Around this time in 2014, I was eagerly anticipating the new year. Like most people do, thinking through potential resolutions — cleansing old habits and inspiring new ones, for the next chapter.
As much as I’d like to believe the opposite, I’ve never been the resolution type. It’s nice to entertain the idea of setting a resolution, but in practice, I could never commit to anything.
I suppose thinking about potential resolutions was a good way to identify what I wanted to change, but it never went much beyond that. Falling short of how to initiate said change.
However last year was different. I was ready to commit.
While dreaming about my soon to be perfect resolution, I thought about the interesting people I’ve met over the years, and the qualities I admired most in them. One noticeable commonality, I realized, was many of these people were voracious readers, making time to work reading into their daily routine.
Reading. A simple habit, probably more common than I’m making it seem, but one as equally meditative as it is mind-expanding, two things we all should welcome with open arms.
With a simple resolution in mind, I started prepping. I wanted to hit the ground running over our New Years beach vacation, starting the year on the right foot.
Late 2014 was a challenging time, and I noticed myself feeling burnt out in more than one way. For the past several years, I’ve been (and continue to be) in grind-mode, building Authentic F&F and working on a seemingly endless amount of challenging client work.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being in grind-mode and enjoy the hustle being a business owner provides, but the daily brute force approach of working harder to get further was showing diminishing returns.
While I’ve always thought of myself as secular, I felt finding a deeper sense of personal spirituality would help me with the burn out I was experiencing. Becoming more thoughtful of the work I do, and the energy I bring into each day. Ideally inspiring larger leaps ahead, not by doing more work, but better work.
With those sentiments in mind I started my search for books. Book which were inspirational, thoughtful, business-minded, and in my own personal way, spiritual.
I’m happy to report I was able to keep the resolution going the majority of the year, with only a few periods of time where I wasn’t immersed in a book. While some of the books will inspire other more specific posts, I wanted to share my reading list, talking about a few common themes I found throughout the year.
In chronological order of reading:
- How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
- Tao of Minimalism, Charlie Forness
- Siddhartha, Herman Hesse
- Teachings of the Buddha, Jack Kornfield
- Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman
- To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink
- The Art of War, Sun Tzu
- Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcom Gladwell
- Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey
- The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday
- Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
- Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux
- Holacracy: The New Management System for Rapidly Changing World, Brian Robertson
- Blinkracy, Sebastian Klein & Ben Hughes
- Letters from a Stoic, Seneca
- The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene
- Growth Hacker Marketing, Ryan Holiday
- Traction, Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares
- Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink
From all those reads, the collection of books can be broken down into a few specific sections, listed below. I’ve included the specific books as notes on each title, for reference.
In the early part of the year I clearly dug into some heavy spiritual books. Thinking back to the burnout I was feeling, I was looking to read on concepts advocating for inner-calm and resolve. By nature, I’m somewhat of a neurotic and anxious person, and reading these topics give me a refreshing perspective to balance these inclinations.
Of all of the books I read this year, The Obstacle is the Way was by far the most impactful. The book, written by Ryan Holiday, provides a practical introduction to Stoicism, a school of philosophy dating to the 3rd centuary BC. In the book, Ryan provides a modern take on the principles of Stoicism, walking the reader through many stoic virtues and backing them with historical stories of their application.
The book itself was a fantastic deeply satisfying read. It was practical, ripe with inspirational tales of historical figures, but more importantly, for me, spiritual, with it’s introduction to the Stoic school of thought.
Stoicism, to me, was the exact type of “spiritualism” I was searching for. It’s secular, in that there is no religious mythology, but deeply philosophical, providing guidance to many questions we all face with during our lives.
Stoicism presents both an optimistic and pessimistic way of looking at the world. Optimistic in how it pragmatically identifies and qualifies chaotic pieces of our lives, and pessimistic in how it advocates you to analyze the future: planning for the worst, striving for the best, being adaptable to the challenges you’ll face, and finding harmony within the honest path you’ve taken.
You will come across obstacles in life — fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.
See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must. What blocked the path now is a path. What once impeded action advances action. The Obstacle is the Way.
The second set of books were business-oriented, but not in a purely tactical way. They all spoke on more macro-level concepts; about business, philosophy, life, strategy, and purpose.
Going back to working more thoughtfully, these were books used to reframe my mind on more abstract and meaningful ways to think about the work I’m doing. Both personally and with our team at Authentic F&F.
Of these books two specifically stuck out.
On a personal level How to Win Friends and Influence People was monumental. Thoughtful and practical, advocating the reader to reshape the way they communicate with others.
The book, which was first published in 1936 has been a business classic for the better part of a century. It’s astonishing how the principles mentioned throughout the book are still relevant today. They touch on core tennants of the way we all communicate with one another — in business or life — and should be required reading for all people entering adulthood,
Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn — and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.
If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.
On the business side of things, Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux was also a game changer. In the book, Laloux introduces the new concept of Teal organizations, and gives a thorough history of how, over time and into the future, humanity utilized different organizational structures to produce work, and organize teams for success.
Within the book Laloux details how individuals within the modern workforce are searching for meaningful purposeful work. Work that makes them more engaged in their day to day routine, and helps facilitate happier more creative lives.
Laloux writes, people are no longer motivated solely by the need to provide ourselves with food and shelter, and furthermore, no longer motivated to climb an infinite corporate latter. But instead, want to work for businesses aligned with their personal values, and ones where they are empowered to contribute beyond simply checking a box and collecting a paycheck.
At Authentic F&F, we went through a reorganization of our mission, vision, and purpose this year. The ideas described and advocated by Laloux were pivotal in helping to inform the type of business we want to build, both for ourselves and for our team.
Towards the latter half of the year, I transitioned from the more philosophic reads to those being more practical and immediately actionable.
Of these books Traction was definitely a standout.
In 2015 Authentic brought on a few different team members, to assist with the business development and marketing areas of our business. Ultimately the majority of these efforts didn’t pan out, and amounted to disappointing numbers, after a rather large investment.
Albeit the downside of missing expectations, we’re left with a much more thorough understanding of the “non-technical” piece to our business. Where we previously labeled this nebulous area as “business development,” we now realize it’s much more, and there are a multitude of ways we can go about bringing attention, and traction, to our business.
Traction brought much needed clarity to understanding an area of our businesses we were admittingly not very experienced with, and the insight occurred right when we needed it the most. Even though Traction is geared towards startups, who may have a shorter and more engaged sales process, the concepts outlined in the book apply to every type of business, especially one who primarily operates online.
Rather than focusing our sales and marketing efforts on a non-targeted shotgun approach, there are testable iterative ways we can attract the attention necessary to find more qualified leads and reach higher sales numbers.
Throughout the year, I was inspired by the insights provided by each book. More serendipitous, though, were the common threads I found running between the books.
In many cases where one book left of, another would pick up. Even more surprising is the books had no direct relation to one another, and in some cases were separated in writing hundreds (even thousands!) of years.
How to Win Friends and Influence People used several historical examples of people who communicated honestly and virtuously. Some of those same people mentioned throughout the book were also mentioned in The Obstacle is the Way, detailing how these individuals personified several time-tested stoic principles.
Marcus Aurelius, the roman emperor and author of Medications, journaled about many of those virtues, and how they’re long standing characteristics of us as humans, creating a philosophy behind those ideas.
The ideals of stoicism, relate to many of the same values Laloux advocates for in Reinventing Organizations. I’d go so far as saying Reinventing Organizations could have been named “Building a Stoic Organization.”
Daniel Pink’s book Drive’s main concept is “Motivation 2.0,” where people are motivated not by direct material reward, but through being able to perform creative challenging work. Indirectly proving the concepts outlined in Reinventing Organizations.
And lastly, Holocracy. A concept of management mentioned several times within Reinventing Organizations, describing a set of practices to running, what Laloux would describe as a Teal Organization.
Maybe to the outside observer these relationships are not as indirect as they were to me, but I can’t help but think these unique perspectives all pointing in the same direction, help to validate one another, and show a more thoughtful and meaningful way of doing business.
Reflecting on the books read and new ideas brought to the table, my new years resolution was beyond successful. I feel more knowledgeable in areas where I was previous ignorant, and more importantly, found a deeper, more spiritual, piece of myself.
A resolution doesn’t need to be something you schedule every single day, but should help encourage you become a better version of yourself, for areas of your life you deem as important.
For me, I’m excited to have made reading a habit, now apart of my everyday routine. The new ideas learned and action they have inspired will hopefully be invaluable going forward. Needless to say I’m eager to plan for 2016 and the resolution it may or may not bring.