15 insights from 15 books

In January 2017 I was struck by a quote that changed the way I think about reading.

“Not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers” 

– Harry S Truman

Admittedly I had no idea who Harry was, but I liked the quote and the cut of his jib. I assumed that he preferred to go by “Haz”, was the catalyst for the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show and, judging by the quote, he read a metric ton of books.

So this quote from Haz got me thinking.

What if I viewed reading less as an escape from reality and something I only do on holidays and more as a way to constantly feed my curiosity? How many books could I realistically get through in a year, with this new frame?

I set a goal of 20.

Fast forward 11 months and I’ve just finished my 30th book for 2017. Some have been long. Some short. Some mind-blowing. Some not so much. But each of them has taught me at least one thing. Each has provided me with at least one insight that has shaped my thoughts in some way.

So I thought it’d be cool to reflect on each of the books and provide one short, digestible insight.

Initially, I started off thinking this would be great as one post. I quickly realised 30 is a lot to digest and you, the reader, have things to do. You’ve got Netflix shows to watch, Instagram photos to double tap and food to eat. So I’ve broken it into two posts.

One this week and one next week. Each will feature 15 books and 15 insights. It’s a real Netflix style mini-series.

Let’s dive in.

1. Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss

A seriously impressive book of actionable insights, habits, and takeaways from world-class performers in all disciplines. Best get the sticky notes, highlighters, and bookmarks ready because this is one you’ll want to keep coming back to.

Insight: This book frees you from the idea that the best in the world have their lives figured out and are somehow immune to the everyday trials of us mere plebs. Instead, it makes you realise: “No-one has figured this shit out. There are no adults. Everyone is making it up as they go. Figure it out yourself and go do it.”

Don’t believe me? That quote came from billionaire investor Naval Ravikant. So yeah. Believe him.

This post was inspired by this very assertion.

2. Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday

A modern look at Stoic principles and how they can be applied to our everyday lives. This badboy blew up in popularity and has been used and referenced by high performing sports stars and individuals right around the world.

Insight: The title says it all. The book is a reframing of how we view challenges and obstacles and pushes the reader to run towards them rather than away from them. “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way, becomes the way.”

3. The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

You can see I went down a bit of a Ryan Holiday lead Stoic rabbit hole. This book contains 366 lessons from Stoicism and is designed to be read as one lesson per day over the course of a year. Naturally, I read all 366 in a week and promptly forgot 60% of them.

Insight: Well, there’s 366 of them. But one that stood out encourages a life of constant learning and curiosity: “If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters — don’t wish to seem knowledgeable.”

Confused about the old style language? Me too. But that’s because this knowledge bomb was dropped thousands of years ago. The author of the quote, Epictetus, was born in 50AD.

4. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

Best done in audio form and is hands down the greatest audiobook I’ve listened to. The raspy, raw and very real sound of Bruce Springsteen’s narration is absolutely mesmerising. The sort of book you simply cannot put down.

Insight: Even someone as successful and seemingly invincible such as The Boss has his flaws. Springsteen openly talks about himself as a walking flaw who’s maximised his strengths in storytelling, songwriting, and performance. He’s very aware of his weaknesses, including battles with alcoholism and an ongoing battle with serious depression.

5. Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf – Ben Hogan

I found this book after Googling “best golf books” and seeing it pop up. It’s short and easy to read, includes diagrams and pictures and makes golf sound so simple you’ll think your handicap has improved just by reading it*

Insight: There are at least five reasons why you and I are not very good at golf, and unless we spend time addressing them, we’ll forever be this guy.

*It hasn’t. Trust me.

6. The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

This was a re-read after being inspired by Ben Hogan’s golf book and deciding I’d go back to the basics of learning how to learn. Waitzkin was a child chess prodigy and has since gone on teach himself the martial art, Tai Chi Chuan, and become World Champion.

Insight: You’re still not very good at golf.

But also, the fastest way to get better at something is to compete with people who are better than you. And that usually means losing. This provides you with unique opportunities to learn how and why you lost, and uncover your blind spots.

7. Zero to One – Peter Thiel

This one was another re-read and you can see I’d given up on trying to be better at golf by this point. It’s a brilliant book full of contrarian ideas by a successful entrepreneur. Guaranteed to challenge your thinking on business, problem-solving and life in general. The first chapter alone may result in you starting to question your own existence.

Insight: In the world of business, it’s better to avoid competition and be a monopoly in a niche, than try and compete in a crowded existing market. Competition is overrated.

8. Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman! – Richard Feynman

A random selection of hilarious and bizarre stories from the life of Richard Feynman. He won a Nobel Prize in physics and is considered one of the great scientific minds of the last century (don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of him either). He also has some crazy experiences that will leave you shaking your head and rereading certain sections of the book in disbelief.

Insight: Constantly experiment and be curious. Don’t accept things the way they are. “Learn what the rest of the world is like. The variety is worthwhile.

9. A guide to the good life – William Irvine

A re-read as I decided needed another dose of Stoicism in my life. 12 months ago, if you had told me I’d find a book on Stoic philosophy so interesting that I’d read it TWICE, I’d have laughed you out of the room. But Irvine does a brilliant job at making Stoicism relevant to the modern life.

Insight: In life, there are things with we can control, and things we cannot control. Best to focus our energy solely on things we have some control over.

“The Stoics pointed to two principal sources of human unhappiness—our insatiability and our tendency to worry about things beyond our control—and they developed techniques for removing these sources of unhappiness from our life.”

This post came from re-reading this book.

10. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future – Ashlee Vance

For anyone vaguely interested in Elon Musk and what he’s up to, this is a must-read. It’s a fascinating insight into his businesses, his brain, and his internal operating system. Some paragraphs you’ll want to read three times to make sure you read correctly.

Insight: There are no excuses for anything. Don’t sit around waiting for something to happen. Dream big and take action. Otherwise, Elon might fire you from your job and do it for you.

“I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else doing it.”

11. The Coaching Habit – Michael Stanier

One of the books I read ahead of starting the altMBA. An excellent and actionable read for leaders, managers and coaches alike distilled into seven, easy to follow sections.

Insight: A good leader/manager/coach asks the right questions and provides a safe space for others to respond. Yes, that means resisting the urge to always speak, make assumptions and finish their… sentences.

12. Steal like an Artist – Austin Kleon

A short, colourful and easy to read number that is one of my favourites from the entire list of 30. So much so that I read it twice.

Insight: There are no original ideas. Only new iterations of existing ideas.

See this post which was, ironically, inspired by this book.

13. The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

This puppy is on my list for a re-read. It’s a known favourite of one of my idols Seth Godin and I can understand why. It’s the kind of book that has you nodding your head in agreement as Pressfield effortlessly picks you to pieces on why you’re always procrastinating.

Insight: You are your own worst enemy. The resistance – that voice of doubt inside your head – is the only thing stopping you from doing the work.

“Resistance is not a peripheral opponent. Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.”

14. Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well (even when it is Off Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood) – Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

I know what you’re thinking. How did they even fit that title on the cover of a book?! Ridiculous, right. Despite this, the book has some great, actionable insights, It also dragged on a little. Admittedly I probably should’ve seen it coming with that title…

Insight: Feedback is a gift and should be treated as such. Therefore, when receiving feedback, be empathetic and open towards the giver. Ask yourself: Why do they feel this way? What might they see, that I cannot see? Why are they right?

15. The Magic of Thinking Big – David Schwartz  

The premise is a common one and is probably better explored through real biographies like Elon Musk. There’s a bit of a self helpy old school management type feel to it (just look at the cover and you’ll know what I mean) and it does feel like the kind of book that could be summarised in 200 words or less. If only someone were writing a blog with one insight summaries of the books they’d read. Oh, wait…

Insight: Be audacious. Dream big. Take action.

“Action cures fear.”

So there you have it. 15/30 complete.

Are you still reading? Mum, you don’t count…

I’m impressed if so. And thankful.

Stay tuned for part two next week.