What a year 2016’s been. It was a milestone for me but who’d have thought of the millstone chaff it would globally leave behind? And with so many people it seems begging for 2017, now’s the time for a dose of encouragement.

There’s no better way to see the old year out and the new year in than with a book or two that motivates and a touch of music to push it along.

So like the past couple of years, here are some suggestions I’ve stumbled on in 2016 that might just be the thing for your staff, your teammates, your loved ones or—especially you.

They range $11-$23 Australian Dollars (much cheaper in the US). They’re great for a Kris Kringle or a holiday gift. In my opinion, relaxing with any one will offer a lifetime’s companion for their theme is purely: “Inspiration”.

Very Good Lives—by JK Rowling

Beginning with the best we find a woman whom, as most know, went from wannabe author to creative Midas.

x16-rowlingJo Rowling of course, is the writer of the Harry Potter franchise and its spin-offs, stage and screen, the latter most recently with “Fantastic Beasts” a new movie sequence in the making.

In 2008, Harvard University invited Jo to deliver its commencement speech, an honour bestowed on life’s crème de la crème.

Beyond its audience that day millions have since witnessed it. But it was only in September this year that I crossed its path while researching her. And it’s a message I’ve treasured since.

Jo and me are from the same generation. Meaning we usually know what we’re talking about in our saner moments. And for her, this was definitely one. Harvard University offers this speech on its video channel—do watch it. They’ve placed its complete text online too. But last year, the publishing firm Little, Brown and Company in conjunction with Jo’s children’s charity, Lumos, decided to render it in keepsake form.

What we now have is a slim, beautifully illustrated, 80-page hardcover edition that can be read over and over; tucked away and pulled out till it becomes dog-eared and dilapidated.

Her message is more than good. It’s about conquering fear and having courage:

I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And … I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

Within her pages is something for all seeking motivation; for teenagers and twenty-somethings confused about the challenges of the world they’ll face; for anyone who simply wants to believe in the virtues of their own abilities and how one’s own ideas—and one’s own destinies are in our hands.

Shorter than the 80s classic “The One Minute Manager”, to me “Very Good Lives” is the essence of superb business and lifestyle thinking. It’s a quick read, worth its price.

Shut Your Monkey—by Danny Gregory

The by-line for this book is, “How to control your inner critic and get more done”.

Well, who wouldn’t want that?x16-monkey

Danny Gregory is a Madman as the advertising profession appears to us courtesy of cable TV. He’s also a self-taught art teacher and one of the sincerest people I’ve discovered online.

He’s the author of numerous books, together as founder of an online art academy for adults and kids. Most famously, he’s known for his lavishly self-illustrated text “Art Before Breakfast” in which he claims people like me with ten thumbs can draw and paint too. And you know what, I’ve tried it and he’s not far off the mark. Now, I just need to commit.

But in 2016, he turned his attention to something core to creativity, central to business, essential to every activity in the world. It’s that voice at the back of our heads telling us how much we suck.

He calls it “The Monkey” and he sets out his book’s goal:

The voice in your head is not evil, but it does evil. It’s powerful, but its power can be broken.

What follows is a heavily illustrated, 160-page journey in motivation. This is indeed the book I’d buy every employee of mine or use as a monthly performance prize: let alone one I’d keep readily available at home for all to access. I do.

It’s a book that can be read in an uninterrupted hour or two and I recommend minimising breaks first time around as its ideas are profound. Its whole is an exercise in self-exploration.

It asks: What is this monkey? What does it look like to you? Where did it come from? What does it say? What does it mean? Hey, if I have a monkey doesn’t that mean everyone else I’m talking to has one nagging inside them while I’m with them? (Answer: Yes.) And what is the impact of that on me?

It draws on psychological techniques such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy. Danny liaised with several business, medical and creative experts putting it together. It cements itself in common sense. I just like this book so much.

And I tell you, if anyone denies they’ve a monkey (whether like mine, dressed as a dude out of Men in Black)—they’re lying and likely floundering. It’s the biggest squasher of ideas, of productivity and dreams. It can shut people down completely.

In “Shut Your Monkey”, Danny Gregory does it better than fellow adman and author, Paul Arden, and fellow artist, Austin Kleon. Both these names have best sellers on the market—and are worth a look—but Danny Gregory’s take on the issue is sublime. He just does it better, more coherently, more completely and with a bigger dose of fun.

Self Talk—by Olivia Bartley aka Olympia (Music)

Olivia Bartley or “Olympia” as her stage name goes, is an Australian Indie songwriter, multi-faceted musician and thinker who just missed out winning ARIA’s 2016 Breakthrough Artist award last week.

x16-olympia-wholeIf you ask me, she’s better than the group that won. Her craft simply exudes a purity and technique I haven’t encountered in a long while.

How I came across “Self Talk” was a fluke. I merely needed some aural inspiration one day and unexpectedly found the album on iTunes. What it did for me, what it’s meant to me, I’ve since written about in the article “Olivia Bartley’s Self Talk Stole My Heart in Thirty Seconds”, found right here.

Simply put, “Self Talk” is as mainstream as Indie gets, with a robust 11-track list that offers exceptional value.

I’ve rarely found an album whose first track is radio-ready. “Honey” is. And track 2, “Smoke Signals”, was the song that hooked me with its preview.

Olympia is blessedly outside the pack. She’s just finished her first national tour, she’s an Aussie star waiting for fame and I don’t think her iTunes albums will sell at AUD $11 in the future. “Self Talk” is great listening waiting your click.

*****

Well there you have it.x16-gifts

Whether it’s a woman who narrates her story from poverty to success, a guy who admits his continual personal struggle with self-doubt despite a track record of achievement; or a musician who simply says “to hell” with the Beyoncé bounce as she charts her own sounds to her own visions in an industry that rewards toeing the line—this is a collection of end of year gifts with inspiration at their heart.

And that’s what I hope they’ll give to your recipients, your family, friends and more so, to you.

Thanks for reading and following along with me this year. It’s been a real pleasure.

– Adam.


Rowling, JK. 2015. Very Good Lives. Little, Brown and Company, London.
Gregory, D. 2016. Shut your Monkey. HOW Books, Cincinnati.
Olympia. 2016. Self Talk. Universal Music Australia, via iTunes, CD, vinyl and MP3.


© 2016 Adam Parker. You’ve just read a Parkerpinion.
Picture credits: Author’s photos and collection.