My Top 10 Books and the Little Habits That Make Big Things Happen

Dale Wills

Last Updated: March 5, 2024

I often find myself reflecting on the myriad ways knowledge has shaped my journey. The act of reading, while not an all-consuming love affair for me, has been a consistent source of this knowledge—a nourishing intellectual diet that has fundamentally influenced both my personal development and professional ethos.

The metaphorical comparison of reading to eating—where one might not recall the specifics of a meal but can appreciate its nourishing value—aptly describes my relationship with books. It is this subtle yet cumulative impact that draws me back to the written word time and again.

With an annual reading range between 50 to 60 books, selecting just ten favorites from a list that spans more than 500+ titles can be somewhat of a Herculean task. These books have become part of who I am, and through the transitive property of matter, interwoven into the fabric of Centra’s philosophy and approach. 

In this carefully curated list, you will not find religious texts; those are held in a separate, sacred space within my heart. Instead, what unfolds is an eclectic mix that traverses genres and themes—from history to self-improvement, from tales of redemption to strategies for business growth.

It is important to note that these selections are snapshots in time. The resonance of each book shifts with life's ebb and flow—what speaks volumes today may whisper tomorrow. But for now, these titles stand out as beacons that have guided me through various stages of life and leadership.

Remember that each entry on my top ten list is more than just a book—it is a conversation with time itself, offering lessons that extend far beyond their pages into every corner of Centra Companies. This is more than just a list of titles to check out; it's a glimpse into our world. A world where literature lays down roots for innovation and inspires actions that build communities both literally and metaphorically.

“Who Not How” and “10x Is Easier Than 2x”

Co-authored by Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy.

It is not every day one can say their strategic insights come from friends who are authors themselves. But we are fortunate enough to say just that about two particular books: "Who Not How" and "10X Is Easier Than 2X," co-authored by Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy.

We've adopted the mindset from "Who Not How" that success is often about finding the right people rather than figuring out everything by ourselves. This idea has been revolutionary for us—helping us to focus more on leveraging relationships rather than being bogged down by solitary struggles.

This concept shifts our thinking from asking how we are going to accomplish tasks to identifying who will help us achieve our goals. Growing up, I was always asked how I would do things, but this book suggests focusing on who can assist you instead. For example, rather than figuring out how I am going to develop a site alone, it is about finding the best engineers or excavators who can contribute their expertise.

This philosophy is not limited to business—it extends to personal aspects of life too. It is about leveraging relationships and teamwork over individual struggle.

"10X Is Easier Than 2X" taught us the power of setting ambitious goals which require innovative thinking rather than settling for incremental improvements. This principle has encouraged us to think big, laying down challenges that seem insurmountable but lead us towards breakthroughs when tackled with focus and determination.

The authors also posit the idea that aiming for tenfold growth is actually more straightforward than merely doubling because it narrows down your options and requires more focused effort. If you want minor improvements like losing 5 more pounds or adding another dollar to your revenue, there are countless ways you could achieve these goals.

However, when the goal is much larger—say losing 100 pounds or multiplying your revenue ten times—you are forced to be innovative and disciplined.

Both books encourage thinking big but also strategically enlisting the right support system—be it professional partnerships or personal networks—to make those big dreams a reality. We at Centra embrace these principles wholeheartedly as we continue to grow our business and impact lives positively through our work.

Watch as Dale Wills, Owner & Founder, Centra Capital Partners, discusses what he likes about 'Who not How' and '10x is easier than 2x' in this short video.


Authored by Gino Wickman

I also draw inspiration from "Traction" by Gino Wickman. The author was deeply influenced by Dan Sullivan’s coaching and his book complements the aforementioned titles well. It provides practical methods for structuring a business—from effective organizational charts and core values to productive meetings and setting strategic long-term goals. This book offers simple yet powerful tools to keep a business focused and on track.

Wickman introduces a system where you envision your company ten years in the future and work backward to establish three-year, one-year, and three-month goals. This creates a roadmap for success with a quarterly cadence, ensuring consistent progress without losing momentum—a principle we've adopted at Centra.

Watch as Dale Wills, Owner & Founder, Centra Capital Partners, discusses what he likes about 'Traction' in this short video.

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Les Misérables

Authored by Victor Hugo

Moving away from strictly business-focused literature, "Les Misérables" has also been influential in shaping our philosophy at Centra. The story's life lessons are profound—demonstrating how compassion and kindness can lead to transformational change in people's lives. Jean Valjean’s journey reminds us of the power of second chances and the importance of serving others.

Through his actions after receiving unexpected mercy from the priest, Valjean exemplifies how one person can make an immense difference through service and love. His character inspires us at Centra to not only pursue excellence in our work but also strive to make meaningful contributions that positively affect others' lives.

Jean Valjean's story in "Les Misérables" is a powerful testament to the human spirit's ability to overcome adversity and change lives through different means. It resonates with us at Centra because it exemplifies the multifaceted approach one can take to make a positive impact. Sometimes, as Valjean did, it is about the individual—caring for one person at a time. Other times, it’s through creating a business that provides meaningful employment or serving in a civic role like being the mayor of a town.

Valjean did not allow his life circumstances to define him or ruin his future. Instead, he learned from his past, grew from it, and used his experiences to benefit others. This mirrors our philosophy at Centra; we believe in not letting setbacks deter us but instead using them as stepping stones to better ourselves and help those around us.

Watch as Dale Wills, Owner & Founder, Centra Capital Partners, discusses what he likes about 'Les Miserables' in this short video.

The Power of Positive Thinking

Authored by Norman Vincent Peale

Another cornerstone principle that guides us is the power of positive thinking. This was beautifully articulated in the classic book by Norman Vincent Peale, "The Power of Positive Thinking." It teaches us about the incredible power of our minds and how our thoughts can shape our reality. The simple yet profound truth that 'if you think you can or you think you can't, you're right' underlines everything we do at Centra.

We have learned that whether in business or personal life, we find what we are looking for. If we look for goodness and opportunity, that is what we will find; if we focus on negatives and obstacles, they will dominate our perspective. Our mindset has the power to change not only our own trajectory but also influence those around us.

Watch as Dale Wills, Owner & Founder, Centra Capital Partners, discusses what he likes about 'The Power of Positive Thinking' in this short video.

The Road Less Stupid

Authored by Keith Cunningham

Keith Cunningham’s book "The Road Less Stupid" is yet another work that has made an indelible mark on us. Cunningham offers basic business principles distilled from years of experience—both successes and failures—that are invaluable for any entrepreneur or business leader.

One particular practice from this book that has been transformative for me is ‘Thinking Time.’ It involves asking quality questions and allowing your mind the space to answer them without judgment. Writing down every idea without self-censorship leads to both silly ideas and potential gems; it is a process of discovery where you allow yourself to think freely and creatively.

Cunningham emphasizes that thinking time applies differently depending on one’s personal circumstances or business context. He encourages readers to take these principles and ponder how they might apply uniquely in their own lives—hence his catchphrase: "Go think—you’ll thank me later."

At Centra, no question is considered stupid because every query leads us closer to innovation and growth. We've embraced these lessons wholeheartedly as they align perfectly with our ethos: continuous improvement through thoughtful questioning and positive action.

Keith Cunningham's approach to asking the right questions, as discussed in "The Road Less Stupid," has been a game-changer for us. He humorously acknowledges that there indeed are stupid questions, but more importantly, he emphasizes the significance of asking quality questions that lead to quality answers. This aligns with our belief that the questions we pose can either propel us forward or keep us stagnant.

In life and business, it's not just about finding answers but about asking the right kind of questions that will open up avenues for improvement and growth. We have embraced this concept wholeheartedly because we understand that by framing our inquiries effectively, we are setting ourselves up for better outcomes.

Watch as Dale Wills, Owner & Founder, Centra Capital Partners, discusses what he likes about 'The Road Less Stupid' in this short video.

What's In It For Them

Authored by Joe Polish

Continuing with this theme of personal development and impact on others is Joe Polish's book "What's In It For Them." Joe exemplifies the principle of adding value to other people's lives without expecting anything in return. This perspective shifts focus from self-gain to altruism and has proven to be incredibly fulfilling.

This idea resonates deeply with me personally, and of course, the team here at Centra. We strive to add value wherever possible—be it through our services or interactions with clients and community members. We have found that when you enrich others' lives, the rewards naturally follow—not as the primary goal but as a beneficial byproduct of doing good work.

Joe Polish’s dedication to service is evident through his various ventures like Genius Network and Genius Recovery. They serve as excellent examples of how focusing on what you can do for others lays a solid foundation for both personal joy and professional success.

Watch as Dale Wills, Owner & Founder, Centra Capital Partners, discusses what he likes about 'What's in it for Them' in this short video.

Long Walk to Freedom

Authored by Fmr. South African President Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela's autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom" presents another profound lesson in leadership and forgiveness. His ability to seek reconciliation rather than retribution after his release from prison speaks volumes about his character. Like Mandela, we aim to approach challenges with compassion and strive for unity rather than division.

His life story inspires us at Centra to look beyond our circumstances and focus on how we can contribute positively, regardless of where we find ourselves. It is about making the best of every situation and having the heart and capacity for compassion—values that are integral to our company culture.

Watch as Dale Wills, Owner & Founder, Centra Capital Partners, discusses what he likes about 'Long Walk to Freedom' in this short video.


Authored by Larry Miller

Lastly, the biography "Driven," which details Larry Miller's life journey from a parts delivery boy to a billionaire business mogul, reinforces the belief that integrity and hard work pave the road to success. At Centra, we appreciate stories like Miller’s as they remind us that success is achievable through perseverance, intelligence, dedication, and by lifting others as we climb.

Watch as Dale Wills, Owner & Founder, Centra Capital Partners, discusses what he likes about 'Driven' in this short video.

How I Apply the Principles I Learn

In wrapping up this exploration of my top book selections, I find myself reflecting on how I have applied the principles learned from these pages to my life and work. The journey with books has been one of self-discovery and, at times, a battle between the pursuit of perfection and the acceptance of progress.

I used to be quite harsh on myself, determined to apply every new concept rigorously, to be a 'finisher' in all things—especially with books. But over time, I've realized that this relentless quest for perfection was an unattainable and unnecessary pressure. It's not about reaching some pinnacle of flawlessness but about embracing the journey towards improvement.

This shift in perspective has profoundly changed my approach to reading and learning. No longer do I force myself through a book that doesn't resonate; if it doesn't speak to me after a couple of chapters, I now comfortably set it aside. Sometimes, upon revisiting these abandoned reads at another time or place in life, they reveal new insights that suddenly become relevant and engaging.

The Power of Habit is one such book that underscores the importance of small changes—a reminder that even minor habits can lead to significant transformations. This concept parallels my evolving relationship with books: each small piece of wisdom contributes incrementally to my growth as an individual and as a leader at Centra Companies.

Remember that it is okay not to enforce every principle you encounter. Give yourself grace and room for flexibility in your personal development journey. Strive for progress rather than perfection. If a single idea or principle from a book makes you just a little bit better than you were before, then it has served its purpose beautifully.

Embrace this gentle evolution—where knowledge is not measured by how much we retain or how many books we complete but by how we allow what we read to subtly shape our thoughts and actions over time. Let us carry forward the knowledge that every page turned is an opportunity for growth, no matter how small—and that is more than enough.