Cultivating Excellence: Quake Books as Catalysts for Change

Part of the tagline for the CTO Compass is "Cultivating Excellence". One element of that is curiosity, knowing why I do or don't do anything and the beliefs I might hold that propel me forward or limit my potential.

Part of the tagline for the CTO Compass is “Cultivating Excellence”. One element of that is curiosity, knowing why I do or don’t do anything and the beliefs I might hold that propel me forward or limit my potential.

A significant number of these beliefs came from reading something that literally took my breath away. These books are my “quake books”; they shook me to my foundations. They have the ability to shake you out of your reverie or a rut you may feel you’re in, and they can make you take action. They are more than an “I feel seen” or “I get this; I should do this thing that’s being suggested” moment.

It is a jolt to your system. It’s a moment of pure insight, and it’s likely uncomfortable. When you read it, it rocks your worldview and causes it to change.

It’s personal

For me, one of those books was Sapiens. In it, Yuval Noah Harari describes the transformative power of imagined orders using the Peugeot car brand as a striking example. He asserted that, as humans, our unique ability to believe in and shape ideas divorced from physical reality creates powerful fictional entities. The Peugeot brand, like any company, though intangible, significantly influences lives, driving consumer choices and fostering collaboration among employees. Whether it’s a brand, money, or beliefs in gods, these imagined orders are not fixed realities but malleable constructs. While it’s obvious in one sense, by recognising the inherent fiction in these concepts, I realised that everything is made up. If it’s imagined, it can be changed. Since I already owned a company, I realised that anyone, including me, can change the world in big and small ways. That realisation led me directly to be far more intentional about I can use Foxsoft to make the world a little better.

It’s important to recognise that what might have been a quake book for me may barely warrant a “hmm” from you. It’s distinctly personal to where you are at that moment in time.

Increase serendipity

Often, a quake book is serendipitous; it happens to come along just at the right time. To my way of thinking, I want to try to maximise these opportunities. How can we systematically expose ourselves to more of these kinds of books because they have the potential to fundamentally and permanently change our lives for the better?

Here are a few simple tips that you can use to expand your chances of coming across knowledge that can shake your world.

  • Read books from a different time period. They don’t contain the assumptions we hold about the world today. You can more readily evaluate and question your own beliefs against theirs if you remain open-minded enough.
  • Read widely. Pick things that sound like they might be interesting; if they’re off the beaten track so much the better.
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” – Murakami
  • Find books on topics that you fundamentally disagree with. Remain open to the author’s viewpoint and look for common ground or new ways of looking at something you’re certain about.
  • Track book recommendations from friends or other sources you trust. Ryan Holiday’s reading list is a great source of interesting books. Or, as I’ve suggested previously, don’t overthink it, just buy the book and add it to your anti-library.

​A great way to achieve these aims is to join or create a book club. It is one of the best things I do. We read books that we would never otherwise consider reading. It’s a little accountability to read, and it’s also a good social event, where the discussions around the book can take you off on interesting tangents.

Here are a few of my quake books that caused me to change in different aspects of my life.

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

​Have you read any transformative books recently? Did reading them inspire you to change anything in your life, and if not, why not? What will it take to change your reality?

⚡️ Thinking Time ⚡️

“Events in life mean nothing if you do not reflect on them in a deep way, and ideas from books are pointless if they have no application to life as you live it.” – Robert Greene

Think back over any books you may have read recently. Are there any that you might classify as a quake book for you? Or perhaps there was at least one or two ideas that really made you think. Maybe you disagreed with it.

Pick one of them, grab the book, and find and re-read the passages that resonated. Do they still hit you in the same way? Can you recreate the quake?

Use your Thinking Time to reflect on how this insight can be applied to your life right now. Is there an action you can take, or can you apply the insight to change how you think and act, or how you can change your organisation for the better?