In its purest form, entrepreneurship is about having an idea, envisioning how that idea will come to life and ultimately seeing that vision through to some sort of end goal. The thing that makes entrepreneurs and innovators so utterly heroic is their ability to constantly think outside the proverbial box in order to solve problems.
It’s not just their ability to manage people, balance a spreadsheet or attract talent that makes someone an effective entrepreneur. Rather, it’s their sheer force of will to drive something forward.
But too often, in the throes of building a company, we get stuck in the weeds attempting to plow through what seems like an endless number of tasks. Sometimes, it’s important to take a step back and gain some perspective about why we do what we do -- and how we can do it even better.
One of the best ways to do this, I’ve found, is to read. Not a listicle (I may be stomping on my own foot here?!), not a New York Times op-ed, not a research paper -- but a full-blown book about an interesting topic that completely rearranges my brain.
As entrepreneurs, we should continuously challenge ourselves to think critically about how to solve problems while simultaneously understanding how to best serve our customers. After all, without the customer, there is no business.
Enjoy these recommendations and the incredible brain jolts they create.
1. How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life by Russ Roberts
Synopsis: Who knew that the “father of modern economics,” Adam Smith, who is the author of Wealth of Nations and shaped most (if not all) of our economic system, prefaced his greatest work with the lesser-known classic, The Theory of Moral Sentiments? Stanford University research fellow and host of podcast EconTalk, Russ Roberts, elegantly and steadfastly highlights the key components of Moral Sentiments, which seems to explain the fundamentals of human nature and how to truly find happiness. It’s a tall order to deconstruct Smith’s genius, but Roberts does it masterfully.
Why you should read this book: It will force you to ask yourself, then reflect on the following question: “Am I seeking the double-headed monster of fame and power, or am I motivated by wisdom and virtue in my entrepreneurial endeavors?” This is an important question and not one to be taken lightly if you are going to find fulfillment in your work. Oh, and he also talks about what it means to be lovely. Absolute brilliance.
2. Walk To Beautiful by Jimmy Wayne
Synopsis: This New York Times bestseller is likely to keep you turning the pages well past your bedtime. It begins with the harrowing early-life story of Jimmy Wayne (Barber), who spent his childhood in and out of foster care, often abandoned and homeless, then ultimately tells a tale of triumph as he rises to country music stardom and ultimately dedicates his life to raising awareness for deficits within the foster-care system. Wayne is a dynamic storyteller and shining example of the power of intention. P.S. -- I can’t wait to see this made into a movie starring Mark Wahlberg!
Why you should read this book: Need inspiration? Feeling stuck? You’ll get over yourself pretty quickly in terms of your perceived roadblocks as an entrepreneur when you read this book. His personal story of ingenuity, hard work, gumption and giving back will make you want to get to it already and stop your complainin’.
3. Enough: True Measures of Money, Business and Life by John C. Bogle
Synopsis: John C. Bogle created Vanguard in 1974 and is known as one of the four investment giants of the 20th century. So when someone who has likely created and generated more wealth than we could shake a stick at explores life lessons regarding commerce and society, and how we individually play a part, we should probably listen up. Not only does he argue that we have built a society of too much complexity, but he also reveals his true thoughts about management versus leadership in business. Hint: We need more well-led organizations.
Why you should read this book: Enough will challenge your thinking about how you build a transactional, commerce-focused business. It will likely re-calibrate your ideas about focusing on commitment rather than things. I dare you to go here.
4. Modern Manners by Dorthea Johnson and Liv Tyler
Synopsis: While exaggerated versions of the “Silicon Valley entrepreneur,” complete with his hoodie and sneakers, seem to plague mainstream media, the truth is that if you are planning on launching and running a successful business, you are best served to keep certain things buttoned up. While social media and mobile phones may have made things seem casual, I can assure you that when good manners and professional rules of engagement go out the window, so go your customers -- and possibly even your financing.
Why you should read this book: This is a great refresher on everything from how to introduce people in the correct order to appropriate body postures to avoiding common communication faux pas in our digital age. I definitely learned a thing or 10, and needless to say, I feel more than equipped to introduce the POTUS to the CEO of my company without fear of embarrassment.
5. The Good Life by Michael Bishop
Synopsis: The study of well-being has been around for centuries, but in recent years -- with the explosion of yoga, organic food and the like coupled with a nearly impossible influx of information we are forced to digest on the daily -- we would be best served to re-imagine the importance and necessity of the topic. Without giving too much away, Bishop successfully outlines and defends his network theory of well-being which couldn’t be more relevant given our culture’s focus on connectivity, both online and offline.
Why you should read it: Full disclosure, I am particularly biased in terms of the efficacy of this book, because it combines the two disciplines I’ve studied most: philosophy and psychology. Having said that, as entrepreneurs and innovators we often compartmentalize various aspects of our lives in order to “survive” the crushing weight of starting and building companies. The Good Life will get you thinking about well-being inclusively, which is yet another significant paradigm shift of our age.
During this journey of entrepreneurship, with our heads buried in our work and often balancing a million things just to keep the lights on, it’s a wise decision to make sure we are still thinking about things differently and not getting stuck on ideas that may have gotten stale along the way.