Sunday, May 31, 2015

Books which are currently changing my life

I’ve often seen lists of books which have had a positive impact on the individuals making the recommendation, but I’ve yet to see one which tells how the person’s life is currently being transformed by a particular set of books; which is what I’ve set out to do here.
I’ve therefore purposefully made use of the progressive form of the verb in the post’s title.
The Startup of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha
The world has changed and this book drives home the point that the best approach to professional success is to consider one’s career as a startup, and it stresses the importance of having a plan B, as well as an extra emergency backup plan in addition to your plan A.
So three plans: Your current career (Plan A); something else you’ve prepared yourself to jump into if need be or if deemed more beneficial (Plan B); and your contingency plan if all fails (Plan Z).
This is particularly useful to me, as I’ve used to always have two or three sources of income, but all have eventually dwindled down to my current Plan A, which is my historic masonry restoration business. I have had  a Plan Z in place for some time, but the book has now stirred me to work in a focused manner on putting a new Plan B in place.
So this book is literally in the process of changing the course of my life as I strive to implement the Plan ABZ approach.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel is a captivating thinker, and is often referred to as the Don of the Paypal Mafia.
There were some discussions lately about Silicon Valley being a religion. I don’t think that’s the case, but if it were, I’d personally vote Peter Thiel to be the leading ecclesiastic of it.
I’m speculating that having a meaningful intellectual conversation about changing the world with Peter Thiel would have to be a mind blowing event.
Powerful concepts abound in the book.
My personal takeaway is four-fold.
First, Peter Thiel makes the point that any given moment in the history of business happens only once.
“The next Mark Zuckerberg will not be starting a social network, the next Larry Page won’t be starting a search engine, the next Bill Gates will not be starting an operating system company; and if you are trying to imitate these people in some sense, you are not learning from them at all", he says. And so the question to be asking is "What great company is no one else building?"
Second, and this is something I’ve been keenly aware of on some level for the last 20 years, perfect competition takes away profitability. You need to build a monopoly through innovation so you become the last mover in a market and create lasting value and retain some of that value. This statement needs unpacking — watch the video and get it directly from Peter Thiel.
Third, we need to accelerate the pace of technology in order to sustain our society in the future. If you think we live in an age of great technological progress, think again. Our society is largely anti-technology. Go tell your neighbors that Google is working on life extension, and you’ll be surprised to find out that many of them will be against the idea and will claim that the planet will not have enough resources to cope with that advancement, etc. Most sci-fi films are dystopian. We tend not to trust technology to be used for the common good.
But the fact is we need much acceleration on the technology front so we can avoid environmental disasters, raise the entire planet’s standard of living, remove pollution, eliminate diseases, etc.
We’re behind, not ahead, so now is not the time to be complacent about innovating.
Fourth, businesses that could become big, need to start small — which is counter-intuitive.
Startup Communities by Brad Feld
Brad Feld has proven that startup communities can successfully be created outside of Silicon Valley.
His full thesis is explained in this book.
For me personally, the most comforting aspect of it is that tech communities need by default to be open to anyone who wants to be included.
This is helping me persist in my decision to make my Plan B centering around being involved in the tech/internet industry, even though my background is literally in brick and mortar.
I’ve come across other advice that would urge me to “stick to my day job”, but Brad’s philosophy will have been instrumental in helping me make the transition, if and when I do.
I also plan to help other non-technical individuals who have similar aspirations.
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
This book is really important to me.
Why make a particular career change? Why start a company? Why live at all?
Answer: ultimately, it is for the pursuit of happiness.
As I strive to make changes that’ll make me even happier, I’ve been asking what’s really important to me.
Something has clicked while reading this book.
My current idea of the type of business I want to build is like this:
It will be bootstrapped, as I’m not VC-fundable. It will be creating a positive impact in the world, which will be central to our company culture. Diversity will be celebrated.
When my condo would become too crowded, instead of renting an office space, I would rent a house in downtown Toronto for all of us to work from. I would mostly make the furniture with my wife out of raw materials from Home Depot, and with our artistic skills, we would fare adequately on the aesthetic front even with the self-imposed financial limitation.
Most of the space where there is natural day light in the house would be used as the company’s work space. Some of us could work on balconies or in the backyard in the summer.
I would reserve a room for my wife and I to sleep there so I could remove as much friction as possible in order to be fully engaged. My wife could retreat as often as she wanted to our condo in the North West end of the city.
I would turn the attic, or some other space, into a dorm so that employees would be welcome to crash there whenever they wanted — the more people in the house, the merrier.
We could all use the kitchen and outside BBQ and have meals together as we saw fit.
And we would be making a difference together.
That whole fantasy I’ve just described is what is currently close to my heart, as opposed to be aiming toward getting wealthy and living large, which were my aspirations of old.
I know which one would make me the happiest.
I've been slowly working  my way through this thought process in the last few years, but thank you Tony Hsieh for finally making it all come together for me.
The Alliance by Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh
It is common knowledge by now that the job security of yesteryear has evaporated into the ether.
The Alliance offers a powerful framework for the new market reality that we live in which aligns employer/employee interests for a pre-determined amount of time in an honest, mutually benefiting way.
I can’t imagine managing a company without this knowledge in the current world we are living in.
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Ever since Bitcoin has gotten the attention of the most elite tech investors and has caused them to invest millions in its infrastructure, I knew it would become a very important platform in the future — a fact which luckily has yet to materialize.
Many of us weren't quick enough on our feet to take advantage of the internet when it first arrived. It is still possible today to break through, but it is much more difficult due to the sheer volume of startups that compete for user attention.
Crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin offer the next big opportunity in the not-so-distant future.
The book provides the history of Bitcoin, and more importantly for me, it reveals what the catalyst has been in getting Silicon Valley interested — very useful to know, IMO.
My journey ahead is relatively understood to me; and if I arrive at my destination, it shall have been, in no small part, due to these books having guided me along the way.
I strongly recommend them to aspiring  — as well as seasoned — entrepreneurs; but, they would really benefit anyone.


  1. Wow. that's a stellar list. which one would rank #1 for you?

  2. If you forced me to narrow it down, it'd have to be a tie between the 'Startup of You' and 'Delivering Happiness' in terms of the directional influence they will potentially have had over my career and the type if life I want to live; but I look at them as being all pretty equally significant in re-shaping my mindset, and I can't therefore personally pick favorites :-)


    If you force me to narrow it down, it'd have to be a tie between the 'Startup of You' and 'Delivering Happiness' in terms of the directional influence they will potentially have had over my career and the type if life I want to live; but I look at them as being all pretty equally significant in re-shaping my mindset, and I can't therefore personally pick favorites :-)

  4. These are great, thanks for sharing not just the titles but how they're helping you think. That's infinitely helpful.

    As you can guess I've read Startup Communities a bunch of times. Have just started Thiel's Zero to One and will look for those others as well. My co-founder Jess just pointed me towards one called Small Giants, which I think you might like as well if you haven't run into yet ( )

  5. Incidentally, this posts helps me too. For one think it has helped me clarify my thoughts and put down a road map to refer to so as to stay on course. These observations are intimately connected to the changes that are going on in my life right now and so these books are having a powerful impact on me in real time.
    Thanks for the book recommendation. Judging it by its subtitle, it seems right up my alley.