Although it didn’t arrive until the end of October, Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs was the top selling book of 2011. It’s continued to grace bestseller lists this year, too.

This is notable for several reasons, but caught my attention because biographies of entrepreneurs don’t usually attract such huge readership. What a shame.

Many such true stories are every bit as intriguing as fictional tales. More importantly, they can provide inspiration and trigger ideas for others wishing to succeed in the Joyfully Jobless world.

As Caroline Myss reminds us, “We evolve at the rate of the tribe we’re plugged into.” Knowing the stories of others who have carved their own path can be enormously helpful to our own evolution.

Some of my favorite business biographies aren’t even close to being bestsellers, but they’re certainly worth investigating. While many of the subjects/authors are now well-known, there was a time when they were known only to their families.

If you’ve missed any of these true stories, track them down and see what you can learn.

Losing My Virginity is Sir Richard Branson’s autobiography of his early years in business. He’s written several other books sharing his philosophy and recent enterprises, but this charmer offers us a glimpse of the early days of the self-described adventure capitalist.

Ben and Jerry’s Double-Dip by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield shows us what it means to create a values-led business. Read this while enjoying a bowl of Cherry Garcia or Creme Brulee.

Hershey by Michael D’Antonio is the surprisingly inspiring tale of Milton S. Hershey who not only became synonymous with chocolate bars, but was one of the country’s first social entrepreneurs. This visionary was decades ahead of his time.

The Gospel According to Coco Chanel by Karen Karbo brings us the philosophy of another visionary whose humble beginnings bore no resemblance to the influential woman she became. Chanel was opinionated and not shy about speaking her mind on living life on your own terms.

In Pursuit of the Common Good by Paul Newman and A.E. Hotchner is one of the funniest stories on the list. It’s a marvel that Newman’s Own ever managed to succeed.

Body and Soul by Anita Roddick is subtitled Profits With Principles. This book recounts the early days of The Body Shop. Equally worth tracking down is her later book, Business as Unusual. You may need to do some detective work to find either title. It’s worth it.

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS shoes, urges us to use our businesses to make a positive difference in the world.

Make the Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland is a book I reread every year. It’s the incredible story of the author’s journey to create Manchester Bidwell, a jobs training center and community arts program near Pittsburgh. Every city should be so blessed.

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus shares the story of the birth of micro-lending, which helped poor women in Bangladesh become successful businessowners.

While you may be able to locate some of these books through your public library, I believe they deserve a permanent home in your library. Every one of these stories is worth revisiting from time to time.

You’ll find several of these titles on Barbara’s Book List, along with several others that I haven’t included here. Out of print titles may be available through my new favorite used book source, Thriftbooks.


It’s no coincidence, it seems to me, that successful entrepreneurs are also enthusiastic lifelong learners. Yet many new businessowners are delighted to discover that running a business is an on-going learning adventure—and they get to design their own curriculum.

Entrepreneurial learning bears little resemblance to more conventional educational experiences. Instead of spending long hours sitting at a desk, entrepreneurial education looks more like working in a laboratory where the process goes something like this: explore, test, share.

Consider TOMS shoe company found Blake Mycoskie. In his new book, Start Something That Matters, this successful young entrepreneur gives us a glimpse into his feelings about a favorite tool of the perpetual learner.

He writes, “When I moved onto a 200-square foot sailboat, I had no room for belongings. So I divested myself, selling and giving away almost everything, keeping only sporting and the books I loved.

“One day, when I own a house, I’ll keep a full library of books. Books are different from other possessions—they’re more like friends.”

A Chinese proverb reminds us that, “Learning is weightless, a treasure you can always carry easily.” If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need to be convinced.

Nevertheless, I wanted to pass along some other thoughts about the importance of learning. You might want to hang on to some of these wise words. They could come in handy on a day when resistance is trying to talk you out of attending a seminar or you’re feeling uncomfortable about acquiring a new skill.

The illiterate of the future will not be the person who cannot read. It will be the person who cannot learn. ~ Alvin Toffler

Beauty can happen in an instance to the well-stocked mind. ~ Reynolds Pearce

There is an unspeakable pleasure attending the life of the voluntary student. ~ Oliver Goldsmith

If money is your only hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability. ~ Henry Ford

Vacant lots and vacant minds attract the most rubbish. ~ Arnold Glasgow

One learns by doing a thing; for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try. ~ Sophocles

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. ~ Eric Hoffer

If you’re a true student of what you’re doing and a lover of your business activity, then study what you’ve done to understand what you could have done better. ~ Steve Wynn

The minute you’re not learning, I believe you’re dead. ~ Jack Nicholson

The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. ~ Bertrand Russell


If you’d like to know more about Start Something That Matters, check out this rave review from the Wall Street Journal. Doing Good By Shoeing Well