Elon Musk, Phil Knight, General McChrystal, Bill Browder and the Royal Family have excellent lessons to share on overcoming adversity. When you read about General McChrystal’s experience, you can see that we live in an increasingly complex world where adaptability has become more valuable than efficiency. Here are five engaging books for your holiday reading list covering the theme of progress against all odds.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future
by Ashlee Vance
Musk is famous for many things, but few people know the details of the adversity he has faced. He is on par with Steve Jobs, whom he is often compared to in impact, futuristic thinking and action. Moreover, he has succeeded by making physical “things” (spaceships, electric cars and solar panels) in three entirely different industries. There is also The Boring Company and NeuraLink, which are in their early stages. SpaceX was founded first in 2002 (Musk was 31), followed by Tesla and SolarCity. Purchase here.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
by Phil Knight
Nike barely existed for years and was often near the brink of failure in its first twenty years. While reading this book I was struck by how selfless and relentless Nike and the early employees were in their pursuit of the perfect shoe for everyone. However, they didn’t like their co-workers! Knight comes across as unlikeable and remote, which he freely admits. This success story is full of misfits, delays bordering on deceit, and decades of bet-the-company high stakes gambling. Michael Jordan is a footnote in this huge story. Today, Nike.com is the most visited fashion website with an increase of 30% in website traffic year over year in 2020 (Semrush). Purchase here.
Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
by Stanley McChrystal
This book, by former General McChrystal, covers a crucial topic for 2020: adaptability in complex systems. As McChrystal learned in the early 2000’s in Iraq, decentralized adaptable teams are best suited to take on complex challenges. He found great success in converting the strict hierarchical nature of the US military into a nimble team of teams. The core lessons are universal: adaptability over efficiency, total transparency to create shared consciousness, localized decision making and crafting empathetic leadership. This book is an excellent gateway into one of our favorite topics of 2020: complex systems theory. Purchase here.
Red Notice: A True Story of Corruption, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice
by Bill Browder
We wrote about this book at the start of 2020. The lessons remain as timeless as ever. It’s the story of early days investing in deeply inefficient markets in Russia and the cost of taking on powerful enemies. The story turns from an epic investment tale into a crusade for social justice and transparency that continues to unfold today. Red Notice defines the theme of overcoming adversity not only for oneself but for innocent people affected by what you do. Purchase here.
The Crown – drama series on Netflix *(Not a book)*
Overcoming adversity is a constant theme in The Crown. This drama follows the political rivalries and romance of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the events that shaped the second half of the 20th Century. Queen Elizabeth is now on her 14th Prime Minister and has ruled the biggest monarchy ever for over 68 years. She learned how to be Queen from her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. No wonder she is so good at what she does. She has also presided over the largest decline in influence the British empire has ever witnessed.
It is difficult to be the monarch of the royal family. You must disappear, never say what you want to, act through others and take endless blame with no recourse. You are always wrong. You may not respond to criticism however unfair. Imagine running a company this way. How many organizations can say they have that much history, money, power and influence and yet are completely secret?
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