Popular Non-Fiction Audiobooks Read By Their Authors


I got thinking about audio again and the power of hearing directly from an author.

I remember having Tom Peters’ The Excellence Challenge on cassette and listing to it over and over in the tape deck of my 1982 Cutlass Cierra. Each segment is 10-15 minutes and filled with Tom’s energy and excitement.  He was imploring you to think different and do different. I had to track down a set of the tapes on Ebay early this year, because you can’t find them anywhere anymore (now if I can just find a cassette deck…).

That got me about thinking about how often authors read the audio edition of their book. Many books never sell enough or have the potential to sell enough copies that warrants a the production of an audiobook (but that is changing).

In that small slice that do make it, I am surprised how often books are narrated by someone else.  Maybe I shouldn’t be.  With audiobooks, we judge the book and the performance. To take the role of narrator, you need to be able to perform the book. That is not a given with all authors, but in the space of business and popular non-fiction, so many have active careers as public speakers. Not narrating your audiobook feels like a missed opportunity.

There are exceptions too. When we decided to produce a audiobook version of The Phoenix Project, we brought in a professional narrator. Performing a novel is very different animal from performing a narrative. Pat Lencioni does the same thing on his fables.

I decided to make a list of the popular non-fiction audiobooks narrated by their authors.  This is not comprehensive list but if you like the energy of the author sharing their work, here are some suggestions.

Popular Non-Fiction Audiobooks Narrated by Their Authors


Spoken Word, Revisited


I was pretty wrong the first time. I admit it.

Audio has become a growth category for publishing and a growth category for the overall media world. Audible has said publicly that 2015 growth was 40% year over year. Association of American Publishers is quoting similar numbers for audiobook downloads.

My friends at Berrett-Koehler told me at their Author Marketing Retreat that everything they are publishing as a book is also being produced as an audiobook.  That is an amazing shift because traditionally only a small slice of books got converted.

The general rule of thumb is that audiobooks will sell about 10% of what the print book does. Given the fixed cost of narration and production, the dollars didn’t work.  What has changed is audiobooks can be produced more inexpensively and there are many more outlets, in particular on the digital side, for audio to be distributed.

With that kind of growth, authors in the world of business and non-fiction are using audio in many different ways to experiment with new projects and expand their audience.

Many authors, like Tim Ferris, Gretchen Rubin, Dave Ramsey and the Freakonomics guys have picked up audio as another broadcast medium as a way to extend the coverage of their previous works. These authors have adopted audio like they did blogging, Twitter, and Instagram before it. Podcasting works as an effective form of marketing as shows they host alongside a co-host or interviewee.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History and Steven Johnson’s Wonderland are also authors using limited edition podcasts to extend the stories with a more narrative driven format. Their episodes are produced as native for audio and sound like they could be on NPR. Gladwell did original reporting for his 10 part series. With three episodes released, Johnson tells stories from his upcoming book.

This latter approach to how authors are using audio is getting close to what I have been hoping for.  I even may have been a little right.

The original form of the art is usually the best. This American Life and RadioLab are conceived to be listened to; reading the manuscript is not the same. Movies derived from books always lack the depth of the prose. I wonder if an audiobook original would be more successful? Has there been any audiobook originals?

Maybe someone has been listening.

My first exhibit of the original audiobook #AskGaryVee by the loquacious and enuthastic Gary Vaynerchuk. Following on the his popular 500 episode run of WineLibrary.tv, his new video show is built with the same spontaneity but this time, for the realm of business folks working the hustle. He pulls questions from twitter and answer them in a live stream of consciousness on the show. The video format that allowed him to easily transfer the content from the show to a bestselling book to an audiobook. The last is most interesting to me.

The audiobook version doesn’t begin right. Gary reads the introduction with a slow, forced cadence. It feels off because it’s not how we hear Gary anywhere else. The magic starts when they turn to the questions from the show and he answers them in the improv style delivery  where Gary best operates.  I wish the whole audiobook was delivered that way. This is what I wanted on the Crush It! audiobook when it promised additional material not found in the book. While I also have other problems with how the answers are broken up across tracks and the lack of track labels, this audiobook starts to feel like its own stand-alone product produced for audio consumption.

Seth Godin’s Leap First and Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability are even better examples that capture the energy of a live moment recorded.  Both of these recordings were done in front of a live audience and you can sense that. Something happens in that space. Their publisher SoundsTrue has a long history of recording the talks of spiritual leaders speaking to groups.  With these talks, you feel like you are sitting there listening. The talks are conceived with the intention of being delivered as spoken word, not written word or a presentation with slides. Sadly, they are the only business self-help titles on the site.

There is more opportunity here.  I can feel it in my bones.


What I Read – September 2016


Grit by Angela Duckworth -This is my favorite book of 2016, hands-down. Duckworth theory is that effort is the key to achievement because it builds skills AND contributes to achievement. Our desire to engage in continued effort comes from passion and perseverance. Her narrative delightfully balances research, case studies and memoir. Her own research is rich and interesting, but even more so as she connects the dots with other researchers like Carol Dweck, Anders Ericsson,  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and others. I’ll be writing a longer summary of the book soon, but until then this is a MUST.

Graphic Novels

Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze – Coates is telling a big story in the newest reboot of Black Panther. What makes the story special is that everyone is right but no one agrees.  What happens when your superpowers can’t save what you love most? Must.

What I Read – August 2016



The Aspirational Investor by Ashvin Chhabra – I rarely read personal finance books because the advice is so repeated – savings more than you spend & balance your investment classes. Chhabra makes a run at doing something different. Most is the same advice but his take on what gets people on the Forbes 400 list and three tranches of investing is interesting. It needed more interesting. Could.

The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei by John Stevens – There are a set of monks outside Kyoto who practice by running.  Monks start by running 100 days of kaihōgyō and very select few continue into a 1000 day challenge that takes seven years to complete. In modern times, only 46 men have completed the longer challenge.  The book describes the history of the Tendai at Mount Hiei, the requirements of kaihōgyō, and the profile of the people who have completed. Fascinating. Could.

Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel – This book was one of the first to introduce Zen to the West. A German philosophy professor searches for a kyūdō master to teach him and satisfy his curosity in mysticism as he perceived Zen to be. Herrigel, in this short book, writes most of the narrative in disbelief and frustration by the seeming indirect and oblique instruction he receives. Even after he passes his teacher’s test, Herrigel worries the reader won’t believe or understand the journey he has taken. I can relate to the student in protest; his skepticism created a distance for me. Could.

The Theory That Would Not Die by Sharon Bertsch Mcgrayne – I have been fascinated by Bayes’ theorem for some time and this book covers the 325 year history of the concept. For a long time, many people thought you could only predict the likelihood of something happening after you observed it happen at least once. Thomas Bayes, Pierre-Simon Laplace and a host of others that followed showed you could take a host of variables and their probablities to help predict these unseen events. Even more importantly, you could keep feeding back new information to improve the predictive outcomes as you progressed. The theory has been used to find lost submarines, break German codes during World War II, show the underrepresented risks with flying large numbers of bomber flights with nuclear weapons onboard.  Heavy on history, my favorite material was in the latter half of the book with the stronger emphasis on modern application.  Could for most.

Graphic Novels

Aya of Yop City by Maguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie – I dropped into the second book in the six book series. The fictional story follows Aya and a cast of characters in Côte d’Ivoire during the 1970’s. I remember seeing a quote from the author saying the goal of the series was to create a more normal portrayal of Africans, one that breaks down the assumptions and stereotypes. The story has shunned relatives “out in the village”, searches for love, and people who are just trying to make their lives a little better. Should.


Chef’s Table – Just finished watching the first season of this documentary series that introduces us to innovative chefs from around the world. This was amazing brain candy for me. I love watching people who do things differently and can explain why. And I love the food they make. I am heading into Season Two immediately. Must.

Kubo and The Two Strings – Fun. Beautiful. Loved it. Must.

The Many Lives of Books

There are so many ways books fit into our lives – big and small.

I bought a guide to craft beer in Japan prior to my trip two years ago. The book was clearly a project of passion for the author and so helpful for a English speaker in a kanji based country.

Aaron Draplin’s new book displays his body of work in full color glory. He is so prolific that the work itself creates the visual narrative. His dad is there. His dog is there.  I am there along side him.

Dan Roam has one page in the Back of the Napkin that is worth the entire cost of the book. It’s page 141 and it tells me exactly what kind of picture to make in answering any question that arises. Everything else in the book supports that idea.

In Cultivating The Empty Field, Hongzhi speaks to me with one line:

A rock contains jade without knowing the jade’s flawlessness.

My favorite book by Brene Brown doesn’t exist as a book. It’s an eight hour audio session that SoundsTrue published. She talked about all of her best ideas there. It’s not a book, but I still think of it like it is one.

I remember reading Tom Peters’ Re-Imagine and counting the different books he quoted and referenced.  He gave life to all of those books in the unique way he connected them together.

I have a book in a milk carton.

I have an unbook.

I have architectural portfolio that’s been depicted as a graphic novel.

I have the Birds of North America guide that my grandmother and I would use to identified what was at the feeder.

I have tiny Golden Books.

And of course, I wrote a book about books.


A Third Edition for The 100 Best



The 100 Best is one of those projects whose path I never saw, whose trail disappeared for awhile and since its publication, has taken me to places I could never have predicted.

I wrote about some of the quirks and coincidences that have stayed with me. There are many more.

There were the author photos that never saw the light of day. There was the two weeks at a table double checking the cross-references with Jack. The guy who said our book was like Google on paper. We signed alot of books; one Saturday my oldest son came and helped. We got published in the Harvard Business Review. And who doesn’t love seeing their book in translated and interpeted into another language.


We held events at Harvard and Stanford with faculty authors from The 100 Best. I got up early on a Wednesday and drove eight hours from Milwaukee to Lexington, Kentucky for a book signing that no one showed up for.  Ryan Louie tweets me every time he finishes another book and he has read 88 of the 100 books to date.

With the publication of the third edition of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, I started to think back to what else I could share to show other views into the work we did.

I was searching back through old files I found a talk I did at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2009. I talk about some of the great anecdotes from the books organized around five themes that Jack and I saw show up over and over again. By this point, I have given this speech a couple dozen times.  It not perfect, but it conveys the material well.


I also remembered that I wrote an essay on how to get more out of the business books you read. The piece was published on ChangeThis and has been downloaded over 6500 times. We added the essay to the end of the paperback edition of The 100 Best.



So much to be grateful for in connection with this project.

If you’d like a copy, the new edition of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time is available fine book retailers everywhere.



What I Read – July 2016

Non Fiction

The Humor Code by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner – I have been intrigued by Peter McGraw quest to unlock what makes jokes funny since his profile in Wired. The book he co-wrote with Joel Warner doesn’t get you more or maybe it does but I stopped reading. The entire book is written from Warner’s perspective, so much so that he really should be the only listed author. This gives it the feel of a really long magazine profile that wanders too much and where Warner is a little too close to his subject. What I really wanted was to hear Peter’s authoritive voice like you find Daniel Ariely’s books on decision making or Jared Diamond’s works on anthropology. Skip.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – I saw this book recommending so many times, I finally picked it up. Each chapter is one to three pages and shares a barrier or exercise that can help your writing practice. Natalie is a long time Zen practitioner and that is a large influence on the book. I like her emphasis on writing as a practice. Should.


Scriptnotes – I am a semi-regular listener to this screenwriting podcast by John August and Craig Mazin. What I like is that they cover the craft and the business of writing for Hollywood.  They just celebrated five years of doing the podcast and they show there is so much to talk about in this space.  My interest lies in hearing how they discuss creativity and making money from it. In episode #256, they have this great rift on originality (start ~36:40) that applies to anyone working in the arts. Should.

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru – Robbins has a new documentary on Netflix. The two hour feature follows him and the 2500 attendees to his Date with Destiny seminar.  You also follow a handful of people who are deeply moved by the experience. Your level of enjoyment will be likely equal to your acceptance of Robbins and his transformative techniques. Could.


What I Read – June 2016


Not Invented Here by Ramon Vullings and Marc Heleven – This is a fun run through being better at taking ideas and inspiration from other places. Lots of going framing and examples. My favorite – “In Germany–companies such as Daimler, Bayer, Siemens, and SAP all have an entire department of Grundsatzfragen (in English: a department of Fundamental Questions). It’s clear these companies see questionsing as a strategic asset.” Should.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – Many people will be drawn in and love the inspiration that Gilbert provides. We live in a world where many people need permission practice their art. This is a beautiful answer for them.  For me, I feel I might have read it at the wrong time or I too easily recognized her angle. Could.

Graphic Novels

Authority Volume 1 by Warren Ellis, Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary – This is a solid 12 issue run with a interesting set of heroes, a dimension traveling ship and bad bad guys. Should.

Letter 44 by Charles Soule and Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque – I read on through Volume 2 and Volume 3. It was OK.  I felt the idea lost its legs and got a little predictable as the story went on. Could.


Cool Japan Guide by Abby Denson – I really enjoyed this comics drawn travel guide to Japan. The book has a nice geek flavor to it with emphasis on manga, food and quirky places to visit. The book is also fun and personal. It is a nice read for anyone planning a trip. Should.


Mozart in The Jungle Season 1 – The appeal for me is in both my inner band geek and the quirky, human way the story plays out. Should.

Drawing is Magic by John Hendrix and Draw Your Big Idea by Nora Herting and Heather Willems – I keep buying these cute books with themed drawing prompts. They are not enough to get over the bump to start; that is my own challenge. Could.

The Few and The Many


In 1924, a young quality engineer named Joseph Juran went to work for Western Electric in their Hawthorne Works facility in Cicero, Illinois. If you were born after 1970, it is likely you won’t appreciate, or even know, Juran’s employer. Western Electric was the manufacturing arm of AT&T and responsible for supplying the entire technological platform that transmitted telephone calls in the United States for most of the 20th century.

Juran’s hire had to do with the growing installed base of Western Electric. With much of the telephony infrastructure buried in the ground, there came to be a high importance put on the quality of that equipment, as digging switches back out of the ground was expensive and time-intensive. Engineers devoted enormous efforts to improving the reliability of the transmission infrastructure.

The Hawthorne Works turned out to be a leader in this regard, an incubator for some of the most important management insights of the twentieth century. Walter Shewhart introduced the concept of statistical process control the same year Juran joined the company. Up to that point, the standard practice was to test every unit at the end of the assembly to be certain it worked for shipping into the field. Stewhart introduced the concept of control charts that could monitor the process and identify what variables influenced the end quality of the product.(Shewhart’s work also showed that when defects were detected, people often overreacted and made problems worse.)

Another set of studies started around the same time. Engineers decided to test how lighting levels affected worker productivity. Small changes in either up or down created short-term increases in productivity, but nothing that ever lasted. Further experiments were conducted with changes to pay rates, break times, and work hours. It took thirty years for Henry Landsberger to correctly identify that the subjects of these experiments were responding favorably to fact they were being watched and paid attention to. We now know this as the Hawthorne Effect.

Juran himself came to series of important conclusions in his near two decades with Western Electric. His most important and well known observation is one we have all experienced at one time or another. When the root causes of a given problem are categorized and sorted, “a relative few account for the bulks of the defects.” While some strongly associate this finding with manufacturing, Juran pointed to similar phenomenon managers experienced in looking at the causes for employee absenteeism or shop floor accidents.

This insight has been given several names over the years: the 80/20 Principle, The Vital Few and the Trivial Many, but for the most widely used moniker we need to wind back the clock twenty years and travel back across the Atlantic.


In 1896, an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto started the process of publishing the lecture notes he was using to teach classes at the Laussane School in Switzerland. It would take two years and three volumes for Pareto to fully release Cours d’economie politique, a preview to his 1906 landmark work Manuel d’economie politique.

Economics as a field of study was just starting to coming into own and the same basic concepts that are still taught in college economics courses were formed during this time. The thesis that people make rational choices was presented and accepted. The motivation for these actors crystallized with the theory that individuals maximize utility and firms maximize profits. Pareto himself contributes the idea that prices reach a point of equilibrium in the tug between supply and demand, but Pareto made an even important observation in Cours, one that moves him beyond his cohort of nineteenth century neoclassical economists.

Pareto in his lectures had been pointing out that land ownership is significantly skewed to a small portion of the population. His research showed that 80% of the land was in the possession of just 20% of the people. Further research indicated similar patterns in other countries like England and that the same skewed distribution held for the distribution of income as well.

Pareto dies in 1907, never aware of what impact that insight would have.


Juran in the late 1930s was promoted, becoming the corporate industrial engineer for Western Electric. Among his duties were sharing best practices with other companies. One of his visits led him to General Motors where he had a chance meeting with the manager in charge of executive compensation. The manager shared with Juran a model of salary distribution that matched the Italian economist’s findings. This was Juran’s first exposure to Pareto’s work and it would stick with him for a long time.

Juran, like many, spent the 1940’s in support of the war effort. The engineer took a job in the government as an administrator. The six week “temporary” assignment lasted four years. After leaving government, Juran pursued teaching and speaking.

In writing his first book, Quality Control Handbook, he was faced with the need for a shorthand description for section titled “Maldistribution of Quality Loss.” Juran showed a variety of graphs displaying the 80/20 phenomenon and under one attributed Pareto. Without the quality movement of the 1980’s and Juran’s rise to one of the period’s gurus, it is unlikely we would be using terms like Pareto’s Law or Partian distributions. Parteo’ Cours was never even translated into English from the original French.

Pareto and Juran always emphasized the importance of those Vital Few, but what if the Trivial Many weren’t trivial?


The standard assumption in creation of most products and services is that demand will appear at random intervals, spread out evenly throughout the day.  The web server is designed to handle an average number of hits each day. Cellphone towers are erected to provide coverage based on the average number of calls users make given the demographics of the area. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi believes this thinking is flawed.

Barabasi is a scientist at Notre Dame who has been studying networks for last 20 years. What first brought Barabasi to prominence was his research into nodes and their connections within a network. The classic view in network theory stated nodes (which you can think of as people or websites) in a given network were connected to roughly the same number of nodes and that the variation in connections was random in nature, meaning some average number of connections with some nodes getting more and others less. In other words, everyone had roughly the same number of friends they stayed in contact with, plus or minus a few.

Barabassi’s insight was discovering the number of connection were not rough equally, but the exact opposite: they varied widely. True nature of networks are millions of nodes with a few connections and a few super nodes that had hundreds of millions of connections. The Internet with its millions of websites and handful of megasites like Google and Yahoo make this conclusion seems obvious, but ten years ago this was not as clear. This same phenomenon has since been seen in areas ranging from the distribution of protein interactions of yeast to how drug adoption is affected by the relationships physicians have with one another.  And again, the appearance of partian distributions with the many and the few.

The latest research from Barabasi takes an even more interesting step. Scientists have long wanted to create models for human activity. The idea of asking a million people to log what they have done and where they have been over last seven days makes the task impractical. But now the data collected by mobile telecommunications companies, credit card processors, and internet service providers is giving us exactly that view and again we see the emergence of the many and the few.

Barabasi’s analysis shows again there is nothing random about what we do. In a world of averages, we would send our email, evenly spaced throughout the day. Now think about how you really behave. Seven rapid fire email replies on your Blackberry, ahead of your first morning meeting. 20 clicks navigating the New York Times website to find out the midday news, followed by a lunch. Barabasi describes our pattern of activity as one of bursts and lulls, requiring a shift in emphasis from Juran’s Vital Few to Barabasi’s Vital Many.

Maybe the few and the many indicate something more?


Pareto, Juran, and Barbasi all uncovered a different kind of phenomenon in their pursuits. The more we look the more we seem to find these situations that display the few and the many. Nature is full of them from the magnitudes of earthquakes to intensity of solar flares. Many sociological trends form with same distribution whether the loss of life in armed conflicts or sexual partners in social networks. In each of these examples, the Infinite Many and the Extreme Few are boldly evident. Yet, we act as if they are unfamiliar.

The Extreme Few are always a surprise whether it is a volcano erupting in Iceland or a Dow Jones decline of 40%. And the Infinite Many go unnoticed on the shelves of used bookstores or as small price movements in the companies of the Russell 3000.  So, why do we expect the world to be the same day in and day out? And what is the underlying model that we may not even be aware of driving that thinking? For the answer, we just need to watch to the longest running game show on network television.


On November 5th 2009, The Price Is Right celebrated the airing of its 7,000th episode. The longest running gameshow on television now hosted by Drew Carey celebrated the anniversary by playing three games from the first episode that aired in September 1972 – Any Number, Bonus Game, and Double Prices. Missing from the festivities sadly was the most popular game in the history of The Price is Right.

Of course, I am talking about Plinko, the game that best combines the best of the classic game show: knowledge of product prices and random chance. In the game that debuted on January 3, 1983, each contestant is given the opportunity to acquire five round discs by guessing which number is incorrect in the two-digit price of a product. Each correct guess earns the player another disc.

After the pricing portion of the game is complete, the player takes the discs they won and proceeds up a small, seven step staircase to the top of the Plinko board. Looking down, the player sees 13 rows of pins, each one offset from the next, and a series of chutes at the bottom labeled with varying amounts of money. The player lays each disc flat on the board and lets go. With each pin hit the disc falls to the left or right as it bounced down the board until eventually landing in one of the chutes, each labelled with a dollar amount.

Those familiar with Japanese culture can’t help but notice the similarity of in both name and construction with the immensely popular game pachinko. Played in huge parlors, pachinko machines use steel balls that fall from the top of the machine and hit metal pins as they fall. Most balls fall to the bottom, while a select few drop into gates placed throughout the board which in turn releases more balls for the player to use.

The origin of both these games goes back even further though to an Englishman named Sir Francis Galton. A half-cousin of Charles Darwin, Galton was in his own right an incredible polymath developing one of first methods for classifying fingerprints, initiating some of the first scientific study of meteorology, and coined the unanswerable notion of “nature versus nuture.”

But Galton was also a teacher and one of his more difficult tasks was teaching students the concepts he was developing around probability theory. These concepts were difficult to convey in equation and theory, so Galton created his own Plinko board. He referred to his invention as The Quincunx, the name for the Roman coin with five markings arranged in the pattern of a four point square with fifth center point, the same pattern Galton used to arrange the pins on the board.  With the construction of the Quincunx, Galton could physically show students how random behavior manifested itself.


As the beads fall through the pins of the Quincunx, they accumulate into piles at the bottom of the board. Most fall to the center, having bounced back and forth at each row. You can imagine the probabilities matching that of flipping a coin, with the equal likelihood of a head or tail resembling the chances of the bead falling to the right or left. And as you also know from flipping coins, you can get a run of heads or tails. This same mechanism means beads will from time to time end up at the edges of the board.

Piled up the beads make a familiar shape: the bell shaped curve. This picture is the visual indicator of the random world at work and there are important qualities to note.  The centered peak communicates both the average as well as the midway point or median of the distribution. The height of the piles falls to the right and left showing the quickly decreasing likelihood of beads falling onto those outlying piles.

Looking at the piles of those beads, randomness starts to take on a different meaning. The majority of the beads fall close to average. Human height is a good example of this.  The average male in the U.S. is 5′ 10″ and the average female is 7 inches shorter at 5’3″. Since height follows a bell curve or Gaussian distribution, we know where the peak lies. The more interesting part is that 99% of the population falls within nine inches on either side of the average. As you move away from the average, the probability of occurrences drops quickly. The bell curve predicts that only 28 people in the U.S. would reach a height of  7′ 1″, an altitude shared by basketball greats Shaquille O’Neil and Wilt Chamberlain.

So, when we use the word random, the popular intent is to describe when something unpredictable has taken place. Random in the real world is quite predictable and the realm of possibilities are relatively narrow. This is the predictable reality that Walter Stewhart used to anticipate and improve the quality of product coming off the assembly lines at Western Electric.

The other adjective commonly used for these distributions is normal. They appear so often and are such a part of how we view the world that their occurrence barely raises an eyebrow and that leaves us blind to other forces at work.


Chris Anderson described the Infinite Many in his book The Long Tail. He concentrated on how the Internet would bring the obscure to the masses with the infinite shelf space of the digital world. On the other end was Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his book The Black Swan. Taleb pointed to the events that, when looked at through a lens of normal distributions, were nearly impossible and instead caught us painfully off guard with their more common than predicted appearances. Power laws are where the extreme few meet infinite many.

Power Laws curves aren’t “normal”. They aren’t ordinary. And they don’t take place in a narrow range.

In the world of Power Laws, the Extreme Few aren’t 8 feet tall. No, the wide ranges in which these curves operate would predict that at least one person on the planet would be 800 feet tall. That claim may sound preposterous in the realm of human height, but it illustrates the point that Extreme Few are much greater than anything we would expect in the world of the normal distributions.


The experience curve is probably the best known occurrence of a power law equation in business. The topic was made famous by Boston Consulting Group in 1970’s when they confirmed earlier findings that showed costs fall 15 to 30 percent for every doubling of output. Moore Law’s represents the technology fueled version of this effect. Take disk drives: the cost of a megabyte of storage has been falling at 5 percent per quarter for the last thirty years.

The human senses operate on a scale that follows power laws as well. Imagine the holiday season approaching and a new determination on your part to outdo the rest of the neighbors with this year’s Christmas lights. While you’d think a trip to your discount retailer to double your inventory of stringed lights would solve the problem, the field of psychophysics has shown a more expensive solution is necessary.  Getting twice as many lights would certain make a difference, but it would not make your house twice as bright. The very idea simply doubling the number of lights implies a linear relationship between wattage and perceived brightness, another prominent mental model in how we think about the world.  Our sense of brightness instead works on a curve that says to light up the house twice as bright, we would actually need four times the number of lights. So, save up your money, you can always do it next year.


There are two mental modals that dominate business. The first model is that of averages. Think about the questions we ask.  What’s the average order size for our customers? What’s the average wait time for customers who call? Albert-Laszlo Barabasi fought this thinking in his research to understand the frequency of human activity.  Bell-shaped, normal distributions with their average-based peaks become the de facto picture we use to see the world.

Linearity is the another crutch. The picture here is the X-Y chart with a line pointing upward at a 45 degree angle. Think of how often we assume that one more unit of input will get get us that additional unit of output.

Power Laws are about unequal outcomes and unpredictable extremes, and using these new models in business can fundamentally change how we operate every function of the organization.  Strategy, probably the most familiar with these dynamics, changes from a discussion of “do more to get more” to one that respects the position of the company in the market and leverages the unique advantages. Marketing becomes very interested in the perception of our senses and starts to realize that incremental shifts are barely noticeable. Innovation becomes a search that matches the foraging pattern of spider monkeys in the rain forest – many small moves punctuated by a few big moves to new areas.

Start looking around. Power laws are everywhere and they affect everything we do.

Best Tower Defense Games for iOS

Some people have a Candy Crush addiction. Others are into Angry Birds.

My pixelated drug of choice is tower defense. 

There is something simple and complicated about them at the same time. You play against time, position units in space, and build more capability constrained by the resources available. Those handful of variables create endless possibilities for how games unfold.  You play at the intersection of strategy and tactics.

I have searched many times for good list of the best tower defenses game. Most our link bait or dated or just a list of what someone found after a simple search.

So, from a fan to (potential) another, here are my favorites:

Kingdom Rush Series

Kingdom Rush is my favorite game of all time.


Each game in the series shares the same formula of simple gameplay, creative missions and fun storylines. The enemies enter from one to three entries points and attempt to exit the field. Your job is to stop them. There are four types of towers (mage, archers, barracks, and artillery) that can be upgraded with increasing power and specialty. Finally, you are given reinforcements to place as you like, an area attack that recharges, and a choice of hero that becomes more powerful with experience in battle. The campaign screens can take 10-15 minutes to complete.

The original Kingdom Rush sucked me in and I played it clear through and then for second time, on veteran mode clearing the campaign, heroic and iron challenges on each level. I one hundred percent-ed the game, but they kept adding harder and harder levels.  I stand 15 stars short of a perfect 130.

Kingdom Rush Frontiers followed with better heroes and ability options (100%-ed).  The prequel Kingdom Rush Origins completed with trilogy with more magic (where I am one mission short of completion).

The reason I most like the series is the fun and humor Ironside has used in the game. Each cartooned character comes with a catch phrase, a few more if you’re a hero. There are easter eggs hidden throughout the three games that give nods to sci-fi and fantasy tales from Lords of the Rings to Predator to The Smurfs.

Start with this one.  You can’t go wrong.  10/10 for all three games.

Zombie Gunship   

Gamers call this Zombie Gunship a first person shooter, but I think it plays much more like a tower defense game.


Your point of view is from the seat on a AC-130 aircraft flying in wide circles around one of four compounds. You play each round in endless style gameplay clearing the area of increasing waves of zombies, so that human survivors can make their way to a safe bunker. The aircraft is armed with a gatling gun, an auto cannon and a 105mm Howtizer – each with its pros and cons for different situations. There are a variety of objectives that keep the gameplay interesting and each round of play earns you coins that buy weapon upgrades.

The constantly changing location of the aircraft creates interesting challenges for keeping track of all of the zombies entering the area. The game designers have also created blind spots as you circle around the area, which make timing even more important.

A round of gameplay can last from 3-7 minutes before you are overrun and sent home.  Accidentally illing humans will also get you sent home early.

The game concept is clever and the randomness gives each play its own feel. 9/10


The first thing you notice with geoDefense is its 1980’s arcade style vectorized graphics.


The retro look might trick you into thinking the game is a reboot from your old Atari 2600. Don’t be fooled. The ten second head start will quickly feel shorter and shorter with each round on new creepers enters the screen.

The game has five towers to work with – cannon, missile, lasers, shockers, and a tower collects energy from destroyed enemies and can augment the power of another tower. The paths are always interesting with weird bends or that lead offscreen or cross back over themselves. One helpful hint – You can lock tower in a fixed direction. This is very helpful with laser towers.

geoDefense is a just great tower defense game that will give you hours of great play. 8/10

There is also a sister game geoSwarm that was developed with freeform play where you placement of your towers to determines the path of enemy adding another dimension to your strategy.


Over The Top Tower Defense says it all.


It is grotesque. It is ridiculous.It is cheesy (no really, there is cheese armor). And it has a sense of humor (but in a very different way to Kingdom Rush).

There is almost too much of everything – heroes, weapons, abilities and upgrades. But if you are fan of tower defense, you appreciate it all–someone going to the extreme to see what that might look like.

If you are a fan, you should try it. 7.5/10

Bad Hotel

This is a very different take on tower defense.


As a budding entrepreneur, you have decided to go into the hotel business. The trouble is Tarnation Tadstock controls these parts of Texas and he is going to do anything he can to keep you out of business. All sorts of bad creatures from convicts to bomb laden seagulls will try to stop you have adding rooms to your hotel. The more rooms you can add, the faster you can earn money to upgrade. Each level brings different kinds of rooms with different abilities from guns to healing.

 The game is quirky. The colors are bright. Things explode in big blocky pieces.  And the music for the game changes based on each change to the size and shape of your hotel.  There is something a little maniac about the whole combination. Makes the game seems harder.

I still like it and recommend it to any TD enthuaist. 7.5/10

The Anomaly Series

Anomaly take the idea of tower defense and turns it on its head.  Rather than control the towers, you control the troops attempts to run the gauntlet. People sometimes call it “tower offense”.


The storyline is an alien spacecraft has landed in Baghdad and your job is to go on a series of missions inside the city to see what is going on. You get a few different vehicle types that can be upgraded with monies earned. There are also power-ups for abilities like healing, smoke screens and decoys and they are very important to collect as you destroy towers.

The game is pretty good, but the options are a little limiting. The most interesting part is playing from the other side. It’s worth trying if you enjoy tower defense 7/10

The whole series has four titles – Anomaly, Anomaly Korea, Anomaly 2, and Anomaly Defenders, where you take on the role of the aliens tower defending against a human counteract.

Missing Mentions

If you are fan, you might find my list lacking some popular and well-liked games.

Plants vs Zombies – I was a big fan of the first game and played it all the way through. I never picked up PvZ2, which was another indicator for me that the original just OK for me.

Fieldrunners – I know. This is also a big fan favorite.  Many like the added challenge of being able to place your towers and determine the enemy path to the exit. I have never warmed to the free-for-all style of tower defense.

Bloons Tower Defense – I think it is built for kids and that treatment makes me discount it too much.

 What games am I missing?

#YearInReview 2015

In 2010, Seth Godin asked people to make a list of what they shipped that year. I did the exercise in 2010, 20122013, and 2014. I have come to believe that this is a important exercise, especially for solopreneuers to see what they have accomplished.

What did I ship this year?

And I helped 33 makers ship their own crowdfunded projects.

Doing Disneyland


Photo Credit : Matthew Hansen

We took the kids to Disneyland during the holiday break.  Ahead of the trip, I spent some time researching the best way to take advantage of the time we had to spend at the parks.

Our group was two 40-ish year-old parents and three kids between the ages of eight and twelve years old. Our visit was the week before Christmas during the days of December 16th and 17th. We spent one day at Disneyland California Adventure and one day at Disneyland.

Here is our advice for others considering the a similar trip:

  • Do Some Planning – There is so much to do at both parks that you must do some planning before you get there. We had a good idea of the things we wanted to do on each day and deviated from that plan both days to take advantage of what was actually going on in the park. This may be obvious advice but it was really clear from watching other families that this piece was missing.
  • Buy One Book – I would wholeheartedly recommend The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland as a great starting point for that planning. The publishers claim if you if follow their advice you can reduce your daily waiting-in-line by four hours. I thought they were boasting but we had a very positive experience from following just a few of their recommendations.
  • Get There Early – *This is the single most important piece of advice.* You must be there at 8am when the gates open.  Some recommend 30 minutes before the gates open. If you are staying at the Disney hotels, take advantage of the 7am early starts.  On both days, we walked onto the most popular rides at both parks. Those first three hours were wonderful for getting around the park and getting to do the things we wanted.
  • Use FastPass – Disney has a system for their popular, high capacity rides that allow you to reserve a later time by claiming a special ticket.  When your time arrives, you enter through a special line and move to the front.  We never waited more than 10 minutes in a FastPass line.  Along with an early start, this is a big factor in reducing your time in queues. At DCA, we used five different FastPasses and at Disney, we used two. Space Mountain and Radiator Springs Racers are the popular rides and when you start your day, getting that FastPass at each park is the very first thing you should do. Period.
  • Think About Time of Year (and Week) – Do some research and think hard about the time of year including the days of week. If there is a school holiday or summer break, the parks are going to be really busy. We pulled the kids out of school a week early to avoid the Christmas crowds and it worked pretty well. We still saw a contingent of locals using their annual passes to enjoy the holiday festivities. Tuesday through Thursday are going to be better than Monday, Friday or the weekend.
  • Food Was Good (and Pricey) – We had lunch both days in the park and everyone thought it was good.  We spent between $50-$60 each day and ate early (around 11am) to avoid more waiting in lines. We also ate dinner at Ariel’s Grotto as a special request from our middle child who loves food.  The menu was a three course prix fixe that included preferred seating tickets for the World of Color show later that evening. The staff was very flexible to make the options work for the kids. The dinner cost closer to $50/person which is pricey, but it was also an unexpected highlight for everyone given the quality of the meal and the ability to recount the activities of the day.
  • See Some Shows – They are amazing. The Aladdin show at DCA was great. World of Color was incredible and the holiday version we saw was lots of fun. Watching padawan at the Jedi Training Academy was fun. Shows are also are a nice pause during these very busy days.
  • Find Time For The Random – We drew characters at the Animation Academy. The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail was fun to climb around on. My daughter and I got a chance to take a short canoe ride. We saw lots of things that hinted at the new Star Wars movie. Those small moments really added up.
  • Lots of Walking – We clocked 10 miles in our 14 hour day at DCA and 6 miles for our 9 hour day at Disneyland. We needed lots of fluids and lots of calories.
  • Two Days Is Enough – We got to see (almost) everything we wanted with one day at each park. Admittedly, we started to run out of gas on the second day at Disneyland, but the things we skipped were minor. Not sure what we would have done with another day or a whole week at Disneyland.

Disneyland is a magical place. You are transported to another place over and over again. Even with the long days and all of the people, it still feels special.  Hope our experiences help if you are planning a trip yourself.

What I Am Reading (and why i can’t tell you)

I started an effort at the beginning of of the year to read more books.

To keep myself accountable, I have been highlighting those books on the blog along with short reviews. You can find all the reviews here.

My pace has slowed up in the last three months. It became harder over the summer to find free time to sit down with a book. The kids were out of school. There was some travel. The temptation to be outside was pretty strong.

During that time, something else happened. Portfolio, the publisher of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, reached out to me and asked if we were interested in putting out an updated edition. We made some small tweaks when the paperback was released in 2011, but this time the thought was to update the list with some new titles. The selections for The 100 Best were made seven years ago and there are some great candidates for inclusion.

100 Best Cover

So, I am back to reading, but I can’t really say what. I want to wait to reveal the new books until we get closer to the new edition’s publication next year. So, I promise I am still reading and probably even more now. My new reviews are due at the end of January.

If I manage to fit in some other books, I will be sure to share them.