Sent on December 17th 2021.
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📚 10 Favorite Books of 2021
In 2021, I read 61 books. 48 Kindle books, one hardcover book, and 12 audiobooks. Here are the top ten books, my favorites from 2021. If you want to follow my reading, you can add me on Goodreads.
But before I reveal my top ten books, I want to share a few things about my reading and how it has evolved during 2021.
How my reading has evolved
At the start of the year, I was mostly reading on Kindle. I integrated my Kindle Highlights to Readwise, which automatically exports the highlights and stores them for resurfacing highlights on the Readwise app. I then added another export, where Readwise would do a daily dump of all the highlights into my Roam Research account.
This is a video that showcases the integration with Kindle highlights, Readwise and Roam.
Readwise is brilliant. It enabled me to claim highlights from the books I was reading, automatically being sent to my “second brain.” I constantly use what I’m reading when I’m creating pieces for EGD.
Here’s a great tutorial on how to integrate Readwise with Roam.
Here are my favorite books of 2021
These aren’t in any particular order, but I’d have to say that these were my ten favorite books of 2021. With some of these books, I’ve share my highlights on the website. You can find the links to these below.
The Wright Brothers
“With all the adversities we faced, it was the happiest time we had ever known.” — Orville Wright
This was one of the best books I read in 2021. One of the best entrepreneurial stories ever.
The brothers were tinkerers, always trying out ideas and improving on what worked and what didn’t. They are the embodiment of discovering through experimentation. They were scientists. They were great at argumentation, which led to new insights.
Bring everything to question, don’t take anything for granted. For example, in my first startup, Ironstar, we’d set our character art in stone and had an immense amount of content created, with no question or validation to experimentation. When we launched, the style wasn’t appealing for the target audience we wanted but skewed to a much younger demographics that was harder to monetize.
Other learnings that I took from the Wright Brothers, you can read my notes and highlights by going here.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln’s cabinet was a mixed bag, opposing individuals. This book unravels a mixed bag: their backgrounds, how the four main characters all tried for the Republican nomination in 1860, how they developed their ambitions, and how they were involved in the eternal struggle between right and wrong.
As an investor, I’m spending much of my time helping early-stage startups grow. Often, the situations in startups are similar to the dilemmas that the Civil War cabinet faced. The struggle, the difference between people, emotions being hard to settle.
As any great chief executive, Lincoln had acute self-awareness and the capacity to dispel anxiety in constructive ways. But he also needed visits to others to cheer up and motivate himself to bring back the motivation to others in his circle.
This was such a great book, highly recommend that you get it from here.
Shackleton by Ranulph Fiennes is the best book ever written by Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer. This book, which came out in 2021, reveals so much more about Shackleton than the details of his polar expeditions. It’s an autobiography that made me relate more to Shackleton through my entrepreneurial aspirations.
For startups, it matters so much that you create a sense of feeling that we are all in the same boat and can pull through in hard times if we all work together. Remove the feeling of a big corporation, a safe paycheck. Startups are dangerous.
Shackleton had a relentless drive to achieve it. But he never clearly knew what it was. Like starting a new games company, four, five, six, seven times and each time failing to make success. Possibly because you never knew what you wanted.
The book uncovers more. It shows us that Shackleton was more than just the relentless drive. The book shares his leadership stories and allows no man to perish.
“He is a wonderful man. He looks after me himself with all the tender care of a trained nurse, which indeed he seems to be far more than merely my leader and master for the time being. He attends to me himself, making up the fire and making me a cup of tea during the night if I happen to say that I am thirsty, reading to me and always entertaining me with his wonderful conversation, making me forget my pain by joking with me continually, just as if I was a spoiled child. What sacrifices would I not make for such a leader as this.”
For my highlights and notes on the book, go here.
“Progress without difficulty is impossible, and that mastery isn’t a destination. It’s a way of life.” — Ron Friedman
Decoding Greatness by Ron Friedman is a remarkable book.
Last year I read Mastery by Robert Greene, which talks about how the geniuses in history work to master a skill or a profession. Ron Friedman’s book expands on what Greene wrote. It feels like a take on how the 20th and 21st-century geniuses develop mastery.
Reverse engineering, doing copy-work, having a taste, novelty vs. viability, competitive benchmarking, finding answers to complex questions, why cloned products don’t often work, diverse teams, metrics-driven work, feedback from our work from the outside and from inside, how to put effective 10k hours in. There’s so much to pick up from this book.
Like, this could be an investor, game maker, writer. Guess which master is being talked about here?
“He taught himself. How? By collecting works he admired, identifying crucial features that make them unique and working to re-create them from scratch. But he didn’t just copy—he evolved. He applied the formulas he uncovered and tweaked them by combining influences, experimenting with different tools, styles, and techniques, and taking lots of intelligent risks.”
For my highlights from the book, go here.
One of the big ideas from Eleven Rings by famed NBA coach Phil Jackson was on how you create bonding? How do you create a tribe?
Bonding was the most important thing to make the team work. You need to make them feel like brothers.
Making a team bond is a side product of having a system that works. For teams, this system is, based on Phil Jackson’s learning, a system of selfless, egoless approach to the work (to the game).
Second, how to change people? Phil Jackson has a few ideas: “inspire people to change themselves, and push people to discover their distinct qualities. Sit quietly together and meditate for 15 minutes. Being compassionate to their teammates and knowing the teammates well, inside out. Sometimes, shake things up, wake the team up. A coach shouldn’t want or need to be liked but respected.”
Third, the most essential thing for individuals is to grow as humans and as professionals. Winning will then take care of itself. “Great players make other players better.”
Read my notes and highlights from this book by going here.
A World Without Email
This is the third book in Cal Newport’s deep life “trilogy.” The first book was Deep Live, which I talked about in the books I read in 2020, then there’s Digital Minimalism, which talks about using technology and social media to better our lives.
As I read A World Without Email, I understood how a lot of the communication tools I use are hurting me and making it harder to live productively. It’s not only email, which is mentioned in the book’s title, that is hurting me. It’s also Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn messages, etc. All of them are the source of poisonous ad-hoc back-and-forth messaging.
Newport suggests that we schedule messaging for a time-block on each day. Like you want to have a thing like “office hours” in the afternoon from three to four when you reply to people. If you are in a company where people need you quickly for ad-hoc things, you want to explore the possibility of having quotas or “office hours” for your team first. Then eventually, broadening that to the entire company. Everyone will be happy if the change finally happens.
Thinking in Bets
Annie Duke wrote a book called Thinking in Bets. The book talks about poker in a totally different way than what you’d expect from a “poker” book. Duke goes into the details of what playing poker can teach us about decision-making. But poker isn’t just about handling learning and decision-making but handling emotions that stem from luck and uncertainty.
Why is poker such an excellent game? Annie Duke says: “Once the game is finished and you try to learn from the results, separating the quality of your decisions from the influence of luck is difficult.”
She continues, “Getting comfortable with “I’m not sure” is a vital step to being a better decision-maker.” “First, “I’m not sure” is simply a more accurate representation of the world. Second, and related, when we accept that we can’t be sure, we are less likely to fall into the trap of black-and-white thinking.”
To read what ideas I picked from the book, go here.
This was one of the biographies that I read this year. The book is about John D. Rockefeller who build a business empire in the late 19th century. It’s a tale of how someone grows to start a business, how they keep learning and building their skills.
His business skills were formed on creating an illusion on cooperation, as a facade for creating a monopoly in oil. Under the co-operative illusion, JDR consolidated oil refineries, railroads, everything related to oil production, distribution and sales in the 19th century. Rockefeller used ledgers as the 19th century equivalent for analytics and data mining, always being on top of the numbers.
The book is more than a story about a business mogul. It explores the intrinsic motivations, beliefs and doubts of Rockefeller. He grew up doing hard work, with his father always away. He learned strictness and prudence from mother. JDR had a saying ”Get all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” which shows as his guiding values in life.
Get the book by going here.
Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0
Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix says that he only rereads one book every year, and it’s Beyond Entrepreneurship. In late 2021, Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great, has updated his first book Beyond Entrepreneurship to the version 2.0. This is probably the best book I’ve ever read on company building and being a leader.
My favorite chapter about the book where the chapter on Vision, which pulls together the core values and beliefs, purpose and mission, under the concept of company vision. It’s possibly the clearest concept of company vision that I’ve read and very applicable to any company at any size. Even with a few co-founders with an idea.
Get the book by going here.
Another biography worth reading is Grant by Ron Chernow. I liked this tale of Civil War General and US President Ulysses S. Grant because it’s truly a tale of the underdog. Grant had ill luck for the first forty years of his life, constantly making him live in misery. But through that forty years of trouble, a person arises with decisiveness, clear-headedness, and self-reliance.
As Chief of the Army, Grant was eager to fight when predecessors were reluctant in war. He was uncomplaining as others had been irritable. Grant didn’t want to badger or scapegoat others. As president, he suffered since politics and decisive action are not always the best match. He blundered, but he was learning.
The book is an intense story of how people can grow and achieve their goals even when hardship is all around. Check out the book by going here.
That’s it for 2021. For next year, I’m putting a big focus on spending more time on some of the influential books, ones that I can get more from now that I’ve grown.
Books that I’m thinking of re-reading:
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
- All I Want To Know Is Where I’m Going To Die So I’ll Never Go There by Peter Bevelin
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
If you’d like to follow what currently I’m reading, you can add me on Goodreads.
Sponsored by Gameye
🎙 Oskar Burman — Doing your own thing
In this podcast episode, I talking with Oskar Burman, who is the co-founder and CEO of Fast Travel Games, a VR game studio based out of Stockholm, Sweden. Oskar has a long career in gaming, all the way from the 90s, and recently he as the managing director of Rovio’s Stockholm studio, makers of Angry Birds 2.
In this discussion, we talk about Oskar’s learnings from building studios, what he would do differently, and how people in gaming can manage expectations to improve their work.
Listen to the full episode by going here.
📃 Articles worth reading
+ 2021’s Merge Mayhem — “Over the last 12 months we have seen at least 16 new games with the Merge Mansion “Casual Merge-2″ loop start scaling their User Acquisition. Its developers are all sticking to their guns as we see conventionally casual-focused companies betting the majority of their monetisation on In-App Purchases, while hypercasual companies Lion and Voodoo include interstitial ads and have Rewarded Videos more deeply wedged inside their game economies.”
+ How to Make Difficult Decisions — “Be careful of organizations in which decision-making is not clear or purposely obfuscated. On the one hand, it can be an honest issue that just needs to be addressed. On the other hand, it can be a purposeful intention that helps politically oriented managers and leaders escape accountability and blame.”
+ Our Perspective on Blockchain Gaming — “Given the volume of conversations we have had with founders in this space, it often seemed like “new” ideas reflected the same thing everyone else was doing. Looking back, that was the wrong way to think about it. Even ideas that seemed saturated were actually innovating in small ways.”
💬 Quote that I’ve been thinking about
“It was high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, ‘always do what you are afraid to do.'”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
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I hope you have a great weekend!