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Learning. Leadership. Doing.

What 24 Books Taught Me In 2018

by Josh Breland

Read in 10 minutes

I am grateful to hit my goal of 24 books for 2018. By scheduling daily time to read and listen to audiobooks, I was able to read many good books, and a few great ones. Below is my list, rankings, and meaningful quotes from each title.

Big Takeaways

You can read more than you’ve ever read before. Since having 3 kids, working full-time, and having multiple side projects, I have treated reading as optional. I certainly didn’t have any reading goals. Now, after hitting 24 books in one year, I know I can hit 50, and even 100. All I need to do is plan the work and work the plan.

Stories are so important for impact. The best books I read were story-laden. I want my own writing and daily interactions to be story-laden too. The old adage still rings true: facts tell, stories sell.

Habits build the lives we want (or don’t want). Almost everything you want in life is hiding behind a habit. Knowledge, wisdom, expertise, are all waiting for you on the other side of a habit. Conversely, ignorance, foolishness, and incompetence are also outcomes of habits. Choose your habits, choose your life.


  1. 4/5

    The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.

    If you want to bring a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior…you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured.


    We don’t drift in good directions. We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.

    To get from where we don’t want to be to where we do want to be requires two things: time and a change of direction.



    5/5 (Top 3 of my year)

    Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they’ll find a way to screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a good team, and they’ll find a way to make it better. The goal needs to be to get the team right, get them moving in the right direction, and get them to see where they are making mistakes and where they are succeeding.

    Thinking about your ancestors makes you smarter. A research team led by Peter Fischer found that spending a few minutes contemplating your family tree (as opposed to contemplating a friend, or a shopping list, or nothing at all) significantly boosted performance on tests of cognitive intelligence. Their hypothesis is that thinking about our connections to the group increases our feelings of autonomy and control.



    Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen.

    A brilliant author or businesswoman or senator or software engineer is brilliant only in tiny bursts. The rest of the time, they’re doing work that most any trained person could do.

    Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow.



    If mistakes happen, effective leaders don’t place blame on others. They take ownership of the mistakes, determine what went wrong, develop solutions to correct those mistakes and prevent them from happening again as they move forward.





    You can’t make people listen to you. You can’t make them execute. That might be a temporary solution for a simple task. But to implement real change, to drive people to accomplish something truly complex or difficult or dangerous you can’t make people do those things. You have to lead them.

    On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win.



    The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing. A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an Eyes-On, Hands-Off enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.

    Purpose affirms trust, trust affirms purpose, and together they forge individuals into a working team.



    The bottom line in managing your emotions is that you should put others not yourself first in how you handle and process them. Whether you delay or display your emotions should not be for your own gratification. You should ask yourself, What does the team need? Not, What will make me feel better?

    Nothing will make a better impression on your leader than your ability to manage yourself. If your leader must continually expend energy managing you, then you will be perceived as someone who drains time and energy. If you manage yourself well, however, your boss will see you as someone who maximizes opportunities and leverages personal strengths. That will make you someone your leader turns to when the heat is on.



    What is needed, however, isn’t just that people working together be nice to each other. It is discipline. Discipline is hard–harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.


    5/5 (Top 3 of my year)

    Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.

    Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

    The greatest shapers don’t stop at introducing originality into the world. They create cultures that unleash originality in others.

    Shapers are independent thinkers: curious, non-conforming, and rebellious. They practice brutal, nonhierarchical honesty. And they act in the face of risk, because their fear of not succeeding exceeds their fear of failing.



    Treat a man as he appears to be and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he already were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be.






    “True leaders are servants who die to themselves so others may flourish. True leaders go forth, not for themselves, but for others.”

    “To develop leaders, you must have a strong conviction, a healthy culture, and simple constructs.”





    This is why, in a nutshell, advice is overrated. I can tell you something, and it’s got a limited chance of making its way into your brain’s hippocampus, the region that encodes memory. If I can ask you a question and you generate the answer yourself, the odds increase substantially.

    Five times a second, at an unconscious level, your brain is scanning the environment around you and asking itself: Is it safe here? Or is it dangerous?



    Intelligence, imagination, and knowledge are essential resources, but only effectiveness converts them into results.

    Effective executives know that their subordinates are paid to perform and not to please their superiors.

    If the executive lets the flow of events determine what he does, what he works on, and what he takes seriously, he will fritter himself away operating. He may be an excellent man. But he is certain to waste his knowledge and ability and to throw away what little effectiveness he might have achieved. What the executive needs are criteria which enable him to work on the truly important, that is, on contributions and results, even though the criteria are not found in the flow of events.



    “Whether operating as a moment monitor or a moment maker, the individual who knows how to time a request, recommendation, or proposal properly will do exceedingly well.”

    Nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.



    5/5 (Top 3 of my year)

    Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.

    The Golden Rule of Habit Change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.

    This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP.



    Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They’d rather show the highlight of what they’ve become.

    …grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.



    People who succeed in life do not go around settling scores. They do not even keep score. They run up the score by doing good to others, even when the others do not deserve it. They give them better than they are given. And as a result, they often bring the other person up to their level instead of being brought down to the level of the other. They are a redemptive force carrying a good infection wherever they go, infusing relationships with health; infusing businesses with health; and infusing communities with health. They change things for the better.



    We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.

    As you consider building your own minimum viable product, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.




    When people follow a leader because they have to, they will do only what they have to. People don’t give their best to leaders they like least. They give reluctant compliance, not commitment. They may give their hands but certainly not their heads or hearts.

    When you like people and treat them like individuals who have value, you begin to develop influence with them. You develop trust.



    Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.

    Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.

    Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.



    A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.

    The truly gifted negotiator, then, is one whose initial position is exaggerated enough to allow for a series of concessions that will yield a desirable final offer from the opponent, yet is not so outlandish as to be seen as illegitimate from the start.



    A sociopath is often described as someone with little or no conscience. I’ll leave it to the psychologists to decide whether Holmes fits the clinical profile, but there’s no question that her moral compass was badly askew. I’m fairly certain she didn’t initially set out to defraud investors and put patients in harm’s way when she dropped out of Stanford fifteen years ago. By all accounts, she had a vision that she genuinely believed in and threw herself into realizing. But in her all-consuming quest to be the second coming of Steve Jobs amid the gold rush of the unicorn boom, there came a point when she stopped listening to sound advice and began to cut corners. Her ambition was voracious and it brooked no interference. If there was collateral damage on her way to riches and fame, so be it.



    “In a fascinating study by psychologist Laura King, college students were asked to write for 20 minutes a day about their “best possible future self.” She challenged them to stretch their imaginations to envision the biggest, best-case scenario for their lives. After just a few days, the test subjects who spent the time imagining a positive future were significantly happier and more positive than a control group. Another longer-term study by King showed that writing positively made them healthier as well, with fewer visits to doctors.”

Dec 24, 2018

Podcast coming soon.