.

Life is opinion.

When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?

Everything — a horse, a vine — is created for some duty… For what task, then, were you yourself created?

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