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Interview with Ola Olusoga: How Books Have Guided His Path To Self-Discovery

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Before launching The CEO Library, I could have bet that interviews were going to play a big role in this project. What I didn’t know back then was exactly how much I was going to enjoy all the process – from researching successful people that are worth interviewing, to approaching them, exchanging opinions on books and sharing our favorite reading-related resources. And I find it fascinating every time I meet someone who was molded by the same books I were, even though we come from completely different backgrounds and live thousands of miles apart.

Such was the case with Ola Olusoga. He’s the co-founder of Populum, a premium hemp oil brand based in US. If the name sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because we recently published an interview with Ola’s partner, Gunhee Park (if you didn’t get to read that one, it’s not too late).

Ola is a creative problem solver, who spends his time at the intersection of design, marketing and business. Find out from our interview how books have guided his path to self-discovery and helped him reconstruct his identity, but also the ones he recommends for building mental models.


What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

It’s tough to pick just two (business, non business). There are a ton of books I’ve enjoyed, so it’s hard to pinpoint favorites. For business, I’ve read Influence by Robert Cialdini 3 times, and Traction by Gabriel Weinberg twice, so if number of times read indicates favor, then those are it. There are a whole bunch others like The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman, Confession of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy, The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, and Running Lean by Ash Maurya that I’ve also enjoyed and recommend to people.

Selecting one non business book is also tough. Recently finished up Sapiens: A brief history of humankind, and that was “wow”. Always interesting to dive into human behavior, and history for clarity on how we got here, and why we are the way we are (culture, society, e.t.c). Guns, Germs, and Steel was also a good one. Most philosophy books also fit my “favorite” bucket. One in particular that stands out for me is The shortness of life by Seneca. It’s very short (the book). You can listen to the audio for free on Youtube.


Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

There was a moment where I was on a quest for self discovery. I’d felt lost, and wasn’t sure if I was who I was because I made the decision to be me, or if my identity was programmed by culture, society, and setting. From that, I started reading self help books to reconstruct identity, and mold who I wanted to be. A few books that helped were:

All books above played a role in helping define self.

Here are quotes from some:

Every man is what he is, because of the dominating thoughts which he permits to occupy his mind.” – Think and Grow Rich

Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.” – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Ask questions instead of giving orders.” – How to Win Friends and Influence People

At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.” – The Alchemist

Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for years because you are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what you are. Expressing what you are is taking action.” – The Four Agreements

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

A lot of the books I listed above have had a huge impact on me. Sapiens had a ton of “mind blowing” moments. One is the evolution of humankind. We moved from evolving biologically, to evolving through culture and ideas. Once we could spread knowledge via language, society/culture grew exponentially.

Influence made me realize we humans have a tendency to reduce complexity into simple signals, which can be triggered by psychological hacks.

All self helps books made me realize we are in control, not society, not our parents, not anyone, and it’s up to you as an individual to set guiding principles and core values to build your life around.


What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

No matter what path you want to take, or what you want to do in life, the key is knowing multiple things.

Like Charlie Munger once said: “I’ve long believed that a certain system – which almost any intelligent person can learn – works way better than the systems most people use [to understand the world]”. What you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And, with that system, things gradually fit together in a way that enhances cognition. Just as multiple factors shape every system, multiple mental models from a variety of disciplines are necessary to understand that system… You have to realize the truth of biologist Julian Huxley’s idea that, “Life is just one damn relatedness after another. So you must see the relatedness and effects from the relatedness. It’s kind of fun to sit here and outthink people who are way smarter than you are because you’ve trained yourself to be more objective and more multidisciplinary. Furthermore, there is a lot of money in it, as I can testify from my own personal experience.

Some books you can read to start building a “latticework of mental models in your head” are all the books listed above, and:

Business (Read more biographies, less “business” books)

Marketing and sales


Psychology/Human Behavior/Social Science

There are a ton more, but the overall idea (latticework of mental models) is to dive into multiple domains to understand how things work, then connect dots. If you’d like more book suggestions check out my reading list, or Goodreads list.


I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I try to read everyday… doesn’t always happen. I prefer paperback, there are less distractions, and it’s a nice break from screens. When traveling I usually carry my iPad, and 1-2 paperback books of whatever I’m reading at that time. I also listen to audiobooks while driving, or doing tasks that require minimal cognitive effort.


How do you make time for reading?

I try to make time for it everyday. Sometimes it’s an hour when I wake up, or an hour before bed. Other times it’s 20 minutes in between things, it varies. My daily reading goal is to read something out of a book—online doesn’t count—for a minimum of 30 minutes per day.


Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

I’ve tried a ton of things like note taking, writing in books, highlighting, but realized I never went back to review. Now I just read. My objective when reading now is not to cram all the information, but to look for little nuggets I can use. If I’m able to take away 1-3 things from a book that can be used in my everyday, I view that as a win.


How do you choose what books to read next?

I generally follow blind spots in my understanding/comprehension of things. If something comes up that I’m not familiar with, or I have a very shallow understanding of, I’ll usually order 2-4 books on the topic to gain more clarity.


Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

Not really. Last list I pulled from was “The most-gifted and recommended books of all guests” from Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. Majority of the books were already on my list, but after reading the list, I moved Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari to the top and read ’em.


Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

Links where you can follow Ola Olusoga or find out more about his/her projects:

  • Ola Olusoga’s website
  • Ola’s Twitter account
  • Ola’s Linkedin account
  • Populum
  • Populum’s story on Indie Hackers

  • Books mentioned by Ola Olusoga in this interview:

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