Ray Dalio’s book Principles is unlike any book you have ever likely read before. Beginning with a brief autobiography, he quickly moves on to identify his organically grown set of principles (fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that gets you what you want) for building a successful life and business. As the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of largest hedge funds in the world with approximately $160 billion of Assets Under Management, Dalio’s ideas are worth listening to. Although Bridgewater itself has been criticised by some for being cult-like (its culture built on the foundations of Radical Truth and Radical Transparency), that Dalio began the company in his two bedroom apartment in New York in 1975, makes him not just one of the world’s greatest investors but also one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and leadership visionaries.
I can actually thank my experience with cancer for my new reading habits. Determined to understand my illness and what was going on inside my body, I consumed every medical paper I could get my hands on. Even my Oncologist commented that I could deliver his university lectures for him when he was on holiday! An objective appreciation for my cancer helped me deal with it better, make much more informed decisions as part of my treatment process (there were some very close calls) and, to this day, live with the aftermath. Because serious illness is as much a head-game as it is a physical experience, I transitioned from reading just medical texts to books about psychology, then on to books about the world around me in general. One of the few advantages of six months of chemotherapy and rehabilitation is that you have a lot of time on your hands. In 2016 I became a reading machine!
My hypothesis was simple: if reading can help me better understand and deal with illness, then could it help me better understand and deal with life? It’s hardly a scientific test, but I’m convinced that the answer to this question is yes. Knowledge leads to wisdom, the Return On Investment (the price of books) and the compound interest (on accumulated wisdom) is exponential. By my logic, reading gives you a compelling competitive advantage in life! Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s business partner at Berkshire Hathaway, sums it up best:
In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads [he’s purported to spend 80% of his day reading] – and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, chronicles the author’s time as an inmate in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The early chapters do not make for easy reading but the book opens up into one of the deepest and most eloquent explorations of the meaning of human existence and man’s search for such meaning. This book is essential reading for anybody interested in the psychology of suffering, mental health, personal growth, and how to lead a happy life.
Striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man… This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can only be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.
The words coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, though there are in fact important discernible differences. The late Sir John Whitmore, the founder of the coaching movement in the UK, explains what these differences are in his book Coaching for Performance, widely considered to be the industry gold standard for performance based coaching.
In 2004, one of the greatest war machines of all time, the US military, was struggling to beat back Al Queda in Iraq (AQI). Whilst the allied forces had huge advantage in numbers, equipment and training, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, General Stanley McChrystal, realised that conventional military tactics and command structures were failing. Team of Teams: New Rules for Engagement in a Complex World gives McChrystal’s account of how he and his colleagues discarded a century of conventional wisdom to create a faster, flatter and more flexible organisation that ultimately proved successful in defeating AQI.
Team of Teams isn’t only a military book. If you are a seasoned executive struggling to come to terms with new ways of working, or an entrepreneur scaling a business, whilst at the same time grappling with how to keep a startup culture alive, then you should give it a read.
In a landmark study undertaken between 1984 and 2004, Wharton Professor Philip Tetlock showed that the average expert’s ability to predict the future was only slightly better than a layperson using random guesswork. His latest project, which began in 2011, has since shown that there are some people with real, demonstrable foresight. These are often ordinary people who have an extraordinary ability to predict the future with a degree of accuracy significantly greater than the average. In his book Superforecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction, co-authored with Dan Gardner, Tetlock identifies how you can improve your ability to predict the future and become a superforecaster.
Howard Marks is the Chairman and cofounder of Oaktree Capital Management and author of The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor. According to the book’s sleeve, he is renowned for his insightful assessments of market opportunity and risk. He is sought out by the world’s leading investors, and his client memos brim with astute commentary and time tested fundamental philosophy. On a more personal note he’s one of my investing heroes. A value investor at heart, his broad thinking and eloquent expression is pertinent to anyone with investment and business interests both professional and personal. In The Most Important Thing he lays out, over 20 chapters, the building blocks to successful investing. All are equally important and essential “guideposts” that together create a “solid wall” that keep investors focused on the most important things for successful portfolio management.
I’ve summarised two of my favorite ‘most important things’. In this post, the importance of second level thinking, a key skill for any contrarian investor and in another post, Howard Marks (and Nassim Taleb) on the role of luck and randomness in life and business.
Paul Kalanithi, M.D., was a neurosurgeon and writer. He graduated from Stanford University in 2000 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Human Biology. He earned an M.Phil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school. In 2007, Paul graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for residency training in Neurological Surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. In 2013 he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, though continued to work, completing his neurosurgery residency in 2014. He also authored the book When Breath Becomes Air, which detailed his journey through treatment and eventually his death in March 2015. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their daughter Cady.
Although I’d heard of this book before, I first stumbled across it in a charity shop about one month after I’d finished 5 months of chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. I cried my way through much of the book, but I had to read about Paul’s journey and his exploration of life and death. Continue reading
Robert Coram, author of Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, describes John Boyd as “first, last and always a fighter pilot – a loud talking, cigar-smoking, bigger-than-life fighter pilot”. But also as more than that: “he was that rarest of creatures – a thinking fighter pilot.” Boyd is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest military strategists, despite the fact that it’s unlikely you have ever heard of him. Over his career he bought the Air Force its Aerial Attack Study, invented Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory and was the father of the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. He brought strategic thinking to the armed forces more generally, and now to business: he created a decision making framework called the OODA loop, his Patterns of Conflict brief provided the strategic basis for the US military’s 100 hour victory in the first Gulf War and still underpins US Marine Corps fighting doctrine to this day.
John Boyd was an endearing eccentric and strategic genius who is brought wonderfully to life by author Robert Coram in his meticulously researched book. Coram demonstrates what one man, surrounded by a few devoted and loyal Acolytes, can do to change the world. Maneuverability, as it relates to military (and business) strategy, we learn is key. Continue reading
If asked to name one book that has most changed my life, my answer is always Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It is the book that I reached for in the darkest depths of treatment for cancer, as I searched for rational answers to very complicated questions. It’s the book that kickstarted an incredible learning journey. Thinking Fast and Slow is a book about biases of intuition. The human brain works very well most of the time and our judgments are sound. However, it is prone to engage in a number of fallacies and systematic errors that lead to flawed opinions and adverse decision making, otherwise known as cognitive biases. We assume certain things automatically without having thought them through carefully. Kahneman calls these assumptions heuristics and he goes on to outline almost fifty of them in the book.
Phil ‘Shoe Dog’ Knight is the founder, former CEO and now Executive Chairman of Nike. In Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike he tells his story of taking the business from humble origins, through an IPO in 1980 and onto its current $30 billion market capitalisation. To put that in perspective, if you had invested $1,000 at IPO without reinvesting dividends, your investment would be worth $729,575 today, that’s a Compound Annual Growth Rate of just over 20.7% (according to Investopedia and based on December 2015 share price).
Knight tells the story of how, what is still widely regarded to be one of the most innovative companies in the world, started and grew out of the back of a van in the early 1970s. A Stanford graduate, avid reader of the Classics and books about military strategy, and a natural introvert, he captures a wonderful story about what he calls his Crazy Idea and the determination and grit it takes to become successful beyond what he’d ever imagined. He also includes some wonderful accounts of the hustle and sometimes downright dirty tactics that it can take to overcome the odds: “you are remembered for the rules you break” is his mantra throughout the book. I’ve captured the best of the rest of his entrepreneurial wisdom in the quotes from the book below.
Yuval Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind charts our origins from hunter gatherers 2.5 million years ago on to the rise of Homo Sapiens 200,000 years ago. He takes the reader through the Cognitive Revolution 70,000 years ago, the Agrarian Revolution 10,000 years ago, into the Scientific Revolution in the 1500s, the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s and on to the present. Harari covers a lot of ground that includes a deep dive into capitalism: “an economic-led system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit”. He explores how something that began as a theory about how the early economy of the modern age functioned, has grown into much more than an economic doctrine. His standpoint serves as a thought-provoking baseline for anyone that works to build and grow businesses. Continue reading