7 Timeless Books for Entrepreneurs, Activists and Future Innovators
The world seems a mess, or at least we perceive it to be. The fact that we’re consuming fake news in our Facebook feeds, Twitter streams and via Google’s news app alongside real journalism suggests that our realities are poorly edited versions of themselves.
To make matters more confusing, many of the issues we currently face as a society are being presented in a way that makes them seem new. But if you’re bookish (or even somewhat of a history buff), it only takes a stroll down memory lane to understand that many of these current issues have actually been around since the dawn of time, as have the suggested solutions to the age-old problems of greed, ignorance, inequality and suppression.
While it may appear as though anxiety levels are at an all-time high and the American government is veering off a proverbial cliff, fear not… There’s still an opportunity to educate yourself properly. Particularly as an entrepreneur, it’s more important than ever to steel your resolve, take a giant step backwards, and say “hold up, not so fast!” Don’t take everything you read online at face value.
Gaining perspective is the most fundamental aspect of progression; and because I’m a huge nerd at heart, I believe reading full-fledged books (with sound arguments and universal wisdom) is one of the best ways to combat the wealth of digital misinformation we’re faced with today.
Give the gift of perspective to yourself and others this holiday season with these gripping must-reads:
1. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield was a struggling writer for nearly two decades before he published The Legend of Bagger Vance, which subsequently became a Hollywood hit starring Will Smith. The War of Art, recommended by my dear friend, singer-songwriter Shell Grove, is a culmination of his career learnings. It’s a swift kick in the pants for any “artist” (entrepreneur, writer, actor, dancer, singer, you name it) who has yet to fulfill his or her purpose.
Pressfield’s “no holds barred” approach to presenting explanations and solutions for the flailing creative process is both brilliant and practical. He offers no excuses for those who fail to realize their higher purpose, but rather finds solace in the fact that, for the artist, half the battle is getting over themselves and out of their own way. Amen to that.
2. Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime by Roger Housden
Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Carl Sandburg once said: “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”
As entrepreneurs, sometimes it’s wise to give pause and listen to the “echoes” in order to gain perspective on what often seem like insurmountable tasks and to-do lists. From a personal standpoint, poetry has a way of making me remember life’s beauty, something mere prose or narrative storytelling cannot do with the same grace.
Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime is one in a series of Housden’s reflections and life lessons from some of the world’s greatest poets. Whether reminding us that we are but specks of dust in a big, fat world or the joy of growing old, this collection of poems is a wonderful break from the usual information and communication of daily life.
3. Small Is Beautiful by E. F. Shumacher
Originally published in 1973, Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered is possibly one of the most relevant titles during what seems like a continued drive towards unbridled capitalism. E.F. Schumacher, whose European roots give him extremely adept, objective insight into the precepts of an American free-market, argues that “most of the conspicuous developments of economics in the last quarter of a century are in the direction of quantification; at the expense of the understanding of qualitative differences.”
As if you need another reason to run to Amazon.com, Schumacher also asserts: “All history -- as well as all current experience -- points to the fact that it is man, not nature, who provides the primary resource: that the key factor of all economic development comes out of the mind of man… In a very real sense, therefore, we can say that education is the most vital of all resources.”
The general argument, as reflected in the title of the book, is that unless we progress with people in mind, as opposed to in spite of them, the world will continue to be a very treacherous place to navigate.
4. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts
Originally written in 1951, Alan W. Watts’ thoughts about how to resolve, once and for all, the twin human epidemic of insecurity and anxiety are particularly relevant as technology forces humanity to move faster and faster. In The Wisdom of Insecurity, A Message for an Age of Anxiety, he asserts:
“The miracles of technology cause us to live in a hectic, clockwork world that does violence to human biology, enabling us to do nothing but pursue the future faster and faster… Specialization in verbiage, classification, and mechanized thinking has put man out of touch with many of the marvelous powers of ‘instinct’ which govern his body. It has, furthermore, made him feel utterly separate from the universe and his own ‘me.’”
Welcome to 1951. And 1986. And 2016. And likely 2045. This book is one for decades to come. While Watts’ thinking is, at times, obscure (and one wonders how to actually apply it to life), it’s insightful nonetheless and will certainly get you thinking outside the bubble.
5. A Perfect Score by Craig and Kathryn Hall
Twenty years ago, husband-and-wife duo Craig and Kathryn Hall launched themselves into the wine business with the purchase of a winery overgrown with weeds. A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st-Century Winery, which is now on several New York Times bestseller lists, is an account of their 20-year journey in building their booming Napa Valley winery.
In the book, they reflect deeply on the evolving nature of the wine industry and how technology and the “tug-of-war between localism and tourism” have changed the business. From how their brands (HALL Wines and WALT Wines) rose to success, winning them two perfect scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, to balancing a passion for the product with entrepreneurial savvy, the two exhibit the qualities of a startup dream team. Get ready to be inspired with a glass of wine in hand.
6. Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article for The Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” which kicked off an international conversation about balancing work, family, personal time, and more. By sharing her struggle in making it all work as the director of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, Slaughter unknowingly opened a Pandora’s box that resonated with women the world over.
Called a “meaningful correction to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In” by many critics, Unfinished Business is Slaughter’s way of compassionately yet astutely offering a framework for how women (and men) can rethink traditional gender roles.
Whether she gets you to think about shifting value from “competition” to “caretaking” or inspires you to re-frame your own thoughts about what it means to be successful, this book is an integral tool in evolving our gender-focused conversations.
7. Raising an Entrepreneur by Margot Machol Bisnow
As a supporter and regular attendee of Summit Series events, I was excited to preview Margot Machol Bisnow’s book, which was inspired by her entrepreneurial children (one of whom is a co-founder of the Summit Series).
Raising an Entrepreneur: 10 Rules for Nurturing Risk Takers, Problem Solvers, and Change Makers is a fun approach to parenting young innovators by sharing the stories of 60 entrepreneurs, including Blake Mycoskie, founder and “Chief Shoe Giver” of TOMS; Kevin Plank, founder, CEO and Chairman of Under Armour; Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad; Michael Chasen, co-founder of Blackboard, and more.
This is not only a must-read for parents who want to raise their children with the courage to be passionate self-starters, but also provides a unique perspective to young entrepreneurs who may not realize how integral mothers can be in setting the stage for future success.
Still space on your shelves? There’s more where that came from: Here are a few more of my favorite books for entrepreneurs.