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.
Special thanks to Onebrief – the future of military planning. Their generosity provided Tyler T. a free copy of Deep Work by Cal Newport from last month's reading list! One Brief's collaborative software takes the friction out of your planning process, especially on large staffs. Onebrief also updates your staff products automatically: if you change a slide, your Sync Matrix and OPORD/OPLAN stay consistent.
Their software is perfect for planning teams at 2 to 4-star headquarters. There’ll be a more tactical version available next year. To get Onebrief, you can contact their founder directly at 443-902-2041 or email@example.com
We own our education
Agency is a powerful force. It is the belief that we have control over a situation and can influence the outcome. It gives us power regardless of the cards we are dealt. It provides us with hope even when others shrug their shoulders and give up. It prevents us from becoming cynics, and instead keeps us in Roosevelt’s arena. It’s a mindset that we can all adopt.
I have had the privilege of working alongside a few modern iconic military leaders, and they all had track records of disrupting the status quo and making their organizations better wherever they served. How did they do it? They were fueled by the belief they could affect the organization's outcome. They had agency.
History is full of numerous examples of the power of agency. In 1898, a crew aboard the ship Belgica found themselves trapped in ice while trying to find a passage through the Antarctic Circle. For almost a year, this team sat aboard their ship that was bound by thick ice that spanned over a mile. They didn’t have adequate clothing, battled scurvy, fought off boredom, expected their ship to be crushed by the ice, and several members of the expedition died.
Some of them lost hope they would ever see civilization again and literally went mad. However, one man maintained agency. He believed they could find a way out, and directed a herculean effort to free the crew from the dense ice pack. Under his guidance, they literally sawed their way out of a jam. As Julian Sancton recounts in Madhouse at the End of the Earth, “The backbreaking labor had the beneficial effect of uniting a fractious group.... Crucially, the task gave the men a sense of agency in their own deliverance.” Once they believed they could gain control of the situation, they were able to free themselves, and so the surviving crew members were able to see their families once again.
In modern history, Steve Jobs also demonstrated agency with his belief he could create technology that would improve people’s lives. In a 1994 interview, he said, “…and the minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.”
Agency isn’t only for iconic military leaders, polar explorers, or titans of Silicon Valley. It’s a power we can all tap into. When it comes to our self-development, we also have agency to affect our developmental outcomes. We own our development, and all of us have the power to unlock the wisdom that can change our lives and the lives of those around us. Education is a life-long adventure that continues long after our high schools or universities hand us a degree. As Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic once wrote, “Your education isn’t over when they say it’s over, it’s over, when you say it’s over.”
James Bond Stockdale’s agency over his education helped prepare him for eight years of bondage as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He wrote, “What I am saying is that in my life, education has been fate. I became what I learned or maybe I should say I became the distillation of what fascinated me most as I learned it.”
Having agency over our self-development means we do what needs to be done to learn what we want to learn about. We don’t need teachers to find us; we find them. They live on our bookshelves, and they exist among us. Some are thousands of years old but their lessons are enduring. Others give of their knowledge just as willingly but you have to ask questions and listen to tap into it.
The Reading List Email
When it comes to our self-development, we own it. We have agency. We set the syllabus, select the teachers, and determine the time and place of instruction. I have found that I have learned and retained more on this self-directed journey than I have with any of the knowledge I acquired in formal schooling. This month, I’m recommending a few books that remind us that we have agency. Hopefully, these will provide opportunities for you to continue to grow as well. Own your journey!
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I purchased this book as part of a $40 boxed set titled The Incerto (It also includes Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and the Bed of Procrustes) over a year ago and decided to read for a second time. I started it in March and read a few pages each night until I finished it.
I enjoy Taleb’s voice and wit in his writing –he’s the type of guy you want to sit down with for a beer. He argues that there are things in life that grow from disorder, volatility, and turmoil. Too often, our meddling in health, world affairs, and the economy makes these systems more fragile and more susceptible to volatility and black swan events.
There are so many passages of this book that I highlighted and copied down into my own notebook; one that stands out is, “You will never get to know yourself -your real preferences -unless you face options and choices.” I love this quote because it flies in the face of people who live life in an armchair. Don’t criticize the life choices of others, question the decisions others make, or even attempt to project your own decisions into the future, because it’s not until you come face to face with a choice that you know who you really are.
There are several points in this book that I’m still wrapping my head around, but overall it’s worth the read. It will definitely force your thinking to its limits.
Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life by Winfred Gallagher. I discovered this book while reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work. Gallagher’s decade of research and focus on attention has taught her that, “your life -who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love -is the sum of what you focus on.”
Throughout the book she looks at how our focus affects our lives in a number of aspects to include family, work, productivity, decision-making, and health. Throughout the day our attention shifts between external stimuli and those things we deliberately focus on, and unfortunately, as Gallagher argues, many of us take the lazy way out and let our environment determine where our attention is directed.
The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin. This book is a collection of short thoughtful essays (some only 10 lines) for anyone whose job requires them to have the courage to put themselves out there, open to the judgments and criticisms of others.
Seth encourages readers not to focus so much on the outcome as the practice (or process) itself. He points out that much of the outcome is out of our hands and is the consequence of odds, but that good processes, repeated over time, lead to good outcomes more than lazy processes do. The outcome is out of our control. The practice is within our control.
For leaders, this looks like focusing everyday on being a good boss, doing those things that only you can do, and doing them without regard for your final evaluation. This forces you to focus on your actions and not invest energy into trying to control the outcome instead. He writes, “If you are using outcomes that are out of your control as fuel for your work, it’s inevitable that you will burn out. Because it’s not fuel you can replenish, and it’s not fuel that burns without residue.” I love this line!
If you’ve never read a Seth Godin book, I encourage you to start here. They are all easy reads, packed full of insights, and this particular one has a lot of applications for leaders at any level of an organization.
Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night by Julian Sancton. In this book, Sancton pieces together journals and crew logs from the three year expedition of the Belgica that began in 1897. In an attempt to go further south than any human had previously gone, the crew found themselves locked in the Arctic ice.
Podcasts -The FTGN Podcast will return in September featuring guests to include Kim Scott, Ryan Holiday, CSM (Ret) Bill Thetford and more!
The imprisonment of Belgica is the perfect case study in leadership and group dynamics. Sancton’s account brings to life what happened when the sun sank and darkness enveloped the crew for twenty-four hours a day. Leaders lost their nerve, men got sick, some died, and others lost their sanity. Some men stepped up and became the unofficial leaders of the group, while those who held official titles and positions lost the trust of the crew.
Overall, this is a fantastic book and Sancton knows how to tell a powerful story. Also, there are so many great lessons in this book about maintaining mental health in stressful situations. If you are a fan of learning about leadership in extreme situations, history, or organizational psychology, this is a worthy read.
If you haven't been to the website in awhile, check out the following posts:
- Joe joined the XVIII Airborne Corps Podcast to talk professional development, time management, and the origin of From the Green Notebook
One more note on Onebrief: For the past 58 years, there’ve been dozens of planning software products. But real-world planners didn’t adopt any of them. Today, we’re still slaves to PowerPoint: US Forces in Afghanistan created over 15 million slides.
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.
To build software that every planner wants to use, Onebrief does things differently. Every month, they hold a planning exercise via Zoom. You’ll be part of a 6-person Operational Planning Team on a fictional Joint Task Force. It takes 8 hours on a Saturday, and you’ll be paid $500 for participating in this user research. Details and signup are available here.
To get Onebrief for your staff, you can contact their founder directly at 443-902-2041 or firstname.lastname@example.org
All the best,
**This email contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This helps with the cost of running the website each year.