There may be as many reasons for naming a book as there are reasons to write one in the first place. Many titles may be descriptive of what’s inside a book. Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life gives us a pretty good indication of what’s inside. However, without reading it, we don’t know what any of these rules are, nor does viewing the title in the future after having read it do anything to remind us of the contents. Others may be luring or engaging to draw us to open the cover. This approach is more common amongst works of fiction. Framing the title as a question peaks our curiosity. For example, Bud Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? We read the title and think to ourselves, who is Sammy? What does make him run? We better look inside to find out. The proliferation of books with a profanity contained in the title in recent years are examples of an attempt to “shock” or grab attention. The title is intended to pull you to purchase the book even though the title has little to do with the contents. Another approach to naming a book may be to use a core idea as the name which we’ll only really understand once we’ve read the book. For example, Patrick Lencioni’s business classic, The Advantage. The reader only learns what The Advantage is by diving into the details of the book. A separate example, The Key, a fictional story about insurance brokers, written by yours truly, reflects a title that can only be fully understood once the contents have been consumed.
We’re told not to judge a book by its cover. Fair enough. But maybe we can judge a book by its title? Where some titles capture the core message, the title can stand on its own and be actionable. The title may tell us what to do, not just what a book is about. It’s not just a reminder of the story inside, it is the story. It can capture both the message and implementation of the book’s message. The raw efficiency of this kind of title is appealing. We don’t need to look inside the book cover, let alone invest hours to chew on the content. We can pursue the point from taking the title to heart. Ryan Holiday’s Ego is the Enemy or The Obstacle is the Way are examples where the title neatly captures the core intent of the book. One doesn’t need to venture too deep into reading the book to recognize that the message is echoing the title. We’re learning as much from the title as from the contents. This isn’t intended as criticism of contents. We’re not suggesting the book isn’t worth reading. Likely the opposite. It’s more a compliment to the memorable meaning of a book’s title.
Other examples occupying our bookshelves representing our “Top 10 Books in Which the Title Says it All” list include:
What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There – Marshall Goldsmith
This book is about managing plateaus encountered while climbing the corporate ladder. Too often we think that the tools and skills that have carried us forward in our progress to where we may presently be are those that will keep moving us forward. Goldsmith helps us understand that the very skills and traits that served our development to a certain level can become obstacles and limiting factors hindering further progress. We need to pause on our journey and reflect on what the skills will move us from where we now are to where we want to go. The path forward isn’t about pushing harder at the things that we’ve done in the past. It’s more about determining what changes and adaptations need to be made for each leg of the journey. Goldsmith’s title neatly brings this idea to the forefront.
Own the Day, Own Your Life – Aubrey Marcus
This book is about how breaking down our day into pieces and then consciously creating constructive habits around each of these areas will lead to massive improvements in our lives. It is about taking responsibility for making good choices from when and how we get up to when and how we go to bed and everything in between. If we own the choices we make throughout our day, we will own our life. Though the contents of the book are worthwhile to read, the message is captured concisely in the title.
5 Seconds at a Time – Denis Shackel
A story about how a survival experience taught lessons helpful to business and life. Getting through serious injury suffered during a mountaineering accident by drawing on any internal resource focusing on surviving the next 5 seconds over and over became an approach that could be applied to any problem in any discipline. Break something down into the smallest possible component and try to just get through that small piece. Then repeat. Again, the story is a good one, but the book title captures its essence. Just survive the next 5 seconds. We’re often encouraged to take things one day at a time. In spite being a classic sitcom from the 80s, One Day at a Time can still seem so long that things look insurmountable. Breaking things down to much smaller pieces can help. For example, if you’re giving a presentation, focusing on the next five seconds is useful.
No Shortcuts to the Top – Ed Viesturs.
Viesturs captured his efforts over several years to summit all of the world’s mountain summits which exceed 8,000 metres in this book. His philosophy of being a cautious climber as much focused on how he would get down from the summit as he would get to the top offers a prudent approach to follow in life. The story is riveting. The title reflects the author’s reality. There are no shortcuts to the top. Putting in the time to plod along each painful step is the only true approach to moving from where we are to where we want to go. The title reinforces the message contained within.
Discipline Equals Freedom – Jocko Willink
This book reflects the personal philosophy of former Navy Seal, Jocko Willink. It reads as a short manifesto to the power of discipline being the basis of achieving in all areas of life. Only by developing discipline is one able to truly experience freedom. If you have control over yourself, you can put yourself in a position to enjoy certain things. Your efforts must come first. Whether we have read the book or not, the title tells all.
Chop Wood, Carry Water – Joshua Medcalf
Medcalf’s book is a story about how to fall in love with the process of getting good at something. The heart of the message is that progress follows embracing doing the routine, small tasks. Doing the small things well, leads to improvement. Starting the day doing what needs to be done is the way forward. Chopping wood and carrying water is both needed and can produce great joy in and of themselves. The title speaks to that which the book details.
Fall 7 Times, Get up 8 – Debbie Silver
This is a book for educators and parents interested in helping children understand the importance of embracing challenge. We shouldn’t want to be comfortable or look for the easy way forward. Growth follows struggle. How we face failure determines the progress we make. It’s an important message and the book title captures the essential elements and helps us both recall the core concept and communicate it concisely.
Lead Yourself First – Raymond Ketledge
Ketledge invites us to consider that before we can help others determine what to do we need to have figured this out for ourselves. This has been done, historically, by leaders spending time alone. Ketledge provides many examples of historical figures contemplating a path forward prior to engaging with their charges. Additionally, the most effective form of leadership is leading by example. We need to get ourselves together before we can help others. Put your own oxygen mask on before helping those sitting besides you. Make your own bed, clean up your own doorstep, do these things before you worry about changing the world.
Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do – Robert Schuller.
This self-help classic’s title says it all. The message resonates, especially, in today’s times.
Finally, It Takes What it Takes – Trevor Moawad.
Moawad is a mental skills coach. He has worked with NCAA, NBA, and NFL teams. He has worked directly with Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. The premise of his book and teachings is captured in the title. If you want to be good at something, world class good, this decision alone directs what you will be doing. It takes what it takes. What’s required is what’s required. It’s obvious, but true.
Each of these titles teach us the core concepts contained within. We don’t need to have read the books to understand the message. We can act on the title itself. Moreover, if we own the book, each time we see it on the bookshelf, the title alone reminds us of the contents. Viewing the title reinforces the core message of the book. We can carry the wisdom of many books on an index card. We could consolidate a year’s worth of diligent reading into a single card. Just looking at these titles can be constructive reminders. Whatever challenge we’re facing during our workday, pulling out a list like this one may help. Each of these titles capture a practical and actionable approach we can apply to many of the concerns over which we’re likely to trip.
Ego is the Enemy
The Obstacle is the Way
What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There
Own the Day, Own Your Life
5 Seconds at a Time
No Shortcuts to the Top
Discipline Equals Freedom
Chop Wood, Carry Water
Fall 7 Times, Get Up 8
Lead Yourself First
Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do
It Takes What it Takes
We’re hoping this list of book titles that “say it all” are useful for you. When a peer or colleague enters your office and looks at you sadly while choking back emotion, you can’t help but ask “what’s wrong?” Your thoughts may be that she’s disappointed with a work experience, upset that she didn’t get a promotion, disappointed with some direction you’ve offered, or is having a problem with another employee at the office. She breaks down and sputters out that she has found out that her husband has been cheating on her and he now wants a divorce. This is information you weren’t expecting. It doesn’t matter what business education you have, how many degrees you have, you don’t have a textbook you can draw on to help manage this circumstance. There’s no test question you’ve answered in the past that relates to this. With what are you left? How do you manage this? Perhaps, start with 5 Seconds at a time, for you, for her. Then, consider Tough times never last, but tough people do. Maybe, the obstacle is the way could help? Alternately, lead yourself first. Life and business is often throwing unexpected circumstances our way. Having a handful of actionable book titles in our arsenal gives us a chance to help.
A few additional examples friends have provided in recent weeks which we haven’t yet had the opportunity to read:
Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got” – Jay Abraham.
Talk Less, Say More. By Connie Dieken.
Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go! By Beverly Kaye.
Book titles like these can be used to craft your own fortune cookie message. Make your own wisdom without the MSG headache. Keep them on hand as reminders, cues, prompts, or mantras to use to help you keep sound advice ringing in your ears when you need it.