Transformative Books Read in 2014

I have a confession: I have a book buying vice. It all started because of a simple rule, if I hear a positive review about a book from three different people, I buy it. This past year I’ve read some fantastic books, ranging from how the mind works, entrepreneurship, beating the odds, transformation, personal finance, to happiness.

Here are the top twelve books I read in 2014:

1. The Law of Success: In Sixteen Lessons – Napoleon Hill
This is the longer, stream-of-consciousness version of Think and Grow Rich. In a nutshell, our minds are incredibly powerful; with discipline and self-control, we can become anything we set our mind to. The book is divided into sixteen laws for success: The Master Mind, a Definite Chief Aim, Self-Confidence, the Habit of Saving, Initiative and Leadership, Imagination, Enthusiasm, Self-Control, Habit of Doing More than Paid For, Pleasing Personality, Accurate Thought, Concentration, Co-operation, Failure, Tolerance, and the Golden Rule. I read this with a group of friends and got a lot out of this book.

2. The Desire Map – Danielle LaPorte
This is the follow-up book to LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions, which I definitely recommend reading first. This book revolutionized how I view goal setting. Instead of focusing on all the stuff we want to have, get, accomplish and experience outside of ourselves, LaPorte suggests focusing on how we want to feel. Rather than the goal being a destination, it’s about the journey. According to LaPorte, “when you get clear on how you want to feel, the pursuit itself will become more satisfying.” This book is beautifully written and inspiring. The first part is about the how and why; the second part serves as a workbook to actually determine your core-desired feelings.

3. The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Prepare to be transported into a different world – or at least this was my experience. In this book Diffenbaugh goes back and forth between telling the story of a little girl and that same girl all grown up. This story is about Victoria, a damaged foster child who learns to communicate through the deflective language of flowers. While it is dark, it is also a story of hope. I loved learning the Victorian age meaning of different flowers and following Victoria through her journey of self-discovery and meaning.

4. The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
This is a must read if you work at a startup or are an entrepreneur. Mixpo’s CEO Jeff Lanctot recommended this book and I quickly understood why. Horowitz is one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. This book is his story of founding, running and selling technology companies; Ben does not sugarcoat the CEO experience. I devoured this book, reading it in just a few days. It gave me intense empathy for how challenging the CEO role is and practical advice for navigating start-up trials. Specifically it broke down how to have hard conversations, create a lasting culture, hire and manage world-class people, hold one-on-ones that work and how to lead. (It was extremely refreshing how he equally interchanged masculine and feminine pronouns).

5. The Boys in The Boat – Daniel James Brown
I highly recommend this utterly captivating and inspiring book. Brown transported me back in time to Seattle during the Depression and to Hitler’s surreal Berlin during the 1936 Olympics. Brown masterfully sets the stage with ALL the odds stacked against Joe Rantz and the University of Washington Crew Team. That is how he got me hooked. Like David Laskin, I “read the last fifty pages with white knuckles, and the last twenty-five with tears in my eyes.” As an athlete, I love to read about triumph through tribulation, the story behind the glory, and the grit and hard work of the individuals who made it happen. I was not the athlete with bounds of God-given raw talent. Where I found results was through hustle and harnessing the power of my mind. I can relate to overcoming obstacles and felt the characters emotions, fought their battles and triumphed with them as they crossed the finish line. Full review.

6. Onward – Howard Shultz
In one word, this book is about transformation. Starbucks has always been a company I’ve admired, after this behind the scenes look on how Shultz guided the company through extreme challenges, my respect for them has grown. It is a beautifully written book about people, ethics, culture, growth and strategy. Read this book if you are building a transformative organization, one that will last because it is build on solid values, purpose and principles.

7. Turning Pro – Steven Pressfield
The War of Art is one of my favorite books. It is about the inner-battle of going from an amateur to a professional, the battle of against procrastination and discovering how to find one’s inner muse. Turning Pro is the sequel. By changing one’s mind, we can give up the comfortable amateur life to become the best version of ourselves. We can become the person we were meant to be because we bring our art, our work to life. The book is short and its wisdom seemingly simple; focus and discipline are required to apply its teaching and become a professional in our field.

8. The Compound Effect – Darren Hardy
The Compound Effect is the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices. I don’t believe in “over-night” success. Instead, I agree with Hardy that decisions shape our destiny. Little, everyday decisions either take you to the life you desire or to disaster by default. Hardy provides an easy-to-use, step-by-step system that allows you to multiply success, chart progress, and achieve any desire.

9. Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
After reading The Tipping Point and Blink, I had a feeling I would like this book. Gladwell doesn’t disappoint. His usage of data, story and practical application is a winning combination. In this book he uncovers that the story of success is more complex than it initially appears. Once we look at things such as family, birthplace, or even birthdate, we discover that success is not random as it seems. This was a fascinating and provocative read.

10. The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin
I read this book over the course of the whole year. It is about focusing on the things that make us happy. First one must identify what brings her joy, satisfaction, and engagement. Next, make resolutions with concrete actions that will boost happiness. Finally, keep your resolutions. Rubin suggests having a monthly theme with multiple resolutions related to that theme. Each month you add a new set of resolutions while continuing the resolutions from the prior months. She creates a tracking system to monitor her success. I like her approach of picking a main theme each month and developing the associated habits. This seems very manageable and I will be implementing my own version in 2015.

11. Growth Hacker Marketing – Ryan Holiday
If you’re a marketer, read this book. Short and consumable, this book explains the future of PR, marketing and advertising. As we know, marketing is no longer about press releases, TV commercials and billboards. The new playbook involves tools that are testable, trackable and scalable. Growth hacking is about repeated modification. The book begins with an intense focus on the customer and finding product market fit. Then it provides examples of ways to reach those prospects/customers in the way they learn about and shop for your product. And finally breaks down virality, retention and optimization. Holiday uses examples from big tech companies we all know, yet it was easy to make the leap towards how I can apply this to my own company.

12. MONEY Master the Game – Tony Robbins
If you’re getting started with taking responsibility for your finances, read Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich. When you want to take your finances to the next level, read Tony Robbin’s book. Robbins used his access to 50 of the world’s most legendary financial experts to find out how they invest their money. Then he distilled their expertise down into a simple 7-step blueprint. This book gave me an insider’s view of investing, changed our financial strategy and has given me the confidence that we can achieve our financial goals. It is a meaty book (over 600 pages), but well worth the time to read it. He also provides the tools to immediately get started on implementing what you’ve learned in the book.

What did you read in 2014 and what’s on your list for 2015?

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