Of all the books I’ve read, these are the ones that have revolutionized not just my thinking, but how I act. If you haven’t read them yet, get them now!* Links are provided below my descriptions. You can thank me later.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Angela Duckworth is a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, and a 2013 MacArthur "Genius" Fellow. She argues in this book convincingly that "grit" (the ability to persevere and hold your passion over extended periods of time) is a key predictor of success. Drawing from her academic research, and using examples from the domains of the military, the performing arts, sports, and more, Duckworth does an excellent job of summarizing her research for a general audience.
One of the most useful ideas in the book is Duckworth's equation that shows that "effort counts twice." Here it is:
talent x effort = skill
skill x effort = accomplishment
(Talent is defined as aptitude or ability to learn a skill quickly; skill is the ability within a certain domain; accomplishment is measured as skilled output over time.)
What I like about this equation is that it shows that supremely talented subjects can languish in the end, while supremely gritty subjects can improve their lot considerably. This is crucial for musicians and other creative artists to understand. Go read this book, and be inspired to grit your teeth and accomplish your life's work.
A friend of a friend of mine from graduate school was doing research in a big city during the summer. One day, after staring at books for 12 hours straight, he went out on the town with friends. Things got a little out of hand. The next morning, he woke up, groggy, lying in a strange room in a white hospital bed. He looked around at what seemed to be an empty warehouse, but noticed a bright orange medical unit near his bed. He put his hands to his head and felt nodes attached to his skull, with tubes running from his head to this orange medical unit, and on that unit was a handwritten note on a blue-lined yellow pad, which read: “You have great ideas but you don’t know how to communicate them. We have removed your boring academic writing-brain and replaced it with the ideas in this book.” The note had an arrow pointing downward, towards the bright orange medical unit, which my friend now realized was not a medical unit at all, but a book: Made to Stick.
If you read only one book on this list, read Made to Stick. If you depend on communicating ideas for your livelihood (in other words, if you’re breathing), read Made to Stick. If you want to find the core of your message, your work, even your life, read Made to Stick.
Also see the Heath brothers’ website for free Made to Stick resources (when you give them your email), including the entire first chapter and a one page summary of the book.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
by Cal Newport
Newport is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown. This book chronicles the strategies and rules he used to get nine (!) scholarly articles accepted for publication in a year, while teaching, writing this book, with a family and young kids at home, all while generally not working in the evenings and weekends.
While the writing is not quite as great as the Heath brothers' writing, the concept here is too important to overlook: The ability to do deep and difficult world is a rare skill in today's distracted world. Those who can cultivate it and create huge value for others will have a distinct advantage.
*Full Disclosure: The links included here are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase one of them from a link here, I will receive a small percentage of the sale. I will never recommend books unless I truly believe in their value to you.