Top 13 Books For A Productive & A Creative Year

Madhusudhan Anand's Blog
17 min readDec 31, 2020


Year 2020 challenged us in ways no one imagined. Our leaders are missing their objectives, or have them wrong, while we live in this oblivion around presented by the Internet and Social Media. If we could take care of the who we want to be which is defined by — We are what we read, we are what we eat, we are what we spend the most time with, I strongly believe we can more so have a great year despite what set back may come.

Like Earl Nightingale said “We become what we think the most” then why not think the most that matters? How to know what to think? In that pursuit I came across a few great books, what made a year, a great year.

I had a great year, despite loosing my father in March, and I learnt to take on more responsibility and I see my dad as my strength. I had a great year despite we almost ran out of money but raised a round of funding in May. I had a great year despite I doubted, as I found purpose, despite all the year was great, and I credit a majority of that to the books below. While I read some more (shared goodreads link below), I sum up most learnings that helped me below.

I am also to believe that, it is not how many books you read, it is more about how many things you learn that you implement.

“Think Big And Don’t Listen To People Who Tell You It Can’t Be Done. Life’s Too Short To Think Small.”- An Awesome Quote By Tim Ferriss

1. Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking

We all need a way to handle our own thoughts better. This is a fantastic listen on Audible, and in just 4 hours it will teach you the habits, actions, and mindsets to clean up the mental clutter that’s holding you back from living a meaningful life.

You will learn:

  • Four causes of mental clutter
  • How to reframe all your negative thoughts
  • Four strategies to improve (or eliminate) bad relationships
  • The importance of decluttering the distractions that cause anxiety
  • A simple strategy to discover what’s important to you
  • 400 words that help identify your values
  • The benefit of meditation and focused deep breathing (and how to do both)
  • How to create goals that connect to your passions

Declutter Your Mind is full of exercises that will have an immediate, positive impact on your mindset. Instead of just telling you to do something, we provide practical, science-backed actions that can create real and lasting change if practiced regularly.

2. INSPIRED: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love

This is a special book goes very deep in extracting a lot of clarity that product owners, entrepreneurs and innovators need. I genuinely benefitted from this book and the roadmap of product at Ambee is inspired from many thesis presented here.

In this book, Marty talks about how do today’s most successful tech companies — Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Tesla — design, develop, and deploy the products that have earned the love of literally billions of people around the world? Perhaps surprisingly, they do it very differently from the vast majority of tech companies. In Inspired, technology product management thought leader Marty Cagan provides listeners with a master class in how to structure and staff a vibrant and successful product organization and how to discover and deliver technology products that your customers will love — and that will work for your business.

Filled with the author’s own personal stories — and profiles of some of today’s most successful product managers and technology-powered product companies, including Adobe, Apple, BBC, Google, Microsoft, and Netflix — Inspired will show you how to turn up the dial of your own product efforts, creating technology products your customers love. If you’re a product manager, this is a must read.

3. Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms by Shellye Archambeau

I am still reading this book, I am half way through and my affirmations come from Shellye Archambeau’s experiences. She is my new hero.

This book was also named as the Best Business Book of 2020 by Fortune and Bloomberg.

Full of empowering wisdom from one of Silicon Valley’s first female African American CEOs, this inspiring leadership book offers a blueprint for how to achieve your personal and professional goals.
Shellye Archambeau recounts how she overcame the challenges she faced as a young black woman, wife, and mother, managing her personal and professional responsibilities while climbing the ranks at IBM and subsequently in her roles as CEO. Through the busts and booms of Silicon Valley in the early 2000s, this bold and inspiring book details the risks she took and the strategies she engaged to steer her family, her career, and her company MetricStream toward success.

I read this on Audible and found it extremely motivating. I am doubly inspired for 2021 now.

4. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This is perhaps what I needed to understand the most, a. Focus and b. attention; how our consciousness is intertwined with it, that controlling consciousness will actually determine one’s quality of life. It happened to me many times — While building a product for Ambee, I’d beat myself up when I would realize I have spent the last 6 hours on a problem, have written multiple lines of code in trying to just figure something simple out and had completely lost track of time in doing so. But I had no idea, that this state is called ‘Flow’.

“If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it. Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature, but because we took the trouble of paying attention to them.” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

This book was a revelation. The book has modern day examples to even references of old times, making this a book I would keep going back to and read many times again.

5. High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil

Elad Gil is an angel investor who worked early on with startups like Airbnb, Twitter, Google, Instacart, Coinbase, Stripe, and Square as they’ve grown from small companies into global brands. Across all of these break-out companies, a set of common patterns has evolved into a repeatable playbook that Gil has codified in High Growth Handbook. Its about keeping a checklist of all the mistakes and issues that a startup faces early on.

Elad Gil discusses key topics including the role of the CEO, managing your board, recruiting and managing an executive team, M&A, IPOs and late stage funding rounds, and interspersed with over a dozen interviews with some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley including Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Marc Andreessen (Andreessen Horowitz), and Aaron Levie (Box), High Growth Handbook presents crystal clear guidance for navigating the most complex challenges that confront leaders and operators in high-growth startups. In what Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn and co-author of the #1 NYT bestsellers The Alliance and The Startup of You calls “a trenchant guide,” High Growth Handbook is the playbook for turning a startup into a unicorn.

I loved the interview with Marc Andreessen particularly as it was more about product, culture, market and purpose.

6. Originals: How Non-Conformists Change the World Written by: Adam Grant , Sheryl Sandberg — foreword

Adam Grant is just amazing. His book give and take was a boon to this world, not only this book introduced a landmark new paradigm for success but also established himself as one of his generation’s most compelling and provocative thought leaders. In Originals he again addresses the challenge of improving the world, but now from the perspective of becoming original: choosing to champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions. How can we originate new ideas, policies, and practices without risking it all?

Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. Learn from an entrepreneur who pitches his start-ups by highlighting the reasons not to invest, a woman at Apple who challenged Steve Jobs from three levels below, an analyst who overturned the rule of secrecy at the CIA, a billionaire financial wizard who fires employees for failing to criticize him, and a TV executive who didn’t even work in comedy but saved Seinfeld from the cutting-room floor. The payoff is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.

I see how we are so similar at Ambee, and we are building products that make a difference, create something new that it challenges status quo and that its not easy but it is the hardest. Just how before Google, navigation to finding information was a challenge, before iTunes everyone had to wait for the CDs to be released, just before Amazon you had to visit a physical store to buy and how distance mattered, how before Airbnb you could only get a ‘Hotel’ experience and lending your room was thought crazy and how these and many more such crazy ideas came in that they reject conformity and have changed the world so much that we cannot do without them. This is what is now our Vision for Ambee, vision for my career and to personal life and my professional career too. It was transformational read for me.

7. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers

This one is perhaps the most popular book stemming from the popularity of the Tim Ferris podcast. Tim has summed up all the interviews from his podcasts, all his notes into an amazingly groundbreaking and insightful book. Tim is not an interviewer, what he has done is experimented with successful people he has interviewed them with multiple questions. This book gave me perspective, a whole new one at that. Here is what Tim says about this book in his own words

From the author:

“For the last two years, I’ve interviewed more than 200 world-class performers for my podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. The guests range from super celebs (Jamie Foxx, Arnold Schwarzenegger, etc.) and athletes (icons of powerlifting, gymnastics, surfing, etc.) to legendary Special Operations commanders and black-market biochemists. For most of my guests, it’s the first time they’ve agreed to a two-to-three-hour interview. This unusual depth has helped make The Tim Ferriss Show the first business/interview podcast to pass 100 million downloads.

“This book contains the distilled tools, tactics, and ‘inside baseball’ you won’t find anywhere else. It also includes new tips from past guests, and life lessons from new ‘guests’ you haven’t met.

“What makes the show different is a relentless focus on actionable details. This is reflected in the questions. For example: What do these people do in the first 60 minutes of each morning? What do their workout routines look like, and why? What books have they gifted most to other people? What are the biggest wastes of time for novices in their field? What supplements do they take on a daily basis?

It’s a must read. I listened to this on Audible, however, I recommend you get a physical book so you can keep referring back to it often.

8. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Written by: Elizabeth Gilbert

This is unlike any book, its pep talk directly to your subconscious. I don’t know how but Elizabeth has made a deep influence to my thinking after this book.

She says:

Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.

Instead of talking about the book, let me share an excerpt of it, here is the part which I loved the most -

Let me list for you some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life: You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or — worst of all — ignored. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark. You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life. You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree. You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.) You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist. You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal. You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud. You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons. You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start. You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again. You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying? You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder.

I read this book a year ago, and I saw the magic happen. What she says is real and I had the joy of listening to this book in her own voice on Audible. I live by the notes I made and practicing most of it on a daily basis. I hope you do too.

9. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Written by: Angela Duckworth

My father was very hard on us kids, because he feared we’d not live upto our potential. When I was leaving from my home city to another for a new full-time job even before I graduated he was worried I’d be a failure or get into wrong values, he told me “I don’t care what you do, or if you fail, but 1. Never get into wrong values and 2. Do not give up and come back, without fighting your hardest, that is what I’d do, and I know you got that fight in you”. I did not know it, but he was referring to Grit. Those words help me even today when all bets are down, even when I am challenging myself to a better me.

Fast forward I read this book on Grit, it sounded so much like what I needed to be told and reminded everyday. Grit comes out of Passion and Perseverance.

I have a personal story too when I was at the lowest ever time, and just knew I had to keep building, keep learning. Growing a company is perhaps the most hardest and most painful thing one can do in his life and thank god this book exists.

Angela is my new Guru. Watch this Ted talk from her on what you do in school and life is much more than one’s ability to learn more and learn quickly. Angela talks about her journey as a Psychologist learning who is successful and why at West point military academy predicting teachers and students successes and more as she goes. They partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who’s going to earn the most money? In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

PS: If you’re planning to startup……. please don’t!

10. The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

I do believe in many stoic philosophies. Philosophy is itself an interest area I wish to come back to learning sometime later in my career hopefully. Ryan sums up many important things that obstacles present themselves for a reason.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” (Marcus Aurelius)

We are stuck, stymied, frustrated. But it needn’t be this way. There is a formula for success that’s been followed by the icons of history — from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs — a formula that let them turn obstacles into opportunities. Faced with impossible situations, they found the astounding triumphs we all seek.

These men and women were not exceptionally brilliant, lucky, or gifted. Their success came from timeless philosophical principles laid down by a Roman emperor who struggled to articulate a method for excellence in any and all situations.

This book reveals that formula for the first time — and shows us how we can turn our own adversity into advantage.

I again, sort of boil it down to Ambee as it started with an Adversity to now giving the same exact thing that I once did not have, giving it to the entire world, for FREE! Know more here. (Not promoting Ambee here by any means, but because it is all that I do, I just talk about it as much. But hey, even if I am promoting Ambee, it isn’t wrong to do so)

11. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life Written by: Scott Adams

Can creativity be linked to mistakes? That is the first thing you learn about in this book.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

How should we be dealing with failures then? This book is not about ranting about failing often or failing a lot or feeling ‘un’miserable at failing, but more so about how opportunities present when you persevere after failing and changing your perspective about failing and feeling bad about it, but also celebrating wins and losses as equal, as a part of a process, as a part of progressing.

Scott’s Dilbert doesn’t fail to convey an important point, but so subtly!

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big talks about the life story of Scott Adams and sums up the following:

  1. Do Creative Work First. In the morning, he is a creator, in the afternoon he’s a copier.
  2. On Expecting People to Be Reasonable.
  3. The Most Important Form of Selfishness.
  4. Withholding Praise is Immoral.
  5. Don’t Read the News for Truth.
  6. Fake it Till you Make it.
  7. Change Your Mind.
  8. Systems Trump Goals
  9. Psychology matters
  10. How you look is very important

Scott not only shares his story he even has applied a majority of common characters of people when it comes to failure. Things like you dont want to look bad at Dancing, because you are not a good dancer, hence you do not ever dance even when you want to. And you find this quote below on Dogbert

Dance like it hurts. Love like you need money. Work when people are watching. — Dogbert’s Motto

I love Scott Adams, more or less, my career is similar to his, may not be as global and as great, but perhaps on the way to making my own, now I have the inspiration from this book. 2021, here I come!

12. The Bhagavad Gita Written by: Eknath Easwaran

Oh, what an important thing I was missing in my life! Gita is not a set of rules that one has to follow and something terrible will happen if you don’t. Its not a rule book.

It is about inner war within our own minds and thoughts. We are a sum of all experiences, those experiences fine tune the characters of the inner mind and we wage war within us in many ways.

The Gita opens, dramatically, on a battlefield, as the warrior Arjuna turns in anguish to his spiritual guide, Sri Krishna, for answers to the fundamental questions of life. Yet the Gita is not what it seems — it’s not a dialogue between two mythical figures at the dawn of Indian history.

“The battlefield is a perfect backdrop, but the Gita’s subject is the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every human being must wage if he or she is to emerge from life victorious.”

I recently started his other book, Upanishads and I also have Bhagavatha Purana by Mr. Menon and these two are on my bucket list, because the book is full of so many things like this below:

Place this salt in water and bring it here tomorrow morning”.

The boy did.

“Where is that salt?” his father asked?

“I do not see it.”

“Sip here. How does it taste?”

“Salty, father.”

“And here? And there?”

“I taste salt everywhere.”

“It is everywhere, though we see it not. Just so, dear one, the Self is everywhere, within all things, although we see it not. There is nothing that does not come from it. It is the truth; it is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu.

You Are That.”

Brilliant, isn’t it?

13. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment Written by: Eckhart Tolle

“One of the best books to come along in years. Every sentence rings with truth and power.” (Deepak Chopra)

“A reminder to be truly present in our own lives and liberated from our past and future. It can transform your thinking.” (O: The Oprah Magazine)

To make the journey into The Power of Now you need to leave your analytical mind and its false created self, the ego, behind. Access to the Now is everywhere — in the body, the silence, and the space all around you. These are the keys to enter a state of inner peace. They can be used to bring you into the Now, the present moment, where problems do not exist. It is here you find your joy and are able to embrace your true self. It is here you discover that you are already complete and perfect.

Although the journey is challenging, Eckhart Tolle offers simple language in a question and answer format. The words themselves are the signposts to guide you on your journey. There are new discoveries to be made along the way: you are not your mind, you can find your way out of psychological pain, authentic human power is found by surrendering to the Now. When you become fully present and accepting of what is, you open yourself to the transforming experience of The Power of Now.

“See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”

I think these books made my year a bliss. I want to add one more quote from another Book written by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who saw death everyday in his profession but one day it came to him a lot earlier, he helped me grieve the loss of my father a lot better, one mention of this line sums up human life -

“You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

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Hope you read too and if you have any interesting book recommendations, please share them so with me in the comments or write to me on Twitter (@maddymaster).

Wish you a transformational, productive, creative and best-of-you 2021



Madhusudhan Anand's Blog

I write about Books, Climate, Air pollution, Research, Data Science, Entrepreneurship, Startups, Tech, Learning & Career