I recently wrote this article for Nerd For A Living:
In your pursuit of a nerdy living, particularly one devoted to creative tasks and/or the running of your own company, it can be hard to juggle a lot of different roles AND keep learning about business. Feeding your brain with stimulating ideas is very important to your growth as an entrepreneur. Fresh insight will help you to reevaluate how you work, to become more efficient and effective. You may find new ways to market your ideas and products, and to challenge your own perceptions about your audience or customers.
If you don’t have a collegiate or career background in business or marketing, you may find learning and researching in those areas quite daunting. Fortunately, there are a great number of books available that can contribute to your growth as a business owner/operator – without drowning you in marketing speak and industry buzzwords.
The following list of books is by no means comprehensive. They are, however, all books I have read and personally found enlightening, invigorating and immensely useful in my own pursuits – as a corporate employee, as a creative, and as a small business owner.
The 4-Hour Workweek
Who’s it for?: Everyone.
Read this: Now.
Forget the old concept of retirement and the rest of the deferred-life plan–there is no need to wait and every reason not to, especially in unpredictable economic times. Whether your dream is escaping the rat race, experiencing high-end world travel, earning a monthly five-figure income with zero management, or just living more and working less, The 4-Hour Workweek is the blueprint.
A runaway bestseller, the 4-Hour Workweek has become something of a ubiquitous read in entrepreneurial circles, for very good reason. Tim Ferriss challenges the reader to examine what they really want out of life – both at work and at play – and how they are getting there. He points out how much time we lose every day to drudgery and empty, unfulfilling tasks and time-wasters that keep us mired in dead end work. He walks us through the path he took to escape soul-crushing 60 hour work weeks to find, instead, a profitable business he could sustain while enjoying life and seeing the world. While his end goal, to become one of the “new rich”, may not be for everyone, there is a TON of useful, actionable advice here that can be applied to almost any career. At the very least, this book is likely to alter your thinking about how attainable your goals are, and drive you to make positive changes.
Jason Fried and David Hansson
Who’s it for?: Employees, managers and small business owners
Read this: A couple of essays a day, and let your brain chew on them. Keep a highlighter handy.
Rework shows you a better, faster, easier way to succeed in business. Read it and you’ll know why plans are actually harmful, why you don’t need outside investors, and why you’re better off ignoring the competition. The truth is, you need less than you think. You don’t need to be a workaholic. You don’t need to staff up. You don’t need to waste time on paperwork or meetings. You don’t even need an office. Those are all just excuses.
What you really need to do is stop talking and start working. This book shows you the way. You’ll learn how to be more productive, how to get exposure without breaking the bank, and tons more counterintuitive ideas that will inspire and provoke you.
With its straightforward language and easy-is-better approach, Rework is the perfect playbook for anyone who’s ever dreamed of doing it on their own. Hardcore entrepreneurs, small-business owners, people stuck in day jobs they hate, victims of “downsizing,” and artists who don’t want to starve anymore will all find valuable guidance in these pages.
Written by the founders of Basecamp (formerly 37Signals), this collection of short, fast-read essays challenges traditional business assumptions and methods. As an employee and manager, I applied much of the thinking in this book to how I worked, and saw significant improvements. It shakes up the status quo of old business to refine methodologies, how teams work together, and how we apply our time. It’s quick and fun, with absolutely no fluff or BS.
Punk Marketing: Get Off Your Ass and Join the Revolution
Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons
Who’s it for?: Anyone marketing/promoting a brand or product.
Read this: Before you “need” it, to help shape your plans in the creation stage.
In this radical guide, Richard Laermer and Mark Simmons take an irreverent, penetrating look at the seismic change in the relationship between the people who sell stuff—products, services, entertainment—and those who purchase it. They demonstrate that to survive in business, a revolutionary approach is needed—one they have branded “Punk Marketing”—and it’s one we all need to understand, for the traditional divisions among commerce, content, and consumers are continuing to blur ever more rapidly.
Never dull, sometimes controversial, but always a helluva lot of fun, Punk Marketing presents a manifesto for any business-person needing to engage consumers—or any consumer seeking to understand and employ their newfound power. And here’s the good news: It’s based on principles that have existed forever. In an age of digital video recorders, “branded” entertainment, cell phones, TV, multiplayer online games, and never-ending social networking, a coherent approach to marketing has never been more vital. With Punk Marketing, there’s a built-in plan to equip you with tools to make all this change work out just fine, thanks.
This book is a few years old, so some of the references may be dated. But it’s great for kickstarting your thinking in terms of marketing and promoting yourself and your products. It’s an enjoyable read, and may inspire “Oh, I could totally do _____!” kinds of moments.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip & Dan Heath
Who’s it for?: Anyone trying to convey a message or idea; managers and marketers.
Read this: With a cup of tea/coffee when nobody is bothering you, so your mind can really chew on these ideas.
Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Made to Stick, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle head-on these vexing questions. Inside, the brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the “human scale principle,” using the “Velcro Theory of Memory,” and creating “curiosity gaps.”
In this indispensable guide, we discover that sticky messages of all kinds – from the infamous “kidney theft ring” hoax to a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a vision for a new product at Sony – draw their power from the same six traits.
Made to Stick helps you construct powerful messages and make your ideas something other people are interested in and want to buy. The authors use fascinating anecdotes to explain their concepts. These thought frameworks will prove useful in a variety of business applications.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
Chip & Dan Heath
Who’s it for?: Anyone trying to make changes in their life or business (so, probably everybody)
Read this: After 4-Hour Workweek and Made to Stick.
Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives? The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems – the rational mind and the emotional mind – that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.
In Switch, the Heaths show how everyday people – employees and managers, parents and nurses – have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results. In a compelling, story-driven narrative, the Heaths bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline.
A great companion piece to Made to Stick and The 4-Hour Work-Week, Switch follows the Heath Brothers model of storytelling to present big ideas. You might find yourself doing a lot of introspection after reading this book, which is a good thing.
The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life)
Who’s it for?: Anyone “nerdy” looking to turn their assumed weaknesses into advantages.
Read this: When you feel stuck and need a jumpstart.
Join Nerd superstar Chris Hardwick as he offers his fellow “creative-obsessives” the crucial information needed to come out on top in the current Nerd uprising. As a lifelong member of “The Nerd Herd,” Chris Hardwick has learned all there is to know about Nerds. He’s studied them, lived with them, and has endeavored to milk their knowledge nectar and isolate its curative powers for what ails you. Thus, he has founded a philosophical system (and blog) called The Nerdist, and here he shares his hard-earned wisdom about turning seeming weaknesses into world-dominating strengths.
From keeping your heart rate below hummingbird levels to ignoring your brain, Hardwick reveals the secrets that can help you accomplish what you want by tapping into your true nerdtastic self. Remember, success is the most satisfying—and legal—form of vengeance there is. And you can achieve it…when you follow the Nerdist Way.
We’re big fans of Mr. Hardwick over here at N4AL. His book is squarely focused on the Capital-N Nerd scene. Of all these books, this one is the most “self-help” oriented, but those ideas are firmly applicable to your career goals. Chris is intimately familiar with the personal traits and tendencies that members of the nerd community might find challenging. His book is focused on rediscovering your own potential by unlocking the utility inherent in your obsessions, and nurturing confidence by giving yourself options and purpose in daily life.
Big thanks to Mariah, whose questions after a panel at Wizard World St. Louis inspired this article.