Running a social media company, I literally can’t go a day without my laptop or iPhone. But while 140-character tweets and the latest viral blog post are nice snacking for the mind, when it comes to full mental nourishment, nothing beats the deep thinking a book can ignite.

I keep copies of my favorite books on my shelf or desk at my office to give out to employees and friends, hoping they’ll be as inspired as I was when I read them.

Here are 5 books that have had a huge impact on me and my team:

1. Ender’s Game


Ender’s Game explores themes of power, intelligence, free will and perseverance. Photo by Scholastic Inc.

It’s happening. This year, a story I’ve loved for decades is finally coming to the big screen. With big name actors like Harrison Ford on the bill, Ender’s Game is going to get a lot of attention. But here’s some advice: read the book before you see the movie. We all know how often a film adaptation doesn’t end up doing the book justice. (It is a relief, however, that author Orson Scott Card is co-producing Ender’s Game).

So what’s so great about Ender’s Game? First of all, it’s a classic kick-ass sci-fi book that draws you in with dynamic, well-developed characters and an engaging and fast-paced narrative. The setting is sometime in the near future, with humankind threatened by a hostile alien race.

But beyond great storytelling, Ender’s Game is also a useful book for leadership inspiration (There’s a reason it’s on the recommended Professional Reading List for the United States Marine Corps). It explores larger themes of power, intelligence, free will and perseverance. It also balances lots of action and heart with thought-provoking questions on the essence of human nature. I love books with layers to explore—don’t write this one off at face value!

2. Born to Run

Did you know that as a human, you’re capable of outrunning horses and cheetahs?

At the core of Born to Run is the true story of author Christopher McDougall, who sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets. By doing so, he’s able to show us that everything we thought we knew about running might be wrong.

Christopher makes a convincing case, for instance, that running should never be about pain and expensive footwear. Rather, it should be about pure joy and might even be the secret to happiness. After all, there’s got to be a reason why super runners tend to be amazingly healthy, youthful, and even more attractive, he says. Humans were born to run.

As thought-provoking as Born to Run is, it’s also inspirational. It shows us that we are more than we have been taught to believe. It’s an open challenge to everyone to get out there and test every assumption—on the track or in the office.

3. The Long Walk

The Chicago Tribune called The Long Walk ”one of the most amazing, heroic stories of this or any other time,” and I highly agree. Although it’s half a century old, the story and lessons in this book are timeless.

At the heart of The Long Walk is the gripping narrative in of author Slavomir Rawicz, a Polish soldier who is imprisoned by the Soviets after World War II. To gain his freedom, Rawicz goes on a remarkable journey through the frozen Siberian tundra, the Gobi desert, the Himalayan Mountains and to India. Although there is some controversy surrounding the actual credibility of the account, but for me the nitty gritty of the details isn’t critical. The Long Walk is about everyday human struggle, overcoming obstacles and achieving the impossible. That’s why I keep 10 copies on my desk to give away at any moment.

In Rawicz’ own words, “I hope The Long Walk will remain as a memorial to all those who live and die for freedom, and for all those who for many reasons could not speak for themselves.”

Delivering Happiness

4. Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

If you don’t know who author Tony Hsieh is by now, you should. Tony is the guy who transformed a virtually unknown shoe retailer called Zappos into a company that’s a household name, now worth $1.2 billion. How he did it: by building a company culture that values happiness above all else, for customers and employees. Written by Tony himself in simple, to-the-point language, Delivering Happiness is full of advice, anecdotes and interesting business ideas.

Among his unique ideas: Pay your new hires to quit. After a week of training, Tony offers new employees full pay for the time they’ve worked—plus a $2000 bonus to quit. This policy, Tony says, is implemented “ to weed out the people that are just there for a paycheck.” Another tip: Put absolutely no limits on support call times. Zappos set a new customer service record last year with a stunning 10-hour phone call. A protocol of limitless support enables businesses to offer out-of-the-ballpark customer service, says Tony.

All of this is drawn from his own remarkable entrepreneurial journey—from child worm farmer to the face behind one of the most successful brands in the world.

5. Getting Real

Getting Real is an ebook, published by web app company 37 Signals. (It’s also free, which is a great perk.) It’s essentially a business manual about how to build great web products—that touches on things like design, programming, and marketing.

When I first read it, I noticed that Getting Real contained a lot of hard-learned lessons that my team and I had already experienced firsthand, while passionately building out our product and company, HootSuite, in the early stages. So I continue to encourage all of my new employees to read it, for important insights into lean product development and how to make a great, successful product through sacrifice and discipline.

Getting Real a must read for any software development firm, but the lessons in it can also be applied to areas far beyond software. Take, for example, one of the book’s core themes: simplicity. Keeping things simple, doing less, being agile, and putting people over tools are all brilliant business strategies. Clearly written and always to the point, Getting Real is a quick but effective read. You could finish it over an airplane flight or killing time between meetings. (Also check out the Agile Manifesto if you’re interested in the topic.)

Do you read your books on paper or a screen? Which ones have inspired you or shaped your life?

This post was originally published on the LinkedIn Influencer blog, a new resource that brings together regular insights from hundreds of thought-leaders around the globe. To find out how you can follow world leaders, educators, industry experts and others (including HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes), read this post: “How to Follow Richard Branson, Barack Obama and…Ryan Holmes on LinkedIn.”

Born to Run Image: Wikimedia Commons
Delivering Happiness Image: Frank Gruber