Five Books for 2016

Turning learning into energy
To discover and experience new horizons, we should participate more in what we learn. When we read comparatively we involve other aspects of learning — like reflecting and connecting — which in turn engages our creativity. It's akin to learning by doing for the mind.

Reading on a variety of topics helps us expand our thinking while it contributes to our ability to discover patterns across different disciplines.

On my reading list this holiday season is a short list of five books to add to previous lists of 21 books worth reading, 12 books that changed my life, and the growing list of recommended books.

Crossing the chasm

1. Crossing the Chasm, 3rd Edition: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey Moore

Much of the work I do is to help consulting firms and brands translate business strategy into action — going from “this is a great idea” to “how we get it done.”

For companies to “cross the chasm” between how they think about themselves and their work to connect with how clients and customers experience it, this means defining frameworks, methodologies, services, how we do what we do and how we talk about it.

For companies to stand out in a sea of sameness, this involves creating a path for meaningful differentiation and innovation. The aim is to clarify, simplify, connect each piece in the system so that it becomes easier to have productive collaboration within the firm, with clients, and build working relationships with customers.

Going from ideas to realities

2. Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

The critical question for businesses is what kind of environment breeds new ideas? When we understand where ideas truly come from we have the ability to go beyond cosmetic changes to office space and desks configuration to meaningful mental and organizational habits.

Each generation stands on the shoulders of its previous one. We should not be afraid to recognize the contributions of others. Rather, we should learn to recognize them, so we can build on those ideas. This is the paradox of our age that often holds us back.

More important than where the idea came from is how we shape it to create some form of embodiment to test its viability. This helps us learn the importance of thinking about errors in judgement and mistakes, building connections between concepts, and recalling knowledge actively.

Turning inward to excel outwardly

3. Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susain Cain

Our interest in personality types has wider appeal than the promise of business applications. Yet learning to work with others is a critical aspect of getting things done. The bloom has been off the myth of lone genius for some time. 

Becoming smarter about the science of personality helps us enroll our skills better and gives us a working knowledge of why even big data should not replace thinking. Whereas our work often requires that we sit and talk with others it is when we are alone that we elaborate how we activate what we ourselves know and can do, starting with understanding it better.

Alone to uncover strength and start building on it, together to align. Muscles develop along similar lines — great strength when isolated during exercise, then contributing to the whole. A stronger body framework depends on the strength of all muscles so each pulls its weight.

Plus, our “Imagination Network” benefits greatly from turning attention inwards.

Focusing for success

4. Deep Work: the Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

We focus so much on the ROI of business, social, content, anything for performance and yet we often miss understanding the trade-offs we make in how we use our energy to get there. If we agree that skills are our currency, then what activities and environments help us build them? How do we manage ourselves in the process?

The book is coming out in January, but anyone familiar with the work of Cal Newport likely appreciates his philosophy on becoming “so good they can't ignore you.” We want to get better, but how can we tell which among the traits we possess are also valuable, how do we choose options to acquire and invest in new skills?

Gaining a deep understanding of how success in our chosen field actually works is critical, says Newport. The biggest challenge we face in our careers is choosing what to do next. Newport breaks down the process into first addressing what matters — which skills? Then learning the proper ways to use Deliberate Practice* to become good at it and how to find the time to put this system in place.

The three key questions below help create the approach and accelerate the process. They also apply to fields that don’t typically look at performance-optimization, such as knowledge work, writing, entrepreneurship, or college, says Newport.

  1. What matters?
  2. How do we get good at it?
  3. How do we find the time?

Deliberate improvement is evolutionary — small steps, minimal projects, and harnessing the value of the compounding over time. 

Going with our flow

5. Originals: How Non Conformists Rule the World by Adam Grant

We tend to imitate others more than we'd want to admit. Psychologists describe this as herd behavior — individuals in a group can act collectively without centralized direction. Along with emotion, context and situational factors influence our choices.

Peer pressure is a consideration in business and in our personal lives. Once we identify a good idea and have come up with a different approach, how do we protect it and work on a path forward while it's imperfect and through validation to make it happen?

Critical steps like translating it into words, learning to say it better, and also collaborating with others require that we hold steadfast to a core, while we build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt, says Grant. 

This book is coming out in February, but those familiar with the work of Adam Grant appreciate his focus on helping people right size their approach to relating with others productively.

The secret sauce to newness is the sauce itself — us. Non conformity is about accepting our own worldview, then connecting that power to purpose by understanding how to develop and use influence to control our destiny.


Exercising the mind is not the same as doing mental gymnastics. It's more about learning to create and manage energy through frequency, intensity, and duration of work.  More on this in the new year.


* In Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin says Deliberate Practice is designed to improve performance, works through repetition, relies on constant feedback for improvement, it's hard and thus mentally demanding, requires a good understanding of goals to ladder steps to get there.

[image via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain]

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