My 2020 Reading List

January 17, 2021
books file on shelf

What a strange year. I consider myself fortunate that the pandemic didn’t affect my job. In some ways, it made life much better – I was much more involved with my kids, I cooked every day, and I had much more time to read. Well, the latter not so much. I spent the majority of March through October building Makerforce with the amazing Connor Weller and a team of dedicated volunteers. You can read about it here. Coordinating hundreds of volunteers left surprisingly little time for recreational reading. Most of the books I (re)visited in this list were related to Makerforce, with a few surprises written by friends. Keep reading to learn more.

WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to US – Tim O’Reilly
This provocative book was on my 2019 reading list. I picked it back up after Tim O’reilly himself tweeted about Makerforce and gave our process a name – “Adhocracy.” Harnessing the power of makers to solve the PPE crisis through impromptu supply chain innovation is actually an old idea with a new twist. We used online tools to replace the components of a supply chain with data. If you’re interested in how the data economy works, this is a must-read for you!

Future Shock – Alvin Toffler
Written in 1970, Future Shock is a about change and how people respond to it. I first read this at twelve years old and it scared the hell out of me. In a sense, this book made me resilient to the Information age and the many waves we’ve experienced – mass PC adoption, the rise of the Internet and software, conversion to mobile, and now the increasing use of AI. The fundamentals of Adhocracy were popularized in this work, so I revisited Future Shock for its insights on how to organize a group of people united by purpose, but specialized completely different ways. This is dense reading with some dated concepts, but a book any technologist should own.

I am Spock – Leonard Nimoy
This was a personal pick for me. Spock has always been a tremendous influential figure in my life, affecting my decision to pursue technology and more importantly, to not deeply specialize. This autobiography is filled with stories and insights about the actor and how he brought his full self to the role of Spock. I won’t spoil it for you. Any fan of Star Trek should visit this book. More importantly, anyone with empathy should take a look at how one can lead with empathy in their personal and professional lives.

How Design Makes the World – Scott Berkun
Recommended by a friend, this book visits the various ways that Design is reshaping the way we experience the world. This book isn’t just about the effects of design on technology, either. Lots of provocative nuggets in this book, particularly the chapter “Design is a Verb.” Lots of things will resonate. Chapter 16 – “Values and Tradeoffs” was personally relevant to my work with Decision Quality, particularly as it was told with the invention of USB at Intel as a backdrop. This is worth a read if you’re need frameworks to incorporate more design into your work or hobbies.

Design Museum Magazine
This isn’t really a book, but a monthly periodical exploring design topics in key technology areas. The Healthcare and Space issues sit within arm’s reach and I frequently thumb through them not just for inspiration, but to step out of my comfort zone. It’s easy to forget that simplicity usually means hidden complexity and that good design is an absolute requirement for any scalable business, even for hard products like space exploration and prosthetics. This is the cheapest way to have challenge and inspiration delivered to your door.

The Solution Book – Vidyangi Patil and Elina Kallas
This coyly named book belies the value in its pages. This fantastic book contains 101 tools that can improve an idea or startup. It contains all the basics like Lean Canvas, OKRs, wireframes, but introduces practical worksheets for interviewing customers and stakeholders, for decision making, for risk analysis, for inquiry, for negotiations, and much more. I met author Vida at a conference for entrepreneurial kids, where we both spoke about building innovation skillsets. I quickly came to appreciate the sheer number of tools in her arsenal. This has become an indispensable part of my teaching tool arsenal. It can be part of yours too. Highly recommended!

The Science of Getting Rich – Wallace Wattles and Ryan Rhoades
If you recognize the title of this book, it’s because it’s a very old title written in 1910 by Wallace Wattles. This version was co-written by my friend Ryan Rhoades, who drew inspiration from it in his moment of need. Ryan explains and updates Wattles’ lessons with modern examples drawn from his own experience as a designer and entrepreneur. This book is particularly relevant if you’re new to entrepreneurship and want to develop the right mindset.

Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh
The premise of this book is simple- customer service should be your product. Read this book to understand how Tony Hsieh ran Zappos and how you can deliver customer service as a product. Told as a collection of stories about Tony and about the early days of Zappos, this book is easy to digest, but packed with advice. I read this book as soon as it came out, having just seen Tony speak live at an event. The principles in this book became key to my approach as an entrepreneur and technologist. I pulled it off the shelf when I learned of Tony’s death late last year. There are 10 reasons why you should read this book right on the back cover. For me, it was “You want to figure out the right balance of profits, passion, and purpose in business and in life.” Highly recommended and this goes on my Innovator’s Bookshelf today.

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World – David Epstein
For me, this is the most important book of my 2020 reading list. I am an unashamed polymath, generalist, and multipod, All my life I have resisted the notion of deep specialization, because it felt wrong to me. Bringing together multiple domains and finding linkages among them is where I shine personally and professionally, and how I am able to find both meaning and time to sustain so many projects. This book is full of surprises, starting with the array of famous people who became wildly successful in their areas after building broad, sometimes unrelated skills. It also describes the process of building knowledge frameworks and transferring them between domains, with tips about putting the frameworks into action. Fantastic read- I wish there was a follow-on that delved deeper into the neuroscience of generalists. Range has earned a spot in the Thinking Different section of my Innovator’s Bookshelf. “Crossing the streams” is a hallmark of transformative innovation.

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