Jonathan Livingston Seagull

I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull for the first time in 1975 when I was about 10 years old. I’ve read it several times over the last 35 years, but probably hadn’t read it in over a decade. My first business partner, Dave Jilk (now the Standing Cloud founder / CEO), gave it to me as a birthday gift last week.

I just read it again and it was as powerful, inspiring, and enlightening as I remembered it. I’m often asked what books I’d recommend to an entrepreneur (especially an aspiring entrepreneur). There are two: Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Whenever we are in the upswing of an entrepreneurial cycle, like we are right now, I start seeing all kinds of weird stuff appear. Random people, who get notoriety for themselves, blow up. The media is aggressively negative presumably in the quest for getting readership. Entitlement behavior runs rampant. The quick buck artists appear. Money becomes a central topic of many conversations. Established companies and government suddenly wake up to the power of innovation and try to co-opt the energy. The word bubble becomes so popular that a bubble builds around using the word bubble.

The great entrepreneurs just keep building their companies. They focus relentlessly on their products, their customers, and their people. They create things that delight, take chances, make mistakes, and iterate as they, and their organizations, get better. They just keep at it and the very best ones shut out and ignore all the noise. And they learn, and learn, and learn.

Just like Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Young Jonathan realizes he is different and then outcast, but he discovers himself. He then discovers others like him, including his great mentors. He learns, experiments, tries new things, makes mistakes, and learns. And learns. And then he becomes the mentor and teaches other young seagulls to discover themselves. Throughout, he does what he loves the most – he flies, and practices, and learns.

If you are an entrepreneur, take one hour out of your day this week and read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And then spend another hour, alone, thinking about it. I assure you that it’ll be worth the time.

  • Emily

    Wow.  Blast from the past.  I too read this book as a child in the 1970s.  I even went so far as to purchase the Neil Diamond JLS tribute album!!  It meant a great deal to me back then as I was trying to find my way during a rather tough time. Haven’t thought about it in years.  Will have to download a copy as a reminder — and play a little Skybird today.  Thanks for the warm memory on a cold rainy day, Brad.

  • Alan Shimel

    Brad, lots of years since I read this one. Believe it or not I had an early audio version of this that I used to listen to on my stereo over and over again.  Lots of good memories, thanks for reminding me

    • I’ve never heard it on audio – seems like something my future (i.e. downloading it now).

      • Alan Shimel

        Brad, I think my audio was either on  vinyl or  cassette tape. It might have been Richard Harris narrating.  Long time ago, great memories.

  • Jim H Franklin

    My JLS memory is from high school XC – we had a stretch called JLS’s named after the book. I’ll let you guess which one. I’ve also read “Illusions” several times. I especially like the lesson in the first chapter about creatures who cling to the bottom of the crystal river – until one day, one of the creatures decides to let go and trust the river.

  • Need to get it on my audible.
    Thanks for the recommendation, Brad. 🙂 

  • Anonymous

    Funny, I just gave all those books to my 16 year old – he loved them.

    I am considering giving him Still Life With Woodpecker.


  • Eric


  • Lariby

    …keep in mind, at the rate Brad reads, 1 hour BF time = 10-12 hours normal human reading time 🙂

    • This one is a short read – probably an hour of normal human time.

      • Chris Sundberg

        Agreed. JLS is under a hundred pages.

  • When there are Ferraris in the parking lot it’s time to short the market.

  • Anonymous

    you recommend a book, I’m going to read it, thank!

  • Shane Schieffer

    You have mentioned negativity in the system and the press several times recently.  I am reading a book right now with an interesting perspective on that.  It is called “Don’t be Such a Scientist; Communicating Substance in the Age of Style”. It is written by a scientist and tenured professor who leaves his job and moves to Hollywood to become a filmmaker. This creates an interesting perspective because scientists and filmmakers are on the opposite ends of the communication spectrum. (Which is the reason for his book; he feels that communication issues are greatly inhibiting the good work of science and leading to the masses becoming confused on politically charged issues, because scientists often lose the communication battle with groups that oppose them simply because scientists are terrible communicators.) Anyhow, the author shares your perspective about negativity – especially in the blogs.  His hypothesis as to why comes from experiences in an acting class. He said that an authentic connection to the audience is most easily established through anger.  It is easy to lose yourself in anger and become believable and compelling, whereas learning to be authentic through a positive emotion is much harder.  He gives the example of how easily developing actors reach into the F*#@ You, but how hard it is for a person to play the part of a lottery winner without looking goofy and totally unconvincing.  He belives that bloggers and writers who are trying to establish a voice, like actors, will make their first breakthrough with anger.  Much begets more; and so the writers enter a spriral of negativity, perhaps even inadvertently, while seeking what works in resonating with an audience.  Interesting.

    • Wow – super interesting and relevant. It rings completely true to me. I’m getting the book now.

    • I started in finance and tech, then became a screenwriter/producer (I too attended acting classes) and now am back in tech.  So my experience is similar to this guy and he makes an important point. The key to storytelling is emotion.  Things don’t have to be true to be compelling.  An audience wants to be moved not lectured to.  This was brilliant summed up by Sam Goldwyn” “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”  Hence storytellers have to be masters at creating and managing emotions in their audience.  (And this is not something that scientists are trained to do.)  Storytellers create conflict because it is the stuff of drama.  You get little powerful drama in the land of the nice happy people.  So there is indeed a necessity to create conflict if you want to establish a voice and win an audience.  IMHO characterizing such conflict as anger is a little narrow.  There are plenty of other ways of doing it.  But what is clear is that to create conflict you have to set things in opposition.  And for the simple minded populist looking to create an audience this is indeed easily expressed in terms of what you disagree with, what you dislike, what you hate, what pisses you off…  In other words – negativity.  So I agree there is a real dynamic at work here.

      • Anonymous


        I have presented in front of many different audiences, including VCs but would like your input on reaching VCs.  I am listening to Venture Deals right now and agree the ppt needs to be tailored to the firm, person, etc, but would you use story or hard facts to reach them?


        • Stories and hard facts are always good.

  • good post! liked it!

  • Chris Sundberg

    I agree wholeheartedly. JLS was one of the books that really impacted me during my first two years of college.

    Brad – Have you read Illusions? Also by Bach, and imho, even better than JLS. One of my composition/conducting professors recommended it to me, and he even wrote a piece of music about it.

    • Yes – Illusions is excellent.

    • Tim

      “Argue your limitations and they are yours” –
      Hangs in my office!

  • Madison_mason
  • David Daly

    I love both those books. I remember being a kid and forcing my Dad to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull over and over again. I’ve been waiting to break it out with my own children. I think I need to speed that up. 

  • I just had a conversation about how entitled, quasi-celebs are always out talking, while the real entrepreneurs are at home, heads down, and working hard. Thanks for the book recommendations too.

  • Yukonspirits

    When the student is ready, the Master will appear…  Illusions by Richard Bach is also an essential read for the entrepreneur who is not merely tasked with walking on water, but also swimming in the land.

  • Derek Scruggs

    Another upvote for Illusions

    Also I found Flow to be really inspiring, along with Creativity by the same author (whose name is impossible to spell on an iPhone)

  • Also the Alchamist by Paolo Cohelo. It’s an important reminder for entrepreneurs (and investors) that it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

  • In the same spirit I would recommend rereading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. When Siddhartha pitches a VC (I’m not kidding) he is asked why the man should invest in him. Siddhartha, who has just walked out of the jungle with literally nothing, tells him he has three skills: He can wait, he can fast and he can think. He gets the investment and becomes wealthy. But that is not the end of the story…

  • great thing about JLS is it’s easy, short.  I remember senior year of college my girlfriend (now my wife) and her roommates read it.  They were boo hooing and reimagining themselves for a week.  I didn’t like it back then, since I was so practical.  

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  • Thanks for the article. Very interesting. 

  • I love this book! I have the eBook and I’ve listened to so many times that I can not say how many times. It is an endless source of inspiration.

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