The Uber-List of the “Top 200 Books of All Time”

Last year I decided to put together an uber-list of the “best books of all time.” I pored over lists from ten websites who catalogued their “Top 100 Books” (you can find the sources at the bottom of this post). From those compilations, I cobbled together my own list to serve as my proverbial Everest to climb in the years to come.

Although I love business and leadership books, there’s something special about classic literature. As I put this list together, I realized I’ve been missing out on a lot of incredible literature. I didn’t even know some of the authors names (Albert Camus, Philip Roth, Evelyn Waugh, etc.), despite the fact that numerous sources put two or three of these authors’ books in their best books lists!

For the past year, I’ve been tracking my reading progress for this list in a paper notebook. After I mentioned the list in a recent email newsletter, a reader asked me to publish the list on my site, so here it is!

My list is alphabetized by the author’s last name. Books I’ve read are denoted with the “⊗” symbol. I’ll keep this page updated with my progress toward this reading goal, as I still have a LOT of work to do.

If you’re interested, share a comment at the bottom with the # of books you’ve tackled.

My Current Progress: 38 / 200
Last Updated: 1/21/2018

  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  4. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  5. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
  6. Money by Martin Amis
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood ⊗
  8. Emma by Jane Austen
  9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  10. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  11. The Black Sheep by Honoré de Balzac
  12. Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
  13. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
  14. Herzog by Saul Bellow
  15. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  16. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury ⊗
  17. The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch
  18. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  19. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  20. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
  21. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  22. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan ⊗
  23. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  24. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino ⊗
  25. The Plague by Albert Camus
  26. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  27. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  28. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
  29. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
  30. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ⊗
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  32. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  33. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  34. Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
  35. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie ⊗
  36. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho ⊗
  37. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  38. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  39. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  40. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
  41. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl ⊗
  42. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  43. Underworld by Don DeLillo
  44. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  45. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  46. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens ⊗
  47. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  48. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens ⊗
  49. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
  50. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  51. Deliverance by James Dickey
  52. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli
  53. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  54. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky ⊗
  55. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  56. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  57. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
  58. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas ⊗
  59. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  60. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  61. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
  62. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  63. L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
  64. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
  65. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  66. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  67. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
  68. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald ⊗
  69. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  70. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  71. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  72. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  73. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  74. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  75. Neuromancer by William Gibson
  76. Lord of the Flies by William Golding ⊗
  77. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  78. The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
  79. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  80. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
  81. The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith
  82. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  83. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
  84. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  85. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  86. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne ⊗
  87. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller ⊗
  88. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  89. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
  90. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  91. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  92. Dune by Frank Herbert
  93. The Iliad by Homer
  94. The Odyssey by Homer
  95. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  96. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  97. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  98. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  99. The Ambassadors by Henry James
  100. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  101. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  102. Dubliners by James Joyce
  103. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
  104. Ulysses by James Joyce
  105. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  106. The Trial by Franz Kafka ⊗
  107. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  108. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey ⊗
  109. It by Stephen King ⊗
  110. The Stand by Stephen King ⊗
  111. The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
  112. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee ⊗
  113. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle ⊗
  114. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  115. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis ⊗
  116. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  117. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
  118. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli ⊗
  119. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
  120. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
  121. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  122. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCallers
  123. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  124. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  125. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  126. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
  127. Paradise Lost by John Milton
  128. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  129. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
  130. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  131. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  132. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  133. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  134. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
  135. 1984 by George Orwell ⊗
  136. Animal Farm by George Orwell ⊗
  137. U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos
  138. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  139. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock
  140. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
  141. Republic by Plato
  142. The Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe by Edgar Allen Poe
  143. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  144. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
  145. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  146. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  147. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque
  148. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
  149. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  150. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  151. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
  152. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling ⊗
  153. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  154. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  155. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger ⊗
  156. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
  157. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  158. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  159. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  160. East of Eden by John Steinbeck ⊗
  161. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  162. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  163. The Red and the Black by Stendhal
  164. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  165. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson ⊗
  166. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson ⊗
  167. Dracula by Bram Stoker ⊗
  168. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
  169. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  170. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  171. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  172. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  173. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien ⊗
  174. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  175. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  176. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  177. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  178. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  179. The Art of War by Sun Tzu ⊗
  180. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  181. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne ⊗
  182. The Aeneid by Virgil
  183. Candide by Voltaire ⊗
  184. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  185. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  186. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
  187. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
  188. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
  189. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
  190. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  191. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  192. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
  193. Charlotte’s Web by EB White ⊗
  194. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  195. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde ⊗
  196. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  197. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  198. Native Son by Richard Wright
  199. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
  200. One Thousand and One Nights by (Anon)

 

Sources: Time Magazine’s “All-Time 100 Novels” (2005)The Guardian’s “100 Best Novels Written in English” (2015)TheGreatestBooks.orgThe Guardian’s “100 Greatest Novels of All Time” (2003)The Telegraph’s “100 Novels Everyone Should Read”GreatBooksGuide.comBook Depository’s “Best Books Ever”Ranker’s “Best Novels Ever Written”Joel Patrick’s “100 Books to Read Before You Die”Modern Library’s “100 Best Novels”

How many have you read? Leave a comment!

2017 Year in Review

2017 Book Survey

Book Survey Hosted by Perpetual Page Turner

# of Books Read: 75
# of Pages Read: 25,322
# of Re-Reads: 8
Genre Read The Most: Business/Leadership

Best in Books

Note: The survey is for books read throughout the year, no matter when they were published. It is not limited to books that came out in 2017.

1. Best Book You Read in 2017?

Nonfiction: Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday
This book is incredible. It motivated me to write more and strive to create work that will last for decades. This year Holiday became one of my favorite authors, and this book is one of the reasons why.


Fiction: Red Rising by Pierce Brown
I can confidently say the Red Rising trilogy is one of the best series I’ve ever read. I had been looking for another series to fill the void left after finishing books like Harry Potter, The Maze Runner, and The Hunger Games. Well, this one did the trick! Brown is actually releasing a fourth book on Jan. 16th, 2018. I already pre-ordered my copy and I can’t wait to read it!

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going to Love More But Didn’t?

Focus by Daniel Goleman
Shockingly, this book lacked focus. Goleman wandered through dozens of disjointed topics and struggled to assemble a cohesive argument. I was quite disappointed.

3. Most Surprising (in a Good Way or Bad Way) Book You Read?  

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Although included in many “Top 100 Books of All Time” lists, this book was surprisingly bad. I had heard about Catch-22 for years, but never read it. This year, a few friends and I decided to read it together. I was the only one who finished it, and that was only through raw willpower. Heller’s writing oozes sarcasm, but that didn’t bother me as much as the unnecessary repetition. The book is about four times longer than it should be due to repetition of the same jokes and stories. Apparently, a lot of people out there enjoy this book, but I’m not one of them.

4. Book You “Pushed” the Most People to Read (and They Did)?

Principles by Ray Dalio
I love Dalio’s insistence that the only way to build a great business is by encouraging smart, independent thinkers to disagree with each other. Several friends checked out this book based upon my recommendation, and they also enjoyed the book.

5. Best Series You Started in 2017? 

The Red Rising series by Pierce Brown

6. Favorite New Author You Discovered in 2017?

Susan Scott
I loved her book Fierce Conversations. Now I need to read Scott’s other book Fierce Leadership. 

7. Best Book from a Genre You Don’t Typically Read/Was Out of Your Comfort Zone?

The Two Towers (LOTR #2) by J.R.R. Tolkien
I don’t read many fantasy books. The mythical, long names of places and characters don’t whet my appetite. However, I knew I had to make an exception for one of the most epic series of all time: The Lord of the Rings. I read The Fellowship last year and knocked out the other two books this year. The books surpassed my expectations.

8. Most Action-Packed/Thrilling/Unputdownable Book of the Year?

It by Stephen King
King is my favorite fiction writer. And It is one of his best works. To me, this book surpasses The ShiningThe Stand, and Carrie.

Pennywise the Clown

9. Book You Read in 2017 That You Are Most Likely to Re-Read Next Year?

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
A friend recommended this book to me, and it quickly became one of my favorite books on communication. I’ll definitely revisit this book soon.

10. Favorite Cover of a Book You Read in 2017?

Principles by Ray Dalio

Principles - Book Cover Spine

11. Most Memorable Character of 2017?

Dracula from Bram Stoker’s iconic novel
Stoker creatively tells the entire story through journal entries from various characters and newspaper clippings that explain local reactions to the vampiric incidents. The character of Dracula is mysterious and horrifying. He is the perfect villain.

12. Most Beautifully Written Book Read in 2017?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Alchemist follows the story of a young shepherd boy who yearns to travel the world and become rich. The lessons he learns on his journey show him that he may very well be focused on the wrong things in life. Coelho’s book is inspiring, magical, and well-written. Check it out!

13. Most Thought-Provoking/Life-Changing Book of 2017?

Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
This book changed the way I view conversations. My biggest takeaway was that no one can make you feel something. Others’ actions can be the catalysts of our emotions, but we need to own the emotion and recognize that we can choose how to respond to any given situation.

14. Book You Can’t Believe You Waited UNTIL 2017 to Finally Read? 

Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen
Despite a couple recommendations from friends these past few years, I never prioritized Great by Choice in my reading list. That was a mistake. The book turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year. Collins delivers his typical brilliance, and Hansen proves to be a promising up-and-comer in the business book scene.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From a Book You Read in 2017?

From The Legacy of Steve Jobs by Fortune Magazine
“True to form, the shepherd to his Apple flock often teaches in parables. One such lesson could be called ‘The Difference Between the Janitor and the Vice President,’ and it’s a sermon Jobs delivers every time an executive reaches the VP level. Jobs imagines his garbage regularly not being emptied in his office, and when he asks the janitor why, he gets an excuse: The locks have been changed, and the janitor doesn’t have a key. This is an acceptable excuse coming from someone who empties trash bins for a living. The janitor gets to explain why something went wrong. ‘When you’re the janitor,’ Jobs has repeatedly told incoming VPs, ‘reasons matter.’ He continues: ‘Somewhere between the janitor and the CEO, reasons stop mattering.’ That ‘Rubicon,’ he has said, ‘is crossed when you become a VP.’”

Steve Jobs - Passion for What You Are Doing

From The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
“Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe…Two rules of effectiveness: (1) Doing something unimportant well does not make it important. (2) Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.

16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read in 2017?

Shortest: Designed to Go the Distance by Mitch Dowell (102 pages)
Longest: It by Stephen King (1,116 pages)

17. Book That Shocked You the Most?

The Four by Scott Galloway
Two things shocked me in this book:
(1) The sheer size of Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook (“the Four”) as described by Galloway. He shares a boatload of facts that elucidate why we should fear the size of these tech titans.
(2) Galloway’s vitriol toward “the Four” is unmatched. I was surprised at his level of distain for these four companies. Proponents of “the Four” say these companies have “played the game” of capitalism better than any others in the market. Galloway leads the tribe of dissenters who believe these companies are stifling competition and ruining business. Like most things, the truth probably lives somewhere between the two extremes.

The Four Companies

18. Favorite Book You Read in 2017 from an Author You’ve Read Previously?

Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

19. Best Book You Read in 2017 that You Read Based SOLELY on a Recommendation from Somebody Else?

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

20. Best 2017 Debut You Read?

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Knight’s first foray into authorship produced one of my favorite books of the year. The Nike co-founder shares the struggles he faced when starting the iconic sports apparel company, including almost losing his company.

21. Best World-Building/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Yup, Red Rising takes home another award. I can’t wait until this book is turned into a movie. The film version has been in the works for a while, but supposedly the production team is taking time to do justice to the world Brown created in the book. Brown is writing the screenplay and assisting on the movie.

22. Book that Put a Smile on Your Face/Was the Most FUN to Read?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Almost everyone has seen the movie (the old or new version), but few people I know have read the book. Reading the book gave me the chance to experience the joy anew when Charlie unwrapped the chocolate bar containing that glorious golden ticket.

Willy Wonka123. Book That Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2017?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

24. Hidden Gem of The Year?

The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
I am a huge fan of Chip and Dan Heath; I’ve read every one of their books. Despite not hearing much press about this book, I bought it on the strength of their past works. The Power of Moments dives into the science of memories: how they’re created, why we remember certain things rather than others, and what we can do to make events more memorable. This book is fascinating.

25. Most Unique Book You Read in 2017?

Deep Thinking by Garry Kasparov
Growing up, chess was my favorite hobby. I played for hours every day, “wrote” my own chess book (which was actually just a compilation of a bunch of chess openings I had read in other books), and was fortunate enough to win the state chess championship. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was one of my idols.

In Deep Thinking, Kasparov shares what was going through his mind when he faced the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue in the “man vs. machine” matches of 1996 and 1997. For those of you who think a book about a chess match would be horribly boring, you are quite mistaken. Kasparov uses the match as a springboard to discuss the development of AI and articulate the ways computers “think” differently than humans.

Kasparov vs Deep Blue

Looking Ahead

1. One Book You Didn’t Get to in 2017 But Will Be Your Top Priority in 2018?

The Upstarts by Brad Stone
Stone’s earlier book The Everything Store told the story of Jeff Bezos creating Amazon, forever changing the world of retail. Stone’s new book The Upstarts focuses on the new disrupters in business: Uber and Airbnb.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating in 2018 (Non-Debut)?

Skin in the Game by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – Release Date: Feb 27, 2018
Taleb’s books are some of my favorites: Fooled by RandomnessThe Black Swan, and Antifragile. His works are always dense, yet incredibly thought-provoking. I’m sure this one will become another fast favorite.

Skin in the Game Book Cover

3. 2018 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke – Release Date: Feb 6, 2018
Poker champion Annie Duke has written a few books, so this book isn’t strictly her “debut” as an author. However, her other books have been about poker, while this book marks her debut into business writing. In this new book, Duke will share how she’s learned to become comfortable making decisions amidst uncertainty.

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2018?

Iron Gold by Pierce Brown – Release Date: Jan 16, 2018

5. One Thing You Hope to Accomplish or Do in Your Reading/Blogging Life in 2018?

I just launched a monthly email newsletter. I will be investing a lot of time in that new endeavor in 2018. If you’re in the market for book recommendations, inspiring quotes, and other brain food, you can sign up here: Sign me up!

 

What were your favorite books from 2017? Leave a comment on this post with your thoughts!

Review: “Great by Choice”

Book Review
Book: Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
Jim Collins is the preeminent business mind of our generation. He brought us the business classics Built to Last and Good to Great–two works arguably referenced more than any other business books of the past two decades. His newer book Great by Choice adds to his collection of impressive work. Like his other books, Great by Choice is based upon years of research behind what makes companies successful. Unlike his other books, this one focuses on companies in extremely volatile industries. Collins teams up with UC Berkeley professor Morten Hansen to explain why some companies achieve “10X” results that set them apart from their peers who experienced similar business conditions and “luck.” 
Filled with a dozen new helpful terms to explain complex business principles (think “BHAG” and “Level 5 Leadership” from Collins’ earlier works), Great by Choice is an amazing reference for both new and seasoned business readers.

Takeaways from the Book

The Research Process

  • Collins and Hansen set out to answer the central question: “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”
  • “In this study, unlike any of the previous research, we selected cases not just on performance or stature but also on the extremity of the environment.”
  • Collins and Hansen whittled down an initial list of 20,400 companies to 7 companies that consistently surpassed the overall market and their especially turbulent industries over a period of 15+ years.
  • They compared these “10X cases” against “comparison cases” in the same industry. The 10X cases beat their industry index by at least ten times.

The 10X Cases

  • Amgen (compared against Genentech)
  • Biomet (compared against Kirschner)
  • Intel (compared against AMD)
  • Microsoft (compared against Apple)
    • Sidenote: This 10X case surprised me, and I’m sure it will surprise many of you as well. Collins and Hansen look at Microsoft’s performance during the Steve Jobs “wilderness years” when Apple sailed rudderless and lost sight of Jobs’ and Wozniak’s original vision and values. Microsoft flourished during that time.
  • Progressive Insurance (compared against Safeco)
  • Southwest Airlines (compared against PSA)
  • Stryker (compared against USSC)

10Xers

  • Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen led the first successful expedition to the South Pole. His foresight and diligence not only led his men to success, but also to safety. During the same time as Amundsen’s voyage, Captain Robert F. Scott led a separate expedition with the hope of beating Amundsen to the South Pole. Unfortunately, Scott’s lack of preparation and questionable decisions resulted in his own death and the death of all his men during the expedition.* Throughout the book Great by Choice, Collins and Hansen use Amundsen as an analogy for 10X companies.
    • *Note: Historians debate whether Scott truly bumbled the expedition or whether truly uncontrollable factors decided his fate. I won’t opine on which story is more accurate, as I don’t know. Collins and Hansen’s point is that everyone is dealt windfalls of good luck and pitfalls of bad luck. Preparation can sometimes neutralize bad luck, and it’s clear that Amundsen was extraordinarily prepared for his voyage.
  • “[Amundsen] designed the entire journey to systematically reduce the role of big forces and chance events by vigorously embracing the possibility of those very same big forces and chance events. He presumed bad events might strike his team somewhere along the journey and he prepared for them, even developing contingency plans so that the team could go on should something unfortunate happen to him along the way.”
  • “On the one hand, 10Xers understand that they face continuous uncertainty and that they cannot control, and cannot accurately predict, significant aspects of the world around them. On the other hand, 10Xers reject the idea that forces outside their control or chance events will determine their results; they accept full responsibility for their own fate.”
  • 10Xers exhibit “a triad a core behaviors: fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia. Animating these three core behaviors is a central motivating force, Level 5 ambition.”
  • “10Xers channel their ego and intensity into something larger and more enduring than themselves. They’re ambitious, to be sure, but for a purpose beyond themselves, be it building a great company, changing the world, or achieving some great object that’s ultimately not about them.”

20 Mile March

  • During Amundsen’s journey, he and his men faced many days of good weather and many days of bad weather. Rather than trekking long distances in good weather and making little or no progress in bad weather, Amundsen decided to trek a reliable distance of roughly 20 miles per day. His “20 Mile March” is a perfect example of the persistence needed to achieve success in any realm, including business.
  • “Throughout the journey, Amundsen adhered to a regimen of consistent progress, never going too far in good weather, careful to stay far away from the red line of exhaustion that could leave his team exposed, yet pressing ahead in nasty weather to stay on pace. Amundsen throttled back his well-tuned team to travel between 15 and 20 miles per day, in a relentless march to 90 degrees South. When a member of Amundsen’s team suggested they could go faster, up to 25 miles a day, Amundsen said no. They needed to rest and sleep so as to continually replenish their energy.”
  • “Victory awaits him who has everything in order–luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” -Roald Amundsen
  • “The 20 Mile March is more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track. The 20 Mile March creates two types of self-imposed discomfort: (1) the discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions, and (2) the discomfort of holding back in good conditions.”
  • “Accomplishing a 20 Mile March, consistently, in good times and bad, builds confidence. Tangible achievement in the face of adversity reinforces the 10X perspective: we are ultimately responsible for improving performance. We never blame circumstance; we never blame the environment.”
  • “The 20 Mile March was a distinguishing factor, to an overwhelming degree, between the 10X companies and the comparison companies in our research.”

Fire Bullets, then Cannonballs

  • “First, you fire bullets to figure out what’ll work. Then once you have empirical confidence based on the bullets, you concentrate your resources and fire a cannonball. After the cannonball hits, you keep 20 Mile Marching to make the most of your big success.”
  • “Retrospective accounts tend to focus on only the big cannonballs, giving the false impression that 10X achievements come to those with the guts to go always for the big bet, the huge cannonball. But the historical research evidence presents a different story, a story of dozens of small bullets that thumped into the dirt, punctuated by a handful of cannonballs that smashed into their targets.”
  • “10Xers appear to have no better ability to predict impending changes and events than the comparisons. They aren’t visionary geniuses; they’re empiricists.”

Leading Above the Death Line

  • “10Xers remain productively paranoid in good times, recognizing that it’s what they do before the storm comes that matters most. Since it’s impossible to consistently predict specific disruptive events, they systematically build buffers and shock absorbers for dealing with unexpected events. They put in place their extra oxygen canisters long before they’re hit with a storm.”
  • “When a calamitous event clobbers an industry or the overall economy, companies fall into one of three categories: those that pull ahead, those that fall behind, and those that die. The disruption itself does not determine your category. You do.”
  • “We will all face moments when the quality of our performance matters much more than other moments, moments that we can seize or squander. 10Xers prepare for those moments, recognize those moments, grab those moments, upend their lives in those moments, and deliver their best in those moments. They respond to unequal times with unequal intensity, when it matters most.”

SMaC

  • “A SMaC recipe is a set of durable operating practices that create a replicable and consistent success formula. The word ‘SMaC’ stands for Specific, Measurable, and Consistent…SMaC practices can last for decades and apply across a wide range of circumstances.”
  • “When faced with declining results, 10Xers do not first assume that their principles and methods have become obsolete. Rather, they first consider whether the enterprise has perhaps strayed from its recipe, or has forgone discipline and rigor in adhering to the recipe.”
  • “If you really want to become mediocre or get yourself killed in a turbulent environment, you want to be changing, morphing, leaping, and transforming yourself all the time and in reaction to everything that hits you. We’ve found in all our research studies that the signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”
  • “Changes to a solid and proven SMaC recipe are like amendments to the Constitution: if you get the recipe right, based on practical insight and empirical validation, it should serve you well for a very long time; equally important, fundamental changes must be possible. Continually question and challenge your recipe, but change it rarely.
  • “Far more difficult than implementing change is figuring out what works, understanding why it works, grasping when to change, and knowing when not to.”

Return on Luck

  • “The real difference between the 10X and comparison cases wasn’t luck per se but what they did with the luck they got. Adding up all the evidence, we found that the 10X cases were not generally luckier than the comparison cases. The 10X cases and the comparisons both got luck, good and bad, in comparable amounts. The evidence leads us to conclude that luck does not cause 10X success. People do. The critical question is not ‘Are you lucky?’ but ‘Do you get a high return on luck?’”
  • “Getting a high return on luck requires throwing yourself at the luck event with ferocious intensity, disrupting your life, and not letting up.”
  • “Goals live on the other side of obstacles and challenges. Along the way, make no excuses and place no blame.” -Ray Bourque
  • “We all get bad luck. The question is how to use that bad luck to make us stronger, to turn it into ‘one of the best things that ever happened,’ to not let it become a psychological prison. And that’s precisely what 10Xers do.”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Into Thin Air
by John Krakauer

Other notable books by the authors:
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras
How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins
Collaboration by Morten Hansen
Great at Work by Morten Hansen (coming out in January 2018)

Review: “The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders”

Book Review
Book: The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders by Lee Colan and Julie Davis-Colan

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 7 of 10
I found The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders to be a useful guidebook for improving my own reliability and my team’s output. Like most of Lee Colan and Julie Davis-Colan’s books, The 5 Coaching Habits is a bite-sized read that can be easily consumed in a short plane ride from L.A. to San Fran. The authors don’t waste time with nauseating repetition; they succinctly communicate their thoughts to save time for the reader. My favorite takeaway was the authors’ assertion that a leader’s
 personal reliability is the strongest predictor of their team’s success.

Takeaways from the Book

Personal Reliability

  • “Your personal reliability has a disproportionate impact on your team’s reliability. You must be personally reliable before you can effectively coach your team to generate reliable results.”
  • Leadership is an inside job. It starts with your personal leadership traits, such as integrity, trust, competence, authenticity–all of which are aspects of personal reliability.”
  • “The most important question a leader should ask is, ‘How reliable am I?’”
  • Reliable people have a high say/do ratio. That’s the ratio of things you say you will do to the things you follow through on and do…Simply being aware of your say/do ratio can help change your behavior–improving your follow-through and more cautiously making promises.”
  • “When someone always follows through, it is impressive. It is the quickest way to build credibility and trust with others…However, most people tend to slip on their commitments because they overestimate their available free time, want to please others, have unclear priorities and lack guiding principles for when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to requests.”
  • “The key to being a great coach is being a good student. It all starts with you! If your team sees your thirst for and openness to learning, they will model the same behavior.”
  • “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” -Aesop
  • “To be personally reliable, avoid non-committal answers like ‘maybe.’ Be clear and direct. Redefine the term ‘polite’ by taking the long view. You might be appeasing the other party by saying ‘yes’ now, but you will ultimately disappoint them (and yourself) by overcommitting and possibly not delivering on your word. In today’s noncommittal and less reliable world, ‘yes’ has become the new ‘maybe.’ If your ‘yes’ really means ‘yes,’ you immediately vault into the top 5 percent of reliable people.”
  • “Speaking with specificity creates a sense of reliability and commitment. Ambiguity is the Achilles heel of reliability. Ambiguous language increases frustration and rework, but specific language boosts reliability.”
  • “Build reliability for others and yourself by using specific phrases like these:”
    • “Yes, I will do that for you.”
    • “I’m not sure, but I’ll give you a firm answer by noon tomorrow.”
    • “I will own this.”
    • “I will make time to get this done.”
    • “It will be done by Friday, March 18 at 2 p.m. Central Time.”

The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders

  1. Explain Expectations –> Leads to ALIGNMENT
  2. Ask Questions –> Leads to ENGAGEMENT
  3. Involve Team –> Leads to OWNERSHIP
  4. Measure Results –> Leads to ACCOUNTABILITY
  5. Appreciate People –> Leads to COMMITMENT

Explain Expectations

  • “The imperfect nature of human communication requires us to be more specific than we think we need to be. Lack of clear expectations is the most common reason for performance problems.”
  • “Like any aspect of leadership, gaining alignment does not just happen. It must be intentional. Our late friend and excellent leader Ron Rossetti liked to say, ‘Awesomeness is never accidental.’”
  • Four fundamental questions employees have regarding expectations:
    • “Where are we going?” (Goals)
    • “What are we doing to get there?” (Plans)
    • “How can I contribute?” (Roles)
    • “What’s in it for me?” (Rewards)

Ask Questions

  • “Excellent leaders prevent blind spots by making concerted efforts to keep in tune with the realities of their employees–listening for the truth. This is particularly important because the higher you are in an organization, the more filtered the information you receive.”
  • “He who talks the most loses.” -Andrew Levi
  • “By simply asking questions, your employees will reveal challenges and opportunities that could potentially take you months or years to identify.”
  • “Excellent leaders not only know the right questions to ask, but they also know how to patiently wait for an answer. They are comfortable with silence. If you are not comfortable with the silence, you will fill it with another question that leaves your original question unanswered and squelches engagement.”
  • “After asking an employee a question, your patience creates power. Resist the gravitational pull to fill the void. Your silence creates accountability for a response.

Involve Team

  • “Employees will exchange their involvement for ownership in the outcomes.”
  • “You can get just about anything in life you want if you help enough other people get what they want.” -Zig Ziglar

Measure Results

  • “Keeping score brings out our best because we inherently like to win…You can keep score on your revenue, profitability, customer satisfaction, quality, prospect pipeline, cost per sales, employee engagement, defects, inventory, call-center response time and so on…To keep it simple, measure only what matters most. Do not measure everything.”
  • You get the behaviors you are willing to tolerate. If you rank your team by performance level, your lowest performer is a public statement of the performance level you are willing to tolerate. That is what your team sees as your performance standard. Ignoring issues puts your team and your leadership credibility at risk.”

Appreciate People

  • “Unfortunately, the reality is that the lack of appreciation is the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs.”
  • “While we judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our actions. What is important is not how much you appreciate people, but rather how much you demonstrate that appreciation.”
  • “Look for things [employees] are doing well and reinforce it. For example, recognize positive movement or effort toward the goal. Demonstrate your appreciation for their approach, not just their results.”
  • “After interviewing 25,000 leaders, Ferdinand Fournies found the most effective leaders had one thing in common–they expressed a sincere interest in their employees.”
  • “Know your PEOPLE, not just your EMPLOYEES.”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell
The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

Other notable books by the authors:
Sticking to It: The Art of Adherence
The Nature of Excellence
7 Moments…That Define Excellent Leaders

Review: “Principles: Life and Work”

Book Review
Book: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio is one of the 100 richest men in the world, according to Forbes magazine. In Principles: Life and Work, Dalio shares the principles that have led to his success. Told with raw honesty and enlightening examples, Principles is a fascinating look at how Dalio has created the largest and most successful hedge fund in the world. You need only read the first few pages of Principles to discover the uniqueness of Dalio’s approach; he encourages readers to doubt everything, suggesting that radical open-mindedness is the best way to learn. He has built a culture of radical truth and transparency at Bridgewater that has created an “idea meritocracy” where the best ideas emerge after relentless debate between equals. Although the book is somewhat repetitive, I greatly enjoyed Dalio’s forthright personality and insights into how to become a more successful person, leader, and employee. You should definitely check out Principles.

Takeaways from the Book

The Power of Principles

  • “Without principles we would be forced to react to all the things life throws at us individually, as if we were experiencing each of them for the first time.”
  • “All successful people operate by principles that help them be successful, though what they choose to be successful at varies enormously, so their principles vary.”
  • “To be principled means to consistently operate with principles that can be clearly explained.”
  • “Using principles is a way of both simplifying and improving your decision making. While it might seem obvious to you by now, it’s worth repeating that realizing that almost all ‘cases at hand’ are just ‘another one of those,’ identifying which ‘one of those’ it is, and then applying well-thought-out principles for dealing with it. This will allow you to massively reduce the number of decisions you have to make (I estimate by a factor of something like 100,000) and will lead you to make much better ones. The key to doing this well is to:
    1. Slow down your thinking so you can note the criteria you are using to make your decision.
    2. Write the criteria down as a principle.
    3. Think about those criteria when you have an outcome to assess, and refine them before the next ‘one of those’ comes along.”

Learning Humility

  • “The most painful lesson that was repeatedly hammered home is that you can never be sure of anything: There are always risks out there that can hurt you badly, even in the seemingly safest bets, so it’s always best to assume you’re missing something.”
  • “Sincerely believe that you might not know the best possible path and recognize that your ability to deal well with ‘not knowing’ is more important than whatever it is you do know.”
  • “In retrospect, my crash was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it gave me the humility I needed to balance my aggressiveness. I learned a great fear of being wrong that shifted my mind-set from thinking ‘I’m right’ to asking myself ‘How do I know I’m right?’ And I saw clearly that the best way to answer this questions is by finding other independent thinkers who are on the same mission as me and who see things differently from me. By engaging them in thoughtful disagreement, I’d be able to understand their reasoning and have them stress-test mine. That way, we can all raise our probability of being right.”

Thoughtful Disagreement

  • “As you will see, we are simply a group of people who are striving be excellent at what we do and who recognize that we don’t know much relative to what we need to know. We believe that thoughtful, unemotional disagreement by independent thinkers can be converted in believability-weighted decision making that is smarter and more effective than the sum of its parts.”
  • “In other words, I just want to be right–I don’t care if the right answer comes from me. So I learned to be radically open-minded to allow others to point out what I might be missing. I saw that the only way I could succeed would be to:
    1. Seek out the smartest people who disagreed with me so I could try to understand their reasoning.
    2. Know when not to have an opinion.
    3. Develop, test, and systemize timeless and universal principles.
    4. Balance risks in ways that keep the big upside while reducing the downside.”
  • “I urge you to be curious enough to want to understand how the people who see things differently from you came to see them that way.”
  • “To be effective you must not let your need to be right be more important than your need to find out what’s true.”
  • “In thoughtful disagreement, your goal is not to convince the other party that you are right–it is to find out which view is true and decide what to do about it. In thoughtful disagreement, both parties are motivated by the genuine fear of missing important perspectives.”
  • “Remind yourself that it’s never harmful to at least hear an opposing point of view.”
  • “Being effective at thoughtful disagreement requires one to be open-minded (seeing things through the other’s eyes) and assertive (communicating clearly how things look through your eyes) and to flexibly process this information to create learning and adaptation.”
  • “Making suggestions and questioning are not the same as criticizing, so don’t treat them as if they are.”

Radical Truth

  • “To me a meaningful relationship is one that’s open and honest in a way that lets people be straight with each other. I never valued more traditional, antiseptic relationships where people put on a facade of politeness and don’t say what they really think…I spoke frankly, and I expected those around me to speak frankly…When I thought someone did something stupid, I said so and I expected them to tell me when I did something stupid. Each of us would be better for it. To me, that was what strong and productive relationships looked like. Operating any other way would be unproductive and unethical.”
  • “I learned that the more caring we gave each other, the tougher we could be on each other, and the tougher we were on each other, the better we performed and the more rewards there were for us to share.”

Introspection

  • “I have come to realize that bad times coupled with good reflections provide some of the best lessons, and not just about business but also about relationships.”
  • “Self-reflection is the quality that most differentiates those who evolve quickly from those who don’t. Remember: Pain + Reflection = Progress.”
  • “Create a culture in which it is okay to make mistakes and unacceptable not to learn from them.”
  • “It seems to me that if you look back on yourself a year ago and aren’t shocked by how stupid you were, you haven’t learned much.”
  • “Reflect and remind yourself that an accurate criticism is the most valuable feedback you can receive.”

Harnessing Pain to Drive Positive Change

  • “I came to understand that my encounters were tests of my character and creativity…In gaining this perspective, I began to experience painful moments in a radically different way. Instead of feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, I saw pain as nature’s reminder that there is something important for me to learn. Encountering pains and figuring out the lessons they were trying to give me became sort of a game to me.”
  • “In time, I realized that the satisfaction of success doesn’t come from achieving your goals, but from struggling well.”
  • “Regularly use pain as your guide toward quality reflection. Mental pain often comes from being too attached to an ida when a person or an event comes along to challenge it. This is especially true when what is being pointed out to you involves a weakness on your part.”

Embrace Reality and Deal with It

  • “Truth–or, more precisely, an accurate understanding of reality–is the essential foundation for any good outcome. Most people fight seeing what’s true when it’s not what they want it to be. That’s bad, because it is more important to understand and deal with the bad stuff since the good stuff will take care of itself.”
  • “You shouldn’t be upset if you find out that you’re bad at something–you should be happy that you found out, because knowing that and dealing with it will improve your chances of getting what you want. If you are disappointed because you can’t be the best person to do everything yourself, you are terribly naive.”
  • Ultimately, embracing reality comes down to five decisions:
    1. Don’t confuse what you wish were true with what is really true.
    2. Don’t worry about looking good–worry instead about achieving your goals.
    3. Don’t overweight first-order consequences relative to second- and third-order ones.
    4. Don’t let pain stand in the way of progress.
    5. Don’t blame bad outcomes on anyone but yourself.

Dalio’s 5 Step Process

  1. Have clear goals.
  2. Identify and don’t tolerate the problems that stand in the way of your achieving those goals.
  3. Accurately diagnose the problems to get at their root causes.
  4. Design plans that will get you around them.
  5. Do what’s necessary to push these designs through to results.

Other Thoughts

  • “Maturity is the ability to reject good alternatives in order to pursue even better ones.”
  • “Remember that great expectations create great capabilities. If you limit your goals to what you know you can achieve, you are setting the bar way too low.”
  • Idea Meritocracy = Radical Truth + Radical Transparency + Believability-Weighted Decision Making
  • “In the end, accuracy and kindness are the same thing. What might seem kind but isn’t accurate is harmful to the person and often to others in the organization as well.”
  • “Avoid the anonymous ‘we’ and ‘they,’ because they mask personal responsibility. Things don’t just happen by themselves–they happen because specific people did or didn’t do specific things. Don’t undermine personal accountability with vagueness…Someone created the procedure that went wrong or made the faulty decision. Glossing over that can only slow progress toward improvement.”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
Radical Candor by Kim Scott
The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Other notable books by the author:
(None)

Ray Dalio’s TED Talk – “How to Build a Company Where the Best Ideas Win”

Most Impactful Book Quotes – Q3 2017

Below you will find a series of quotes I have found particularly impactful over the past three months. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know what you think or share your own book quotes that have recently impacted you.

“When values are clear, decisions are easy.” -Roy Disney, mentioned in The Disney Way by Bill Capidagli and Lynn Jackson

“Not long ago, we were showing an executive from British Petroleum around Disney World. ‘What a pity that Walt Disney did not live to see this place,’ he remarked. ‘But he did see it,’ we said. ‘That’s why it’s here.’” -Bill Capidagli and Lynn Jackson, from The Disney Way

“In many ways, your job as the boss is to set and uphold a quality bar. That can feel harsh in the short term, but in the long run the only thing that is meaner is lowering the bar.” -Kim Scott, from Radical Candor

“The essence of leadership is not getting overwhelmed by circumstances.” -Kim Scott, from Radical Candor

“If you want the truth about what makes us different, it’s this: We are genuinely customer-centric, we are genuinely long-term oriented and we genuinely like to invent. Most companies are not those things. They are focused on the competitor, rather than the customer. They want to work on things that will pay dividends in two or three years, and if they don’t work in two or three years they will move on to something else. And they prefer to be close-followers rather than inventors, because it’s safer. So if you want to capture the truth about Amazon, that is why we are different. Very few companies have all of those three elements.” -Jeff Bezos, mentioned in The Everything Store by Brad Stone

“There are two kinds of retailers: there are those folks who work to figure how to charge more, and there are companies that work to figure how to charge less, and we are going to be the second, full-stop.” -Jeff Bezos, mentioned in The Everything Store by Brad Stone

“All leaders must have two things: they must have a vision of the world that does not exist and they must have the ability to communicate it.” -Simon Sinek, from Start with Why

“Great organizations become great because the people inside the organization feel protected. The strong sense of culture creates a sense of belonging and acts like a net. People come to work knowing that their bosses, colleagues and the organization as a whole will look out for them. This results in reciprocal behavior. Individual decisions, efforts and behaviors that support, benefit and protect the long-term interest of the organization as a whole.” -Simon Sinek, from Start with Why

“Effectiveness is doing the things that get you closer to your goals. Efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical manner possible. Being efficient without regard to effectiveness is the default mode of the universe…Two rules of effectiveness: (1) Doing something unimportant well does not make it important. (2) Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.” -Timothy Ferriss, from The 4-Hour Workweek

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” -Herbert Simon, mentioned in The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

“Most endeavors are like learning to speak a foreign language: to be correct 95% of the time requires six months of concentrated effort, whereas to be correct 98% of the time requires 20-30 years. Focus on great for a few things and good enough for the rest.” -Timothy Ferriss, from The 4-Hour Workweek

“I urge you to be curious enough to want to understand how the people who see things differently from you came to see them that way.” -Ray Dalio, from Principles: Life and Work

“In retrospect, my crash was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it gave me the humility I needed to balance my aggressiveness. I learned a great fear of being wrong that shifted my mind-set from thinking ‘I’m right’ to asking myself ‘How do I know I’m right?’ And I saw clearly that the best way to answer this questions is by finding other independent thinkers who are on the same mission as me and who see things differently from me. By engaging them in thoughtful disagreement, I’d be able to understand their reasoning and have them stress-test mine. That way, we can all raise our probability of being right.” -Ray Dalio, from Principles: Life and Work

“Self-reflection is the quality that most differentiates those who evolve quickly from those who don’t. Remember: Pain + Reflection = Progress.” -Ray Dalio, from Principles: Life and Work

“It seems to me that if you look back on yourself a year ago and aren’t shocked by how stupid you were, you haven’t learned much.” -Ray Dalio, from Principles: Life and Work

Review: “The Everything Store”

Book Review
Book: The Everything Store by Brad Stone

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
Amazon is arguably the most fascinating company in the world. In The Everything Store, journalist Brad Stone pulls back the curtain to reveal interesting details about the company’s founding and the customer obsession of its founder. You’ll learn what drives CEO Jeff Bezos and how he came to lead the largest online retailer–a company on track to be the world’s first trillion dollar enterprise. I love business profiles of top leaders and companies, and this is one of the best out there. I highly recommend this book.

Takeaways from the Book

Amazon’s Culture

  • “If you want the truth about what makes us different, it’s this: We are genuinely customer-centric, we are genuinely long-term oriented and we genuinely like to invent. Most companies are not those things. They are focused on the competitor, rather than the customer. They want to work on things that will pay dividends in two or three years, and if they don’t work in two or three years they will move on to something else. And they prefer to be close-followers rather than inventors, because it’s safer. So if you want to capture the truth about Amazon, that is why we are different. Very few companies have all of those three elements.” -Jeff Bezos
  • “We don’t make money when we sell things. We make money when we help customers make purchase decisions.” -Jeff Bezos
  • “[Bezos] gave Blue Origin (his space exploration company) a coat of arms and a Latin motto, Gradatim Ferociter, which translates to ‘Step by Step, Ferociously.’ The phrase accurately captures Amazon’s guiding philosophy as well. Steady progress toward seemingly impossible goals will win the day. Setbacks are temporary. Naysayers are best ignored.”
  • “Your job is to kill your own business. I want you to proceed as if your goal is to put everyone selling physical books out of a job.” -Jeff Bezos, to Steve Kessel when he put Kessel in charge of Amazon’s digital-media business.
    • “He believed that if Amazon didn’t lead the world into the age of digital reading, then Apple or Google would.”
    • “You are basically already late,” Bezos told Kessel.
  • “Amazon, Bezos said, was the unstore…Being an unstore meant, in Bezos’s view, that Amazon was not bound by the traditional rules of retail. It had limitless shelf space and personalized itself for every customer. It allowed negative reviews in addition to positive ones, and it places used products directly next to new ones so that customers could make informed choices. In Bezos’s eyes, Amazon offered both everyday low prices and great customer service. It was Walmart and Nordstrom’s. Being an unstore also meant that Amazon had to concern itself only with what was best for the customer.”
  • “Amazon’s culture is notoriously confrontational, and it begins with Bezos, who believes that truth springs forth when ideas and perspectives are banged against each other, sometimes violently.”
  • Amazon has 14 leadership principles. Watch the video below to learn more about those principles.

Amazon’s Hiring Practices

  • “Bezos felt that hiring only the best and brightest was key to Amazon’s success. For years he interviewed all potential hires himself and asked them for their SAT scores. ‘Every time we hire someone, he or she should raise the bar for the next hire, so that the overall talent pool is always improving,’ he said.”
  • “If the potential employees made the mistake of talking about wanting a harmonious balances between work and home life, Bezos rejected them.”
  • “Bar raisers at Amazon–the program still exists today–are designated employees who have proven themselves to be intuitive recruiters of talent…At least one anointed bar raiser would participate in every interview process and would have the power to veto a candidate who did not meet the goal of raising the company’s overall hiring bar. Even the hiring manager was unable to override a bar raiser’s veto.”

Characteristics of Jeff Bezos

  • Continuous Learner: “He went to school on everybody. I don’t think there was anybody Jeff knew that he didn’t walk away from with whatever lessons he could.” -Halsey Minor
  • Hard-Working: “Bezos seemed to love the idea of the nonstop workday; he kept a rolled-up sleeping bag in his office and some egg-crate foam on his windowsill in case he needed to bunk down for the night.”
  • Calm and Confident: “Through it all (failed acquisitions, multi-million dollar losses, failed investments in other companies), Bezos never showed anxiety or appeared to worry about the wild swings in public sentiment.” “I have never seen anyone so calm in the eye of a storm. Ice water runs through his veins.” -Mark Britto
  • Customer-Obsessed: “There are two kinds of retailers: there are those folks who work to figure how to charge more, and there are companies that work to figure how to charge less, and we are going to be the second, full-stop.” -Jeff Bezos
  • Technically-Minded: “Bezos had dreams of becoming an inventor like Thomas Edison, so his mother patiently shuttled him back and forth and back again to a local Radio Shack to buy parts for a succession of gadgets: homemade robots, hovercrafts, a solar-powered cooker, and devices to keep his siblings out of his room.”
  • Competitive: “Bezos’s high-school friends say he was ridiculously competitive. He collected awards for best science student at his school for three years and best math student for two, and he won a statewide science fair for an entry concerning the effects of a zero-gravity environment on the housefly. At some point, he announced to his classmates his intention to become the valedictorian of his 680-student class, and he crammed his schedule with honors courses to bolster his rank. ‘The race [for the rest of the students] then became to be number two,’ says Josh Weinstein. ‘Jeff decided he wanted it and he worked harder than anybody else.’”
  • Brilliant: “He had this unbelievable ability to be incredibly intelligent about things he had nothing to do with, and he was totally ruthless about communicating it.” -Bruce Jones, former Amazon VP
  • Clear and Consistent: “Jeff is very clear and simple about his goals, and the way he articulates them makes it easy for others, because it’s consistent.” -Danny Hillis, friend of Bezos

Bezos’s Vision

  • “There is so much stuff that has yet to be invented. There’s so much new that’s going to happen. People don’t have any idea yet how impactful the Internet is going to be that this is still Day 1 in such a big way.” -Jeff Bezos
  • “We still powered through (various e-reader setbacks) because Jeff is not deterred by short-term setbacks.” -Jeff Wilke, regarding Jeff Bezos
  • “You have to start somewhere. You climb the top of the first tiny hill and from there you see the next hill.” -Jeff Bezos

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
The Amazon Way by John Rossman
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

Other notable books by the author:
The Upstarts
Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports

Review: “Start with Why”

Book Review
Book: Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 10 of 10
I am so thankful I finally read this book. I had heard dozens of people talk about Start with Why, but I prioritized reading other books because I thought 
Simon Sinek’s TED talk (see link at the bottom of this post) likely captured all I needed to know about the book. I was wrong. This book is definitely worth a thoughtful read, and I will likely re-read it several times in the coming years. Sinek cuts to the core of why certain companies and leaders are successful. It all comes down to their ability to define the WHY behind their actions and align all marketing efforts and communication with that WHY. This is an incredible book for marketers, leaders, and anyone looker for a deeper sense of purpose in their work.

Takeaways from the Book

Manipulation Does Not Create Loyalty

  • “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”
  • “Typical manipulations include: dropping the price; running a promotion; using fear, peer pressure or aspirational messages; and promising innovation to influence behavior–be it a purchase, a vote or support.”
  • “Selling based on price is like heroin. The short-term gain is fantastic, but the more you do it, the harder it becomes to kick the habit.”
  • “I cannot dispute that manipulations work…But there are trade-offs. Not a single one of them breeds loyalty. Over the course of time, they cost more and more. The gains are only short-term.”
  • “Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.”

The Golden Circle (WHY -> HOW -> WHAT)

  • “The Golden Circle shows how these leaders were able to inspire action instead of manipulating people to act…When you start with WHY, those who believe what you believe are drawn to you for very personal reasons.”
  • “Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to make money–that’s a result. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”
  • “It’s not WHAT Apple does that distinguishes them. It is WHY they do it. Their products give life to their cause…Apple’s WHY, to challenge the status quo and to empower the individual, is a pattern in that it repeats in all they say and do.”
  • “What authenticity means is that your Golden Circle is in balance. It means that everything you say and everything you do you actually believe.”
  • “It is a false assumption that differentiation happens in HOW and WHAT you do…Differentiation happens in WHY and HOW you do it.”
  • “Your role in the process is to be crystal clear about what purpose, cause or belief you exist to champion, and to show how your products and services help advance that cause. Absent a WHY, new ideas and technologies quickly find themselves playing the price-and-feature game–a sure sign of an absence of WHY and a slide into commodity status.”
  • “With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder. A WHY provides the clear filter for decision-making.”
  • “[Marketing is] just one of the things I’ve done–it’s not my passion and it’s not how I define my life. My cause–to inspire people to do the things that inspire them–is WHY I get out of bed every day. The excitement is trying to find new ways, different WHATs to bring my cause to life, of which this book is one. Regardless of WHAT we do in our lives, our WHY–our driving purpose, cause or belief–never changes. If our Golden Circle is in balance, WHAT we do is simply the tangible way we find to breathe life into that cause.”

Charisma and Finding Your Why

  • “Charisma is hard to define, near impossible to measure and too elusive to copy. All great leaders have charisma because all great leaders have clarity of WHY; an undying belief in a purpose or cause bigger than themselves.”
  • “Charisma has nothing to do with energy; it comes from a clarity of WHY. It comes from absolute conviction in an ideal bigger than oneself. Energy, in contrast, comes from a good night’s sleep or lots of caffeine. Energy can excite. But only charisma can inspire. Charisma commands loyalty. Energy does not.”
  • “Most organizations today use very clear metrics to track the progress and growth of WHAT they do–usually it’s money. Unfortunately, we have very poor measurements to ensure that a WHY stays clear.”

Logos vs. Symbols

  • “Most companies have logos, but few have been able to convert those logos into meaningful symbols. Because most companies are bad at communicating what they believe, so it follows that most logos are devoid of any meaning. At best they serve as icons to identify a company and its products. A symbol cannot have any deep meaning until we know WHY it exists in terms bigger than simply to identify the company. Without clarity of WHY, a logo is just a logo.”
  • “For a logo to become a symbol, people must be inspired to use that logo to say something about who they are.”
  • “Symbols are any tangible representation of a clear set of values and beliefs.”

Leadership

  • “Great organizations become great because the people inside the organization feel protected. The strong sense of culture creates a sense of belonging and acts like a net. People come to work knowing that their bosses, colleagues and the organization as a whole will look out for them. This results in reciprocal behavior. Individual decisions, efforts and behaviors that support, benefit and protect the long-term interest of the organization as a whole.”
  • “All leaders must have two things: they must have a vision of the world that does not exist and they must have the ability to communicate it.”
  • “Leaders achieve very little by themselves; they inspire people to come together for the good of the group. Leaders never start with what needs to be done. Leaders start with WHY we need to do things. Leaders inspire action.”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
Find Your Why by Simon Sinek
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Other notable books by the author:
Find Your Why
Leaders Eat Last
Together is Better

Simon Sinek’s TED Talk – “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”

Review: “The Power of Positive Leadership”

Book Review
Book: The Power of Positive Leadership by Jon Gordon

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 8 of 10
Every leader has dealt with negativity on their team and knows that it can be tempting to give in to negative emotions. The best leaders rise above that temptation and continue to lead with positivity and enthusiasm in the face of difficulty. In The Power of Positive Leadership, Jon Gordon shares his thoughts on why it’s so crucial to remain positive. I desperately hoped this book would offer enough “meat” and offer real content rather than “pie in the sky” aphorisms. Gordon delivered. Thankfully, this book is nothing like the 1950s book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. My apologies to those of you who loved Peale’s book, but I thought it was loaded with pithy sayings rather than substance. If you want a book of substantive information about positivity, check out Gordon’s book The Power of Positive Leadership. I also recommend The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

Takeaways from the Book

The Importance of Positivity

  • “One positive leader will inspire many others to become positive leaders as well.”
  • “Throughout history we see that it’s the optimists, the believers, the dreamers, the doers, and the positive leaders who change the world.”
  • “As a leader your attitude, energy, and leadership is contagious, and it has a big impact on your culture.”
  • “Our attitude helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because optimists believe in a positive future, they actually delude themselves into working more to make it possible. Their belief makes them willing to take actions to achieve it.”
  • “Gallup estimates that negativity costs the economy $250-$300 billion a year and affects the morale, performance, and productivity of teams.”
  • “The most important characteristic of a leader is optimism.” -Bob Iger

Dealing with Difficulty

  • “Greatness is never born from easy circumstances. We can become stronger when the world becomes harder.” -Erwin McManus
  • “The Gallup Organization did a study where they asked people to name the best and worst event of their lives. They found that there was an 80 percent correlation between the two events. Somehow the worst event of our lives often leads to the best, if we stay positive, stay the course, and keep moving forward.”
  • “There is always a way forward.”

Vision and Purpose

  • “When people know how they are contributing to a bigger vision and have a bigger purpose at work–and feel like their manager-leader-coach genuinely cares about them–the research shows that engagement soars.”
  • “Purpose fuels positivity and is the reason why you overcome all the challenges and keep moving forward. Purpose is why you wake up and want to transform your team and organization and change the world. Without a greater purpose, there’s no great desire. Every great organization must have a greater purpose for why they exist and every positive leader must be driven by purpose to lead others and make a greater impact.”
  • “People think that hard work is what makes us tired. Hard work doesn’t make us tired. A lack of purpose is what makes us tired.”
  • “Happiness isn’t an outside job. It’s an inside job. It doesn’t come from the work you do but rather the meaning and purpose you bring to your work.”
  • “As a positive leader you will want to carry a telescope and a microscope with you on your journey. The telescope helps you and your team keep your eyes on your vision, North Star, and big picture. The microscope helps you zoom-focus on the things you must do in the short term to realize the vision in your telescope. If you have only a telescope, then you’ll be thinking about your vision all the time and dreaming about the future but not taking the necessary steps to realize it. If you have only a microscope, then you’ll be working hard every day but set-backs and challenges will likely frustrate and discourage you because you’ll lose sight of the big picture. You need to frequently pull out your telescope to remind yourself and your team where you are going, and you’ll need to look through your microscope daily in order to focus on what matters most and follow through on your commitments. Together they will help you take your team and organization where you want to go.”

Weed Out the Negativity

  • “You are meant to define your circumstances…Remember that it’s never about the circumstance. It’s not the challenge, change, economy, election, adversity, or setback you are facing. It’s always your state of mind and your thinking that produces how you feel and respond. When you see that the world has no power over you, you will lead more powerfully in the world.”
  • “Positive leadership is not just about feeding the positive, but also about weeding out the negative. As a leader you must recognize that negativity exists and you can’t ignore it. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is that they ignore the negativity within their team and organization. They allow it to breed and grow, and it eventually sabotages the team and organization. You must address the negativity. Confront it, transform it, or remove it.”
  • “Every one of us will deal with negativity and naysayers on our journey. Not everyone will have the same vision as you. Not everyone will believe in your dreams. Not everyone will get on your bus. But to succeed, your positive energy must be greater than all the negativity.”
  • “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” -Gandhi

Tips for Leading

  • “Positive leaders are humble and hungry. They don’t think they know it all. They are life-long learners who are always seeking ways to learn, improve, and grow.”
  • “I also believe positive leaders and communicators rely on nonverbal communication. They encourage through nods, facial expressions, high-fives, handshakes, pats on the back, fist bumps, and even hugs when appropriate. Positive communication isn’t just verbal. It’s also physical.”
  • “Love is the greatest leadership principle on the planet…We are who we are because someone loved us and our team will be impacted by our love. Love is what separates good and great. Good teachers know their lesson plans. Great teachers know and love their students. Good coaches know X’s and O’s. Great coaches know and love their players. Good salespeople know how to sell. Great salespeople love their clients…If you want to build a great team, business, family, school, or organization, love the people you lead and work with.”
  • “Once you know what you stand for, decisions are easy to make. When your culture dictates your decisions, you are on the right path to positive results.”
  • “It’s important to remember that being a big-time leader starts with doing the little things to serve those you lead.”

Think you’d like this book? Purchase it from Amazon:

Other books you may enjoy:
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

Other notable books by the author:
The Energy Bus
You Win in the Locker Room First
The No Complaining Rule

Most Impactful Book Quotes – Q2 2017

Below you will find a series of quotes that I have found particularly impactful over the past three months. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know what you think or share your own book quotes that have impacted you recently.

“If you possess leadership responsibility in the workplace, you have an effect on the people you lead, every single day. You are a person of influence. Your attitudes, behaviors, choices, words and even facial expressions make a difference in people’s everyday lives.” -Bill Hybels, from Who You Are When No One Is Looking

“We need more people who love others with such devotion that they will risk their current comfort level in the relationship and say whatever needs to be said in order to protect the other person’s well-being.” -Bill Hybels, from Who You Are When No One Is Looking

“The paradox of listening is that by relinquishing power–the temporary power of speaking, asserting, knowing–we become more powerful.” -Amy Cuddy, from Presence

“People do not stop learning and improving because they have reached some innate limits on their performance; they stop learning and improving because, for whatever reasons, they stopped practicing–or never started. There is no evidence that any otherwise normal people are born without the innate talent to sing or do math or perform any other skill.” -Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, from Peak

“When people assume that talent plays a major, even determining, role in how accomplished a person can become, that assumption points one toward certain decisions and actions. If you assume that people who are not innately gifted are never going to be good at something, then the children who don’t excel at something right away are encouraged to try something else…The prophecy becomes self-fulfilling.” -Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, from Peak

“The creative, the restless, and the driven are not content with the status quo, and they look for ways to move forward, to do things that others have not. And once a pathfinder shows how something can be done, others can learn the technique and follow. Even if the pathfinder doesn’t share the particular technique…simply knowing that something is possible drives others to figure it out.” -Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, from Peak

“When you want to change things, you can’t please everyone. If you do please everyone, you aren’t making enough progress.” -Mark Zuckerberg, mentioned in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

“[Eric Schmidt] explained that only one criterion mattered when picking a job–fast growth. When companies grow quickly, there are more things to do than there are people to do them…He told me, ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on.’” -Sheryl Sandberg, from Lean In

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”-Harvard Business School Definition of Leadership, mentioned in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

“There’s a reason I devote so much energy to identifying interpersonal challenges in successful people. It’s because the higher you go, the more your problems are behavioral.” -Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“When somebody makes a suggestion or gives you ideas, you’re either going to learn more or learn nothing. But you’re not going to learn less. Hearing people out does not make you dumber. So, thank them for trying to help.” -Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” -Will Rogers, mentioned in Best Job Ever! by Dr. C.K. Bray

“Choose to act and not be acted upon. Deciding to take action instead of being paralyzed by adversity and trials is the true mark of courage and greatness.” -Dr. C.K. Bray, from Best Job Ever!

“As a positive leader you will want to carry a telescope and a microscope with you on your journey. The telescope helps you and your team keep your eyes on your vision, North Star, and big picture. The microscope helps you zoom-focus on the things you must do in the short term to realize the vision in your telescope. If you have only a telescope, then you’ll be thinking about your vision all the time and dreaming about the future but not taking the necessary steps to realize it. If you have only a microscope, then you’ll be working hard every day but set-backs and challenges will likely frustrate and discourage you because you’ll lose sight of the big picture. You need to frequently pull out your telescope to remind yourself and your team where you are going, and you’ll need to look through your microscope daily in order to focus on what matters most and follow through on your commitments. Together they will help you take your team and organization where you want to go.” -Jon Gordon, from The Power of Positive Leadership

 “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” -Thomas Jefferson