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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

What I Read in 2021...

Longtime readers of my blog and newsletter will already suspect I love to read: the articles I published outlining my favourite books of 2019 and 2020 would have been easy giveaways.

Sadly, I didn't read as many books as I would have liked in 2021.


Don't get me wrong: I read a lot. I have paid subscriptions to The Globe and Mail, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and I read various articles from those sources every single day. I also subscribe to about two dozen newsletters, many of which provide me with valuable information (and spark new ideas) every morning. And that's not even counting my social media feeds, which I've set up to serve me various articles on several different topics. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I spend up to two hours every day reading just from these sources, although this content is usually consumed in 5-10 minute "bites" not as a single block of reading time.


Finding the right time to read a book, though, is more challenging for me. I tend to be at my most creative in the mornings, so I prefer to spend that time creating versus consuming content. The books I choose to read are mostly non-fiction titles that make me think, so they're not ideal for nighttime reading when I need to calm my brain before bed. That leaves the middle of the day as prime-reading time... except that's when paid work usually takes precedence.


If you're like me, and you struggle to find time to read, here's a life hack I implemented a few years ago that has helped: start a book club with a friend.* Doing so will help keep you accountable to read your agreed-upon book by the date you choose to discuss it.


My book club caused me to read four books this year. And here's the thing: when you can only guarantee you'll read four books, you try to choose really good ones.


In that spirit, here were my 2021 book club selections, and a few words as to why I think you might enjoy them too.

 

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (Ben Horowitz)

Ben Horowitz definitely knows a thing or two about start-ups; he's the co-founder of famed venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which has made early investments in a staggering number of successful companies you almost certainly know.


In this book, Horowitz offers some practical advice on building and running a company. He looks at the type of problems entrepreneurs trying to build and scale their businesses will encounter regularly, and outlines how he addressed these issues throughout his own career.


"Hard Things" is a fairly easy read with a number of smart quips, and I loved the candour found throughout this book; Horowitz doesn't just talk about the times he was successful, he uses his past failures and shortcomings to help us understand the things we shouldn't do.

 

Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different Hardcover (Sunny Bonnell, Ashleigh Hansberger)


In "Rare Breed", authors Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger use dozens of real-world stores to make a compelling argument: certain, distinct traits of employees that typically cause them to be see seen as outcasts and misfits within their organizations -- Rebellious, Audacious, Obsessed, Hot-Blooded, Weird, Hypnotic, and Emotional -- are exactly what companies need to embrace in order to succeed.


I realize it's a bit arrogant to call myself a "Rare Breed", but this book really spoke to me. And if you've ever felt like your strong, somewhat-unconventional personality traits aren't fully appreciated in your workplace, it might speak to you too.


Full disclosure: I've had the pleasure of speaking with Sunny and Ashleigh a few times this year because at one point they were considering hiring me to help promote this book. However, I'm not being paid for this endorsement: I genuinely think this was an interesting, worthwhile read.

 

Sell the Way You Buy: A Modern Approach To Sales That Actually Works (Even On You!) (David Priemer)


I've never considered myself a salesperson.


And yet, as a marketer, selling my recommendations is a regular part of my job. As an instructor, I sell my ideas to students. And as a consultant, I ultimately need to sell my services if I want to keep paying my bills. So while I don't consider myself a salesperson, I still need to know how to sell, and I'd love to be better at it.


David Priemer, who developed a pretty great sales pedigree as a former VP at Salesforce, thinks he can help with that. In his book, "Sell the Way You Buy", he outlines several science-backed techniques that anybody can use to get better at sales. He uses personal examples to highlight common sales situations, showing readers the right way to ask questions, listen to customer responses, and speak with customers in an authentic way, all of which ultimately increases your odds of closing the deal.

 

The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts (Rhiannon Beaubien, Shane Parrish)


Of the four books I read in 2021 as part of my book club, this one was the shortest.


It might have also been the most useful, had I not already been very familiar with several of the mental models presented: "First Principles Thinking", "Probabilistic Thinking", and "Occam's Razor" are tools I use regularly when I solve problems.


If you're interested in becoming a better problem-solver, you'll enjoy reading this book. The models presented seem obvious once they're explained, but the book offers several excellent examples of how they can be put to use in everyday life.

 

And there you have it: my 2021 book recommendations.


My 2022 reading list is already very long, and my goal is to read at least one book per month (instead of one per quarter) and do these types of reviews more frequently.


So... if you have any book recommendations for me, please let me know.




* My friend and I take turns choosing titles to read each quarter: one of us prepares a short-list, and the other chooses a book from it; this usually ensures we both are agreeable to the selection. We then read the book, and schedule a call for a Sunday morning during the quarter to discuss the content and its implications to our lives (and to catch up with each other).

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