- Marshall Goldsmith – Great executive coach, author, and mentor. Great resources at his website, his Harvard Business Review column, and his feedforward practice, which is about the best advice I’ve ever come across for improving your behavior.
- The Art of What Works: How Success Really Happens, by Bill Duggan – One of the best books on how to get things done by a great professor at Columbia Business School. I was fortunate enough to take a couple classes from him before they became among the school’s most popular. One of the more popular courses is Napoleon’s Glance, also the title of another of Bill’s books, but I found The Art of What Works resonated with me more.
- Getting to Yes – the book on negotiation. It also was a major influence in getting me to see business not necessarily as competitive and to see others’ perspectives as valid as my own. Let’s see if I can still list its four principles from memory: 1) rely on objective criteria, 2) look for mutual gain, 3) separate the people from the problem, and 4) focus on interests, not positions. Not bad.
- Peter Drucker – He wrote the book, many times over, on management and leadership. You could almost say he created the fields. The first book of his I read was The Effective Executive, which I recommend.
- The Fifth Discipline – This management book introduced me to mental models, system thinking, and personal mastery. I’m not sure how influential it was for others, but it was for me for those introductions. I skimmed this book recently and it didn’t quite stand the test of time for me.
- Competition Demystified, by Bruce Greenwald – the book on strategy by the professor of value investing at the school on value investing. The New York Times called him “a guru to Wall Street gurus.” The book focuses on strategy for large companies, but easily translates to entrepreneurship. I wouldn’t start or invest in a company without reading this book.
- Hitendra Wadhwa – I took a course with him in business school. Just after I left he began a course called Personal Leadership and Success. I haven’t taken the course, but it looks close to mine.
- Steven Pinker – His book, How The Mind Works, covers a lot of what evolutionary psychology means. I also ran into him and his wife once on Greenwich Avenue, a couple blocks from home. Delightful couple. They referred to a Ted video I had seen but couldn’t recall until just after we said goodbye, at which point I felt silly.
- Richard Dawkins – The Selfish Gene was my first foray into evolutionary psychology and was one of the first books on nature that opened me to science that wasn’t physics being comparably interesting as physics. I saw him speak at a book signing once.
- The Red Queen, by Matt Ridley – my first exposure to tracing how the effects of evolutionary psychology propagate throughout human culture. A major influence in seeing beyond social programming and recognizing how much institutions influence society for their own benefits, often to the individual’s detriment, despite everyone in them thinking they are doing what’s best.
- Robert Wright – His book, The Moral Animal, had some great insights into how we evolved as humans, especially our emotions.
- David Buss – wrote the textbook on evolutionary psychology, the foundation for a scientific understanding of self-awareness.
- Charles Darwin – I put his name here to motivate myself to read the Origin of Species, the Descent of Man, and the Expression of Emotions first hand. I’ve only read a few passages so far. Obviously his contributions to our understanding of nature towers above most others’. He’s up there with some of the top physicists.
- Donella Meadows – Her book, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, changed my thinking as much as nearly any other book. Viewing the world from a systems perspective makes many things make sense and helps you be more calm. She co-authored Limits to Growth: The 30-year Update, which expresses my perspective on the intersection of ecology, economy, and environment better than any other I’ve seen. It just gets it. If you’ve read the book and would like to discuss it, please contact me.
- Martin Seligman – among other huge contributions to psychology he co-founded the sub-field of Positive Psychology, wrote many foundational works in it, and continues to teach at Penn. I’ve worked with a few graduates of his program.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – the other co-founder of Positive Psychology and founder of the study of flow, among other great contributions to psychology.
- Richard Feynman – One of the great physicists of the twentieth century, though not as well known as, say, Einstein or Heisenberg. His views on nature, beauty, honesty, and why we learn are among the most meaningful to me. Decades after I left actively researching physics, I’m as interested in his perspective as ever. His videos are amazing. Watch them all!
- Sex at Dawn – a recent book speculating that human emotions and behaviors related to sexuality may not be as genetically based as many suspected, but may result more from our social environments that we created since the advent of agriculture. It’s science, so who knows how observation and experiment will affect it, but the same goes for incumbent theories.
- Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond – changed my perspective on cultures and how they developed and founded my perspective on finding natural explanations for some parts of human behavior. A big motivator for me creating my Model.
- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — A celebrated, best-selling science writer, Carson saw and researched the effects of DDT and related pesticides a few companies and the government at all levels was drenching the country with. Rather than simply accepting what the companies and government told her, she found and publicized the evidence to the public in Silent Spring. She, as much as anyone else, inspired the environmental movement leading to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other achievements President Carter awarded her a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. I posted about her and the book here.
- Jacob Goldenberg – I took a course called Systematic Creativity in Business from him, which was revelatory and inspiring. His book, Creativity in Product Innovation, covered the subject matter of the course, albeit technically. I haven’t read his other book, Cracking the Ad Code, yet. When I consult to creative types — artists, musicians, designers — I draw heavily from Jacob’s book, and they report it to be very effective.
- Robert Weisberg – His book, Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius, was as revelatory as Jacob’s course. Creativity is less romantic and mythical but more accessible than mainstream beliefs suggest.
- Genrich Altshuller – His theory of inventive problem solving, TRIZ, implements the ideas of Goldenberg and Weisberg. He preceded them. I know Jacob’s work derived from his. I don’t know if Weisberg’s did.
- Tao Te Ching – Here is my favorite translation, free for download or purchase. I don’t know how accurate it is, but I am more concerned with its accessibility and utility in improving my life, which it’s great about. It endures as one of the oldest books for a reason. Written like no other book, it doesn’t just say its message. It says things that after you read them you think and act differently, in a way that improves your life.
- I studied acting at The William Esper Studio and recommend it to anyone. I learned more about myself, emotions, and expression in one summer than probably any other single source. It was incredibly challenging, but fun and social. The Meisner technique taught there starts off simple and never seems to have any big jumps. Then the next I knew, I could use the technique to cry on stage, something I’d never expected I’d be able to do, let alone through such simple instruction and practice.
- Srikumar Rao – I took his course, Creativity and Personal Mastery, at Columbia Business School. A lot (most?) of my perspective on personal leadership comes from him. I come from a more scientific perspective. I find his more mystical. His books, Are You Ready To Succeed and Happiness at Work, are inspirational and at the root of understanding value, meaning, purpose, passion, etc and what to do about it. Every time I buy a copy I give it away soon after because of the value it brings others.
- Anthony Robbins – I don’t know his stuff that much. Only that while creating my seminar a friend told me I should listen to his stuff and lent me a few Anthony Robbins CDs. The content was what I was writing, so I was intrigued. Later I read a book of his and found it right on, even though I wouldn’t have expected his message to resonate beforehand.
- Neil Strauss – Whatever your views on so-called pick-up artists, his empowering book, The Game, shows how someone can transform from zero to hero through dedication, practice, and learning in one of the most important yet emotionally challenging parts of life. Plus we toured North Korea together.
- Chuang Tze – His book followed the Tao Te Ching and is as valuable. Here’s a free online version.
- David Allen – his book, Getting Things Done, inspires a lot of people to take control of their lives with specific and actionable behavior and beliefs. What made it great for me was meeting him and hearing his explanation for the book: “I’m a freedom junkie.”
- S. N. Goenka – his practice of vipassana meditation is amazing. My first experience of meditation was a ten-day retreat with no reading, writing, talking, etc. Very useful. While I don’t recommend it because it’s hard and I don’t want the responsibility for someone going on my recommendation and not liking it, nearly anyone would benefit from it.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn – His book, Full Catastrophe Living, was one of my earliest sources of increasing what he calls mindfulness. It’s calming and helps you focus. Here is a great video of him.
I have changed my environments, beliefs, and behavior significantly from learning how the following people lived. Others may be as inspirational, but these are the ones I’ve acted on. I’ll add more as I think of them. Some become such a part of who you are you forget about them. (I’ll leave finding how they weave together as an exercise to the reader)
- Henry Thoreau — Walden and Civil Disobedience inspire me to live by my values more than any other work I can think of.
- Mohandas Gandhi
- Martin King, jr
- Nelson Mandela
- Constantin Stanislavsky and Sanford Meisner. Stanislavsky is the main person behind what we call method acting. Meisner refined the practice into an enduring system. Much of my teaching practice applies what they did in acting to leadership, entrepreneurship, and hustling.
- Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen — Creators of the General Public License and various other Free Software foundations.
- Jean-Dominique Bauby — Author of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly. You are not your body. You can bring about in your life any meaning you want, independent of the material resources available.
- Viktor Frankl — Survivor of Auschwitz and author of Man’s Search For Meaning. Only you can control your emotions. You can bring about whatever emotions you want. I wrote more about him here.
- Mark Zupan — Significant character in the movie Murderball and author of the book Gimp. Your body is not who you are. You can bring about any meaning you want through your environments, beliefs, and behaviors.
- Steve Martin‘s book Born Standing Up inspired me to look at all performance as art and to practice as much as possible to overcome inhibitions and inexperience to allow your most natural voice to emerge.
Videos (I know there are a bunch of great videos in the following series. I’ll have to post links to them as I re-watch them)
- Ted talks
- Google talks
- Richard Feynman videos
Hmm… more than one woman belongs up there, although Donella Meadows influences me daily more than almost anyone. I’ve posted on meaningful role models — for example here, here, and of course here — but I think more belong here. I’ll think of them.
EDIT: I finally read Silent Spring and added that book and its author, Rachel Carson.
Jane Jacobs, her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and her activism that helped save Greenwich Village and more from Robert Moses and the car-over-people destruction he brought to the region belong here too. I love the book’s opening line: “This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.” No holds barred, and she won.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book