Leif’s Best Books of 2016


The Godfather Notebook

by Francis Ford Coppola
(There’s also a great Fresh Air interview with Coppola about the book here.)

This book just came out in November. It’s Coppola’s masterplan that he used to film the Godfather and gives deep insight into his creative process. I discovered that Coppola was in his 20s and not an expert in the craft when he was brought on to rewrite the script and direct the film. They choose him because he was a “budget” director and Italian-American. Coppola spent months researching and planning in this notebook before he started writing and producing.

For those outside the film industry the book lays out how to systematically approach and solve a massive problem when you’re not an expert. I’ve only read the first 50 pages. So far the biggest insight is Coppola’s planning system for each story point: Synopsis, Textures and Imagery, Time Period, Pitfalls, Single Sentence. He wrote these out for every scene from the book. By the time he was done he had everything he needed to write the screenplay, get the producers to spend more money, fight and win on unpopular talent choices, and direct the film.

Coppola’s way of systematically breaking down a problem and distilling ideas turned him from relatively a novice director to the leading director in the industry in two years.


Extreme Ownership

by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

This is the book I've gifted most this year. The authors are a retired Navy Seal Instructors that led multiple missions in Iraq. I heard a podcast that Jocko was a guest on and I was drawn to his mental clarity when responding to difficult questions. Also, it’s co-authored by another guy named “Leif.” How cool is that!

A big takeaways from Extreme Leadership is the concept that communication should be simple, clear, and concise. The book gives dozens of examples how this is applied in training and in the battlefield. For myself I’m trying to apply that concept to how I communicate with my team both in the office and on set.

Another takeaway is that good leaders make average teams great. Jocko unpacks how ownership is key to becoming a good leader, and shared gripping examples about friendly fire and his responsibility as a leader for the actions of his team members in the field.

The book does an excellent job of incorporating examples from business into each chapter, making it easy to understand non-military applications.

There’s tons of other gold nuggets in this book. I think I need to read it twice.

Inner Game of Tennis

by Timothy Galley

This book isn’t really about tennis! It’s mostly a book about learning and how we learn. This book was written in the 1970s and its insights can apply to tons of areas of your life. I’m a tennis player, and it’s completely changed the way I play tennis and doubled the fun that I have on the court. For non-tennis players start with Chapter 2.

Biggest insight: Be kind to yourself while working on a skill, replace judgement with observation. Whether it’s losing your keys, spilling a cup of coffee, or waking up late we bark an order at ourselves to be better and fix the mistake. That’s the equivalent of trying to give your body verbal instructions on how to walk or breath. It’s not the way the body naturally learns or builds a skill. External commands often deepens the cycle of failure. Instead how can you replace disparagement with curiosity when building a skill?

Tools of Titans

by Tim Farriss

I got this book a couple of weeks ago but it makes the list for my top books of the year. I’ve only read the first 100 pages or so (less than 1/3 of the book). The book is divided up into three sections: Health, Wealth, Wisdom. The book is a compilation of 200+ interviews. Each chapter is maybe 2-4 pages and packed with 5-10 insights.

In the introduction Tim relates a story about a philosopher who was out of money and out of food. When asked what he was going to do about it the philosopher responded: I can think, I can wait, I can fast. 

The first quarter of 2016 started out very slow for us as a company. We chose to fast. We didn’t have enough revenue to pay ourselves for about two months. We could wait. We deferred everything that wasn’t necessary. We’ll cook at home. We’ll keep driving and fixing our Saab with 300,000+ miles on it. We could think. Lucky launched our first cold email and phone call campaign. We reconnected with past clients. We grew our network. We didn’t have to go into debt and we didn’t miss a payment to our crew.

Health is a topic that I don’t naturally read about. I spend 90% of my time reading about business, leadership, human behavior, sports, and economics. But often it’s a good mental exercise to learn outside of your habit loop. So I started with Health.

First insight, think of your health in terms of “training” not “fitness.” Being fit is a vanity concept that also associated with the word “diet.” Dieting by common definition is temporary. But if you think of it as “training” and eating to train. You’ve reframed the concept of health as an internal engine that drives your life forward, not just an outside way to look better.

Second, small daily habits are key. I’ve added 5 minutes to the beginning and end of my day that set me up for success. In the morning I do a specific set of stretches to fight the poor posture and muscle shortening in hips and back that sitting all day leads to (Spiderman and Cat-Cow). In the evening foam roller legs, back, feet to loosen me up before bed.

By making health a priority at the beginning and ending of the day, I’ve found it helps give me a positive outlook on life and gives me a big boost in feeling accomplished and in control of the rest of my day.


“Rough layouts sell the idea better than polished ones.” — Paul Arden
In a creative business like ours it’s tempting to delay, delay, delay before pitching concepts. But roughs are natural invitations for others to collaborate and imagine the final product alongside you.


Tim Ferris Show: “17 Questions” Episode

This episode can be a great goal setting exercise for the new year. During a 9-hour car ride Lucky and I stopped the podcast after each question and talked through how we could apply the question to our business or personal lives.

Asking yourself absurd questions are powerful: If you had only 2 hours per week to work on your business what would you do? It forces you to cut out all the fat and clearly define what’s important.

Another that I found particularly insightful: What’s the least crowded channel? If you’re like us, e-mail is the most crowded channel that we use to communicate, both inside our team and outside with prospects and clients. So why are we using it? It’s the least scary channel to reach out on and you can shift blame to another person if there’s no response by telling yourself that it’s their fault if they didn’t reply. For us the least crowded channel is connecting in person with our prospects in their office.

Are you chasing field mice or antelopes? A lion can easily kill and eat field mouse. But if a lion only kills field mice he’ll use more energy killing the mouse than he’ll get from eating it. A lion on a diet of field mice will starve to death. It takes a lot more effort and time for a lion to kill an antelope, but antelopes keep the lion fed for a long time. If we want to hit our production goals in 2017 should we try and fill Pathfinder Film’s 36 production slots with “field mice” or should we go after 7-8 “antelopes” instead?

Ramit Sethi’s Braintrust: “Unstuff Your Life!” Episode

This podcast is not publicly available right now, but you can get the book “Unstuff Your Life!” by Andrew Mellen that covers the same topic. Andrew Mellen is a personal organizer and theater director. What a crazy combo of professions!

Biggest insight: Having a junk drawer / junk closet is deferred decision making. It’s putting something aside while saying to yourself “I’ll decide what to do with this later.” Andrew structures organization this way:

  • One Home for Everything
  • Like with Like
  • Something in Something Out

After listening to the podcast Lucky and I made a list of the things that we have no reason to keep. We have two plungers that have sat in our pantry (don’t ask why they are in the pantry) for over a year. Do we really need two? No. I have a car cover that I lugged around in the trunk of my car for years. I literally can’t remember the last time I put it on. It’s been years. There’s an old pair of jeans in my closet that has a hole in the crotch. I just got a new pair of the same jean, so why do I still have the old pair.

The common thread is that we told ourselves that these things still have value, maybe we’d be able to use them later, or maybe we’d find someone else that could use them. Both trains of thought are deferred decision making that crowd our home, not to mention our headspace!