4 books that will take you further in business and life

February 26, 2021

Reading is a hugely undervalued habit with the power to push us far beyond our self-limiting preconceptions. Boosting our chances of success often requires changing the way we look at the world – and books allow us to dive deep into a fresh perspective.

Grindstone’s reading list is extensive, but there are a few books in particular that we consider to be mandatory reading for our team. That’s because they align completely with our values and promote the concepts that fuel our way of working.

So let’s take a look at four books that get Grindstone’s seal of approval. And why we believe so much in the message of each book.

1. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

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Given our experience in growing startups, it’s no surprise to see The Lean Startup in Grindstone’s reading list. This is more than just a book – it’s really a movement that has revolutionized entrepreneurship by maximizing efficiency.

Ries’ methodology is all about minimizing wasted time and resources, so that we can make better business decisions faster. He encourages us to be ruthless in our assessment of what actually matters, so that we can launch faster and home in on our growth targets.

Here are some of the most important concepts within The Lean Startup:

  • Minimum viable product (MVP). Ries advises us to build the simplest possible version of our product that fulfils its basic purpose. By distributing this MVP to customers as quickly as possible, we’re able to collect valuable data about our product without losing time to the fine details or building things that don’t actually matter to the customer.
  • Validated learning (build, measure, learn). This is a learning and feedback loop for establishing the effectiveness of a product, service or idea. It allows us to keep our build products as quickly and cheaply as possible by shortening the length of our development cycle. This feedback loop simplifies what is the fundamental activity of a startup – to turn ideas into products, measure the customer’s response, and then learn whether to change course or continue with your strategy.
  • Pivot or persevere? Ries gives an array of examples as to how you can change or “pivot” a business strategy. The idea is that sometimes only one specific element of a product or business model is all that needs to be changed in order to make the business competitive. Ries also demonstrates how a business strategy can change incrementally, using small changes to the product that was already launched instead of starting from scratch.

The Lean Startup shows us how to work smarter instead of just harder. It moves us away from asking ourselves “can we build this product?” and towards the more important question: “Should we build this product?”

2. Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin

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Few of us in business need to make life and death decisions. But there’s certainly no better people to teach us about decision-making than those who do. Extreme Ownership shows how the management lessons of U.S. Navy SEALs can apply to any leadership role.

The key lessons from this book are as follows:

  • A leader who takes responsibility for failure is critical to the success of a team. The lowest performers in challenging scenarios are the ones who blame others instead of carrying a burden themselves. Perhaps the most important takeaway here is that leaders’ attitudes are generally adopted by their subordinates. If a leader doesn’t take responsibility for their actions, nobody else will either. And the result is that the team doesn’t reach its goal.
  • Leaders inevitably face pressure, and handling this pressure well requires establishing priorities and taking action. The Navy SEALs’ mantra is “relax, look around, make a call”. The authors explain that when the going gets tough, leaders need to first set priorities and then handle those priorities in order. This translates very easily into business. When quick decisions need to be made, the first thing to do is identify the highest priority. Ensure that your team is aware of this and then focus on executing your plan.
  • Being proactive and mitigating risks before they surface is an important attribute of great leaders. This lesson focuses on the importance of preparation. The author recounts a rescue mission in Iraq in which it came to light that the hostage was guarded by machine guns in bunkers and surrounded by explosives. Incredibly, Babin was already prepared for this and his team could move forward without delay. Leaders are responsible for anticipating any hazards and ensuring that their team is prepared to face them.

Ownership and accountability is a big part of Grindstone’s ethos, and that’s why we ask that everybody in our team reads Extreme Ownership.

3. The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

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This book is not only a valuable asset to anybody’s personal growth. It also has the potential to become a workplace philosophy.

The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People encourages us to challenge our current perception of the world in order to improve our attitude and become more successful. Covey explains that In life and work, we often look for quick fixes to issues that we’re neglecting, while completely misunderstanding the issues themselves. 

Growing both personally and professionally requires us to become more courageous and considerate. And the seven habits from an engaging pathway from dependence, to independence, and ultimately to growth.

The habits are:

  • Be proactive. Instead of dwelling on what people have said or done to us, we should choose what action to take.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Without a clear vision of where we want to take ourselves, we get caught up in the never-ending chaos of everyday life.
  • Put first things first. Once you’ve established what you stand for, prioritize your time and focus on what’s important.
  • Think win-win. Always try to meet others’ needs while also securing a positive outcome for yourself.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Empathic listening allows us to better understand the problem.
  • Synergize. Embrace the perspectives of others and use them to create opportunities for shared success.
  • Sharpen the saw. Keep yourself in shape so that you have the energy to win. This means physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

Reading this book might lead you to identify a lot of areas in which you can improve yourself, but the encouraging thing is that the book shows how you can improve these a bit at a time. Adopting each habit seems to make it a little easier to take on the others.

4. Great Leaders Have No Rules by Kevin Kruse

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Entrepreneur Kevin Kruse gives a radical assessment of which leadership practices actually work – and claims that they are the opposite of the ones that are commonly taught to us. He encourages leaders to be counterintuitive when the situation calls for it.

This book is very team-focused, perfect for somebody who leads a group.

The key lessons here are as follows:

  • Close Your Open-Door Policy. Open-door policies stifle employees, making them less inclined to make decisions themselves. This is something for which we, as a company, have always advocated.
  • Turn Off Your Smartphone. Phones are toxic in meetings; they also distract us from focusing on others and listening effectively.
  • Have No Rules. Performance is driven by attitudes, not rules. Kruse gives the example of Netflix’s ‘unlimited vacation’ policy and the effect that it has on individual performance.
  • Be Likeable, Not Liked. This chapter is a great life lesson. Kruse talks about how we can shoot ourselves in the foot by trying too hard to be liked. Not needing this is what actually makes us likeable.
  • Lead with Love. This concept follows on well from the previous one. Because Kruse makes the point that liking is an emotion, while love is a decision. Leading with love means knowing and caring about what inspires somebody, regardless of whether or not you actually like them.
  • Crowd Your Calendar. This chapter is about time management and getting things done. “Great leaders actually schedule everything,” Kruse writes. “Instead of placing tasks on a to-do list, they pick a date, time, and duration and schedule it on their calendar. This is the only guaranteed way to know that you are investing your minutes in alignment with your values and goals.”
  • Play Favourites. Again, this is contradictory to a lot of advice we get these days. But because people are different, we should treat them differently by identifying their strengths and weaknesses. Treating everyone the same isn’t fair.
  • Reveal Everything. Here, Kruse says that transparency drives the quality, speed and engagement of a decision. This means having the courage to deliver bad news. “One way to lose trust is to actually lie and get caught,” he writes. “But a more common way is to only give good news.”
  • Show Weakness. Demonstrating vulnerability is another way for leaders to inspire trust.
  • Leadership Is Not A Choice. Kruse stresses leading by example – taking responsibility for the change you want to inspire. “If leadership is influence,” he writes, “then leadership isn’t a choice.”

This post is a short summary of some powerfully beneficial advice, but there’s really no substitute for actually reading these books. Hopefully it inspires you to adopt a fresh perspective that will bring you closer to realizing your goals.

One of Grindstone’s core values is knowledge. And these books are effectively not only for accumulating knowledge, but for inspiring you to seek out game-changing ideas.

© Grindstone, 2021.  All rights reserved.

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