June 7, 2018

Written by

Chris Gonzales


Olu Eletu

Anyone can start a business, but it takes a special kind of person to run a successful one.

As part of our Books to Make You a Better Human series, we’ve selected a handful of books that can help you get there without turning to gross or shady tactics, and instead focusing on the quality and craft of what you’re doing.

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Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.

Shoe Dog »

Everyone knows about Nike, the company. Their “swoosh” logo is one of the most recognized symbols in the world, one that’s become emblematic of athleticism itself. But perhaps not many of them know the real story of how the company came to be the corporate giant it is today. The tale has humbler beginnings and more dramatic turns than you might expect.

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike is…well, exactly what the title says. It’s written by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, the “man behind the swoosh”, as it were. He covers the early years of Nike in superb detail, from its humble-but-scrappy beginnings through the dramatic turns and unlikely victories that led to it becoming a global brand that’s practically become emblematic of athleticism itself.

This is one of the best business memoirs you’ll ever read. There’s also an abridged young reader’s edition.

Get the book in these formats:

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.

Creativity, Inc. »

Ed Catmull, alongside Steve Jobs and John Lasseter, co-founded Pixar. In fact, he played a key role in developing the rendering system used in several of their films and by the wider film industry.

He also co-wrote a book called Creativity, Inc., granting readers a peek into the creative process at Pixar and showing how other businesses can apply the many lessons he has learned from managing teams of creative people over the years. In the book he talks of sustaining a company’s creative culture, sharing insights into the unique and somewhat unconventional philosophies that helped Pixar become the animation giant we know and love today.

Here are a couple choice quotes:


Believe me, you don’t want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or matters of policy are being hashed out. The best inoculation against this fate? Seek out people who are willing to level with you, and when you find them, hold them close.


My belief is that good leadership can help creative people stay on the path to excellence no matter what business they’re in. My aim at Pixar […] has been to enable our people to do their best work. We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them.

Get the book in these formats:

Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday.

Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday.

Perennial Seller »

Success then isn’t something you’re after for a month or two. You want to be evergreen. To sell for decades. To be classic. To make the backlist. To be a perennial seller.

Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday’s book, Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, is a celebration of products, makers, and art that aspire to be more than a flash in the pan — or as our editor Shawn Blanc puts it, “a breath in the wind” — but rather stand the test of time.

In the book, Holiday examines what makes something continue to be popular for years (or even generations) after its initial unveiling. What exactly is it that draws people to such a thing time and time again, and how can you go about making sure your thing achieves the same kind of success and longevity?

From the initial creative/making phase to the marketing/promoting phase and onto the building of your career, he teaches you to forego fads and instant validation and instead tap into the stuff that really matters so you can make a lasting impact with whatever it is you make. You could be the one to start the next big company people will be giving their custom a hundred years from now, and you can do things today to ensure you’re not depending solely on luck to get there.

Get the book in these formats:

Overlap by Sean McCabe.

Overlap by Sean McCabe.

Overlap »

If you’re still working a 9–5 and the idea of starting a business sounds like a mere dream, Sean “seanwes” McCabe’s book, Overlap: Start a Business While Working a Full-Time Job, is all about turning your passion into a profession — with a twist.

Rather than recommending that you throw away your current day job to fully pursue your dreams, McCabe suggests exploring your ideal job on the side while you continue bringing in the funds necessary to pay your bills, then gradually making the transition as your side gig slowly becomes more able to support you:

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

There’s a notion that if you’re “really serious” you’ll quit your day job and give your passion a chance.

That works for some people, but so does the lottery. I don’t think it’s a winning strategy.

You want something more sensible—something that doesn’t involve crazy amounts of risk (and the high likelihood you’ll kill your passion for good if things don’t pan out).

Overlap basically distills everything Sean’s been teaching on his blog and podcast over the past several years into one book with a single purpose: helping you make a living doing what you love.

He made a short video explaining what the book’s about:

Get the book in these formats:

The book can be bought from Sean’s site in three formats:

  • Audiobook ($19) — 8-hour runtime across 27 .mp3 files. Also includes an RSS feed for listening in your favorite podcast app, if you prefer.
  • eBook ($29) — Includes EPUB, Mobi, and PDF files.
  • Hardcover ($39) — Cloth-bound and foil-stamped; 312 pages.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

Show Your Work »

Marketing is just as important a part of entrepreneurship as anything. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon — the guy who wrote Steal Like an Artist — is fantastic. It’s an easy, fun read filled with ideas and takeaways “for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion.”

It’s not marketing BS though; it’s more about spreading your ideas and work, and thus building an audience, by being transparent and sharing what you’re working on.

Here’s Kleon on the importance of storytelling:

Our work doesn’t speak for itself. Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it.

Get the book in these formats:

The upcoming It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson.

The upcoming It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work »

Coming October 2nd, 2018: This fall, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (aka “DHH”) of Basecamp will be following up their best-selling title, Rework, with another book called It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. It’s a timely manifesto on creating a calmer, more reasonable work culture:

Long hours, an excessive workload, and a lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for modern professionals. But it should be a mark of stupidity, the authors argue. Sadly, this isn’t just a problem for large organizations—individuals, contractors, and solopreneurs are burning themselves out the same way. The answer to better productivity isn’t more hours—it’s less waste and fewer things that induce distraction and persistent stress.

On the book’s official webpage, they go further into detail:

We’ve designed our company differently. We’re here to tell you about it, and show you how you can do it. There’s a path. You’ve got to want it, but if you do you’ll realize it’s much nicer over here. You can have a calm company too.

This book points out the diseases plaguing modern workplace and work methods. It calls out false cures, and pushes back against ritualistic time-sucks that have infected the way people work these days. We have a prescription to make it better.

I have a feeling this is going to be another instant classic.

Pre-order the book in these formats: