Recommended Reading

The 32 Best Books I Read in 2018

With millions of titles to choose from, figuring out what to read can be a challenge. With only so many hours in the day there is a limit on how much one can consume. In 2018 I read over 40 books and hundreds of articles. Most of them were worth reading. When do I find the time to read? Well, I cheat.  I have a 30-40 minute work commute each way, and I listen to audio books. I take notes with a hands-free voice recognition feature on Evernote. Books I actually read are typically on Kindle, and I rarely sit still for 5 minutes without reading something. Planes, airports, doctor’s office waiting rooms… never pass up an opportunity to expand your mind.

I try to vary what I read. While I prefer nonfiction, especially books about how to understand the world, each other, or myself a little better, I feel it’s important to also read fiction and classics. There is much to learn from these as well, and changing things up keeps the brain tissue limber.

While I would recommend all of the 32 books on this list, I highly recommend Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational (a wonderfully written book about how your mind doesn’t always function the way you think it does), Lois Zachary’s Starting Strong (a great guide for mentoring), and Lazlo Bock’s Work Rules! (an insightful set of guidelines that could revolutionize your organization). These books can challenge the way you think, which is the highest praise I can give an author.

Happy Reading!


With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge

Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright

Light Falls: Space, Time, and an Obsession of Einstein by Brian Greene

The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by Steven Johnson

Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat by Giles Milton

Secrets Revealed by Willis Bullard


I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks

The Book of Lost Things: A Novel by John Connolly

Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict by Max Brooks et al

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

How We Think

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink

What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves by Benjamin K. Bergen

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schultz

The Art Of Thinking In Systems: Improve Your Logic, Think More Critically, And Use Proven Systems To Solve Your Problems – Strategic Planning For Everyday Life by Steven Schuster

Think In Systems: The Theory and Practice of Strategic Planning, Problem Solving, and Creating Lasting Results – Complexity Made Simple by Zoe McKey

Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp by John Medina

The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by Samuel C. Florman

The Systems Thinker: Essential Thinking Skills For Solving Problems, Managing Chaos, and Creating Lasting Solutions in a Complex World by Albert Rutherford

Systems Thinking Strategy: The New Way to Understand Your Business and Drive Performance by Jimmy Brown PhD

Leadership and Management

Starting Strong: A Mentoring Fable by Lois J. Zachary

The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success by William Thorndike

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord

Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock

Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr

The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired: (Performance-based Hiring Series) by Lou Adler

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute

Strategic Learning: How to Be Smarter Than Your Competition and Turn Key Insights into Competitive Advantage by Willie Pietersen

Don’t Reply All: 18 Email Tactics That Help You Write Better Emails and Improve Communication with Your Team by Hassan Osman

Behind Boardroom Doors: Lessons from a Corporate Director by Betsy Atkins


I can’t turn down a good book sale, especially when they are free on Kindle, so I’ve already collected quite a few books for next year. Here’s a preview.

Currently On the Shelf for 2019

The Mathematical Corporation: Where Machine Intelligence and Human Ingenuity Achieve the Impossible By Josh Sullivan

A Philosopher’s Notes – On Optimal Living, Creating an Authentically Awesome Life and Other Such Goodness by Brian Johnson

Philosophy on Tap: Pint-Sized Puzzles for the Pub Philosopher by Matt Lawrence

Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader by Fred I. Greenstein

The Divine Comedy: Dante Inferno Purgatorio Paradiso by Dante Alighieri

Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett

The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky

The Science of Self-Learning: How to Teach Yourself Anything, Learn More in Less Time, and Direct Your Own Education by Peter Hollins

A History of the Corruptions of Christianity by Joseph Priestley


I hope you have a chance to read some or all of the titles above. If you do, I would love to hear from you, whether you enjoyed or hated the book.

Have a wonderful 2019!








Get the Rock out of the Road: Leading Change amidst resistance

As a brand new Lieutenant I was welcomed to my first battalion by a senior lieutenant named Ed who was getting ready to leave the unit. He had been there three years and was headed back to the states to get promoted and go to Captain School. (It wasn’t really called that, but most of my followers aren’t familiar with the Engineer Officer Advanced Course, and I though Captain School sounded cooler).

Ed was full of wisdom. And since he was older and wiser and I was (as my platoon sergeant so eloquently put it) still wet behind the ears, I listened intently.

He offered advice when I attempted to buy an extra large rucksack. “Why do you need that?” To carry more stuff in the field. “We’re a mechanized unit. You have a vehicle for that.” I know, but we may need to dismount and walk a ways. “If you walk more than 300 yards you should fire your driver.” Ed was good at pointing out the obvious stuff for me.

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Chicken Metrics: Driving Your Organization the Wrong Way

About fifteen years ago I had the privilege to sit in on an executive leadership training session for a major corporation. During this session, corporate leaders discussed various issues their company was having. Most of these discussions centered on stories; anecdotes that represented issues the company faced. One story in particular stuck with me…

A well-known fried chicken chain restaurant was being inspected by their corporate efficiency team. The goal was to improve operations at all of their outlets in order to maximize profits. This seems reasonable as making money is usually the goal of such places.

The corporate team brought with them hundreds of metrics designed to identify and minimize all the little inefficiencies that creep into such operations and nibble away at profit. The local store in question was doing pretty well. They were “green” on most of the major metrics and had very few “red” ratings. One of these red categories, though, was costing them quite a bit: they were throwing out too much chicken. Health codes, of course, limit how long chicken can sit on the rack before it loses its serviceability and must be disposed of.

This local store was leading the region in thrown out chicken, an obvious hit to the bottom line. Something must be done! The corporate inspectors chided the local manager and left him with instructions to fix that metric. They would be back in 60 days to check on him. Continue reading


Urban Legends, Myths, and the Irrational Tendency to Ignore Facts

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” – Mark Twain

A few months ago I attended a High School soccer match downtown which was scheduled to end just in time to get the spectators (who were largely from the suburbs) out into afternoon traffic. As the game wound down the usual debate began amongst the local traffic experts sitting in the stands about how to make the 25 mile drive back to our home town. “Take I-40 straight to 67 then go on up,” says one. “You’ll be stuck for an hour that way. Better to go through town and up I-30,” retorts another expert. “I never go that way at this time of day! It’s sure to be backed up,” says a third. I watched in fascination as these guys speculated as to the likelihood of traffic delays and the usual traffic patterns. No consensus was found and I was interested as to whether this was going to turn into a live experiment after the game.

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Recommended Reading

Bob’s 2017 Reading List

This year’s reading list is geared towards helping people develop as leaders. To me, being a good leader requires a variety of skills: self awareness and empathy (understanding yourself and those you lead and follow), clear thinking, strategic thinking (including systems thinking), an understanding of your context (the environment within which you are working), a robust understanding of your work, and some flare. The books below don’t cover all of these characteristics, but they are a good start. “Thinking about Thinking” helps leaders understand why they and others think the way they do. Strategic Thinking helps leaders understand where their problems exist within a larger context, and gives insight into what external things may be influencing your problems.

The section labeled “Leadership” touches on mentorship, motivation and creativity in leadership. If you are looking for a basic primer on straightforward techniques on leadership you can do a lot worse than the basic Army doctrine manual, Field Manual 6-22 Army Leadership.

“Thinking About the World” introduces some different opinions about some emerging areas influencing society. Data, social networks, different views that challenge conventional wisdom… the point is to question the accepted views on a variety of topics, not to change your mind but to exercise your ability to consider different views.

“Just to be Different” section is really about introducing and exercising divergent thinking. How might this make you a better leader? Look, everyone is trying to do the same things as everyone else, only better. The way I figure, everyone is trying so hard to be “normal” that we are missing out on the things that can really make a difference in our organizations. If you look throughout history for those folks who really made a difference you don’t find too many conformists. Yes, you have to figure out which rules you need to follow, but following the herd isn’t going to make you a great leader. Think differently.

The final section is geared towards my own organization and our specific context. You should develop a short reading list for your place as well. One of the best ways to get folks socialized is to send them a book that helps them understand their new firm before they arrive.

I know it’s a long list… but you have as long as it takes. I recommend reading one from each category, taking a break (read some fiction… I’ll recommend some in a later post), and then looping back through. Continue reading