The “Basecamp MBA” Reading List

A few months ago, I met a new friend at a Creative Mornings talk. She is going to take some time off at the beginning of 2018 to work through the AltMBA reading list before diving into job searching. I thought this was a great idea and it got me wondering about the kind of reading material Basecamp would suggest for people who want to build a business like ours. Of course, there’s our previous books and the upcoming Calm Company. But with minds like the ones we have, I guessed we can could up with a really fantastic set of material that SvN readers would eat up. With that in mind, I asked my colleagues:

Given your role at Basecamp, what one or two books/resources would you suggest to help someone prepare for the kind of work you do?

Some of the books we recommend. IKEA side table not required.

Before I share the list, I wanted to add some of my own thoughts here, as someone who can get a bit obsessed with collecting information and knowledge: Like a lot of people in today’s modern society, I often have a direct correlation between knowledge gathering and not applying that information to my actions in a meaningful way. Too often, the more I think I know, the less I’m actually doing. So yes, these materials are rich with good advice and ideas on how to start your business or manage people, but they’re no substitute for the real work and experience.

Buying (and hopefully reading) all of these books won’t automatically mean you can create a business like Basecamp. Only doing the work with care, thoughtfulness and sincere effort can do that. (Harmful interpretations of “hustle” not required.)

I’m pleased to present two versions of our list, one sorted by subject and one by who recommended it the books, if you’re into that sort of thing. In lieu of Amazon (for this post), the links are to OCLC catalog listings, which will show you a list of libraries near you that have the item. I highly recommend checking out your local public library to borrow these materials. Your library could very well have these in convenient audiobook or e-book formats. If you don’t see the item in your local library, ask your local librarian about the power of Inter-Library Loans.

The second recommendation I would make would be to purchase these at a local bookstore. If you’d prefer to buy the books online, please use an Amazon Smile link to support a charity or use a referral link from your favorite podcast to support them. Happy reading!

By Subject

Business
Berkshire Hathaway letters to shareholders 1965–2012
Maverick! : the success story behind the world’s most unusual workshop
The Effective Executive
The Secrets of Consulting
Turn Your Ship Around & Turn the Ship Around
Poor Charles Almanack: The wit and wisom of Charles T. Munger
Blue Ocean Strategy
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
Starting from Scratch
Killing The Sale
Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
How Full is Your Bucket: Positive Strategies for Work and Life
The Encore Effect
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Crucial Conversations
The Irresistible Offer: How to Sell Your Product or Service in 3 Seconds or Less
The Innovators Solution
The first year of Back to Work, with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin
Disney War
Must Reads: On Managing Yourself
The Last Days of Target by Joe Castaldo in Canadian Business
Big Med by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker
Famous Names by John Colapinto in The New Yorker
The Cobra by Tad Friend in The New Yorker

Customer Service and Communication:
Badass: Making Users Awesome
Radical Candor
Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers
The Amazement Revolution: Seven Customer Service Strategies to Create an Amazing Customer and Employee Experience
The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence
Delivering Happiness
Thinking Fast and Slow
Elements of Style
Metaphors We Live By
On Writing Well
Wit: a play
Emotional Intelligence: Mindfulness
Susan David: Emotional Agility

Accessibility
Accessibility for Everyone 
a11ycasts with Rob Dodson (From the Google accessibility team)
The a11yproject

Design
The Design of Everyday Things
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Interaction of Color
Why We Love or Hate Everyday Things
Elements of Typographic Style
Sketching User Experiences
Understanding Comics
Nature of Order

Programming
Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
Smalltalk: Best Practice Patterns
Learn to Program
Ben Thompson’s Stratechery blog

Fiction
Invisible Cities
Mezzanine: A Novel
Then We Came to the End: A Novel
Startup: A Novel

Other
Friendly Fire: The Accidental Shootdown of Black Hawks over Northern Iraq
Essential Manners for Men

By Person

Jason Fried, CEO
Business
Berkshire Hathaway letters to shareholders 1965–2012
Maverick! : the success story behind the world’s most unusual workshop
The Effective Executive
The Secrets of Consulting
Turn Your Ship Around & Turn the Ship Around
Poor Charles Almanack: The wit and wisom of Charles T. Munger
Blue Ocean Strategy
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

DHH, CTO
Programming
Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code
Smalltalk: Best Practice Patterns

Tara Mann, iOS Designer
Design
The Design of Everyday Things
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Interaction of Color
Why We Love or Hate Everyday Things
Elements of Typographic Style
Sketching User Experiences
Understanding Comics
Nature of Order

Fiction
Invisible Cities

Taylor Weibley, Ops
Business
Starting from Scratch
Killing The Sale
Lessons in Service from Charlie Trotter
The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
How Full is Your Bucket: Positive Strategies for Work and Life
The Encore Effect
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Crucial Conversations
The Effective Executive
Turn the Ship Around
The Irresistible Offer: How to Sell Your Product or Service in 3 Seconds or Less

Other
Friendly Fire: The Accidental Shootdown of Black Hawks over Northern Iraq
Essential Manners for Men

Ryan Singer, Product Strategy
Business: The Innovators Solution
Design: Nature of Order
Implementation: Domain-driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software

Wailin Wong, Rework Podcast
Writing and Storytelling 
Good Prose: The Art of Non-fiction
Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio
On the inner workings of companies:
Disney War
The Last Days of Target by Joe Castaldo in Canadian Business
Big Med by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker

On branding and marketing:
Famous Names by John Colapinto in The New Yorker 
The Cobra by Tad Friend in The New Yorker

Fiction
Mezzanine: A Novel
Then We Came to the End: A Novel
Startup: A Novel

Chase Clemons, Support
Customer Service and Communication:
Badass: Making Users Awesome
Radical Candor
Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers
The Amazement Revolution: Seven Customer Service Strategies to Create an Amazing Customer and Employee Experience

Dylan Ginsberg, iOS Programmer
“I recommend reading Ben Thompson’s Stratechery blog. It’s well worth paying for the daily updates, though there is also a lot of good free content in the weekly articles. A good place to start are his end of year summaries.”

Flora Saramago, Programmer
Practical Object Oriented Design in Ruby: An Agile Primer

Joan Stewart, Ghost Support
The first year of Back to Work, with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin
On Writing Well
Wit: a play
ASPCA’s Pet Adoption Tips

Kristin Aardsma, Support
Customer Service and Communication:
The Nordstrom Way to Customer Experience Excellence
Radical Candor
Delivering Happiness
Thinking Fast and Slow
Elements of Style
Metaphors We Live By

Michael Berger, QA
Accessibility for Everyone 
a11ycasts with Rob Dodson (From the Google accessibility team)
The a11yproject

James Glazebrook, Support
Emotional Intelligence: Mindfulness
Must Reads: On Managing Yourself
Susan David: Emotional Agility

Speed Reading


My 8th grade teacher had a curious process where she made us produce three book reports each quarter — three books that we picked on our own that fit diverse themes she had chosen. When we turned them in, she’d quiz us on the book. How could she quiz us though on these books that we picked out randomly, you might ask?

She read each and every book when we turned in the report over her lunch break. It wasn’t a big class, and we didn’t all turn the reports in on the same day. But she could easily go through a couple books at lunch.

It was amazing and something I wanted to learn myself. I stumbled through some books on speed reading but never really landed on success until I took an Iris speed reading class when they had a Groupon.

I’ll share a few big tips and ideas I learned there, but it won’t substitute for taking a day long class like I did and going through the exercises.


The biggest lightbulb moment for me in speed reading isn’t faster reading but better skimming.

Afterall, most books and material are filled with fluff. Good ideas separated with a ton of sentences you don’t need <- A great case-in-point. You didn’t need that second sentence. The first one was enough. Damn, I did it again.

When I first get a new book I’ll read the periphery of the thing. The back summary, the insides of the covers. Next, I’ll look over the Table of Contents looking for things like “How’s this book broken up? Is it like three parts with three big ideas, or 27 chapters each with a unique point?”

I want to learn as much about the thing I need to devour beforehand so I know what I’m about to do.

Next, I read the first page of the intro, and then I’ll skip right to the end, and finish the last page of the book. Yes, you might ruin any suspense you were hoping for, so if suspense is your goal, don’t do this.

Next, I’ll go through each chapter. I’ll read the first paragraph (two if the first is short and not useful enough).

Then I’ll go through each paragraph of the chapter and read just the first sentence. The first sentence is often the most important point of a paragraph after all:


Often in a book, you’ll have other paragraphs illustrating that topic sentence anyways.

Then, I’ll read the last paragraph of the chapter which often summarizes everything.

And I do all the above at my normal reading pace. I take my time and carefully consume those skimmed sentences and ideas.

Now I have this crazy good outline in my head of what the chapter is about, and what holes I might have in the ideas. Page 10 talked about X which seemed obvious, but later on, page 35 mentioned a story I didn’t quite understand in my skim.

So now, I’ll go through the entire chapter again but this time as fast as I can.

At this point just being a better skim reader has probably earned you 70–80% of the benefit of “speed reading”. You can go through a second read of a chapter you’ve skimmed and probably know exactly what you need to “re-read” to understand better. And you can probably do that at a normal pace and still save a ton of time.

But the other 20–30% is all about getting through words faster.

Reading as Fast as You Can


You instantly recognized a dog. You didn’t have to vocalize the word “dog”. You also don’t have to first look at its nose, then move to its eyes, then body, etc. You seem to be able to take a whole dog in with your eyes, and just know it’s a dog. But a lot of people don’t read like that.

When you were young, you likely read out loud most of the time. Mouthing each and every word. When you got older you probably stopped saying the words out loud, but many people keep vocalizing the word silently in their heads. You have to learn to stop vocalizing words as you read.

Another habit people need to break is having their eyes read each and every letter as they go along. Again, this is something we learn as young readers. We see a word we don’t know, and we look and sound out each letter until it makes sense to us.

You need to learn to just digest words instantaneously. Even better, you want to learn to digest multiple words together at the same time.

Another bad habit most of us have is rereading text purposefully or subconsciously. We skip over something and then reread it again. Tim Ferriss has found we spend about 30% of our reading time in “re-reading”. What a waste.

You need to train your eyes to work like you want them to. You don’t want them going over every single letter. You want them to fixate in fewer places in a sentence.

I remember my 8th grade teacher sliding her whole hand down the middle of the book keeping her eyes stuck there. It’s funny, because using a finger was a technique many kids use to help read but are trained to stop. But you’ll see many speed readers use a finger to read. A finger can help guide your eyes to fewer places on each line and page of a book. It can also force you to keep a pace that’s faster than you might be initially comfortable with.

A lot of this is just practice. Just like running. Get a stopwatch and start timing yourself through some examples. Get an article and figure out the word count. Skim the thing. Now, go back for a reread and get through the thing as fast as possible trying to take in as many words as possible at a time. Keep timing yourself and trying to beat your best. Use your finger/hand to force yourself to go faster.

I won’t go into an in-depth look into training your eyes to ingest more. I’ll leave that up to Tim’s article or classes like Iris.

But one thing I started doing to help train my eyes for faster word digestion: is trying to quickly read a book in a language I didn’t understand. You’ll have much less desire to try and comprehend what you’re reading, because you simply can’t. You don’t have all those same urges to reread things or sound out words.


I hope that helps. The skim reading part is what really cracked open a whole new world of getting through more stuff faster. But I don’t read everything like this. If there’s a great fiction book that I want to take my mind to another place, I read that as comfortably as I can. Speed reading for me is a shortcut to get through stuff. It might even make the book less “fun”. But my goal is often to get through piles of new books and articles out there looking for interesting needles in the haystack.

P.S. Please help spread this article by clicking the below.

You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and start businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should try Highrise.


A few tips to avoid the never ending comment thread

Asynchronous communications are a wonderful thing for productivity. But they do have a dark side: the all-too-common, never ending comment thread.

Emails and message boards are where they’re commonly seen. It usually goes something like this:

Dan: “I think we should try this.”
<5 seconds later>
Julie: “I’m not sure that’ll work.”
<5 seconds later>
Tom: “Maybe this is another option.”
<50 more comments pile on within 5 minutes>

I know this because I’m guilty of adding to the comment pile too. 😬

It’s not surprising that this occurs. This kind of rapid-fire back and forth feels good. It feels like we’re getting a lot done and having a rich discussion. The problem is that we aren’t, really.

In these kinds of exchanges, nobody is listening. Everyone is so eager to give their opinion that they’re too busy typing without reading. We’re talking past each other, not to each other.


So let me offer three tips to improve these kinds of discussions — things I try to remind myself to do everyday.

Read

And when I say read, I mean read. I don’t mean skim, I don’t mean “get the gist”.

Really read what someone wrote and try to understand it. And if you don’t understand it, ask questions instead of giving an opinion.

Wait

This will be difficult because it runs counter to what we’ve become used to — immediate everything.

But I implore you to try it. Read a comment and then leave for a while. Let your brain background process and actually think about it. Come back an hour later and respond.

This accomplishes a bunch of things:

  • It helps you formulate a complete thought instead of a one line, off-the-cuff response.
  • It sets a positive, slow-response precedent for others. The more people who learn to read and respond thoughtfully there are, the better off your team will be.
  • It has a cascading positive effect by cutting noise. Specifically it gives people who don’t read comments 24/7 a fighting chance to keep up without being flooded with half-baked thoughts.
  • It gives the discussion a chance to resolve itself. You’d be surprised how many times a discussion can go in a positive direction without your input.
  • It let’s you focus on other, more important work!

Switch Tools

If all else fails and the comment thread still spins out of control, you’re using the wrong tool. You’ve taken something inherently slow and are using it way too fast.

If that happens, switch tools. If you’re on a message thread, move up to a chat. If after 10 minutes the chat is falling apart, escalate to a Hangout.

Bottom line — it’s important to recognize the speed of your conversation and match up to the right tool for the job.


That’s it. Three simple things: read, wait, and (if necessary) switch tools. Keeping those tips in mind will make for a calmer, more pleasant workplace in 2017! 😀

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