In 2015 I took on the challenge of reading 53 books (roughly one title a week). After completing the marathon, I came to appreciate a few points about the process:
- Each book is a catalyst for growth: you can learn something new, challenge old beliefs, and perhaps even, dare I say it, become a better person.
- Books are cheap to buy but expensive to read: a book is cheaper than a cinema ticket but a 300-page script will cost you around 5 hours of reading time (depending on how fast you read).
- One idea is a good enough return on investment: given how much time goes into reading, aim to walk away with at least one useful idea in order to make your time-investment worthwhile.
In light of the above, I compiled over 50,000 words of ‘lessons notes’ from the reading adventure. Since this ‘book of books’ is too cumbersome to share, I thought I’d highlight a few nuggets from the escapade. Below are some of my favourite passages. I hope you’ll find them a refreshing read as we embark on a new year full of hope and aspiration.
Having a philosophy of life is better than meandering aimlessly.
“The type of person you want to become—what the purpose of your life is—is too important to leave to chance. It needs to be deliberately conceived, chosen, and managed.” – Clayton Christensen
“Ultimately, if you don’t have a guiding philosophy underpinning your thinking and work, then what you produce won’t touch people. It can’t. And that’s the most important task of any piece of creativity.” – John Hegarty
Status is illusive.
“…the strongest of all human drives is the desire to belong to an Inner Ring, an imaginary circle of the important. He warned the students, though, that this ring is an illusion. No sooner do you crack one ring than you are soon obsessed with joining the even-more-exclusive ring inside that one. Status is like an onion, comprised of endless layers, and no matter how many rings you cracked, you were still on the outside. “If you follow that desire, you will reach no inside that is worth reaching,” he insisted. It took conscious and continuous effort not to be an “inner ringer,” someone distracted by this game.” – Po Bronson
Build relationships before you need them.
“…don’t wait until you’re out of a job, or on your own, to begin reaching out to others. You’ve got to create a community of colleagues and friends before you need it. Others around you are far more likely to help you if they already know and like you. Start gardening now. You won’t believe the treasures to be found within your own backyard.” – Keith Ferrazzi
Left untamed, social media is toxic.
To find business ideas, look for problems to solve.
“The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use. That lets you design what you know—and you’ll figure out immediately whether or not what you’re making is any good…”
Inventor James Dyson scratched his own itch. While vacuuming his home, he realized his bag vacuum cleaner was constantly losing suction power—dust kept clogging the pores in the bag and blocking the airflow. It wasn’t someone else’s imaginary problem; it was a real one that he experienced firsthand. So he decided to solve the problem and came up with the world’s first cyclonic, bagless vacuum cleaner.” – Jason Fried & David Hansson
If you try to please everyone you’ll please no one.
“The old mindset says go out and get everyone you conceivably can. This pressure comes from our clients, and many marketers have internalized these self-destructively ambitious goals. I know the feeling: I want to be everywhere. I want millions of video views. I want to become a trending Twitter topic. They try to go everywhere and end up going nowhere. What’s the point? Most of those people never become your customers. Growth hackers resist this temptation (or, more appropriate, this delusion). They opt, deliberately, to attract only the early adopters who make or break new tech services and seek to do it as cheaply as possible.” – Ryan Holiday
Long-term planning is unproductive in new businesses.
“The first problem is the allure of a good plan, a solid strategy, and thorough market research. In earlier eras, these things were indicators of likely success. The overwhelming temptation is to apply them to startups too, but this doesn’t work, because startups operate with too much uncertainty…Startups do not yet know who their customer is or what their product should be…Planning and forecasting are only accurate when based on a long, stable operating history and a relatively static environment. Startups have neither.” – Eric Ries
A fulfilling career comes from without, not within.
“Today, commencement speakers tell graduates to follow their passion, to trust their feelings, to reflect and find their purpose in life. The assumption behind these cliches is that when you are figuring out how to lead your life, the most important answers are found deep inside yourself…
…But Frances Perkins found her purpose in life using a different method, one that was more common in past eras. In this method, you don’t ask, what do I want from life? You ask a different set of questions: What does life want from me? What are my circumstances calling me to do?
In this scheme of things we don’t create our lives; we are summoned by life. The important answers are not found inside, they are found outside. This perspective begins not within the autonomous self, but with the concrete circumstances in which you happen to be embedded. This perspective begins with an awareness that the world existed long before you and will last long after you, and that in the brief span of your life you have been thrown by fate, by history, by chance, by evolution, or by God into a specific place with specific problems and needs.
Your job is to figure certain things out: What does this environment need in order to be made whole? What is it that needs repair? What tasks are lying around waiting to be performed? As the novelist Frederick Buchner put it, “At what points do my talents and deep gladness meet the world’s deep need?” – David Brooks
Achievement requires indoctrination.
“Nothing you read once is permanent; none of the self-help programs continue to work by themselves or without constant reinforcement…without constant attention and effort, even the most exciting success breakthroughs run their course and eventually end up on our list of ‘good ideas’ and ‘good intentions.’” – Shad Helmstetter
Transformation goals are better than acquisition objectives.
“To have something (a finished recording, a business, or millions of dollars) is the means, not the end. To be something (a good singer, a skilled entrepreneur, or just plain happy) is the real point. When you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t want a taxi to take you to the finish line.” – Derek Sivers
You grow through courage not mediocrity.
“In my experience, successful people shoot for the stars, put their hearts on the line in every battle, and ultimately discover that the lessons learned from the pursuit of excellence mean much more than the immediate trophies and glory. In the long run, painful losses may prove much more valuable than wins—those who are armed with a healthy attitude and are able to draw wisdom from every experience, “good” or “bad,” are the ones who make it down the road. They are also the ones who are happier along the way. Of course the real challenge is to stay in range of this long-term perspective when you are under fire and hurting in the middle of the war. This, maybe our biggest hurdle, is at the core of the art of learning.” – Josh Waitzkin
Overnight success is an illusion.
“It took me a few months to set up SB.TV, but years to get it to where it is today….People act like I was some kind of overnight success but that’s not true – I’ve been doing SB.TV for seven years! It just looks like it happened really quickly and smoothly because when things blow up, it looks like it’s come from nowhere, when actually a lot of hard work has gone in to making it happen.” – Jamal Edwards
Struggle precedes success.
“I was unemployed. And while I had a roof over my head (my parents’) and food to eat (also technically theirs), my days were shapeless, and the disappointment of the people who loved me (my parents) was palpable. I slept until noon, became defensive when asked about my plans for the future, and gained weight like it was a viable profession. I was becoming the kind of adult parents worry about producing.” – Lena Dunham
Note: Lena Dunham is now the lead actor and director of the hit HBO show, GIRLS.
Extraordinary struggle precedes extraordinary success.
“…if you look at the résumé of a typical CEO, you’ll see that he endured a 25-year Dip before landing the job. For a quarter of a century, he needed to suck it up, keep his head down, and do what he was told. He needed to hit his numbers, work longer hours than everyone else, and kiss up to his boss of the moment. Day in and day out, year after year. It’s easy to be a CEO. What’s hard is getting there. There’s a huge Dip along the way. If it was easy, there’d be too many people vying for the job and the CEOs couldn’t get paid as much, could they? Scarcity, as we’ve seen, is the secret to value. If there wasn’t a Dip, there’d be no scarcity.” – Seth Godin
Meaning creates hope.
“I looked up at him, stared into the faded blue of his wrinkle-framed eyes, and asked, ‘How do you believe in God when the world is so fucked up?’ The priest smiled sadly. ‘You’ve got it backwards. It’s because the world is so fucked up that I believe in God.” – Callum Roberts
You can have it all and still be unhappy.
“Do you realize that you could have the finest looks and the most charming personality and the most pleasant of surroundings and still be unhappy? And deep down you know this is true but still you waste your effort and energy trying to get what you know cannot make you happy. Another false belief: If all your desires are fulfilled you will be happy. Not true. In fact it is these very desires and attachments that make you tense, frustrated, nervous, insecure and fearful. . . .The fulfilment of desire can [only], at the most, bring flashes of pleasure and excitement. Don’t mistake that for happiness.” – Anthony de Mello
The secret to a good life is purpose.
“…findings demonstrate that happiness is not the surplus of pleasant over unpleasant moments. Rather, happiness consists of seeing one’s life in its entirety as meaningful and worthwhile. There is an important cognitive and ethical component to happiness. Our values make all the difference to whether we see ourselves as ‘miserable slaves to a baby dictator’ or as ‘lovingly nurturing a new life’. As Nietzsche put it, if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.”
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