Over the years, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had mentors that have helped me shape my career and beliefs. I’ve also learnt a lot from my incredibly talented colleagues. But one other source that has been a great mentor for me over the years has been books. Here are five books that have helped me shape my beliefs and helped evolve my thinking.
One: Maverick and The Seven Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler – Ricardo Semler is a Brazilian entrepreneur who over the course of the last four decades built an unique company that still remains the gold standard for transparency and the dream of a flat organisation. Semler pioneered several radical ideas – a workplace with little to no hierarchy where employees set their own salaries, a program that gives employees the chance to buy back one day a week so they can spend that time on other activities that are important to them and many more. He’s also applied some of his learnings in building Lumiar, a school that gives kids unparalleled freedom to learn what they want and express themselves freely.
“Arguably, Semco’s most controversial initiative is to let its employees set their own salaries. Pundits are quick to bring up their dim view of human nature, on the assumption that people will obviously set their salaries much higher than feasible. It’s the same argument we hear about people setting their own work schedules in a seven-day weekend mode. The first thing that leaps to mind is that people will come as late or little as possible—and this has never been our experience.” – Ricardo Semler
Two: Principles by Ray Dalio – In this book, Dalio shares in some great detail how he built an organisation that is radically transparent. He also has a TED talk where talks about how he used radical transparency and algorithmic decision-making to create a company where the best idea wins.
“I want independent thinkers who are going to disagree,” he says “The most important things I want are meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And I believe that the way to get those is through radical truth and radical transparency. In order to be successful, we have to have independent thinkers — so independent that they’ll bet against the consensus. You have to put your honest thoughts on the table. Then, the best ideas rise to the top”. – Ray Dalio.
Three: Future of Management by Gary Hamel – In this book, Hamel shares his learnings from a few companies with their own unique cultures – Google, Whole Foods, WL Gore and many more. I was fascinated by the story and culture behind WL Gore – a company best known for their Gore-Tex fabric.
“Gore also believes that leadership has to be earned. It embraces what it calls “natural leadership.” Leaders at Gore gains influence by developing a track record for getting things done, and excelling at team building. They have to be talent magnets. As one associate explained “We vote with our feet. If you call a meeting and no one shows up, you’re probably not a leader because no one is willing to follow you.” Once in a leadership role, that person’s job is to strengthen and make his or her team and colleagues successful. Because Gore associates are involved with multiple teams, they may a leader on one and a regular member on another.”
Four: Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull – While Steve Jobs hogged a lot of the limelight, Ed Catmull worked behind the scenes to build a work culture that has spawned several billion dollar franchises and created one of the most successful movie studios of all time. In this book, Ed shares the Pixar story from his perspective and shares his insights on how to build and sustain a culture that fosters creativity and innovates with alarming regularity. This book is one of the best management books of all time and I’ve read and re-read this many many times.
“For many people, changing course is also a sign of weakness, tantamount to admitting that you don’t know what you are doing. This strikes me as particularly bizarre—personally, I think the person who can’t change his or her mind is dangerous. Steve Jobs was known for changing his mind instantly in the light of new facts, and I don’t know anyone who thought he was weak.” – Ed Catmull
Five: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh – This book dives into the genesis and evolution of Zappos – a company with a quirky culture that’s stayed true to its culture even after being acquired by Amazon. Tony is a living example of how you can grow a successful business in a very competitive marketplace by prioritising customer experience every single time, building a work culture that goes against established norms and making money along the way. A brilliant read.
“Happiness is really just about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (number and depth of your relationships), and vision/meaning (being part of something bigger than yourself).” – Tony Hsieh