In a world of fake news and awful television I take a lot of solace in reading books. I don’t read solely for pleasure — I want the books I read to teach me, challenge me or provoke me in some way.
One of the questions that I ask myself is “If I was at the absolute top of my game, what books would I know about, have read and understood?”. That doesn’t just apply to work, of course but also to life in general.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Letters from a Stoic, Seneca. This recommendation has to come first. This particular translation is great. It’s also a more condensed version which is easier to read (and fits in your pocket!). When I first heard about the Stoics, it wasn’t something I felt compelled to read. In fact, looking at the Penguin classic covers (I’m sad to say!) even made me recoil in pain. Years ago I even caught myself saying that I’m not interested in history before. All that changed when I discovered Stoicism. It’s hard to glean insight from a lot of historical works, but that is not the case for Stoicism. A very practical philosophy, some even call it an operating system. My favourite so far was Seneca’s From A Stoic. These are short passages with simple to read stories. Second has been Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. My copy of both of these books has their spine bent, pages curled and notes written all over them.
Animal Farm, George Orwell – When I first opened this book I read it cover to cover. Not a particularly great feat, it is a short book after all. For me, the book is a reminder of corruption and how history always repeats itself. It challenges our armchair critic that says “given the power I would never do that”. The final page still sends shivers down my spine.
The Lean Startup, Eric Ries – The book isn’t perfect, but there’s a reason it blew up silicon valley. There is one idea inside it that resonated with entrepreneurs around the world. Focus on value and deliver only what matters. This means being careful about our assumptions. Our beliefs are often wrong. The best way to understand our own thinking is to test our ideas.
Deep Work, Cal Newport – I tossed around the idea of putting this book up on a list. I like Cal’s work but his writing isn’t a work of art. After debating it mentally for a while I decided to put the book on here. Why? Because it has a very powerful message. That we only do good work when we set aside serious contiguous periods of time to focus on what we’re doing. The book has influenced completely the way I work. I now see my days as quite black and white. Either working completely, or not working at all. No sitting at the desk with a sandwich in one hand. By focusing on having blocked time in my schedule I’ve found that I get more done, but also have more time to relax, too. If you like Cal’s style it’s worth checking out So Good They Can’t Ignore You, too.
The Perennial Seller, Ryan Holiday – Author Robert Greene ends his chapters with a reversal. It’s a counter-argument. The “what if this is all wrong” paragraph to counter his previous made point. To me, the Perennial Seller is the Lean Startup’s reversal. Ryan does quote Ries in the book, in saying that building to MVP is a great thing. And that building lean makes sense. Yet, Ryan’s main argument is for making work that lasts. Work that is perennial. It’s delivered in Ryan’s style, brash and opinionated. I love it. This might be the push you need to stop cutting corners, hunker down and do the work.
Sprint – How To Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, Jake Knapp – This is not a book to improve your character or guide you on how to live. It’s a very practical book. Sprint is a very prescriptive and detailed method for running a “design sprint”. A 5 day, intensive set of sessions to be able to create designs to test a hypothesis. Sprint’s full of great facilitation techniques and ideas that are ripe for bastardising. I’m a big post-it fan, and it shows you some great ways to leverage post-it’s for better discussion. It’s given me some great inspiration for different sessions. Mandatory reading for anyone who creates products of any kind. Also check out the write up I did of our design sprint for Splitoo.
Tribes, Seth Godin – I love Godin’s work. Godin is a strong advocate for empathy, compassion and creativity in the workplace (and in life). These values Godin believes we forgot and undervalued. I agree. In Tribes, Seth puts forward a case that everyone has a unique perspective. That we all have something to say and that we owe it to the world to say it. This book kicked me so far up the ass and forced me out of my shell and onto the internet. It made me question what it is that drives me and what my message is. Then, when you find that you can go about making it happen. Through making connections and having impassioned conversations.
Buddhist Boot Camp, Timber Hawkeye – I’m not a buddhist. Nor a religious person in general. But this book, and it’s (somewhat of a) philosophy makes sense. If you like the morality side of religion, but don’t like the idea of ‘the man’. This book is for you. Timber’s take on life is pragmatic and common sense. And that’s what this book is, Timbers simple and pragmatic way of viewing life. This book is one of the few that I keep out and I re-read it as often as I can. It keeps you grounded and blends well with Stoic ideas as well. It’s not either/or. The amazon reviews speak for themselves.
Key Person Of Influence, Daniel Priestley – This is by far my most gifted book. It’s become my blueprint for my career (and life) strategy. I’ve been following it ever since I read it. I don’t agree with everything Daniel says. I think his messages about releasing a book in such a short frame of time is optimistic at most, and somewhat overzealous. However the lessons in this book, and specifically the steps that Priestley outlines are invaluable. A must read. The earlier in your life/career the better.
The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene – This can’t be read in one sitting. You need this book in hard copy. And you need it for life. Write on it, curl the corners over. Different laws will apply at different times. But this is a seriously important book to have with you. I don’t know if any other better playbook exists for navigating politics and people. There’s a great quote that I’ve unfortunately lost that went along the lines of “If you want to change the world, start with where it is, not where you want it to be”. I think this book is exactly that. Even if you hate politics, even if you hate the way people operate. We need to start with where we are, to move to where you want to be, politics and all. I would also strongly recommend reading Mastery.