Study Greatness

Boxing legend Mike Tyson often comes across as someone who has had too many blows to the head. But in an interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast, I learned about that he’s been studying some of the world’s greatest conquerors, since he was 15 years old – not just about how they thought, but how they believed that they actually deserved to conquer lands, dominate people and take what other’s valued. He wanted to not just understand their mindset but to embody it, and to live, breathe and act accordingly.

That’s what he took into the ring: the permission he gives himself to destroy, and potentially kill, his opponent.

Known as the “baddest man on the planet”, Tyson is one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, claiming his first belt at just 20 years of age – the record for the youngest boxer to win a heavyweight title. He won his first 19 pro fights by knockout, 12 of them in the first round.

It was fascinating. When Tyson fights, he’s conquering the soul and spirit of another human being, feeling that he has not only the right, but the obligation to do it.

His commitment to studying these conquerors reminds me of a conversation my then 13-year old son and another CEO’s son had with Jim Collins, after a large public event with a couple of thousand people, in London, England. During a small, private session with a group of CEOs, they asked Jim what advice he would give to young, aspiring leaders. His response?

Read 100 biographies and study greatness.

That’s essentially what Mike Tyson did. He studied the lives of great conquerors like Alexander the Great because he wanted to conquer, too.

So, when you think about your biggest goals – think terms of a BHAG (Jim Collins’ Big Hairy Audacious Goal) – what do you need to study to fully believe, with unwavering conviction, that you not only deserve it, but that it will happen?

I’ve compiled an list of books to inspire you to greatness, including two of my favourites: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill about the thinking, habits and best insights of highly successful American industrialists in the early 1900s.

The Challenge

  • Who can you study, alive or dead, that has accomplished what you want and can help you understand what it takes for you to master your vision or your leadership?
  • Who are the conquerors, entrepreneurs, humanitarians, tech giants, inventors and adventurers that would be inspiring and interesting to read about, listen to, watch, and learn from?

Here’s an inspiration list to get you started:

  • Shoe Dog, Phil Knight
  • Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
  • Their Finest Hour, Winston Churchill’s second volume in his Second World War series
  • Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
  • The Men Who Built America (History channel documentary series)
  • The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould and JP Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy, Charles R. Morris
  • Mozart: A Life, Peter Gay
  • Anthony Bourdain Remembered, CNN
  • Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
  • Leonardo da Vinci, Walter Isaacson
  • Einstein: His Life and Universe, Walter Isaacson
  • The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait, Frida Kahlo
  • Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, Steve Martin
  • The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr & Clayborne Carson
  • Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character), Richard Feynman
  • The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, Adrian Desmond & James Moore
  • Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
  • My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, Jill Bolte Taylor
  • Naked at the Feast: A Biography of Josephine Baker, Lynn Haney
  • My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, Nikola Tesla
  • Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, Leonie Frieda
  • A Promised Land, Barack Obama
  • My Own Words, Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
  • Empire: The Life, Legend and Madness of Howard Hughes, Donald Barlett
  • Alan Turing: The Enigma, Andrew Hodges
  • Prince: A Private View, Afshin Shahidi
  • Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  • Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandala
  • A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
  • Life, Keith Richards
  • Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank