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20 Books that Changed Me

I read a lot... like, a lot a lot. Being a startup founder has been one of the largest learning curves I have had to ride, second only to motherhood. Essentially everything that needs to be done, has to be learnt. Anything I didn't know I either asked one of my amazing advisors, or read about - or both. After chatting to a good friend this morning, we started sharing our favourite books, books that had taught us a lot about life and business. I want to use this post to list my top 20 favourite books that have taught me a lot about the world. (In no particular order). The books cover many topics, from business and economics, to psychology and geography - nothing beats learning at the micro and macro.

The Hard Thing about Hard Things, Ben Horowitz

WHY? I love reading amazing stories by amazing people. This was a perfect example. This book takes you through the journey of Ben Horowitz, the original founders of Netscape - one of the world's first Internet browsers. It provides deep insight in the old Silicon Valley, right through from the sky high valuations to the burst of the Internet bubble.

The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis

WHY? This book goes through the lives of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky who together wrote a series of amazing studies undoing our assumptions about the decision-making process. Their work created the field of behavioral economics, revolutionized Big Data studies, advanced evidence-based medicine, led to a new approach to government regulation, and made much of Michael Lewis’s own work possible.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Peter Thiel

WHY? Peter Thiel is a God of the Silicon Valley. One of the Paypal mafia and serial entrepreneur and investor, this book let's slip some of the greatest secrets of our time while also explaining that there is still many uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. I also found particularly interesting as it tells a different side to the early days of Paypal, compared to what was told in the Elon Musk book (below.)

Mindsight, Dr Daniel Siegel

WHY? I love Dr Daniel Siegal. And I find nothing more interesting than understanding how our brains work, or trying to at least. Mindsight, coined by Dr. Siegel explains our human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others. It really changed my understanding of why I do certain things, how I interact with others and how I can make positive changes, all backed in deep scientific evidence.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg

WHY? An interesting read that uses the latest scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Covering everything from the psychology behind the NFL to the front lines of the civil rights movement, Duhigg presents a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential. At its core, The Power of Habit contains an exhilarating argument: The key to achieving anything is through understanding how habits really work within us.

The Locust and the Bee, Geoff Mulgan

WHY? Well, this was actually my very first ever Audible book and it completely changed the way I thought about capitalism. The book outlines the importance of concepts such as entrepreneurialism in the giant capitalism puzzle, while also dissecting some critical events that have unfolded in the history of capitalism.

The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries

WHY? I have to admit, I hesitated putting this on my list because for me it's more a holy grail than a book and I thought it was a given that most people starting a startup would read it... until I chatted to friend who hadn't. So here it is. This book changed my complete approach to business, advocating that business is more of a science than anything and failure can be avoided by constantly testing hypotheses, iterating and measuring every key metric.

Parenting from the Inside Out, Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell

WHY? The second Siegel book on my list, but a great explanation of the extent to which our childhood experiences shape the way we parent. It is like no other parenting book I have ever read, as it focuses on both parents experiences and kids. Entrenched in cutting edge new findings in neurobiology and attachment research, the book analyses how interpersonal relationships directly impact the development of the brain.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant

WHY? By pulling examples from multiple domains including: business, politics, sports, and entertainment, this book explores how to spot a good idea, speak up confidently, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. It encouraged me to do many things and was almost impossible to put down. Adam Grant is an excellent writer, speaker and academic.

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, Duncan Clarke

WHY? This book made me proud that my son is called Jack. A totally engrossing account of how a teacher built one of the world’s most valuable companies—rivaling Walmart & Amazon—and forever reshaped the global economy. It explains Jack Ma from an honest and insider point of view, explaining his personality and how he has never been a businessman or a techie, but understands how to motivate people. I especially loved it because it explains just how important the "people" aspect of business is.

Shoe Dog, Phil Knight

WHY? By far the best memoir I have ever read. This book is the first time Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight shares the inside story of the company’s early days as an intrepid start-up and its evolution into one of the world’s most iconic, game-changing, and profitable brands. After finishing that book, I will never buy anything but Nike, not because of the brand, but because of the story.

Taking the Leap, Pema Chodron

WHY? I love Pema Chödrön! I read this book while driving around Sri Lanka, while I was immersed in a land of Bhudism. This excellent book draws on the Buddhist concept of shenpa to help us see how certain habits of mind tend to “hook” us and get us stuck in states of anger, blame, self-hatred, and addiction. She explains that once we start to understand patterns they instantly begin to lose their hold on us and we can begin to change our lives for the better.

The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success, Walter Mischel

WHY? At university I learnt about the famous Marshmallow experiment, and I even tried it on my 4 year old son, so that was my original reason for picking up this book. However, after finishing I was pleasantly surprised to learn a lot about how self-control can be mastered and applied to challenges in everyday life. It even has profound implications for the choices we make in parenting, education, public policy and self-care.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics, Tim Marshall

WHY? I loved this book because it makes you see the bigger picture. It provides an incredible understanding of leadership and why the world has been sculpted into what it is today. It illustrates that through history leaders are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas and concrete. It explains why Putin is so obsessed with Crimea, why the USA was destined to become a global superpower and so much more.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey

WHY? The oldest book on this list, in fact it was written the year I was born. But it's continued success is a testament to it's awesomeness. This is one of the rare books that has influenced presidents, CEOs, educators, and individuals all over the world not only to improve their businesses and careers but to live with integrity, service, dignity, and success in all areas of life.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance

WHY? I nearly had a tear in my eye when I finished this book. Elon Musk became my hero - founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, this book provides amazing insight into the life and times of Silicon Valley's most audacious entrepreneur. If you think you are busy, wait to you read about the life of the incredible Elon Musk.

Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

WHY? This fascinating book takes you on the journey of leading psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Daniel Kahneman. It explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. I learnt a lot about cognitive biases trough this excellent book.

The Great Courses Lecture Series

WHY? A solid 16 hours of university level lectures of Neuroscience - what's more to love? Neuroscience was my favourite part of psychology when I was an undergrad, so despite most of this being a nice reminder of what I learnt at uni, it provided and excellent overview of the key concepts of neuro, from brain anatomy, to everything including memory, decision making, addiction, learning and more.

Start with Why, Simon Sinek

WHY? In the office we try and advocate for the 5 whys. Why did that cause that cause that cause that cause that cause that... This book is along hte same lines and illustrates the importance of leaders asking why? It starts with a Why analyses leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and Steve Jobs all started why a why. The book also goes on to provide a framework for leaders to inspire others and get things done through approaching challenges with a reason aspect.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson

WHY? Firstly, any book that has a title like this is already a winner in my eyes. But it's content match the quality of the title. Instead of advocating that a positive outlook on life changes everything, this book states "F**k positivity." The author quotes, "Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it." He tells it like it is and flips the notion of "let’s-all-feel-good mindset" on it's head. I love this book because it is backed up by hard scientific evidence suggesting that instead of making lemonade out of lemons, we instead need to get hard stomachs.



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