50 Books That Transformed My Business and My Life – Part 3

By Pankaj Khandelwal
Mar 26th, 2015

This is the Third part of the article  written by JOEL GASCOIGNE CEO of Buffer. Please check all the parts of this series 50 Books That Transformed My Business and My Life.

50 Books That Transformed My Business and My Life

50 Books That Transformed My Business and My Life


21. Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell

Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell

Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – Laozi

Tao Te Ching is one of the most famous texts that exists for philosophical Taoism (along with Zhuangzi which I have also included below). This book follows a different format to other philosophical texts and is very easy to read. It is split up into 81 very brief chapters (some just a few words). It’s one of the philosophy books which for me had a lot of impact in very few words. There are many thought-proviking ideas shared, the most clear of which is the idea of ‘Wu wei’ or non-action:

Less and less do you need to force things, until finally you arrive at non-action. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.

This was a fascinating paradox for me to try to understand, and author Stephen Mitchell explains it very well:

This “nothing” is, in fact, everything. It happens when we trust the intelligence of the universe in the same way that an athlete or a dancer trusts the superior intelligence of the body.

If you enjoy challenging norms and yourself and strive to improve your character, I can highly recommend Tao Te Ching.

22. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

“Habits are powerful, but delicate . They can emerge outside our consciousness, or can be deliberately designed. They often occur without our permission, but can be reshaped by fiddling with their parts. They shape our lives far more than we realize— they are so strong, in fact, that they cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense.” – Charles Duhigg

This book introduced me to the idea of ‘keystone habits’, which are ones where if you focus on them then they can transform your whole state and can trigger further healthy changes. For me and for many people, exercise is a keystone habit:

“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”

This is one of the reasons that exercise, alongside early mornings, helping people and other habits are rituals which I now try to live by, and which I believe make me happy. The book is a great guide for understanding and creating habits, stopping bad habits and reframing your life around habits in order to achieve your dreams.

23. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey

The Buffer value of ‘Listen first, then listen more’ comes almost directly from the quote above and Habit 5 from this bestselling classic. Each of the 7 habits are all worth studying and reflecting upon:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win/win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Syngergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

The 7 Habits is another of those books which I consider worth going back to time and time again. Even now typing this list of the 7 habits, I feel that I am quite far from being as good as I can be at each of them, and I think I need to re-read the book to take in the advice and try to focus on applying it again.

24. Reinventing Organizations by Frédéric Laloux

Reinventing Organizations by Frédéric Laloux

Reinventing Organizations by Frédéric Laloux

“When trust replaces fear, will a hierarchical pyramid still provide the best structure? Will we need all the rules and policies, detailed budgets, targets, and roadmaps that give leaders today a sense of control? Perhaps there are much simpler ways to run organizations when the fears of the ego are out of the way.” – Frédéric Laloux

Reinventing Organizations is currently being read or has been read by almost all the people within the Buffer team, and it is likely that it will drasticallytransform how the company operates. If the changes succeed, it is also likely that my role which look very different. Why is that? Let me try to explain.

In this fascinating book, Laloux reminds us that there have been several different management paradigms and organizational structures in the last several centuries. He then proposes that a brand new paradigm is currently underway, and illustrates it with a dozen example organizations which run very differently to what most of us know. There are 3 key concepts to what Laloux describes as a “Teal Organization:”

  1. Self-management: There are no bosses. People in the company choose to work on what they are passionate about, and hold multiple roles. They are not constrained by a job title. New teams form and disband fluidly as needed.
  2. Wholeness: The company is set up such that everyone feels comfortable bringing their whole self to work. Everyone is appreciated and is heard. The idea of work-life separation slides away, because you can be yourself at home and at work.
  3. Evolutionary purpose: The company doesn’t follow a set vision, because that would limit everyone. Instead, the company listens to individuals and teams and develops a natural purpose and direction. The organization goes where it naturally is meant to go and can achieve its full potential.

This is one of the most exciting books I’ve ever read, and I can’t wait to see how it might impact Buffer.

25. Seneca: Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, translated by Richard Mott Gummere

Seneca: Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, translated by Richard Mott Gummere

Seneca: Letters from a Stoic by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, translated by Richard Mott Gummere

“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” – Seneca

For some time, I have been very fascinated by Stoicism. When I discovered the ideas, it felt like quite a natural fit for my personality. I enjoy the idea of controlling my excitement and, as a result, my sadness. For example, stopping myself working late into the evening, so that I can wake up fresh in the morning. In essence, I feel that Stoicism can help entrepreneurs a lot, since there are naturally a lot of highs and lows in a startup journey, and Stoicism can help us handle those.

I love the format of Letters from a Stoic, as each chapter is an ‘essay in disguise’ in the form of a letter of advice from Seneca to his friend Lucilius. It makes for enjoyable and easy reading.

26. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

“If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.” – Benjamin Franklin

I was drawn to read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography because it is mentioned several times in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Franklin achieved extraordinary things and he has a lot of wisdom to share in his autobiography, alongside a gripping account of the story of his life.

There are also some super humbling aspects of the book, since it was published in 1791. Here’s an example:

My brother had, in 1720 or 1721, begun to print a newspaper. It was the second that appeared in America, and was called the New England Courant. The only one before it was the Boston News-Letter. I remember his being dissuaded by some of his friends from the undertaking, as not likely to succeed, one newspaper being, in their judgment, enough for America.

27. The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

“Never mingle your speculative and investment operations in the same account, nor in any part of your thinking.” – Benjamin Graham

Graham’s The Intelligent Investor must have been recommended to me at least 5 times from different people, and I’ve come to learn that it is probably the classic book on investing. I love how many of the concepts can translate to wise living even if you’re not in a position to invest.

For example, the concept of “dollar-cost averaging” is something that has especially stuck with me. The idea is that you invest a fixed amount of money at regular intervals (say weekly, monthly, or quarterly) regardless of the state of the market (up, down or sideways). For me, this felt like a great philosophy for productivity and life. For example, you would do well to set down a blogging schedule and aim to publish a post every week or every month regardless of circumstances.

28. The Teaching of Buddha

The Teaching of Buddha

The Teaching of Buddha

“People naturally fear misfortune and long for good fortune; but if the distinction is carefully studied , misfortune often turns out to be good fortune and good fortune to be misfortune. The wise man learns to meet the changing circumstances of life with an equitable spirit, being neither elated by success nor depressed by failure.”

My co-founder Leo and I discovered this book, essentially the Bible of Buddhism, when we were on vacation together in Hawaii. We found it in the hotel rooms and we ended up taking it around the resort with us and discussing the wisdom and stories over lunch. It was fascinating.

There are some religious teachings in The Teaching of Buddha. At the same time, there are just as many philosophical teachings and stories that would be enjoyable for anyone to read.

29. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts

“There is still an overwhelming social compulsion—an insanity of consensus, if you will—to get rich from life rather than live richly, to “do well” in the world instead of living well.” – Rolf Potts

One of our core values at Buffer is “Live smarter, not harder,” and includes the following sub-point:

You choose to be at the single place on Earth where you are the happiest and most productive, and you are not afraid to find out where that is.

Travel is something we’ve found to crave and seek out within the team, and the fact we’re set up as a distributed team gives us all a lot of freedom to explore the world.

Vagabonding is one of the best books out there to think about travel in a whole new way. Rather than going to places for just a few days and cramming in seeing all the sights, it suggests that if we can we should spend weeks or months rather than days in a place. That way we can get to know the culture and people or even become part of it.

I’ve been lucky to do this several times (I’m originally British and I lived in Hong Kong for 6 months, San Francisco for 2 years, Tel Aviv for 3 months and Cape Town for 2 months, all within the last few years). I feel like it has opened my mind and made me a much better person. Mark Twain put this better than I can:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

30. Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard

“we find that the optimists have an undeniable advantage over the pessimists. Many studies show that they do better on exams, in their chosen profession, and in their relationships, live longer and in better health, enjoy a better chance of surviving postoperative shock, and are less prone to depression and suicide.” – Matthieu Ricard

The author of this book has sometimes been called the “happiest man in the world”. He is a French Biochemist turned Buddhist monk and has been in a unique position to merge science with mindfulness and meditation.

The underlying theme of the book is that happiness is indeed within our control, and is much more a skill than something that simply happens to us.

One of the biggest revelations for me in this book was the way that it linked happiness with altruism, asserting that there is an undeniable correlation and that helping others can provide a much more lasting satisfaction and happiness than pleasure activities such as watching a movie or enjoying a banana split. This was something I had intuitively when I got into helping early stage founders, and reading it in this book made me recommit to helping others as a way of life, which in turn makes me very happy.

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