Our favorite books and podcasts of 2016
What a year.
This year brought me an entirely new appreciation for books and podcasts. Without them, I’m not sure how else I would’ve escaped the distractions that 2016 will be remembered for. In a world full of noise and sound bites, these two mediums give us a deeper understanding of the subject matters they cover.
And we’re all the better for it.
In addition to my own recommendations, I recently asked the team which books and podcasts moved them this year. Here’s a look back at our favorite books and podcasts that made us focus, laugh, learn, and grow stronger in 2016.
The Third Wave by Steve Case
Steve Case is one of the Internet’s pioneers. He co-founded AOL, which helped millions gain access to the Internet for the first time. He also led AOL through its merger with Time Warner, which is one of the largest mergers of all time. In his book, The Third Wave, Steve takes you through the journey of his story and paints a vision of what the next (third) wave of technology businesses will look like.
As someone who was first introduced to the Internet via an AOL CD, it was fascinating to hear the full context of how the Internet first hit the mainstream. I was just in middle school, so it’s always fun to hear stories of how a “tech startup” operated back in the late 90s.
The best part of the book is how Case argues his vision of how the next generation of technology companies will affect the “real world." While society still copes with the implications of our digital identities on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat; there are companies being built that will transform medicine, transportation, education, energy, and food.
You know, the things that really matter in this world.
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
Scott Adams, the writer of the Dilbert comics, distills his principles on winning big in life with the perfect blend of light-hearted, comical, and cynical narration. You're in for a treat because the author's full-time job is making people laugh.
As someone with many years of corporate business experience and spectacular failures prior to becoming a hugely successful entrepreneur, Adams' observations on the business world are insightful yet highly relatable.
He also offers practical and actionable tips that are not just some repackaged content of another business/lifestyle best seller. I highly recommend this for all aspiring and current entrepreneurs.
Winning with Data by Tomasz Tunguz & Frank Bien
As a longtime subscriber and fan of Tomasz Tunguz’s blog about SaaS startups, I just had to pick this book up. His blog posts are specific, data-driven, and focused. So is this short read. At just under 150 pages, Tunguz and Bien have written a playbook for how to think and communicate about data within your startup.
With all of the analytics tools out there, teams are drowning in data. But what do you with it? How do you make sense of it? What should you care about? This book helps you figure things out in a practical way.
It’s one of those books that you’ll keep going back to your bookshelf to use as a reference in specific situations. You should be required to read this book before logging into any business intelligence or analytics tool.
Thinking Fast and Slow, by Dan Kahneman
It’s a bit of a tough read, but it nicely exposes all kinds of biases we have. It teaches you a lot about not always trusting your gut.
#AskGaryVee by Gary Vaynerchuk
If you read this blog, then you’ve definitely heard of the legendary Gary Vaynerchuk. Steli interviewed him back in 2014, and his advice kicked us in the face.
Fresh off the success of his #AskGaryVee show on YouTube and interactions with fans on Instagram and Snapchat, the book is a catalog of the best advice he’s given on the show. Gary’s a true hustler with practical and real advice, and this book can act as the perfect situational reference guide as you go through your career.
Making Ideas Happen, by Scott Belsky
Scott is the founder of Behance, a company aimed at helping creative individuals be more productive. The value here is the six years of interviews Belsky had with successful creatives and what their day-to-day practices are.
This book almost reads as a sequel to the very helpful book Getting Things Done, by David Allen, and builds on those GTD concepts. Some of my favorite concepts here include prioritizing projects by energy levels—which projects will require extreme, high, medium, low or idle energy?
Breaking up projects by the level of energy you will need to complete them makes a lot of sense. It helps you organize your projects in a way so that you're setting yourself up to actually complete them. I also liked the section on killing ideas that lack potential, quickly and liberally, in order to avoid wasting time on them.
A line that resonated with me: "If meetings end without action steps, it's your responsibility to speak up and question the value of the meeting."
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
This book is a revelation. On the second page, my mind was blown when I learned Homo Sapiens (modern humans) didn't evolve from the likes of Homo Erectus or Neanderthals (as we learned in school).
No, we existed at the same time as six other species of humans. We weren't the only kinds of human beings around, but 70,000 years ago, we began to exterminate those other human species and they went extinct.
The rest of the book is similarly jarring.
Pitch Perfect by Bill McGowan and Alisa Bowman
Bill McGowan is a long-time media coach whose clients include Eli Manning, Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Welch, Thomas Keller, and Pat Benatar. He shares his tips on using the right tone to convey the right message at the right time.
We all have pivotal moments where our communication has to be focused and dead-on in order to achieve the results we want. Bill relates some of those pivotal moments in his own career where, by delivering his message in the right way and tone, he was able to turn a potentially career-ending situation into an opportunity.
His “7 Principles of Persuasion” are tried and true and memorable enough to learn quickly. I have to love anything called "The Pasta Sauce Principle." The concept being the more you boil down, the more dynamic your point will be. Add too much filler and you become bland and forgettable. His goal for the reader is to help you achieve the results you want, make your point in less time, overcome anxiety and stop apologizing.
One quote that resonated with me: "Don't care so much what other people think. Playing the role of the pleaser sets you too far back on your heels and distracts you from the task at hand."
"Acquired", hosted by Ben Gilbert & David Rosenthal
Ben and David do their research and serve up vivid details of the technology industry’s most interesting acquisitions and IPOs. They cover the full context of the transaction: the players involved, competition, product, and what ifs.
They even discuss if the transaction played out successfully and failed acquisitions (see the Snapchat episode). For anyone interested in how these transactions come about, here’s your (recent) history class.
Favorite episode: Episode 12: Snapchat (?!)
"Science Vs.", hosted by Wendy Zukerman
This is a recent acquisition of the Gimlet Media network (most known for the super-meta season 1 of Start-Up, which chronicled the launch of Gimlet itself). If you're the kind of person who wishes dinner table arguments had annotations, Science Vs. is the podcast for you. It has the plucky production value of a short radio show segment but goes in depth on the topics that always bring out strong opinions.
Wendy Zukerman breaks down the issue and consults scientists, researchers, and insiders each step of the way. No clear answers are guaranteed, though. Sometimes the facts are just as confused as we are.
Favorite episode: Fracking
"The Startup Chat", hosted by Steli Efti & Hiten Shah
Caution: As a member of the Close team, there’s an obvious bias here. 😇
For what it’s worth, there’s always someone in the company HipChat that references what they learned on a recent episode. The quick 20-minute, twice a week, conversations on business and life between Steli and Hiten are brilliant. It’s just simple and practical advice for starting and maintaining a business. It’s just a damn good podcast.
Favorite episode: 038: How To Say No
"Seeking Wisdom", hosted by David Cancel & Dave Gerhardt
David Cancel (CEO of Drift, former Chief Product Officer at HubSpot) is building quite the brand and product at Drift. He’s teamed up with Dave Gerhardt, Drift’s Director of Marketing, to bring great lessons on how to improve yourself and your team.
A lot of the content focuses on product marketing, but they also had an awesome episode about travel hacking that I loved. These guys are down to earth, and that’s how I like getting my advice.
Favorite episode: #46: Lunch with Mark Roberge (HubSpot)
"Esquire Classic", hosted by David Brancaccio and Cindy Katz
So much new content is available every day, that it's easy to forget about the classics. Host David Brancaccio and narrator Cindy Katz sit down with the authors and journalists who've written some of the most popular pieces published in Esquire. Each episode reads through an article, with interview questions acting like real-time footnotes.
It's pretty much the most sophisticated storytime experience you could ask for. The podcast covers a wide range of topics, from coming of age to Michael Bay.
Favorite episode: The Second Coming of Steven Jobs
"The West Wing Weekly", hosted by Hrishi Hirway & Josh Malina
To me, The West Wing Weekly is a perfect representative for the podcast medium. Hrisihi Hirway and Josh Malina (Josh played Will Bailey on the show) do in-depth recaps of every episode of NBC’s The West Wing. As a big fan of the series (I’ve watched it three times), it’s the perfect “deep dive” into the crazy world of politics within the Executive Branch created by Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme.
Since Josh Malina was a cast member, they are able to provide unprecedented access to the show’s cast and background. It’s an entertaining must-listen for any West Wing fan.
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