The other day my friend Sam asked me where I turn to for business and entrepreneurship inspiration, which led to the following thought: “Yeah, good question - where the hell do I get my inspiration from?”.
So after a day of intermittent soul searching, here’s my incomplete list of what’s currently driving me.
What’s Not on This List - Business Books
I spent the better part of my twenties building a personal library containing scores of business books. Many I read, but even more just sat on a bookshelf looking pretty and making me feel smart.
I’ve given up on reading business books. They’re either recycled content learned by pioneers decades ago, or pseudoscientific case study bullshit claiming to show you the way to success courtesy of crafty cherry picking1.
And all of them need to lose the filler, drop to 50 pages, and just get to the damn point already.
Except Clayton Christensen
Clayton Christensen, genius, is the author of the only business book worth reading - The Innovator’s Dilemma2. The book explores the idea of disruptive innovations and how they come to displace established players in markets. This is the most important business book written in the last two decades.
Equally important is Christensen’s more recent work on the Jobs-to-be-Done Theory. In a nut, it says that customers “hire” a product to do a particular job, and this helps explain why they buy one product over another. For example, a Snickers bar is “hired” for a different reason than a Milky Way. You can get a great introduction to the topic in a podcast episode titled “The hiring and firing of milkshakes and candy bars”3.
Merlin Mann and the Back to Work Podcast
Merlin Mann became internet famous for being a productivity guru and coming up with the idea of Inbox Zero. At some point, he became even more interesting when he abandoned the productivity porn racket and shifted into higher level thoughts on creating our best stuff.
The podcast is not specifically business related, which is a Good Thing, because what Dan and Merlin talk about is much more important than that.
Copyblogger and Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio
I find the art of copywriting fascinating, and few do it better than the people at Copyblogger. It’s old school marketing in the spirit of David Ogilvy applied through email, the web, social media, and other modern techniques.
Their podcast, Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio, gives a good introduction to many of the topics and features interviews with interesting and inspiring guests.
Paul Graham is best known for founding Y Combinator, a venture fund/incubator for technology startups. Over the years, he has written a long list of essays on entrepreneurship and programming. Not always applicable to me, but always thought-provoking.
Who else inspires me? Several extremely hard working entertainers come to mind. Nothing highlights the role of practice and perseverance like these guys.
In my mind, Louis C.K. is the hardest working comedian in the business right now. Not only does the guy scrap his routine every year and completely rewrite it, he writes, directs, edits and stars in his own tv show.
Penn & Teller
Penn & Teller have spent decades refining their craft, and it shows. They’re the most entertaining magicians out there. The had complete focus on magic, vowing to each other that they would not take a job outside of show business to force them to take any and every gig offered to them. Anything to get up on stage and improve their act.
And then there’s the story of Teller and “The Red Ball” illusion, which he has spent over a decade practicing and refining. An hour a day, every day, year after year. Practicing and refining in order to make something beautiful.