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9 Lessons Books Taught Me in 2020

In 2020, I reached my reading goal of 50 books (barely). I read for both enjoyment and personal growth. The beauty of reading is it provides us the opportunity to gain external perspectives and insights. We are able to draw on the experience of others to expand our viewpoint and influence our mindset.

Here are 9 lessons I learned in 2020 through my reading. I have included the books that taught and reinforced the lessons.

Building Multidisciplinary Approaches and Mental Models Are the Most Important Things You Can Do

“You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience — both vicarious and direct — on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.” — Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanac

Poor Charlie’s Almanac is the best book I read in 2020. It fits in all of the following lessons (with the exception of the next one). Poor Charlie’s Almanac is a culmination of Munger’s most influential speeches. It closes with an essay recounting the mental models and psychological tendencies Munger finds most impactful in daily life. Munger is a true lifelong learner and he uses this book to impart as much of his wisdom as he can. He reflects on his successes, his failings, and the mentors who have influenced him. The margins contain insights from influential thinkers, business leaders, and historical events. You could re-read this book every year and glean new insights. I cannot think of a single person who would not benefit from reading this book.

Simplify Your Writing

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” — Strunk and White, The Elements of Style

Writing is a skill that needs to be learned and honed. It is also a skill that is required for but often neglected by, nearly every professional. You may not write articles or books for your job, but you likely write emails or perhaps reports and briefings. Writing an email or a report is not the same thing as texting or tweeting, yet that is the style often used. Writing good English allows us to more effectively express information and reach an audience. You may never want to write articles, but learning to write well is a valuable skill that will set you apart from others in your profession.

3 books that will improve your writing: On Writing Well, The Elements of Style, On Writing

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Improving Predictions Requires Frequent, Small Updates in Thinking

“Implement the cycle of try, fail, analyze, adjust, try again, and possess the grit to keep at it and keep improving.” — Tetlock and Gardner, Superforecasting

The art of prediction is an imprecise yet valuable skill. We can never assess all relevant information and produce foolproof prediction s— the planning fallacy and other biases are difficult to overcome — but we can improve with our success rates with specific techniques and practice. Garnering opinions from others (avoiding groupthink), making small and frequent adjustments, and constant reflection are great starting points. 3 books that will improve your ability to make personal changes and future predictions: Superforecasting, Immunity to Change, The Art of Changing the Brain

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Using Average (or Mean) Data Hides Individuality

“The ergodic switch is an intellectual “bait and switch” where the lure of averagarianism dupes people into believing that they are learning something meaningful about an individual by comparing her to an average, when they are really ignoring everything important about her.” — Todd Rose, The End of Average

If you design a plan to fit everyone then you design a plan to fit no one. Big data is valuable but it can be misleading. We like to cite ‘the average’ when referencing statistics, but the average does not represent the individual.

For example, take a group of 10 adults who on average weigh 150 pounds. Five weigh 100 pounds and five weigh 200 pounds. Despite the average being 150, none of them actually weigh 150. What would happen if you only received the average data and you were told to order clothes for the group?

Learning how to read and interpret research and statistics is a valuable skill set in this age of information and frequent misinformation.

3 Books that will improve your understanding of research data and individuality: The End of Average, Quiet, Freakonomics

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Fiction Should Be Part of Everyone’s Reading Routine

​“If we want to live a wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.” — Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

I typically “read” my sci-fi and fantasy series on Audible. I enjoy them while driving in the car or doing work around the house. Some will be hard copy, forcing me to sit down, relax, and simply enjoy the book.

Play is an important part of life. Play without any agenda or need to be productive.

6 must-read fantasy and sci-fi books series (some are in-progress): Expeditionary Force, Old Man’s War, Licanius Trilogy, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Stormlight Archive, Gentlemen Bastards

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Our Words, Actions, and Meaning Often Don’t Align

“To make informed decisions we need to somehow experience and understand the emotional state we will be in at the other side of the experience.” — Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational

Thinking, Fast and Slow remains the most influential book I have read regarding critical thinking. The following books build off Kahneman’s foundational work in behavioral economics. As a physical therapist, I found the healthcare-specific books valuable training tools. They are useful to patients as well.

5 books to improve your critical thinking and situational awareness: How Doctors Think, What Doctors Feel, Your Medical Mind, White Fragility, Predictably Irrational

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History Is the Greatest Teacher

“To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man’s lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?” — Cicero

There isn’t much to add to what Cicero said. Learn from history and focus your actions on the present and future.

4 books that will improve your ability to learn from and apply lessons from history and your personal past experiences: The Art of War, Stories of Wall Street, Genome, The Obstacle is the Way

Consistency Is Key

“Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process.” — Tim Ferris, Tools of Titans

There are many strategies for building and maintaining habits. There is no one size fits all approach. Your success will depend on the reasoning for building those habits.

3 books that improve your ability to build consistency in personal habits: Tools of Titans, Made to Stick, Atomic Habits

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How We Communicate With Others Matters for Personal and Professional Growth

“Five key strategies that help facilitate productive dialogue: be curious, check your bias, show respect, stay the course, end well.” — Celeste Headless, We Need to Talk

Whether it be writing or speaking, communication is a vital skill set to develop, regardless of your career. We build relationships through communication. In 2020, I started a podcast, started writing more, and primarily worked from home. Despite the limitation of in-person meetings, my need for effective communication has never been higher.

It is challenging to connect over Zoom and phone calls. It is a skill we need to develop to succeed in a post-COVID world.

5 books that will improve your ability to communicate with friends, families, colleagues, and strangers: Be Our Guest, Superfans, The Tipping Point, We Need to Talk, Talking to Strangers

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Goals for 2021

My 2021 goal is to read 75 with 50 being hardcopy (32 were in 2020).

In 2020, I focused heavily on psychology and communication. In 2021, my focus will be on history and novels. The first books on my list are Guns, Germs, and Steel, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, The Prince, The Book of 5 Rings, the Wealth of Nations, The Power Broker, The Alchemist, Great Expectations, City of Thieves, The Stranger, and Fountainhead

What are your reading goals for 2021? Why do you read?


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