Last week, I wrote about starting fires.
I believe that a great idea is a spark...
And that a spark can turn into a great fire that can change our lives, as long as we bring the resources and hustle necessary to make that happen.
How then do we expose ourselves to great ideas?
The short answer:
Books are the perfect harbinger for ideas:
On that note, I want to share a few books with you that have personally sparked positive change in my own life.
These books are specifically related to business, entrepreneurship, and / or startups in some way, shape, or form, but I think many of the lessons from these books extend far beyond that subject matter.
My hope is that if even one of these books creates a spark for you like they have for me, the world (or at least the people who matter) will be a lot better off.
The book that started it all for me.
I read Poke the Box in 2011 when it was first released. It was figuratively the poke (or better yet: kick) I needed to stop talking about all the ideas I had and start bringing them to life.
You won't find anything "how-to" in this book - instead you'll find about 96 pages of cajoling, prodding, and poking with one call to action:
Start. Today, not tomorrow.
Also, the design of the book, from the cover, to the shape, size, and weight of the book is something special. It's such an easy book to pick up, read, and share, making it truly timeless (it's also one of my biggest motivators for becoming a publisher in the first place, so I owe a lot to this book).
I'm biased here - I had the opportunity to work with Dan to launch this book (his first) to market.
That said, I loved this book from the first read through - it challenged me to reevaluate the business I was building, specifically how I was building it. Was I taking calculated and measurable action rapidly, or hiding behind research, study, and other things that don't actually allow us to validate our work?
The book itself has been a bestseller since launch, sitting next to the biggest names in business / startup nonfiction, including Peter Thiel's Zero to One (another book that made this list) and Eric Ries' The Lean Startup. The fact that the book stands next to these giants speaks for itself.
At a fluff-free 150 pages, you can read it this evening and be launching your business tomorrow.
If you're looking for a nuts-and-bolts approach to business without losing site of the 10,000 foot, strategic vision of it all, check out The Innovator's Dilemma.
This is the first book I read that hammered home the idea that every product or service is actually a "job to be done."
In other words:
Answer these questions and you have your killer app.
Trust me when I say: these questions will change everything about how you approach, build, and sell your product or service.
Full-disclosure: because I'm working with Jeff on his new book launch I got early access to the book itself. After reading it in one sitting, I can say this: The Art of Work is an essential book for every artist, writer, and entrepreneur - and at times, it's a tearjerker (although I was born without tear glands, so I definitely didn't cry).
Jeff has an uncanny ability to approach a subject analytically yet passionately, never losing focus of the big picture (the "why"). In The Art of Work, Jeff gives us a framework for approaching our life's work - what we were meant to do - and does so with enough tough love to get us moving.
Life is too short to do what doesn’t matter, to waste your time on things that don’t amount to much. What we all want is to know our time on earth has meant something." - Jeff Goins, The Art of Work
While The Art of Work won't be officially released until mid March, Jeff is doing something really cool: he's giving away free copies of his book (you just have to pick up the shipping and handling).
So if you're looking for a powerful, easy read (that won't be so easy to forget), grab it while it's hot:
*limited time only
This book taught me to how to turn a great idea into an actionable business model, one that reduces waste (of time and money), uncertainty (the framework will help you figure out what you don't know), and fear (because your sole focus becomes validation).
I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Running Lean has dramatically improved my understanding of the functions and processes behind a startup and has led directly to the success of the many projects I've launched in the past year (and helped avoid bigger failures of the ones that didn't quite pan out).
This should be required reading for freshmen in high school, along with a corresponding four year track that teaches students how businesses operate, how startups work, and practical, hands-on experimentation to test out the theory in real life.
Sorry for that aside. I just think this book is incredible. I'll get off my high horse now.
Really, this should be four separate recommendations, Nassim Taleb's full incerto:
In Taleb's own words, this 4-volume incerto is:
an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision making when we don’t understand the world, expressed in the form of a personal essay with autobiographical sections, stories, parables, and philosophical, historical, and scientific discussions in nonoverlapping volumes that can be accessed in any order." - Nassim Taleb
Antifragile and Nassim Taleb's corresponding incerto are some of the most valuable books I've ever read in my life. A combination of timeless philosophy, astute mathematics and statistics, and enjoyably opinionated reflection on the modern world, Taleb doesn't pull punches nor does he sell out to industry leaders, many who he unabashedly calls our for being frauds.
A must read if you're starting a new venture as it will help you build an antifragile business (a concept and term you'll grow to love as you explore Taleb's Antifragile).
Not a business book but certainly more than a book exclusively for writers, The War of Art is a rallying cry for great work.
Steven Pressfield is the author of so many bestsellers it's hard to keep track (including my favorite book of all time: Gates of Fire). This book is the culmination of a lifetime of creative work, in the trenches, day after day, struggling to get noticed and sell even a single manuscript (coming close to suicide at least once in the process).
The War of Art is a tough, brutal, uncompromising book.
Yet at its core, The War of Art is hopeful.
It teaches us that we can conquer our inner creative enemy, that we don't have to throw in the towel when things get tough, that there's always a solution if we're eager and disciplined enough to find (or create) it.
Any entrepreneur intending to do something bold in this life, read this book first.
Like many of the books on this list, I wish Crossing the Chasm had been mandatory reading in high school. Not because it's easy - quite the opposite.
It's hard, but it's necessary.
It's hard to understand what makes a great product, how to grow a company beyond early adopters, and what moves an economy at its most fundamental level (believe it or not, there's more to it than supply and demand curves) - hard but necessary if you want to create a business that makes an impact.
If you're interested in how successful companies must evolve to move from early adopters to early majority, I highly recommend Crossing the Chasm.
Assets put money in your pocket. Liabilities take money out of your pocket.
This simple phrase was enough to change the trajectory of my life, peaking my interested in real estate investing, stock investing, options trading, and eventually business, publishing, and teaching.
A short read and for some it will be painfully simplistic, but still highly recommend as a basis for what makes good investing (and good business).
I'm reaching a bit with this book, but found it important enough to share.
Frogs into Princes is not a business book. In fact, it's hard to call it a book at all. It's actually a transcription from a seminar conducted by two psychiatrists and, to my knowledge, is the foundation of what has evolved into Neuro-Linguistic Programming.
From the outside, Frogs into Princes is a book on psychology, but at its core, it teaches us how people respond to triggers. In other words, what makes someone tick - or take action.
For those creative enough, these ideas can be extrapolated into the business world, helping us create products and services - and the marketing and sales copy around the product or service - that make people want to take action (buy our stuff).
Not for easy reading, but highly recommended.
Zero to One is one of the best books on startups I've ever read.
Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, takes on startups, innovation, and what it takes to create the future.
Unlike Running Lean, which provides a practical framework for creating a startup, Zero to One is more conceptual in nature, challenging preconceived notions of startups, or rather: what it takes to create a truly important startup.
Important startups are companies with products or services that move the needle from zero to one.
While The 7 Day Startup challenges us to take action today and launch something fast (which I love), Zero to One challenges us to think big and act even bigger - the perfect compliment to fast action, in my opinion.
The most contrarian thing of all is not to oppose the crowd but to think for yourself.” - Peter Thiel, Zero to One
Now it's your turn:
What books are you reading this year?
Better yet, what books do you recommend the rest of us read this year?
Share below in the comments.