The best books for entrepreneurs to learn how to survive and flourish

Who am I?

Rupert Scofield is the President & CEO of a global financial services empire spanning 20 countries of Latin America, Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East, serving millions of the world’s poorest families, especially women. Scofield has spent the better part of his life dodging revolutions, earthquakes and assassins in the Third World, and once ran for his life from a mob in Mogadishu, Somalia.

I wrote...

Default to Bold: Anatomy of a Turnaround

By Rupert Scofield,

Book cover of Default to Bold:  Anatomy of a Turnaround

What is my book about?

Default to Bold is a guide to surviving and thriving, in business and life, during moments of crisis. While logic would tell you the best response is to keep a low profile, the counter-intuitive response of defaulting to bold works best, throwing your enemies off-balance and reminding your allies why they trusted you in the first place.

Over the past three decades, Rupert Scofield built a billion-dollar microfinance empire in some of the most difficult markets on earth. Against all odds, he delivered 80 straight quarters of profits. Suddenly, a global crisis in Emerging Markets plunged FINCA into losses. How the author and his colleagues prevail against these enormous odds is a testimony to the power of a bold strategy.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind: Leadership Lessons from Three Decades of Social Entrepreneurship

Why did I love this book?

In Changing the World, Alex tells his own story, and it’s a compelling one, chocked full of useful lessons for anyone hoping to find a way to make a difference and take on any of the world’s seemingly intractable problems.   It’s all here, from how to break in, to recognizing an opportunity when it presents itself and knowing how to take full advantage of it, to building an organization and populating it with the right people, and how to raise the dough to finance your dream.  As to how to break-in, while he doesn’t say as much, I know Alex shares my view that the fastest and best way to break into international development work is to go and live where the problems of poverty live – which in Alex’s case was Bangladesh.  There he apprenticed himself to a 100-karat visionary, authentic social entrepreneur, Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Talk about knowing how to pick your mentor.

I didn’t find anything to criticize in this book, but I would think among the most useful parts would surely be the section on fundraising, which seems to be a skill you aren’t born with but have to learn. With Grameen and Yunus, Alex had a killer brand at the height of its power, and, to his credit, he made full use of it.

By Alex Counts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Some people are dreamers. They choose careers shaped by dreams of making the world a better place. When your dreams are that powerful, it’s easy to neglect yourself. Both lives and dreams can suffer the consequences.

If you’re one of the dreamers, this is the book for you. Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind is a down-to-earth guide to mission-driven leadership. Drawing on his decades as an acclaimed nonprofit leader, Alex Counts offers practical advice on such vital activities as fundraising, team-building, communications, and management. He shows you how to run an organization—and your own life—both effectively and sustainably,…

Book cover of The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur

Why did I love this book?

This is a great guide for people considering embarking on a social enterprise journey, a kind of pump primer that canvasses many people in the field for their advice and imparts a lot from the author himself who is in as good a position as anyone to offer it, having "walked the walk "from acolyte/novitiate to investor, to professor and to convener of the like-minded in one of the most enjoyable conferences I have ever attended, chocked full of social entrepreneurs and other interesting people, and happily keynote-free. I think the most valuable advice Jonathan imparts, and it plays like a lite motif throughout this breezily-paced book is that the best way to be effective in this multi-variegated field is to learn the language of your beneficiaries, not so much to be able to speak to them, but rather to listen to them and understand their plight and what they think are the solutions to it.

By Jonathan Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur is about powering up your social justice career.The world feels so screwed up, so unfair, so unnecessarily mean, so Trumpian. More than ever, the world needs you. This book is a book of conviction about the unfinished work of social justice. According to Lewis: "The crusty work of social entrepreneurship is as much fun as I’m permitted to have in public. It’s joyous, fulfilling and happy-making. Tackling big challenges is heady stuff. Fighting the good fight is utterly gratifying."The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur is a compendium of 21 original essays and insights - part memoir, part handbook…

Book cover of Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs--from Delhi to Detroit--Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley

Why did I love this book?

Alex Lazarow is one of those rare people who can observe things taking place around the world and package them for us in a way we can comprehend that an important change in the way things used to be done is taking place, and if we want to keep up we need to pay attention.  The change Alex sees is in the way start-ups are happening and companies are being structured.  Whereas investors and entrepreneurs alike used to try to create “unicorns” – i.e., companies that “disrupted” an existing sector with little capital investment and could scale from thousands to millions in sales in less than a year, and IPO the next year to achieve a market cap of billions – Alex thinks the future is with “Camels”, which do not try to scale recklessly to achieve a gigantic short term payday but rather try to build something that is resilient and will probably be around for the long run.  Another big change at work is that Silicon Valley will not be the “only game in town” when it comes to finding the building blocks and resources required by start-ups; Alex thinks they will be found globally, even in Emerging Markets.  Loaded with interesting stories about which companies are “making it” and why, I think Alex’s book is a must for anyone starting and building their own company or investing in one.

By Alexandre Lazarow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Out-Innovate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The new playbook for innovation and startup success is emerging from beyond Silicon Valley--at the "frontier."

Startups have changed the world. In the United States, many startups, such as Tesla, Apple, and Amazon, have become household names. The economic value of startups has doubled since 1992 and is projected to double again in the next fifteen years.

For decades, the hot center of this phenomenon has been Silicon Valley. This is changing fast. Thanks to technology, startups are now taking root everywhere, from Delhi to Detroit to Nairobi to Sao Paulo. Yet despite this globalization of startup activity, our knowledge…

Book cover of The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Beating the Devil's Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization

Why did I love this book?

This is the follow up to The Art of Innovation which describes the strategies of the world-famous design firm, IDEO, which has dissected the process of innovation and, in this book, identified the types of “personas” a CEO should attract in order to tackle big, difficult problems with novel, creative approaches.  I could definitely relate to the first persona described, The Anthropologist, who spends an inordinate amount of time with the clients, listening and observing, in order to understand what they really desire and what has prevented them thus far from achieving or obtaining it.  I also found The Cross-Pollinator interesting, which argued that you should sometimes involve people from other sectors or countries which may at first glance seem irrelevant to the job at hand but, if given the chance to be “heard”, could lead to a solution.  The author makes the case for another eight personas, who may make some contribution, if not to all projects, to some of them.  The book is loaded with actual cases which illustrate why all of these personas are valuable in promoting innovation, although as many as several of them could be embodied in the same person.  Many CEOs could probably relate also to the one persona singled out for demonization:  The Devil’s Advocate, which the author argues will kill many great ideas in the cradle if given too much of a hearing.  If there is a “through line” to the book I would say it is in order to create a culture of innovation a CEO needs to open the company up to a variety of capable, creative people, the opposite of “yes men” and sycophants.   Probably the strongest case for diversity in the workplace I have ever encountered.

By Jonathan Littman, Tom Kelley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ten Faces of Innovation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant guide to fostering creativity and business innovation, The Ten Faces of Innovation shows how any individual can become an experienced architect, storyteller, caregiver or cross-pollinator...just four of the ten characters that can be adopted in different situations to create a broader range of solutions to business problems. At the start of the creative process you might be the 'anthropologist', going into the field to see how customers use and respond to products; later you might be the 'hurdler', who overcomes obstacles on the way to the finished product. The book explains with examples from business how adopting these…

Book cover of Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company

Why did I love this book?

This book is a guide to surviving an existential crisis – what Grove calls a Strategic Inflection Point – when your business is subjected to one or more of six external forces, which, if powerful enough, could destroy the business.  Some of them are obvious – competitors, regulators, customers, vendors – but others more esoteric, like “the possibility your business could be done a different way”, what today we would call being disrupted.  I read it in 2015, when the company I run, FINCA International, was facing five of these six forces, each of which clobbered us with a 10x force compared to the first three decades of our existence, when competition was weak and most external forces enabled our success. How does a CEO respond to this challenge?  Grove’s answer is summarized in the title: remain in a permanent state of dread, which to outsiders might appear on the verge of psychotic. But by never relaxing or taking anything for granted, even during the best of times, you stand a chance of adapting, turning on a dime at times, and surviving. Grove tells us that in a huge company such as Intel the CEO must build strong connections to the front liners in his organization so that they can sound the alarm when a big change appears to be taking place. I found it to be a very useful framework for understanding everything that was going on and having a strategy for addressing it. I guess it works because both Intel and FINCA are still here.

By Andrew S. Grove,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Only the Paranoid Survive as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The President and CEO of Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, reveals how to identify and exploit the key moments of change in any industry that generates either drastic failure or incredible success. Under Andrew Grove's leadership, Intel has become the world's largest computer chipmaker, the 5th most admired company in America, and the 7th most profitable company among the Fortune 500. Few CEOs can claim this level of success. Grove attributes much of it to the philosophy and strategy he has learned the hard way as he steered Intel through a series of potential major disasters. There are moments in…

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