3 Inspiring Books for the New Year

Here are 3 book suggestions for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone else who wants to change the world this year. Just right for a New Year start.

1 Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey (2014)

At Whole Foods, John Mackey created a new way of doing business that has proved as successful as it is revolutionary. In this book, Mackey describes the tenets of the Conscious Capitalism movement he has helped develop. He presents business as a heroic endeavour, with the power to change the world for the better. He argues that business has always had the power to do good for society, but that free-market Capitalism has erroneously been associated with corrupt forms of enterprise focused solely on making profit for shareholders. By being more ‘conscious’ of the real place and benefit of business in society, we are able to bring our businesses in line with this ideal.

Mackey redefines what it means to be a successful business. Traditionally, a successful business is one that makes large amounts of money for its shareholders. Conscious Capitalism offers the alternative of a business that sees synergy (rather than conflict) between stakeholders (including shareholders, customers and the wider society). Underscoring this is the concept of a successful business being one that understands its purpose. A purpose-driven business, then, should make profits, but that is not its purpose, merely a side benefit. This paradigm shift in thinking helps businesses to see socially beneficial activity as an integral part of their operation rather than an addendum or compromise.

Although Mackey refers to the experience at Whole Foods and other large international conscious businesses, this book is applicable to the small one-man-band business as it is to the large corporation, and is an inspiring read for anyone who is in business for more than just earning a living.

2. Being Human by Steve Chalke (2014)

Steve Chalke is a tremendously successful social entrepreneur, who has inspired countless initiatives over the years. His Oasis charity currently runs 43 schools throughout the UK, mainly in less ‘desirable’ locations (such as James Turner St aka “Benefits St” in Birmingham), and his flagship Oasis Waterloo ‘hub’ has spawned a variety of regeneration projects (including an urban zoo, food bank and public library) in the particularly poor London borough. In Being Human, Chalke challenges and inspires readers to become the person they are meant to be, using illustrations from his own experience as a social entrepreneur and activist.

Chalke’s argument is that to be the person we are meant to be, we need to develop our “SQ” (spiritual intelligence) alongside the other types of intelligence that the Modernist world has championed for so long. As a Baptist Minister, Chalke has caused a great deal of consternation amongst more traditional Christians for his more progressive views, eg on the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. This book will undoubtedly not go down so well with traditionalists either. Although referring to his Christian faith, he places SQ in a broader context than narrow conservative Christian theology.

Being Human is a very readable book, with short, succinct chapters. It is peppered with great anecdotes and illustrative stories that bring the narrative alive. There are also plenty of motivational gems that are worthy of repeating often, eg: Our greatest danger in life is not that we aim too high and miss, but that we aim too low and hit our target.

3. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (2011)

Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement has revolutionised the approach to business for startups and more established companies alike (particularly in the “Silicon Valley” et al tech world). This manual is a step by step description of the Lean Startup principles for creating new innovative and disruptive products in a startup (and in effect any entrepreneurial venture). It advocates a simple, but often missed, idea – build a sustainable business around products people actually want (rather than build products and then try to find out if they are wanted).

Key to the book is Ries’ early assertion that “The grim reality is that most startups fail. Most new products are not successful. Most new ventures do not live up to their potential”. Although not the most inspirational message, it is a reality check for aspiring entrepreneurs, based on Ries’ own hard won startup experience (initially unsuccessful and turning in to a $50 million business). However, the more inspiring message (and core of the book) is that entrepreneurial success can be achieved by rigorous management of product development. This doesn’t sound particularly ‘sexy’, but the narrative makes compelling sense and the real life examples from Ries’ experience (as startup CTO and Lean Startup consultant) help bring it down to earth.

Although a practical handbook, the book nevertheless inspires a new, more innovative and more humane way to do business, as Ries concludes (in response to the question of what would a Lean Startup organisation look like): “We would dedicate ourselves to the creation of new institutions with a long-term mission to build sustainable value and change the world for the better. Most of all, we would stop wasting people’s time.”