By Jake Courage, co-founder of the edtech company 42courses.com
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”
It is a strange paradox that you can’t learn everything about life in one lifetime. Even the keenest of students will leave some books unread and many questions unanswered.
So where should you focus your attention?
One approach is to study the lives of successful people. You can apply the lessons they learned to your own life. A simple way to achieve this is to read one of the ‘interview’ books below. The wisdom of the world’s greatest minds revealed in a series of questions we would never get to ask ourselves.
Tribe Of Mentors by Tim Ferris
In Tribe of Mentors, Tim Ferris has assembled a brilliant set of questions for his interviewees. They include everything from ‘What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?’ to my favourite, ‘If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?’
Whilst the book is worth it for the list of interviewees alone, its true value lies in the different responses from the diverse set of people answering them. His ‘guests’ include the historian Yuval Noah Harari, Ray Dalio, the billionaire hedge fund manager and Arianna Huffington, who founded The Huffington Post. It is broken down into easily digestible chapters and you will be kept busy with your highlighter. Tim’s other book in a similar vein, Tools of Titans, is also highly recommended.
The Third Door: The Wild Quest To Discover How the World’s Most Successful People Launched Their Careers by Alex Banyan
This book tells the true story of an ambitious 18 year old who tracked down successful people to uncover how they launched their careers. With no prior connections, the author managed to arrange interviews with people such as Bill Gates, Lady Gaga and Warren Buffett. It’s an extraordinary achievement and Banyan credits his success with the ability to hustle. As the title of the book suggests, there are conventional ways to get where you want to get to and then there’s the ‘third door.’
If I Could Tell You Just One Thing: Encounters with Remarkable People and Their Most Valuable Advice by Richard Reed
Richard Reed is one of the co-founders of the smoothie company Innocent. His achievements in business opened the doors to many inspirational figures.
In each interview, he tries to uncover their greatest piece of advice. What’s the one thing that Simon Cowell would pass on? What does Bill Clinton think is the most valuable thing to know? What does the Dalai Lama consider to be his number one priority?
Some of the most valuable insights come from the lesser known people in the book. For example, Esther Perel gives fantastic advice on understanding the dynamics of relationships and how to fix them when things go wrong.
Winners: And How They Succeed by Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell famously worked as Tony Blair’s spin doctor during his two terms as Prime Minister. Like Reed above, this has given him access to high profile people and his list doesn’t disappoint. Notable interviewees include Anna Wintour, Jose Mourinho and Nelson Mandela. What’s different about this book is that it includes not just interviews but also what he has learnt about strategy during his career. He does a great job of explaining this subject and it’s an unexpected bonus. Overall, it’s a well-written book with plenty of valuable and actionable insights.
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin
This book sets out to examine the minds of some of history’s most accomplished people. It is split into four parts, each with a different focus.
It’s not an ‘interview’ book in the strictest sense, more a gathering of written wisdom but it is perhaps the most valuable of all the books. Part one is essentially an overview of evolutionary psychology – what influences our thinking. Part two is about the psychology of misjudgment – how we make mistakes in our thinking. Part three discusses the mathematics of misjudgments – probably a little too technical for some. The final part sets out guidelines for how to think better. There is so much good material in here that it pays to take your time digesting it. This is the type of book you keep, take plenty of notes from and revisit often.