Best Books So Far for 2017
With mid-summer upon us and reading time coming up on those wonderful summer breaks ahead, it’s time to highlight five of my favorite books so far this year.
- Irresistible – Adam Alter’s new book is about how addictive digital technology is – and, shockingly, is intended to be so. His research and findings will surprise you, including how tech titans like Steve Jobs (and others) imposed strict limits on their kids with the use of digital technology like Apple computers. The Washington Post had a wonderful article recently about a school principal offering her students $100 to not look at their digital devices during Tuesdays over this summer. I wonder how many will truly resist? Just think how few years have passed since we didn’t have some sort of smartphones or digital device to be tempted by!
- Weapons of Math Destruction — Continuing on the digital theme, Cathy O’Neil makes two very important points about digital algorithms and coding. First, algorithms are nothing more than opinions embedded in code. And, second, there is no such thing as an objective algorithm, because, at the very least, the person building the algorithm defines success. Most people assume there is some objectivity in code writing – and, implicitly assume that technology will deliver a correct answer. From her research and work at MIT, Harvard, Berkeley and Columbia, she helps us understand the tremendous subjectivity in digital algorithms and code writing. In today’s world, I too often feel we forget to question assumptions, especially about technology, and to what ends it is taking us.
- Thank You for Being Late — Tom Friedman has written another superb, encompassing book helping us to make sense of today’s seemingly accelerating, out-of-control world. Using his three forces driving this acceleration: climate change, markets and technology (and, leading to what he calls the ‘power of one’ for an individual), Friedman deftly takes us on a journey, part-personal, as he explores each of these forces and how they interact. For me, the only weak link was the end as he tries to help readers feel better – or it’s “all going to be OK”. Yet his style, breadth, logic and wonderful stories made this book one of my favorites.
- Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert, the well-known author of the memoir, “Eat, Love and Pray,” published a real surprise recently: an inspiring, self-help book about creativity. It is not about creativity per se, but really about living more creatively. In our world that is so focused on fear, I found her book refreshing and insightful since she tells wonderfully insightful stories, shares her neuroses and bring to life small and large inspirations in ways everyone can understand. In so many ways, she tries to coax us to find those things in life that give us joy – and start to do more of these in our daily lives. Since I spend a lot of time working with leaders and teams on leadership, this book gave me some new insights and ideas for my own life and to share with others.
- Astrophysics for Those in a Hurry – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s short book is simply brilliant. From black holes to quantum mechanics, he succinctly explains complex topics with wit and lucidity. From a business point of view, I have watched quantum physics seep into many strategy conversations, especially how we affect each other (e.g. observer and observed) and perceived sense of time, both for a company and for an industry. Now, with such a short book, you’ll have no excuse not to understand more about the universe.
In case you missed this one, Flash Boys – I admit that I’m a bit slow to finally read this one, but Michael Lewis’ book (from 2014 – not his most recent one, “The Undoing Project”) about high speed trading was so intriguing. In my work helping clients think about even the smallest ounce of differentiation, the power of a few milliseconds was a new twist. For most companies, such powerful ideas too often remain ideas, since the difficulty of actually implementing them is so challenging. Today’s world of more accelerated technology is creating new competitive advantages for some – and, big cliffs for those unprepared. With Lewis’ amazing skill in storytelling, this book was a real joy to read.
And, for those of you looking for good fiction, I just finished Lian Hearn’s latest quartet of books called the “The Tale of Shikanoko.” She has drawn upon an amazing variety of Japanese historical legends to tell a beautiful, evocative and well written story. Enjoy these summer reads!