Escaping the Echo Chamber of Awesomeness

On the wall during a Facebook Campus visit. 14 January 2019

Books come find me at precisely the moment I need them most.

The good thing about life is someone has been here before us and done most things. And it always helps to go to the source. We only need to open our eyes and ears and listen to their lessons.

I read. A lot. According to Amazon, I’ve averaged 23 days a month this year. It’s my hobby and keeps my mind open to new ideas and thinking.
Here’s what I read in 2019 and how it’s impacted my thinking. Reading is ok, but it’s also wasteful if you don’t learn from it and apply some of the lessons as you forge your own path and improve.

Seeing this list for the first time, it reflects the tough year that was 2019. Health issues in the close family, year two of growing my business and lots of international and local travel. My go-to place when it’s tough is to slow down, focus on habits that are stable and I know are good for me and read to learn or relax.

I’m a binger, so I find I blast myself with a theme for a while until I’ve had enough then rotate through a few categories I like. Occasionally I throw in something I have no interest in to get out of the echo chamber of awesomeness ( my biased world view). I like self-improvement, science fiction, history, technology, experimentation and entrepreneurship / rapid growth.

Learning from those who have come before

On China — Henry Kissinger

Lesson: By far, one of the most impactful books I’ve read. The West plays win-lose Chess in fiscal quarters. China plays the 1000 year game like water flowing around pebbles, realising there is no absolute win-lose, just a sometimes uncomfortable compromise to live with and tolerate your neighbours, no matter how different.

Watching global maneuvering between the ‘West’ and China, it seems like there is so little effort expended to understand China and how it thinks and operates. Henry Kissinger gives a balanced view and great personal insight over many decades into the massive cultural differences. Politics is like Mars negotiating with Earth right now. Bizarre to watch in real-time.

The Gathering Storm, 1948 (Winston S. Churchill The Second World War Book — Winston Churchill

Who better to tell the story of WW2 than Winston Churchill?
Lesson: It’s shocking how easily we could have prevented this horrific war with a longer-term view, and by simply honouring international agreements from WW1 while not focusing on petty internal politics. Sound familiar?

The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander the Great — Steven Pressfield

The master of history-action writing, Steven Pressfield. History told as a novel.


Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It — Chris Voss

Lesson: 50/50 sucks. How to get what both parties want to set up the project for success.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity — David Allen

Lesson: I re-read this annually to reset and remove complexity in my work processes, flow and prioritisation.

Every Tool’s a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It — Adam Savage

Lesson: Creation is iteration and that we need to give ourselves the room to try things that might not work in the pursuit of something that will.

Experimentation and Rapid Growth

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber — Mike Isaac

Lesson: Starting a business is hard. Rapid growth is harder. Changing an industry requires a touch of madness.

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries — Safi Bahcall

Lesson: Rethink of ‘disruptive innovation’ and more focus on the incremental change of Strategy vs Product innovation with a focus on how to create teams for loonshot vs franchise business.

A loonshot refers to an idea or project that most scientific or business leaders think won’t work, or if it does, it won’t matter (it won’t make money). It challenges conventional wisdom. Whether a change is “disruptive” or not, on the other hand, refers to the effects of an invention on a market.

Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great — Jim Collins

Lesson: Focus on my flywheel for 2020

The Right It: Why So Many Ideas Fail and How to Make Sure Yours Succeed — Alberto Savoia

Lesson: Many lessons on how to beat the beast of failure here, but working with Alberto Savoia to build my business, Exponentially, has been a privilege and opened the door to working with hundreds of smart people thinking about how to spend time building the right it!

Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It — Scott Kupor and Eric Ries

Lesson: I was gifted this at a visit to Andreessen Horowitz in July. “It’s not about the money. It’s about the F-ing money.”

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (Good to Great Book 5) — Jim Collins

Lesson: “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline”.

What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture — Ben Horowitz and Henry Louis Gates

Lesson: (1)The best idea should always win, and (2) virtues (what we do and how we act when nobody is looking) always trumps values (written down nonsense nobody does or remembers).

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell — Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle

Lesson: Cut the BS and enable your teams to be excellent.

Awaken the Giant Within — Anthony Robbins

Lesson: I was biased towards listening to Anthony Robbins. I thought it’s cheesy nonsense, but there’s a lot of wisdom in radical; self-enquiry and asking the hard questions of myself. And realising how few answers I really have.

Do Better Work: Finding Clarity, Camaraderie, and Progress in Work and Life — Max Yoder

Lesson: Focus on mutual opportunities for benefit.


Stillness Is the Key — Ryan Holiday

Lesson: Limit your inputs to what is useful and supports what you’re trying to achieve in your life.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams — Matthew Walker, PhD

Lesson: Why did I wait so long to learn about my body and how it really functions? I’ve slept an average of 8 hours a night for the past 10 years, so I’m on the right track. Now I understand why it matters so much.

Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (2 Book Series)) — Mark Manson

Lesson: There’s no point to this whole living exercise, so enjoy your brief time here. Summed up best here:

To transcend the transactional realm of hope, one must act unconditionally. You must love someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise it’s not truly love. You must respect someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise you don’t truly respect him. You must speak honestly without expecting a pat on the back or a high-five or a gold star next to your name; otherwise you aren’t truly being honest.

The Meaning of Life — The School of Life

Lesson: I read this while my brother was fighting cancer and it really focused me on what’s important. The right book at the right time.

On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old — Parker J. Palmer

Lesson: At 52, it’s worth understanding how smarter people deal with each new decade or life-phase. My life now is more about being fulfilled than owning shiny things. And trying to avoid this:

“Most of us,” as Merton brilliantly observed, “live lives of self-impersonation.”

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World — Cal Newport

Lesson: Tech isn’t evil, but you need to consciously choose the least amount of technology to do the job that needs doing. You can’t rely on willpower because you’re competing with armies of the smartest, best-paid people on the planet designing experiences to keep you clicking, swiping and browsing.

What makes general-purpose computing powerful is that you don’t need separate devices for separate uses, not that it allows you to do multiple things at the same time.

How to Sit (Mindfulness Essentials Book 1) — Thich Nhat Hanh and Jason DeAntonis

Lesson: Mindfulness has been my number one hack for the last three years. In this turbulent year, mindfulness has helped me ‘settle’ during periods of high stress.

The Manual: A Philosopher’s Guide to Life (Stoic Philosophy Book 1) — Epictetus, Ancient Renewal, and Sam Torode

Lesson: Whenever distress or displeasure arises in your mind, remind yourself, “This is only my interpretation, not reality itself.”

“If you wish to improve,” Epictetus once said, “be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.”

Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up — Jerry Colonna

Lesson: Confronting truth bombs end to end. “How are you complicit in creating the conditions of your lives that you say you don’t want?”

The Laws of Lifetime Growth: Always Make Your Future Bigger Than Your Past — Dan Sullivan and Catherine Nomura

Lesson: It’s ok to have a 25-year plan. I love that Dan Sullivan, at 70-something years old, has a 25-year plan. Also comforting to think about my goals over 1 5 or ten year period. Makes it much more achievable. A simple example is: If you want to make 1 Million dollars, it’s almost impossible to do this year, but it’s only 100k a year if you do it over 10.


36 Righteous Men: A Novel — Steven Pressfield

Strange book but a fun read.

The Time Travel Chronicles (Future Chronicles Book 7)

Samuel Peralta, Robert J. Sawyer, Rysa Walker, Lucas Bale, Anthony Vicino, Ernie Lindsey, Carol Davis, Stefan Bolz, Ann Christy, Tracy Banghart, Michael Holden, Daniel Arthur Smith, Ernie Luis, Erik Wecks, and Crystal Watanabe

The A.I. Chronicles (Future Chronicles Book 2)

Samuel Peralta, David Simpson, Julie Czerneda, Chrystalla Thoma, Pavarti K. Tyler, Susan Kaye Quinn, Peter Cawdron, Angela Cavanaugh, E. E. Giorgi, Alex Albrinck, Sam Best, A.K. Meek, Patrice Fitzgerald, Logan Thomas Snyder, and Ellen Campbell

The End Has Come (The Apocalypse Triptych Book 3)

John Joseph Adams , Hugh Howey , Seanan McGuire , Jonathan Maberry , Scott Sigler (Author), Ben H. Winters , Carrie Vaughn , Jamie Ford , Elizabeth Bear (Author), Ken Liu

The End is Nigh (Apocalypse Triptych Book 1)

John Joseph Adams , Hugh Howey , Jamie Ford , Paolo Bacigalupi , Seanan McGuire (Author), Sarah Langan , Nancy Kress , Jonathan Maberry , Tananarive Due , Scott Sigler , Charlie Jane Anders

Wastelands: The New Apocalypse — John Joseph Adams

Good mix of short sci-fi stories to discover new authors.

Change Agent — Daniel Saurez

Daniel Saurez always writes excellent action sci-fi.

My Takeaways

  • Stay focused on a healthy body, spirit and mind. The body is the engine that fuels the mind and spirit is relationships that bring the feeling of fulfilment.
  • Keep learning
  • Keep working hard with purpose
  • Don’t succumb to ‘rugged individualism’. Find the multiplier.
  • Avoid busyness. It’s ok to do nothing sometimes. It creates space to think.
  • Play more. Life doesn’t have to be so serious all the time!

If I zoom out, It’s been a privilege to learn from all these smart people that took the time to capture their thinking and pass on their wisdom. Bring on 2020!

CEO / Founder at Exponentially. Working to help innovators build The Right It using Pretotyping. 4 startups, 2 sold, 2 lessons. Love Tech. Board Member.

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