Entrepreneurialism is difficult. Entrepreneurialism in a pandemic is flipping a coin—on one side of which gleams the phrase “smashing success” and on the other “absolutely crazy.”
Smashing success demands an attractive product, feistily relevant marketing, clever financing, and above-and-beyond leadership. I type above-and-beyond with keen focus on the word choice as the modern-day leader is no longer just a mentor but is called on more and more to be an example, a bit of a visionary, and an everyman psychologist too.
With so many things to be and a dwindling bank of time to draw from, the modern leader may need to plumb the thoughts, works, and lives of writers and people whose lives have been written about. Be it to find ways of better expressing themselves, minting new ideas, or wielding the tools to handle the concerns of the modern-day employee—from burnout to finding purpose in work.
With the strong suggestion of finding the time for the classic “chapter before bed” or the early morning read, these books are worthy additions to the entrepreneur’s bookshelf or e-reader.
“Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable” by Seth Godin
Short and still relevant though published in 2003, this book written by New York Times bestselling author and American Marketing Association’s Marketing Hall of Fame inductee Seth Godin peels your eyelids back and focuses your gaze on the business’ product a la “A Clockwork Orange.”
Godin’s argument that marketing’s “P’s” (pricing, promotion, publicity) aren’t working anymore finds a renewed twist of flavor as thousands of new products line Instagram on a daily basis. While many of them are well photographed and branded versions of meh, or in Godin’s language “cows,” your product needs to be something noticeable and worthwhile from the get-go: a purple cow.
“Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” by David Graeber
In the spring of 2013, anthropologist David Graeber published a viral essay entitled “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs.” In the same year, Graeber accepted a professorship at the London School of Economics—a fact I include to deter you from judging this actually dense book by its title.
The book, continuing the original essay, explores the explosion of seemingly meaningless, unfulfilling (simply bullshit) jobs, the explosive fallout of which extends upon the quality of work done as well as the mental well-being of the workforce.
Parts of the book glow with anecdotes of managers exacerbating the problem, providing readers with ample pitfalls to avoid. Choose to agree with Graeber’s solution of universal basic income or not, but find substantial cues on creating a workplace where employees can be creative and feel cared for—and less likely to burn out.
“The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield
A novelist working deeply in historical fiction, Steven Pressfield distills his thoughts on overcoming what he calls the creative person’s greatest enemy—resistance.
Entrepreneurship is a creative endeavor and in any such endeavor, resistance in the form of procrastination is inevitable. There are days when nothing gets done. Owe it to a willed adherence to perfectionism or just the humidity of the day.
“The War of Art” asks you to sit at your desk, tear down demands for perfect work or the best idea, and just get working. While there is a time for brainstorming and abstraction, some days require a good kick to simply get ahead. Steven Pressfield has entered the chat.
“Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain
I know. Find a booklist this isn’t on.
A New York Times bestseller written in a Charles-Bukowski-sort-of-beautiful prose that only Anthony Bourdain can so effortlessly wield, “Kitchen Confidential” focuses on the commercial kitchen and doesn’t ditch the dirty corners—where mold grows and which drugs were done.
The food business isn’t always glamorous and doesn’t fit cleanly in Instagram’s rigid boxes, but it is a business that feeds people—and is rewarding in more ways than one. This may be the oldest book on this list, but it is the list’s classic; the tale of inspiration, and one of the finest pieces of nonfiction in the last 20 years.
“The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming” by David Wallace-Wells
The newest book on the list covers a problem that humanity is facing and will face in a worryingly growing degree in the years to come: climate change. It’s a fundamental fact that needs immediate inclusion in any business plan as certain food becomes more scarce, dangerous weather events occur more regularly, and sociopolitical issues grow more complex. Wallace-Wells, who isn’t a scientist but is deputy editor for New York Magazine, has produced an urgent yet hopeful look at what’s about to happen and how it’ll affect absolutely all of us.
Any business owner would do well to recognize industry trends, but any individual simply must know that earthly life as we’re living it simply isn’t sustainable.
Ready for anything
The entrepreneur of today just about needs to be.
I doubt any single book will function as the key to open the doors of business success, but each new book is a chance to learn something new, relive something that’s been done, and empathize a bit better at the very least.