A World of Ideas and Inspiration

A World of Ideas and Inspiration

19 Jan 18 6mins Jon Midmer

Leadership Wellbeing

What do today’s business leaders turn to in order to keep themselves informed and inspired? This is a question I’ve spent some time pondering over the holiday just gone and the beginning of this year. Having canvassed the opinions of some of the most senior and influential members of the JMA community, below is a snapshot of what’s available by way of intellectual and personal nourishment, with a list of resources at the end that I’m sure will be added to over time.


Books have always been a great source of learning for business leaders, and we’re frequently reminded of the voracious reading habits of the world’s top CEOs. While I’ve observed a trend towards titles containing the words Innovation, Disruption, Technology and Tomorrow, many leaders in the JMA community still cherish books from the recent past that deal with the well-trodden ground of leadership, change and personal and organisational effectiveness. It’s also evident that a good number gain inspiration from (auto-) biographies of major figures from the world of politics, sport, science and the arts, as well as from works of literature. Indeed, one chairman wrote to me saying that business leaders always appreciate books on extraordinary human beings who are able to see an alternative perspective, and who have a view of the world "around the corner". 

Websites, Apps and Podcasts

These days, there’s an ever-expanding body of websites, apps and podcasts that are great resources to access. I admit that some have limited appeal and others are somewhat “lite” (when compared with the more intellectual HBR or McKinsey Quarterly), and I challenge any serious executive to engage with them all – you would never have time for the day job! However, some are super. As the founder of a growing, international firm myself, on the advice of a global CHRO with a thirst for knowledge, over the last few weeks I have dipped into 10 or so episodes of the podcasts Masters of Scale and How I Built This.

I suspect I’m not the only one who finds it fascinating to listen to contemporary leaders talking about the early days of their businesses. Whether it’s the co-founders of Airbnb reminiscing about designing out-of-this-world, 11-star experiences; one of the co-founders of Warby Parker talking about how crazy it was to take on Luxottica at their own game while still at business school; or Howard Schultz recounting how he went round 242 investors in search of funding to buy Starbucks from its founders, and then, when he came out of retirement in 2008, realising that the company would go bust within six months if he didn’t turn things around.

Friends and Advisors

One CEO said that the best thing he does each year is to go away for a weekend with four friends from business school: two work in private equity, one works for a global digital retailer and one is an entrepreneur. They first update each other on their lives, including the books they’ve read, and their most interesting work and life experiences. Then follows a no-holes-barred discussion about the challenges each individual is facing, and they finish up by agreeing changes to make in the next 12 months. He says it’s completely brilliant – it certainly sounds it! Others, meanwhile, swear by the value that executive coaches, organisational psychologists, advisors and spouses bring to their lives. I, for one, can attest to the benefits of all of the above.

Challenge and Self-Renewal

The International President of a leading hospitality company wrote me an inspirational email, much of which I will take to heart in 2018. I’ll pick out two things he said: “The purpose of learning is to grow, not just know”, and “If something doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” He went on to say that while learning can come from almost anywhere and from anything we come into contact with, his personal game-changing moments have come when he has pushed himself outside his comfort zone. He therefore sets himself a goal of learning at least one new skill each year, and of pursuing some form of structured education every few years. There’s much to be said for this: classroom learning enables you to learn from problems and peers, while doing new things makes you a more rounded (and fun!) human being.

Observation and Inspiration

Finally, judging by a good number of responses I received, it’s clear that today’s leaders are looking for inspiration, i.e. a process of reflection in a quiet or different moment, as much as they are for information, which is generally a response to material. One NED talked about being inspired by observing the extraordinary achievements of often unknown, front-line workers leading teams of other “ordinary” people to do things they never thought possible through their personal drive and energy. A partner in a New York-based consulting firm, meanwhile, said one of the most important things for his personal growth is maintaining a portfolio of activities outside his day job which are different and cause him to keep learning – in his case a charity trusteeship, a start-up investment and frontline volunteering.

Last but not least, in a world which is always on, disconnecting from it can have untold benefits. One CEO said he finds his greatest inspiration from non-business resources, usually time spent properly contemplating in the fresh air. A private equity portfolio chairman, meanwhile, said that sometimes the best thing to rejuvenate yourself is to literally tune out by listening to whatever music removes you from thinking about issues you can’t affect. So, as we head into 2018, how do you want to grow, and where will you turn to for learning and inspiration?

Appendix: Recommended Resources


  • The 4 E’s of Leadership – Jack Welch
  • Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
  • The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron
  • Change Your Questions, Change Your Life – Marilee Adams
  • The Charisma Myth – Olivia Fox Cabane
  • The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande
  • Clarity – Jamie Smart
  • Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace
  • David and Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Do Nothing –  J. Keith Murnighan
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe – Walter Isaacson
  • Encouraging the Heart – Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – Greg McKeown
  • Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony – Ming-Dao Deng
  • Feel the Fear & Do It Anyway – Susan J effers
  • The Five Temptations of a CEO – Patrick Lencioni
  • The Founder’s Mentality – Chris Zook & James Allen
  • Gung Ho! – Ken Blanchard
  • The Idea Factor – Jon Gertner
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma – Clayton Christensen
  • The Inside-Out Revolution – Michael Neill
  • Inside Team Sky – David Walsh
  • Leadership and the New Science –  Margaret Wheatley
  • Leading with Questions –  Michael J. Marquardt
  • Lean in – Sheryl Sandberg
  • The Myth of the Strong Leader – Archie Brown
  • The Open Organisation – James Whitehurst
  • Option B – Sheryl Sandberg
  • The Paula Principle – Tom Schuller
  • Pep Confidential – Marti Perarnau
  • Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition – Dan Ariely
  • The Rational Optimist – Matt Ridley
  • Raving Fans – Ken Blanchard
  • Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Steven  Covey
  • Shoe Dog – Phil Knight
  • Structures – J. E. Gordon
  • Team of Teams – Stanley McChrystal
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  • Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss
  • Tribe of Mentors – Tim Ferriss
  • The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles – Steven Pressfield
  • When They Go Low, We Go High – Philip Collins
  • You Are A Badass – Jen Sincero
  • Zero to One – Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Publications & Websites

  • AdWeek
  • Bain Insights
  • BCG Publications
  • Bloomberg Businessweek & View
  • CB insights
  • The Economist
  • Fast Company
  • Financial Times
  • Harvard Business Review
  • Heartstyles
  • INSEAD Knowledge
  • Les Echos
  • McKinsey Quarterly
  • Merger Markets
  • Recode
  • Techcrunch
  • The School of Life
  • Wall Street Journal


  • Audible
  • Blinkist
  • Getabstract
  • Flipboard
  • LinkedIn (Tim Queen, Clarice Lin and Oleg Vishnepolsky cited as interesting inFluencers)
  • Ted Talks
  • Twitter

‘Serious’ Podcasts

  • All in the Mind
  • The Economist: Editor’s Picks
  • Tim Ferriss Show
  • Freakonomics Radio
  • HBR Ideacast
  • How I Built This
  • Masters of Scale
  • The McKinsey Podcast
  • NPR's Marketplace
  • People Fixing the World
  • Revisionist History
  • Ted Radio Hour

Business-Focused Blogs

  • Dan Ariely’s Center for Advanced Hindsight
  • Josh Bersin – Bersin by Deloitte
  • Paul Gilbert – lbcwisecounsel
  • Seth Godin – Seth’s Blog
  • Leandro Herrero – Viral Change
  • Dr Joanna Martin – One of Many
  • Simon Sinek – Start with Why

Online courses

  • Coursera
  • EdX
  • Khan Academy
  • Lynda
  • Open Yale Courses
  • Singularity University
  • TedEd
  • Udacity
  • Udemy

Conferences & Forums

  • CES
  • London Business Forum
  • Mobile World Congress

‘Fun’ Podcasts

  • Geek Chic
  • The Infinite Monkey Cage
  • Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk
  • No Such Thing as a Fish
  • NPR’s This American Life
  • Stuff You Should Know

Personal Interest Apps

  • Duolingo (language learning)
  • Elevate (brain training)
  • Headspace (meditation and mindfulness)
  • Memorado (brain training)
  • Skillshare (e-learning app)
  • Skoove (piano app)
  • StarWalk (star identifying app)
  • Tasty (food recipes, videos and discussions)
  • Vivino (online wine community)