Nathan Tanner

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2016

We regularly hear about the importance of reading actual books. Despite the many benefits, for years I read very little, always making the excuse that I didn’t have time.

Three years ago, I decided to make reading a priority and I’ve read at least one book a month since. I’ve found reading to be a competitive advantage and I regularly learn new things I wouldn’t be exposed to in any other way.

I read a lot of great books in 2016. Here are my 10 favorites (in no particular order).

1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Originally published in 1984, Cialdini’s classic book is just as relevant today. Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or an analyst fresh out of college, you’re likely trying to become more persuasive. Influence outlines the psychological tactics used by people when influencing us to say yes when we would otherwise say no. These tactics are lumped into six categories which Cialdini refers to as weapons of influence. He shares why TV laugh tracks work, how free samples are effective in increasing sales, and why censorship may actually stimulate demand. In addition to teaching how to gain more influence, this book shares how we can avoid the tricks and tactics used by others to get us to do things we normally wouldn’t.

2. Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight

The book vividly captures the struggles of an entrepreneur’s life in the trenches. It’s easy to look at a large, wildly successful company like Nike and presume that it was bound for success from the start, but that’s failing to look at the bigger picture. The same can be said of your career. Instead of focusing on the end result of our efforts, consider the importance of strife along the way to achieving a goal. Knight, in fact, faced plenty of obstacles and turbulent times throughout his rise as a leader of the impressive brand. Your missteps are a part of your journey, and this personal account will help you see that.

3. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Do you struggle with distraction? I certainly do. My quest for productivity and efficiency is continually offset by the hundreds of things vying for my attention. Cal Newport argues that the ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly more valuable in our economy. I recorded an audio clip where I provide a summary of Deep Work, including my favorite passages and how I’ve tried to implement the books principles.

4. Linchpin: Are You Indispensable by Seth Godin

In Linchpin, Godin argues that everyone is an artist now. By his definition, an artist is somebody who does “emotional work.” Work that you put your heart and soul into. Work that matters. Work that you gladly sacrifice all other alternatives for. And in Godin’s words, the only way to get what you’re worth is to stand out, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about. My favorite lesson from this book was understanding how you can change your job without actually leaving it.

5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

When I was at LinkedIn, part of my job was spent facilitating trainings to help people work more cohesively and effectively. At the beginning of each session, I shared Maya Angelou’s quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

After quoting Maya several times, I decided to read one of her books. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first of her five volume autobiography. It starts with her early childhood in rural Arkansas and ends with an unwanted pregnancy that dramatically changed her life. Angelou’s stories are heartbreaking, eye-opening, and inspiring. Her life experiences brought a different perspective and changed how I see others and the world around me. Reading this book helped me to know better. I hope, as she promises, that it will help me to do better.

6. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

previously wrote about why I love this book and books written in a similar fashion, so I’ll skip right to my favorite passages:

  • “Employees work smarter and better when they believe they have more decision making authority and when they believe their colleagues are committed to their success.”
  • “Motivation is more like a skill, akin to reading or writing, that can be learned and honed… People can get better at self-motivation if they practice the right way. The trick, researchers say, is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings.”
  • “Sometimes the best way to learn is to make information harder to absorb. This is known in psychology as disfluency. The harder we have to work to understand an idea or to process a piece of data, the stickier it becomes in our brain.” (Example: our memory is stronger when we take notes on paper instead of a laptop.)

7. Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

I’ve never been an avid tennis fan, but I absolutely loved this biography. While many celebrity memoirs stay at a surface level or only share the part of their life they want you to see, Agassi’s bio is different. He is brutally honest with himself. He bares his soul. You get to know him at an intimate, personal level. And you find that he, like most of us, is a very complicated person. Agassi’s dad forced him to play tennis at a young age. He required Andre to hit more than 2,500 balls a day and one million balls a year. Agassi grew to despise the sport, yet he still played into his mid-thirties when he no longer needed the money. He hates tennis, as he shares repeatedly in the book, yet his identity is integrally tied to the game. I found Agassi’s vulnerability refreshing and empowering.

8. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

As an HR leader, I regularly think about how to recruit top talent. When I watched Angela Duckworth’s TED talk, I was persuaded that grit is the most important trait to hire for. Last year, Duckworth took her research on grit and published a book on the topic. In short, grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. According to Duckworth, grit is a better predictor of success than anything else. Grit wins over IQ, EQ, raw talent, good looks, physical health, and education. Gritty people view unmet goals not as a setback but as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reading this book will teach you how to develop more grit so you can do the things that are most important to you.

9. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

A fantastic biography about a man who needs no introduction. Walt demonstrated how “one could assert one’s will on the world at the very time when everything seemed to be growing beyond control and beyond comprehension.” My biggest takeaway from this book was the importance of finding people with strengths that complement your own. Walt couldn’t have built what he did without his brother Roy. Walt was the creative visionary, while Roy was the steadying hand who helped finance and operationalize Walt’s vision, a role that was vitally important to the growth of the Disney empire. Of Walt’s many accomplishments, his most impressive might be leaving behind a company that continued to innovate well beyond his passing.

10. Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Holiday convincingly argues that ego is the main thing holding us back from reaching our full potential. In our careers, ego can prevent us from developing our talents, and when we taste success, it can blind us to our own faults. Holiday shares anecdotes from the lives of historical figures who reached high levels of power and success by con­quering their own egos, as well as those who let ego conquer them. These stories drive home lessons that we all can apply. My biggest takeaway? Don’t focus on what your neighbors, your co-workers, or your classmates are doing. Focus on what you can control. Keep your own scorecard.

Last year I started publishing a monthly newsletter where I share the top career-related books and articles I’ve read. Click here to check it out.