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My Best Books Read in 2020

I do a lot of reading - not as much as I would like, but more than most. As we begin 2021, I wanted to share the best books I read last year. (Note: it doesn't mean the book was published in 2020, just that is when I read it). These are in no particular order, but they all have had a significant impact on my professional life.

  • Educated by Tara Westover This isn't technically a business book, but I included it because it significantly impacted the way I thought about learning and development. One thing that struck me was that a girl with no formal education and parents who were not supportive was able to get such a significant education. She taught herself enough to get a 27 on the ACT (the average ACT score in 2017 was 21). This confirmed my belief that we need to completely rethink the way people learn not only during school, but as they progress in their profession. You'll be hearing me talk a lot more about that in the future. The story is amazing, the writing excellent, and the ideas thought provoking.

  • No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer Netflix isn't a normal place to work, that much is clear. In fact, I doubt whether I could flourish there after reading this book. What made it so interesting was the fact that Hastings is very clear that he wouldn't create this type of culture if he were in another business. He constantly learns and adapts. They aren't idealistic and think "our way is the way of the future". The ideas make sense when you put them in context of the company. Do I think some of the Netflix practices should be more widespread? Yes, but not all. What should be everywhere is the executives taking such a keen awareness of the culture and actively working to create the culture to make the company successful.

  • Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire by Rebecca Henderson I personally believe that capitalism is broken. However, I think the answer is to fix it, not toss it out. This book discusses the issue and the obstacles with this. It focuses a lot on business and their responsibility to climate change (which is obviously a passion of the author), but talks about the answers in a more generic way. This book isn't the blueprint for success, but it asks the right questions and presents the right information to get the conversation started. Read it and critically look at your role in capitalism - are you part of the issue or are you looking for answers.

  • Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer This book was published in 2018, but became even more relevant in a pandemic world. One of the biggest lesson that companies learned was that getting the best of your employees means focusing on their physical health as well as their mental health. Everyone was stressed this year more than ever - so businesses recognized the need to move beyond the basics. I've read studies that show that the best companies will go even further in terms of employee engagement. Reading this book and learning the basics and data of the toll work takes on all of us is a great way to start the conversation. For the record, I think some of the conclusions are questionable - the calculations for how much mental health issues are costing a company are probably directionally correct, but some of the ideas that went into it seem like a stretch.

  • Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum Again, not a business book, but one to which business leaders should pay attention. One huge change is the amount of participation in the social world that businesses take today. They don't consider politics and social issues as separate from the business, but part of it. In that regard, business leaders need to be cognizant of the political and social issues that are impacting the workforce and the market. Mrs. Applebaum's book did not provide me with a lot of optimism about the future, but everything she described made sense. Business leaders can either take heed to make sure capitalism and democracy don't end, or suffer the consequences.

  • You Negotiate Like a Girl: Reflectioins on a Career in the National Football League by Amy Trask I'll admit, I'm a huge fan of Amy Trask. If you don't follow here on Twitter, you are missing some of the most fun and uplifting content on the site. She describes what it was like to be a woman, many times the only woman, in the upper management ranks of the NFL. They way she describes her relationship with Al Davis is enlightening. I admit that I never appreciated his style (and still don't in many ways), but Mrs. Trask was able to show something that I think all leaders need to know - she always knew where she stood and she always knew that she was appreciated as a human being. How many employees can say that?

  • Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke Making decisions isn't hard. Making good decisions is extremely hard. Mrs. Duke talks about decision-making from the position of a poker player, but the concepts still apply. The biggest lesson is one that I harp on consistently - don't determine if a decision was good or bad based on the result. Doing that will lead you to make bad decisions.

  • The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek Simon Sinek has been a staple of mine for years - he writes great books that are thought provoking. This is one of his best. He believes that businesses have been thinking about things all wrong. Their decisions and processes are not based on the end of the game (where you can clearly define a winner or loser), but on realizing that the game never ends (if you are lucky). This means you shouldn't be thinking about this quarter, this project, or this fiscal year - but understanding that everything goes beyond that. In other words, the project may end, but the business goes on. Did you make decisions that are best for the business in the long run, or did you myopically focus only on the end of the project.

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