List of my favorite books

Solving important problems with systematic problem solving.

List of my favorite books

January 4, 2020 Uncategorized 0

A lot of people have asked me for book recommendations in the past months. Personal growth, psychology, business, leadership, culture and other of my favorite topics. I was also interested in reminding myself the books on these topics I have read so far. So I create a list. 

My top picks

My most favorite books so far in the order. 

  1. Stephen Covey: 7 habits of highly effective people. There’s no question about my most favorite book. I cannot imagine there will be a more influential book on me than 7 habits were. First time I read it was late 2014 or early 2015 and I have read it after circa 50 other books around “personal growth”. I remember more from 7 habits than from those 50 books combined. I realized most of the major troubles (if not all of them) I had (and others have) in life are from violating some of the 7 quite simple habits. I realized that maybe instead of learning tons of books, knowledge, and skills, I just need to practice a tiny set of core habits. I learned to solve better problems for better reasons in a better way. Covey’s 7 habits now form the core of my life philosophy and are behind many methods I use for myself and in my consulting. In the last 4 years, I have tried quite hard to find some better core elements of life philosophy (workshops, books, thinking, discussions, …) than Covey’s 7 habits are. I was not very successful, Covey seems to have extracted really, really good principles for life. Life-changing book. It gives much more than the title suggests. Highly applicable to personal life, to relationships and to work. 6 out of 5 stars. 
  2. Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Abrams: Book of joy. Nice summary of the main obstacles of joy and pillars of joy. A simple and nice life philosophy is communicated and sub-communicated throughout the whole book. When I return to the book and read a few pages, it’s almost guaranteed I have a better mood and smile on my face after reading. I bought this book to many people and many of them thanked me after reading. The key message for me: we are people, we are not perfect, we are social beings and while we don’t need much, we need good relationships with ourselves and others. (Note: While Dalai Lama is one of my role models and heroes and the Book of Joy is great, I don’t recommend his other books – have read several of them and except this one, they were not worth it and there’s pretty much the same message in all of them.)  
  3. Ray Dalio: Principles: Life & Work. I did not know who Dalio was, but when I saw there’s a new book called Principles, I immediately know I need to read it. I don’t like the book primarily because of what I have learned. Yes, the concepts of meaningful relationships, meaningful work, idea meritocracy, radical truth, and radical transparency have extended my active vocabulary and I now use them often. What I like the most about the book is emotional: when reading it, I believe it was 20 or more times when I said one of these things: “Hey, this is written about Ray, but could be written about me”, “This was my idea, he stole it” (knowing he did not), “This is exactly what I would do” and similar. Haven’t seen, read or heard any other person than Dalio who thinks and solves problems so similarly as I do. It’s nice to have a person like that. It gives you hope and strength to see that someone with so similar beliefs, type of thinking, a system of values, a system of doing things has more-than-successfully applied it to life and work. 
  4. Tim Ferriss: Four-hour workweek. It was my favorite book for some years until I read Covey. Two key thoughts I take from the book: 1) There are always different ways how to do things and those unseen might be much more effective – so try to look for them; 2) Opinion that the opposite of happiness is not sadness, but boredom and its application that instead of asking “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?”, one can ask “What can I do to make my life more exciting?” I might apply it more often than I do. (Note: I have also read significant parts of other 4 books by Ferriss and Tools of Titans or Tribe of Mentors are good too). 
  5. Patrick Lencioni: Advantage. Lencioni’s B2B consulting business is very similar to mine. Very similar areas of consulting, very similar objectives, similar approaches, and methods, facing similar challenges, … So very useful for me to review/extend my consulting practices. I like that he defined “organizational health” (a concept I might also start using) and that he defined it as a simple, complete and practical discipline. One thought I probably like the most is “the quantification bias”. That some leaders want to quantify the impact (or even predicted impact), ideally in the terms of the bottom line. After reading this book, if some lead asks me on something like that, I will probably go with Lencioni’s “Moreover, in spite of its power, organizational health is hard to measure in a precise, accurate way. It impacts so many disparate areas of an enterprise that it is virtually impossible to isolate it as a single variable and quantify its singular impact on the bottom line.” (Note: Also “The five dysfunctions of a team” by the same author is another one of my favorite books, one of those books which brought me to the topic of organizational culture.) 
  6. Josh Kaufman: The Personal MBA. Probably the most systematically written book I have read. Kaufman divides all the knowledge needed for business into several areas (e.g. Value Creation, Marketing or Sales), then he divides the needed knowledge in each area into several concepts (e.g. Free, Framing, Permission, and others in Marketing) and each concept is very nicely described even with relationship to other concepts. My unfinished book on problem-solving has a very similar structure and Kaufman’s Personal MBA was the first book where I have seen a similar structure. Very nicely structured book with tons of useful concepts that relatively completely covers not only the basics business. Moreover, because of the structure, you can easily go back to find more details on some concept when you need to remind. I am also thankful for this book that has led me to study more on systems theory.
  7. Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz: The Power of Full Engagement. At first sight, it’s basically an extension of Covey’s 7th habit (I “knew” that when buying the book and I still see it that way). However, it’s a little more than that. I believe Loehr and Schwartz coined the term energy management. It’s an alternative or supplement to classical time management. They divide energy into 4 aspects – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – and give good recommendations and examples to all of them. Moreover, they had a successful consulting career around that and probably some great systems (partially mentioned also in the book) supporting it. 
  8. John Kotter: Leading Change. A book that set a new discipline of change management. I got to this book after reading tens of books about psychology, organizations, cultures, leadership, management, after reading many research studies on change management by McKinsey and others, after participating in several bigger or smaller change projects and leading some of them. And even after all that knowledge and experience, I realized I saw many things incorrectly and did many things badly after reading this book. The book contains 8 steps for successful organizational change and I believe anyone who wants to do bigger organizational changes should get familiar with them. 

Notable reads 

Some other books which have strongly influenced me and I recommend reading. They are presented in clusters with random order. Not including weaker books I have read (and there were many more of them than of the great ones), but I am also not including some good books I forgot authors and names (borrowed from people or library, read in the book store, lent to someone, …)

Problem Solving

  • Atul Gawande: The Checklist Manifesto
  • Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Alan Barker: How to Solve Almost any Problem
  • Rolf Dobelli: The Art of Thinking Clearly
  • Morgan Jones: The Thinker’s Toolkit
  • James L. Adams: Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas
  • Malcolm Gladwell: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Business and leadership

  • Jim Collins: Good to Great
  • Jim Collins: Built to Last
  • Jason Fried, David Hansson: Rework
  • John Maxwell: Good Leaders Ask Great Questions
  • W. Edwards Deming: Out of the Crisis
  • Product Management for Dummies

Time and Project Management

  • David Allen: Getting Things Done
  • Project Management for Dummies

Organizational Culture

  • Patrick Lencioni: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team 
  • Dave Logan and others: Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization
  • Kim Scott: Radical Candor
  • Erin Meyer: The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done Across Cultures
  • Růžena Lukášová: Organizační kultura a její změna

Philosophy and spirituality

  • Stephen Covey: The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness
  • Holiday & Hanselman: The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living
  • Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
  • Mark Manson: Everything is F*cked: A Book about Hope

Psychology and sociology

  • Carol Dweck: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
  • Daniel Pink: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  • Charles Duhigg: The Power of Habit
  • Robert Rohm: Positive Personality Profiles: D-I-S-C-over Personality Insights to Understand Yourself and Others
  • Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers: The Story of Success
  • Malcolm Gladwell: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Relationships

  • Gary Chapman: The 5 Love Languages
  • John Gottman & Nan Silver: The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

Personal Growth

  • Tony Robbins: Awaken the Giant Within
  • Tim Ferriss: Tools of Titans
  • Tim Ferriss: Tribe of Mentors
  • David Deida: The Way of the Superior Man

Others

  • Chris Anderson: TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking
  • Marie Kondo: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing
  • Canfield & Chee: Coaching for Breakthrough Success: Proven Techniques for Making Impossible Dreams Possible
  • Charles Vogl: The Art of Community
  • Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Not included, but considered

  • I thought whether to include Simon Sinek (read his Start with Why and significant parts of his other books). Honestly, I don’t like his books, but think he is a source for many great thoughts (e.g. Start with Why, Finite vs. Infinite Games in Life and Business and others … ). I prefer to watch videos of him (he doesn’t say much more in books than in those short videos). 

Conclusion

By practice, I came to a heuristic to read the most mentioned books.

7 out of my 8 most favorite books are in Google search on keywords like “best self-improvement books”, “best spiritual books”, “best business books” and/or “best management books”. All except “The Power of Full Engagement”. And I have read many books not in those Google results and they didn’t end up among my most favorite books.

Also from the other perspective – I enjoyed (at least a little) almost every highly mentioned book on these topics. Exceptions are rare (I believe so far mostly Nassir Taleb, Robert Greene, and Jordan Peterson). However, among not that popular books, there were many I did not enjoy even a little. 

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