This 2018, take some time out to refresh and recharge. For me, that often means stealing a few quiet moments with my book, hiding out…er…I mean, hanging out on my couch, or comfortably wedged into a window seat listening to an audiobook on a long flight. But it can be tough to fully disengage from the parts of your work that are exciting, or even stressful.
I think there’s a happy medium. I asked my colleagues at Palo Alto Software (the makers of Bplans), to share their best reading recommendations for entrepreneurs. If you just can’t stomach the downtime, download an audiobook so you can keep moving while you listen.
A more perfect design
Everyone should do themselves a favor and check out “The Design of Everyday Things“ by Don Norman. My colleague Sarah, a software designer, says that good design is the difference between a product that is just easy and a delight to use, and something that just clearly wasn’t thought all the way through.
Thinking through the design of objects we often overlook can be a starting point for thinking through customer pain points—or even inspiration to do or make something better than anything else on the market.
“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less“ by Greg McKeown was actually recommended by three different people! John, our marketing director, says this books helped change his perspective. “It will help entrepreneurs clear out the mental clutter and allow them the freedom to ‘go big’ on their idea. We as human beings want to say yes to others (we’re helpful and have can-do attitudes). We should question this. We should question many of our non-essential choices and understand there are specific types of activities that give us the biggest pleasure.”
Prajna, one of our software project managers, says that “Getting Things Done“ by David Allen actually changed her life. “Before reading it, I was constantly plagued by internal reminders. David Allen suggests that when we have a system we can fully trust to capture these tasks, we are liberated from the mental cacophony, so it’s possible to get through more tasks in a time and context-appropriate way.” She also says that instead of using Allen’s paper-based method, she implemented the GTD system using OmniFocus and Evernote as online solutions.
Beating the odds
Sabrina, our CEO, recommends “I Am Malala“ by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai. It’s a story about standing up for what you believe and working against all odds—something entrepreneurs need to do every single day. Sabrina says it’s a story about how values and passion can lead to activism and change when we stand strong and don’t back down.
The word is that a movie based on “Ready Player One“ by Ernest Cline is slated to come out in 2018. Get a head start so you can weigh in on whether the book is better than the movie. Adam, one of our web developers, says that this book is about the struggle of a person who doesn’t have much but is aiming for the stars. “It’s a really fun tale of someone trying to accomplish the impossible,” he says. Storyline aside, this was Ernest Cline’s very first novel and it was a great success. Just like starting a business, writing a novel has both risks and rewards.
Thinking about wealth
Sales director, Josh Fegles recommends “A Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence and a Rich, Free Life“ by J L Collins. Josh says it’s a very simple look at investing and preparing for retirement. It empowers the listener by demystifying investing, which can be especially helpful for early-stage entrepreneurs who are thinking about how they’ll launch their business while planning for retirement.
Prajna also suggests checking out “The Soul of Money“ by Lynn Twist, which explores the relationships we have with work and money.
Corey, from our marketing team, says that “Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet“ by Andrew Blum can help entrepreneurs demystify the workings of the internet. It can seem like a big, scary complex thing—but at the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of tubes. “Understanding how those tubes work, who controls what they do, and how they do it peels away some of that mystery and gives helpful context to anyone who uses it on a day to day basis, or just orders on Amazon once in a while,” he says.
Sonya, one of our web developers, highly recommends “Geek Girl Rising: Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech“ by Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens. She says it’s super relatable and inspiring to know other people are out there, pushing for their goals and for life balance, especially for women working in tech, science, engineering, and math. “It’s uplifting, reassuring and powerful to hear these women’s stories and know we all are pushing for more gender respect, even pay, and acknowledgment that women can do it too!”
Dana from our strategic development team says that “The Innovator’s Dilemma“ by Clayton Christensen is a must-read for every entrepreneur. It’s a how-to that does a great job breaking down why large companies fall to startups. “This book has lots of interesting thoughts about market dynamics and disruptive technologies. The author is well respected across the venture capital community and startup founders,” Dana says.
Luke, our graphic designer, says that “Jurassic Park“ by Michael Crichton is worth a read for entrepreneurs. “The primary lesson is that unforeseen consequences can often overtake your best intentions when dealing with forces that you can’t possibly hope to control,” he says. It’s an interesting take on a classic, and a good reminder to be particularly aware of the unknowns because they can have big consequences.
On a lighter note, Prajna weighs in here with a recommendation for “Lawn Boy“ by Gary Paulson. It’s a children’s book (age 10 and up) so it’s perfect for families with young entrepreneurs. Though the main character starts out mowing lawns, he quickly graduates to hiring employees, dealing with competition, and making investments to grow his business. Prajna says, “I was surprised that a kids book covered so many aspects of growing a business.”
Alyssa, from our marketing team, says if you’re looking for a heavier read or a memoir, consider “When Breath Becomes Air“ by Paul Kalanithi. It’s about a neurosurgeon’s fight against Stage IV lung cancer, and his journey to figuring out what really matters. Alyssa says, “it’s easy to get swept away with focusing all energy and efforts on starting and growing your business. Sometimes, it’s worth it to take a step back and evaluate how you can integrate all facets of your life and what you value in harmony.”
Toward a deeper understanding
Celeste, our customer advocacy supervisor, had a few suggestions especially for entrepreneurs whose work involves communicating with customers. First, she suggests “Radical Acceptance“ by Tara Brach. “Everyone judges themselves internally and feels some amount of shame or unworthiness,” says Celeste. “This book guides you through ways of finding self-acceptance and acknowledgment of who you are and how to move forward in your life with confidence and joy.”
She also recommends “Talking to Crazy“ by Mark Goulston. The author is a psychiatrist and provides practical tips on how to get through interactions with irrational and angry people. She says, “It’s useful for people in customer service to help them remain calm and effective in stressful situations, and equally useful to utilize in your personal life.”
Jonathan from our marketing team highly recommends “A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America“ by Ronald Takaki. He says, “The past two years have drudged up racial tensions that many thought we had progressed beyond. Unfortunately, various knee-jerk reactions reveal the ignorance many of us have regarding how people of color and minority groups have experienced—and continue to experience—life in America. It’s important to fully understand how the past has shaped where we are today, so we can move forward together.”
Jayna, one of our UX developers, has a suggestion for every entrepreneur who is interested in refining their approach to marketing: “All Marketers Tell Stories“ by Seth Godin. Jayna says that one of the best takeaways here is that when you’re trying to sell your product or just generally increase brand awareness, “Share a story, not a lecture. Don’t tell them about your product. Authentic marketing, from one human to another, is extremely powerful. No one buys a Lexus just for the car itself; they buy the way the car makes them feel.”
Finally, one of the most interesting books I read this year was “Contagious: Why Things Catch On“ by Jonah Berger. I liked it because it used data and research to underscore some unconventional ideas about the most effective ways to craft a message that really resonates with your target audience. One of the best takeaways was some research that showed that what people tell you they like isn’t always the thing that they actually remember, or that facilitates a change in their behavior.
Carve out some time to read or listen to a book. Don’t be afraid to explore ideas and genres that aren’t explicitly about entrepreneurship. There’s a lot to learn from stories about the human condition, and even fiction can help you get excited about ways that you’ll grow your business this year.
Here’s the full list:
- The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- I Am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- A Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence and Rich, Free Life by J L Collins
- The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist
- Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum
- Geek Girl Rising Inside the Sisterhood Shaking Up Tech by Heather Cabot and Samantha Walravens
- The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
- Lawn Boy by Gary Paulson
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
- Talking to Crazy by Mark Goulston
- A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki
- All Marketers Tell Stories by Seth Godin
- Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger