If there's a common thread among entrepreneurs of all stripes, it's our interest in books. We set audacious reading goals. We share recommended book lists, and we pass around takeaways from our favorite business books the way bees pass around pollen.
As an entrepreneur, reading is very near to the top of my priority list, partly because I'm constantly in "learn" mode and partly because I want to surround myself with potential ideas that may be applicable to my business's work. Few of those potential ideas will actually materialize into a substantive change in how we do business, but I want to be ready and in position when they do.
I think of it as "priming the pump." Having read or listened to more than 80 books last year, I present five that went the furthest to set the stage for fresh, innovative ideas for our company.
Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge, and Observations From the Hillside by Judith Nasatir
So much of the startup community has to do with speed, from failing "fast" to accelerating high-growth rates to racing through your second or third round of funding. It's exhausting to try to keep up, and it also overlooks a fundamental component of why we start businesses in the first place: to immerse ourselves deeply into an industry we love, in order to provide a product or service that will improve the lives of the people in that industry.
Why would we be in a rush and run through an environment like that?
Two books this year helped me to slow down my pace as an entrepreneur: Walking: One Step at a Time by Erling Kagge, which suggests that walking is one of the most radical things we can do, and Observations From the Hillside, which was published in 2010 in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Napa's iconic Harlan Estate.
Slowing down the pace isn't about being pokey; it's about being deliberate and intentional and, by the way, savoring the journey of an entrepreneur while we're at it.
Don't Just Sit There! by Biet Simkin
As an avowed fan of and advocate for meditation, I'm part of the cheering section for scientific and anecdotal research that indicates a direct correlation between quiet contemplation and more mindful work experiences.
In day-to-day practice, however, I'm just like everyone else, listing the same nitty-gritty objections and obstacles we all list despite knowing intellectually how beneficial a meditation practice can be. It's hard to find the time. It's impossible to keep our thoughts from wandering. It never seems like we're doing it right.
I hear that, and I'm right there too. Which is why I was so moved by Biet Simkin's book, Don't Just Sit There! Part tough-love, part compassionate teacher, Simkin delivers discrete, actionable advice about the pragmatism of meditation: It focuses us, makes us less reactive, and helps us tune in to our core mission. If these aren't reasons enough for entrepreneurs to sit and meditate, I don't know what are.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, andTerrain by Greg Lehmkuhl
I co-founded a data company for the wine industry. I'm not an engineer or programmer, but I appreciate the systematic, rhythmic methodology of our data team's work. It's logical, and it's supported by an underlying creative force.
It's also very meta, so I find myself seeking a corollary in the natural world. Two books in particular provided exactly that last year: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and Terrain: Ideas and Inspiration for Decorating the Home and Garden by Greg Lehmkuhl.
Crawdads, a New York Times bestseller, is a fictional novel set in the coastal marshes of eastern North Carolina, but it reads like a love letter to the isolated, sometimes violent nature of that place and the people and animals who inhabit it. Terrain, on the other hand, is a hands-on, nuts-and-bolts nonfictional handbook designed to inspire an interactive dynamic between nature and those of us who want to engage with it in our homes.
They're two very different books, and at first they seem as far away from the work of a data company as it's possible to get. But I think of them in the sense of what the academics call bioconvergence, or technology inspired by nature. The common threads are the patterns, whether that's at the micro level in a piece of code or at the macro level in the flooding patterns of a coastal marsh. It's the gentle sway between the two where the innovative opportunity flows.