None of us entrepreneurs have all the answers. In fact, most of us feel like we have more questions than answers, especially when starting out. As the business grows, the questions become more focused, yet the answers become more blurry. We all need a little help sometimes. Whether it is a difficult decision or loss in direction, the road to success is no limousine ride. As an entrepreneur, I have experienced plenty moments of self doubt and I suspect you have or will experience similar feelings in your own journey. There are a couple of great books that have helped me out that are not on the normal list of books for being a better CEO/Entrepreneur.
At some point, we've all been told to read some self-help, five best keys to success, bullet-pointed business book. Maybe you went out and picked up a copy. And maybe, if you're like me, about halfway through that IKEA desk safety manual hanging from the office recycling bin seems more interesting.
Not all great business books are boring though. In fact, the books I have turned to for wisdom don't have anything to do with business directly, yet I have found them to be invaluable in both my professional and personal life. I will share two of my personal favorites with you. The lessons within them touch upon self-improvement, leadership and the joy of life--and I promise these are much better than a detailed description of safe office furniture use.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stien.
This is a beautiful story told from the perspective of a dog, Enzo, as he lies dying. Enzo reflects upon his life with his owner, racecar driver Denny. Together the two experience the ups and downs of a racing career. Loyal Enzo sticks beside his owner Denny at every missed opportunity, continually believing in his future success.
Although the author Garth Stien is an avid racecar driver himself, this is much more than a racing story. The story captures the true essence of racing: passion. The passion to succeed and believe in oneself through all of life's obstacles. The story reminds you to build your own future and not to become a victim of fate.
Passion is at the core of every entrepreneur and yet as companies grow and employees are hired it is easy to loose a bit of this passion. Enzo sees Denny loosing passion as life matures too. More responsibilities require more structure and as a result, Denny loses sight of his passion. This happens as you build a business, and yet it is the entrepreneur's passion that is the secret to success.
Enzo sums it up best by recalling the best car race ever--it happened to be in the rain. To win a race in the rain you have to be passionate, you have to enjoy the moment and you have to feel the art of your craft with every essence of your body. There is no second-guessing, there is just feeling and doing. While Enzo has only watched races on TV, he knows the meaning of this--he loves to run in the rain, to chase animals, to be alive.
The metaphor takes on new meaning when you think about how we "hide" from the rain, we don't enjoy the moment we are in. Building a company from scratch has lots of "rain" and often it is unexpected, but if we "hide" from it instead of embracing it and feeling our passion during it, we will surely fail to win the race.
At the end of the story you are given another important lesson, the loss of self. In the final moments of Enzo's life, he realizes that the most successful people are selfless. Removal of ego from an activity allows for more clarity and focus. Entrepreneurs must often remove their own prejudices and desires from decision making in order to make the right decision--not for an individual, but for the company as a whole.
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, the Stephen Mitchell translation.
The Stephen Mitchell translation of Tao Te Ching is the best I have read. This is the book I turn to most often for guidance. Written in the sixth century BC, this text serves as the fundamentals for both philosophical and religious Taoism. The thoughts contained in this book are profound and ground me.
Just take a look at the opening lines:
The Way that can be told of is not an unvarying way;
The names that can be named are not unvarying names.
It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang;
The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind.
Now that's not your every day read!
The teachings of Taoism emphasize the importance of self-gained knowledge brought forth from humility. Self gained knowledge requires openness to other ideas, ways, thoughts and experiences. As an entrepreneur, the most important commitment is to the problem you are solving for the customers you want to have. While you might have solutions ready to solve those problems and customer needs, you have to be open and you have to learn. Successful entrepreneurs are open to the advice they are given and somehow translate that advice into their own experiences. They don't just take the advice blindly. They have the eternal mind-set of a student and it guides their interactions daily.
Often, especially in times of difficult decisions or challenges, I will turn to a random page only to find a new nugget of guidance. No matter how many times I read this book, somehow, someway, there is always more to learn.
The decision to become an entrepreneur should not be taken lightly. To cut your own path is not easy, and you are likely to fall off track often. The ability to recognize guidance in books like these and in the people around you can determine your success or failure. You must be an eternal student--receptive, passionate and selfless. Most importantly, devote yourself to your cause. History doesn't care to remember the things people almost did.