Tupelo: The Evolution of a Community by Vaughn L. Grisham, Jr.
Sometimes the most interesting reading comes from the most obscure sources. I ran across references to this work in Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. Grisham uses the town of Tupelo, Mississippi to explore the differences between building an economy and building a community. It’s a fascinating look at the history and players that built Tupelo’s healthy economy and its tight knit community. Grisham lionizes George McLean, the publisher of a local newspaper and a “practical visionary” who rallies members of the community – many with diverging interests and plenty of reasons to be adversaries – into a sense of common purpose with shared goals. This was no short-term project. McLean committed his life to rallying fellow Tupeloeans together, and the results have been impressive. While other rural economies in the deep south withered during the economic crises of the 20th century, Tupelo did pretty well. Why? Grisham gives credit to McLean for helping the town understand itself first as a community worth investing in for the long-term. When you have that commitment to place, other things have a tendency to fall into place. (It’s interesting to see this are of Mississippi back in the news as an example of factory jobs coming back to the U.S. NPR’s Marketplace reported on the economic development of Columbus, MS a few weeks ago, saying the death of manufacturing has been greatly exaggerated.)
I’m unashamed of reading self-help business books, especially when it comes to finding better ways of managing my time. I found 18 Minutes through Shane Parrish’s excellent Farnam Street blog – a source of many of my new book ideas – when he posted a review. It’s a light, quick read about aligning your tasks (the dreaded to-do list) with your priorities and being vicious about culling disruptions. Like many books in this genre, I find myself experimenting with little bits of the advice, taking from Bregman’s recommendations the pieces that resonate the most with me and disregarding most of the rest. I do enjoy tinkering with my own productivity habits, but it seems silly to put them through a complete overhaul. For example, he suggests organizing your to-do list according to thematic priorities rather than just letting the list build and build around stuff that you want to get done. Each task must align to a priority, or it doesn’t make the cut. I’ve been trying that one out for a week or so now. Parts of it just might stick.
Freed to Lead: F3 and the Unshackling of the Modern-day Warrior by David Redding and Tim Whitmire
The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom
“Maize” introduced me to the F3 workout groups in Raleigh and, as I pressed him on the reasons why the groups have grown so quickly, he told me “It’s the starfish principle, man.”
The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year… by Gretchen Rubin
This has been on my “to-read” list for over a year, and I finally ordered it in May. As should be obvious with my own “The Enough Project,” I like gonzo-style explorations of ideas where the author throws himself (herself) into a topic and tests its lessons in a personal, experiential way. Positive psychology has come in vogue recently after years of evangelizing by the likes of Martin Seligman and his acolytes. Rubin tells us she tears through this research in an attempt to apply it to her own life for this 12-month project. But she uses it on deep background, only referencing the academic stuff lightly and occasionally through her book. She relies instead on personal anecdote, sharing story after story about her happiness goals and challenges putting them into practice. It was a fun, light read with plenty of dog-eared pages for ideas I’d like to apply to my own life.
The Templeton Touch by William Proctor and Scott Phillips
Sir John Templeton’s deep-value approach to investing has long been a source of inspiration for my own stock market investments. Until Warren Buffett really got rolling with Berkshire Hathaway in the late-80’s, Templeton was the patron saint of value investors. He’s best known for his admonition to “buy when there’s blood on the streets,” which is yet another restatement of Benjamin Graham’s philosophy to buy when others are fearful. Templeton came from humble roots in rural Tennessee, matriculated from Yale, studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and ultimately started a wildly successful mutual fund company. Along with his investing acumen, he was known for his abiding faith and unrelenting work ethic. He practiced a self-taught style of positive psychology, and believed that o much of his success came from his willingness to put in one extra ounce of effort than everyone else. That little bit of extra effort applied every day, he said, tipped the scales with massive results manifested over a lifetime of accumulation. I keep Templeton in mind to steady my own investment decisions in times like now, when the stock market offers few value opportunities that I want to buy. It’s hard to keep money on the sidelines when things get frothy. Templeton’s example steels my resolve, however, reminding me that the excitement is the most dangerous time to get in; that history shows us it all pulls back in time.