I read an asininely large number of books. I probably open or start 300 to 500 books a year, finish 50, read substantial parts of 50 more, and listen to another 30 to 70 on audio. I tend to "fast read" books - which is where I skim until I hit a particularly good part, and then slow down for comprehension. When I read a book that's highly tactical, I try to go through it slowly over a couple months while implementing and testing the tactics.
The following isn't my list of favorite books, nor the best books written, nor even the most important to me. Instead, it's my picks of "must reads" if you're doing "creative building."
That's where you're simultaneously trying to invent/innovate while growing and diffusing your inventions and innovations. It's what entrepreneurs do, but not entrepreneurs only. The following list would be useful to someone trying to proliferate their writing, become prominent in fields ranging from music or journalism, and possibly even governance and politics.
There'll be a mix of philosophical, strategic, and tactical books on the list. Let's begin:
1. Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa - If you're talented and get frustrated with stupid people, you have to read "Musashi" by Eiji Yoshikawa. I mean, you have to. Musashi was one of the greatest swordsmen in Japanese history, invented a new Japanese longblade/shortblade mixed style of swordsmanship, and at one point fought himself out of an ambush when he was attacked by over 30 men. He was undefeated in over 60 duels, including defeating arguably the second best swordsman in Japan at the time while fighting with a wooden oar he carved into a rough swordlike shape. Yoshikawa writes his story about getting into conflict with mainstream society and all of the friction before finally finding a way to hone his craft without unnecessary conflict - and thus reach an even higher level of perfection. A brilliant philosophical read, but also a hell of a swashbuckling story. If you only read one book on this list, read this one.
I've scoured the books of history looking for trends - why did this person succeed, when that one failed? Why did this movement shape the world, while that one died out? Why did this nation win, and that one lose?
Some people think accidents explain history. Perhaps accidents explain some of history, but certainly not all. You see common virtues among those who succeeded, and frequently you see common vices among those who failed.
Of the common virtues, the successful seem to have an immense amount of loyalty and reverence for the people that "got them there," revering and celebrating them even as they bring more and more people to their banner. The people who break from their early friends and supporters usually end poorly, in an isolation of their own making.
You can see this with two men that had the biggest impact on their respective cultures - Muhammad in Arabia, and Hideyoshi in Japan.
Both men were low born, but came to be hugely influential. There are a number of similarities in their stories. They both found and married an exceptional, charismatic, diplomatic, high born, highly intelligent woman relatively early in their careers. The wives of these men - Khadijah to Muhammad, Nene to Hideyoshi - were their first, most passionate, and largest supporters when few else believed in them.
Act I: The Discovery of Conflict Invigoration
I recently discovered a phenomenon common among many highly successful people. I'm calling it "conflict invigoration" - this is a personality trait, a mixed blessing and curse. It's the kind of person who can move heaven and earth when inspired, but doesn't do as well when they aren't... and who is always invigorated by a fight.
I first noticed conflict invigoration among a number of the most successful people I knew personally. See, I don't think this is an entirely new observation, but a lot of the people that reach stratospheric levels of success are kind of deranged. You almost have to be, to keep going after you've "won" by every conceivable measure, to work yourself to the bone at the expense of your sanity and longevity and vitality, to neglect so many of the basic human needs and pleasures and comforts.
I saw this trait in lots of successful people, and then I started paying attention to biographies and histories. Indeed, many of the most expansive people in our generation and previous ones are conflict invigorated - they've perhaps always got a baseline of creativity and striving, but it really comes out when a fight breaks out.
"Competition is always a fantastic thing, and the computer industry is intensely competitive." - Bill Gates
Went to the Forbidden City today in Beijing. Spent a few hours there.
Magnificent place. The gardens were my favorite, the craftwork was incredible, and the whole place just had this huge expansive majesty about it.
I had a nice time. I enjoyed seeing the architecture, the craftsmanship, and the aesthetics of the place.
Then I left, and I thought to myself - "I missed something here. There's probably an important lesson in there, I'm damn sure there is, it's nearby somehow on my mind, but I just missed it. I'm missing something important."
...I still haven't figured out what that is. Aggravating. I feel pretty strongly that there was something very useful to learn and take away from there, and instead I just had a nice aesthetic experience without anything deeper.
1:15AM, my friend/colleague leaving my apartment:
"Yeah, I'm heading out. You going to bed?"
"Nah, I've still got a few things I want to do."
"Why not sleep and get at them in the morning?"
Question from a reader -
How can I truly combat procrastination and develop self discipline to get things done? Usually this is stuff taught or otherwise developed at a very young age and I have parents who have only ever been able to barely survive and are pessimistic people who tried to hammer their illogical beliefs into me by force. Not very good.
[...story about successful experience where it was effortless...]
Ive never been able to recapture that original magic where I just naturally got things done for the sake of it. I need it back. It would be very helpful now!
So I just read this great quote in The New Yorker about procrastination -
Question from a reader:
how important is having a business license and a business plan to running a successful website that makes money? Is it more important then having a business idea and a product.
Business plan: 1/10, maybe 2/10
A cold urban desert landscape, the sun setting Shall it ever rise again? The nighttime, criss-crossed wires overhead, buzzing faintly with electricity That goes where? That does what?
Why is the way not illuminated?
What if the sun, then,
Would not rise unless we lifted it?
Took it upon our hands and backs Our palms and fingertips scorched for the effort
Yesterday in "Prioritizing" I wrote -
I think most people are at, maybe, 10% of their max capability. Probably more like 2%. That’s where most of my life I’ve been. Lately I’m near 40-50%? It’s intense. Better technology, better coordination, better planning are all necessary.
It didn't occur to me as anything important at the time - just a line thrown into a post on prioritizing. A few people have mentioned it -
Your 2% vs. 50% comment struck me as interesting.
Do you have experience being 2% productive? It would be interesting to hear from you exactly how you are different.
fyi - thank you for your posts on time tracking. I am greatly benefitting from them. There is definitely room for an app/webbased/offline component here. It's gotta flexible, customizable....simple for those just starting out and not needing intimidation but can also get complicated.... I'm currently working with excel to get some graphing and tracking going there. I also use ever note for more text based items. ie. that's where I keep goals and resolutions. So when I get to the part of my routine that I need to review those, that's where I go.
I've greatly benefitted from your blog and am glad a friend of mine passed it along to me. Keep up the good work.
Here's an idea for a post (if you haven't done it already): How I decide what to write a blog post on next...or how I decide what to do next (sounds like you're juggling tons of projects.)