Wednesday, May 17, 2023

A 172-Mile Motorcycle Ride Mid-Week Date

Jessi had a mid-week day off, the kids were in school, and the weather was perfect. So, Jessi and I enjoyed a 172-mile motorcycle ride date.

It was as epic as you'd want it to be.

Map of our motorcycle ride

  • We started off taking a bunch of curvy roads Southwest out to the cost.
  • We then saw a Farmers market in Waldorf and visited all the vendors.
  • Riding along the coast and seeing waves break is blast!
  • Around halfway along the coast, in Newport, we stopped for clam chowder and salt water taffy. Delicious! We ate with a view of bay and watched the seals swim.
  • After the coast, we made our way back on another remote curvy road. 229 between Kernville and Siletz is spectacular. I highly recommend it.
  • 411 from Siltez to Blodgett is also pretty, plus there's a mile section of dirt road - a pleasant surprise.

Overall, it was a great adventure. I'm thankful for days like that when we can unplug and have fun together.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

The Illusion of Progress: Striking an AI Balance in the Age of Automation

My prompt: "Anthropomorphic AI chatbot, perfect composition, beautiful detailed intricate insanely detailed octane render trending on artstation, 8 k artistic photography, photorealistic concept art, soft natural volumetric cinematic perfect light, chiaroscuro, award-winning photograph, masterpiece, oil on canvas"

Does there come the point where "everything" becomes AI-driven, and so it loses its value?

It feels like AI has exploded on the scene in the same way the blockchain did a few years ago. At least once a week, I receive an email where a company breathlessly exclaims their excitement for a new AI-driven feature.

It'll automate my business!

My customers will love the life-like responses!

Yes! Yes! Yes!
  • Do you need ideas for your social media posts? Use our AI copy editor!
  • Do you need to schedule meetings? Use our AI assistant!
  • Do you want to provide 24/7 chat support? Use our AI chatbot!
  • Want to set rent rates intelligently? Use our AI leasing agent!
  • Need to create legal documents? Use our AI paralegal!
  • Want to add automations to spreadsheets and databases? Use our AI analyst!
OK. OK. I get it. Computer science turned the corner to make AI models easier to implement.

To be clear, each of these are super cool from a tech standpoint. (Also, I have a company that uses AI to analyze home inspections. So this is a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black... 😬 )

I understand companies wanting to capitalize on the trend. When I bought a small storage facility, I figured out how to onboard new customers 100% remotely. I did it because I didn't want to drive 30 minutes to sign lease agreements, and I certainly didn't want to pay someone to be on-site!

But you better believe that when COVID hit, I touted our "contactless solution" as much as possible.

This feels the same. Of course companies are working on ways to automate tools. That's the name of the game, which The Innovator's Dilemma mentions. But, let's be honest, it's not quite as good as a non-automated version. Like my "contactless solution," these new AI tools aren't as good as having someone in an office (yet?). It's good enough, but not the best possible solution.

Is there where we're headed? Good enough?

Are we headed into a world of blah? Blah social posts. Blah customer service. Even more blah customer service lines.

The real problem is that we're still in the AI uncanny valley. It's the unsettling feeling we experience from a not-quite-human AI result. It's close... but something doesn't feel right. How long do we need to slog through this period until we can't tell? Do we even want that?

The customer in me doesn't. But the business person in me does! Mainly because it means I can automate low-value activities and focus on delivering an exceptional, genuinely personalized (bespoke!) experience on high-value services. Or maybe I'm thinking too hard. If I continue writing articles and social media posts myself, that'll set me apart from all the AI-created content.

Maybe? Let's see how I do against an AI. Here's my chatGPT prompt:

Act as an expert business coach that speaks and writes fluent English. Write a 300-500 word educational article about the problems of turning all services into AI-driven services. Provide 3 examples of how an AI-driven world isn't as good. Use a thought-provoking tone of voice to communicate the message. The goal is to convince people that AI is good, but shouldn't be the ultimate goal. Make sure to avoid generic advice.

As an expert business coach, I have witnessed the growing trend of businesses turning all their services into AI-driven services. While there are undeniable benefits to this technology, such as increased efficiency and cost savings, relying solely on AI can cause significant problems. In this article, I want to explore some of the downsides of an AI-driven world and provide three examples of how it can fall short.

Firstly, one of the most significant problems with an AI-driven world is the potential for dehumanization. While AI can automate many tasks, it cannot replace the human touch. Services that require empathy, compassion, and creativity may suffer in an AI-driven world. For example, a chatbot may provide quick answers to frequently asked questions, but it cannot replace the personal touch of a human customer service representative who can listen to a customer's concerns and offer personalized solutions.

Secondly, AI-driven services are only as good as the data they are trained on. In other words, if the data used to train the AI is biased or incomplete, the AI will make biased or incomplete decisions. This can have far-reaching consequences, such as perpetuating discrimination or making inaccurate medical diagnoses. For example, a healthcare provider that relies solely on AI-driven diagnostic tools may miss vital information that a human doctor could pick up.

Thirdly, an over-reliance on AI can lead to a loss of jobs and skills. As more services become automated, there is a risk that humans will be left with fewer job opportunities. Additionally, there is a risk that skills required to perform tasks that are now automated will be lost over time. This can have significant economic and social consequences, such as increased unemployment and a lack of diversity in the job market.

In conclusion, while AI has many benefits, it should not be the ultimate goal for businesses. An AI-driven world can lead to dehumanization, biased decision-making, and a loss of jobs and skills. Instead, businesses should strive to find a balance between AI and human-led services, where AI is used to augment human decision-making rather than replace it. This approach can ensure that businesses continue to deliver high-quality services that meet the needs of their customers while also protecting the interests of their employees and society as a whole.

We're in trouble.

In my honest opinion, the content is fantastic, but the delivery is predictable and boring. I hope that companies focus on using AI as a starting point and not the final product. I know they won't - its too cost-effective to automate everything - but a customer and hope.

BTW, I also used AI to come up with 10 "very click-enticing" titles. Here are the results:
  1. Is AI Taking Over the World? The Dark Side of AI-Driven Services
  2. The Real Cost of Convenience: Why AI-Driven Services Aren't Always the Answer
  3. Are You Ready for an AI-Only Future? The Risks and Rewards of Automated Services
  4. The Perils of Dehumanization: Why AI Can't Replace the Human Touch
  5. The Biased AI Trap: How AI-Driven Services Can Perpetuate Discrimination
  6. The Job Apocalypse: Will AI-Driven Services Take Over Your Job?
  7. The Human Advantage: Why AI Needs Humans to Succeed
  8. AI vs. Humanity: Striking a Balance in the Age of Automation
  9. The Illusion of Progress: The Hidden Dangers of Over-Reliance on AI
  10. A Wake-Up Call for Businesses: Why AI Shouldn't Be the Ultimate Goal.
These are indeed click-enticing. In fact, these are good enough that I combined a couple to create my title. And you clicked, right?

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

2023 Annual Letter: Exciting!

2023 Annual Letter

2022 was a good year for us. Jessi felt more comfortable in her job, and both kids are in school (Elinor is in second grade, and Samson is in kindergarten). And I reduced my business' biggest bottleneck from 4-6 hours a month to 30 minutes. So, if 2021 was all about significant change, 2022 was about learning to thrive in our new normal.

It was also a year of experimenting, learning, and traveling.

Experimenting and Learning

Going into the year, I felt like I needed a new challenge. Life was great, but I also felt like I was coasting. So, I set out to find that challenge. I couldn't articulate it so clearly at the beginning of the year, but that's what was happening.

It reminds me of the advice from Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: "interests are not discovered through introspection. Instead, interests are triggered by interactions with the outside world. The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient." (Grit, p. 104). With that in mind, in addition to reading 25 books, I tried some new things.

Love INC Board Member

Love INC mobilizes local churches to transform lives and communities in the name of Christ. It's a wonderful non-profit, so I started volunteering there twice a month at reception. And then, I was invited to join the board of directors. Now THAT'S been a learning experience! It's teaching me to slow down, look at decisions from all angles, and much more. I'm working with intelligent, dedicated, and faithful servants.

MyBodyTutor Health Coach

Going into 2022, I weighed 25 lbs more than my ideal weight. And more disturbingly, I would extreme diet for a few weeks and then yo-yo back to a higher weight! I wasn't obese, but I was not too fond of the trend. I had a classic "dad bod" and felt myself starting to struggle physically to do things I knew should be effortless.

So, I hired a health coach at MyBodyTutor. I log my meals, water, exercise, and daily thoughts. It's all about sustainability, which is what I needed to learn. Interestingly, I was told not to change my eating habits during my first week. My coach got a baseline and then suggested one small change: pay attention to my hunger level. When I hit a 3 (out of 5) stop. Then, a couple of weeks later, he suggested eating a salad with dinner. And so on. The talks transitioned to body composition (i.e., getting stronger) as I got closer to my goal weight. There was nothing extreme, which is what makes it sustainable.

As the company's name suggests, it's about teaching me how to eat well and change my relationship with food. It's been more successful than I imagined. And yes, like a normal person, my weight went up after all the travel (see below) and the holiday season. But, unlike previous times, it wasn't nearly as much, and I have a doable plan to get back and a coach to encourage and redirect me each day.

And now, when my kids see me eating a treat, they sometimes harass me: "Are you going to tell your coach about that one?" Yes. I will. You little stinkers.

It's also made me a believer in coaching again. I forgot how powerful it is to have someone encouraging and holding you accountable to a higher standard. I also l like having someone who's been there and can answer my specific questions. It isn't cheap, but it works. I'm grateful to be in a place where I can afford to get expert help to achieve my goals.

React Web Development

At the end of 2021, I was frustrated with my accounting software. So, I designed my own and started coding it with my brother. Then, about midway through the year, I discovered DoorLoop, which had 85% of the features I wanted - close enough. So, I put my project on the self and switched to DoorLoop. My time spent on accounting dropped from 4-6 hours a month to 30 minutes. Woohoo!

I suppose I could feel upset about "wasting" 6 months on coding, but I figured out exactly what features I wanted, and I learned a new skill - React - in the process. I'm not hirable, but I learned enough to update my website. It's built using Next.js, with Tailwind CSS for styling, Sanity for the CMS, and it's hosted on Netlify (with GitHub managing all the files). homepage

With this challenge winding down, I moved on.


There are two types of learning: just-in-time and just-in-case. Just-in-time is when you have a specific reason for learning something. For example, I learned React because I needed it to make a website. Just-in-case is when you don't have a particular need... yet. It's incredible how often I learn a skill "just because" and then quickly find I "need" it later. I like to think that happens because I now have the willingness to tackle new types of problems because, in the back of my head, I know I have the skills.

Welding is a just-in-case skill. I bought the equipment, learned the basics, and made a couple of items, like a stand for my chair (pictured below). It's fun. Time-consuming! But fun. I wouldn't be surprised if I find myself needing to fix something metal in the future. Or, maybe I'll make a bench for the front yard. 🤷‍♂️

Welded chair stand

Two other just-in-case skills on my wishlist list that also sound like fun:

  1. 3D CAD design/printing. Then I'd be able to work with wood, metal, and plastic. Who knows what crazy projects I could take on!
  2. The other skill is drone flying. I don't own or require a drone, but that seems like a good skill to have... just in case...

Video Making

Being a YouTube Star sounds cool. Maybe I could become one? Plus, I like the idea of building a digital asset. So, I took an online course, set up a simple studio in my garage, and made some videos. Here's the before and after of my studio.

New studio compared to old

Pretty cool, right? It's much better, but I still need to work on my color grading.

I want to keep making videos, but I don't see myself getting into the weekly content-creation game. In the class, I learned about the importance of titles + thumbnails. I also learned about creating hooks and holding attention. Oh yeah. And I learned it takes around ~100 videos of practice to get good at it. So... if you want to get good at it fast, publish as many videos as possible.

I also learned most (not all, but most) weekly creators don't edit their own videos, which frees them up to focus on the content. For me, a 5-ish minute video takes an hour of brainstorming/outlining. Then, an hour to set up, practice, and record the video. Then 2.5 hours to edit it and 30 minutes to create the thumbnail.

Here's the business case: It would cost me ~$100 to pay someone to edit that 5-minute video (though, to be honest, they can do it better and faster than I can, but we'll roll with the number for now). Plus, I want to make at least $100 per video myself. At first, I wouldn't make anything because Youtube has minimum requirements to join their Partner Program, but once I qualify, it's estimated I'd make $3-$5 per 1,000 video views. Assuming it's $3, the breakeven point is 67K views per video. That's a lot, but not impossible. I made a video about a garden fence (of all things) that has 232K views. That would be a $700 video if I was in the Partner Program.

Good Mythical Morning averages 1M views per video. That's $3,000-$5,000 per video. And they seem to upload ~15 videos a month. That's $45K-$75K a month and doesn't include sponsorships, subscriptions, or store sales. No wonder they can afford a team of 28 people.

It seems like every kid wants to become a YouTube or TikTok star, and I get it, given the potential revenue. Not only does the distribution channel - via the algorithm - already exist, but the logistics of product fulfillment and creation are much easier than a traditional product. Plus, being "famous" sounds attractive - at least, according to the curated/edited version of life we see online. In a culture where being genuinely known is harder - no thanks to said platforms - I get the misguided attraction. I don't love the trajectory of a society where most young people pursue a career on TikTok instead of math or science, but I get the logic.

Yikes! That went dark fast. Let's pull back to the business of finding monetary success on Youtube.

So... how many videos do you need to make to start breaking even (assuming it's a normal niche topic)? The rule of thumb is still 100 videos. It's mainly for practice and finding your voice/style/niche, but Youtube also values fresh content. So if you're regularly uploading new videos, Youtube's algorithm rewards that.

But wait! You say. Making 100 videos that cost $100 each is $10,000, plus my own time! Yep. That's why most people suggest you start from a place of passion and edit your own videos first. See if you'll stick to it and see if you can reach the minimum Partner Program requirements. Then hire someone.

Another objection is that you don't have 100 video ideas on a single topic. Me neither. But here's what I've learned: start with the ideas you do have and commit to a schedule. You'll find that you'll start viewing your ordinary everyday experiences through a creator's lens and develop more content ideas than you can create. For example, when someone else only sees a beautiful flower, you also see a metaphor for making your rental ad listing stand out in a crowded market.

Oh, man! I'm getting myself excited to make another video!


After experimenting with web development, welding, and video making, I returned to my first love: real estate. I thought about pursuing the BRRRR strategy (Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat) but ultimately landed on syndications. It fits my skills and interests, plus I think it'll be the best investment on the planet in 2023.

So, this year, I'll bring together a group of people to pool our resources to purchase apartment buildings that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for any of us to buy on our own. My team will find the property, secure financing, and manage the property. The other investors will provide the cash and receive an equity share along with cash flow distributions and profits in returns for their investment.

Like my health, I hired a coach to help me learn the ins and outs of syndications. I learned about finding deals, raising capital, the legal side of private placement memorandums, and managing larger projects. It's what I love doing at a higher level. It's great!

It reminds me of another finding in Grit: "novelty for the beginner comes in one form, and novelty for the expert in another. For the beginner, novelty is anything that hasn't been encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance." (Grit, p. 114). 

One new skill I'm learning is raising capital. I used my own money on all my previous projects, so I never had the need. But, again, larger multifamilies require much more capital. And I want to buy 200 additional units, which is a little over $24M worth of real estate (using Oregon values). Assuming I finance 70% of each purchase, that's still $7.3M for down payments!

So, I'm learning how to structure the purchase so that it's attractive for other people to invest with me. And I'm learning how to ask people to join me. I'm enjoying the process and am attending a conference in Kentucky later in January to learn even more.

This is my main focus in 2023. It feels right. And I get to do other fun things, like making videos and building a React website in the process. 

Additional Learning in 2023

Compared to last year, this might sound non-ambitious, but I want to learn how to solve a Rubik's Cube. When other Cubers (I just learned the term "Cuber") solve one, it looks like magic, and I want to be part of that magical club. Combine this with juggling and Sudoku, and who knows what I can accomplish! I don't have a specific completion time, but under a minute feels possible.

Three other fun skills on my future wishlist are:

  1. Improving my chess game. I know the basic rules but know zero strategies.
  2. Taking better photos. Specifically, I want to improve my composition & editing skills.
  3. I want to learn a handful of close-up magic tricks (see what I did there? 😂).

I know it sounds goofy, but each of them sounds like so much fun!

But seriously, I spent 2022 experimenting, which was what I needed to do. This year feels like a year of effortful, deliberate practice to raise capital and syndicate multifamily properties. This comes from another piece of advice from Grit:

"First, they set a stretch goal, zeroing in on just one narrow aspect of their overall performance. Rather than focus on what they already do well, experts strive to improve specific weaknesses. They intentionally seek out challenges they can't yet meet." (Grit, p. 121)

"Then, with undivided attention and great effort, experts strive to reach their stretch goal. Interestingly, many choose to do so while nobody's watching." (Grit, p. 121)

"As soon as possible, experts hungrily seek feedback on how they did. Necessarily, much of that feedback is negative. This means that experts are more interested in what they did wrong—so they can fix it—than what they did right." (Grit, p. 122)

"And after feedback, then what? Then experts do it all over again, and again, and again. Until they have finally mastered what they set out to do. Until what was a struggle before is now fluent and flawless. Until conscious incompetence becomes unconscious competence." (Grit, p. 123)

2022 Travel

In 2021 we canceled all our travel while Jessi started her new job. It feels like we made up for it this year.

St Thomas

We planned to go somewhere in January but canceled at the last minute (2 hours before going to the airport). Since we already had childcare and work covered, we decided to get away with a couple of friends. So, that same morning we booked a flight to St Thomas, which was warm and beautiful. We swam, snorkeled, paddle-boarded, and drove on the "wrong" side of the street. It was great getting away.

Train Ride To Portland

For my birthday, we rode the train to Portland, spent the night, and rode the train back. Trains are super fun, and the kids loved it. We mostly hung out in the dome car, watching the world go by. Two hours of travel seemed about right for the kids. Trains still don't run on time, but that's part of the experience.

Walt Disney World

After pushing this trip out a few times, we made it to the Happiest Place On Earth (TM) in November with my extended family - 13 in all. Our kids were the perfect age, and I couldn't have imagined it going better. Also, it turns out that Elinor is my rollercoaster buddy - she loved Space Mountain and Everest. Samson loved Hollywood Studios, especially the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.

Saudi Arabia

Jessi and I ditched the kids and visited Saudi with a couple of friends in November (yeah, you read that right: two big trips in November. We're crazy, I know). We had a couple of safety concerns at first, but they quickly faded. In fact, we felt safer walking around in Riyadh than we did in Portland! Saudi's goal is to create a new trade income to reduce its dependence on oil (which is smart). So, they're getting into tourism, which means making it more comfortable for tourists, like us, to visit. It was hot, dry, and oh-so-nice. I highly recommend visiting.

Family Christmas Party

To round out a year of travel, I drove the kids down to California for a family Christmas party. It was great seeing my mom's extended family.

Motorcycle Training

Next year Jessi and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. For some reason, Jessi keeps agreeing to my crazy travel ideas, like running a marathon on the Great Wall. To prepare for our 15-year trip, we're learning how to ride motorcycles. It's been a lot of fun so far, and we'll kick off the year practicing longer off-road riding. I like trips that require preparation because it helps me get excited about them, and this fits perfectly. I'll share more as our plans come together.

Looking Ahead to 2023

One of my favorite questions from Tim Ferriss' book The 4-Hour Workweek is, "The question you should be asking isn't, "What do I want?" or "What are my goals?" but "What would excite me?" There's a lot I'm excited about. I'm excited to continue developing as a board member, improve my body composition, become a Cuber, and syndicate an apartment building. It's going to be a wild ride.

I also want to share more of what I'm doing and learning. I purposely shared less online last few years. But a book I read last year called Oversubscribed challenged me:

"Maybe you don't think of yourself as a media or technology business with a daily focus on content creation, media distribution, software, data and automation. However, that's a foolish position to take these days. No matter what your business is, you are also a media and technology business." (Oversubscribed p. 171)

Plus, I listened to a podcast episode about writing a book that suggested writing (or making videos/podcasts/art/etc.) was a way to share myself with future generations. Man. That got me. To think that there's a chance my kids, or grandkids, will read this someday... That's pretty cool. That's worth taking the time to write or record a video. And if it also helps me grow my business, that's a bonus.

I wish you an exciting year!

Monday, December 26, 2022

My Rapid Fire Review of 25 Non-Fiction Books I Read In 2022

It's taken me a while, but I'm finally admitting that one of my "hobbies" is reading. I suppose part of the reason it feels weird to admit that is because, except for two comic book subscriptions, I didn't read a single fiction book. It feels more like learning/studying for my business, not a pastime.

And, if I'm being honest, "reading" sounds like an unexciting cop-out hobby. So be it. I enjoy reading non-fiction books and am embracing that it's my hobby.

So, here's everything I read last year: 25 books, 2 comics, and 1 magazine. Perhaps one of them will pique your interest.


Before I get to the books I read this year, I wanted to share a new tool I discovered. It's called Readwise, and it emails you highlights from books you've read to help you remember key ideas. I typically read on a Kindle, and Readwise syncs all my Kindle highlights. When I listen to an audiobook, I manually add it, and Readwise sends popular highlights (it's not as thorough as I'd like, but it's still helpful).

There are many features, but I like getting their daily emails with 10 highlights. Sometimes it's a simple reminder, an inspirational nudge, or I scratch my head, wondering why I highlighted that part. :)

It's not free, but it helps me get more from the time I invest in reading a book. If you read a bunch of books, I recommend trying it out.

OK. On to the books!

Christian Books

Muslims, Christians, and Jesus: Understanding the World of Islam and Overcoming the Fears That Divide Us

By Carl Medearis

I cannot say enough good things about this book. If you're friends with a Muslim and wondering how to converse with them, this book is for you. Medearis' main point is simple: there's a lot in common between Muslims and Christians; focus on that. For example, we both believe there is one God; he's the sole creator of the universe and us. Start your conversation on common ground and go from there. Which, honestly, is good to do with anyone you're talking to. The book has many practical examples, which I found helpful.

Simple Money, Rich Life: Achieve True Financial Freedom and Design a Life of Eternal Impact

By Bob Lotich

Published this year, Lotich weaves Christian principles with personal finance. I particularly liked his section on giving and our heart towards it.

"The world tells us it's in financial independence, having a couple million in your Roth IRA or 401(k), having a vacation house, or retiring at 40. And while there isn't anything wrong with those goals, if we're actually eternal beings who are on the earth only for a breath of time, it seems far smarter to store up eternal wealth in heaven than to focus all our efforts storing up as much wealth as possible on earth. And if that's the case, then we should stop defining financial success the way the world does: by how much we accumulate. As Christians, we should measure financial success not by what we accumulate but by what we give." (Bob Lotich, Simple Money, Rich Life)

It's not as practical as you might want, but my experience is that personal finance success is all about mindset, not how-tos. In that sense, this book does a fantastic job of helping align your thinking with the Lord's.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (re-read)

by Timothy Keller

I continue to love this book and encourage every Christian to read it. It's a beautiful blend of theology and application. Prayer is similar to personal finance in that it's easy to do but also easy to forget. Or, we wait until we feel "moved" to pray. Instead, focus on making prayer a habit.

"Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel like it or not... We should pray even if we are not getting anything out of it. Imagine that you are rooming with someone and he or she virtually doesn't speak to you. All she does is leave messages. When you mention it, she says, "Well, I don't get much out of talking to you. I find it boring and my mind flitting everywhere, so I just don't try." What will you conclude? Regardless of how scintillating a conversationalist you are, it's rude for her not to talk to you." (Timothy Keller, Prayer)

Mandarinfish - The Splendor of the Diverse Church

By Ron King

Ron is a new pastor at my church, and he graciously shared his book with me. If I had to sum up this book in a phrase, it would be: cultivate a diverse church to see all the different ways - through ethnicities, socio-economic status, language, etc. - God is glorified. I found his thoughts on multi-language services interesting. Don't create two churches that happen to share the same building. Instead, keep it as one big church, even if the services are in different languages. Then, create opportunities for everyone to interact as one body. It reminds me of Romans 12:4-5:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."

The Bible (re-read)

I created a Chronological reading plan that did both the Old and New Testaments in parallel. But in September, my church started an all-church read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. So, I put my plan on the shelf and joined the church. When the church finishes in September of 2023, I'll take my plan off the shelf and finish the year in Chronological order.

Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence: A Practical Guide to Walking with Low-Income People

By Steve Corbett & Briain Fikkert

This year I joined the board of directors at Love INC of Benton County, which is a non-profit that mobilizes local churches to transform lives and communities in the name of Christ. But how do you help in a way that... actually helps?

"[T]he reality is that truly helping materially poor people typically requires a much greater commitment of time, resources, and energy than the common method of simply giving them handouts." (Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence)

It starts with a recognition that we are all broken.

"Poverty is extremely complex, and so is poverty alleviation. At its core, poverty alleviation is the process of broken people in a broken world being restored to the hope and dignity God intends for human beings as His image-bearers. And the people who are broken—the people who need this restoration—are both the low-income people and those who are seeking to help them. Both parties are broken, and both need to be transformed."

The rest of the book goes into practical steps to assess how your church can help while keeping the right mindset. It helped me understand how Love INC operates so that I could be a better board member.

Business Books

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

By Nir Eyal

Earlier in the year, I designed a website and read a trio of books to help my thinking: Don't Make Me Think, Hooked, and Forms That Work. Don't Make Me Think and Forms That Work focus on usability. Hooked applies psychology to website design to explain how successful products create unprompted user engagement - aka habits - where users visit a website repeatedly on their own. I wrote a more extensive summary that goes into more detail about the Hooked Model.

Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability 

By Caroline Jarrett & Gerry Gaffney

If you create forms for your job/business (digital or paper), you should read this book. It's a textbook that focuses on practical instructions with plenty of examples. I found it helpful for organizing and adding clarity to my forms. Similar to Don't Make Me Think, a big takeaway is never to assume something is "obvious." Be explicit with instructions and sometimes repeat yourself.

One of the things I like about the book is that it focuses on the relationship between the user and the organization.

"When your form asks your user a question, you want an answer—a piece of information that the user has and you do not. This represents an investment, even if it is only a tiny one, by the user in the relationship with your organization." (Caroline Jarrett, Gerry Gaffney, Forms That Work)

Once you think about forms as a social exchange, it helps you think through what you're actually asking people to do. One downside is that you'll start to "see" bad forms and be able to articulate why they're bad and how easily they could be better.

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact

By Chip and Dan Heath

A defining moment is a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful. Three naturally occurring defining moments are transitions, milestones, and pits. Moments can also be created. This book teaches you how to make the most of those moments. It's a fantastic book that every leader should read.

  • Are you hiring someone? That's a transition.
  • Did you meet a growth goal? That's a milestone.
  • Lose a customer? That's a pit.
  • Is it a customer's first/only/last visit?
  • Are you revamping your company's strategy?
  • Is it the end of the year? A birthday? 5 years of service?
  • Was there a death of a loved one?

There are many moments we let pass by. For some, you may consider going all-out. For others, with a little bit of effort, you can significantly increase the power of the moment (because nobody else does).

For example, when a new tenant moves in, I provide soap and towels at the sinks, a fresh roll of TP, and a mini-notebook and pen to take move-in notes. And for a while, I also gave a gift certificate to take'n bake pizza. I stopped doing that during the pandemic, but I am starting it again because it's an easy way to elevate the moment for my new tenant.

One warning: it's a little too dense to read like a typical book. Instead, read it with a group where you slow down, discuss the concepts, and create concrete plans for your organization. I wouldn't mind re-reading it if you're looking for someone to read it with. :)

Primalbranding: Create Belief Systems that Attract Communities

By Patrick Hanlon

Brands provide a shortcut to expectations and decision-making. Instead of re-evaluating every purchase/decision from scratch, it allows you to take a shortcut. "Last time, X brand's product was good, so I'll use it again." Or, "X brand made a quality Y, so I bet Z will also be high quality."

It's an act of service to your customers to take your brand seriously. How do you do that? You could create an extraordinary product/experience and slap a modern logo on it, but chances are you won't assemble a community of believers with a powerful emotional attachment to your brand.

Hanlon identified 7 assets you can focus on to build your brand. Here they are:

  1. Creation Story: The mythic quest. How/why did it start? Who started it? Where did it start?
  2. Creed: The singular notion that you want people to believe. Why do you belong in people's lives? Why should people care? What do you celebrate? Quality, innovation, performance, or customer service? What do you believe in?
  3. Icons: Concentrations of meaning. Sight/sound/touch/taste/smell. Signals belonging or accomplishment. What's the first/last impression?
  4. Rituals: Repeated interactions. Moments to highlight. These are hard to copy or things others are unwilling to do. Draw a timeline of customer interactions. (The Power of Moments can help with this part)
  5. Nonbelievers: People against what you stand for. Who are you not? What are you trying to avoid? What are you up against?
  6. Sacred words: Specialized words people must learn before people can belong. What words define you? What resonates with customers?
  7. Leader: A person who is the catalyst, the risk-taker, the visionary, the iconoclast. Who is it?

I found it helpful to answer each of these for well-known brands (like Disney, Apple, and Nike). Then, answer them for your organization. Then, share each piece with your customers over time. (see Oversubscribed for a plan.)

Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life

By Rory Sutherland

I suppose I was on a bit of a branding kick. :) I read it because people I like recommended it, but honestly, it was lost on me. I like concrete examples, and this book was too abstract for me. There are snippets I appreciate, like the idea that "it is much easier to be fired for being illogical than it is for being unimaginative." (Rory Sutherland, Alchemy) Yet, we are illogical beings, so you need to think illogically to connect with people.

It's OK. Look up a couple of summaries online first to see if you'd find the book helpful.

The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (audiobook)

By Clayton Christensen

My brother read this book, and it dominated our conversations for a few weeks, so I read it too.

Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. It's a fascinating treatise and provides practical tips to overcome the dilemma. But it's hard, and as the book points out, it rarely happens.

One fun part is that it was initially written in 1997, and he uses his framework to predict the next disruptive technologies. One he looks at is electric vehicles. The other is the idea of a "pocket-like computer." One way you can start to see a disruptive technology coming is when there's excess capacity in a feature. For example, chips are faster than any app needs, the battery lasts longer than needed, or the screen is sharper than the eye can tell. Christensen saw that computers were getting fast and efficient enough that manufacturers could shrink them down without taking a significant performance hit. It turns out he was right!

It makes me think about today's products. Are there features that seem like they have excess capacity? If so, what new capabilities does that enable? It feels like we're on the verge of something with AI because processing is getting faster and faster.

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries (audiobook)

By Safi Bahcall

Loonshots takes another look at disruptive innovations and how to nurture them systematically. I recommend this to leaders running larger organizations with product roadmaps. Like in Innovator's Dilemma, you want to separate innovators from implementers but still create ways for them to communicate. Focus on finding the proper organizational structure and let your people do their jobs.

Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal

By Oren Klaff

I almost put this in the real estate section, but it's for anyone in sales.

I like the book for a few reasons:

  1. I'm new to the sales world, so I'm learning a lot!
  2. He explains the psychology/neuroscience behind the strategies, which I appreciate.
  3. His stories are unbelievable. I couldn't put the book down for his final example of developing an airport, where he brought all his lessons together.

The idea is to learn how to hold someone's attention so that they can actually hear and process your pitch. It's not about coercing people but meeting them where they're at (which usually includes fewer facts and figures).

The key concept for a successful pitch is frame control: how a person views the world and expects the world to view them. Whoever controls the frame controls the interaction. I'm still learning this concept, so I don't know if I can do it justice, but there are 5 common types of frames: power, analyst, intrigue, time, and prize. The skill is learning to recognize each kind of frame and navigate them.

"Identify and label social frames. Notice the frames that are coming at you on every level of your life. Power frames, time frames, and analyst frames are everywhere, and they crash into you on a daily basis. Develop your ability to see them coming, describe them, and discuss them with your partner." (Oren Klaff, Pitch Anything)

It's a skill that can be developed.

Now, I need to practice what I've learned, which will probably include re-reading it next year.

Oversubscribed: How To Get People Lining Up To Do Business With You

By Daniel Priestley

How is this book not on more must-read book lists?! It might be my favorite book of the year.

The idea is to create more demand for your business than you can supply.

"You don't need everyone on the planet to see you as highly valuable; you only need enough people who can drive your price up. Separating from the economy and from your industry requires that you turn your attention to those people who find you highly valuable – and then serve them better than anyone else can." (Daniel Priestley, Oversubscribed)

One way to accomplish that is by finding your unique niche.

"Creating your own market is about solving bigger problems for people than others do. Being unique is not about performing a task at a high standard; it's about having a unique ability to get things done. When your business is seen to be unique in the market, you'll make money regardless of what everyone else in your industry is doing. Even if there's thousands of other people who can technically do what you do, it won't impact on the price you can charge. Your price will be determined by your own market."

It starts with Collins' Hedgehog Concept (see Good to Great) of providing real value. Then you communicate it well. Building the assets described in Primalbranding also helps. The trick is to do it efficiently. There are three pieces of research on how "know, like, and trust" is formed:


"research into bonding behaviour suggests that spending more than seven hours with someone moves you beyond the "acquaintance" category and towards being a "friend.""


"when people had about 11 interactions with a brand, they were considerably more likely to buy from that brand."


"Seeing people in different places is another way stronger bonds are built... The magic number is four locations according to research into trust building."

So, we can put it all together:

"If we spent 7 hours together, had 11 interactions between us and met up in 4 separate locations there's little doubt we would feel a bond. It would seem like we are more friends than acquaintances... The more people you can clock up time, interactions and locations with, the more people will see you as different, unique and part of their tribe. Through this lens, a famous person is merely someone who has used media and technology to 7‐11‐4 people."

What does this mean practically? Create credible and valuable content while weaving in branding assets across different media.

"What they are looking for is credible and valuable content. They want insights, stories, examples, demonstrations and interesting facts. If it's possible for a person to spend a day researching your business and finding content worth delving deeply into, you have the foundations in place to build a passionate customer. If, however, it's impossible for someone to gorge for even a couple of hours on your ideas or they can only find sales collateral, it will be very difficult to build an engaged group of people who care about what you're up to."

Oh my, there's so much more! This is just the beginning. Priestley goes into the timing of messages and signaling to people what you're going to do before actually doing it, which allows them to enjoy the anticipation as well.

One final thought on the reality of our current economy:

"Maybe you don't think of yourself as a media or technology business with a daily focus on content creation, media distribution, software, data and automation. However, that's a foolish position to take these days. No matter what your business is, you are also a media and technology business."

But it doesn't have to be about entertainment; education is powerful because it builds trust, understanding, and engagement. "Trainings, seminars, webinars, workshops, manuals, reports, statistics, thought leadership, guidance, consultation and measurement are all tools for educating your interested people." So aim for 80% education with some light entertainment at the edges.

If you're running a business and want more customers, read this book (a couple of times).

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't (re-read, audiobook)

By Jim Collins

I enjoy listening to Collins' book. I find them helpful in getting my mindset right. Some ideas are harder to implement with a small business, but it's still useful for me.

There are a lot of great concepts, like being a level-5 leader and first thinking about who, then what. But my favorite is the Hedgehog Concept. You want to find the intersection of 3 questions:

  1. What are we passionate about?
  2. What can we be the best in the world at? (might be local or highly focused)
  3. What drives our economic engine? (profit per X)

"The good-to-great companies at their best followed a simple mantra: "Anything that does not fit with our Hedgehog Concept, we will not do. We will not launch unrelated businesses. We will not make unrelated acquisitions. We will not do unrelated joint ventures. If it doesn't fit, we don't do it." (Jim Collins, Good to Great)

Good To Great And The Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great

By Jim Collins

A "monograph" is a fancy way of saying it's a really short book (35 pages). It's a follow-up to Good to Great that answers questions from leaders in the social sectors. I found it helpful to think through the hedgehog concept and the economic engine. The critical question isn't "How much money do we make?" but "How can we develop a sustainable resource engine to deliver superior performance relative to our mission?"

It also shows that if I wanted to write a helpful book, it doesn't have to be 250+ pages. (Though, to be fair, it's a follow-up to a 400-page book)

How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In (audiobook)

By Jim Collins

Like a diseased body, there are 5 stages of decline:

  1. Hubris from success: People forget what made them great. They take success for granted.
  2. Undisciplined pursuit of more: Organizations overstretch and jump into areas they can't be great. Often it comes from an unreasonable quest for growth.
  3. Denial of risk and peril: There are issues, but leaders ignore them because the overall results are still good.
  4. Grasping for salvation: At this point, the decline starts. Do you get back to the fundamentals that made you great? Or do you panic and make big leadership or strategic changes? 
  5. Resignation to downfall: The company dies, usually by selling to another company.

If you want to see how this happens, read the book Losing the Signal, which is about Blackberry (see below).

Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)

By William Poundstone

This is one of those psychology books that can upset you because you suddenly realize how many pricing games are played in your life. Here's one example:

"[C]oherent arbitrariness. This says that consumers really don't know what anything should cost. They walk the supermarket aisles in a half-conscious daze, judging prices from cues, helpful and otherwise. Coherent arbitrariness is above all a theory of relativity. Buyers are mainly sensitive to relative differences, not absolute prices." (William Poundstone, Priceless)

I think we're all aware of shrinkflation right now. Companies keep product prices the same, but you get less.

For a historical example, "Puffs tissues shrank the length of their product from 8.6 to 8.4 inches." It doesn't say it, but they could also keep the box the same size! But, "[t]his ruse can go on only so long." 

So, what do companies do?

"introduces a new, economy-size package. In size, shape, or other design features, the new package (and its price) is difficult to compare to the old."

Remember, the price game is all about the comparison and making it harder to compare. This is why Southwest doesn't allow their fares to be aggregated. And it's why other airlines include/exclude baggage/meal/seat choices in their initial prices.

"One of the things that price consultants have learned is that what consumers say and what they do are not the same thing. For the most part, memories of prices are short, and memories of boxes and packages shorter."

The book is a fun romp through the history of studying pricing. The experiments are insightful, and there are quite a few lessons to learn if you do pricing.

My rental listings are in aggregator marketplaces like Facebook and Craigslist, where rentals can seem the same. I currently show an all-inclusive price. But perhaps it makes more sense to break out utilities into a separate bills. Sure, that'll be more work for me, but I could potentially increase my profits (and probably annoy tenants...).

Harvard Business Review Magazine

I started subscribing last year and am still enjoying it. They have specific agendas they like to push, but I still find their articles helpful overall. It's not so much a resource I use to implement changes in my business. Instead, I look for operational and strategic trends that larger and smarter companies are pursuing, and I use that as a jumping point to learn more.

Real Estate Books

Financial Freedom with Real Estate Investing: The Blueprint To Quitting Your Job With Real Estate - Even Without Experience Or Cash

By Michael Blank

I became interested in real estate syndications this year. Michael Blank has a coaching program I wanted to sign up for, and reading his book was a cheap way to test-drive the program. I found the book super helpful, with a complete overview of the syndication process. And now, I'm in the coaching program and can ask specific questions about my situation.

It also makes me want to write my own book...

Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance, Repeat: The BRRRR Rental Property Investment Strategy Made Simple

By David Green

David Green hosts the popular BiggerPockets Podcast. This book was on my list for a while, and I wanted to read it to help me systematically think through value-add deals. Plus, if I'm honest, I wish this was how I invested in real estate when I started.

There's only one problem with this book: it's 2-3 times longer than it should be. It's as if Green transcribed himself talking and then forgot to remove all the little rabbit trails from his stream of thought. Or, it's like there are two books: the BRRRR Strategy and his philosophical reflections on life, leadership, and business. I know they're related, but I regularly found myself skimming to get back to the BRRRR Strategy (you know, THE TITLE of the book).

My guess is I'm not his target audience. He wrote it for beginners who also need a mindset/inspirational shift. In contrast, I wanted tactics to implement in my existing business.

Raising Capital for Real Estate: How to Attract Investors, Establish Credibility, and Fund Deals

By Hunter Thompson (a different Hunter Thompson than you're thinking)

In my journey to syndications, it became clear that the one skill I didn't have was raising capital for real estate. Blank's mentor program is good, but it didn't go as in-depth as I wanted. But through the program, I met a very successful investor and asked him how he started. His answer was simple: "Read Raising Capital for Real Estate and do as Thompson says." Mic drop.

So, I read the book and am implementing his recommendations.

If you're a real estate investor and ran out of money to keep building your business, I recommend this book (also, Raising Private Capital by Matt Faircloth)

Fun Books

Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You're Not): A Parents' Guide for Kids 3 to 23

By Beth Kobliner

Our kids are at an age where they can start learning how to manage money. I bought this book to help me wrap my head around the lessons we want to teach them. One thing I like about the book is that it breaks the lessons up by age category.

So now we give our kids money each week for them to manage. It's 3 dollars, and they have 3 envelopes: giving, saving, and spending. We tell them they should give something as a way to trust what God just gave them. Then, they can decide what to do with the remaining balance.

The best part is that we saved all the money they received as babies and infants and are now giving it back to them. So it's not really an allowance; it's more like giving back what they already have. :)

If they put it in savings, we take the envelope for the week and return it with a quarter for every dollar saved. Spending is on fun things, but as they grow up, we'll give them more spending responsibilities (and money). The goal is for them to leave the house having practiced managing all aspects of personal finance.

Back to the book: It was helpful for Jessi and me to get on the same page. And you can start as early as 3 years old!

Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry (audiobook)

By Jacquie McNish & Sean Silcoff

Back in my podcast days, my brother and I regularly talked about Blackberry and how awful they did in the smartphone wars. So, I thought it would be fun to get the insider story. What happened to cause such a dramatic fall?

In short, I think it was two guys who happened to hit on the fastest-growing market in history - and they weren't ready for it. Not only did it stress their IT infrastructure, but their organizational structure wasn't designed to handle the rapid growth. And the rapidly growing market attracted a lot of competition, which required near-perfect execution. To be clear: all but a few phone manufacturers crumbled, but Blackberry was the king of the hill, so it felt particularly bad.

It's fun to listen to. I recommend reading How The Mighty Fall and then using this as an example of a fallen company.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage (audiobook)

By Alfred Lansing

What a fantastic listen! It's a thrilling TRUE STORY account of Ernest Shackleton and his crew's attempt to cross Antarctica. The ship was found in March, which is how I learned about the book.

For the crew, things went bad fast, and they constantly fought for their lives. It's incredible! I don't think I'm strong enough to survive what they went through. It's the kind of story where you think things can't get any worse... then they do! If you liked The Martian, I highly recommend this book.

Superman & Action Comics

Comics are fun. Something is satisfying about the semi-short form storytelling drawn out over multiple months. Plus, Samson enjoys flipping through them. I'm a fan of Superman, but I hear Batman is great if you're into detective types of stories.