The 22 Immutable Books on Working For Yourself
I’ll never forget spending dozens of hours reading hundreds of Amazon reviews of The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss thinking: he must be completely full of shit.
At the time, I was in college. The book’s description:
"Whether your dream is escaping the rat race, experiencing high-end world travel, or earning a monthly five-figure income with zero management, The 4-Hour Workweek is the blueprint.”
All of my professors were preparing my peers and I to enter the rat-race, postpone our dreams of high-end world travel, and beg for monthly four-figure incomes with endless management.
My conclusion: I’m not giving this douchebag $14.99.
But the book always stayed in the back of my mind. A year later, I came across The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Gullibeau. The promise was similar, but slightly less grandiose.
"If you've ever thought, "There must be more to life than this," The Art of Non-Conformity is for you.
Based on Chris Guillebeau's popular online manifesto 'A Brief Guide to World Domination,' The Art of Non-Conformity defies common assumptions about life and work while arming you with the tools to live differently. You'll discover how to live on your own terms by exploring creative self-employment, radical goal-setting, contrarian travel, and embracing life as a constant adventure.
Inspired and guided by Chris's own story and those of others who have pursued unconventional lives, you can devise your own plan for world domination-and make the world a better place at the same time.”
It hit me at the right time, with the right amount of crazy.
I bought the book, and my life was never the same.
My mind now open to the possibilities, I bought The 4-Hour Workweek. I soon realized the marketing was exaggerated (but less than you’d think), and the book was indeed life-changing.
Tim Ferriss wasn’t the douchebag — I was the douchebag. For thinking that living the life I wanted was “unrealistic."
In the matter of two books, I had unlearned everything I was taught in college (and life).
I went from dreading the real world where I’d have to conform — to itching with anticipation to design my life.
That’s a story for another time, but the lesson was simple.
College teaches you how to fit in. Books (written by anomalies) teach you how to stand out (like an anomaly).
So I embarked on a second education. My first real education. Over the next seven years, I devoured hundreds (yes, literally hundreds) of books on how to create your own job and life.
Most of the books sucked. But the winners changed my life, and I eventually carved out a life working for myself while traveling to 50 countries, doing what I love (a combination of writing, editing, coaching and consulting).
Instead of you wasting years searching for the best books and weeding out the wastes of time, I’ve created this curriculum of the 22 essential books to designing your ideal career.
These are the 1% that made the cut. I’ve read virtually all of these twice or more.
(Note: Book links are affiliate links.)
Books for Believing It’s Possible
The first step in lifestyle design (coined by Ferriss himself), is believing it’s even possible. Talk to the average person about these ideas: working when you want, where you want, on what you want — and they’ll laugh.
It’s not realistic.
Start to read real-life stories of people doing it (with their tactical advice), and all of a sudden, you’ll start to believe that it’s actually quite realistic for almost anyone. If you work your ass off, smartly.
Honestly, I don’t remember much of this book, as it was the first one I read on this journey. I just remember that it made me think this is possible. That I wasn’t (completely) crazy.
I remember giving it to another friend and telling her, this will change your life.
She told me that she got bored after a couple of chapters.
If you don’t feel a little crazy, you’re not doing anything unconventional.
My favorite quote:
"'Unreasonable, ‘unrealistic,’ and ‘impractical’ are all words used to marginalize a person or idea that fails to conform within conventionally expected standards.”
The point isn’t that you should work four hours a week. The point is that all that stuff you think you need to spend 80 hours a week doing … could probably be done in a lot less time. You don’t need to do all of it, and a lot of it can be systematized and made more efficient.
If you’re really good, you might be able to do it all in four weeks. You might be able to make your income in much less time than you think.
… which frees up your time.
You probably won’t spend it sitting on the beach getting drunk — you’ll likely spend it on adventures, entrepreneurship, creativity and relationships.
Whatever you do, it will be up to you, for a change.
My favorite quotes:
“People will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.”
“Focus on being productive instead of busy.”
"If everyone is defining a problem or solving it one way and the results are subpar, this is the time to ask, What if I did the opposite? Don’t follow a model that doesn’t work. If the recipe sucks, it doesn’t matter how good a cook you are."
"Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for “realistic” goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming. It is easier to raise $1,000,000 than it is $100,000. It is easier to pick up the one perfect 10 in the bar than the five 8s. If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is, too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.”
In the past, you needed a big institution to choose you — or nobody would see you, your ideas or your products or services. Now, anyone can put their ideas, products and services directly in front of the people that want or need them.
The problem is: Nobody will have the option of choosing you until you choose yourself.
“If someone insists they need to be in prison even though the door is unlocked, then I am not going to argue. They are free to stay in prison.”
“When you’re a kid, everything has a question mark at the end of it. Only later do they turn into periods. Or even exclamation points. 'Will I get over this?' becomes 'It’s too late.' Becomes 'I can’t get over this!'
“Everyone is an entrepreneur. The only skills you need to be an entrepreneur are the ability to fail, to have ideas, to sell those ideas, to execute on them, and to be persistent so even as you fail you learn and move onto the next adventure.”
“The idea that we need to 'pay our dues' is a lie told to us by people who wanted our efforts and labor on the cheap.”
“The best ideas are when you take two older ideas that have nothing to do with each other, make them have sex with each other, and then build a business around the bastard, ugly child that results. The child who was so ugly nobody else wanted to touch it. Look at Facebook: combine the Internet with stalking. Amazing!”
“The only truly safe thing you can do is to try over and over again. To go for it, to get rejected, to repeat, to strive, to wish. Without rejection there is no frontier, there is no passion, and there is no magic.”
“The value of your network goes up exponentially when you view your contacts and resources not as a list but as a network of nodes on a graph. Think of the number of connections that can connect two different nodes on that graph. It’s exponential compared to the number of items in a list that connect directly to you. The way you create the network effect is by encouraging people in your network to connect to each other and to help each other.”
Books for Tactical Advice
This is how business works for ambitious-but-realistic millennials. Period.
The 4-Hour Workweek is a classic that changed my life — but it’s a little outdated and aggressive for my personal taste. Rich 20-Something is more modern and humble, while being just as revolutionary, useful and tactical.
You could probably get away with reading this book and nothing else, if you truly followed it to the letter.
"If you don’t have any doubts or fears about your abilities, you’re, like, weird. Or you’re lying."
"The purpose of a mental barrier is to 'protect' you. These barriers will continue to surface throughout your entrepreneurial journey. It’s your subconscious mind’s attempt to shield you from high-risk, potentially harmful situations, or situations that could damage your ego."
"You don’t need to be an 'expert' with years of experience to start turning your skills and ideas into money. In some instances, you just need to be willing to learn as you go. This means that if you can help people get results faster than they would get them alone, that is more than enough reason to charge for the service."
"My favorite example of this concept is learning to ride a bike. If you’re like most of us, you were probably taught to ride your first bike by a sibling or older family member. You wanted so badly to just get on the thing and fly, but you needed help from someone who’d already done it before. When your older sibling offered to teach you, did you stop him and say, 'Excuse me, are you a professional cyclist? How many Tour de Frances have you won?'
"All businesses are about problem-solving, which means that as long as you can help the person get results faster with you than without you, you deserve to get paid! You don’t need to be world class—just “good enough.”
If you want to progress in your career and be happy about what you do and the impact you make — you must go beyond the job description. You must make people’s lives better, and you must put your personality and passion into your job. You must do things that might not work, in order to change the way things are done.
Otherwise, you’re replaceable.
Never be replaceable.
“The only way to get what you’re worth is to stand out, to exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about.”
“Consumers are not loyal to cheap commodities. They crave the unique the remarkable, and the human."
"People who tell you that they don’t have any good ideas are selling themselves short."
"Expertise gives you enough insight to reinvent what everyone else assumes is the truth.”
"Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. An artist is an individual who creates art. The more people you change, the more you change them, the more effective your art is."
"The easier it is to quantify, the less it’s worth."
"Your real work, then, what you might be paid for, and what is certainly your passion, is simple: the work. The work is feeding and amplifying and glorifying the daemon. Your work is to create art that changes things, to expose your insight and humanity in such a way that you are truly indispensable. Your work is to do the work, not to do your job. Your job is about following instructions; the work is about making a difference. Your work is to ship. Ship things that make change."
Most personal finance advice is overgeneralized garbage.
Instead of listening to the masses, focus first on increasing your income. Then, focus on creating a low-effort, low-risk, automated system that automates your savings and bills so you can spend freely on things you love, and not waste money on things you don’t value.
“Most of us fall into one of two camps as regards our money: We either ignore it and feel guilty, or we obsess over financial details by arguing interest rates and geopolitical risks without taking action. Both options yield the same results—none.”
“The single most important factor to getting rich is getting started, not being the smartest person in the room.”
“Do you need to be the Iron Chef to cook a grilled-cheese sandwich? No, and once you make your first meal, it’ll be easier to cook the next most complicated thing.”
“My friend Jim once called to tell me that he’d gotten a raise at work. On the same day, he moved into a smaller apartment. Why? Because he doesn’t care very much about where he lives, but he loves spending money on camping and biking. That’s called conscious spending.”
“Spend extravagantly on the things you love, and cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.”
“People love to argue minor points, partially because they feel it absolves them from actually having to do anything.”
“Cynics don’t want results; they want an excuse to not take action.”
Books for High-Level Strategy
You’ll never be able to predict individual outcomes perfectly — or even close to perfectly. Instead, focus on becoming Antifragile —building a life, career and portfolio that grows strongerwhen shit hits the fan, and is protected against considerable downside.
“The option is a substitute for knowledge … Trial and error is freedom.”
“We know a lot more about what is wrong than what is right.”
“Someone who procrastinates is not irrational; it is his environment that is irrational.”
“Focus on fragility rather than predicting and calculating future probabilities.”
“Growth in society may not come from raising the average the Asian way, but from increasing the number of people in the ’tails,’ that small, very small number of risk takers crazy enough to have ideas of their own, those endowed with the very rare ability called imagination, the rarer quality called courage, and who make things happen.”
“If there is something in nature you don’t understand, odds are it makes sense in a deeper way that is beyond your understanding … nothing on the planet can be as close to ’statistically significant’ as nature.”
“Never ask anyone for their opinion, forecast, or recommendation. ‘Just ask them what they have — or don’t have — in their portfolio.”
“Exposure is more important than knowledge; decision effects supersede logic. Textbook ‘knowledge’ misses a dimension, the hidden asymmetry of benefits — just like the notion of average.”
“We overreact emotionally to noise. The best solution is to only look at very large changes in data or conditions, never at small ones … significant signals have a way to reach you."
Books for Mindset
Whatever it is that keeps you up at night, weighs you down during the day, or stops you from acting or being your best self — it’s probably bullshit.
It’s not as important as you think.
If you find yourself worrying, just say fuck itand do something. Anything. Whatever the consequences are, you’ll survive and do better next time.
"The key to being able to let go of all the stuff you're holding on to is knowing that you'll be okay if you don't have it.
And that's the truth.
You can survive with very little. And though the passing of people and things can be painful, you will survive.”
"If you're in for a good run, you may spend 85 years on this Earth. Man has been around for 100,000 years, so you're going to spend just 0.00085 percent of man's history living on this Earth. And Man's stay on Earth has been very short in the context of the life of the Earth (which is 4.5 billion years old): if the Earth had been around for the equivalent of a day (with the Big Bang kicking it all off at midnight), humans didn't turn up until 11.59.58 p.m. That means we've only been around for the last two seconds.
A lifetime is gone in a flash. There are relatively few people on this Earth that were here 100 years ago. Just as you'll be gone (relatively) soon.
So, with just the briefest look at the spatial and temporal context of our lives, we are utterly insignificant. As the Perspective Machine lifts up so far above the woods that we forget what the word means, we see just one moving light. It is beautiful. A small, gently glowing light. It is a firefly lost somewhere in the cosmos. And a firefly - on Earth - lives for just one night. It glows beautifully, then goes out.
And up there so high in our Perspective Machine we realize that our lives are really just like that of the firefly. Except the air is full of 6.5 billion fireflies. They're glowing beautifully for one night. Then they are gone.
So, Fuck It, you might as well REALLY glow.”
“So just say F**k It to it all. Just do what the hell you want.”
“When we say F**k It to anything, the meanings start to crumble as the things that matter lose their meaning, and then suddenly the world opens up again. Without the discrimination and discernment we learned as we were growing up, every single thing has the potential to be appreciated. Everything is beautiful."
We all have dreams, and we all have doubts. We think we’re wrong for having doubts — we think that means we aren’t meant to achieve our dreams.
The truth is: Everyone has these doubts. Even our heroes.
There’s a force behind these doubts. It’s called “The Resistance.” And instead of being afraid of it, we need to acknowledge it. It’s a sign that we’re headed in the right direction. We just need to push through, with action.
Slowly, it will get quieter. Though it will never go away.
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.”
"If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), 'Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?' chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
“There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”
"What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”
“We're wrong if we think we're the only ones struggling with Resistance. Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance.”
“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.”
“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
“Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”
Books for The Logistics of Consulting
You can turn your passions and skills into a lucrative business — if you take the time to think about systematizing them. Giving a crap is actually a competitive advantage, if you take the time to build systems that make that clear to your potential clients.
"You’re about to begin a wonderful journey. You’re going to learn that you have hidden assets, untapped opportunities, and overlooked possibilities that are not producing maximum results for you. That is going to change."
"A successful business starts not with just a great idea or product. Rather, it starts with the desire to provide a solution to another’s problem."
"I have good news—there are only three ways to increase your business: 1. Increase the number of clients. 2. Increase the average size of the sale per client. 3. Increase the number of times clients return and buy again."
"You have also become a trusted adviser and a friend. And you should think of your clients as dear, valued friends."
"To get your prospects and clients to see you or your business as offering them a superior benefit or advantage that no other competitor offers them is the essence of a unique selling proposition (USP). You must determine the most powerful benefit or advantage you can possibly offer an existing or future client so it will be totally irrational for them to choose to do business with anyone but you or your company. And here’s how you can do that. You identify what advantage or result your clients want the most."
"You probably stand behind your product or service right now. And if there’s any problem, you or your company will either fix it, replace it, or refund the client’s money. But you probably don’t aggressively promote that philosophy. In this chapter you will learn how to do that with a strategy called risk reversal."
"The Strategy of Preeminence is quite simply the ability to put your clients’ needs always ahead of your own. When you master that your success will naturally follow. If it seems backward to put your clients’ best interests ahead of your own that’s understandable. In fact, that is the reason so many businesses are unremarkable, unmemorable, and, ultimately, unsuccessful."
The first major milestone I hit was: realizing I could get paid for my brain.
The second was: realizing I could get paid good money for my brain.
The surprising thing was: people making good money aren’t necessarily more talented — they just understand the how of consulting. This book explains it all.
"Referrals, networking, and speaking have the best potential for short-term business and fairly rapid cash."
"Logic helps people to think, but emotion urges them to act."
"Create evangelists. Encourage clients (buyers and nonbuyers alike) to spread the word. Find and befriend those people who have most supported your projects, initiated new ones, and been credited with success. Keep a special list of such people … Invite evangelists to events you host. Ask them to coauthor publications. Cite them in your books. Invite them to participate in a speech you’re making. Create access to them for your prospects. Use testimonials, references, and case studies shamelessly."
"If the buyer wants to go fast ('What can you do for me?'), go fast. If the buyer wants to move slowly ('Tell me about yourself'), move slowly."
"Never prematurely present or suggest your fees. Leave them until the proposal has already emphasized value and potential savings."
"Never, ever negotiate fees. But you can negotiate terms. You’re starting with terms most favorable to you, so negotiating to, say, 50 percent on acceptance, 50 percent in 60 days would be acceptable."
"Everyone knows what he or she wants, but few people know what they need. The difference between want and need is what I call the value distance."
"It’s our job to create need if none is apparent or if the buyer is focused merely on wants. The key is the question, 'Why?’"
"How many of you have ever been told by a happy client, 'I’m surprised you were so inexpensive?' That is not a compliment you should be proud of."
"We’ve established that our role is to improve our client’s condition. That means that the improvement, by definition, must constitute significant value. Value is about enhanced results, not frantic activity."
"The advantage of solo consultants and boutique firms is agility and nimbleness. We don’t need to land on the beaches with 300 consultants being paid by the hour while learning the client’s business."
"A true thought leader can point out the reverse of conventional wisdom and invert the tried and true."
Books on Creativity and Getting Discovered
This book is about writing, but its lessons apply to all entrepreneurial work: Nobody cares about you. They care about what you can do for them.
“The first things you learn in advertising is that no one wants to read your shit.
Your ads, I mean.
Sometimes young writers acquire the idea from their years in school that the world is waiting to read what they’ve written. They get this idea because their teachers had to read their essays or term papers or dissertations.
In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written.
Sigh unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? Because they might have to actually read it.
Nobody wants to read anything.
It isn’t that people are mean for cruel. They’re just busy.
Nobody wants to read your shit.
What’s the answer?
1. Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.
2. Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.
3. Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce."
You don’t find an audience (or clients) by spending years hibernating in “preparation” doing “work.” You find an audience by sharing your work as you go.
"You don’t really find an audience for your work; they find you. But it’s not enough to be good. In order to be found, you have to be findable. I think there’s an easy way of putting your work out there and making it discoverable while you’re focused on getting really good at what you do."
"The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others."
"Find a scenius, pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking note of what they’re not sharing."
“'Stock and flow' is an economic concept that writer Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media: 'Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.' Sloan says the magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background."
"In my experience, your stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your flow. Social media sites function a lot like public notebooks—they’re places where we think out loud, let other people think back at us, then hopefully think some more. But the thing about keeping notebooks is that you have to revisit them in order to make the most out of them. You have to flip back through old ideas to see what you’ve been thinking. Once you make sharing part of your daily routine, you’ll notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. You’ll find patterns in your flow."
"Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fund-raising request—they’re all pitches. They’re stories with the endings chopped off. A good pitch is set up in three acts: The first act is the past, the second act is the present, and the third act is the future."
"Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow."
"If you want fans, you have to be a fan first. If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community. If you’re only pointing to your own stuff online you’re doing it wrong. You have to be a connector."
As you can tell, I learn a lot from artists and writers. Part of that is because I’m a writer — but part is that they understand how to study themselves for maximum creativity and productivity.
There’s this myth that there’s one “right,” “scientifically-correct” routine that everyone should adopt. Get up early! Put butter in your coffee! If a carb gets near you, journal the pain away!
The truth is: Everyone needs some sort of routine — but you just need something that works for you. This book will give you endless ideas. Whether it’s Balzac chugging 50 cups of coffee a day, Hunter S. Thompson’s insane cocktail of drugs — or the more typical, “work on your most important thing, first thing in the morning” — you’ll find something to test.
And eventually, you’ll create your own sacred, effective routine.
"As it happens, it was an inspired bout of procrastination that led to the creation of this book."
"All those I think who have lived as literary men,—working daily as literary labourers,—will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.” - Anthony Trollope
“Although he had many patients who relied on him, (Carl) Jung was not shy about taking time off; 'I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same is a fool.'"
"Throughout his adult life Hemingway rose early, at 5:30 or 6:00, woken by the first light of day. This was true even when he had been up late drinking the night before; his son Gregory recalled that the author seemed immune to hangovers: 'My father would always look great, as if he’d slept a baby’s sleep in a soundproof room with his eyes covered by black patches.’
In a 1958 interview with The Paris Review, Hemingway explained the importance of those early-morning hours: 'When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until that next day that is hard to get through.’"
Books on Productivity:
Everyone knows that limiting distractions and focusing on deep work is important. What most of us don’t realize is that it’s essential.
Without it, we have no chance. With it, we can become one-of-a-kind and escape all competition.
This book shows you how.
"Deep work is so important that we might consider it, to use the phrasing of business writer Eric Barker, 'the superpower of the 21st century.’ … The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive."
"Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output."
"In addition to executives, we can also include, for example, certain types of salesmen and lobbyists, for whom constant connection is their most valued currency ... But at the same time, don’t be too hasty to label your job as necessarily non-deep. Just because your current habits make deep work difficult doesn’t mean that this lack of depth is fundamental to doing your job well … When a Harvard professor forced [high-powered management consultants] to disconnect more regularly (as part of a research study), they found, to their surprise, that this connectivity didn’t matter nearly as much as they had assumed. The clients didn’t really need to reach them at all times and their performance as consultants improved once their attention became less fractured.
"The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment."
"Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner."
"Deep work is an activity well suited to generate a flow state (the phrases used by Csikszentmihalyi to describe what generates flow include notions of stretching your mind to its limits, concentrating, and losing yourself in an activity—all of which also describe deep work). And as we just learned, flow generates happiness."
"Csikszentmihalyi even goes so far as to argue that modern companies should embrace this reality, suggesting that 'jobs should be redesigned so that they resemble as closely as possible flow activities.' Noting, however, that such a redesign would be difficult and disruptive, Csikszentmihalyi then explains that it’s even more important that the individual learn how to seek out opportunities for flow.
Books on Prioritizing:
You don’t have to do everything. In fact, trying to do everything is what’s keeping you stuck. Focus on your one thing that will create success, fulfillment and impact in the world.
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
"Success demands singleness of purpose.
You need to be doing fewer things for more effect instead of doing more things with side effects.
Make sure every day you do what matters most. When you know what matters most, everything makes sense. When you don’t know what matters most, anything makes sense.”
“Multitasking is a lie.”
“Long hours spent checking off a to-do list and ending the day with a full trash can and a clean desk are not virtuous and have nothing to do with success. Instead of a to-do list, you need a success list—a list that is purposefully created around extraordinary results.
To-do lists tend to be long; success lists are short. One pulls you in all directions; the other aims you in a specific direction. One is a disorganized directory and the other is an organized directive. If a list isn’t built around success, then that’s not where it takes you. If your to-do list contains everything, then it’s probably taking you everywhere but where you really want to go.”
“The key is over time. Success is built sequentially. It’s one thing at a time.”
Similar to above, but a little less dogmatic with the “one thing.” I found these books work best in conjunction with each other.
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities.”
“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, 'What do I have to give up?' they ask, 'What do I want to go big on? The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.”
“You can do anything but not everything.”
“As John Maxwell has written, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.”
“Make your peace with the fact that saying ‘no’ often requires trading popularity for respect.”
"Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”
"Instead of asking, 'Is there a chance I will wear this someday in the future?' you ask more disciplined, tough questions: 'Do I love this?' and 'Do I look great in it?' and 'Do I wear this often?” If the answer is no, then you know it is a candidate for elimination. In your personal or professional life, the equivalent of asking yourself which clothes you love is asking yourself, 'Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution toward my goal?’"
Books on Marketing
If you want to understand effective marketing that won’t make you feel scammy (quite the opposite), read everything Seth Godin has written.
I’ll write a post on all of his books soon (sign up here if you want it in your inbox before anyone else).
Your product or service must seem like it’s one-of-a-kind. This book shows you how to communicate that to your customers.
“Marketing is a battle of perceptions, not products.”
“The single most wasteful thing you can do in marketing is try to change a mind.”
“With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good.” Most companies, especially family companies, would never make fun of their own name. Yet the Smucker family did, which is one reason why Smucker’s is the No.1 brand of jams and jellies. If your name is bad, you have two choices: change the name or make fun of it.”
“You earn your way into the mind by narrowing the focus to a single word or concept. It’s the ultimate marketing sacrifice. Federal Express was able to put the word overnight into the minds of its prospects because it sacrificed its product line and focused on overnight package delivery only."
"In a way, the law of leadership—it’s better to be first than to be better—enables the first brand or company to own a word in the mind of the prospect ... the brand becomes a generic name for the category."
“When you launch a new product, the first question to ask yourself is not 'How is this new product better than the competition?' but 'First what?' In other words, what category is this new product first in?”
“The basic approach of positioning is not to create something new and different, but to manipulate what’s already up there in the mind, to retie the connections that already exist.”
22 Immutable Laws is about convincing your customers that your product or service is one-of-a-kind. Perennial Seller is about making something that’s one of a kind — delivering on the promise.
If you want to sell something, relate it to people’s current minds.
But if you want it to last, it must be new. It must be deeper.
"People claim to want to do something that matters, yet they measure themselves against things that don’t, and track their progress not in years but in microseconds. They want to make something timeless, but they focus instead on immediate payoffs and instant gratification."
"Even the best admen will admit that, over the long term, all the marketing in the world won’t matter if the product hasn’t been made right … the better your product is, the better your marketing will be."
"So if not with a keen eye toward marketing, where do we properly begin our pursuit of a perennial seller? As my mentor Robert Greene put it, 'It starts by wanting to create a classic ... As legendary investor and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham explains, 'The best way to increase a startup’s growth rate is to make the product so good people recommend it to their friends.’"
"Mediocre ideas that contain buried within them the seeds of much better ideas. The key is to catch them early. And the only way to do that is by doing the work at least partly in front of an audience. A book should be an article before it’s a book, and a dinner conversation before it’s an article. See how things go before going all in."
"The critic Toby Litt could have been talking about all bad art and bad products when he said that 'bad writing is almost always a love poem addressed by the self to the self.' What audience wants that?"
John Steinbeck once wrote in a letter to an actor turned writer, ;Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death, and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person—and write to that one.’"
"In 2005, business professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne described a new concept that they called Blue Ocean Strategy. Instead of battling numerous competitors in a contested “red ocean,” their studies revealed that it was far better to seek fresh, uncontested ‘blu'” water. Cirque du Soleil, Southwest Airlines, Curves, Under Armour, Tesla, and the Nintendo Wii are all clear blue ocean plays. They were new, wildly different from anything else in their industry, and as a result grew rapidly. They were just so inherently exciting and fresh. They broke new ground and then owned it, in some cases for decades before the competition caught up."
"The higher and more exciting standard for every project should force you to ask questions like this: What sacred cows am I slaying? What dominant institution am I displacing? What groups am I disrupting? What people am I pissing off?"
"A great package on a great product is what creates an explosive reaction. For instance, J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye sold decently when it was first published in hardcover, but then sold over 1.25 million copies in its early pulp paperback edition. The provocative cover, designed by James Avati ('the Rembrandt of Pulp'), had a lot to do with it. In his version, Holden Caulfield is standing outside a strip club and the blurb reads, 'This unusual book may shock you, will make you laugh, and may break your heart—but you will never forget it!' It’s ironic that the book’s literary reputation today is partly a result of its massive down-market popularity at the time. It’s also funny that Salinger hated the cover and eventually redesigned it himself. (That’s the literary luxury of an author who has sold millions of copies.)"
"Everything that follows in this chapter is a tactic in line with that strategy. As Seth Godin has written, creating successful word of mouth begins with a single customer. “Sell one,” he says. “Find one person who trusts you and sell him a copy. Does he love it? Is he excited about it? Excited enough to tell ten friends because it helps them, not because it helps you? Tribes grow when people recruit other people. That’s how ideas spread as well. They don’t do it for you, of course. They do it for each other.’"
"A smart business friend once described the art of marketing to me as a matter of 'finding your addicts.'"
"Colonel Parker, the infamous manager of Elvis Presley, came up with the idea to sell 'I Hate Elvis' memorabilia so that Elvis could profit from his haters too. Everyone should know who their detractors are and rile them up every once in a while just for fun."
The reason most people and companies fail is they don’t find traction. That often isn’t because they’re not good enough. It’s because they try everything — instead of testing one thing at a time, finding one effective strategy, and going all in.
"Traction and product development are of equal importance and should each get about half of your attention. This is what we call the 50 percent rule: spend 50 percent of your time on product and 50 percent on traction."
"Before you can set about getting traction, you have to define what traction means for your company. You need to set a traction goal. At the earliest stages, this traction goal is usually to get enough traction to either raise funding or become profitable. In any case, you should figure out what this goal means in terms of hard numbers. How many customers do you need and at what growth rate?"
"Phase I is making something people want. Phase II is marketing something people want. Phase III is scaling your business."
"Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off. . . . The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them. - Paul Graham"
"Startup growth happens in spurts. Initially, growth is usually slow. Then it spikes as a useful traction channel strategy is unlocked. Eventually it flattens out again as this strategy gets saturated and becomes less effective. Then you unlock another strategy and you get another spike."
"Since they don’t know what works, and haven’t thought about it, they try some sales, BD, advertising, and viral marketing—everything but the kitchen sink. That is a really bad idea. It is very likely that one channel is optimal. Most businesses actually get zero distribution channels to work. Poor distribution—not product—is the number one cause of failure. If you can get even a single distribution channel to work, you have great business."
"Look for customers where others aren’t looking. Keep a lookout for the cutting-edge tactics that haven’t yet succumbed to the Law of Shitty Click-Throughs. Run cheap tests to quickly validate assumptions and test new ideas. Constantly optimize. You should consistently run A/B tests in your efforts to optimize a traction channel strategy. There are many online tools that can help you test more easily and evaluate your use of various traction strategies and tactics. Keep it numerical. Look for ways to quantify your marketing efforts, especially when deciding which traction strategies to pursue and comparing them within Bullseye. You should have an idea at all times of what numbers it will take to move the needle, and focus your traction efforts only on strategies that could possibly do so."
This might seem like a weird choice — but improv is the best thing I’ve ever done to improve my communication skills as a whole.
There are dozens of nuggets in this book, but what applies most for consulting and solopreneurship?
Every interaction is governed by status. No matter who you’re talking to or what it’s about, everything you say or do implies some sort of status.
When pitching someone, you want to assure them you can raise their status. This can be through money, freedom, fulfillment, recognition, etc.
And of course, for them to believe you and pay your well — your status must be high, as well. If you position yourself as “beneath” them, you’ll be paid accordingly.
"I don’t myself see that an educated man in this culture necessarily has to understand the second law of thermodynamics, but he certainly should understand that we are pecking-order animals and that this affects the tiniest details of our behaviour."
"My belief (at this moment) is that people have a preferred status; that they like to be low, or high, and that they try to manoeuvre themselves into the preferred positions."
"When you watch a bustling crowd from above it’s amazing that they don’t all bump into each other. I think it’s because we’re all giving status signals, and exchanging subliminal status challenges all the time. The more submissive person steps aside.”
"When a very high-status person is wiped out, everyone feels pleasure as they experience the feeling of moving up a step. This is why tragedy has always been concerned with kings and princes, and why we have a special high-status style for playing tragedy."
"Suddenly we understood that every inflection and movement implies a status, and that no action is due to chance, or really ‘motiveless’. It was hysterically funny, but at the same time very alarming. All our secret manoeuvrings were exposed. If someone asked a question we didn’t bother to answer it, we concentrated on why it had been asked. No one could make an ‘innocuous’ remark without everyone instantly grasping what lay behind it.”
Read the books and tell me what you think! My inbox is always open (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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