50 Books That Transformed My Business and My Life – Part 2
“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” – Randy Komisar
I first heard the term ‘deferred life plan’ in this fantastic book by Randy Komisar. It has been especially relevant for me, since it is a story about a silicon valley entrepreneur and teaches the idea that there are many things more important than money. The book poses the question “what would you be willing to do for the rest of your life?” and persuasively argues that if you will do that, the money will follow.
12. Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace by Ricardo Semler
“To survive in modern times, a company must have an organizational structure that accepts change as its basic premise, lets tribal customs thrive, and fosters a power that is derived from respect, not rules. In other words, the successful companies will be the ones that put quality of life first. Do this and the rest – quality of product, productivity of workers, profits for all – will follow.” – Ricardo Semler
Maverick is Semler’s earlier book, which goes into the full details of how he took over Semco from his father, fired over half of the executive team, diversified the business and revolutionized the way an organization could be run.
I especially enjoy how Semler challenges some deeply ingrained assumptions and beliefs about how business needs to be run. Things like whether growth is even a good thing, and how rules and policies can quickly snowball and grind companies to a halt. It has helped us to reach one of our most powerful phrases we use at Buffer, as an often used alternative to policies: “Use your best judgement.”
“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.” – Thich Nhat Hahn
Around two and a half years ago I found myself on a very organic path from business, success and self-improvement books to those that spanned both personal success and spirituality. Books like The Monk and the Riddle mentioned above address this topic. After reading some of these books, I naturally found myself interested in meditation and Zen Buddhism. One of the most fascinating Zen Buddhists and authors for me has been Thich Nhat Hahn, who has written many books.
I was even lucky enough to attend a Day of Mindfulness with him and many other like-minded people in San Diego around a year ago. Today, I find that meditating almost daily is a key part of maintaining a clear mind, balancing my energy, feeling healthy and being present.
14. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries
“The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build—the thing customers want and will pay for—as quickly as possible. In other words, the Lean Startup is a new way of looking at the development of innovative new products that emphasizes fast iteration and customer insight, a huge vision, and great ambition, all at the same time.” – Eric Ries
In many ways, Eric Ries and The Lean Startup deserve a lot of the credit for where I am today and for Buffer existing. I first discovered Eric and his Lean Startup concepts via his blog about 5 years ago. He really helped me to understand the idea of validating an idea before spending lots of effort, and the notion of measuring progress in terms of learning rather than lines of code.
The Lean Startup is an incredible handbook for anyone who wants to get their startup off to the very best start possible. It helped me to take Buffer from idea to paying customers in 7 weeks.
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. As I have heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear. I got into this habit by attempting to contact celebrities and famous businesspeople for advice.” – Tim Ferriss
This is one of the most practical books I’ve ever read. It is packed with so much information and actual resources to get you on your journey with creating passive income and if you desire, traveling. It really opened my mind to a lot of productivity improvements I could make.
I would also say that The 4-Hour Workweek helped me to dream about the idea of traveling while working. I read it 4 years ago, and in that time I have traveled the world and lived in 4 different continents. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life so far, especially when I’ve spent months rather than weeks or days in a place.
“Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration . They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.” – Susan Cain
I read Quiet recently and it gave me an instant feeling of comfort in myself, how I’m wired and my personality. It made me feel confident about aspects of how I approach things which I previously saw as a weakness. It helped me discover some of my true strengths. I’m an introvert. This book helped me realize that the core difference between introverts and extroverts is the way that they recharge. It helped me to make sure that I get my solitude so that I feel sharp and alert, and so that I have the time to reflect.
It also helped me discover an important difference in how myself and my co-founder Leo approach things. Often when we have a discussion, I am purely interested in contemplating or reflecting on something and Leo is often more interested in the definite next step and deciding that right away. There’s value in both of these approaches, and a middle ground where we reflect a little and then take action seems to create great outcomes. Previously, this difference in style used to sometimes cause some tension. Quiet surfaced exactly what is going on:
Introverts are “geared to inspect” and extroverts “geared to respond.”
I shared this with Leo, and ever since we both realized this we now have much more empathy for each other. It also became clear that the combination of these differing approaches and other ways Leo and I are different is what makes us a great co-founder combination.
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.” – Ruiz Don Miguel
The Four Agreements introduce the idea of “don’t take anything personally” to me in a whole new light. This is a book based on ancient Toltec wisdom and refers to this concept in terms of removing ego. I was recommended this book by one of our awesome investors, Robert Fanini, who told us that he previously based his company culture and values around the 4 primary ideas in this book:
- Be impeccable with your word
- Don’t take anything personally
- Don’t make assumptions
- Always do your best
These are great life values and I’ve tried to live to them since I read The Four Agreements.
18. The Decision Maker: Unlock the Potential of Everyone in Your Organization, One Decision at a Time by Dennis Bakke
“When leaders put control into the hands of their people, at all levels, they unlock incalculable potential.” – Dennis Bakke
Within Buffer, we have a concept where anyone is able to make any decision, provided they get advice from people who will be affected by the decision. It is the way we’ve found to envision a company without managers or bosses. We’re still at the beginning of this journey, it’s an exciting one to be on and I think we’re creating an incredible company to be part of.
This decision making concept originates from a company called AES. I already mentioned Joy At Work, AES co-founder Dennis Bakke’s first book and this is a fable he wrote to describe a company changing how they work and adopting the Advice Process.
“Poor distribution— not product— is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have great business. If you try for several but don’t nail one, you’re finished.” – Gabriel Weinberg
Traction has been a somewhat recent read for me. The key take-away I had from the book was to try to spend as much time on traction as on product development. The other realization the book triggered for me was that in the early days of Buffer, we focused our content marketing efforts around traction, and we found that guest blogging helped us a lot with spreading the word and triggering new signups for Buffer.
We now try to strike this balance a little better. As a team we don’t necessarily believe that all marketing activity should be tied to creating traction, but we do think it is worth exploring new traction channels and measuring our impact on traction from marketing. I can recommend this book to any new startup trying to get traction, or existing startups trying to reach new levels of traction. The book helped to give us a nudge to try some new traction channels again.
“This is wisdom: to recognize what you know as what you know, and recognize what you do not know as what you do not know.” – Confucius
This translation of Confucius’ ancient teachings is a book I keep coming back to time and time again. It’s another of the books I feel like I just want to take in and let it become who I am. There are many great themes which Confucius discusses such as self-cultivation (the idea that in ancient times learning meant to make ourselves better people and not just to memorize or recite texts) or virtue, goodness and focus on action rather than words:
“A person’s character is not properly judged by his words or his public reputation, but is rather revealed to one who carefully observes his actual behaviour, comes to know something about his motivations, and discovers what he is like in private. It is in the details of one’s daily behavior that true virtue is manifested.”