If you recently started your own company, your nightstand may consist of precariously stacked nonfiction books with phrases like "secrets to success" or "grow your business" in the title. We want to soak up as much wisdom from those who have succeeded before us! However, facts and figures aren't the only way to gain important insights when building a company. Fiction, believe it or not, can relate wisdom as well as a CEO's personal memoirs. I've picked out 5 works of Fiction I think entrepreneurs should take the time to read.
#1: The Martian by Andy Weir
Andy Weir's debut novel took the world by storm upon its release. Someone wrote an action-packed, edge of your seat space thriller, and it mostly consisted of science! Who knew physics and biology could be that interesting? Weir's main character is an astronaut who has recently found himself stranded on Mars when his team and all of NASA believes him to be dead. One thing after another continues to go wrong and threaten his life, but his knowledge and experience save him every time. It is never luck that gets him through - luck is decidedly against the hero of this story. It is his instincts honed by years of studying and training that gets astronaut Mark Watney through and (spoiler alert!) home safe.
Yes, these are the experiences of a fictional astronaut. But it still sounds to me like the perfect piece of wisdom for any entrepreneur - know your craft! To create sustainable success, it is important to put the time in to learn and experience everything you can to be ready to handle the situations you'll never see coming.
#2: Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Sourdough is a bit of an odd book. There is a healthy dose of magical realism, as the titular sourdough bread may or may not have magical powers. Lois Clary is a software engineer at a robotics company, but no longer feels passionate about her work or her life.
One night, she branches out of her routine and orders takeout from a new restaurant. This decision unexpectedly leads to her being the caretaker of the restaurant's precious bread starter when the oddball owners go out of town. She is instructed how to care for and feed it, like a living thing. As she grows the starter and uses it to make delicious loaves, she rediscovers her passion for life and even her work. Lois starts to have an idea of how she can combine her knowledge as a software engineer with her newfound baking skills. Stepping out of her comfort zone to develop a new skill and hobby inspires her to innovate in her robotics career. It is never a bad idea to keep learning and trying new things because that is where the innovation happens!
#3: The Circle by Dave Eggers
As soon as I finished reading this book, I could not stop telling everyone about it! It is a chillingly realistic work of Science Fiction. In his book, Eggers has invented an eerily familiar tech conglomerate (think of things that rhyme with Vacebook or Moogle), with an idealistic message of creating community and trust across the globe. Sounds good so far, right? They achieve this through their social media site, where people can communicate, share, participate, and react 24 hours a day. Actively participating is not only encouraged, but required for the employees of the company, which the main character Mae learns on her first day on the job as a customer support specialist. At first, Mae is shy and skeptical of the company's ideals. Why does she have to be social if she doesn't want to? Eventually, though, she starts to understand their mission. If everyone is held accountable to a certain set of morals, wouldn't the world be a better place?
This is where the other shoe drops. The cost of obtaining this social utopia, is pretty much any sense of personal privacy Everyone must be totally exposed and open to scrutiny at all times for the "greater good". Yikes!
The takeaway? It’s probably best if we don’t let our wide-eyed ideals completely overshadow our sense of practicality. Please, bring your revolutionary ideas to the world! Just keep your eyes and ears open to the real-time results.
#4: Startup: A Novel by Doree Shafrir
This book is a hilarious and insightful look at the big startup culture. While you may not be in charge of a "Silicon Valley" type startup, it still has valuable lessons to share. The main character Mack is passionate about his product and has a knack for salesmanship. He has earned the trust of several large investors, which comes with its own added stresses. Mack is not the hero of our story, however, as the story quickly shifts to revolve around his sexual harassment scandal when a current employee leaks their illicit affair to the press. On the one hand, you have the overnight success CEO who doesn't know how to control his over-grown ego. On the other, you have the media ready to delve nose first into anything that smells like a story.
This stereotypical startup culture is a reality, although not necessarily one all new business owners can relate to. Classify Creative is comfortably planted at the small business end of the startup scale. So what can we learn as small business owners? One lesson is to remember how social media affects the public image of your company. Use it to improve your brand, not to jeopardize it. Another is to keep level-headed people around you to tell you when you're starting to get in a little too deep.
#5: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This pick may seem a bit less intuitive. It tells the story of fictional Hollywood starlet Evelyn Hugo, who came from nothing to become one of the most well known actresses of her time. A now elderly Hugo decides to tell her story to a young journalist, starting with her first marriage as a poor immigrant. Some of her marriages were for love, but most were for gain as they could help further her career. Along the way, Hugo discovers something about herself that she chooses to hide because it would have ruined her image and ended her success.
Now, at the end of her life, she tells the journalist that this is her greatest regret - not having the courage to share that secret side of herself and put authenticity and happiness first. This is why I have included the book in the list. Many times entrepreneurs, and other career-focused individuals, can start to sacrifice their happiness for success. I have seen this happen in my own life. But if at the end of your career, you find you’re thinking of all the years you could have spent living authentically and didn't, then what's the point of succeeding?
These are not your traditional book choices for business advice. But philosopher Albert Camus once said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” I hope that these works of Fiction can bring bits of truth and wisdom to our journey as business owners!