When writing about what startups can teach corporates the other week, I realized there are so many life-changing books which every innovator ought to read. Some of us might have done more reading during the lockdown weeks we all experienced around Europe. Perhaps for some, it has been a time for reflection, ideation or just a need to better understand who we are and how we can contribute to a world in crisis.
No matter the type of reader you are, I think we all need to take the time to read now that the “new normal” is upon us. We might not know what the future has in store for us, but reading will give us the ability to make more connections on both a human and a business level, innovate or pivot, and adjust to our new surroundings.
So, without further ado, here are some of the startups and innovation classics in my view. They cover new beginnings – like the building of Silicon Valley, a hub European leaders have tried many times to replicate – as well as the importance of ideations and new ways of thinking, creativity, markets, niches and scaling up (or not).
Let’s start with Margaret O’Mara and her The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America to learn more on the behind-the-scenes history of the people who built Silicon Valley and shaped big tech in America. Continue your journey through this landscape of geeks and billionaires while reading Michael Lewis’ book The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story.
Once you have finished with the above, the next stop is Zero to One: Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters. The book is about uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. It is a condensed version of a set of online notes taken by Masters for a class on startups, as taught by Thiel at Stanford University.
Now I make a detour and read more on concepts such as the birth of an idea and ideation in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson. A very interesting read is also The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins. The book contains a great deal of practical wisdom and some anecdotes of creative breakthroughs that led to the invention of frozen peas, some of Picasso’s masterpieces and The Simpsons. And while you’re at it, do not miss Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight. You might be surprised by Nike’s startup days and you’ll learn how it transformed into one of the world’s most iconic and game-changing brands.
Human psychology and storytelling
As we are all thinking creatures that feel as Jill Taylor, an American neuroanatomist, states after many years of research on the human brain, stories are essential to our innovation. So before moving on to business models and markets, spend some time on The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall and learn more about make-believe fantasies we humans love creating and how we’re storifying everything around us.
Finding new markets and niches
If you are considering scaling up your startup then Scaling Up, How a few companies make it and why the rest don’t by Verne Harnish is a must-read. The book focuses on the four major decision areas you should get right: people, strategy, execution, and cash. If scaling up does not mean new markets for you, but rather a new niche have a look at The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. Today’s new economics of distribution allow us to turn our focus to the many more products in the tail, which can, in turn, create new markets. The book reveals several consumers truths showcasing how we moved from DVDs to Netflix, to songs on iTunes or to advertising on Google. If you believe scaling up or finding new niches are not the answer in the mist a global pandemic, you might want to read Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis. It might turn out that the key to a richer and fulfilling life for you is not scaling up, but rather to become a highly profitable and sustainable company. It’s up to you.
If you’re looking for more content and ideas around what the new normal will be like, this week have published the results of our small survey on what the EU-Startups community predict, as well as interviews with startup leaders in the sectors of e-mobility, food delivery, smart city, travel, coworking and HR.