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10 Successful Entrepreneurs Reveal The Books That Changed Their Lives

These founders tell us about the books that influenced their way of thinking about life and work.

Nina Zipkin

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Good ideas don’t exist in a vacuum

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Melissa Ben-Ishay – baked by Melissa

Getting a chance to learn about other people’s lives and points of view, whether from a novel or autobiography, can help people, including entrepreneurs, change their perspective and lead to unexpected opportunities.

Everything from being inspired to launch a start-up to pivoting a business model and altering how to approach life can come from reading books.

Check out the books and authors these entrepreneurs say truly made them change the way they think about the world.

On giving back

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Gavin Armstrong

It raises interesting questions about how the private sector should be spending their money and how they should be earning their money. It all depends on the age and stage of your company and what commitment and obligation you should have to giving back.

Because we started from day one with the objective to have a social impact embedded throughout our supply chain, we were able to weave that into all of our actions and our entire process. And as we grow, that culture and value grows with us.

Related: 3 Books To Help You Become Better, Smarter And Faster

On overcoming obstacles

ryan-holmes

Ryan Holmes 

It tells the story of author Slavomir Rawicz, a Polish soldier who is imprisoned by the Soviets after World War II. To gain his freedom, Rawicz goes on a remarkable journey through the frozen Siberian tundra, the Gobi desert, the Himalayan Mountains and to India. The Long Walk is about everyday human struggle, overcoming obstacles and achieving the impossible. That’s why I keep 10 copies on my desk to give away at any moment.

On work-life balance

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Julia Hartz

It outlines the current issues around self worth and approach to time, but also gender roles and pursuit of work-life balance.

I was so moved by the book – which is chock-full of supporting data points and useful reflections – that we had the author join the company to talk about her book via Google Hangout.

On unexpected beauty

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Jeff Chapin

A professor of mine in college wrote it, David P. Billington. When I started college, I was headed down the path of becoming a chemist. I’d always wanted to wear a lab coat and work in a lab.

But when I read this book in my first year of college for a class about structural art – essentially, the beauty found in architecture and engineering – it was so captivating I switched majors and pursued a civil engineering degree focused on structures. To this day, it’s still a reference for me in my work, even though I’ve switched from structures to products and work on a much smaller physical scale.

On positive thinking

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Jessica Dilullo Herrin

It’s one of the knowledge sources that affirmed for me that a positive mind is a powerful thing – not just for yourself but for your team and the people around you. A positive mind isn’t something where you figure out how to have it and you’re set for good. It’s like personal hygiene; you’ve got to keep it up every day.

Related: 5 Books to Read Before Starting Your Business

On perspective and perception

melissa-ben-ishay

Melissa Ben-Ishay

I found them interesting, because it’s like I read the same story from different perspectives. It was great to see how two people experienced the same exact thing and still have different perspectives – and they’re both right. It was an eye-opening thing for me. In life, there are things you know and things you don’t know and for everything else, there are the doors of perception.

On managing a team

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Dave Rusenko

  • Name: Dave Rusenko
  • Company: Weebly
  • Book: My recent favourite book is The Rickover Effect by Theodore Rockwell about the nuclear bomb.
He’s a very controversial personality. He was ahead of his time as as far as management goes, and he had some really interesting thoughts on how to run an effective organisation. It’s more than a story. He provides compelling anecdotes and thoughts on how to get the best out of people.

On living your best life

josh-reeves

Josh Reeves

  • Name: Josh Reeves
  • Company: Gusto
  • Book: The Monk and The Riddle by Randy Komisar, a professor of mine at Stanford. The book is about the purpose of life through his own experience.

He brings up the idea of an extended life plan – the concept that somehow people think we’re going to do something now that might not be good but will enable us to do what we want in the future. But that mindset replicated over time means you never get to living the life you want. The main message is the journey itself matters. It’s the best way to build the best future.

On human nature

jack-groetzinger

Jack Groetzinger

It seems a little Machiavellian. It’s the way you use sell tactics to get people to comply with you, but I think that it can also be used for good. In the case of SeatGeek, figuring out how we can harness social psychology, human psychology, to allow people to do more stuff, have more fun and go to more events.

Related: 5 Kinds of Non-business Books Every Entrepreneur Needs to Read

On human flaws

aaron-hirschhorn

Aaron Hirschhorn

  • Name: Aaron Hirschhorn
  • Company: DogVacay
  • Book: I love books that help you understand or change your perspective on life, on humanity, on what it means to be a person, on what it means to be an animal.

There are two books that I love. Life of Pi, where the main character grows up in a zoo and talks about what it means to be an animal in the wild and an animal in the zoo, and then he sort of experiences it on a journey. I just love the perspective on humanity there.

The other one is The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is a book written from the perspective of a dog. And it’s just so pure and beautiful about how this dog views his owner. You get that the owner is a flawed human, but the dog doesn’t see any of that.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Nina Zipkin is a staff reporter at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.

Self Development

A Future-proof You

Fostering a growth mindset is critical if you want to be irreplaceable in the future.

Rob Jardine

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Growth mindset

Our ability to succeed and grow is determined by how adaptive we are, and our ability to learn. The good news? You can foster a Growth Mindset.


Have you ever wondered why some people can view failure as the end of the world while others see it as an exciting opportunity? Psychologists and neuroscientists have focused on this phenomenon over the last decade to better understand how we approach challenges in our personal and business lives.

The phenomenon has been defined as a ‘Growth Mindset’ by Stanford Psychologist Dr Carol Dweck and has been linked to higher levels of collaboration, resilience, motivation, performance and innovation. Since publishing her book, Mindset (1.6 million in print already), the term Growth Mindset has begun to appear in many major leadership frameworks and school curriculums, both locally and internationally.

In fact, Growth Mindset has become a core strategy at many global companies, including Microsoft, Google and NASA. It’s also been put forward as one of the key skills for the future world of work, as it’s believed to have a significant impact on the ability to handle change in our environments.

Some believe that in order to future-proof ourselves in the new world of work, driven by rapid change, the question we should be asking ourselves is no longer “what skillset do we need to have?” To ultimately determine both personal and business success we need to rather ask “what mindset do we need to have?”

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

A mindset is the unconscious way that we view our world. It’s the lens that influences the way that we make sense of, and interpret, information. This ultimately guides our decision- making and our behaviour.

Our lens is largely determined by our experiences and interaction with the world.  A Growth Mindset is a lens by which you interpret the world based on a belief that you have about the ability to grow and learn. Specifically, it’s the belief that you can grow and learn throughout life and that your ability is not something that you are born with.

Sounds philosophical and soft, but it has since been underpinned by advances in neuroscience and psychological research and has proven to have a hard business impact. Research started with school children and the way that different children handle challenges and setbacks. Since its application to the business context, researchers have seen it linked to higher levels of performance, greater frequency of feedback and different ways that information is processed in the brain. Some of its biggest applications have been in goal-setting, performance and development conversations in the business context. It’s also believed to be a core principle underpinning an innovation mindset.

Related: 8 Mindsets That Will Set You On The Path To Success

Growth vs Fixed Mindset

A Growth Mindset is contrasted by a Fixed Mindset, which is a belief that you are the way you are and that you can’t get better. In truth, we possess both mindsets that vary related to certain tasks that trigger either a Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset response. Sometimes, having a Fixed Mindset is okay, but for important tasks it can hamper our performance.

For example, I can have a belief in my ability to improve my rugby skills, but if I’m not big enough to make the Springboks I still won’t make it. Although I can definitely improve my ability at rugby, I also have to be realistic and recognise what parts of the environment trigger which mindset to leverage the best parts of my thinking.

Where having a mindset does not serve us, and is easily triggered, is in learning something new, which normally prompts a Fixed Mindset reaction. In the new world of work there is an increased need to learn and adapt that will ultimately determine our ability to succeed and grow. However, our mindset is at the core of how we interpret the inevitable challenges thrown at us.

A Fixed Mindset response generally focuses on looking good at all times. This places an emphasis on proving oneself, demonstrating skill and performing better than others. Although this can be used to describe the current status quo of business, many companies and institutions are beginning to realise the negative side effects of this dated approach in the new world of work.

This mindset makes us focus on problems, get bogged down in details, be defensive or anxious and get derailed by negative emotions. However, if we change the focus to not ‘look good’ (Fixed) but ‘get better’ (Growth) we can change the way we interpret the same challenges or changes. We focus on improving ourselves, developing skills and performing better than before. When you apply this approach to work you seek out role models, take better risks, set better goals and ultimately become more effective — because it comes from a belief that you can get better.

Leverage your brain for better performance

A Growth Mindset can be nudged with language and changed over time. How you set goals, give feedback and have conversations can all influence whether you trigger a Fixed or Growth Mindset response.

Once you understand Fixed and Growth mindsets there are two strategies to make sure you elicit the best response to challenges in your business environment. One easy way is to simply add the word “yet” when communicating feedback.

Related: An Entrepreneurial Mindset – Why And How To Develop One

Instead of saying that someone “did not do a presentation well,” say that they “did not do the presentation well yet.” This places a focus and a belief on the ability to improve and not a focus on judging performance. This enables the brain to be at its best to process this information and see it as an opportunity to grow and not an opportunity to justify performance or get bogged down in details.

Another great way is to apply the Rule of Three when faced with a challenge that you find threatening. When faced with a challenge think about where you were six months ago, or how you had previously approached a different challenge, and reflect on your progress.

Once you acknowledge your progress, think about where you might be six months after this challenge. This reaffirms the belief that we can all get better and that challenges, although they may stretch us, make us better by the end of it.

By being aware of how our mindset affects us and taking active steps to reframe the same challenges that initially scared us, we can leverage our brains for better performance.

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Self Development

Trust, But Don’t Be Stupid. Get Agreements!

Everyone has been disappointed at some time in their lives, and often by the people you least expected it from. Trust is not given, it is earned. But even after being earned, don’t be naïve about it. Temper that trust with a splash of cynicism regarding the human race.

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There are many entrepreneurs who have lost everything because they placed all their trust in a certain individual or group of people. Accountants and financial directors have stolen millions from entrepreneurs who trusted them with their banking. Sales reps and account managers have made businesses go into liquidation after taking all the customers or key accounts. Business partners who you trusted with your life — the godparents of your children! — left with your business and hard-earned cash, laughing all the way.

Business is a funny thing and money makes people react in unpredictable ways. Business people are still just people. And not all of them are awesome. Agreements were invented for this very reason.

The smart entrepreneurs protect themselves against these possibilities. As a basic principle, draft and conclude proper agreements with everyone you do business with. Include restraint of trade clauses with employees, partners and suppliers. Set up internal controls in the company to ensure that no one individual is allowed to make payments or have access to cash.

Never rely on customers to fulfil their promises and don’t take risks that could sink you. Customers often over-promise and under-deliver, so be careful with their credit terms and ensure that there are proper agreements in place in case anything should go wrong.

These are all basic principles in business and most corporates will comply with them but the SME owner wants to hustle and conclude the deal. That’s a shaky tightrope to walk when you don’t have piles of cash to cushion the fall.

Related: Understanding Shareholder Agreements

Essential agreements

As a bare minimum, you need to ensure that you have the following agreements in place to help you run your business effectively and protect against any disputes that may arise as your company grows:

1. Ownership

Despite being sure that the relationship will last, it’s wise to prepare for the worst. A partnership or shareholder agreement sets out the responsibilities of each party and the procedures for settling conflicts. It also sets the terms and mitigates risks for all involved should one party wish to exit the agreement.

2. Employees

Employment agreements regulate the relationship with your employees and help to avoid misunderstandings and disputes. They regulate leave, working hours, deductions, termination, etc. The last thing you ever want, is to end up at the CCMA without an employment agreement in place.

3. Customers

A sales agreement sets the framework for delivery (inclusions and exclusions) and payment expectations. It creates a shared understanding between you and your client. When everything is working, no one ever refers to a contract. When there’s a problem, you can have endless disputes or simply refer to an agreement both parties signed.

Related: Supplier Agreements – Do I Need A Written Agreement?

4. Suppliers or subcontractors

When you depend on suppliers or subcontractors to fulfil your service obligations, you should definitely mitigate risks and protect your intellectual property. Have an agreement that stipulates delivery or performance requirements, includes a confidentiality and restraint of trade clause, and specifies how and when payments will be made. Most importantly, include provisions for rights and the action you can take if any part of this agreement fails.

The point of having agreements in place is to protect your business interests. There is little use in a contract that can’t be legally enforced. Having an attorney draw up your agreements may seem expensive, possibly over the top, but it will go a long way to ensuring that you can avoid legal proceedings in the long run.

Don’t be pennywise, pound foolish. Get the right agreements in place and protect yourself! Trust, but don’t be stupid about it.

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Self Development

Will You Make The Right Decision?

Our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make, both big and small. Improve your decision-making process, and you’ll improve every aspect of your life and business.

Erik Kruger

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“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.” — Paulo Coelho

Much of what I do in coaching is to help my clients gain clarity around the decisions they make. Every day we must make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions. Some of them are big and will have a dramatic impact on our personal and business lives. Others are small and made automatically without us paying much attention to them.

No matter how big or small a decision is, it pays to have a clear intention for why you are choosing a specific course of action.

After all, our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make. The small and the big ones.

1. The Values Link

Society has conditioned us to think of success mostly in terms of achievement. This means that when faced with a decision about your future, you should take the option that would potentially deliver more money, more certainty, and more stuff.

I have often spoken to clients who think they want something, but it turns out to be a temporary infatuation. Once the emotional high wears off they realise that the shiny object was merely a distraction.

Related: 6 Common Decision-Making Blunders That Could Kill Your Business

So, one of the best things you can do is to first create some distance from the decision you have to make. However, this is not always possible. In such cases I talk to my clients about the Values Link.

Essentially, we are trying to see which decision will link best to your values (current and future). I recently met with a great business coach to discuss potential collaborations. Our coaching differs in many ways. One of the key ways is that he has an awesome office where clients come to meet him and I do all my coaching digitally.

Leaving the meeting I had some office envy. I immediately started looking at To Let signs and googling office spaces to rent. I could see in my mind how my office space would look. Leather chairs. A wall filled with books. A tray with crystal glasses and premium whisky.

When the emotional high died down I realised it was not what I wanted at all. Conducting all my work digitally is exactly what I want because I value my freedom and mobility. This is not to say he doesn’t value these things, it just means that we prioritise and action our values differently. Be aware though that making decisions in this manner requires you to know what your values are.

2. Visualise the future

Visualisation is a great tool with many applications. Something I often ask my clients to do is to spend time visualising the possible outcomes of the decision they have to make.

I am not talking about a quick glimpse of what it may look like. I mean immersing yourself in it and feeling it.

What does it feel like when you have unhinged yourself from a certain commitment? What does it feel like when you have a new opportunity in front of you?

Try and visualise yourself into a day in the future and feel what it feels like. Sounds weird but you should try it!

3. Binary is boring

Many of us think that a decision is choosing between X or Y. In reality it could mean choosing between X, Y, Z, A, or B.

There is a paradox here. Research has shown that we make better decisions when we limit the amount of options we must choose between. However, do not limit yourself unnecessarily.

Use this paradox to your advantage. Take the time to be creative before making a decision and create as many different scenarios as you can. Create extreme versions of the decision, look for the middle ground, look at it from above and below. Generate possibilities.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Make Good Decisions Quickly

Once you have done that, eliminate as many options until only the most useful ones remain. You do this by linking it back to your values and by checking the decisions against other criteria that you have determined.

Decisions that count

Decision-making is your most powerful tool for creating a bright future.

So, take care of the decisions you make, and they will take care of you. Remember above all to bring intention to every action and decision and watch the magic happen.

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