Monday, March 18, 2024

Safety Third

I heard the line “safety third” on a podcast a few years ago, and I wholeheartedly embraced it. This might be a little pedantic, but I think it’s worth the distinction for my mindset.

Saying you believe in “safety first” is false. Nobody actually practices it. If a sea captain said they believed in safety first, they’d never leave the dock because that’s the safest thing to do - but if they did that, they wouldn’t be a real ship captain.

The first priority is achieving the goal.

To be clear, it’s not the only priority - it just comes first. If a goal didn’t exist, there would be no action and, therefore, no reason to declare any priorities.

And if you don’t achieve a goal for safety reasons, it feels like a tie. You’ll take it, but it wasn’t really the desired outcome.

Why Not Safety Second?

I prefer innovation as my second priority. How might I achieve the goal better? Is there a new innovative way to achieve it faster, cheaper, better, safer, etc.? It’s a priority of creativity and discernment that’s important to take before jumping into action.

This is how you get better.

What are the implications of a safety third mantra?

First, it promotes contextual awareness and assessing risk based on the situation. You don’t default to the least risky option. Instead, you evaluate your skills and the goal to make an informed decision.

Some questions that I ask to help me evaluate the risk include:

  • What are the worst things that could happen?
  • Could I get back here?
  • Is this favorable on a risk-adjusted basis?
  • Can I live with the worst-case scenario?

As someone who tends to be unreasonably optimistic, I sometimes have to enlist Jessi to help thoroughly evaluate the downside possibilities of doing something.

In this way, safety becomes more meaningful and not a meaningless platitude. Plus, if I know someone else has a safety third mindset, and they bring up a safety issue, I’m less dismissive.

Finally, you have to admit that some unwanted things will happen. But that’s OK! When they occur, focus on the good. What did you learn? What new opportunities does this create? There is ALWAYS something good that comes from bad things.

May you achieve your goals in an innovative way and be safe along your journey.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

How I'm Using AI In My Real Estate Business

Like many people, I'm playing around with different generative AI tools - investing time and money - to see how they can help my business. At the moment, it's helping around the edges, saving pockets of time, but it hasn't structurally changed how I do things yet. Here are some of the tools I'm using: promises that you don't have to take meeting notes. It generates transcripts, meeting summaries, and action items. I wanted to try it for two reasons. First, I wanted it for myself so I wouldn't have to take as many notes. Second, I wanted to offer it as an added value to the people I coach - they would have a record of our conversations for later reference.

It's OK... I find that I don't have to keep as copious of notes - just the highlights - which is excellent. I like having it recorded, and searching for specific parts of the meeting is easy. The summaries are OK, but the action items are useless.

I also found it helpful for group meetings when someone can't make it. I can send them the meeting notes, which include the summary and transcript. One feature that seems cool, but I have yet to really try, is using the built-in chatbot to ask questions about the meeting. It's like a fancy search engine, which seems like it could be helpful.


The idea behind Descript is that you can edit a video or podcast (*cough* Furlo Capital Real Estate Podcast *cough*) as if it were a Word document. So, you add your raw video, it transcribes it, and then, as you edit the transcript, it edits the video.

The editing is cool, but I still prefer doing it in Final Cut Pro. I have a hunch that getting better at multi-track editing in Descript would be faster than FCP, but the learning curve is a little steep.

Where Descript has been SUPER helpful is on the text side. I'll edit a video and then import it to Descript. Once it's transcribed, I have it help me with a few items:

  1. Output subtitles and a transcript. I used to use Rev for this.
  2. For shorts, subtitles can be added to the video. I used to do this by hand, and it was miserable.
  3. Write podcast and video descriptions. They're always written in 3rd person, and I haven't found a prompt that works to make it first-person (without ruining the overall description).
  4. Identify chapter markers. This is borderline perfect, though it usually gives more than I want, but it's easy to remove them.
  5. Suggest titles. I'll use these to make my own before analyzing it with a headline analyzer.


There are some big chat-style generative AIs to play with: Anthrop\c's Claude, Google's Gemini, and Microsoft's Copilot, to name a few. But something about the Wild West feel of OpenAI's ChatGPT attracts me. Sure, I want my AI to be careful and respectful, but I don't want it to be too cautious (I'm a "safety third" type of person).

The free version is OK, but if you're going to integrate it into your life/business, the Plus version is noticeably better. I'm finding it useful for three general tasks:

  1. Summaries: I can feed it a document, like a transcript, and ask for the key points. I haven't had to do this yet, but I could probably upload a rental agreement and ask questions about it (though, in general, I prefer to read the actual text).
  2. Idea generation: I've done the classic "Give me 10 fears that [target market, like data scientists] have about [doing something, like investing in real estate]," and it's excellent for that. I also like to give it a podcast transcript and a prompt like "What questions might someone have after listening/reading this?
  3. Transposing: I'm still new at this, but I've been playing around with creating podcast images from text prompts.

Arc Search

This iPhone app is a new tool for me. Instead of searching and getting links, I can get multi-media summaries and answers. If I don't like the result, I can easily do an old-school search (Just think, someday, Google may call it Google Classic Search). I'm unsure if it's "better" or faster yet - because it takes time to learn a new workflow - but it's cool.

Where's the line of too much AI?

Part of this play is helping me discover the best uses. Sure, I can ask it to write this article. It would be bland (plus, I like writing because it helps me think), so it's not a real option. But someday, it'll be able to write in my voice after I give it an unorganized blob of ideas. Then what? Do I get credit for writing it?

I use Grammarly for editing, and that seems to be OK. I take credit for doing data analysis, even though I use tools like Excel and R and not slide rulers. If I were a web developer, I'd use GitHub Copilot to help write code. Is that OK? It's just a smarter version of autocomplete, right? Does anyone care as long as the output is high quality?

To me, the line seems fuzzy. As a business owner, I'm not super concerned about how it's done, as long as it's done well. Would I care if I had a theoretical employee who used these tools to do their work in half the time but still charged the full time? I'd care about having a lazy (dishonest?) employee, but I'm paying for results, not time spent. The issue is the person's character, not the tool's use. I pay MORE for contractors to go faster, so it's not always about saving money.

Again, does anyone care if I use a WYSIWYG editor like Squarespace on a website instead of hand-coding it? No. Does anyone care if I use a pivot table in Excel to make a chart? Nope, it's considered an advanced skill. Does it matter if I wrote a helpful article using chatGPT for the first draft with some light editing? Well... No?

In each of these examples, I devised the idea and validated the final result. What if I hired someone to do all the work for me? Doesn't anyone really care as long as it's helpful? This is what businesses do, right? CEOs of mid-to-large companies can't do everything.

Perhaps the rub is that it's an implied expectation that humans do certain things (like write and edit videos), and somehow, we feel lied to when we find out a human didn't do it. Or, maybe it's because we're in the uncanny valley of AI quality. If that's the case, this will be less and less of an issue as society changes its expectations and the output improves. Does anyone else miss DVD special features? I do, but streaming is so convenient!

What's My Core Value?

A more helpful framework has been thinking about my core value. What do I bring to my business that's hard to replicate?

Let's use my podcast as an example. My core value is my experience, knowledge, and how I explain them. So, AI can help me think of topics, but I should be the one to choose the topic and talk about it. Then afterward, creating subtitles, descriptions, and chapter markers are all low-value tasks. So, I'm OK delegating those to AI (with my final approval).

I also think video editing is lower-value (for me), but AI isn't great at it yet, and my budget doesn't allow me to delegate it to someone every time. Basically, I'm OK with delegating everything (to humans or AI) around making the podcast, except for the on-screen part, because that's the highest value I bring.

Future Uses?

I do other lower-value tasks, and it's fun imagining a time when tools, AI or otherwise, can help with them.

  1. Bookkeeping takes a while. I've started delegating that to a property manager. Hopefully, someday, she can use AI to help her go faster. For example, Quickbooks will suggest categories, and that'll get smarter over time.
  2. I don't write a lot of commercial rental contracts, but I could see it helping with that. Or reading a contact and advising me on things to look out for.
  3. So... email... I want an AI to analyze my previous emails to match my writing style for a one-click auto-responder. And not just a one-liner auto-responder, but a complete message. I've read about some pretty extreme solutions, but they're more hostile to senders than "solutions." (The best -and most expensive - option is hiring a virtual assistant to reply on your behalf.)
  4. I have an odd plumbing problem. I can't find a suitable solution on Google or ChatGPT. I'd rather not pay a plumber, but it's increasingly looking like I don't have a choice.
  5. Imagine this: I see a property listing. I call the seller to learn more and I take a tour. I want to feed the listing, the call transcript, and the tour photos into a system that analyzes the property. It'll output a P&L, repair estimates, and project KPIs into a spreadsheet. I can then take over from there. I think? We're flirting with my biggest value-add now.
  6. Or, I give it a current property in my portfolio and its P&L over time. The tool looks at the market and can suggest sell/hold and rent rates. I haven't tried this yet, but I bet it can already help make rental listings (though, I have a template that's easy to use). Or, auto-general some good-looking reports?

All of these are still helping me to do what I'm already doing more efficiently. None of them fundamentally change how I'm already doing business. What would an AI-first real estate investor do?

I suppose I'd want a tool that analyzes every property in the US for me and generates offers I can submit. It would auto-generate rental contracts and do the follow-up on rent payments and notices. It would listen to every conversation and suggest the next steps.

Or, maybe I never directly interact with people! Instead of writing emails, I write/speak my thoughts, and it writes and sends them. I never directly analyze a property, but I write/speak/send the stats, and it analyzes it for me. If I'm working with a potential seller, I might tell the AI to keep following up until I get a yes or a no. The AI knows the analysis and my criteria and can automatically do a back-and-forth with the seller, searching for a mutually acceptable deal by tweaking the price and terms based on the seller's response.

Maybe? That seems far off, and at least for now, it's a part of my core value in my business. Perhaps a reasonable next step is to get better at telling the AI my raw, unstructured thoughts and letting it draft a response.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

2024 Annual Letter - Life Is Good

I'm sitting on my living room couch while Jessi finishes 
Marie Kondo-ing our shelves (I'm not allowed to help put things away), my kids are loudly doodling on random paper together, and my dog is quietly snoring while sound asleep beside me.

Life is good.

Though... it's not exactly the best writing environment, but that's OK. :)

The Lord has blessed our family so much that sharing everything He is doing is impossible. So, in this annual letter, I'll highlight my business progress, some personal things, and our travels.

Real Estate Syndications

I started the year pursuing a new-ish endeavor: syndicating multifamily real estate. I say "new-ish" because it's continuing what we've been doing for 14 years, but now people can passively invest alongside us. Pooling funds together for larger deals is a win-win business model: it allows us to grow and invest in larger properties (which often have better economics vs single-family rentals), and folks who may not have the time or expertise can contribute funds and enjoy real estate's benefits.

Pursuing syndications involves two primary activities:

  1. Underwriting deals for syndication, and
  2. Attracting new passive investors.
  3. Oh yeah, and managing my existing portfolio.

A New 15-Bedroom Rental

In February, we bought a 15-bedroom co-living house. I wanted to syndicate it, but the financing didn't require it. Here's a video of it. It was also our first place to be managed by a property manager because hiring managers will allow our business to scale. We also transferred the storage facility to a property manager and plan to transition the rest of our portfolio in the next year or two.

I almost syndicated a property in Astoria, Oregon at the end of the year, but the deal fell through. I'll eventually do a whole write-up for my investors (join the club ), but here's the initial analysis video.

Going into 2024, I'll continue to underwrite deals and syndicate at least one. For intriguing deals, I'll create property analysis videos.

Attracting Investors

Speaking of videos, I started making them. My channel is small, but I've enjoyed sharing my knowledge and experience. My thinking is to make videos that people find educational (and entertaining) to build trust and credibility. Some of those people will choose to join my investor club email list, and some of those people will decide to invest in a future deal.

I'm new enough that I don't know my funnel ratios yet (It might be, for example, 10,000 views -> 10 email subscribers -> 1 investor). Research by Google in 2012 suggests that reliably building trust requires people engaging with me for 7 hours, across 11 touch points, in 4 locations (like YouTube, email, Instagram, webinars, podcasts, phone calls, etc.). So, I'm making it easier for people to spend 7 hours with me in many different places by creating content (I only have 26 videos that last 4.2 hours, so I have a ways to go).

Some of my most popular videos are property analyses, which is nice because they accomplish my two goals simultaneously: underwriting deals & attracting investors.

DJI Drone - My Favorite Purchase of 2023

Early in the year, I purchased a drone. I didn't have an exact use for it, but it seemed like 4-8 times every year, there would be a situation where having a drone would be great.

So, I bought one, and it's easily been my favorite purchase of the year.

Not only did I get pictures of each property, but I used it on multiple trips. What I like about it is that it lets me get otherwise-impossible photos. Though, I've noticed that videos are incredibly dull on their own. The videos work as b-roll, but when you're showing them to friends on your phone, it's boring. I also prefer looking at the photos on my big monitor because it lets me zoom in on all the little details. That is incredibly fun!

My primary use for videos has been for roof inspections. I can fly around to capture all the parts of the roof, and then view it on my large monitor at home while taking notes and annotated screenshots.

In Personal News...

I Turned 40

In some ways, it's just another candle on the cake, but in other ways, I feel older. For example, it takes longer to recover from a workout, and text is blurry first thing in the morning. But, along the way, the Lord has taught me a few things, so I wrote a post about 40 lessons and quotes I try to live by.

I Can Solve a Rubik's Cube

YouTube is fantastic for learning things. I found many videos showing the exact steps to solve a Rubik's cube. So, I learned it fairly quickly and practiced it for the rest of the year. My moment of heroism came while in India: we found a Rubik's cube on the side of the street in a random jungle village; I picked it up, solved it, and put it back. We went by that spot later, and it was gone. I like to think there's some kid whose mind was blown when they saw it.

This continues my quest to get semi-decent at mostly-useless skills to impress my kids, which also includes juggling and solving Sudoku puzzles. I think the next logical skill is to learn some card tricks.

My Favorite Books From Last Year

I don't think I'm an entrepreneur who thinks I'll succeed because I read a bunch of books. I believe that success comes from taking action and deliberate practice. Instead, my hobby, or favorite pastime, is reading. So, I read about topics I'm interested in: business, self-improvement, and faith. So last year, I read a bunch (here's my quick review of each one), and here are my favorites:

Deep Work by Cal Newport

High-quality work is a function of time spent with distraction-free focus on the work. Newport gives strategies for setting up your schedule and work environment to allow for significant blocks of distraction-free time. The advice is actionable and reasonable. I've implemented his idea and enjoy my times of deep focus.

James For You by Sam Allberry

I love the "Bible For You" series because they go deeper than a sermon, but aren't as forensic as a commentary. The book of James is a sweet companion to the Sermon on the Mount. But James moves quickly, and it can feel scattered. Allberry explains how all the thoughts tie together and tackles passages that seem, on the surface, to contradict Paul's teaching. It's terrific.

Hidden Potential by Adam Grant

This isn't a book on habits, ambition, or hard work. It's about unlocking... your potential. You do that by cultivating skills that maximize learning and setting up support systems to overcome roadblocks. The advice in the book is refreshing and highly actionable.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

I was surprised by how different the book is from the movie. The book explores the differences between "machine logic" and "human logic" through a collection of short stories. In the book, robots act so similarly to humans that humans treat them as... human, which is OK 98% of the time.

But sometimes, robots do something seemingly illogical. And they call a robot psychologist to help determine the robot's logic. It's a bit of a mystery novel in that regard.

The movie, I think (?), takes place many years after the events in the book and explores what it looks like if robots are fully accepted by society (they aren't allowed on Earth in the book), but their machine logic is still slightly off, leading to... problems.

Honorable mention goes to:

  • Best In Class by Kyle Mitchell and Gary Lipsky - How to manage a property manager and the asset.
  • Show Your Work! by Justin Kleon - Ideas for sharing creative work publicly.
  • $100M Offers by Alex Hormozi - How to structure offers people want to buy.
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - The original story, which is genuinely remarkable.

We Bought an Above-Ground Pool

The kids kept asking to go swimming, and after pricing a pool pass, we decided to get a small pool for our backyard. We wanted it big enough that they could swim around, but not so big that we feared them drowning. It was a huge success and the kids' favorite activity in the summer. Plus, it attracted a few kids in the neighborhood.

One of my favorite things was to run (as best I could in water) around the side and create a whirlpool for the kids to float in. And, the kids are much more confident in water, which is fantastic.

Lots of Travel

Real Estate Conference in Louisville, Kentucky

I started the year by attending a conference on raising capital for buying real estate. The speakers were great, and I made some excellent connections. I regularly referenced my notes throughout the year, so it was time and money well spent.

Sledding In The Snow

I saw a report that snow levels were crazy high at my grandmother's cabin, so we took an impromptu trip (~10-hour drive) to the snow. The snow was still taller than the kids, and they loved it. I also got to take some fantastic drone photos.

San Francisco For My Dad's 70th

My dad turned 70, and we celebrated in The City. It's always great seeing family. Plus, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge!

India Motorcycle Trip

In July, Jessi and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary by riding motorcycles through the Himalayas in Northern India. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I wrote about it and shared lots of photos here.

Yurt Camping (Without a Yurt)

In August, we went camping. I THOUGHT I had reserved a site with a yurt, but once we arrived, it became clear we didn't (we researched multiple campgrounds, and I got them mixed up). So... it was 8:30pm, and not only did we NOT have a tent, but we didn't have sleeping pads either. Here's a funny video of everyone's reaction the next morning.

West India Trip

In October, we headed back to India with some friends. We visited other friends who live there and hiked in the Himalayas. And we got to see Everest! The entire range is magnificent, and Everest blends in with the rest of them. So Everest isn't independently imposing, but it's still impressive. We also went through the jungles on which The Jungle Book is based and saw some fantastic jungle animals.

Looking to 2024

In many ways, 2024 seems like a natural continuation of 2023.

For example, my two business focuses are the same. I'll continue the same activities, though potentially doing more of them. And there's an 85% chance that Jessi and I start a real estate-focused podcast together.

We'll keep traveling, but we're not planning anything international. So far, we only have two plans: Elinor and I are going to a wedding in Louisiana and camping in California with my family. We want to visit Jessi's family, and I'd like to take the family on a backpacking trip, but they're not official plans yet.

Jessi will continue working at our church, and I'll continue serving at Love INC, the kids' school, and our church.

Part of the reason why 2024 feels like a continuation is that we both genuinely feel that we're living in God's will. It's not always easy, but it's good. So we'll keep on going! Thank you to all our friends for their support and the fun times in 2023.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

The 35 Books I Read in 2023 And My Quick Opinion Of Each One

Oh my. Another year and another pile of books. I honestly don't set out to read a ton of books. It's simply something I enjoy, and so it adds up. Below are my semi-brief reflections on them. Hopefully, one or two catch your interest.

Sales Books

A year ago, I announced that people can passively invest with me through real estate syndications. But that required a new skill: raising funds, which I needed to learn about. 

Flip the Script: Getting People to Think Your Idea Is Their Idea

By Oren Klaff

This is a follow-up to his first book, 
Pitch Anything. His first book is about presentations, whereas this one focuses more on interactions around the presentation. The title is a little provocative. Instead, I'd describe it as a book that explains how to quickly build credibility. Klaff is a wonderful storyteller, and I enjoyed both books immensely.

The 3-Minute Rule: Say Less to Get More from Any Pitch or Presentation

By Brant Pinvidic

If Pitch Anything and Flip the Script are about the approach and psychology of presentations, Pinvidic focuses on exactly how to plan a presentation. His questions and prompts are great. I recommend reading Pitch Anything and The 3-Minute Rule if you make sales presentations.

Networking with a Purpose: How I Built My Power Team, Raised $16 Million Dollars & Got On HGTV!

By Amy Mahjoory

Amy Mahjoory's approach reminds me of a late-night infomercial. Her strategy is solid, but her execution comes across as sales-y. And I can't help but wonder if her success is due to her massive energy and effort and not technique.

For example, she has a 4-second power pitch she uses when meeting someone new and they ask what she does: 

"I show people how to earn double-digit returns backed by real estate." And then she immediately puts it back on them, "It's so great to meet you. What was it that you said that you do again?"

She's purposely dangling a carrot so that they want to ask her for more information. That leads her to give a 20-second power pitch that ends with, "If you happen to know anyone who is interested in getting double-digit returns backed by real estate, let me know."

It's just… not my style.

But having said that, she has some great ideas for building credibility and connecting with people on social media (where a quick "power pitch" intro works better).

I'm naturally shy at larger events, so I added her 10 networking questions to a homemade cheat sheet I review before going to a group function. You can probably skip the book and just ask me for my cheat sheet. :)

The Copywriter's Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells

By Robert Bly

Bly titled this book well because it's more of a reference book than something you read cover-to-cover (though I did). I've created a few ads and used sections of his book to help me refine my message. One of his main points is that the goal isn't to entertain or write something people like, but to sell things - and sales numbers are the only metric you should care about (when writing sales copy). I'll probably keep returning to parts of it for refreshers.

Real Estate Books

What can I say? I like real estate books.

Structuring and Raising Debt & Equity For Real Estate

By Rob Beardsley

Nerd alert. This isn't a book about talking to people; it's about spreadsheets and underwriting that inform future conversations. You'll like this one if you like more technical details on structuring capital stacks. I also like that it gets straight to the point. It's not a biography or narrative - no stories exist. He simply explains his investment thesis and the different ways to structure deals.

The Hands-Off Investor: An Insider's Guide to Investing in Passive Real Estate Syndications

By Brian Burke

There's some irony about writing a 367-page technically dense book titled "The Hands-off Investor". I get it, to passively invest wisely, there are terms and concepts you need to know. But it took me, someone who knows the information, a while to read this book. If you're interested in passive investing, I'd start with these 42 questions and only read the book if you want to dive deep into the details (or talk to me).

Best In Class: How to Manage Your Multifamily Asset, Avoid Mistakes, and Build Wealth Through Real Estate

By Kyle Mitchell and Gary Lipsky

I learned about this book while talking with another investor. If you have a property manager (PM), I highly recommend reading this book (and giving it to your PM). Finding and funding a property is essential, but executing the business plan is potentially even more critical. They also suggest helpful metrics and best practices for working with your PM.

Real Estate Rookie: 90 Days to Your First Investment 

By Ashley Kehr

started coaching and wanted to see how someone else would teach a newbie. It's good, but I would structure it differently. For example, I'd have someone jump right into property analysis. You're not looking to buy; you're learning about a market. I'd make them look at 20 places as a buy-and-hold and 20 places to fix-and-flip. Then, once they're taking action and have some context, I'd talk about investment strategies, underwriting, funding, etc. Then, I'd probably finish the book talking about goals and scaling.

I've also noticed that books published by BiggerPockets have an "I transcribed a stream of thought" vibe. It's good to have that breathing room and let ideas sync in if investing is new to you, but I find them a little meandering.

The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World

By Peter Schwartz

Technically, this isn't a real estate-focused book, but I read it to create more robust/defendable underwriting scenarios. Though it was more qualitative than I expected… in hindsight, the title does have the word "art" in it.

Instead of talking about forecasting techniques (which was my hope), it's about crafting written narratives about the future. In Pitch Anything, he talks about starting a presentation by adding context, and this book helped me discover a more expressive way to share that context.

Business Books

Who Not How: The Formula to Achieve Bigger Goals Through Accelerating Teamwork

By Dan Sullivan & Benjamin Hardy

Some books can be summed up in a single sentence, and this is one of them. When faced with a new challenge or project, don't ask how to do it; ask who can do it. And to be honest, the book doesn't go much deeper. There's no business strategy, psychological insights, or quantified research. There's a little bit on how to get started, but not much.

Yet. For some books, that's OK because there's value in steeping yourself in a repeated concept. They could have shared the entirety of the idea in a social media thread, and I would have read it, liked it, and then moved out without changing a single thing. But, because it took me a couple of weeks to read it, I thought about it often and changed parts of my business because of the repeated concept.

So, even though it's not a great book from a literary/quality perspective, the concept is excellent, and the repetition over 193 pages was needed for me.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

By Cal Newport

I love this book and now listen to Cal Newport's podcast. Here's the idea: high-quality work is a function of time spent with distraction-free focus on the work. But how you do that is nuanced and varied. Newport dives into multiple work situations and addresses common barriers ("My boss constantly pings me for stuff").

Plus, he recommends adopting certain behaviors when you're not working (like how to approach boredom) to make that focused time even more effective. This is another "steep yourself in the concept" book, and it's fantastic. Check out his podcast if you want a taste of his philosophy first.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered
Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad

By Justin Kleon

Justin Kleon is an artist, and this trio of short-ish books gives highly practical advice for anyone doing creative work. He shared many ideas that were new to me and helped me with my creative work. For example, copying the work of a single person is wrong. However, copying and combining the work of 10 people is not just good, but encouraged. He also suggests showing in-progress work and sharing my thoughts about why I created something. So, it's not only the final output, but also the story behind it that people connect to.

This is a set of books I plan to revisit in the future. If you do any creative work, I highly recommend these.

$100M Offers: How To Make Offers So Good People Feel Stupid Saying No
$100M Leads: How to Get Strangers To Want To Buy Your Stuff

By Alex Hormozi

I also love these books and now listen to Alex Hormozi's podcast. One of Alex's gifts is reducing complicated business topics to their essence and creating timeless frameworks around them. He also grounds his thoughts on his direct - and impressive, $100M+ - experience.

If you've read many business books, he doesn't say anything new but packages up all those ideas into easily digestible, yet non-diluted, actionable steps. If you want to start or improve a business, read these and do what he recommends. Check out his podcast or YouTube channel to get a feel for his straightforward, yet intense style.

Christian Books

A Spirituality of Fundraising

By Henri J.M. Nouwen 

We talk about fundraising on the Benton County Love INC board. And this brief 65-page book helps with any uncomfortable feelings you might have when asking people to donate money.

It aligns well with Pitch Anything, which talks about seeing yourself, not the person you're selling, as the prize. The idea is to have the mindset that your offer is valuable - I'm not asking for a favor or a handout. Instead, they'll be the ones to miss out if they don't take you up on the offer (instead of you being the one to miss out on them buying).  

So, when it comes to asking for ministry donations, you're not asking for them to do you a favor by donating; you're offering them the opportunity to participate in a worthy mission (and it's their loss if they don't). It's a chance for people to exercise their faith and experience transformation through giving - which is genuinely valuable. When you think about it that way, asking for a donation becomes less daunting (and you're less attached to the outcome).

If you ask for donations, it's good, but I recommend starting with the next book on my list.

The Giver and the Gift: Principles of Kingdom Fundraising

By Peter Greer and David Weekley

This book has a cool format, almost like it's two books combined. It's a quick read at 112 pages, but it's profound.

The first section looks at giving from the fundraiser's perspective. What are effective ways to ask for donations? How do you have a mindset that the charity is valuable and you're not asking for handouts (similar to Spirituality of Fundraising)?

The second section is from a donor's perspective. He talks about his experience being asked to donate. He also shares his philosophy behind giving and the joy he experiences by giving. It's inspiring and makes me want to improve not out the amount that we give, but to do a better job of experiencing the joy for what we're already giving.

Philippians For You: Shine with joy as you live by faith 

By Steven Lawson

James For You: Showing you how real faith looks in real life

By Sam Allberry

I love the "Bible For You" series because it goes deeper than a sermon, but isn't as forensic as a commentary. The best way to read these books is with a Bible open next to them. I love the context they provide and the practical applications of how to live a Christ-centered life. This is also a fantastic companion if your church is preaching a series on a specific book. These also work great for Bible study and discipleship groups.

If you have a book of the Bible you'd like to dive deeper into, I highly recommend this series.

Plugged In: Connecting Your Faith With What You Watch, Read, and Play

Written by Daniel Strange

Narrated by George Sarris

I typically avoid audiobooks for non-fiction because I like taking notes. But I was traveling, it was free, and Tim Keller recommended it. It's a how-to-guide on engaging with media and culture. So, instead of not allowing my kids to watch something because its message is different than what I want them to learn, I can use it to explain what we believe. I might, for example, ask questions afterward like, what do you think the main character was looking for? How do you think they handled a situation? How do you think Jesus would have dealt with that situation?

After listening to it, I regretted not reading it and taking notes. I highly recommend it if you're a Christian who enjoys watching shows.

The Bible

I read it with a reading plan once a year, and God continues to reveal Himself to me. This year, I used a chronological reading plan. I liked seeing the Old Testament weaved together as a single narrative.

Parenting / Leading Books

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid: Leading Your Kids to Succeed in Life

By Tim Elmore

I took my time with this book. I read a couple of chapters, then read a different book, then read another couple of chapters, etc. That's because I wanted a slow drip of parenting reminders throughout the year instead of blasting through it in two weeks and forgetting.

I like that the book is backed by 20 years of experience working with families, so it's not just one man's personal opinion. The book is valuable for any aged kid, but it's most helpful if your kids are at least elementary or middle school-aged.

Saving Our Sons: A New Path for Raising Healthy and Resilient Boys

By Dr. Michael Gurian

If you have, or work with boys, read this book. Gurian studied boys and their families for thirty years. In this book, he dives into the psychology and neuroscience of what makes boys tick.

Though, I'll admit that it's a stressful book to read because of its structure. The first half outlines the problems males face - and it's signficantly worse than I ever imagined. Gurian provides statistics and specific research studies to back up his claims.

It may seem like males are doing fine - look at CEOs and top leaders - but once you get past the top 10%, many males are struggling. He provides PAGES of statistics in all areas of life that show that the average male is doing worse than females. (if you don't believe me, get the book - you'll see)

In the second half, Gurian gives guidance for raising males to parents, educators, and lawmakers. As a society, we have an uphill battle for our sons, but improving their situation is possible.

I also got insights into myself, and it's helped explain, with cool neuroscience, why Jessi and I react differently in situations. It's also changing how we parent our son. For example, we don't force him to verbally express his feelings.

It's not an easy, fun read, but it's worth it.

Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things

By Adam Grant

I rarely read recently published books from a new-to-me-author because I like to wait until other people I trust recommend it first (which takes time).

But in this case, a recommendation on release day by Seth Godin piqued my interest. So, I picked it up before heading out on a trip.

This isn't a book on habits, ambition, or hard work. It's about unlocking... well… your potential.

Part one gives practical advice on building specific character skills: how to seek discomfort, become a mental sponge, and become an imperfectionist.

Part two sets expectations for overcoming obstacles: practice needs to feel like play, progress isn't linear (and that's advantageous), and teaching others is the best way to learn.

Part three is about building systems of opportunity in schools, teams, and the job/college application process.

I took a bunch of notes from this book. Perhaps my favorite gem is to ask for advice, not feedback. Advice is forward-looking and focuses on improvement. So, when you want feedback, ask: "What's one thing I can do better next time?"

The Mentoring Manual

By Julie Starr

I'm helping to teach a class on mentoring/discipleship at my church next year, and I wanted to share more than my personal opinions. The book overviews the mentoring mindset well without getting too caught up in specifics.

My favorite part was explaining the difference between mentoring, coaching, training/teaching, and consulting. I think some people avoid mentoring because they fear getting asked questions they don't know the answer to, but that's teaching. Mentoring is about sharing your personal experience and asking the mentee questions to help them figure out the solution independently.

Classic Audiobooks

I picked a theme for audiobooks this year: classics. One unintended perk is that almost all of these are free on Audible.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Written by Alexandre Dumas

Narrated by Bill Homewood

I watched the movie in 7th grade and loved it. Given all the deception in the story, it helped me keep all the characters straight. It's a long listen, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Written by Jules Verne

Narrated by David Linski

I bet this was a mind-blowing book in 1870. I felt a little like Doc Brown talking to Clara in "Back to the Future Part 3" (here's the clip) - she experienced the story in real-time, whereas Doc read it many years later. It's an easy read that I should do with my kids.


Written by George Orwell

Narrated by Simon Prebble

After years of hearing it referenced (by folks claiming that we're living in it), I finally understand what they're saying. It's an incredibly sad book, and I see similarities to today's culture and leaders, but thankfully, we're not this bad. However, I also see we're trending in this direction in some areas, and this story helped me better articulate my concerns.

I think I kept that general enough not to anger either side... :)

I, Robot

Written by Isaac Asimov

Narrated by Scott Brick

Umm... The movie almost has nothing to do with the book. The general idea is the same - humans create AI Robots - but that's the end of the overlap. I found this book fascinating since we're in the early stages of generative AI.

It's a collection of short stories where humans grapple with "machine logic." For example, a robot causes a problem by doing something illogical (according to humans), so scientists must figure out the robot's logic to solve the problem. So, in a way, it's also a mystery novel. It's surprisingly philosophical, and I loved it.

Moby Dick

Written by Herman Melville

Narrated by William Hootkins

The first couple of hours were fantastic! And the last hour was great! But those middle 22 hours? It was a slog. It's a good thing I listen at 1.5x speed because I don't think I would have finished it. If the goal was to show that life on the sea is slow... and boring... and leads to drifting thoughts, it accomplished its mission. William Hootkins is a fantastic narrator, but I didn't connect with the story.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Written by Douglas Adams

Narrated by Stephen Fry

Talk about a weird story that regularly gets referenced. I enjoyed the romp around the galaxy and the whimsical creativity. There's also a movie that stays pretty true to the book, but I think the film would be wildly confusing unless you read the book first.


Written by Bram Stoker

Narrated by 8 characters

This is Jessi's favorite book. It's written as a collection of letters between friends. The cool part about the audiobook is that each character has a different narrator, which helps keep the letters straight. The story starts at a fast pace and then slows down a lot before getting intense again. At least, it's intense for 1897 standards (when the book was written). It's good, and I recommend listening to it.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Written by Robert Louis Stevenson

Narrated by Richard Armitage

It was written in 1886 at 141 pages, so it seemed straightforward relative to today's stories. It probably also didn't help that I knew the basic premise before listening to it, which probably ruined the surprise. So, it was OK. If you've never heard of the story, I recommend it as a fun weekend read.

A Christmas Carol

Written by Charles Dickens

Narrated by Tim Curry

I finished the year with the classic of classics, and it's good. I'll also say that the Muppets nailed it in their movie of the story. You'd think the book would be boring because I know the story, but it wasn't. I think that's because Dickens, as the story's narrator, doesn't just tell the story straight - he shares opinions on the events, which adds to the charm.

Tim Curry does a fantastic job of narrating as well. The whole thing is excellent. Plus, it's not super long at 3.5 hours. I definitely recommend it as a book to read in December.