So I’m here in Asia this month to give a series of speeches, host a meetup of SpeakersU members in Singapore, and to finalise some very cool bonuses that we’ll be adding for those who join SpeakersU before the end of the year. I’ve also been able to grab a little downtime to set goals and review notes from my top 10 books of 2019. As we get close to the holiday season I thought I’d share my top 10 books of this year in case you are looking for ideas for stocking fillers!
Last night I was at dinner in Singapore with creativity speaker Fredrik Haren and speaker bureau owner Andrew Vine of The Insight Bureau. We got talking about the book I’ve been reading on this trip called ‘The Future Is Asian’. Parag is a Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School at the National University of Singapore, as well as an advisor to the US National Intelligence Council and US Special Operations Forces. This incredibly well-researched book about the rise of Asia is a must-read if you want to speak more in this part of the world.
What I loved about this book was Parag’s coherent argument that while the 19th Century was one of Europeanization and the 20th Century was about Americanization, the 21st Century is most definitely one were we are seeing the world being Asianized. A great read if you are interested in geopolitics or economics.
Two years ago I spoke at the Asia Professional Speakers Singapore conference and in the audience was New York Times bestselling author Ron Kaufman. I didn’t know Ron then but on the last day of the conference I got a change to see him speak and I was blown away by his energy and craftsmanship as a speaker. A few months later we had a phone conversation where he mentioned that something I had said on stage had changed his life. It wasn’t about creativity or artificial intelligence or even the speaking business. It was were I happened to mention briefly that I was vegan.
Now I’m not an evangelical kind of vegan although others have given me the title of the ‘Plant Powered Speaker’. I became vegetarian when I was 15 years old because I didn’t want to cause suffering to other sentient beings and then five years ago I transitioned to being vegan for three reasons; to reduce animal suffering, to improve my health and wellbeing, and to reduce my environmental impact.
Now back to Ron. After my talk he started researching the benefits of plant-based lifestyles and picked up a copy of How Not To Die by Dr Michael Greger. Since then Ron has joined the growing list of plant-powered speakers and has gone on to gift that book to over a hundred friends, family and other top thought-leaders. You can watch Ron’s video review of the book here.
As a keynote speaker on human creativity and artificial intelligence I devour at least one book a month on the topic of AI, machine learning or technological disruption. China’s increasing dominance in AI research and its applications have been so impressive that former Google chairman Eric Schmidt has said he expects China to surpass the United States in AI by 2025. If you want a primer on artificial intelligence then Kai-Fu Lee’s excellent book is a great place to start.
As you may be able to tell I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about Asia, and China specifically this year as I receive more requests to speak in Shanghai, Beijing, Schenzen and Chengdu. In the same way that Star Trek, Arthur C. Clark, George Orwell’s 1984 and the Star Wars series helped Western technologists and scientists envision a future, there is a growing number of brilliant Chinese science-fiction writers who are doing the same for Asia’s thinkers, entrepreneurs and leaders.
One of my favourites is Chan Koonchung whose book ‘The Fat Years’ was banned in China but inspired other Chinese science-fiction writers including Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang. It tells the story of an entire month that has gone missing from Chinese records. No one has any memory of it, and no one seems to care except for a small circle of friends who will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of the strange cheerfulness and amnesia that has possessed the nation.
While 90% of the books I read are non-fiction I prefer fiction for bedtime reading. This year I’ve read six of John le Carre’s books and I’m constantly impressed by his artistry, productivity and craft as a writer. His latest book ‘Agent Running In The Field’ is classic le Carre. It’s intricate, psychological, tense, and beautiful written and he allows the reader to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks and ask questions.
The writer Voltaire once said to judge a person by their questions not their answers. Hal Gregersen’s new book ‘Questions Are The Answer’ is about the power of asking catalytic question in order to innovate, solve problems, and envision new ways of doing things. Hal is the Executive Director of the Leadership Centre at MIT and was recently recognised by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s fifty most innovative minds. You can watch my recent interview with Hal where we talk about the power of a well-asked question.
I am not usually a fan of autobiographies as they tend to give a an overly rosy view of the life and work of the author. It’s usually much better to read a biography of someone once a few decades have passed to get a full appreciation of what their contribution to the world has really been. However Michael Caine’s autobiography is different because it is less about him and his achievements and more a masterclass on acting and performing.
Professional speakers usually look to emulate other speakers and comedians however I think there is much we can learn from the great stage and screen actors especially as speakers have to create more online video content as well as speaking on stages. Speaking on stage has a lot of similarities to theatre acting while creating videos for online courses or social media requires more of the skills of a TV or film actor. One is about managing and directing energy, big moves, theatricality and stagecraft while the other is about intricacy, connecting with the viewer and painting on a smaller canvas. One of Michael Caine’s lessons that “the practice is the hardwork, the performance is the play” perfectly describes how I think about my craft as a professional keynote speaker.
At $120 a copy this is not a cheap book to buy. However if you are interested in the intersection of business and art then this is a fascinating read. It talks about the four stages of Walt Disney’s career. It starts with his early days as an artist, then moves onto him experimenting with the science and technology of animation, before showing how he built Disney into the kind of company we recognise today, and finishing with his role as an evangelist. You can watch my interview with Michael Goldsby here as we dive into some of the lessons in the book.
This year I’ve had the pleasure on speaking a number of times for a client called Red Hat. Red Hat is not a household name like it’s parent company IBM but it’s unique corporate culture is something that I think Big Blue can learn from. The Open Organisation, written by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst, lays out how one of the world’s most revolutionary companies grew using open principles of management based upon transparency, agility, participation and community.
In the book the author shows how adopting this open corporate mindset can help organisations quickly respond to new opportunities and challenges, harness resources and talent, and inspire, motivate and empower all of their people. There is a reason that IBM paid $34 billion to acquire Red Hat. They represent a more open and inclusive way of doing business.
There is something about being near water that allows me to think in a different, more expansive way. Spending time in cities like Singapore, London, Paris or New York is about interaction and input, a schmorgasbord of people and ideas literally bumping into each other at close quarters. Spending time in or by water has a completely different affect on me. It’s about letting the mind rest, going to a deeper level, and tapping into a universal consciousness. Thank you to UAE based speaker, author and adventurer Julie Lewis for recommending this book to me. If swimming, sailing, surfing, diving or just lounging on a beach is something you enjoy then reading this book will explain why.
Now It’s Your Turn
What were your top 10 books of 2019 that you think I should read? Drop me an email at [email protected] with your suggestions.