I’m a voracious reader. I read at least 150 new books each year, spanning almost every genre of nonfiction and several fiction categories. I’m never far away from my Kindle, and I rarely make it through a week without ordering a new hardcover to my door through Amazon Prime.
Every good book contains at least one piece of advice that makes me a better entrepreneur. Although traditional business books have many lessons, the books I’ve found most transformative for my startup—and for myself as a leader—haven’t been business books in the classical sense. Instead, they’ve been great nonfiction finds that have helped inspire me at least one specific way.
Several of the books on the list were recommended by friends when I asked them to name the most inspiring book they’d read lately. I encourage all leaders to ask this question regularly to people they admire.
Below are six books I think every entrepreneur and business leader should immediately add to his or her library. And you don’t just have to take my word for it; all of these books are international bestsellers, most touting millions and millions of copies sold. I originally read some of these books on my Kindle, but I’ve since purchased hard copies of each to have on my bookshelf—they’re thathelpful to have around.
1. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battlesby Steven Pressfield
The War of Art is a great motivator for anyone who works in a creative field. And, as author Steven Pressfield argues, very few fields in life aren’t creative in some way. Every entrepreneur deals with writing and presenting, to some extent. Pressfield identifies the internal hurdles we all deal with (Why do we procrastinate? What causes writer’s block?) and gives some of the best tips I’ve ever read for understanding, coping with, and breaking through these barriers.
Why read this? Every writer encounters “resistance,” as the author calls it, on a regular basis. It’s part of the creative process. Acknowledge the action, and move on.
2. Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes by Tom Rath
When I first read Eat Move Sleep in 2013 after USA Today called it “life-changing,” an immediate change I made was ordering a FitBit. I one-day Primed it to my hotel (I read the book on a plane) and couldn’t wait to start wearing it to track my steps. I haven’t missed a day of wearing it since because of this book’s super-logical arguments for tracking your movement. Tom Rath has serious research credit: he’s the author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, a book millions of companies (including mine) use to help employees discover what they’re best at. In Eat Move Sleep, Rath gives practical advice (based on hundreds of academic studies) for ways to eat, exercise, and sleep better, and why each area is important to living a long, healthy life.
Why read this? You succeed or fail in every moment, not over arbitrary measurements of time like a day or a week. Every bite you take is a chance to eat better (versus “I already cheated on my diet this morning, so I might as well make bad lunch choices, too”), and every night, not just the weekend, is the night to catch up on sleep.
3. Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Okay, so I kind of lied: Rework is technically a business book. But it’s so much smarter and different than almost every other business book out there that I would be remiss if I didn’t include it in this list of recommendations. Rework is required reading for every ZinePak new employee on Day 1 because it does the best job I’ve ever seen of debunking traditional, often nonsensical business practices and teaches readers to work smarter, not harder. Or, as Mark Cuban put it, “If given a choice between investing in someone who has read Rework or has an MBA, I’m investing in Rework every time.”
Why read this? Just because big corporations do something one way, that doesn’t make it the right way. In fact, there’s a better-than-average chance they make it wrong or inefficient.
4. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Of all the books on this list, The Happiness Project is the one that sat unread on my bookshelf the longest. I was skeptical that it might be self-helpy. Once I began, I was delighted to find it incredibly well-researched, despite the first-person anecdotes author Gretchen Rubin skillfully sprinkles in for effect. Rubin’s book is a great reminder to think about what makes you happy on a regular basis, and integrate more of those things into your day-to-day life.
Why read this? Small changes can make a big difference in your day-to-day happiness, altering your big-picture quality of life.
5. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
The Checklist Manifesto is both fascinating and shocking in its exposure of the weaknesses in the U.S. medical system. Gawande juxtaposes the “failure” rates in medicine (people who die needlessly because of doctor errors) compared to those of airline pilots, architects, contractors, and other professional positions where checklists are the norm. It presents a compelling argument for using checklists to cross off mundane tasks because this guarantees that small steps aren’t overlooked.
Why read this? Checklists help workers move faster because they eliminate the need to spend mental energy on often-repeated processes, and it frees up the capacity to focus on larger, creative problems. In short: good checklists help people work and think more creatively.
6. Getting There: A Book of Mentors by Gillian Zoe Segal
Although it’s hard to pick a favorite from this list of six books I love so much, Getting There is at the top of my list. It’s a beautiful, inspirational collection of stories from some of the world’s most influential people: billionaires, Nobel Prize winners, artists, and entertainers. Segal captures each person’s story (complete with stunning photography) in an effort to debunk the myth that successful people are “born that way.” Each subject candidly discusses obstacles he or she faced, and gives action steps (which Segal calls “pearls” at the end of each chapter) to help readers increase their odds at success while following their passions. Add this book to your collection today. Since reading it a week ago, I’ve ordered it as a gift for five people.
Why read this? Mentors don’t have to be formal advisors with whom you meet on a regular basis: there are extraordinary people all around us that you can learn from, even if you’re never in the same room with them. Getting There is a great place to start.