It’s that time of year. As we prepare to “check out” for a few days, with family, and loved ones, and food, and faith, we look back over a year nearly gone. So, looking back, here is my list of some of my favorites – my very personal “best of” lists for 2011. It is not comprehensive. It is just “mine.” So, here goes.
Best TV Show of 2011
Homeland. It had me riveted every week. Its season finale was perfect. If you did not watch it, put it on your “to catch up on” list. Claire Danes and Damian Lewis were utterly believable, and the drama, the tension, the issues… great show!
Best Blogs/Web Sites for 2011
First, there are many that I read for news and opinion, and for shopping… Amazon, the New York Times, Memeorandum, the Huffington Post. And my friend’s blog on Urban/Social Justice/Poverty issues, Larry James Urban Daily.
But, after these, and after our blog (Bob Morris keeps us up on the newest and best books, with interviews of important authors, and so much more), if you made me choose — “Randy, which are the web sites you cannot do without?” here are just three that come readily to mind…
Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution. Cowen is a self-described Libertarian, but his blog is about economics issues, and so much more. Great blog!, and I’m addicted to a check and catch up at least once every two days.
Paul Krugman’s Blog, The Conscience of a Liberal. Krugman is the liberal economist (Nobel Recipient), and reading him and Cowen together gives me just enough of an education to make me think I am beginning to understand some of this stuff.
Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish. The name of the blog is not adequate – I do not check it daily. I check it multiple times a day. It is a marvel. It is about…everything.
Best Long Reads of the Year
David Brooks ended his 2011 Sidney Awards with this terrific quote: “Tweets are fun, but essays you’ll remember.” He is right.
The list is long. There is more than one from Malcolm Galdwell. There is Gladwell’s Creation Myth: Xerox PARC, Apple, and the truth about innovation, and this piece on Steve Jobs: THE TWEAKER: The real genius of Steve Jobs.
There is the one on needing a coach by Atul Gawande (popping up on Google this way — Coaching A Surgeon: What Makes Top Performers Better): Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?
There is this one by Tyler Cowen, The Inequality That Matters on Income Inequality (with a genuinely different take from any others I’ve read on this issue).
Best Business Books for 2011
This is a very short list. I presented synopses of about 20 business books in 2011 – my selection each month at the First Friday Book Synopsis, and a few others for other events or at the specific request for clients. I am “defining” best as – something that was useful, something that made me think more, or differently, something that seemed to explain a big-picture issue. And, it was personally engaging. You might disagree with my list, and there might be better books on these issues. But, here is my list:
• For Women in Business Issues — Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth by Mika Brzezinski.
• For business planning/success issues — Demand: Creating What People Love Before They Know They Want It by Adrian Slywotzky, and Karl Weber. (I think this is my favorite business book of the year, mainly because I am personally so captivated by the “get rid of all hassles” idea in the book. Learn to actually do this, and people will like your product or service! At least, I know I will).
• For understanding the ongoing financial crisis — The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, And Will (Eventually) Feel Better by Tyler Cowen. This is the shortest book I read this year, and it really makes sense. I think his basic premise is correct, and is fully understandable.
There were other books I presented that I found really useful. Tribal Leadership; Practically Radical; and others… But these were my “favorites” for the year.
And, you ask, what about Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I’m not quite finished reading it. I will present my synopsis at the January 6, 2012 First Friday Book Synopsis. (come join us!). But, from all impressions, it will definitely be on my list for next year. It is a terrific read, filled with important observations and insight.
Best Social Justice/Poverty Books for 2011
I also speak monthly at the Urban Engagement Book Club for CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries). I present two books a month (though, many months, one of the two is a book I presented earlier, at the different location).
The best book, by far, that I presented in 2011 was The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (winner of the Pulitzer Prize). This is not a good book – it is a great book! It is about racial issues, human drama, our changing nation. An important book! (Yes, I know it came out in 2010. But this is my list of what I presented in 2011).
I presented other good books (Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future by Robert B. Reich; two James Cone books: A Black Theology of Liberation (Twentieth Anniversary Edition), and God of the Oppressed, both of which help us understand the past and still-ongoing racial struggles in our country. Many of the books that I present for these gatherings were published in earlier years, but they all add to my understanding of the struggles of the poor, and the struggles over differences of all kinds — racial, economic, and…
I read little fiction, so have nothing to offer here. (Though I did read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo this year). And, though I love movies, our family situation means that I simply have not been to many this year. So, no movie suggestions for you. (Read Roger Ebert’s list of the best of 2011 here). (But… my wife’s dad now lives with us, and the three of us watched Home Alone the other night. I had not seen it in years. It was the first time we all laughed so hard together in quite a while. A nice, funny diversion).
Oh – and one more thing. The best thing I bought in 2011 – my iPad. I cannot begin to tell you how valuable it is; how wonderful it is!
Well, this is my list. I’m sure you have your own. Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year – and be ready to get back to work in 2012. There is so much to learn, and so much to do…
Update: How could I forget? I will try not to keep adding, but… to put on the “best” list, practically everything written by Farhad Manjoo, at Slate.com. Especially his series on the changes that Robots will bring. Here is part 1 of this multi-part series: Will Robots Steal Your Job? You’re highly educated. You make a lot of money. You should still be afraid.
Stay with me a few minutes on this — there is a critical business lesson coming.
Let me tell you a story that explains the true greatness of the basketball legend Michael Jordan. First, some reminders (from Wikipedia):
His biography on the National Basketball Association (NBA) website states, “By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”
Jordan’s individual accolades and accomplishments include five MVP awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors, fourteen NBA All-Star Game appearances, three All-Star Game MVP awards, ten scoring titles, three steals titles, six NBA Finals MVP awards, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. He holds the NBA records for highest career regular-season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). In 1999, he was named the greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN, and was second to Babe Ruth on the Associated Press‘s list of athletes of the century. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on April 6, 2009 and was inducted on September 11, 2009.
Now here’s the story that made him basically superhuman. There was never any doubt, as he played through college, that he was going to be a scoring machine. And, over the course of his career, though he is third on the total points scored list, he has the highest scoring average in the history of the NBA, just barely beating the average of Wilt Chamberlain.
But — and this is the basis for the key business lesson — he knew that his game lacked a critical element, and early on he set out to become an exceptional defensive player as well as a scoring machine. He did not give this a little bit of effort, but he made it his passion. And his record demonstrates the heights he reached in this personal challenge: nine All-Defensive First Team honors… the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Think about this – Michael Jordan was wildly popular, a true scoring machine, and he could have “coasted” on that set of skills for his entire career. What did he do? He did not cut back on his emphasis in scoring, but he added the defensive element, requiring massive numbers of hours and intense focus. It was remarkable!/superhuman!/something above what mere mortals can barely fathom.
So – here is the business lesson. Think about what you are best at. You love it. It feels like it comes “naturally” to you. You read about it, you “reinforce” your already hefty prowess, and you are always reading and talking about how to get even better in this particular area of your success. As you should. Be proud of this expertise, and keep growing and learning in this very area.
But what should you add?
Very few people tackle this imposing challenge. It is the difference between some success and much more success.
If you are like me, you simply hate tackling an area that you are not as good at, an area that does not come “naturally” to you. You don’t want to read about it, talk about it, think about it. If your boss sends you to training in this area, you might resent the boss, and be an unwilling, unenthusiastic participant. You have your area of expertise, your area of interest – that is enough.
And it is enough. BUT… if you could tackle an area of weakness, one that you find tough to tackle, and really work to turn that into a strength, you could attain a higher level of influence and success.
The business lesson is simple: yes, continue your pursuit of greater mastery and excellence at what you are already good at — but get good in areas where you have genuine weakness and deficiency.
Now I have a bias – reading is one way to start getting better at something. A good book will help you know what to think, what to work on…
So here is a starting place. Take a look at this chart (it’s from this earlier blog post). Chances are one of these areas is an area of strength, but another area or two is an area of weakness. Pick an area of weakness. Read a book in this area as your next to do. Tackle your weak area, focus, and turn that weakness and deficiency into a strength.
Take this challenge seriously, do the necessary work, and you will become more effective, more successful, more valuable to your company, your people, and, yourself.
Good luck. Here’s the chart.
A Strategic Business Book Reading Plan
|If you need to:||Then you might want to read:|
|Aim higher – personally||The Other 90%|
|Think/work like an athlete in training||OutliersTalent is Overrated|
|Think like an innovator||The Creative HabitThe Art of Innovation|
|Get better at time management||Getting Things DoneThe Power of Full Engagement|
|Become a better servant leader||Servant Leadership|
|Nurture and build your people||Encouraging the Heart|
|Market more effectively||Waiting For Your Cat to BarkThe Tipping Point
The Long Tail
|Get better connected||WikinomicsGroundswell|
|Network more effectively||Never Eat Alone|
|Communicate more effectively||Words that WorkMade to Stick|
|Be a (very good) generalist||Reality Check|
|Negotiate more effectively||Women Don’t AskAsk for It|
|Play well with others||The Five Dysfunctions of a Team|
|Learn to learn||The Opposable Mind|
|Learn to tell the truth||Crucial ConversationsWinning|
Yesterday, Bob Morris and I both weighed in on this blog with our “best business books” list from 2009. (Our lists were very different – mine here, Bob’s here). So I started thinking about which books I have read that have had true, lasting impact on my thinking, and even occasionally my behavior. I keep thinking back to one book. I read it in the 1980’s, and though I do not live up to its teachings, I certainly remember them — frequently. I might even call it the best book I have ever read, because it gives me such profound life lessons.
The book is The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck. (You can purchase the 25th anniversary edition at Amazon here). My well-read and fully-marked-up copy is in storage, but thanks to Amazon’s preview feature, I here include the greatest first page of a non-fiction book that I have ever read:
Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
Most do not fully see that truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?
Discipline is the basic set of tools to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing.
From this book, I remember two great truths:
1) Life is difficult. When you accept this truth, then you can “expect” the next difficulty to arrive, and tackle it as it should be tackled – as the next difficulty on your list of difficulties. There is no life without difficulties! This is truly a great truth. (And, yes, very Buddhist – although you can find plenty of confirmation in Christian Scripture).
2). You (and all of us) are lazy – seek to overcome your laziness! In the book, Peck does not define laziness as doing nothing (couch potato laziness), but rather, laziness is spending time on the “wrong thing.” And the “right thing” is always beckoned by love. Here is the principle: Even if we work diligently on work that needs to be done at some point, if it is not the thing you should be working on at this moment, it is laziness. Avoiding the challenge that we most need to tackle is laziness.
Peck defines laziness as a failure to love. Here is a quote (lifted from a quotes page from the web; as I said, my copy is in storage): evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme. As I have defined it, love is the antithesis of laziness. Ordinary laziness is a passive failure to love.
So, as we think about the best books we have read in the last year, maybe it is time to revisit books that most shaped us – and to remember their valuable lessons. And if you have never read The Road Less Traveled, let me encourage you to do so. I believe it is worth the investment of time.