Podcast: The Top Books of 2019 for Gym Owners—Chris Cooper’s List

Chris Cooper-Blog

Andrew: 00:02 – Did you ever want to take a peek at Chris Cooper’s bookshelf? Well, today’s your lucky day. In this episode of Two-Brain Radio, Chris shares his favorite reads for 2019 and a few books he didn’t really like. Find out which books changed his life or which books he put down halfway. Here’s Chris with his definitive list of books for gym owners.

Chris: 00:17 – Over a decade ago, I realized that my job had changed. I was no longer an employed personal trainer, but a business owner. The next epiphany was that my knowledge was asymmetrical. I knew a lot about fitness and exercise science, but almost nothing about business. I’ve always read for at least an hour every single day, but my crazy lifestyle was squeezing out my reading time. I’d be in my truck by 4:30 AM to get to the gym and I wouldn’t get home until about 10:00 PM. I collapsed into bed without reading a word. Then a friend turned me on to Audible. I bought a Seth Godin book and I started to translate what I learned from general to specific. I wrote about how I would use SASS material, in my gym, publish more content, and I did the same for other authors and I started to churn through books pretty quickly. But I still made two rookie mistakes that cost me a ton of time.

Chris: 01:11 – I made myself finish every book before starting the next, and I also thought it was best to get a ton of different books instead of focusing really, really hard on a few. In other words, I was focused on volume instead of intensity. Naval Ravikant recently tweeted, “The smarter you get, the slower you read.” That was interesting, but not true for me in all cases. Sometimes I can read the first few chapters of a book and skip the rest, as in David Goggins’ book, which I’ll talk about next. Sometimes I think it’s better to reread a great book and pick up the smaller pebbles that I missed than to buy a new one. I listened to resilience over again every single year. For example, the hard part isn’t finding a good book. The hard part now is finding the right book at the right time and catching the most important message for you.

Chris: 02:00 – There are now a handful of services selling 10-minute versions of top books. I actually wrote “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” to filter huge ideas according to when the entrepreneur can benefit from the most. So before we get into the top 10 list, here are my top tips for buying and learning from books. Number one: 80% of the time, buy the audio version. 20% of the time, buy the print version. For instance, the first chapter of “Scaling Up” is almost impossible to follow an audio you have to buy the print version. On the other hand, any of Nassim Taleb’s books are far more entertaining is audio number two. Don’t be scared to buy multiple copies. I found myself lending out “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” to everyone and never having a copy on hand. Now if you visit the workshop here, you’ll see 20 copies of that book, 20 copies of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and 20 copies of “Never Split the Difference” on my shelves.

Chris: 03:02 – I hand them out to nearly everyone. My nieces and nephews have stacks of books from uncle Chris by now. Third, don’t place a budget on books like mentorship. You’ll get personal growth from books, but your business will pay for it. Every book is a tax-free life-changing event. Number four, there’s no such thing as a bad book, but don’t get buried. Overwhelm leads to paralysis. After you take our “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” test, make the best choices based on your current phase of entrepreneurship. Read what’s right for you. Now, number five, it’s better to retain a little and to read a lot. To make the messages from each book stick, I have to teach them back to myself. That means talking about them with other people or just blogging about them in my own words. That’s why I started my original blog, Don’tbuyads.com, back in 2009, to make the lessons I was learning stick better.

Chris: 03:58 – It works. Even if you don’t publish a blog about the books. If you take your own notes, you’ll retain the information a lot better. So here are the top 11: Number one, “This Is Marketing” by Seth Godin. Seth is trendproof. He got that way by teaching principles instead of tactics. While we, the folks in the trenches, can be swayed by sexy business fads like Facebook marketing, office culture and personality testing, I always come back to Seth’s message of authenticity and relationships, and the experts always come back too. Facebook now says that building a content platform is critical for paid lead generation to be successful, for instance. “This Is Marketing” is possibly Seth’s most specific book and it’s required reading for anyone who wants to succeed at the long game, seriously buy it. I recommend it for founders, farmers, tinkers and thieves, any phase of entrepreneurship.

Chris: 04:54 – Number two: “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnish. It’s rare for an author to say, if you buy this book, you don’t have to read my other books, but that’s what attracted me to scaling up in the first place. As an author, I sometimes wish I could go back and rewrite “Two-Brain Business” or even take it off the shelves because “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” is so much better. “Scaling Up” is a step-by-step process for growing your business as a CEO. I recommend it for farmers who are preparing to be tinkers. The third book is “Never Lose a Customer Again” by Joey Coleman. The key to business growth isn’t customer acquisition. It’s customer retention. Habits are formed slowly. Coleman believes they require a careful nurturing over a hundred days. The book focuses on mapping the client journey in your business and then digging really deep into the first hundred days. We teach the client journey map in the Two-Brain Incubator and our focus has always been on retention before marketing. We want a sticky web before we start bringing flies into it. So this is a book every gym owner should read and I recommend it for founders and farmers.

Chris: 06:09 – The next book is “Leadershift” by John Maxwell. Most business books focus on what can you change, add or improve, but Maxwell’s books tend to focus on the how, how to lead through change, how to inspire others to stay on the bus when the destination isn’t clear, and how to help people grow as leaders. In fact, many of the other books on this list borrow from Maxwell’s earlier work. They’ll say things like, a leader’s job is to create leaders and other maxims that originally came from Maxwell. So reading Maxwell is going back to the source in many cases, the hard part of shifting from farmer phase to tinker phase isn’t the money. It’s the leveling up from boss to leader. Very few of us have the education experience or practice necessary to do so when the time comes. So we have to learn on lessons learned in the trenches from guys like Maxwell.

Chris: 07:04 – Half of the value of his books is in the content. The other half is in the delivery. Maxwell doesn’t bury you in statistics. Most of his teaching comes from stories. You can learn a lot about leadership just by observing how he leads his audience. I recommend “Leadershift” for farmers and tinkers. Next is “The Courage to Be Disliked” by Ichiro Kishimi. This book isn’t really about being disliked. It’s really about Joseph Adler, who wrote that every problem is an interpersonal relationship problem. Adler was a contemporary of Freud, but they thought about things differently and this book digs deep into Adlerian psychology and gives entrepreneurs really solid tools for having tough conversations, for relating to staff better and for knowing when to draw a really clear lines. For me, the book helped me realize that being clear isn’t harsh. It’s actually doing everyone a favor. I recommend the courage to be disliked for tinkers.

Chris: 08:07 – The next book is “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It” by Chris Voss. Now it’s really rare for business books to be directive. It’s tough to write a directive book. Most teach broad concepts and ideas, and good entrepreneurs are left to figure out how to apply them in their own businesses. I try to write directive books like do exactly this in this order, but never split. The difference is a directive book covering one of the hardest topics of all really hard conversations when there’s a lot on the line. Voss was a hostage negotiator for the FBI, so he knows what he’s talking about. We lean heavily on Voss’ lessons when we’re guiding entrepreneurs through rate increases through firing staff or removing tough clients. I keep 20 copies of this book in my office and frequently ship a copy to my own mentorship clients. Like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” I give a copy of this book to kids in my family when they turn 18. This book is so important that we’re bringing Chris Voss in to deliver the keynote speech at the Two-Brain summit in 2020. I recommend “Never Split the Difference” for founders and farmers. The next book is “Clockwork” by Mike Michalowicz. Now, I think it’s been a few years since I published a list that didn’t have Mike Michalowicz on it. The books are funny and they’re easy to read and they always include at least one key concept that changes the way you look at business. In “The Pumpkin Plan,” Michalowicz taught us how to identify and keep our best clients and build our businesses around them. In “Profit First,” he taught us how to make sure we got paid. Kind of a big deal. In “Clockwork,” I think Michalowicz’s his biggest idea is the queen bee role, QBR.

Chris: 09:56 – Now a CEO should narrow his or her focus to doing the one thing that grows the company. For me that’s thinking and then writing about it. That’s hard for people to understand. Many people think I’m riding my bike for fun or hiding in my office when the door is closed, but really the more time I spend getting into flow state, staying in flow state and publishing content, the better my business grows. That’s my queen bee role. I recommend “Clockwork” for tinkers with a special emphasis on the section of the book talking about the QBR. The next book is called “Reboot” by Jerry Colonna. I often say that the people who got you here might not get you there, but what if that person’s you? The founder’s lifestyle, long hours alone, working with single-minded focus, that can harm relationships and business. Ultimately, entrepreneurs need completely different skill sets, like the ability to lead a team and trust that their vision will be fulfilled.

Chris: 10:55 – But the things that made them great in founder phase are probably harmful in farmer phase, so they need to reboot. Jerry Colonna is called the CEO whisper in his Amazon profile and he often actually winds up whispering in the book. It’s a guided journey through your demons, your ego, and your weaknesses and his directive. There are specific exercises and assignments to help you take the first steps to bettering yourself. I’ve never found a book that gave me a sense of therapy, but beneath all the habits, skills and knowledge is you and you’re not perfect. So this book tells you how to deal with that, how to fix your problems, and how to grow as a person. And I recommend it for tinkers. The next book is “The Alter Ego Effect” by Todd Herman. In 2018, I identified that I wasn’t equipped to lead a rapidly growing international company.

Chris: 11:46 – So I started seeking mentors to help me learn to lead. I changed my worldview and habits significantly, had some hard conversations and took some bold risks, but it was exhausting. And boss Chris wasn’t really the person I wanted to be at home. So Herman’s book made me ask, can I be the CEO part time and then shed that skin when I don’t need it? According to the book, you can. And Herman shares a ton of examples that show how celebrities and athletes have used the alter ego effect to do the same thing. We introduced the concept to gym owners as part of their sales training. Herman originally tested the method when he was selling personal training, so it’s a great fit. It’s definitely a useful tactic and I signed up for Herman’s one-on-one guidance because the book was so powerful. The hard part is switching into and out of an alter ego, but you know like fitness, it takes practice.

Chris: 12:42 – So Herman uses totems at home to switch into dad mode ,like he puts on a special bracelet that his daughter made for him to remind him that now he’s the dad and not the CEO. I recommend the alter ego effect for farmers. The next book is “12 Rules for Life” by Jordan Peterson. Now, this isn’t promoted as a business book, but few books make me pull my truck to the side of the road and say, holy shit. So I included it, and the message definitely has bearing on you as a leader in the public eye. Jordan Peterson is a polarizing guy. I wondered what’s this book or this guy actually saying, and that’s why I read the book in the first place. But the book itself is an epiphany. I recommend to everyone. Make your kids strong, not safe, is a transcendent lesson that every leader can use.

Chris: 13:28 – Just replace kids with business or relationship or whatever. And Peterson models that strong, not safe approach to life. He’s attacked in the media pretty often for being anti whatever, but his critics almost always take his message out of context to further their cause. Peterson is an example of standing up for your beliefs and also a warning. If you say this is wrong when you disagree with a popular trend, you’ll attract criticism in volumes. Not everybody can handle that. I certainly couldn’t take the storm of hate that Peterson deals with every single day, but I recommend the book for everyone because I know you’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. The next book is “Turning the Flywheel” by Jim Collins. Now Collins doesn’t publish off. He doesn’t even appear on podcasts often and he rarely takes the stage, but when he talks, everyone listens. “Turning the Flywheel” was a curiosity buy. I really loved “Good to Great,” “Great By Choice” and “Built to Last,” and I wondered what a monograph meant to Collins, which is what he calls a turning a flywheel, but it’s really a how-to book. His previous books had so many huge concepts that he needed something to tie them all together. So don’t read this until you’ve read at least three of his other books. But when you have, this book is an inspiration. It’s recommended for farmers and tinkers. And that’s the top 11. Now, there were some honorable mentions that I also read in 2019. For example, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. Because we’re in the business of behavioral change, “Atomic Habits” is a more useful tool for a fitness coach than almost any fitness book. It’s directive and if coaches simply copied his model with their clients, they’d make more money for longer. Most of the big ideas are front loaded, so this is a really quick read.

Chris: 15:19 – For example, even if you just read about streaks, you’ll understand the value of talking to your clients every single day when they’re getting started. Another honorable mention is “Turn the Ship Around” by David Marquet. It’s a great story about creating change in a change-resistant environment like the US Navy. The typical model of submarine command depends on one leader rigorously enforcing predetermined rules, but Marquet pivoted, which is tough to do in the Navy, and eventually got buy in from his crew. The best lesson? A leader should be measured on the success of his team years after he’s gone. Unfortunately, the stories didn’t lead to a clear directive like do this in your company, but did offer some exercises like ask yourself, how can I use this in my company? The next honorable mention is “The Like Switch” by Jack Schafer. Jack’s another ex-FBI guy like Chris Voss. Schafer is like the behavioral scientist to Chris Voss’ hostage negotiator though. And the book reads like it. “The Like Switch” is really interesting and good at explaining why people behave the way they do, but where Voss’ is book is directive, step one do this, step two do that, Schafer’s is mostly theory. If you want a scientific dive into how to win friends and influence people, “The Like Switch” is a good book to read. Another honorable mention is “Principles” by Ray Dalio. So Dalio’s premise that life management, economics and investing can all be systemized into rules and understood like machines, that’s a pretty bold premise. I was excited to read it, but “Principles” mostly just created book guilt for me. I have a lot of friends who love the book, but I really couldn’t get into it, so it sits in my Audible account unfinished. It still gets honorable mention status because I have a feeling it would be great if I went back to it and listened to it three or four more times.

Chris: 17:10 – The next honorable mention book is “This I Know” by Terry O’Reilly. The counter to Dalio’s book is “This I Know.” Dalio has deep insights and draws conclusions based on profound experience, but Terry O’Reilly tells amazing stories. His book is really hard to put down, and while his insights might not be deed, he actually tries to present opposing viewpoints instead of saying, do this one thing. I’m a huge Terry O’Reilly fan. You can learn more from his delivery than from the content of most books on this list. Another honorable mention is “Building a StoryBrand” by Donald Miller. A marketer’s education should start with this book, but it shouldn’t end there. Most of us try to be too artsy. We make complicated websites that actually stop people from booking or signing up. We try to be different at the expense of being clear. Miller’s book is the antidote. It’s well written and clear.

Chris: 18:02 – Consider this like the CrossFit Level 1 course. It’s enough to get you out on the floor, and Miller’s storytelling makes the message stick, but he doesn’t provide conversion data to back up his claims. If you don’t read any other marketing book this year, read this one, but I hope you read more than one. The next honorable mention is “Simple Numbers” by Greg Crabtree. Now Craptree is like a celebrity accountant, a status that’s pretty hard to achieve. His book makes accounting as clear as it can be. I was thrilled to find a higher level accounting method that dovetails perfectly with the 4/9ths and Profit First models that we recommend at Two-Brain. And after reading the book, I signed up for his service. His firm now provides the CFO for my company. They build dashboards that help me figure out where to spend and where to save and they bring a lot of clarity to my rapidly expanding business.

Chris: 18:56 – The next honorable mention is “Vivid Vision” by Cameron Herold. Now I started listening to this book while riding my bike, but after an hour I realized that I should have been sitting in front of a laptop because the book is so directive that you could listen to a chapter, press pause, clearly understand the work to do and do it and then listen to the next chapter and so on. Several of the mentors at Two-Brain recommend this book and our CPO is in Harold’s mentoring group, highly recommended for entrepreneurs at tinker level and above. Now here are the books that I didn’t really like but you might, and this is a short list because I think that most books have something really valuable in them. First is “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins. Nassim Taleb once wrote that most books would have made a great article, and Naval Ravikant followed that with most articles would make a good tweet. Like many business books, “Can’t Hurt Me” started with a good premise and then filled hundreds of pages with examples. The whole book can be summed up with a hashtag HTFU or harden the F up. Another one that I didn’t really like but you might is “The Zappos Experience” by Joseph A. Michelli. The Zappos story was a revolutionary one in 2005. An online retailer whose clients were raving fans. But Zappos leaders claim that their real strength is in creating culture in their team. In fact, culture, which is like the biggest buzzword of 2019, probably originated with Zappos. There was nothing really new in the book, but I’m biased. The team of mentors at Two-Brain gets to work on interesting problems all day long. They’re emotionally invested in their work. Zappos staff sells shoes. They need workplace engagement tricks and culture boosters to keep them around and I don’t. If you run a software company or an online shoe store, you might need to artificially culture into your workplace.

Chris: 20:50 – But if you run a service business, your culture is determined by your care for your clients and your just cause. Here’s some other recommendations. “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” by Chris Cooper. I know that guy. Yeah, I wrote this one after publishing “Two-Brain Business” in 2012, I’ve spent thousands of hours on the phone with other gym owners, collected libraries full of data and seeing new ideas rise and old ideas fall. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in mentorship, read hundreds of books and spent thousands of hours online talking to others in the industry. There’s a lot of knowledge out there. Frankly, there are too many ideas. The most common problem for entrepreneurs is actually overwhelm. We can’t act on everything, so we get paralyzed. I wrote “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” to give you the distillate. When you boil it all down, these are the habits, tactics, and directives that you’re left with and because not everyone needs everything at the same time.

Chris: 21:51 – I broke the entrepreneurial journey into four phases. This book is a filter for the best strategies that we’ve actually proven to work at each of the four phases, founder, farmer, tinker and thief. Another mention is “Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become” by Michael Schrage. Now his premise is to start with ideal customer outcomes and work backwards. How will your customers be transformed by your service? What will they look like after they’ve used your service successfully? This is a useful idea for the service industry and I think it could help gym owners by painting an aspirational avatar, like here’s what a client should look like. After three years at my gym, a coach could work backwards to set up an ideal client journey, but those are my ideas, not Schrage’s. His book sticks to high-level concepts and the usual examples like Google, Apple, Starbucks, etc.

Chris: 22:48 – “Competing Against Luck” by Clayton Christensen is another, you know, highly recommended read when you have time. My mentor, Todd Herman, told me that I needed to listen to Christensen. Now, Clay Christenen is a pretty dry speaker, so his YouTube videos aren’t really popular, but his ideas are. Others talk about him in their own more engaging videos. The best epiphany I got from Mike Michalowicz’s “Pumpkin Plan,” which is now required reading for all Two-Brain clients, is that I should ask my best clients what they want instead of trying to guess. Christensen’s message compounds on that concept. We should all ask ourselves, what job is this service being hired to do? Christensen’s jobs to be done idea is a huge game changer, but his explanations are so complex that other authors will probably simplify his ideas and make way more money on them. Another mention is “Abundance” by Peter Diamandis, and I’m a fan of Diamandis and this book is a good big-picture read. It reminds me of “Guns, Germs and Steel” but with a future focus perspective instead of an historical one.

Chris: 23:57 – Another is “Contagious” by Jonah Berger. Now, I wrote that “The Like Switch” was the science behind “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” “Contagious” is like that for the book “Made to Stick.” But Berger’s book is entertaining with examples from music and pop culture. Earworms, memes and viral videos are all examined in the book. It’s more academic, instead of being directive like you’re never told do exactly this one thing right now, but it’s still a good lens through which to view your own content. Also mentioned “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek. I was really debating whether to put this on the top 11 or not. I had the book on preorder for nine months before it was published and it was actually a big surprise when I finally got it in the mail. I’m not always a fan of Sinek’s work. His theory sound good, like “Leaders Eat Last,” but often lack in-the-trenches proof.

Chris: 24:50 – So when this book started out really strong, I was thrilled. I actually wrote about playing the infinite game in the fitness business because I was very inspired by the first few chapters. Unfortunately, the book took a dip in the middle and spent several hours berating CEOs for focusing on shareholder profit instead of employee happiness. Now everyone agrees that employee happiness is important, but Sinek makes a logical leap over and over that happy employees will automatically create happier customers, which will automatically create more profit. As gym owners know, that’s a deadly false belief. And a lot of us were trapped into thinking that, which is maybe why I’m over-sensitive to making those logical leaps. So luckily I found myself with a long bike ride and nothing else to read. So I finished the last hour of the book, and I’m glad I did. Sinek comes on strong again at the end, but you know, you can probably skip the middle chapters.

Chris: 25:45 – Another book I read this year was “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle. So culture is the top buzzword of 2019. As more and more people work remotely or sell a product online, we lose our sense of cause. In my description of the Zappos book above, I said that people in the service industry probably don’t need tips and tricks in the workplace because care for the client and a just cause is probably enough. Coyle lists many strategies for building culture that he pulled from the Navy SEALs and pro sports teams. But what’s missing is the reason people signed up for those teams in the first place. That reason is their just cause. They believed in a mission higher than themselves or you know, maybe fame and fortune. The effect of cause is huge and outweighs working conditions, boredom and the lure of incrementally better benefits or wages. When you give up a high-paying job to help people get healthy, you probably don’t need drinking games or cereal in the boardroom or you know, foosball tables to you engaged if you do need those things, then “The Culture Code” has some great examples. Finally, the last book that I want to talk about here is “Resilience” by Eric Greitens. Every summer I roll up my garage door, I pull up my barbell and I listen to “Resilience.” Greitens is a storyteller. He’s a real hero. He could’ve taken an academic path, but after volunteering in refugee camps, he realized that some situations require force to save people. And that was a huge epiphany for me. His stories about boxing as a poor kid, turning down teaching jobs to volunteer in war-torn areas and ultimately leading a SEAL team are more than inspirational. They give perspective on your life and your place in the world. So what do you think of these lists? Do you agree with the summaries or do you have something to add about one of the books above? Did I miss one? Did you read something that changed your life or your business in 2019? Please leave a comment below and let us know what we should read next.

Andrew: 27:46 – Thank you for listening Two-Brain Radio. Don’t forget to subscribe and leave us a rating and review. Do you want to add $5,000 in monthly revenue to your gym? A mentor can show you how. Book a free call with a mentor today at twobrainbusiness.com.

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