Admittedly, I'm very weird in many ways. First off, my wife and I have five children. Weird. Also, I'm a pretty big (very big) Star Wars fan. Weirder. I genuinely think D&D and Pokemon are just as engaging and valuable to the human experience as football or baseball. Straight up nerdy.
But one of the strangest things about me is my reading habit. I enjoy fiction, theology and biographies, but my favorite genre is business. I genuinely love books about business, leadership and creativity. I love them because, if the author is good at their craft, the book ends up really being about humanities triumphs and failings. These books are about how we as humans love to organize the universe and make chaos into calm (or more often than not, chaos into extreme chaos). Side note: My wife is just as strange. Her favorite genre is Cookbooks. Seriously. She reads them cover to cover like a novel. Talk about a weirdo …
During this season of quarantine and COVID-19, there is this overwhelming message that each person should take advantage of this time: learn a new skill, maximize the efficiency of each moment, prove to your employer that you can work even harder at home. I really can see the point behind this. I mean, we do want to strive to make sure our businesses do well and the economy doesn’t fall more than it already has. But just as much (and maybe more so) than our need to move and stay motivated during this time, we also need to stop and be still.
“Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that’s not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment. Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today. But … we seem to like it. Alarming statistics back this observation up, showing that many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they do in their own homes. Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure). Americans don’t really know how to do NOTHING. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype — the overstressed executive who goes on vacation but who cannot relax.”
So, I’ve put together this list. If it’s one of those days when you need to keep your mind engaged, crush it at work, and do your part to bring back the economy, I hope you find these helpful. However, if you’re weird like me, I hope these help you stop and be still. I hope they remind you that, if we don’t pause, we can forget not only our own story, but the stories of each other. I do hope these books make you excited about where you could be in your life, career, and journey, but also where you are now, in this moment, and how far you’ve already come.
We’ve linked these books to a service that will help you order online through an independent bookseller. Especially during this time, our dollars aren’t just dollars — they are gifts.
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All by Austin Kleon
Austin Kleon is a mixed media artist out of Austin, TX. These three books are a perfect series centering on how to get started making something (you never really start with a blank page), how to be motivated to move forward (always have an outlet to show your work), and how to keep momentum after you’ve finished and show each project.
All by Seth Godin
I try to read everything Seth Godin produces. Fifteen years ago, I read Purple Cow, and I found an author I could really invest in. His explorations gets to why we are motivated as humans to not only make things, but how we also hold ourselves back from making those things great.
Purple Cow deals with setting yourself apart as a business.
AMAL shows the difference between lying and storytelling.
The Dip confronts the point in every company/skill/life when you have to push through an essential but incredibly difficult season/class/project.
Linchpin picks up on setting yourself apart not just as a business but as a leader.
Tribes focuses on delivering a service to a group instead of shouting at the world.
Both by Marty Neumeier
Both are incredible books on building strong brands and differentiating yourself in your market.
By Donald Miller
An incredibly practical book about how to be a guide to your clients instead of posing yourself as their hero.
by Brené Brown
I’m a fan of the speaker/author Brené Brown. She is a researcher on fear, venerability, courage and leadership. This book serves as a summary of three of her previous books.
by Todd Henry
Is leading a team of “creatives” different than leading a team not solely focused on creativity? YES. This book breaks down leadership practices to help your creative team succeed and not experience burnout.
by Malcolm Gladwell
I’m also a huge fan of Malcolm. His studies on human traits are my favorite, and this is at the top of the list. Talking to Strangers explores the question: why we humans so bad at reading people other humans?
by Robert Iger
Bob Iger just stepped down as CEO of Disney and could in fact go down as one of the most successful CEOs in history. This autobiography covers his business philosophy, as well as key struggles and triumphs in his career at ABC, ESPN and Disney.
by Yvon Chouinard
Yvon is the founder of Patagonia. I first heard about his style of leadership on an episode of the How I Built This podcast. He has a wonderful conviction on the balance of business and ecology. Patagonia goes above and beyond for not only their customers, but for the world at large.
by Andrew Peterson
Another autobiography, this one centering on the musician and author Andrew Peterson. This is an insightful read on creativity, but also an outstanding read on the subject of community and calling.
by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens
Does creativity make economic sense? This book is a study of Jim Henson and his answer to this question.
by David Brooks
David Brooks is a conservative-leaning journalist for the New Yorker and other publications. He reached the top of his career when everything fell apart for him. He found himself alone at the top of the mountain he was told was the goal of life. He lifted his head and saw another mountain, a better mountain, that he should have been pursuing all along.
by Greg McKeown
This book is a study on a single phrase: less, but better.
by James K.A. Smith
A complete life-shifting book for me. Jamie Smith’s book reminds the reader that humans are not simply “thinking things,” but are primarily “loving things.” The book leaves you with a simple question: What do you actually love?
by Laura Vanderkam
A basic study of the morning habits of successful leaders.
by Ed Catmull
Much like You are What You Love, this book served as a paradigm shift for me. It’s a wonderful book on the founding and philosophy of Pixar and the how to lead a creative company well.
Feel inspired to read any of the books we’ve recommended? Give us a shout and tell us what you think! Reach us on any of our social media outlets, or email Caleb directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.