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Three books that have changed how I approach my work

by Helen Wu on Feb 5, 2016

I love to read and I learn best by example, so as I’ve grown into management over the past few years, I’ve made a point to read about the businesses and wisdom of those who have succeeded, failed, and everything in between. Rather than accept any single conventional wisdom, I prefer to absorb a variety of perspectives and take bits and pieces from each book to curate my own board of advisors.

Here are three books that I’ve read recently that have influenced my work in distinctly positive ways:

Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)by Chade-Meng Tan, Daniel Goleman, and Jon Kabat-Zinn

Every day at AppLovin, members of our Growth Partnerships and Design teams take 15 minutes to exercise mindfulness through meditation. This book is why.

Last fall when I was caught in a wave of projects and priorities, I realized I needed to prioritize self-care and turned to Search Inside Yourself for guidance. In it, early-stage Google engineer turned full-time Jolly Good Fellow (yes, that’s his real title!) offers a simple but often overlooked perspective on how to change one’s approach to success and happiness in the workplace. Tan’s curriculum for developing mindfulness and emotional intelligence caught on with my colleagues, and every day for six months now we’ve set aside those precious 15 minutes to meditate. This simple practice helps me re-calibrate in the middle of the day; a renewed clarity of mind enhances my productivity and my happiness. Taking care of myself now ranks up there with working hard—if anything I’m getting more done better than ever.

Strengthsfinder 2.0, by Tom Rath

Strengthsfinder 2.0 taught me some things I didn’t entirely realize about myself. For example, I’m Deliberative, which means my colleagues trust me to weigh all the possible outcomes before making an important decision. It also taught me that our Director of Creative Services has a strong talent for Discipline, which means that having advance notice of creative deadlines can contribute directly to his productivity and happiness; and that, in Strengthsfinder parlance, an analyst I work with is an Activator, which means he can execute with little guidance once a decision is made.

Learning to identify these inherent talents in my colleagues has greatly enhanced my interactions with them. The author of Strengthsfinder 2.0 and a team of scientists from the Gallup Organization surveyed, interviewed, and studied thousands of productive people in order to zero in on 20 attributes that are key to success, each of which materialize in different degrees from person to person. Identifying those traits in yourself and your co-workers is key to working well independently and collaboratively: You know who is best for any given task, and by emphasizing people’s strengths and focusing on the positive you can cultivate productivity, efficiency, and happiness.

#GIRLBOSS, by Sophia Amoruso

The Washington Post described #GIRLBOSS as “part memoir, part management guide, part girl-power manifesto”; well said for a book that is both immensely entertaining and inspiring. The author Sophia Amoruso, founder and executive chairman of Nasty Gal, a $250 million yearly fashion retailer, is witty to the bone and wise from trial by fire. Her story is empowering to both the recent graduate (…or ambitious and talented high school drop-out, like herself) and mature career-types running a scalable business. Nasty Gal’s path to success was far from typical, but as I read on I found a surprising number of experiences relatable to AppLovin.

The company, like AppLovin, started with little funding, a product-first approach, and a passionate commitment to its culture and people. Even given all these similarities, what felt closest to home was her unwavering focus on the quality of her product in the face of rapid growth. At AppLovin, never for a moment did our company’s commitment to quality get lost in the shuffle when things were changing at an astonishing pace.  

Reading books like these with unique approaches to professional development and inspirational stories of corporate success has given me new perspective on how to be productive, healthy, and happy. Have you read any books that have changed how you approach your work? Let us know on Twitter!

Helen Wu is a director of Growth Partnerships at AppLovin.