6 audiobooks that influenced my business
By Ballast Point director Mat Wilk
When my first child Koby was born 13 years ago I was partway through reading Midnight’s Children by British-Indian author Salmon Rushdie. I recall opening it where the bookmark was every evening and falling asleep before I got to the bottom of the page. I read the same page over and over again many times until I simply gave up. As life got busier with more kids and my own business I have never returned to reading in any substantial way. A few years ago, I tried audiobooks and became hooked. I could listen while walking, riding my bike, driving, cooking, doing laundry or the dishes. My concentration has never been great, but the audio keeps going regardless of my lapses, so even if I miss something I still get to the end of the book. I also find there is less effort required in using my ears rather than my eyes to read. This seems to enable my brain to process the information differently, and better critically evaluate what I am listening to. Here are six audiobooks that influenced my business.
- Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
One question in this excellent book that I found particularly interesting was about the amount of detail we put into things — which details matter, and which don’t. For example, an animator at Pixar spent an inordinate amount of time on artwork for a CD cabinet that was to fall and spill CDs in the children’s film Toy Story. They individually designed every CD cover, which was mostly imperceptible to the audience. It forever changed the way movies are made, but the real reason Pixar was successful was not the amount of detail, it was great storytelling. The buildings we design need a strong narrative. I have seen money thrown at elaborate detailing in design and construction many times, but without a strong story, this money is wasted.
2. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
This book written by two American economists is very well-written and brilliant in its arguments. For me personally it was a great crash course in political science and economics. The lessons we learn from history help explain what we see happening in the world today. Its main hypothesis is that to succeed economically in the long run a nation needs to be politically inclusive and shun traditions of extraction. The recurring theme is that self-interest of a ruling elite and a culture of extraction have always stymied economic progress. For me, the same is true in business. I believe innovative, inclusive businesses will always trump rent-seeking businesses in the long term.
3. The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time by Jim McKelvey
This book arguably influenced me the most. It explained a lot of what I see around me that was previously inexplicable. The co-founder of payments processing start-up Square, Jim McKelvey, introduces the idea of industries being like walled cities — they consider what is outside the wall as a scary place full of risk and uncertainty. Businesses see opportunities through the prism of their own industry, and they continually fail to spot opportunities that lie outside this.
4. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams
This is a fun read from an interesting guy, and although I don’t agree with everything Scott Adams says, I value some of the advice: you don’t have to be the best at something, you just have to be good enough at a combination of things that no-one else is. The creator of the Dilbert comic strip has opinions on just about everything, and he’s not afraid to share them. He’s willing to give almost anything a go, and mostly fail, but by throwing lots of mud at the wall inevitably something sticks.
5. Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
This book by one of the world’s most successful inventors and entrepreneurs, Ray Dalio, inspired me to think about the principles that govern my life and my business. It made me define the fundamentals of property development, design and construction that have become a blueprint for my business. It is a very useful toolkit for businesspeople.
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
Jim Collins is perhaps the godfather of modern management. Huge corporations such as Google, Amazon, Apple and Netflix have all built amazing enduring great businesses following the principles set out by him. This book differs from almost every other book about business and management I have read – Collins uses empirical data comparing successful businesses with their unsuccessful analogues and finds clear patterns. In my opinion, there is no other more important book as a business owner. The same principles apply whether you are a tiny business just starting out or Google.