Entrepreneur Book Club (Part 2)

Great entrepreneurs require conviction, especially in the face of obstacles, naysayers and doubters. At Accel, we are inspired by an entrepreneur's core belief in what they are doing, often despite seemingly insurmountable odds. This is why we started the Entrepreneur Book Club series, which is designed to provide insights and guidance for both entrepreneurs and the entire startup community. 

Today, we dive into Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, and Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon.

Be sure to see Part 1, where – with the help of Block Shelf – we reviewed Steven Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From and Alexis Ohanian's Without Their Permission.

Leaders Eat Last

By Simon Sinek

Great organizations foster trust and cooperation, which begins when leaders build a "Circle of Safety" – a structure that separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside. Sinek explains how this Circle of Safety leads to stable, adaptive and confident teams, where everyone feels they belong and all energies are devoted to facing the common enemy and seizing big opportunities. 

This book illustrates his ideas with true stories from a wide range of examples, from the military to manufacturing, and government to investment banking. When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leader’s vision and their organization’s interests. Find it here.

1) Great leaders put the well-being of others before their own

A dedicated leader is willing to make sacrifices in order to build the foundation for loyalty in a company. They look out for everyone else, giving people the security and respect to work hard and take risks. Being a leader is like being a parent, meaning that you should provide support and create the conditions for people to reach their potential.

2) Empathy is essential

In order to earn trust, you must first extend trust. Create an environment in which people feel safe and valued. Help workers feel like they belong. Eventually, people will begin to work out of pride rather than from a sense of obligation. They will try hard for each other rather than only for the business.

3) People need to feel safe

If we sense danger in our surroundings, our defenses naturally go up. If we feel safe around others, then we relax and are more open to trust and cooperation. We must build a circle of safety around employees so that they don’t have to worry about constant threats or pressure. Through unification, workers feel secure enough to turn their attention to challenges that the company faces as a whole.

4) Insecurity is harmful to any work setting

If you fail to extend the circle of safety to your entire company, then people will act with paranoia, cynicism, and self-interest. Without their peace of mind ensured, workers are less likely to innovate, take risks, or seize opportunities.

5) The level of trust in a company affects people’s health

Studies show that those who are lower in a hierarchy suffer from more stress and worry. Workers who have more control tend to feel empowered and less anxious. Give employees some autonomy and freedom to make their own decisions, rather than forcing them to work for your approval.

6) Build around your culture

Decide the core beliefs, values, and vision for your company. Hire people who align themselves with these principles. Focus on keeping the culture strong rather than obsessing over numbers or impersonal data.

7) Motivating workers through pressure and urgency is ineffective

When we feel like we belong to a group and trust those around us, we naturally cooperate to face external threats and challenges. If we lack a sense of belonging, then we’re forced to put time and energy into protecting ourselves from each other. As a result, we make ourselves more vulnerable to outside threats and less open to potential opportunities.

8) Cooperation is in our biology

We are all social creatures whose existence depends on each other for survival. Our ancestors survived because they relied on systems of mutual trust and cooperation. We are stressed when we feel unsupported. Our unease comes from the subconscious feeling that we are responsible for ourselves and no one is there to help, because they’re only focused on themselves.

9) You must be genuine

People can sense if you do not sincerely care about them. True leaders are willing to give up their time, energy, and comfort for the sake of others in their organization. You solidify your position and gain respect by making sacrifices and looking out for those around you. Have integrity and always tell the truth, not just what people want to hear.

10) Strive to create a healthy balance of chemicals

Serotonin is responsible for the pride we feel when those we care for achieve great things. Oxytocin helps us form bonds of love and trust through strong relationships. Endorphins and dopamine give us short-term rewards to which we can potentially become addicted. Although serotonin and oxytocin take longer to develop, they are more fulfilling and beneficial for the workplace. Beware of cortisol, which causes us to feel stressed and anxious if we don’t feel secure in our environment.

11) Offer opportunities for self-improvement

Work tirelessly to train your people. Avoid superficial presentations and meetings. Help workers become experienced and confident in their abilities. Gradually give them more responsibility in order to express your trust. If you fail to build trust, then people will lack the ability to adapt and be flexible. Instead, they will be more concerned about simply following rules out of the fear of getting in trouble or losing their job.

12) Humans are not abstractions

The more we think of people in the abstract, the more capable we are of doing them harm. Form personal connections with your employees and know how your actions affect their feelings. Develop your empathy and emotional intelligence.

13) Offer a compelling vision

We all desire to be a part of something noble. Create a worthy cause to work towards in order to give people a sense of purpose and guidance.

14) Meet the people you help

Because we are visual creatures, it doesn’t have much of an impact to just show numbers to prove your company’s success. Give your workers the chance to actually see who they are helping. It’s encouraging and makes employees proud to view some tangible results that came from their hard work.

15) Give time, not just money

Although people appreciate bonuses and financial support, we find more meaning in actions that actually require time and effort. Show that you care by taking the extra step to make employees feel valued.

16) Be patient

It takes time to build and develop quality relationships. Don’t expect immediate results or instant gratification. We must resist the urge of our modern world to have everything we want right away.

17) Workers must love what they do

Customers will never love a company unless employees love it first. You might experience some short-term success by putting numbers ahead of people, but in the long run your business will pay the price. Create something that individuals are proud to work for and contribute to, and that way you’ll have a strong foundation to carry you through the tough times.

18) Anyone can be a leader

Being a leader has nothing to do with your rank in a company. All it takes is looking out for those around you. Form honest bonds with others and offer support. Through solidarity, we can overcome difficulties and find the strength to endure.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

 By Austin Kleon

This book is a guide whose positive message, graphic look and illustrations, exercises and examples will put readers directly in touch with their artistic side. Find it here.

1) Nothing is original

“A good artist understands that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original. If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.”

2) Collect good ideas

“The artist collects things they really love. You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with. Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”

3) Create a new family tree

“Study one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. One you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch. Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff.”

4) Be curious

“You have to be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anybody else – that’s how you’ll get ahead. Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks.”

5) Fake it ’til you make it

“Pretend to be something you’re not until you are – fake it until you’re successful, until everybody sees you the way you want them to. You have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and you have to start doing the work you want to be doing.”

6) Copy others in order to see the world through their eyes

“The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want – to internalize their way of looking at the world. If you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff.”

7) Create something that you would like

“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – the work you want to see done.”

8) Use your hands

“Work that only comes from the head isn’t any good. You need to find a way to bring your body into your work. Stand up while you’re working. Pin things on the walls and look for patterns. Spread things around your space and sort through them.”

9) Practice productive procrastination

“Have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them. When you get sick of one project, move over to another, and when you’re sick of that one, move back to the project you left. Practice productive procrastination. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff, what you thought was just messing around. That’s when the magic happens.”

10) Take time to be bored

“Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing. If you’re out of ideas, wash the dishes, Take a really long walk. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can. Take the time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.”

11) Don’t throw any of yourself away

“If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life. If you love different things, just keep spending time with them. Let them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen.”

12) Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts

“You want attention only after you’re doing really good work. There’s no pressure when you’re unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract you from getting better. No public image to manage. No huge paycheck on the line. You’ll never get that freedom back again once people start paying you attention.”

13) Do good work and share it with people

“There are no shortcuts. Make stuff every day. Know you’re going to suck for a while. Fail. Get better. Then share it. Put your stuff on the Internet. The more open you are about sharing your passions, the closer people will feel to your work. Artists aren’t magicians. There’s no penalty for revealing your secrets. People love it when you give your secrets away, and sometimes, if you’re smart about it, they’ll reward you by buying the things you’re selling.”

14) Build your own world

“You don’t have to live anywhere other than the place you are to start connecting with the world you want to be in. If you feel stuck somewhere, if you’re too young or too old or too broke, or if you’re somehow tied down to a place, take heart. There’s a community of people out there you can connect with.”

15) Leave your comfort zone

“Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.”

16) Surround yourself with great people

“You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. In the digital space, that means following the best people online – the people who are way smarter and better than you.”

17) Channel your anger into creativity

“You’re going to see a lot of stupid stuff out there and you’re going to feel like you need to correct it. Quit picking fights and go make something! Get angry, but keep your mouth shut and go do your work.”

18) Write fan letters

“A lot of times when we write fan letters we’re looking for a blessing or an affirmation. But if you truly love somebody’s work, you shouldn’t need a response from them. Write a blog post about someone’s work that you admire and link to their site. Make something and dedicate it to your hero. Answer a question they’ve asked, solve a problem for them, or improve on their work and share it online.”

19) Don’t seek external validation

“Once you put your work into the world, you have no control over the way people will react to it. Not everybody will get it. People will misinterpret you and what you do. They might even call you names. So get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored – the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care.”

20) Keep a praise file

“Life is a lonely business, often filled with discouragement and rejection. When those dark days roll around and you need a boost, open your praise folder and read through a few nice emails. Use it sparingly – don’t get lost in past glory – but keep it around for when you need the lift.”

21) Take care of yourself

“That whole romantic image of the creative genius doing drugs and running around and sleeping with everyone is played out. It’s for the superhuman and the people who want to die young. The thing is: It takes a lot of energy to be creative. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff.”

22) Stay out of debt

“Most people hate to think about money. Do yourself a favor: learn about money as soon as you can. Make yourself a budget. Live within your means. Pack your lunch. Pinch pennies. Save as much as you can. Get the education you need for as cheap as you can get it. The art of holding on to money is all about saying no to consumer culture.”

23) Keep your day job

“The truth is that even if you’re lucky enough to make a living off doing what you truly love, it will probably take you a while to get to that point. Until then, you’ll need a day job. A day job gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine. Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art.”

24) Creativity is subtraction

“Choose what to leave out. In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them. The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.”