Top 10 Books of 2020

It’s that time again when I share my top 10 books of the year. (It’s also a punch in the face for me to realize I must start blogging again since my last one was the Top 10 list from 2019!) I read books for 3 main reasons:

  1. Become a better business person
  2. Become a better citizen
  3. Become a better human

Since 2020 keep many of us at home, and drastically reduced the number of social events, I was able to read many more books than usual. I read 84 books in 2020. (While the majority were actual books, I do consider audiobooks in this category as well)

Here’s a recap of my top 10 overall books, with a summary at the end for my top 5 in each category at the end.

#10 The E Myth Revisited

By Michael E. Gerber

The E Myth by Michael Gerber

This one taught me many lessons, the biggest of which was never actually in the book. The backstory: Many years ago, someone I looked up to and whose business acumen I respected greatly discounted the relevance of this book because it was written so long ago, and I’m ashamed to say I parroted his judgment on the book many times after that, probably discouraging some people who could have really benefitted from the book from ever reading it. But this year, I finally read it and I was blown away at how relevant the information still is. Yes, it is the revised version, but revised books aren’t re-writes, they are usually modified. There were too many great gems in this book to conclude they were only in the revised portion.

I’ve now changed my tune and tell anyone who asks that this book is a must for anyone in business. The E-myth is comprised of two main points:

1: The myth that most people who start small businesses are entrepreneurs just because they own a business.

2: The fatal assumption that an individual who understands the technical work of a business can successfully run a business that does that technical work.

Gerber walks you through the steps in the life of a business—from entrepreneurial infancy through adolescent growing pains to the mature entrepreneurial perspective: the guiding light of all businesses that succeed—and shows how to apply the lessons of franchising to any business, whether or not it is a franchise. Most importantly, Gerber draws the vital, often overlooked distinction between working on your business and working in your business.

Have you read the book? What were your favorite concepts? Please feel free to leave a comment or even recommend another book you think I might enjoy!

#9 The Dichotomy of Leadership

by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

I’m a fan of any of Jocko’s books. Last year, his book, Extreme Ownership made my list, and frankly, I liked this one even more. If you have time, read Extreme ownership first, then this one, but if you are pressed for time, just skip to this one because it is an elaboration on the concept of what extreme ownership looks like in business and as a leader.

The concept is simple. There are several key leadership traits that a great leader possesses, but having the skills is only half the battle. The other is knowing how to balance between the extremes of the trait. For example, let your employees figure things out on their own vs. giving them the knowledge necessary to succeed in their career. I’ve never read a book that does such an exquisite job of laying out how to balance those and many more leadership traits. I’ll be re-reading this one many times.

#8 Everyone Deserves a Great Manager

by Scott Jeffery Miller, Todd Davis, & Victoria Roos Olssen

I think this book is exceptional for two types of people: #1 Small business owners who are starting to scale their company and for the first time are dealing with the dynamics of leadership, delegation, and cultivating employees. #2 Mid-level managers who manage a team of employees, and also report to someone above them (most likely the owner). I think a seasoned CEO of a medium-sized, or large company might not get the same level of benefit as small business owners and managers would.

The book uses the terms leader and manager interchangeably, which I think is a disservice to the reader, but it’s so damn good I had no problem overlooking that. It focuses on the mindset of a leader and then goes deep into 6 critical leadership skills (although I would classify them more as management skills). They are:

  1. Conducting Productive One-on-Ones
  2. Setting Your Team up For Results
  3. Creating a Culture of Feedback
  4. Leading Your Team Through Change
  5. Managing Your Time and Energy
  6. Hiring the Best Applicants

#7 Stillness is the Key

By Ryan Holiday

This is book 3 of a 3-part series. Book 1 is The Obstacle is the Way and Book 2 is Ego is the Enemy. Book 1, is also on my top 10 list and I imagine if I had been able to get a hold of book 2 before the end of 2020 (I use the Libby app to rent e-books for free) it would have ended up on my list as well. Ryan Holiday has officially become one of my favorite authors.

All of Ryan’s books are based upon one of my favorite stoics, Marcus Aurelius. I believe many of the challenges our society face today could be solved if we all adopted some of the principles that Marcus Aurelius lived by. The challenge is most people won’t want to read his ancient writings, but Ryan has a gift of modernizing his philosophy into a palatable interpretation.

#6 The Obstacle is the Way

By Ryan Holiday

This is book 1 of the 3-part series I mentioned in #7. What struck such a chord for me in this book is that it summarized so perfectly a core concept I have in life. We tend to see obstacles as things that get in the way of us achieving our goals when they are simply necessary steps in the achievement of those goals. By seeing obstacles as a necessary component of achievement it allows you to do at least 2 things: 1 – have a more optimistic and proactive attitude toward things that don’t go your way, and 2 – reassure you that you are on the right path because the only people who don’t face obstacles are those who aren’t going anyway. The very act of motion creates the existence of potential obstacles.

#5 Turnover is Vanity, Profit is Sanity

By Dan Bradbury

Dan is the only author on my Top 10 list that I know personally. He is on my Board of Advisors and when you read his book, you’ll know why. Actually, read all of his books, you’ll be glad you did.

This book highlights 9 and 1/2 things you can do to increase the valuation of your business. Now even if you have no intention of ever selling your business, these factors are vital to the success of your company anyway, and here’s why. Regardless if you ever want to sell your company, if your company isn’t worth buying, then you just bought a crappy business. Don’t do that. Do these things instead so your company is one that turns a profit and is not just something worth selling, but perhaps more important is something worth owning.

#4 Antifragile

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

If there is one author on my list this year that I would love to sit on a park bench with and just listen, it would be this guy. I’ve loved every book that I read by Nassim and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the rest of his books. But this one above all really shook my reality on what makes a person, a business, or a system strong and capable of benefiting from obstacles. If our society were to take to heart the concepts of this book, The Obstacle is the Key, and my #1 book of the year 90% of our social problems would diminish if not disappear.

Antifragile is not the same as resilience. If you are resilient you are not impacted by negativity one way or the other. But if you are antifragile you become stronger and better because of negativity. This book delves into how to become more than resilient; it awakens you to the idea that your business could become antifragile and how to do that. Read it for your business? Sure, but it’s beyond that. Read it to help you become a stronger human.

#3 The Fatburn Fix

By Catherine Shanahan

Out of all the books in my Top 10 list, this book has probably made the most immediate and hopefully, long-lasting impact on my life.

I originally saw her featured on Bill Marr’s HBO show and they were talking about 8 oils that damage your metabolism, but they never said what the oils actually were during the interview. I had gained about 10 pounds around my waist from my Covid isolation and I hated how I felt. So I got the book looking for a way to boost my metabolism and burn some fat. But I got so much more.

The book is way more than just losing weight, it discusses the various stages of Diabetes which was of particular interest to me because about a year ago I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, the final stage before adult-onset diabetes. I matched every single symptom she described in the book, so I immediately purged my cupboards and fridge of anything containing these 8 damaging oils. I followed the steps in the book and within 1 week I’d already lost about 7 pounds, but that was nothing compared to the physical benefits I felt. My energy returned, my productivity increased, my aches and pains went away, I became more clear-minded and focused. It’s like a switch went on in my brain and I felt like I was in my 30s, maybe even my 20s. I can’t stress how much better my quality of life is because of this book. And while I haven’t gone back to get my bloodwork as of this writing, I’m 100% certain I have reversed my pre-diabetes diagnosis.

As you start to read this book, you might think it is just a book on the Keto diet. It’s way more than that. While I don’t want to put words in her mouth, my impression is that she’s more a fan of using Ketones for energy than an actual Keto diet itself, and this is for 2 reasons: 1 – Keto diets often try to starve your body of carbs in the evening; but, she doesn’t really have a problem with carbs in the evening (at least not the right ones) and 2 – Nearly every Keto product out there on the market has at least one of the damaging oils that she is certain are damaging to your metabolism – and I would now agree.

If you are suffering from hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or have been diagnosed with diabetes, this book could quite literally change your life for the better. Get it. Read it. Do what it says.

#2 Thinking Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman

Remember how I said previously that the book Antifragile shook my reality on what makes a person strong? Well, this book shook my reality on what reality is.

Everyone in a leadership role should read this book. It would probably prevent a lot of sloppy decision making in businesses and governments today.

It’s based on a simple concept that we have 2 ways of thinking. System 1 thinking is fast and can make decisions quickly and effortlessly based on some sort of intuitive understanding. And then there is System 2 thinking which is much harder, is much slower, and often far better. Here’s a quick example of how the two systems play together taken directly from the book:

A bat and ball cost $ 1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? A number came to your mind.

The number, of course, is 10: 10 ¢.

The distinctive mark of this easy puzzle is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing, and wrong. Do the math, and you will see. If the ball costs 10 ¢, then the total cost will be $ 1.20 (10 ¢ for the ball and $ 1.10 for the bat), not $ 1.10. The correct answer is 5 ¢.

If you answered 10¢, that was your System 1 thinking. Your system 2 thinking is what you needed to make sense of why you were wrong in the first place. The book is filled with all sorts of mental twists like that one and by reading this, maybe you’ll start to think differently about thinking.

#1 The Coddling of the American Mind

By Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

I ‘read’ this book on audio, and it was so good I listened to it 3 times back to back. I’m also going to be reading the actual book this year. Why? Because it’s just that. damn. good.

I’ll warn you if you lean liberal you might struggle in the beginning points of this book, but keep reading and have an open mind. The book is incredibly bi-partisan and it addresses both sides equally.

I’ve recommended this book to several of my friends who are parents and without exception, all of them who have read the book come back to me raving about this work. But I don’t think it’s just for parents. I don’t have any children and this book just put into words things that I’ve felt but didn’t know how to articulate as clearly. From the Book Page:

First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt shows how the new problems on campus have their origins in three terrible ideas that have become increasingly woven into American childhood and education: what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people. These three Great Untruths are incompatible with basic psychological principles, as well as ancient wisdom from many cultures. They interfere with healthy development. Anyone who embraces these untruths—and the resulting culture of safetyism—is less likely to become an autonomous adult able to navigate the bumpy road of life.

I think the reason why I enjoyed this book so much even though I’m not a parent, is because I see these 3 terrible ideas beyond universities. They are now mainstream concepts enflamed by extremists from the left and the right in their own ways, and blind to how they are complicit but so quick to spot it on the other side of the aisle.

Top 5 Books That Made Me a Better Business Person

  1. Everyone Deserves a Great Manager
  2. Principles
  3. Turnover is Vanity, Profit is Sanity
  4. Thinking Fast and Slow
  5. The Dichotomy of Leadership

Top 5 Books That Made Me a Better Citizen

  1. The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle
  2. The Violence inside Us
  3. Fredrick Douglass – Profit of Freedom
  4. A Warning by Anonymous
  5. How to Be Anti-Racist

Top 5 Books That Made Me a Better Human

  1. The Coddling of the American Mind
  2. Stillness is the Key
  3. Blindspot
  4. Leonardo da Vinci
  5. Crucial Conversations

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