8 Books That Shaped Mighty Bear
What we read to raise our game — and why it’s essential
Whatever it is you’re doing, there are usually people out there who have been doing it for longer, or have attempted something similar before. The best way to cut out decades of trial and error is to absorb their learnings and incorporate them into what you do. It would take you a good few lifetimes to pick up the skills, learnings, and insights that a year of regularly reading the right material can offer.
The only way to be “world-class” at what you do is to learn from the smartest people out there and/or the best in your field. It’s no coincidence that the brightest and most interesting thinkers are avid readers: I’m yet to meet someone in the top 1–2% of their field (CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, artists, musicians, etc) who wasn't a voracious bookworm.
Our 8 Picks
Many, many books that have influenced Mighty Bear Games in one way or another (be it organisation, culture, creative process, artistic influence, etc.), but these are the 8 that had the most profound impact:*
*We decided not to share “honourable mentions”, as this would have taken us well into the 100s!
‘Principles: Life and Work’ (Ray Dalio), ‘Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility’ (Patty McCord), and ‘Radical Candor’ (Kim Scott)
When we founded Mighty Bear, the best piece of early advice we were given was to think carefully about the kind of company we wanted to build and the kind of culture we wanted to cultivate.
Most companies don’t consider this early on and only make a deliberate effort around culture once problems start emerging. It’s much more difficult to fix a problematic culture which has taken root than it is to shape and maintain a positive culture. Studio culture is an organism that needs feeding (repetition, reinforcement through action) and care (updating documentation and openly addressing things which go against the culture you’re trying to build): it’s never as simple as writing a document telling everyone what you think the culture should be and expecting the principles to magically take hold.
Principles: Life and Work is a guide to life and business by Ray Dalio. In it he lists the principles (or guidelines) underpinning everything he does. It’s a really interesting system with a lot of wisdom and iteration behind it. We used the framework he developed in Principles to come up with the outline of our own company values.
Patty McCord is the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix and co-author of the now-ubiquitous Netflix Culture Deck. In Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility she outlines how she and Reed Hastings deliberately set about shaping the culture at Netflix, how employees were motivated, and how they structured the organisation to maximise individual empowerment and responsibility. It’s both a no-nonsense culture and one with empathy and flexibility. Like a lot of these books, there are parts which are more specific to the author’s own working environment (a large Bay Area tech company), but even for a small company in Southeast Asia there’s much to adapt and apply.
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity is the final book on this list about culture. It’s a remarkable book about leadership and how to communicate with those around you.
The book’s central thesis is that professional communication falls into 1 of 4 buckets:
• Manipulative Insincerity — Not caring about people and not telling them the whole truth
• Ruinous Empathy — Caring about co-workers but not telling them the whole truth for fear of hurting their feelings (this is very damaging and a habit many new managers fall into)
• Obnoxious Aggression — Not caring about the person you’re giving feedback to but at least stating the facts as they are
• Radical Candor — Showing genuine empathy while still having the courage to challenge people and give them direct feedback.
Practicing Radical Candor is hard and requires constant re-calibration to ensure your team isn’t slipping into Ruinous Empathy or Obnoxious Aggression. Beyond that, the book offers a lot of great advice on how to communicate with co-workers and handle important events like 1:1s, performance reviews, skip-level meetings, and other crucial workplace encounters. This book is required reading for all mangers at Mighty Bear (I have a stack of some 10 copies ready to give out as and when required).
‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’ (Ben Horowitz) & ‘High Output Management’ (Andrew Grove)
Two very different but excellent books. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a staple on pretty much every list of books for founders to read. In it Ben Horowitz looks back over his professional history before getting into a range of specific scenarios and how to navigate them. It covers many difficult areas (such as what to do when an employee who works for a friend applies for a job with you) and how best to proceed. His approach is direct, honest, and get-shit-done. The solutions he proposes show an innate bravery and a willingness to embrace decisions which are likely to cause short-term pain but deliver the best outcome in the long run. I re-read it about once a year, and every time I pick it up I discover new things relevant to where the company is at that moment in time.
High Output Management is probably the best book I’ve ever read on process design and how to optimise management tasks and behaviour for the best possible outcomes. It is a bit dry but there’s a lot of depth in there. Andrew Grove was one of the tech industry’s greatest minds (his life story is also remarkable) and the book is packed with wisdom and experience.
On Personal Development
‘Atomic Habits’ (James Clear)
I was originally a bit suspicious of this one based on its all-too-glowing reviews and appearances on bestseller lists — these can sometimes be signs a book is packed with feel-good platitudes but light on insight.
However, this is book was really interesting and helped me get a grip on how I manage my personal time and how we structure some of the tasks at Mighty Bear. The very simple high-level message in the book is that time is the ultimate compounding force: if you do the right thing day-in, day-out, the effects will add up; similarly if you don’t have good habits then these effects will compound in much the same way. States of “Success” and “Failure”, on the other hand, are at best lagging indicators and could just as well be due to your circumstances and environment. At its core, the message is “judge each day not on the harvest you reap but on the seeds you sow”.
The book provides a framework and a list of tools to help manage both good and bad behaviours which I’ve found to be very useful.
On Product Design and Presentation
“Don’t Make Me Think” (Steve Krug) & “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” (Carmine Gallo)
Many years ago I went for a job interview at Wooga where I met Jens Begemann, who was then CEO. I really enjoyed speaking to him and loved the culture and the vibe of the place (we didn’t end up working together but that’s a story for another day). When I was leaving the office he handed me two books: Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational (which is required reading for any Design or Product person but doesn’t quite make this list) and Don’t Make Me Think, which he told me he recommends to everyone and wanted me to have. I was genuinely touched by this gesture and still treasure both books.
Don’t Make Me Think is an ultra-accessible and clear overview into great usability design and simplifying game, app, and site UX to help give yourself the best chance at success. The book is very short but very easy to pick up and understand intuitively. It opened my eyes to the principles of great UX design and had a strong influence on how Mighty Bear designs certain parts of products to ensure maximum accessibility.
Despite its less-than-stellar title, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs is a fantastic resource for anyone who has to create and give presentations. We make all the managers at Mighty Bear read it before they create any external-facing presentation. It clearly illustrates “what good looks like” and helps people understand how to communicate information clearly and in a way that ensures lasting impact. Beyond that, the book’s eye-opening insights into clear communication and layout are applicable even to areas like product design.
It was really hard to only pick 8 books to put on this list, and if I had drawn-up this list any other day then I am sure it would have looked different. Nonetheless, these are 8 fantastic books which Mighty Bear would recommend to anyone looking to deepen their knowledge and broaden their personal or professional horizons. I hope you find them useful, and if you have any suggestions you think should be on this list please feel free to add them in the comments below!