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Derek Sivers’s Reading List for Entrepreneurs

This list was hand-picked by one of our favorite authors: entrepreneur and frequent TED speaker, Derek Sivers
by Sarah Moriarty | Nov 20 2014

Among those that made the cut are the methodology that Sivers recommends for every entrepreneur, a recipe book for making lasting change, and a deep look at the irrational human mind.


About Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers (@sivers) is best known as the founder of CD Baby. A professional musician since 1987, he started CD Baby by accident in 1998 when he was selling his own CD on his website, and friends asked if he could sell theirs, too. CD Baby was the largest seller of independent music on the web, with over $100 million in sales for over 150,000 musician clients.

In 2008, Sivers sold CD Baby for $22 million, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education. He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with over 5 million views of his talks. In 2011, he moved to Singapore and published Amazon, which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories. His new company is Wood Egg, publishing annual guides to 16 countries in Asia.

1. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

DS: “Bold perspectives, unusual ideas, and surprisingly wise advice around an interesting subject of the “opposite of fragile.”

Some things seem to improve if they are placed in environments of volatility and unpredictability. Antifragile analyzes why this is the case and suggests that this quality has been vital for the progress of human civilization since ancient times.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb takes a critical look at modern society and its aim to smooth out life by interfering in systems like the economy. Far from making society a better place, this interfering nature is destroying the volatile environment essential for antifragility to take place.

2. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

DS: “Every entrepreneur should read this book. Its methodology is the one I recommend the most.”

The Lean Startup method helps startups and tech companies develop sustainable business models. It advocates continuous rapid prototyping and focusing on customer-feedback data. The method is based on the concepts of lean manufacturing and agile development, and its efficacy is backed up by case studies from the last few decades.

3. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

DS: “Essential for all managers. Deep surprising study of motivation at work. […] When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity.”

In Drive, Daniel Pink describes the characteristics of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. He explains clearly how we can best motivate ourselves and others by understanding intrinsic motivation – valuable information for employers, too.

4. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

DS: “Great great great great GREAT psychology book about real ways to make change last—both personal and organizational. So many powerful insights, based on fact not theory. Inspiring counterintuitive stories of huge organizational change against all odds. Highly recommended for everyone.”

Switch examines why it is often difficult for people to alter their behavior and how, by understanding the mind, it is possible to find shortcuts that make change easier. Through scientific studies and anecdotes, Switch provides simple yet effective tools for implementing changes.

5. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

DS: “Classic book on the psychology of persuasion. I read it 15 years ago, thought about it ever since, and re-read it now. How to get a 700% improvement in volunteers. How to sell more by doubling your prices. How to make people feel they made a choice, when really you made it for them.”

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion explains in detail the fundamental principles of persuasion that get us to say yes, including how they are used against us by compliance professionals like salesmen, advertisers and con artists. Knowing these principles will allow you both to become a skilled influencer yourself and to defend yourself against manipulation attempts.

6. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

DS: “My favorite type of book: pointing out and understanding all of the counter-intuitive things people do.”

Predictably Irrational explains the fundamentally irrational ways we behave every day. Why do we decide to diet and then give it up as soon as we see a tasty dessert? Why would your mother be offended if you tried to pay her for a Sunday meal she lovingly prepared? Why is pain medication more effective when the patient thinks it is more expensive? The reasons and remedies for these and other irrationalities are explored and explained with studies and anecdotes.

7. The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich 

DS: “Brilliant reversal of all of the “how to manage all your crap” books. This one tells you how to say “no” to the crap, set expectations on your terms, and be just as effective in a fraction of the time. This is perfect for musicians with other responsibilities (day jobs) that need more free time to actually make music!”

The 4-Hour Workweek advocates the idea of the New Rich. These are the people who abandon their jobs as modern desk slaves and instead live a life that is all about enjoying the moment while still achieving big goals.

8. The Wisdom of Crowds

 DS: “Mind-blowing examples of how groups of diverse people acting independently are smarter than any one person in the group. Has huge implications for management, markets, decision-making, and more.”

The Wisdom of Crowds explores why, and under which circumstances groups of people can come up with better solutions to problems than any one person, even if that person is an expert. The book shows how this wisdom can be used to make reliable decisions.

9. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

DS: “Actually analyzing what makes certain ideas or stories more memorable than others! Fascinating.”

Made to Stick explains why some ideas become popular while others wither and die. The book lays out the most important characteristics of ‘stickiness’; i.e., what makes ideas “stick” in the mind, and how to make them work for you.

10. Stumbling on Happiness 

DS: “This Harvard professor of psychology has studied happiness for years, and shares factual findings that will change the way you look at the world.”

This great popular science book explains how our brains make us think about the future and shows how to imagine our futures in new ways that could leave us happier.

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