Welcome to the Monthly Reading List Newsletter! Each month I will share a few thoughts on 3-5 books I’m reading and why I think you should pick them up. So, if you enjoy this email, please forward it to friends and family and help us continue to grow! Also, make sure you sign-up for our new The Sunday Email where each week we will share a quote/passage from a book and a short insight.
We also released some amazing episodes on our podcast!!
Our winners of the Steven Pressfield A Man at Arms Giveaway (We will notified in a separate email):
Congrats to our 6 Winners of the Steven Pressfield A Man at Arms Giveaway! Scroll to the bottom of the email to see if you won....but please read the stuff in between first :)
Also a special thanks to Adyton Public Benefit Corporation for sponsoring this month's bonus book giveaway. If your team is still using phone trees, text chains, and spreadsheet tracker data entry to manage people and operations, check out what Adyton is doing with their Mustr software
Let's dive into this month's email.
Every profession has a canon of books that are the accepted literature for all of its members. The military is no different. There are a number of books that military professionals are expected to read throughout their career. When you look at most senior military leader reading lists, you see many of the same titles: Message to Garcia, On War, and Once an Eagle, to start, and the list goes on from there.
However, the problem with canons is that while they provide a baseline for thinking, if followed too closely, they can create rigidity in thinking. Over the last seventeen years, I’ve learned that many of the problems we encounter on a day-to-day basis, or while deployed in combat, require diversity of thought to understand, let alone attempt to solve.
In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt points out that human thinking depends on metaphor or analogy. In other words, we rely on things we already know to make sense of new or novel situations. Typically we start with the phrase, “It’s like…”
The phrase “It’s like” allows us to start by recognizing familiar patterns in unfamiliar problems. We do a much better job of understanding problems when we can find similarities based on something we experienced or read because we have the mental models to begin to make sense of the information in front of us. Once we recognize patterns, we begin looking for the differences between these situations, and eventually, we develop a way forward or a solution to our problem based on the known knowns and the known unknowns.
Over the last seven years (I was a late bloomer when it came to reading for self-development), I’ve learned that reading outside my profession has given me a library of metaphors and analogies to draw from when encountering new and novel problem sets. For example, In reading about a 1911 Polar expedition, I gained an understanding of why planning for friction or Murphy’s Law is so important not only operationally, but psychologically too. Brene’s Brown’s Dare to Lead gave me a starting point for having tough conversations with colleagues and family members. Nasim Taleb’s Skin in the Game gave me insights into why some leaders failed to get on board with the commander's intent while deployed. And I could keep going.
The canon of professional military reading is important as it helps create a foundation of thought and common knowledge among military leaders. However, while it provides a common lexicon, if everyone has the same base of knowledge, it fails to achieve diversity of thought. Understanding the world and all its intricacies takes a diverse well of metaphors and analogies to draw from. As David Epstein wrote in his book Range, “In a wicked world, relying upon experience from a single domain is not only limiting, it can be disastrous.”
In two recent interviews on the podcast, our guests echoed this sentiment. Dr. Kori Schake said we need to “read promiscuously,” and General (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal encouraged leaders to read eclectically. These guests suggest we should pick up books on psychology, sociology, systems engineering, history, biographies, and even fiction (useful fiction that is). In reading promiscuously or eclectically, we learn vicariously from a diverse set of experiences that, as David Kord Murray underscored in his book, Borrowing Brilliance, “[feeds] the subconscious mind with the material it’ll need to construct its solutions.”
This month I read promiscuously and eclectically. I hope you find a book or two that peaks your interest, now that you’ve read this email, that you can now add to your repertoire.
The Monthly Reading List
A Man at Arms: A Novel by Steven Pressfield. For Pressfield fans, this book is his first return to the ancient world in 15 years. It follows the story of Telamon of Arcardia. He is a Roman mercenary hired to hunt down a follower of a new religion who intends to deliver a message from a guy named Paul to one of his sects in the city of Corinth.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll only share that Pressfield does an amazing job of bringing the 1st Century A.D. in Jerusalem and the Roman Empire to life. He also gives everyone a glimpse of the friction the early Christian church experienced in gaining influence. I highly enjoyed reading this book and it was a great escape from the present.
A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 by Joseph Laconte. This book is a short 200-pages with half of it focused on the experiences of British soldiers fighting in World War I. In providing this context, the author shows how this cataclysmic event shaped the ideas of Tolkein and Lewis –eventually leading them to write their own novels.
I appreciated how Laconte connected their experiences in war to Narnia and Middle Earth. The book is also filled with some interesting anecdotes about Lewis and Tolkein’s friendship. For readers who have yet to read any first hand accounts of the British experience in the War, this book provides a great background. For those who have, you might be disappointed how much focus is spent on building context. Overall, I enjoyed the book. It was a quick read and made me want to learn more about these two influential authors.
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future By Peter Thiel. This book is written for someone interested in founding a startup, but is full of wisdom that can be applied in other areas. For those who aren’t familiar with Thiel, he co-founded PayPal and Palantir and was the first outsider investor in Facebook. He also secretly funded Hulk Hogan’s legal case against Gawker that eventually led to the company’s Bankruptcy (as told in Ryan Holiday’s Conspiracy).
He shares a bunch of profound ideas in the book, but the two that stood out the most to me were on action and culture. He writes, “You are not a lottery ticket,” meaning, we shouldn’t leave the future up to pure chance. We should take steps now to shape the future we envision. The second idea is that a company doesn’t have a culture, a company is a culture. He explains why that nuance is so important, and why company cultures lead to either success or failure. If you are a military leader looking for an outside perspective on leadership and want to learn a little about silicon valley culture, I highly recommend this book.
The Future Is Yours: A Novel This book is a fictional account of two friends who build a computer that connects to the internet a year from today. The story is not a standard narrative. Rather, it’s told through emails, text messages, and a congressional hearing, all aimed at discovering the implications of this new technology. It’s a good psychological thriller that I flew through once I started it.
Plato's Symposium: A Translation by Seth Benardete with Commentaries by Allan Bloom and Seth Benardete. Around 416 B.C. a group of prominent thinkers came together for a weekend of drinking and fun. It was called a symposium, which actually means to come together to drink in the original Greek. And that is what they did. In fact, they got so drunk that on the second night of the event, one of the men present (thankfully a doctor), judged that everyone was too hung over to repeat the previous night’s debauchery. So, he recommended that instead of drinking everyone take turns giving a short speech. And thus, Plato’s Symposium
Plato’s Symposium is a series of speeches given by party guests that included Socrates and Alcibades in praise of the God of Love, Eros. Overall, I found it an interesting read and it gave me a better understanding of Athenian culture.
The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities by Pat Lencioini. This book was gifted to me by subscriber Ryan P. and It is a great resource for self reflection. The Motive is parable about a CEO forced to look at why he wants to be the CEO in the first place. The author hits on topics such as running meetings, communication, and providing feedback. I loved what he wrote about why leaders don’t give subordinates tough feedback, he writes,
“I realized that holding back and avoiding those conversations was actually an act of selfishness...I was trading off my own discomfort for theirs, leaving them to experience even greater pain when their shortcomings manifest themselves during a performance review, a compensation discussion, or worse yet, an exit interview”
I recommend this book for leaders at all levels, it is a short easy read, and helps drive reflection about those important aspects of leadership that many of us struggle with.
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One more thing: Thanks for opening my monthly reading list email, if you have any book recommendations or questions, please feel free to reply. I read every response and if I have the time, respond.
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This month's Reading List Email is sponsored by Adyton PBC, a veteran-owned technology company enabling military and civilian leaders of all levels to improve the readiness, safety, and efficiency of their teams with 21st century tools for accountability of distributed personnel and information. Adyton built their core software product, Mustr, based on their experience in the military and as tech industry leaders, and with input from hundreds of early adopters and testers across all levels of DoD. Mustr is a mobile-first accountability software system for distributed organizations that makes wide-scale accountability, information dissemination, and data collection fast, easy, and secure.
Mustr gives leaders the power to manage their personnel at scale, whether they are in the office, at a job site, or on the move. Leaders from all corners of DoD and from E-6 to O-7 have brought Mustr to their teams and not only seen massive gains in efficiency and readiness, but also in personnel safety and engagement (especially amidst the pandemic). You should be using your green notebook for writing and reflecting, not for managing your team's accountability and day-to-day operations. You can learn more, connect to the Adyton team, and see how others have started up free, no-risk market research trials at this link
All the best,
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