Here's Four Books That Jeff Bezos Recommends You Read

From founding Amazon from his garage in Seattle in 1994, to acquiring Wholefoods in 2017, business guru Jeff Bezos has become one of the richest men in history. But the self-made billionaire has also always made time for reading and self-improvement; here are four of his favorite reads.

by Uptime Staff / 2021-08-05

Jeff Bezos is famous for many things - in 2019, he divorced his long-term wife Mackenzie Scott and created one of the most expensive divorce settlements ever in the process. Just last month, he rocketed into space in an aircraft designed by his spacecraft company, Blue Origin.

It’s safe to say, then, that the boss of one of the world’s most successful companies ever, and father of four children, has probably done some pretty insightful reading in his time. Here, we unpack four of his top book recommendations.

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies - Jim Collins & Jerry I. Porras

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In this book, the authors outline the results of a six-year research project exploring the traits and characteristics that produce strong, successful companies that are in it for long haul.

Looking at 18 visionary companies, ranging from Disney to American Express, the authors highlight similarities between them all: positing that the authors find a correlation, not just a causal link, between them. 

quotation marksIf there is any one “secret” to an enduring great company, it is the ability to manage continuity and change.

Some of our main takeaways from this book include: 

  • ‘Clock Building’. Great companies do not thrive because of a great leader or a great team at any one time, but because the company and the idea behind it is great itself. Finding a single idea to build success on will defy time; hiring a singular successful employee will not. 
  • Hire from within, keeping your core values in sight. Having carried out research of visionary companies spanning 1700 years, Collins and Porras found that almost all of them had hired CEOs from outside. Visionary companies were 6 times more likely to promote insiders to CEO positions than other companies. The 
  • Experiment a lot, keep what works. This idea comes back to the simple concept of trial and error, but whilst this is an idea we are all familiar with, it is one often overlooked by people setting up companies. 

Re:Work - Change The Way You Work Forever - Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson

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From the co-founders of 37Signals, which generates millions of dollars of revenue annually, this book explores how to build businesses from a 21st century point of view, and debunks many of the myths we have been being fed for ages. Undermining the power of business plans and meetings, this book gives strategic advice and triumphs the basic idea of working over talking. 

quotation marksThe most important thing is to begin.

Our top three takeaways: 

  • Keep it simple- you need less than you think to get a business off the ground. Offices, meetings and research into competitors are all, the authors argue, a waste of time. 
  • Planning is harmful- whilst this nugget of advice is at first hard to swallow, it soon becomes clear that the authors have quite a valid point. They argue that plans can often be harmful to a business, as by planning you put constraints on the future direction of your business. In their eyes, plans are inconsistent with innovation. 
  • Keep it small, at least in the beginning- the authors argue that you don’t need a huge team and wasted resources, especially when starting out. Start with fewer, more skilled employees, and keep the work concentrated.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable - Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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In this book, Taleb focuses on how extremely rare, outlier events can impact our lives, and how we as humans only come up with explanations for these events after they have occurred. He opts to call them ‘Black Swan events’, and claims that a small number of these events explain almost everything in the world. The argument goes that humans are hardwired to learn specifics, when we should focus on generalities. Taleb elaborates on the idea that some of the most significant courses of our lives, indeed including being born itself, are the result of Black Swan Events. 

quotation marksThe problem with experts is that they do not know what they do not know.

See our three main takeaways below: 

  • Humans jump to conclusions too quickly. As an example of this, Taleb uses the commonly stated fact that ‘lots of billionaires didn’t graduate college, including Bill Gates’, which is often used as an argument against school or college. This temptation to jump to conclusions is only human, but 
  • The importance of the narrative fallacy. People will remember more easily a story than a fact. For example, even if there is an incredibly slim chance of us dying from, say, very severe food poisoning from a particular restaurant, if we hear a story on the news of this happening to one person, we are likely to avoid that restaurant indefinitely. 
  • 'Mediocristan vs Extremistan’. Taleb’s key argument is that we focus over and over again on what we know, instead of trying to consider the unknowns of the world.  Taleb calls this chapter ‘Mediocristan vs Extremistan’, as Mediocristan is the consideration of facts that affect the individual without correlation to the collective, i.e, what we know. Extremistan affects many people. For example, the stock market is an Extremistan phenomenon, and the financial crash of 2008 affected people globally. So, if Extremistan has a systemic effect that Mediocristan doesn't, why don’t we focus more on Black Swan event that are inevitable in an Extremistan society, and will have a much more profound effect on many more people?

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail - Clayton Christensen

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In this book, Harvard professor and renowned businessman Clayton Christensen explores the idea that companies can do everything ‘right’ and still lose market leadership due to new, unexpected technologies and markets. Christensen compares ‘sustaining technologies’, which focus on growing existing technologies, with ‘disrupting technologies’, which are new and unprecedented. The latter are what often throw CEOs and managers off-course. Whilst discussing both the successes and failures from some of the world’s leading companies as a guide, Christensen outlines rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation. His theory goes that disruptive technology should be looked at as a marketing challenge, as opposed to a technological one. 

quotation marksDisruptive technologies typically enable new markets to emerge.

Our three main takeaways from the book are below: 

  • In the beginning, when disruptive technology is first released, it will only be attractive to quite a niche market that values the new technology. Over time however, it may well become mainstream, and therefore companies need to be ready to accept and implement it.
  • It often takes big companies longer to adapt because their processes get in the way of developing opportunities. Bigger companies often have more entrenched values and processes, meaning they can lack flexibility and therefore fail when they need to change quickly due to changing industries. 
  • Often, managers lack the ability or will to encourage small scale innovation and invest in new markets. This in turn means they are unaccustomed to failure, as they are not used to stepping outside of their comfort zone. This can mean that companies become stuck and therefore cannot adapt to disruptive technologies and changing markets. 

Whatever your thoughts on this billionaire entrepreneur, he certainly knows how to build a successful, thriving business. And you’d hope that the founder of Amazon - who now also own popular reading website Goodreads - would have his fair share of good book recommendations. 

For more books like this, have a look at our selection of entrepreneurship-based Knowledge Hacks on the Uptime app.


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