The Best Books I Read in 2020… and not all relate to Investing! » TechnoCodex
Calendar 2020 is coming to an end and what a year it has been! One of the few joys that wasn’t affected by this year’s turmoil was reading.
Recently someone asked me on Twitter about the best nonfiction books I’ve read in 2020 and that got me thinking. Of the 50 or so books I’ve read this year, these are the ones that caught your eye (in no particular order). These aren’t necessarily books on investing, stock markets, or even finance. But most of them will help you hone your mindset or tell you something new.
1. The Halo Effect and eight other business delusions from Phil Rosenzweig: Among the best books on how our misconceptions derail us, especially cause and effect in businesses and investments. A number of traits that we attribute to successful companies and business leaders (excellent strategy, customer focus, excellent human resource practices, etc.) are primarily due to the appearances resulting from the excellence of these companies currently performing.
The consequence of this is that suddenly the same strategies and executives no longer look so good after a drop in performance and many holes can be selected in the same attributes! This is why many business success guides (if you do this, this and that, you)
will succeed) like In Search of Excellence, Good to Great, talking about results and recipes, didn’t hold out in the real world. The companies named in these companies often underperformed both operationally and on the stock market in the coming periods.
The surprising power of ideas that don’t make sense written
by Rory Sutherland, Vice President of Ogilvy’s: The great insight of this book is that people are less “rational” than we think and therefore “illogical” advertising and marketing ideas can work great. Can changing the envelope in which you send a call for funding to an NGO change the response rate? It can. Can different repetitions of the same facts change customer satisfaction differently? It can.
Too often we can find ourselves in the straitjacket of reason and logic, where we feel uncomfortable even when something is working, when we cannot explain why it is working. The book makes it easy for you to try something new – maybe even something that doesn’t make sense!
3. The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone: It’s the story of the construction of Amazon. Biggest Takeout: While the overall impression is of a great leader, Jeff Bezos, and a linear growth rate for Amazon, the reality was very different. What actually happened was this: at every step Amazon took dozens of bets, lost a lot of money in many of them, and maybe one or two of them paid off at each stage.
4. The CEO Factory of Sudhir Sitapati: This was one that I almost didn’t read because I have little patience with woolly, slang-headed management and leadership books. But this has pretty usable things on the way Hindustan Unilever actually does things – from production to advertising. For example, they found that targeting advertisements for most products is a wasted effort, and reaching the maximum eyeballs is the way to go. Many such insights.
5. Confessions of a prize winner from Hermann Simon: A comprehensive look at pricing and the considerations that should be included in it. From bundling / unbundling to the effects of discounts to sales incentives, business is possible through the prism of pricing. Written by a German ex-professor who has advised in this field for decades. Parts of it seem obvious when you think about them – as is often the case with a-ha moments in any area.
6. The man who solved the market:
How Jim Simons started the Quant Revolution ‘by Gregory Zuckerman: The title is a bit of an exaggeration, but the book is an interesting antithesis to the usual investment books. It’s about Jim Simons and the completely different approach to investing: making millions of bets with a small edge and a lot of processing power and where that led his company.
7. Talking to strangers about Malcolm Gladwell: His books have always been well written, but some of the earlier ones were weak in ideas. This is pretty revealing about the implicit assumptions we make when judging others – these can lead us to think too negatively at times and make it difficult for others to identify a liar or a criminal. There are many interesting side effects in areas like what alcohol does with our judgment and memory.
8. The brass handle of Devaki Jain: Fascinating memories of a woman who is way ahead of her time. Open too! A very self-confident voice that speaks about her life and time and also touches a number of famous personalities, from Amartya Sen to Gloria Steinem to Julius Nyerere. While her work as an economist is only briefly mentioned, it does explain how realities (especially the realities of women and those of the disadvantaged) are often not recognized, named or treated in decision-making. Easy to read.
9. The Book of Indian Essays: Two Hundred Years of English Prose by Arvind K. Mehrotra: A varied selection of articles on colonialism and the Dandi March to personal memories of the various screams of the day on the streets of Calcutta. Essays were big favorites in my youth – picked up again after a long time. This year I didn’t get to reading some other genres like history, travel and science. Let me cheat a bit by adding two from the end of 2019.
10. Tony Joseph’s Early Indians: A book that is a must, especially for the subcontinent. Just unbelievable! Summarizes findings from archeology, linguistics, genetics and some other disciplines to give a very clear account of how Homo Sapiens came to the subcontinent and how they traveled afterwards. Very accessible and easy to read. Even more impressive when you think that Tony was a business journalist and editor of Business World. (Full disclosure: I wrote a column for him 20 years ago ????)
11. Elephants in acid and other bizarre experiments by Alex Boese
:: For those interested in the fun, or even wild, side of science, such as what would happen if you gave elephants megadoses of LSD, or if left-to-self infants choose a balanced diet and others like that would.
The experiments are weird and bizarre as one would expect, but many are also thought-provoking!
Have fun reading and a happier 2021 to you all.
(Devina Mehra, co-founder and chairman of First Global, is an IIM-A gold medalist and bibliophile. The views are her own.)