The challenge of reading #52booksin2017

Books

In my school days, I couldn’t read too many books. Like kids around me, I used to pick one from the library and return it in a week, just as it was. We used to go for the one with the coolest cover and it was usually something like Goosebumps.

Low effort, low reward. Years later, I heard Bill Gates saying that he’s been averaging a book a week from very early days, no matter how busy he found himself to be. This was inspiring and terrifying at the same time!

Is Mr. Gates smart because he reads, or does he read because he’s smart? Either way, I started with my resolve of reading #52bookseveryyear and it has proved to be much like mining – really challenging, but very rewarding.

This year, I set myself up for a target of  #52booksin2017 (on Twitter) and I read 40. Here are the ones I liked the most:

Shoe Dog and Grinding it Out

The memoirs of Phil Knight (Founder, Nike) and Ray Kroc (Founder, McDonalds) are very different, yet very alike. They’re both beautiful, thoroughly engaging page-turners about two legendary salesmen. It was inspiring  to read about these heroes trying to sell everything from Paper Cups to Milk Shake Machines, Burger Franchises, Shoes and most importantly – dreams. Interestingly, a part of Ray Kroc’s legacy is that he screwed over the real McDonald brothers; a fact he conveniently hides with a white, cringe-worthy lie. While Phil Knight, too, didn’t give partnership to Jeff Johnson who seemed to have had more skin in the game than himself for a great part of the journey. The beauty is that there’s no bad blood in Knight’s tale while Mr. Kroc has been deemed as the anti-hero by Hollywood. There’s so much we can learn from both! I sure did.

The Elephant Catchers and High Performance Entrepreneur

Both of these books are by Mr. Subroto Bagchi (Co-founder, Mindtree) and they’re essential. Catching rabbits is easy: Light a fire in the forest, rabbits will run away from it and boom! You’ve got a lot of them. Catching an elephant, however, is a big deal. You need to study the heard for months, map their daily route, dig a big hole at the right place with a good camouflage, wait for an elephant to fall. When one does, the herd tries for weeks to help it out before finally saying goodbye. You then have to bring your own pet elephants to befriend the fallen one before extracting it. Cracking big deals in the business world is a similar process and Mr. Bagchi explains it masterfully. “High Performance…” (His first book) is the Gita of entrepreneurship. It tells everything about the journey in a very, very condensed and interesting way. I’m glad I read both. Cheers to Mr. Bagchi!

The Lean Startup, The Startup of You and High Output Management

Starting-up is said to be all about the beginning, iterating, connecting, iterating more and finally managing. And these three books encapsulate that extremely well. Lean Startup is a real goldmine for product developers with concepts taken from Japanese Lean manufacturing and translated to the tech-startup scene. The Startup of you, on the other hand, is valuable for learning the one thing which matters most in an entrepreneur’s journey – connecting with people. And finally, High Output Management is gospel (well, scientific) truth for anyone who’s looking at building a company. Eric Ries, Reid Hoffman and Andy Grove are all heroes, and in their books, it’s apparent why. These shouldn’t  be missed.

Irresistible, Move Fast and Break Things and Deep Work

We’re slowly realizing that social media is the new heroin. It dumbs us down and sells our data for dollars. Irresistible talks about the psychological downside of this, Move Fast speaks from a sociological perspective, while Deep Work teaches us that distraction at the workplace is a real problem and how the concept of focus needs to be re-engineered. All of these books are really thought provoking and stimulating. Something needs to be done to either minimize the billion+ man-hours going into the drain every day or to make those man-hours relatively productive. At Cread, this is exactly the problem we’re solving by developing a social media platform which is fun in a creative way and will allow people to monetize their talent.

Sapiens and Strangers to Ourselves

While the former is about knowing Humanity, the latter is about knowing oneself. Both are absolute treasures. Sapiens is a crash course on History and gives insights on why humans came to rule the world and also why some still rule over the others. It’s a scintillating read and was recommended by Mr. Gates himself. I had a lot of expectations, and, most of them were met. ‘Strangers to Ourselves’ is a slightly heavier (and mandatory, in my opinion) course on philosophy and psychology. The book is huge, but this major insight was the crux of it:

All this while, we’ve been very aggrandizing about the powers of our consciousness, which actually accounts for very little of what we do. Our non-conscious brain is actually calling the shots and finding and training it is the real deal. Is controlling the “non-consciousness” possible? Yes, it is.

Tuesdays with Morrie and Catcher in the Rye

I mostly read to get educated and not entertained, but sometimes I need a break. I’m so glad that I read these gems to refresh my mind. “Tuesdays…” is a real-life story of a professor who taught the world how to live while slowly dying of ALS. Mitch Albom – erstwhile student of Morrie – visited him on the thirteen last Tuesdays of his life. This is one of the books which make people cry and for good reason. I loved it! Catcher in the Rye is a classic which I always wanted to read and finally did! It’s a story of a teenager going through manic depression and finding himself. Having dealt with manic depression myself, I found true solace in the book. It’s a masterpiece. They both are.

Hit Makers and Losing the Signal

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and consider ‘The Tipping Point’ an actual tipping point in the world of understanding society. Hit Makers starts from where The Tipping Point left. It’s a beautiful book which seeks to explain the often random-seeming success (and failure) of music, movies, art, and products. Both in content and presentation, Hit Makers is a thorough masterpiece and I’m lucky to have stumbled upon it. It was phenomenal! Losing The Signal, on the other hand, talks about how Blackberry became a $20 Billion dollar company to eventually go down in flames. It was deeply engaging, thoroughly entertaining, extremely educating and very sad. Here’s a line to sum up the Blackberry story: There’s more than meets the eye.

My favourites of 2017? The last two.

Does reading books help?

I think it does. I started up The Testament when I was in the first year of college. From a weekly university journal, we pivoted into tech-enabled Manpower Outsourcing and generated Rs. 1.2Cr in revenues by the time we were out of college. Navigating through oceans of challenges, I have just started my second company – a social media platform for artists called Cread – and almost everything I’ve learnt about doing all of this has come from reading. Contrary to the popular perception, I believe reading doesn’t make one smart. It just breaks the bubble of ignorance and shows us what we’re missing. Is that a great step? Sure! But it’s the first of many.


Nishant Mittal is a bootstrapped entrepreneur who started his journey right in the first year of college. His first startup – The Testament – a growing tech-based Manpower Outsourcing company – reached revenues of Rs. 1.2Cr just by the time he had graduated. Focussing on his mission of creating opportunities for people, Nishant has started his second company called Cread, which is a social platform where artists can monetize their talent. An artist himself, Nishant has over a decade of experience in playing music and writing both poetry and prose.

 

 

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