Want to know what makes me tick? Then a selection of books I’ve read in the past should give you an insight into what has shaped and influenced my thinking.
I have to admit that I have this passion. Deep down inside of me. That drives me towards getting to the bottom of things, their inner workings, and why things are the way they are.
When Socrates Sets You Free
Many decades of soaking up knowledge and experience like a sponge left me with the conclusion that, with the words often accredited to the great Socrates,
“I know that I know nothing.”
While this may look like defeat on the outside, it isn’t. Much rather the opposite. This insight liberates me.
Socrate’s statement frees me from having to know everything, which I regard as a bit unrealistic in general for quite some time now, given the mere increase in human knowledge in the past centuries.
I will hand on heart say “I don’t know” and proudly pledge ignorance on many subjects. And then read up on them. This allows me to stay inside my circle of competence while systematically and sustainably expanding it at the same time.
A Scaleable Way of Reading Books
But extending my knowledge takes time. And just like everyone else, I also only have 24 hours in a day. So, the harsh reality is that most of the time I don’t have time to read a book. At least not in the classical sense. But, I can still have someone read a book to me.
Audiobooks allow me to fill otherwise “dead” or “lost” time with the joys of diving into a book. There’s a huge selection of audiobooks on YouTube and YouTube to Audiobook makes it easy to download and continuously listen to them on your phone.
If we’re honest, then we fill most of our waking hours with the curious activity we like to call “business”. We might as well understand it inside out and get really good at it.
- Simon Sinek, Start With Why. How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action, Penguin, 2011 — Even when you know WHAT do to and HOW to do it, WHY you do something remains one of the most important questions of all. From getting out of bed in the morning to running a trillion dollar company that keeps on challenging and redefining the status quo.
Eliyahu M. Goldratt, The Goal. A Process of Ongoing Improvement, 3rd edition, Routledge, 2004 — Centred around manufacturing in a fictitious plant, this is one of the few classic books I’ve come across that is written as a high paced thriller. Based on the Theory of Constraints, it taught me the negative value and impact of work-in-progress and that all improvements outside the bottleneck are meaningless.
Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, George Spafford, The Phoenix Project. A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, 3rd edition, Trade Select, 2018 — An updated version of The Goal for the digital age, this time centred around a fictitious software company in dire straits. The Theory of Constraints is once more applied, this time to software processes by identifying the systems constraints, exploiting the constraints, subordinating everything to the constraint, and alleviating the system’s constraint while not breaking a constraint. The book highlights the value of automation and is an advocate of DevOps that is widely recognised across many industries.
- Michael D. Watkins, The First 90 Days. Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded, Harvard Business Review Press, 2013 — A much discussed book that aims to help new leaders transition into their new organisation more rapidly by providing them with a clear 30-60-90 day plan that helps everyone win.
Gene Kim, The Unicorn Project: A Novel about Digital Disruption, Redshirts, and Overthrowing the Ancient Powerful Order, It Revolution Press, 2019 — The sequel to The Phoenix Project released on 2019-11-19
Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, HarperCollins USA, 2014 — Recommended to me but I’ve not yet had the time to read it
Whether being a formal manager or not, it’s all about inspiring others to rally behind a common goal. Because at the end of the day, we are a species that can achieve incredible things by cooperation.
- Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last. Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Penguin, 2017 — A great, fresh, and straightforward look at how a team should be built around a circle of trust that makes everyone feel safe. Why we historically have leaders and managers in the first place and that their main responsibility should be providing safety for everyone inside their team. The book also provides a great overview of the chemicals inside our body that influence our behaviour towards individual or collective preferences and how these relate to workplaces.
Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game: How Great Businesses Achieve Long-Lasting Success, Portfolio Penguin, 2019 — Simon Sinek’s latest book on why business fits the criteria of an infinite game and as a consequence requires new business leaders and practices. While reading this book, I was struggling. Having read it, I’m still struggling. The author seems to have a non-complex underlying idea that we should regard aspects of our lives — especially when it comes to the world of business — as outlasting our physical presence. Hence, our goal should be to “remain in the game” rather than “play to win” a non-existing finite game. This approach is inspired by another book and eventually rolled out over hundreds of pages paired with numerous non-complex conclusions and countless supporting evidence in the form of fairly entertaining stories. However, I have yet to find a single disconfirming example given in the book; I was able to come up with a couple while reading along. Parts of the book could be regarded as a manifestation of several biases described in the works of Daniel Kahneman such as the aforementioned confirmation bias. But there are also several instances of survivorship bias, hindsight bias, and narrative bias. The author is certainly an excellent motivational speaker/writer whose mission is to make the world a better (work) place. And I very much appreciate that and what he wants to build. As such, the book is good for inspiration when accepting the contents at face value. However, I struggle with it when applying critical thinking. Sorry, Mr Sinek.
- Jeffrey Liker and Gary Convis, The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership. Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development, McGraw-Hill Education, 2011 — How Toyota entered the US workforce market and was able to embed the core concepts such as Kaizen into their US factories.
- Andrew Grove, High Output Management, 2nd Vintage Books ed edition, Vintage Books, 1995 — Apparently one of the classic books on the subject. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet had the time to read it.
For many years, I had a particular set of questions in the back of my mind. Questions such as
- Why do people behave the way they do?
- What makes them tick?
- In that particular way?
- Now, where’s the method behind the madness?
- …and — What’s my role in all of this?!
Moreover, I never really got a good answer to why I made particular choices despite them defying rational grounds that I pride myself to be rooted in.
What started out as a curious inquiry into my own systematic errors and shortcomings has turned into quite some reading on the subject over the years.
It turned out that books on behavioural psychology provided me with a torch into the vast world of the human mind and what can drive us to particular decisions and outcomes.
It did put some method behind the madness for me. Why we choose what we choose. And why our choices are sometimes irrational but also systematic in that regards. I’ve learned that I’m full of biases and fallacies. I cannot avoid each and every one of them. But I can try to avoid the big ones. When it comes to big decisions.
- Rolf Dobelli, Die Kunst des klaren Denkens. 52 Denkfehler, die Sie besser anderen überlassen, Carl Hanser GmbH + Co., 2011 — The book that started my journey into behavioural psychology as part of a post-mortem into a failed start-up. Confronted with the ugly truths of Survivorship Bias and Not Invented Here, the book shed some light on my gross overestimation of the success rate and other decisions that seem irrational in hindsight. The biases discussed in the book are part of my checklist I run important decisions past. For the rest, I try to use common sense and minimise the errors in the full knowledge of accepting some level of leeway. This book is also the main reason why I stopped watching the news.
Rolf Dobelli, Die Kunst des klugen Handelns. 52 Irrwege, die Sie besser anderen überlassen, Carl Hanser GmbH + Co., 2012 — The follow up book to Die Kunst des klaren Denkens with 52 more biases and fallacies. Once more, well written and a solid addition to my checklist to run important decisions past.
Rolf Dobelli, The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions, Sceptre, 2014 — The above two books combined into a single one. And translated to English. For the next 2 billion potential readers.
Rolf Dobelli, Die Kunst des guten Lebens. 52 überraschende Wege zum Glück, Piper, 2017 — The third book in the series by the same author. And the first one that shifts its main focus away from what to avoid and towards what to do. Apart from reminding me of cargo cult as well as reading less (but twice), mental accounting helps me overcome small negative events in everyday life. Such as getting a PCN.
Robert Cialdini, Pre-Suasion. A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, Random House Business, 2016 — An insight into priming, chutes, precious moments, and how everything that happens before a conversation actually starts can already pre-determine its outcome as intended by the pre-suader. The book provides a great overview of the subject and how to spot and prepare oneself to deal with it on a daily basis.
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011 — A deep dive into the mind by an authority on the subject, illustratively and well explained using two fictitious actors or systems. The associative memory master and coherence seeking System One that can jump to conclusions but mostly runs on autopilot. And the slow and effortful thinking System Two that gets invoked whenever System One is out of its depth or System Two decides to intervene on its own. Even though not an exact representation of our mind, it does provide some great insights of how fallacies and biases come to be. Or is that just another instance of the narrative bias…?!
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, Penguin, 2007 — The first book in the Incerto series and a very entertaining read on the vast (but predominantly invisible) impact of randomness on history, the markets, and everyday life. But for which we almost always have a causal explanation readily at hand. Why we should be aware of skewed distributions, consider alternative outcomes, history isn’t as linear as it seems, and how a Monte Carlo simulator can help us get a better understanding of the impact of randomness. Detailed excursions into biases and fellacies, especially the survivorship bias, establish links to the works of Daniel Kahneman, making it a great initial or follow-up read.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Allen Lane, 2007 — The second book in the Incerto series and a very long read on the extreme impact of rare and hard to predict outlier events, why forecasting is best avoided in general, games are not a good representation of random events, and chance plays a far greater influence in our lives than we like to admit (myself included).
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes, Random House, 2010 — The third book in the Incerto series and a refreshingly different one in general. The aphoristic style compresses and transports the results of long thoughts by the author, not only in his area of specialisation but also in related and general subjects, in a very humorous style. I couldn’t stop laughing while reading along and will certainly run the risk of quoting some of the aphorisms. One of the most entertaining books with grande depth I’ve read in a very long time.
- Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Simon and Schuster, 1936 — A classic book on human interactions that are common sense (in hindsight, I have to admit). How focusing on the conversation partner and putting his or her needs first can really alleviate the conversation and lead to a much better outcome for everyone.
- Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, HarperBusiness, 2007 — The predecessor to Pre-Suasion that dives deep into common fallacies and biases. And how to avoid them as a savvy consumer.
General Next Reads
There also has to be room for light or meta-topic reading. Books where I can have a read and not focus too much on domain specific value adds.
- Henri Poincaré, Science and Hypothesis — A book highly recommended by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Back Swan and definitely worth a deeper look.
Whats’ on Your Reading List?!
The above list is an excerpt of my reading list from the past years. I have to admit that the books, longer thoughts, and discussions that followed had quite an impact on my thought processes. And still have.
Think this is all rubbish, incomplete, or I should much rather read “All-Encompassing Answers, The One Book You Really Need, Hot off the Press, 2020”?! Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn and teach me something new!
As always, prove me wrong and I’ll buy you a pint!