As I write this, we are in lockdown due to the unprecedented crisis brought about by the COVID-19 coronavirus. It will be a period when some people have a bit more time on their hands than usual, and they might be looking for some ideas of what to read to help while away the long days and nights at home. So I have put together some inspirational books to read during lockdown.
I am a big Audible fan; I normally spend a lot of time on the road visiting customers and I find it a perfect time to listen to books. I am particularly interested in stories about other tech companies and the people that built them, as well as books that help us understand the skills and attributes that make tech founders successful.
The one take away I would suggest from all these books is that these founders are normal people, just like you and me. Sure, some are extraordinarily focused, naturally gifted, or workaholics but they all started from the same point; an idea, combined with an unwavering passion to turn that idea into reality.
So here are a few of my favourite books that have inspired me over the years and I hope will inspire and distract you whilst in lockdown.
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker
If you only read one book on this list, then make it this one. OK, this is not a business book per se, but it holds all sorts of gems for all of us, no matter what our chosen career or stage in life. It really is one the most fascinating books I have ever read, and I know from others that I am not alone. Given so many tech founders and people are prone to working strange and long hours, I think this is possibly the most important book on this list, and for that reason I am putting it firmly in the number one spot. It will blow your mind!
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight
If you only read two books on this list, then make this the second one. Obviously, Nike was founded a very long time ago, in the 1960s in fact, but Phil Knight worked on the book for several years before releasing it in 2019. It is a fascinating, detailed, and at times moving account of the early days of Nike. It’s a really easy and entertaining read, one of the most amazing stories of starting a business I have ever read. It’s pure gold and everyone should read it.
Insanely Great by Steven Levy
I have what is now a rare, hardback copy of this book, which I bought when it was first published in 1994 and it changed my life. I was working in publishing at the time, installing and supporting some of the first Macs in the country as we got to grips with desktop publishing. I found the story of how Apple started absolutely fascinating. I have been a big Steve Jobs fan ever since; so much so that on the day he died I bought an original Macintosh model M00001P which now sits proudly on the front reception desk in our office to remind us all what a debt we owe to those crazy founders that changed the world.
Platform Revolution by Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne, et al.
“Uber. Airbnb. Amazon. Apple. PayPal. All of these companies disrupted their markets when they launched. Today they are industry leaders. What’s the secret to their success?”
This is quite a technical book in places, making it somewhat tricky to follow as an audio book, but stick with it. If you are seriously interested in the subject of platforms and networked markets, then this provides by far the best insight I have come across on the subject. I meet founders all the time who use expressions like “we will be the uber of the xxx industry”, I always point them towards this book, and chuckle. Reading this will make you realise just how complex these businesses are and help you understand the huge challenges they had to overcome in order to get where they are today. It’s not an easy read but fascinating all the same and worth the investment.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
“Every new creation goes from zero to one. This book is about how to get there. Peter Thiel has built multiple breakthrough companies, and Zero to One shows how.” (Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla)
I love this book and have read it several times. Peter Thiel is now a well-known and highly respected investor but was co-founder of PayPal, Palantir and Founders Fund. He was also the first outside investor in Facebook so he knows a thing or two about start-ups.
It’s a lesson in how we should not copy the past, but to learn from it, so that you can go on to build something nobody else is building. Thiel and Masters are not shy at expressing their views, some of which challenge the status quo and ask difficult questions of traditional business theory. However, as the name suggests, this is about starting a business, going from zero to one. Scaling that business, or starting a new one that follows an existing model, is going from 1 to 10; anybody can do that. This book is firmly aimed at pioneers who want to change the world.
Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed
The opening chapter of this book is not one you will forget in a hurry. It delicately handles a tragedy that happened in a hospital due to the mental blindness we all suffer from in times of emergency. It links Black Box Thinkers from such diverse companies as Formula 1, Team SKY and aerospace.
This is a book about facing up to our mistakes, accepting them and then advancing by learning from failure. I have personally given copies of this book to several people as I felt it was especially applicable to their industry or circumstances and every one of them enjoyed it as much as I did.
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Grit is a key personality trait of many highly successful entrepreneurs. You can have huge amounts of natural talent but if you quit at the first sign of tough times then success will likely always escape you.
This book personally resonated with me as it is about what you can achieve with passionate persistence. The author introduces us to the six factors of her grit formula which allows us to achieve remarkable things, not just in business but in our personal lives too. Academic in places, with some psychology to grapple with as you would expect, but with interesting anecdotes and some practical guidance on how to be more gritty.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
This is a classic and is highly recommended reading to anyone, no matter what your industry. Sinek is a great story teller and whilst a lot of what he suggests is common sense and right in front of our faces, he manages to put it into simple, usable terms so we can rethink how we approach our business and personal lives. This is a simple and yet powerful model for being an inspiring leader, by starting with what Sinek calls a golden circle and getting to an answer for the burning question “Why?”. There are numerous fascinating examples from companies like Apple to the US military which add compelling evidence to his ideas. Above all it shows that an organisation that knows and believes in its WHY is very powerful indeed.
His 2010 TED talk is also well worth a watch.
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
I know, slightly indulgent having two of Sinek’s books in my top ten but I think this is just as worthy. This is Sinek’s most recent book, having been released in October 2019. There had been some criticism of the books that followed “Start with Why” but he is absolutely back in the game with this new book.
It fundamentally sets out to show that businesses, or even individuals, who operate with an infinite mindset will build more successful and rewarding businesses and lives. Organisations that have a goal that might never be achieved, because it is so ambitious, will never stop improving in their quest to reach that goal. He explains that it doesn’t matter if they don’t reach it, it’s how you behave on the journey that matters and ultimately gives people the rewards that they crave.
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
This is an extraordinary book. It’s the latest book from Gladwell and anyone who enjoyed Blink, Outliers or The Tipping Point will not be disappointed. His brilliant storytelling skills take us through a number of famous historical events, meetings, and misunderstandings to understand our collective default position when it comes to dealing with strangers. It’s a real eye opener to our own behaviour, and helps to explain why we so often misread situations and people so badly.
There are also some extra production bonuses in the Audible version which help to bring the book to life in a way that is impossible in a hard copy book. No spoilers here but it is worth the fee.
That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph
Most people associate Reed Hastings with being the founder of Netflix but this gentle and entertaining account of the early days of the business, by founder and first CEO Marc Randolph, reveals the truth behind the huge multi-billion dollar company.
Randolph is a great storyteller, and is rightly proud of the business that he started as the very first DVD by post company. He is also self-deprecating and not afraid to discuss and accept his own failings. He knew when it was time to hand over the reins because he had stopped enjoying it. That is a tough thing to do with a business you started and was your baby. He has no regrets, and it’s such a great read I would highly recommend it. You will never see Netflix quite the same way again.
If any of these books inspire you to come up with an amazing idea for an application and you are looking for a software development company, we may well be able to help. Why not get in touch or send us the details of your project so we can discuss your ideas.