In a world where everyone is rushing and there’s always a million and one things to do, sitting down with a book is becoming more and more of a luxury. To me, it’s still the ultimate luxury. The chance to learn something new, to delve deep into a subject and immerse yourself in a different world for a few hours is part of the joy of being human.
As we begin to gear up for 2015 … the year we all try to make shit happen … it’s great to do a little bit of delving into the world of books. There are books that inspire, books that provoke, and books that help you slot all the pieces into place to make this year YOUR year. I’ve compiled a list of ten of my favourites I think would be a great place to start.
Most of these books were published in 2014, and a few slightly before that. There are some remarkable books being released in this calendar year, and we’ll probably do a round-up again near the end of the year to point you toward to ones we liked the best.
Here are my picks for 10 inspiring, thought-provoking and confronting books on creativity, productivity and entrepreneurship you should read right now:
1. #GIRLBOSS, by Sophia Amoruso
Part riveting and hilarious memoir, part business guide for bad girls, Sophia Amoruso writes candidly about how she went from a dumpster diving, hitchhiking teen to selling vintage clothes online, then founding Nasty Gal, a $100 million dollar online fashion retailer with more than 300 employees. Sophia’s no typical CEO - or typical anything - and she’s written this book as a guide for anyone seeking a unique path to success.
2. The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, by Amanda Palmer
Imagine standing on a box in the middle of a busy city, dressed as a white-faced bride, and silently using your eyes to ask people for money. Or touring Europe in a punk cabaret band, and finding a place to sleep each night by reaching out to strangers on Twitter. For Amanda Palmer - singer, songwriter, street artist, and crowdfunding and crowd asking advocater - actions like these have gone beyond satisfying her basic needs for food and shelter - they've taught her how to turn strangers into friends, build communities, and discover her own giving impulses.
I’ve just finished reading this amazing book. It is a rallying-cry for the culture of crowdfunding, of a new way for artists - and anyone with a creative idea - to find their audience and get it off the ground - by learning to ask for help. Based on her popular TED talk, this book is an absolute must on any entrepreneur’s reading list.
3. Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age, by Cory Doctorow
Doctorow is an acclaimed science fiction and fantasy author, as well as the creator of boingboing.net. In his latest book, he offers up a collection of essays on that modern powerhouse of publishing - the internet, and what it means for writers and creators and those who create the content that is consumed for free. Billed by some reviewers as a “populist manifesto for the information revolution”, The Wall Street Journal, Cory has written a guide for anyone creating on how to get their work known, and how to find and cultivate an audience who will pay you for it.
4. The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us, Diane Ackerman
This one is for those of us in scientific fields, who cannot help by be swept away with the engaging and frank prose of Ackerman - an acclaimed poet and naturalist - as she explores the relationship between humanity and the environment. This book is not a downer, but an incredible celebration of human ingenuity and the variety and complexity of the world we live in. As Ackerman herself says, “Our mistakes are legion, but our talent is immeasurable.” From buildings warmed by the body heat of a nearby train station to orangutans enjoying iPads, this book is all about inspiration and invention.
5. Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain, by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Everywhere you look, people in the business world are having nifty ideas, creating amazing products, or solving problems in new and interesting ways. You may look at all this innovation and wish you could have a piece of the pie. “Where’s my nifty idea?” you ask. Well, Levitt and Dubner, NYT-bestselling authors, documentary makers, podcasters and freaks, walk you through a new way of solving problems, using their unique storytelling prowess to explore examples from rock stars to hot-dog-eating champions and Nigerian email scammers.
6. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain
In the business world, Susan Cain believes the introverts are “second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent.” Cain’s book seeks to understand the introvert’s role in a society that glorifies the extrovert. This book is a toolbox for all types of people - firstly, it calls upon the introvert to understand their own behaviour, and to learn how to take advantage of their unique traits to thrive in an extroverted world. And secondly, it seeks to cut through the bias towards extroversion and show extroverts the potential they are overlooking by marginalising the “quiet”.
This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves. It’s a must-read if you consider yourself an introvert or if you run a team where introverts and extroverts must work together.
7. Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace
Ed Catmull is one of the founders (along with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios. In Creativity Inc., he talks openly and candidly about what it means to build a creative culture, manage a team, and to continually strive for originality.
For the first time, you can peer behind the magic of the world’s most successful animation studio, and look into the management that makes that magic possible. With Forbes saying Creativity Inc. “just might be the greatest business book ever written,” I think it’s an ideal addition to this list.
8. The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Entrepreneurship, Richard Branson.
Richard Branson has never shied away from outlandish challenges that others (including his colleagues) consider sheer lunacy. He has taken on giants like British Airways and won, and giants like Coca-Cola and lost. His latest book, The Virgin Way, is all about his leadership tactics, many of which are unorthodox and slightly terrifying. Branson’s unique, distinctive voice add colour to a topic that can often be quite dull. Expect to be surprised.
I’ve read a lot of Branson’s books before. What I love about his writing is the fact that, because he is dyslexic, he writes in a very simplistic way, It means that any of his books can be picked up and understood by anyone of any age. This makes them a fantastic tool to inspire bright teens and college students who want to forge their own path in the world.
9. How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson
Maybe it’s my archaeological past talking, but I’m a big believer in looking to the past to figure out the future. Steven Johnson takes a look at six inventions from centuries past, looking at how modern staples of life came from the minds of hobbyists, revolutionaries, and backyard tinkerers. Johnson uses his signature style to connect seemingly disparate happenings, demonstrating a serendipitous path of innovation, where pendulum clocks helped trigger the industrial revolution and clean water made the manufacture of computer chips possible.
This book is all about collaboration and innovation, two of the traits most sought after in modern business. A fascinating and thought-provoking read on the nature of technology and the people who create it.
10. Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), by Christian Ruder
Christian Rudder co-founded OKCupid, the internet’s most well-known dating site. In this fascinating, titillating and sometimes scary book, Rudder uses data analytics to have a look at human nature, based on the information his users post about themselves online. Did you know you can predict a person’s sexual orientation and intelligence level based on what they choose to “like” on Facebook? Or that smart people prefer curly fries? Rudder can trace human migrations over time, explore dynamics of rage and racism, and chart the rise and fall of America’s most hated word through Google Searches.
Rudder’s book gets to the very heart of issues of human need, data collection and examination, the ethics of online, and privacy in the digital age, and he does it all with wit and insight.
What books are you enjoying right now?