Books I Read in 2016

Every year is full of ups and downs and my 2016 was full of extremes. From traveling to places I had never been to before to picking up some habits I wish I had developed earlier. One of such habits is reading books and that is exactly what this post is about. Before now I hardly read books and even when I do it’s mainly for some technical reference or something similar. I read more books this year than any other year.

I have been trying to figure out what triggered this sudden interest in books and it turns out that my yearning to learn new things and broaden my knowledge drove me to read all the books I could get my hands on. In times like this, one may consider me a dinosaur because I prefer to read physical books (feel the crinkle of the pages) than read electronic versions. So, not only did I read a lot more books that previous years, I also bought more books than I ever have.What follows is a chronicle of the all the books I read in 2016. Here’s the list:

  1. The Lean Startup, Eric Ries.
  2. The Third Wave, Steve Case.
  3. Mastery, Robert Greene.
  4. How Google Works, Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg, with Alan Eagle.
  5. Agile IT Organisation Design, Sriram Narayan.
  6. Lean Enterprise, Humble, Molesky & O’reilly.
  7. Lincoln on Leadership, Donald T. Philips.
  8. Zero to One, Peter Thiel.
  9. Debugging Teams, Fitzpatrick & Collins-Sussman.
  10. Cashflow Quadrant, Robert Kiyosaki.

The Lean Startup is a popular book in the startup world. The heart of the book obviously lies in its lean approach to running a company. The book teaches a build-measure-learn; rinse and repeat approach to developing and trying out ideas, fail fast and fail often, gather feedback by any means necessary and act upon it, detect and avoid vanity metrics. 

The Third Wave was the first book I read from beginning to end at one go. I read it on a flight from New York to Abuja via Dubai and that gave me more than 20 hours to read the book. Steve Case, one of the forces behind AOL narrates what he thinks the future of information technology would be. This isn’t some fictional tale about the future, the book looks at the two waves (social sites and mobile) that swept the IT scene and forecasts that the next wave of IT (third wave) would be one where everything has an app and where data is gathered in large amounts and analysed to transform industries. If you look around you’ll see that this is already happening. Cars have apps, shoes have apps, homes have apps and so on. 

Mastery is a book about mastery and mastery is at the core of any profession. When you love doing something to the point where the reward for the doing it is the work itself then that’s what mastery is. Robert Greene has written a lot of books I have read in the past and if you’ve read any of his books you’ll see that this one follows a similar approach. The book is broken down into several logical sections and each section is made up of chapters and the chapters are filled with stories around the core theme. There are loads of examples and stories to back everything he talks about in the book but what strikes me the most is how several themes in the book directly relate to my growth in my chosen career. The principles discussed in this book, when applied to anyone’s carrier gives you a way to tell if one is truly growing, where one is expected to be at a certain point in their career and so on. The book goes far back in time to when there were no formal institutions of education and asks the question, “how was knowledge passed down?”. Turns out that apprenticeship was the primary way knowledge was passed and the book goes further to talk about the different phases between apprenticeship and mastery. This book was recommended to me by the photographer that took pictures on my daughter’s naming ceremony. 

How Google Works is a book I bought out of curiosity and it turned out to be a good read. The book basically talks about how to run a company that has “people” in it and not mere “human resources”. As expected, there are lots of examples based on how Google runs things at Google.

Agile IT Organisation Design by Sriram Narayan (had to teach myself how to pronounce this) not only talks about Agile methods but focuses on how to align Agile practices with business outcomes. Typically software engineering outfits understand and practice Agile methods but in a lot of cases that never really translates into improved business outcomes, Agile IT Organisation Design gives an in-depth analysis of why it is so and discusses ways in which companies can restructure themselves such that the proven benefits of Agile methods will permeate through the whole organisation and deliver better business outcomes. If you lead a company, or you’re at the c-level or you’re just an employee interested in modern management practices then this book is a must read. 

Lean Enterprise is a book that focuses on how large organisations can innovate from within, similar to startups. Being a large organisation means you have to deal with a whole lot of issues which in most cases simply stifle innovation. The end result is that such organisations wither and it isn’t surprising because it’s a known fact that the golden rule of business in this century is “innovate or die”. This book covers how large organisations can overcome their cultural and management challenges and better position themselves for survival and innovation. Management style and company culture by extension are major stumbling blocks for big organisations and this book gives a pathway to handling such issues. I got this book as a gift for attending a dinner organised by ThoughtWorks in New York. 

Lincoln on Leadership is a book that looks at the life of Abraham Lincoln and his leadership style. After reading the book one gets an impression that Lincoln led as he lived, his leadership style and lifestyle were one and not a role he gets into as he steps into the oval office. His hands-on approach to leadership as he led Americans through the civil war, his thought process, letters are all part of what this book talks about. 

Zero to One is one of my favourite books. I read it in a flash and because what I read was an electronic version I got the print version and read it as well. Till today I carry the book around with me. The book has less than 220 pages and it presents its view in a direct and blunt way, what more do you expect from a serial entrepreneur? Unlike all other books I’ve read, this one focuses on how you should “think” for yourself about your business environment! It talks about how building a company that only to ends up focusing on the competition as a complete waste of time and resources. It also talks about how and who you should hire as co-conspirators (employees), the ever important role of sales to any business, the ownership, possession and control of a company. All this gets delivered straight at you, no boilerplate talk just powerful words and sentences. If you are in the startup space, just pick this book up and jump to any page and read any random sentence and you are sure to get something to ponder about.

Debugging Teams is a book that talks about a lot of things I personally care about, one of which is: the human side of software development. Until we get to a point where computers will produce software for other computers, software development will remain a social activity and that means that the quality of any piece of software would be a direct result of the quality of interaction and communication between the people that built it. This book talks about how teams can become better at what they do by simply exhibiting humility, respect and trust for each other regardless of what their role on the team is. Technical teams often forget that people are not computers and expect that everyone on a team to react and behave the same. Teams that put people first do away with a lot of control but the upside is that you get the right people to be more committed and productive. That makes a whole lot of difference. 

Cashflow Quadrant is a book I think should be studied right from secondary school to the tertiary level. Financial education in general is something that should be incorporated into school curricula. If you haven’t read this book then prepare to get your mind changed about how you think about money and this is the central theme of the book! It presents a different view of money in a concise manner and groups income that people earn into four groups; employee, self-employed, business owner and investor. It gives a breakdown of the mentality of people that fall into each of the quadrants and how by simply changing the way one thinks can improve one’s income. The main problem is that it takes a lot of effort to change how someone thinks about money but by simply doing that, you expose yourself to a wealth of opportunities that will earn you wealth. People who read a lot will read all I’ve read in a year, in a month but from where I am coming from this is a major milestone as I’ve decided to keep the habit.

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