“What books define your company culture?” It was a question that really resonated through me as I thought about it. If I had to select just three, what would they be?
I had become a pretty avid reader over the last few years and had been very deeply impacted by many books. So how could I select just three?
I decided to follow a simple process. First, I listed out all the books I consider to be highly influential to the way I run Solvd. Second, I looked at the actions that define the Solvd culture. Lastly, I slowly eliminated books that were redundant by asking myself, “If I could only have one book that would teach everything I wanted our employees to know about the cultural pillars of our company, what would it be?”
As Malcom Gladwell so eloquently said, “What you do is who you are”. So when I considered who we are at Solvd, I looked at what we do each week and grouped activities into a small number of categories:
Team Management and Collaboration
Sales and Communication
As I considered each of these areas of our business, I narrowed down each area to one book that communicated the message I find most important to each activity. Here are the winners.
Team Management and Collaboration – Principles, by Ray Dalio
When it comes to how we manage our team, many of our practices were taken directly from the book Principles. The values of transparency and accountability it outlines are a huge part of our team’s success. Many nuts-and-bolts tactics we aspire to implement also come from Ray’s book. Principles is a definitive guide to operating extremely high performing teams, and I can’t give it a high enough recommendation.
Sales and Communication – Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss
When it comes to the important soft skills in our business, there are a lot of books that I find very impactful. However, one that is an absolute masterwork on how to communicate effectively in difficult situations is Never Split the Difference. While it’s framed as a negotiation book, I find that the active listening techniques it outlines are some of the most important skills you can have in business. Learning to de-escalate situations, help clients and prospects feel heard and understood, and take control of high stakes decisions is essential and core to the book.
Project Management – Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Wilink
While this is generally considered a leadership book, the concepts to be absolutely critical to project management. It’s hard for me not to select the Handbook of Project Management textbook by Ernie Neilson, because in truth Ernie taught me many of the most important project management principles I’ve learned. However, in terms of non-textbooks that guide our culture at Solvd around project management, I think Extreme Ownership is our winner. I highly recommend this book for very specific strategies for leading in projects, business, and life.
Technical Execution – Atomic Habits, by James Clear
When it comes to having exceptional mastery of your technical skills, or really anything, I find that Atomic Habits is the most important, practical guide to BECOMING. Become a highly skilled developer. Become a better consultant. Become a Salesforce Expert. Become healthier. The concepts in Atomic Habits help us at Solvd become the best consultants we can be. This book enables us to tackle the small things with extraordinary consistency and build habits that help us become the professionals we strive to be.
Team Management and Collaboration – The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz
I don’t think any book I have read has ever quite communicated the difficulty of entrepreneurship better than The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Most books try to provide answers, simplified frameworks, and solutions. This book says what the others won’t—If leading a business, a project, or life was that easy, then we wouldn’t need any more books. True difficulty, and the accompanying growth and value, come from confronting the hard things. I absolutely love this book and the lessons it teaches. The Hard Thing About Hard Things doesn’t really tell you what to do as much as it tells you how to deal with figuring out what to do. This book teaches you how to lean in to the most difficult parts of your life.
Sales and Communication – Thank You For Arguing, by Jay Heinrichs
Thank You For Arguing focuses on applying the principles of rhetoric taught by classic philosophers to our contemporary lives. It’s really a fun read, but also incredibly insightful. One of my favorite lessons from this book is on understanding and paying attention to things like your use (and others’ use) of tense. According to Jay, past tense is the language of blame, present tense is the language of values, and future tense is the language of decisions. Navigating use of these tenses is really important. By changing tense on the EXACT same sentence, you can greatly change the meaning and outcome. Saying “X didn’t get done because I asked you yesterday to make a decision on Y or Z and didn’t hear back” vs. “I need a decision on if you like Y or Z better in order to complete X” vs. “Tomorrow X can be done, do you prefer I use Y or Z to get there?” all feel very different. There are many lessons of rhetoric in Thank You For Arguing that are key to becoming an effective communicator.
Project Management – Leadership and Self Deception by The Arbinger Institute
If I had to summarize the message of this book in just one sentence, it would be this: If you are trying to self-justify in any way, YOU are the problem. It may well have not been your fault, but by attempting to self-justify, you are creating a cancerous culture of blame and moving further from a solution, not closer to one. This principle is critical to our culture, as we will never be successful in managing client projects if we can’t tell the client why something is not our fault. The truth is they don’t care, and they certainly aren’t going to be thrilled to hear what that implies— the problem is THEIR fault. So instead of wasting energy self-justifying, find what you can control, accept responsibility, and go be part of the solution. People love to work on teams with teammates that do this, and projects are significantly better when run by people who think this way. Having team members that don’t follow this principle is toxic and destroys performance.
Technical Execution – Essentialism
Essentialism is technically a lifestyle book, but the principles apply very well to designing high-quality solutions. It’s important to understand what is truly essential to a solution, instead of taking requirements or requests at face value. So much of a good solution comes from a great understanding of the problem and seeing past an initial request to the larger needs. It’s important to learn to say no to clients in order to help them get to the truly meaningful and important. Essentialism is about more than just problem-solving. It’s important to reduce noise and clutter in your life as a consultant so you can properly manage your various responsibilities. I’d highly recommend Essentialism to anyone, especially project managers.
Other Meaningful Reads that have Impacted the Solvd Culture
Procrastinate on Purpose – A masterful look at how to manage tasks and get more done. Become a multiplier that can consistently do more and more.
Thinking in Bets – A book on understanding probabilistic reasoning, and common biases. Don’t learn the wrong lesson by overvaluing results. Learn how to improve your process and the results will consistently improve.
The Dichotomy of Leadership – An amazing follow up to Extreme Ownership which highlights the duality of basically all decisions. Amazing stories to help highlight the dichotomies that exist in leadership.
Radical Candor – A beautiful guide on how to manage teams effectively, though some of the techniques are clearly focused on larger teams and corporations. Principles still apply to small teams and startups and are very useful.
The Courage to be Disliked – A practical look at Adlerian psychology. Very useful in self-examining a common cause of unhappiness and poor performance: operating in a way that seeks to please others or meet their expectations.
The Obstacle is the Way – A stoic perspective on hardship and difficulty. A great framework for taking perceived obstacles and seeing instead the immense opportunities those obstacles represent.
The Happiness Advantage – How to increase happiness and optimism and get the performance benefits that come with them.
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – Understand the bad social habits you have that are holding you back. It’s important to note that these habits likely got you to where you are, and you may attribute success to them.
Mindwise – An amazing book that will help you realize how many of your judgments are likely directionally correct, yet still incredibly inaccurate.
This is Marketing – One of the most engaging books I have ever read on designing and marketing products and ideas.
The One Thing – How to focus on the one most critical thing that you need to be doing now to accomplish your long term objectives.
The Time Paradox – How your perspective on time affects your thought processes and decision making.