Ten Books That Changed My Thinking (And, Consequently, My Life)

How important are books to you? To me they are hugely important! These are books that have left a lasting impression on me and have meant big impacts in my life when I read them. 

 

 

1. J R R Tolkien – Lord Of The Rings Trilogy.

My first and strongest memory of being totally entrenched in a story, oblivious to the world around me, is from reading these books in a noisy school classroom in Hagsätra. It must have been 2nd or 3rd grade, and my child’s mind was discovering magic. The detailed descriptions of nature, interspersed with hints that this setting of Middle-Earth was a place where wonderment was always just around the corner, awakened in me a sense of longing for those same kind of tints in real life, and that “in search of magic”-attitude probably helped me see a silver lining in some hardships I went through during those formative years.

 

2. Isaac Asimov – The Foundation Trilogy

The main character in these books, Hari Seldon, resonated so well with my inquisitive nature. The idea of “psychohistory”, the fictional science of putting all knowable data about the present in some super-advanced set of algorithms and getting an output of likely forecasts about the grandest passings of events hundreds of years into the future made me want nothing else than to be that wise, curious professor who had all the answers.

 

3. Dan Millman – Way Of The Peaceful Warrior

The context in which I got this book recommended to me was as important as the reading itself. It was my martial arts senpai (junior instructor) that told me of this book, and it was during a period when the practice of budo was as central in my life as gymnastics is to the main character in the book. Thus, it was amazingly identifyable to me. It drove me deeper into my martial arts commitment, and the spiritual aspects sent me on my first steps in a “shamanic quest” (best way to describe it, really) that had heavy repercussions almost 10 years later. Chakra meditations and experiments with astral travel were other things that can be attributed to reading this book.

 

4. Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged

It’s funny how my mom was the one who first recommended this book to me, as a younger kid. Having read it after none other than Randy Gage (see below) did a more effective pitch for it, it made me re-evaluate a lot of the attitude I had been brought up with in regards to money, success, achievements and ownership. You could say it counteracted a lot of socialistic programming that came from my environment until then. It meant a huge paradigm shift, and I have since then strived to always see beyond what the environment and establishment is teaching and promoting. For me, that principle is as true in relation to the ideas (and the proponents of them) of this book.

 

5. Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search For Meaning

This is a book about perspective. I’ve never read anything else that better illustrates the power of re-framing, to use the power within you that can never be taken away… the power to choose your own attitude towards your circumstances. Viktor Frankl lost pretty much everything in his life when he was put in Auschwitz during the Holocaust, but managed to survive and even provide strength to those around him by focusing on the things he could keep control of – his own thoughts. Truly inspiring.

 

6. Hermann Hesse – The Glass Bead Game

Probably my overall favorite author, Hesse blends spiritual themes, poignant reasoning and a beautiful poetic flow in his prose. This is my favorite book of his. It’s a science fiction tale about a world where the highest levels of academic pursuit is conducted in the isolated “land” of Castalia, and the purest expression of mastery in the Castalians’ “art of knowledge” is The Glass Bead game, a performance instrument of sorts that incorporates all known disciplines. Music, language, history, math, psychology… everything is weaved by the performer into a uniquely individual expression. What this book is really about, to me, is nothing else than design thinking. Oh, and it also taught me another great lesson – that learning ABOUT something is far from actually LEARNING something.

 

7. Randy Gage – How to Build a Multi-Level Money Machine: The Science of Network Marketing

Network Marketing or “MLM” (Multi-Level Marketing), the growth engine in companies such as Amway, Herbalife, Zinzino, Dreamtrips etc, was something I was involved in for more or less five years. I would call it the best business school I’ve attended. This book takes away all of the rah-rah “hallelujah” type hype that’s unfortunately prevalent in MLM, and instead does what the title promises: it breaks down success in MLM into all its small components, and gives a great analysis of marketing, psychology, organization work and all other parts. This book dissected “viral growth” before anyone in the tech startup world was talking about it, and many of the principles (including the maths for efficient incentive systems) I still have daily use for in all business I do.

 

8. Stephen Covey – 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People

“A people, without a vision, perishes” – it’s paraphrasing the Bible, and though I’m not a man of any particular faith, I love the quote. Inner drive comes from having a clear purpose and a vision – “if you have a strong enough WHY, you will always come up with a HOW” – and this book really is an instruction manual for personal integrity, as well as a great guide to balance your roles and principles against the daily barrage of “things that need to be done”. I’ve read countless books and articles on “productivity”, and in my humble opinion, only two of them are required reading. This is one of them.

 

9. David Allen – Getting Things Done

… and this is the other. While 7 Habits does a superb job in the “top-down” perspective of personal achievement, Getting Things Done is hands down THE instruction manual for the actual work of ticking “to do” boxes and becoming a machine of task management. GTD (the methodology in this book) has a cult-like following, and the whole thing can be overwhelmingly complex at first (it really goes into the nitty-gritty, and there’s a bunch of scary flow diagrams and other abstract illustrations), and to become a “black belt” in the system probably takes a couple of years of practice. But it can be applied in bits and pieces, which is how most people read it, and the amount of immediately applicable tips makes it worth a read to anyone. To me, the tangibility of tasks that arise from using GTD is a practice of mindfulness that I have use of everyday in my work or anything else that needs “getting done”.

 

10. Howard Schultz – Pour Your Heart Into It

I founded a food company. This guy did too. His company is Starbucks, and Howard Schultz is one of my heroes. This is an autobiographical recounting of how a fantastic company grew out of incredible passion and dedication to quality in product and operations. It’s a classic success story, was incredibly inspirational to me – and had a huge impact on my entrepreneurial vision and the way Bar-deli was developed.

 

There you have it! My friend David inspired this list. I posted the pure list on facebook here, and Simon, Mattias and Joakim all took the challenge as well. Well played, guys!

So. Now I’m of course wondering – what books make YOUR list? Please leave a comment!

Reconciling Quantified Self, Lifelogging, Big Data And…

There’s always a difficulty in having a progressive discussion when the different parties come from different domains. With different world views or attitudes come different terminologies. What if we could communicate a bit more effectively between domains? The model presented in this post attempts to map out how players from the “opposing fields” of Lifelogging, Quantified Self, Social Networking (or “Social Media“) and Big Data look at and think of each other.

Since I started working at Narrative a year ago, a company in the “lifelogging” field, I’ve been immersing myself into these domains of personal activity tracking, hi-tech sensor devices that record and measure various aspects of your life, and algorithmic data engines that try to make sense of all this data. I’ve been noticing that there is a huge variety of people’s reasons to be in this field. Just take a look at the documentary Lifeloggers for an overview of lots of different types of stories!

Because of this, I wanted to try and find a common ground, a bigger terminology, a way to reconcile all these different attitdes so that we can communicate and collaborate in a more fruitful capacity. Let’s go!

 

The Quadrants

So, let’s start by introducing the quadrants. We create a simple 2×2 matrix by using two distinctions: “Individual – Collective” and “Subjective- Objective”. It looks like this:

 

  • The upper left is the “intentional” or the “I”. This is the domain of “beauty” – spirituality, emotion, art, cognition and all those fluffy things.
  • The lower left is the “cultural” or the “We”. From this domain spring morals, our collective agreement of “what’s good” inside a group.
  • The upper right is the “behavioural/material” or the “It”. The hard sciences, what’s objectively observable and measurable.
  • The lower right is the “(social) systems” or the “Its”. Traffic, weather, politics, law, etc – the chaotic or predictable interplay between many soulless entities.

integralquadrants (1)

Quadrants Applied To Lifelogging/Quantified Self

Next, I’ll place our cast of four main actors inside these Quadrants, and I’ll explain below my rationale behind why they ended up where they did:

LifeloggingAQAL (1)

Lifelogging says “My life is worth recording and revisiting, if for noone else than myself. I want to capture cues that will jog my memory back to specific subjective experiences in my life – or series of experiences stringed together by time or other themes into my personal narrative. What did I see, hear, eat, who did I spend time with, how did I use my money and other resources?”

Social Media says: “Our lives, thoughts and ideas are worth sharing and interacting with. The world is made more interesting by understanding and bonding with other people, whether by physical proximity or digital tribes. We all have a voice and a part in co-creating our future, and in the song and dance of our ephemeral now.”

Quantified Self says: “If I can measure a behavior or material circumstance in my life, I can improve it. Thus, my body and my actions are my laboratory and my situation in life the outcome – stronger, smarter, wealthier and healthier. The more data I can collect, the more power of influence over my own destiny I gain. And the more exact those numbers, the less the error potential.”

Big Data says: “There’s power in numbers. By aggregating and correlating sources and streams of data, we can come to rational conclusions that can gain the individual, the society and/or the corporations. We can see trends, draw insights and plan strategies for long term progress and success. We can build a model over specific domains – and eventually over the world.”

 

Perspectives Facing Each Other

Of course, bear in mind that all of the above contain massive generalizations – just like maps always do. Now, finally we’ll expand the quadrants to something akin to four corners of a boxing ring, and have all of them face each other. How do their respective positions affect their views of one another?

QuantifiedAQ (1)

The way to read the above illustration is to look at one quadrant at a time. Then you can see how the circled domain views the other domains. For example, starting from “Lifelogging“, it looks at “Quantified Self” and sees “Insights and Personal Growth“, it looks at “Social Media” and sees “Oversharing, Transparency and Narcissism“, it looks at “Big Data” and sees “Surveillance and Security“. And so on, across the quadrants. It gets a bit heady, I know! :)

This is where I’d like to invite for discussion. Do you agree with the positioning of the four domains in one quadrant each? Does it make sense to generalize their respective reasoning and attitude towards each other? And how can this model be of help for people from Lifelogging, Quantified Self, Big Data and Social Media to come together? Is there even a conflict of interests to start with? Please join in the comments or tweet me @niclasj!

 

Ending Disclaimer

Like all theoretical work this model is very derivative, so credit where credit’s due. I found the writings of Ken Wilber eight or so years back, right after having been through more or less of a spiritual/personal crisis. His “integral model of everything” or “AQAL” (short for All Quadrants, Levels, lines, states and types) felt like intellectual salvation in a sea of conflicting domains to my mindset of wanting to piece together all fragmented beliefs/worldviews that had to be reconciled for me to pick myself up and move forward again. If you’re looking for a sane way to “marry sense and soul” and get a useful meta-model over both physical and metaphysical reality, I really recommend you take a look at “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality“, Wilber’s most widely referenced book. (This is just an application of the first element in the AQAL model – the quadrants.)

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Quote: “People, events, ideas”

This is one of my favorite quotes:

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people”

- Eleanor Roosevelt

As a boy, much of the time I preferred the company of books before people. Indulging in inspiration, adventures, foreign places and concepts challenged and stimulated me. I was often building and inhabiting worlds in my mind, and not even focusing on the sensory elements of the phantasy… but preferring to dive deep into the abstract, ever-evolving, ever-spiraling patterns, equations, my own remixed formulae of reality.

Moving in the world, I’ve grown more and more interested in the human and social side of things, feeling all the more enriched by sharing stories with friends of different backgrounds than me. The feeling of closeness and mutual understanding is fertile ground for some of the more delicate and sublime experiences in life.

Still not a people-person, though. So yeah, that quote still sums it up pretty neatly.

Introverts

If you’re taken aback by this, or if it all feels familiar to your own personality, try googling MBTI if you don’t already know about it, and specifically INTJ.

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Results-Only Workplace Or Workplace-Only Results?

ROWE means “Results-Oriented Work Environment” and is for the fluid economy what the 4-Hour Work Week is for individuals. But what are the pros and cons of ultimate work flexibility?

Googleplex view.

Googleplex view. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The new superstar CEO of Yahoo Marissa Mayer has brought attention and criticism to her decision to centralize all remote workers (customer service reps, among other functions) and bring them physically back into the Yahoo offices rather than having them keep working from their homes. One of those questioning this decision is Sir Richard Branson, who writes in his blog that it “… seems a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective than ever.”

So, what’s the context here? It can be boiled down to an argument of whether ROWE is effective or not (or when it is vs when it isn’t). According to Wikipedia: “ROWE – Results Only Work Environment is a human resource management strategy co-created by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler wherein employees are paid for results (output) rather than the number of hours worked.”

I first heard of ROWE in this blog post on Tim Ferriss‘ blog, where Cali Ressler clearly lays out the benefits of the strategy even in large organizations.

So, the benefits of allowing employees to do their job anywhere, anytime are obvious if you read the link above. Then what would be the reasons for a leader such as Marissa Mayer to enforce this organizational change?

One can only speculate. I think a huge clue can be found in Marissa’s background at Google. The Googleplex company headquarters “campus” is a shining example of strong company culture that still embraces flexibility and individual “freedom of expression” for lack of a better description.

I think face-to-face company culture briefings , “teambuilding trainings” etc are a necessary part of what needs to be done at Yahoo to reignite and align their entire team towards their new common goals. It wouldn’t surprise me if after a couple of years, once a good deal of in-house rallying is done and a new company spirit soars between their office walls, the “work@home” people will again have that option back on their table. Remember, there is no such thing as a final strategy decision in today’s fluid world.

That’s it for today folks! Have you experienced big shifts in company culture where you’ve worked – or instigated such shifts as a leader?

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Sprinkles Of Gastronomy: Shared Business Ideas, Pt 3

Free for your business creation: Here’s how to combine the huge trend of the sharing economy with the new “dinner kit” type of home-delivered food. 

The topic here is “free-to-use business ideas that I came up with but don’t have the time and resources to make into reality at the moment”. As always, if you want to take an idea and do it yourself, please tell me first! Maybe we could create a joint venture?

I truly believe that the sharing economy will become a natural way to micro-monetize everyday activities by optimizing and re-allocating resources that the everyday person has in handy. I touched upon the subject in my earlier blog post about “The New Fluid World” and here is a logical extension to that post.

This idea is a simple combination between two not-so-obvious concepts. The “dinner kit” idea that started here in Sweden with the company Middagsfrid is the first component. New York Times ran a good piece just the other week, explaining and exemplifying the idea. Read it first if you don’t know the concept already.

The second component is the lunchbox co-cookoff get-together concept that I myself created and wrote about earlier in this blog. Go ahead and read that one too. So, let’s run through how these two would work together:

 

Friends and good food

Friends and good food (Photo credit: alexfiles)

The solution

Users register as “guest” and/or “host” on our website. Hosts can set date and choose between our pre-composed “recipe menu”  and invite friends before the rest get access to an event.

The event gets populated by friends and guests who register and prepay through website/app. We deliver all ingredients + recipes, instructions, etc in grocery bags to the host on the same day or day before.

And that’s it!

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Sprinkles Of Inspiration: Shared Business Ideas Pt. 2

How could a lucrative social network be built around book recommendations within specific niches? In this post you can read how I would do it!

The topic here is “free-to-use business ideas that I came up with but don’t have the time and resources to make into reality at the moment”. As always, if you want to take an idea and do it yourself, please tell me first! Maybe we could create a joint venture?

Books

Books (Photo credit: henry…)

The problem

Self-help and personal development is a huge book category and one that I’m fairly familiar with, so let’s start there. I know many, many people who love picking up inspirational literature. They have a challenge (or several of them) in their life, and the book title promises them that all their problems will be solved. Then they read through them just to get that warm fuzzy feeling… and then not DO very much in the way of changing their life. This of course leads to the challenge remaining unchanged, and then they see the next book with an alluring title and front cover… and the cycle continues. In short, we need to create some kind of feedback loop that motivates people to take action on the good information they consume in good books. And no, this is not only relevant to the self-help genre…

 

The solution

A community for reading and writing book reviews – but with a twist: All books are actionable “how-to” books and all reviews are submitted by filling in a form with pre-defined fields where the reader shares their measurable and quantified result thanks to the book and their personal story of how it “changed their life”.

The portal can carry all segments of instructional books: Life success, relationships, finances, technical skills, etc. The goal is to create an inspiration engine that kicks people into action and life improvement.

The site is monetized through affiliate links for book sales, most obviously. Also ads catering to each respective segment. Will get massive link love by building community with book bloggers/forums. (When I got the idea my plan was to start testing and building content/community on the Swedish market, then duplicate in English for global domination.)

That’s it, folks. Have you ever read a great, inspiring book that felt life-changing? Could you go back and figure out what it was that made you take action and create a result? Do you think other people would appreciate reading your story about reading the book?

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Sprinkles Of Creativity: Shared Business Idea, Pt 1

What happens if you take awesome but struggling entrepreneurs and put them in the corporate board rooms to share their disruptive perspective? You get more inspired, action-focused board meetings and less starving entrepreneurs!

This is the first post in a series I’m spinning off from when I mentioned my 18 now dormant business ideas in my earlier post Fifty Shades Of Entrepreneurial Pt 3. I don’t think the series is going to be 18 parts. It’s probably going to exceed that…

Entrepreneurs are GREAT!

Entrepreneurs are GREAT! (Photo credit: UK in Canada)

Here I’ll be sharing ideas and concepts that were created by me. They’re all things I’d love to turn into reality, but time and other resources are scarce. Maybe sometime. And hey – if you should want to take an idea and do it yourself, please tell me first! Who knows, I might have some extra tips and tweaks or contacts/resources, and we could create a joint venture? Here we go then, the first idea:

 

Rent An Entrepreneur

The problem

Many starting entrepreneurs and startup founders run bootstrapped businesses and constantly worry about their own personal finances. This is before they’ve had any significant funding, and they’re building a product that won’t create big revenues for some time. So they have skills, ideas, initiative, courage and motivation. But they can’t live off those qualities… yet. So they get by with crappy part-time jobs or doing low-level consulting gigs as developers, designers or whatever. Not an optimal situation.

The solution

Create a “business and innovation agency”, recruit a bunch of entrepreneurs like those described above – around ten to fifteen people should get you off to a great start. Each individual’s time commitment only needs to be around 5 hours a week. Set up a nice and simple website and pull some strings (the people you just recruited should be both technically skilled and well-versed networkers). The product you’ll be selling is “60 minutes of idea and action infusion into your stiff and boring meeting with the executive group or the board”. You’ll be selling to established companies that are worried because they’re facing unpredictable changes in market conditions and need to innovate fast or lose to their competitors (this is every. single. company. out. there – you know it and they should know it too).

Build and promote engaging and inspiring stories about the entrepreneurs. Set the pricing to a premium. Go out and hustle, and get some prestigious first clients. Take a cut for each gig. Then smile all the way to the bank – because you will have provided a meaningful and stimulating part-time job for the entrepreneurs, stimulated positive change and real actionable initiatives to the clients, and probably a bunch of unforeseeable spin-off effects in the long run.

That’s it for today, folks.

 

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The Passion Of Ideas. The Entrepreneurial Disease.

Some thoughts on passion and creativity. This entrepreneurial thing, why do we do it to ourselves? Warning – this post is not written to be “actionable”. But perhaps it suffices as a digestable and nutritious piece of food for thought instead?

(When I started writing this post I thought I was going to share a few of my dormant business ideas. Instead it turned into some philosophical reflections on the nature of creativity and the act of creating something out of one’s ideas. Hope you like it. And I’ll save the actual ideas for a later blog post. Promise.)

Idea

Idea (Photo credit: annais)

I guess it’s the entrepreneurial disease. We can’t just seem to help ourselves from wanting to fix things that seem broken, can we? With a nudge back to the best definition of entrepreneurship I’ve ever seen… the easiest resource to disregard when starting to solve problems is the limited amount of our own time and energy.

“Passion” carries the original meaning of “suffering”. For someone “creative with a passion”, we’re pained in any act of creation by the gnawing sense that “while I’m in the process of making this new thing, there’s sooo many things that I’m leaving unstarted or unfinished”.

When we’re dreaming, visioning and conceptualizing up an idea from just a seed of inspiration into a physical (or digital, as it were) manifestation, then, we subject ourselves to double suffering. Not only did we forsake all the other ideas, but we necessarily chip away piece after piece from our “chosen idea” in the process of adapting and materializing the idea into reality, which is the only place where it can carry value to others than ourselves.

This might sound like a very bleak view on the creative process. Not so. We willingly plunge into the unknown, we strenuously pull that idea from an obscure corner of potentiality, and we diligently mold and bend it into a real business – because as much as the introspective part of us loves that secretly held ideal concept that WE discovered ourselves, the love of making an impact in people’s lives is a big enough motivation to keep us creating. And after we release our new thing into the world… we soon get back to creating again. Because we have a dis-ease – a lack of ease – with things that should be better than they are. Because we’re entrepreneurial.

That’s it for today folks. Did this post provoke a thought for you? Please share – I’ll appreciate any reaction!

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Language Shapes How We Think (TED Video)

If you’ve ever stayed abroad for a longer period, it’s probably an experience you treasure. Different cultures shape their people in different ways – and language is a huge factor.

In Swedish we don’t just say “aunt” and “uncle” – we have to specify “father-sister / mother-sister” and “father-brother / mother-brother”. We also often exemplify linguistic differences by stating that “eskimos have thirty words for ‘snow’”. This implies that how we abstract the world through our language is a reflection of how we view it. But can it also be the other way around?

Read this post and watch the TED talk by economist Keith Chen for a fascinating explanation on quantifiable differences in how we act as an effect of how we speak. The examples from the Chinese, English and Greek languages and cultural behavior are thought-provoking. And to me they speak volumes about how we should always strive to understand other people’s perspectives when we interact – whether in business or just in life in general.

Have you experienced this kind of differences in ways of thinking based on culture and language? 

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The Salesman Is Dead, Long Live The Salesman

Learn from author Daniel Pink giving some nuggets from his newest book “To Sell Is Human” in the great podcast from Harvard Business Review! 

Daniel Pink - PopTech 2007 - Camden, ME

Daniel Pink – PopTech 2007 – Camden, ME (Photo credit: kk+)

I listen to a number of great podcasts, and one that I particularly like for its short (20-minute episodes) and easy-to-digest format of “interviews with engaging experts” is HBR Ideacast. In the latest episode called “Why We’re All In Sales” popular author Daniel Pink gives us a great re-framing of the role of salespeople in today’s world. The various research he refers to shatters some common beliefs about social psychology and authority. Give this podcast a listen to learn about:

  • Personal, pervasive, permanent: How we often make these mistakes of negative generalizations in our self-talk, and a tip of self-talk that actually works.
  • Introverts vs extroverts as salespeople: Surprising facts on what’s the personality type that most often gets hired/promoted in sales jobs – vs what’s the type that really performs the best!
  • Utility vs curiosity in email subject lines: How we can strive for one or the other for effective communication… instead of ending up somewhere in the muddy marshes in between the two.

The most fascinating point in the conversation was the talk about how today’s information accessibility creates a power shift when we interact with salespeople – we’re often close to, or as much informed as the one trying to persuade us. And that ease of access to information is also a contributing factor as to why the line is blurring between salesperson and customer. It made me think that the same goes to some degree for any kind of relation that used to have an element of hierarchy, whether it be doctor – patient, subordinate – boss, or teacher – student…

… and that’s a bit of what I learned today! Please share – what did you learn today? How did you sharpen your entrepreneurial saw? And in what kinds of situations are you the salesperson and the customer, respectively?

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