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I’m not sure I ever went through the “Pirate Phase” as a kid. I was much more caught up in sci-fi of Star Wars and the future of space. However, I have seen all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and recently played one of my favorite video game franchises that centered around the world of pirates. So picking up a book to read on vacation about pirates wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities, but it was definitely wasn’t what you would normally guess I’d be reading while on the beach for a week.

To be honest, I was surprised by The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading it, and I had stumbled upon the author, Colin Woodard, via an article he had written online based on a more recent book of his (which is also on my reading list), American Nations.

Woodard went through much painstaking research to track down and compile all the primary sources for this work. He looked through everything from ship log books to newspaper clippings to personal journals and the wildly popular A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. Woodard masterfully weaves together stories from history into a full picture of what was going on in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy (1715-1725). He focuses on a handful of well-known pirates (Sam Bellamy, Benjamin Hornigold, Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, and Charles Vane) and the one man who was initially responsible for disbanding this band of outlaws (Woodes Rogers).

The stories cover everything from pirating adventures up and down the East Coast during the early 1700s to the establishment of Nassau as the headquarters for pirate activity in the Caribbean to the socioeconomic reasons why many men chose to be pirates. I was surprised to learn that many pirates were not outlaws from the beginning but were privateers turned pirates because of peace. Many also defended piracy with political convictions as well. Pirates were complex case studies in how greed and revenge vied for dominance in an ecosystem built on freedom and democracy.

However, this book reads less like a novel and more like a history. It can be difficult to follow in some places based on geographic location or naval descriptions, but overall, it is a captivating read. Hollywood has grossly over-romanticized the idea of pirates today and perpetuated the legends of many of its heroes but not without good reason. The story Woodard tells does show that some of these pirates were larger than life characters during their lifetimes terrorizing merchant and navies alike but does not shy away from the atrocities they committed as well. A well-balanced look at the piracy of the times and eventually how they were brought to their knees.

Overall, The Republic of Pirates was an entertaining beach read especially with my view staring off into the waters of the Atlantic imagining The Queen Anne’s Revenge sailing past on the horizon.

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I’ve been a fan of Pixar from the beginning. Toy Story had me hooked and since then I’ve been a raving fan. Their movies have found a special place in my heart, and their team has crafted some of my favorite stories and characters on film. I’ve learned more about their culture and process through articles, documentaries, and books. I’ve read some about John Lasseter and Steve Jobs but never heard too much about the third member of the Pixar triumvirate: Ed Catmull. That was until I was looking through Amazon and creating a wish list and stumbled upon Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration written by Ed Catmull.

Creativity, Inc. reads partly like the autobiography of Ed Catmull and Pixar and partly as a creative business management challenge. Catmull explains that in order to fully understand his job as President at Pixar and Disney Animation you first have to understand a little bit of the background of how Pixar became Pixar. He shares his story, beginning before Pixar, from college to Industrial Light & Magic at Lucasfilm to Steve Jobs acquisition of Pixar and eventual sale to Disney. Through the years Catmull has realized his job has become increasingly simpler: to create a fertile environment for people to do their best work, keep it healthy, and watch for things that undermine it. With this filter, it is very easy to find the practical application for creative business management throughout the book. Catmull does so by seemingly pulling back the curtain at Pixar by sharing practices and rules that help safeguard the culture they value. He explains the emphasis they put on candor in meetings, the value they place on feedback, the importance of everyone feeling they have the authority to improve their projects, and the trust they have in each member on their team. The countless stories he shares of success and failure at Pixar and Disney Animation are the perfect vehicle to deliver fundamental ideological concepts and practical application in an easily digestible way.

I found myself highlighting more passages than normal in this book. Over 190 passages were highlighted by the time I finished, and these weren’t just sentences but whole paragraphs and sections. Catmull dropped so many nuggets and insights that I eagerly shook my head in agreement with. Because, as someone who is a creative but not an artist, I have had an increasing desire to lead creatives one day. To be able to read the thoughts and lessons from someone who has successfully done that for the better part of three decades really inspired me to lead differently when given the opportunity.

I believe Creativity, Inc. should be required reading for anyone in leadership of a creative organization or team. It will challenge the way you lead your team through failure, encourage you to value candor, and allow you permission to take risks. And if nothing else, you get a glimpse inside the mind of one of the world’s most underrated creative geniuses.

Start with Why changed the way I thought about leadership and business. I was bought in from the first time I heard Simon Sinek talk about the concept. Naturally, when I learned he was writing another book I was eager to get my hands on it. I was also privileged to hear him speak from the content of his book at Leadercast this year. His talk only spurred me on to get his book and after the event I picked up a copy of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other’s Don’t.

The title is inspired by the way the Marines eat their meals. They line up in rank order: from the junior Marines all the way to the most senior officers. The junior Marines eat first and the most senior officers last—when they are in barracks and in the field. Sinek uses this example in his argument that in times of trouble it is (or at least should be) the natural instinct for the leader to sacrifice himself for his team. Unfortunately, the many of the bosses in management today have been educated in a culture that rewards those who look out for themselves rather than others. Sinek argues that the most successful bosses and companies exercise a concept called the Circle of Safety—a place where people feel like the those they work with will protect them regardless of the situation. He suggests that this idea is hardwired within humanity and that the chemical processes in our biological wiring reenforce this concept. However, the past decades have seen CEOs, bosses, and managers only extend the Circle of Safety to immediate employees, managers, or executives. He uses examples like Jack Welch who, when he was CEO at GE, would cut upwards of 25% of the bottom level employees every year to balance the bottom line. No wonder, Sinek argues, people are always on-edge and looking for another job opportunity; it’s because they don’t feel safe and for a good reason!

At the heart of Sinek’s argument is the belief that leaders should be on the lookout for their employees. It goes further than just emotional intelligence although that is a start. In order for people to feel like they are safe it starts with the leaders extending a circle of safety around all of those they lead in good time and bad. Sinek gives inspiring examples of CEOs who choose to save the people over the numbers, groups of employees who band together during pay cuts to help out their fellow employee, and a pilot who gave ground support and saved Marines on the ground that show leaders can put others ahead of themselves and come out on top.

With simplicity and clarity that on Simon Sinek can bring, Leaders Eat Last is a common-sense manifesto that challenges leaders to look out for someone other than their own interest. Because when you the leader eats last, those you lead end up feeling safer and, because they feel safe, they become more loyal to you and their work. When you put people before the numbers, everyone wins.

I have been a fan of Mark Driscoll for years now. While there are times I do not always like or appreciate his approach, there are other times where his pointed words are prophetic in my life and the Holy Spirit has used them to spur me on to a deeper love and understanding of him. Over the years I have heard his tone shift and distinctly remember a sermon in which he stated he wants to move from an angry prophet voice to a caring fatherly voice. This review is not a defense of Driscoll or his past, but A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future? could potentially be the turning point for his future.

Driscoll begins by tracing the path to how Christianity got to where it is today in America and how the decline has left Christians disoriented and confused and set up for a knockout punch is we are not willing and able to engage with culture in a different way than before. He then explores the tribalism of Christianity that has splintered people into so many groups and subgroups. Based on how you answer some of the major theological issues can subdivide and divide group from group—going to show that one of the biggest dangers for the future of Christianity is not necessarily outside pressure by internal conflict. Because of this he goes on to suggest ways that differing groups can still disagree on open-handed issues but work together to advance the Gospel. Integral in the spread of the Gospel, Driscoll contends, is the Holy Spirit. But, in order for Christians to be united in the Holy Spirit we must first be united about who the Holy Spirit is. And when the Spirit is present repentance follows, not just admitting we we wrong but true heartfelt change. It’s in these moments that we begin to look different than culture. He closes by looking at seven different areas Christians can focus on in and where they are at to begin a resurgence—all of which are practical steps to begin but are not meant to silver bullets.

With candor and humor Driscoll is known for in his communication, he sets for a very plain case that Christianity in the West as we know it is at a crossroads. For too long we have operated with the mentality that we are the majority when, in fact, we are the minority. If we continue to operate under that assumption then Christianity will cease to have the influence at large we believe it has today. This does not mean it is the end of Christianity in America by any means; Driscoll is trying to wave the flag and alert as many people as possible to the future before it is too late.

You might not like what Mark Driscoll says, how he says it or to whom he says it, but one thing is for sure, you cannot ignore the issues he is bringing to light. Christianity is losing its perceived hold in the America of today and unless a new generation of Christians is humbled to repent, resolved to engage, and determined to redeem then we are looking at the rise of a post-Christian America sooner rather than later.

If Steve Jobs was the heart of Apple, Jony Ive was the soul. Few people fully understand and appreciate the role Ive has played at Apple for almost a quarter of a century. The fact that Ive is one of the most quiet and private people, much the opposite of Jobs, only adds to the mystery of Apple’s most valuable designer. When I saw that Leander Kahney published a biography about Ive, I knew I had to read more about this giant in the world of design.

Unfortunately, because of his inclination towards privacy and reluctance to disclose personal matters in interviews, it is hard to call it a true biography of Jony Ive—especially when compared to tome Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It is more of a glimpse behind the curtain of Apple and its design thinking and process through the eyes of colleagues who worked closely with Ive.

It catalogues his upbringing, exposure to industrial design, and education through college. It flies through award after award Ive won during that time and the foundational pieces that formed his and Apple’s future design language. It follows his years at an industrial design start-up and the road that led him to Apple.

The most interesting parts of the book center around the products—because Apple is, in fact, in the product creation business. Kahney, through interviews on and off the record with key Apple employees (current and former), takes the reader through the design process of their favorite Apple products from the iMac to the iPad. All of their stories retold from the perspective of the designer who shaped their evolution. You are given glimpses of successes of Ive’s career (iMac, iPod, iPhone) as well as failures (Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, Power Mac G4 Cube), but everything points to the “why” behind Ive’s thinking.

As a designer myself, I found it fascinating to see the evolution of Ive’s thinking. Ideas he thought of in college somehow made their way back to designs 25 years later. The way he handled presenting new products to Steve Jobs evolved until he really began to shape the DNA of the products Apple made. The way IDg (Industrial Design Group) pushed the boundaries on technology by using materials never used before on computers where software hadn’t even been written yet. All a tribute to Jony Ive’s leadership and guidance to always push the envelope and make the best next product.

If you’re looking for a biography on arguably the modern world’s most influential designer, this book will not help. In fact, you will probably never get that book while Jony Ive is still alive. But, if you are looking for a book that will give you a different perspective on the story of the products so many people love from the eyes of the people who dreamed them up and created them under the leadership of the most influential designers of the modern world, then you might just find this book as engaging as I did.

While Steve Jobs’ death might have caused momentary heart-attack for those on the outside of Apple leaving them wondering what would happen when the most important individual would no longer be leading the charge, the soul of Apple continued to do what he always had done: design beautiful products for the world to love.

I first heard of Simon Sinek at a meeting for a campaign I was helping run. The campaign manager referenced a TED talk by him and said that his talk would be the basis for our ticket and platform. The statement was simple: people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it. Sinek’s TED talk fundamentally changed the way I viewed marketing and advertising. No longer was selling the WHAT my goal, but it was selling the WHY.

If you haven’t watched the video, I would strongly recommend it before reading any further. It is the best 15-minute synopsis of a concept that is simple yet complex. The concept caught fire and the talk became the most viewed talk on the TED website to date. Because of the concept’s success, Sinek penned a book that expounded on the idea, and, thus, Start with Why was born.

Start with Why centers around the idea of the Golden Circle (pictured below).

Simon Sinek uses the Gold Circle principle as a foundation for why companies are great and inspire people.

He argues that most companies start outside and work their way inside when selling, marketing, or advertising. They start with the WHAT: the price, the new features, the differences between their product and a competitor. Then, they move to the HOW: the reasons their WHAT is superior or better based on their systems, processes, or outcomes. Then, if they are lucky, they land on the WHY they do what they do, but often it’s fuzzy and unclear what exactly the WHY is.

Sinek suggests that the great companies of the day actually do the process backwards. They start with WHY, then their HOW proves their WHY, and the WHAT is tangible product or service that is the natural result of the process.

One of the examples he uses over and over again is Apple. He puts forth that Apple’s WHY is to “Think Different.” It embodies the culture and mindset of what Apple is. Apple wants to be the company that challenges the status quo and inspires others to do so as well. How do they do that? By a list of values and standards that is seen in every single product: beautifully designed, simplistic in nature, and friendly for everyone. So now the WHAT? Apple started with computers, but over the years have expanded their WHAT to include phones, mp3 players, and TV components. The reason they can do this while still maintaining such a cohesive brand is because all of their products flow from their WHY: to challenge the status quo and inspire others to do the same. The Apple II did just that. So did the Macintosh. So did the iPod. So did the iPhone. Each product is infused with their WHY.

Sinek argues that if you filter everything through your WHY you will begin connect on a deeper level with customers beyond just a transaction. It creates a deep sense of brand loyalty not just repeat customers. You begin to get customers who tattoo your logo on their body, collect untold amounts of merchandise, and become unofficial brand representatives to all of their friends. Why? Because your brand is more than just the WHAT they buy; it resonates with something deeper in their being and WHY that matters.

But he doesn’t stop at the customer. He goes as far as to say that companies should hire based on very similar principles. Gone are the days where the hiring process needs to just fill an open slot. Companies should be on the look out for people who naturally line up with their WHY. If you can find someone who connects with your WHY, they become natural ambassadors because they love the WHAT for the same reasons you love the WHAT: the WHY.

But it continues to higher levels of the company as well. Sinek proposes the CEOs of the greatest companies embody their brands. Steve Jobs was the incarnation of Apple’s WHY. Bill Gates personified the early WHY of Microsoft. Howard Schultz was the DNA of what made Starbucks Starbucks. A CEO has to embody the WHY and cast vision for others to follow. If they do not, no matter how financially successful they might be in the short-term, they will not be a long-term fit in that company culture (example: John Sculley as CEO of Apple after Steve Jobs).

What Simon Sinek methodically lays out chapter after chapter is that great companies have their WHY touch everything they do. From the way their CEO leads meetings to product packaging on store shelves, it all reflects their WHY clearly and concisely. No matter where you are in the process, you are consciously or subconsciously exposed to the WHY. Some of those WHYs resonate at a deeper level with us which is why some develop a cult-like following of fans.

The difficult part of this whole process is the WHY for most companies is fuzzy. It was once clear, but it no longer is. Maybe it was clear for you when your business was still in “start-up” mode. Maybe it was easy to define while the founder was still alive. Maybe it was simpler when shareholders didn’t dictate the important decisions. If it is not closely guarded and strategically positioned in everything you do, the WHY can slowly fade and disappear. Without noticing, you begin to focus on all the WHATs (price, upgrades, features, sales, etc.) rather than the WHY you began in the first place.

Because if you start with WHY, and trust the process, people start to take notice and somehow things just seem to fall into place.

If you are unaware of Fast Company, then you are missing out. They are the one-stop website for everything business, innovation, creativity, technology, and leadership. There are many sub-brands (i.e. Co.Design, Co.Exist, Co.Create, Co.Labs) but they pride themselves as a magazine and website as the curators of innovative business content.

One of the areas the tackle in articles and blogs most often is leadership in business. From productivity based on open or closed office spaces to tips on creativity within a team, their topics span CEO level to entry level positions. Since finding information on these topics from years past through archives of posts can be time intensive, Fast Company has compiled eBooks of some of their most-read articles based on topic. The most recent one is titled Breakthrough Leadership.

In Breakthrough Leadership eight companies and/or executives are featured and their leadership stories are told. Profiled first is Elon Musk of Tesla Motors. His laser-focused strategy about revolutionizing the car manufacturing realm illustrates the importance of having a plan and sticking to it no matter what the critics say. Then the next section is an excerpt from a Fast Company roundtable discussion between Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter, and Ben Horowitz explores how no one is born a fully-functioning CEO, rather it is a learned position that takes time, patience, failure, vision, and a team around you that is better than you by yourself. Next follows an inspiring story about Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy who founded an hospital in India, without government or foreign aid, that gives people their sight back through removing cataracts. Then a brilliant piece on J.Crew and the two individuals (Jenna Lyons and Mickey Drexler) who reinstated it at cult brand status and the difficult decisions it took to get it there. Starbucks and its CEO Howard Schultz discuss the trick of navigating how to rebound such a large company from the brink of falling apart. Next, the edgy athletic brand Under Armour is spotlighted as its CEO Kevin Plank is trying to learn how to continue to innovate while fending off competitors such as Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos gives readers a peek behind the curtain of what is next on Amazon’s plate and just what it means to push the envelope by creating new ways people can get what they want and get it faster. Lastly, GE takes the reader inside its GE/Durham plant where there are no bosses but everyone functions as each other’s bosses creating a culture of accountability and a team that believes and trusts each other.

The beauty of this eBook is not only its length (under 120 pages) but its depth. In eight concise stories, you are exposed to some of the same leadership principles you would have to read five other books to pull out… and they are real life examples! No existential principles that leave you wondering how they actually work in “real life.” These are real stories of real people doing real things. It brings a very tangible feeling to leadership which can sometimes feel like an elusive concept.

I have always loved Fast Company’s work, and being able to pick up an eBook that compiles stories and articles together around a common theme is brilliant. It saves me time from having to look all over the place for relevant content and provides me with practical, applicable takeaways I can use in my sphere.

While Breakthrough Leadership isn’t going to drop any inspiration that can’t be found in any other leadership book, the length and portability allows it to challenge our thinking in small doses forcing us to consider new perspectives and ways to approach leading our teams and ourselves.

Maybe, in that sense, it is breakthrough leadership.