I’ve always enjoyed reading, and here are some of the most formative books I read after graduating from business school.
If you’re looking for gift ideas for entrepreneurs, these might be worth a look!
The 4-Hour Workweek
The biggest takeaway from this book is the 80-20 rule: the principle that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the effort. And importantly, on the converse, 80% of the effort only accomplishes 20% of the results that matter.
Ferriss recommends doing an analysis of which of your activities, either at home or at work, get results — ie. generate the most happiness or the most profit. Once you’ve figured that out, cut out the stuff that just kills time. The argument is that life is short and should be spent wisely.
If a certain task isn’t generating a great return financially, professionally, personally, or emotionally, why do it?
I found this principle to be true at the UW Business School. Every class was graded on an inflated curve, and was packed with type-A business majors who all wanted to be at the top. The effort required to beat them all and earn a 4.0 was exponentially more than the effort required to adequately learn the material and earn a 3.8. In other words, those last .2 grade points required a far greater time investment than they were worth.
One of Ferriss’s examples of a high-time-cost, low-return activity was reading or watching the news. How often do you come across a news story that really, truly affects your life in an actionable way? Almost never. And when something big comes along, like an earthquake or a 9-11, you’ll hear about anyway.
The Art of the Start
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki is required reading for entrepreneurs in any stage of their start-up. He covers everything from choosing a name to pitching venture capitalists to changing the world. The book is all about keeping the balance between your revolutionary game-changing ideas and your modesty.
Guy is the founder of Garage Technology Ventures, a venture capital firm. In his capacity as CEO, he’s sat through hundreds of pitches from start-ups that all think they’ve got what it takes to be the next big thing in Silicon Valley.
Companies like Google are newsworthy because that kind of success is rare. The ones that succeed, he argues, are the ones that ground their “curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting, patent-pending” technology with real business sense.
The book was a quick read and was full of useful business tidbits both on the high-level, aim-for-the-stars strategy stuff, and on the day-to-day details of how to build a company. Recommended for start-ups, intrapreneurs (people starting a new project within an existing company), and non-profits.
In Outliers, Gladwell tries to explain the root causes of success. His examples include youth sports leagues, musical prodigies, software billionaires, New York lawyers, airplane pilots, and more. Using such wide a breadth of success-samples, he breaks down each story into a series of surprising building blocks that ultimately determined the person’s success.
Gladwell wants to dispel the myths of the self-made man and the rags-to-riches stories we all love to read. I think we like these stories because they promote the proud hard-working individualism America is known for. But the truth is there is always more than meets the eye in these stories, and Gladwell pulls back the curtain for us all to see.
Work ethic and IQ are indeed important, but only to a certain point.
They are your ticket-to-ride so to speak. Beyond that, an array of external, “community” factors play a large role in determining success.
For example, I had no excuse NOT to do well in school. One reason was that I was born at the start of the school year, giving me almost a full year developmental head-start over some of my classmates. (In Washington, the cutoff was Sept. 1st.)
Bryn –with her August birthday– was the true Outlier, achieving academic success in spite of her early disadvantage.
Other “community” factors included social-economic status, cultural legacy, and sometimes just random dumb-luck. Gladwell argues that while Bill Gates is a very intelligent and talented software entrepreneur, a series of random, lucky events helped put him at the top of the Forbes richest-person list.
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping was recommended in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time, and it sounded interesting so I checked it out from the library. Paco Underhill is the founder of Envirosell, a retail research and consulting firm with tons of big-name clients. And while Underhill wrote this book for retailers, but it is equally entertaining from a shopper’s perspective. Read it, and you won’t be able to look at a store the same way again.
Why We Buy
Underhill and his team of researchers have spent years (decades now) observing how shoppers interact with the retail environment and they’ve collected obscene amounts of data and video tape — literally creating a science around the fascinating world of commerce.
What they found was that there a dozens of factors that can impact a purchase decision, some more obvious than others.
Next time you go shopping pay attention to some things. Is there signage immediately inside the door? If so, it is poorly placed: most people blow right past it without noticing.
What merchandise is just past the entryway and to the right? This is prime real estate and should be filled with high-margin, featured products.
Do you spend more time shopping when you’re alone or with someone else? Do you find yourself buying more after talking with an employee? Of the clothing articles you try on, how many do you buy?
Some very interesting tidbits in here. Like how Blockbuster started “spiking” the cart of recently returned videos with older movies to encourage multiple rentals, and rentals of videos that had been paid for years ago.
Or like how Victoria’s Secret sold more underwear by putting out a big table display and advertising 4 pairs for $20. The normal price? $5 a piece.
Made to Stick
Chip and Dan Heath look at the common characteristics of “sticky” ideas, and actually present them in a pretty “sticky” way.
At its heart, Made to Stick is about how to communicate more effectively. And in that sense, it has application for a wide audience: CEOs, parents, job-interviewers, teachers, politicians, marketers, etc. The book makes it’s SUCCES message stick by using a series of stories that employ the same characteristics.
For example, they explore Subway’s Jared campaign as a perfect example of a sticky idea.
- It’s simple: Eat Subway sandwiches and lose weight.
- It’s unexpected: A guy loses lots of weight by eating fast food.
- It’s concrete: The photos of Jared holding up his old oversized pants.
- It’s credible: Actual results from a non-celebrity spokesperson.
- It’s emotional: The guy turned his life around.
- It’s a story: Jared’s story is an inspirational one about overcoming the odds.
Remember the red paperclip guy? Another example of a very sticky idea not mentioned in the book.
Sticky ideas spread farther and faster, inspire action, and can make a lot of money for the people behind them. I’m thinking of what changes I could make to my advertising or website copy to make it stickier.
Peak is written by San Francisco boutique hotelier Chip Conley, and he argues that companies are better off appealing to higher-tier needs of their employees, customers, and investors.
Think about where you work. Is it a job or a career? Does it pay the bills or does it let you pursue your passions? Or both?
Conley’s Employee Pyramid includes money at the base, recognition in the middle, and meaning at the top. (Similar to Daniel Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.)
Basically it’s saying that doing meaningful work or getting to see the big picture, and recognition for a job well done are critical parts of an employee’s overall “compensation” package. In companies with high employee turnover, it’s probably safe to say they are neglecting one or more of these elements.
On the customer side of things, merely meeting the needs of customers isn’t enough. Great companies, the book says, meet customer’s desires, and — at the top of the pyramid — meet unconscious needs.
For investors, the book recommends investing in something you believe in, and reaping a great ROI in more than just dollars.
Orbiting the Giant Hairball
Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace was recommended in The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. Author Gordon MacKenzie was a 30-year veteran of Hallmark, and offers up a unique perspective on navigating the corporate landscape and climbing the proverbial ladder.
It’s clear from the very beginning this is not another one of your “standard” business books. There are doodles in the margin on nearly every page, and sometimes the doodles are in fact part of the text.
Entire chapters are told through sketches and scrawling handwriting. No bullet-points, no lecturing, no advice. Just a new way to look at some common truths about organizations.
For example, the entire text of Chapter 19 reads: “Orville Wright did not have a pilot’s license.”
MacKenzie describes traditional corporations as Hairballs, with each rule, regulation, procedure, layer of management, and bureaucracy as hairs adding to the entangled mess of the Hairball. To thrive, he argues, you can’t allow yourself to be caught up in the Hairball; instead, you must orbit.
There’s a fine line between orbiting and launching yourself off into deep space, which usually ends up getting you fired. While orbiting, you afford yourself the creativity to perform at your best and still be responsible to the overall goals of the organization.
The book is really a series of kooky stories from MacKenzie’s Hallmark experience and from his creativity workshops. I liked the stories, and they always seemed to have a pertinent business metaphor.
In one example, MacKenzie tells a story about going to see a championship pool match, in which the professional player sinks all the balls with amazing ease. Having expected to witness a much more challenging feat of skill, the author was disappointed. Later, he came to the conclusion that the work was easy because the man was incredibly good at his job.
The unwritten assumption was that if you’re constantly working really hard, maybe you’re not that good at your job.
The Other 8 Hours
The premise of The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose by Robert Pagliarini is if you sleep for 8 hours, and work for another 8 hours, you really only have the remaining 8 hours each day to truly “live.”
What you choose to do with that time largely determines your physical health, the quality of your relationships, your financial success, and your personal fulfillment.
The Other 8 Hours serves as a great reminder that everyone on earth starts with the same input (time), yet we achieve vastly different outputs based on how we spend that time.
Ideologically, the book falls somewhere between Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek. All three begin with the near-universal truth that nobody gets rich working a 9-5, and then branch off on their different paths on how to overcome that.
While Kiyosaki focuses more on investment strategies and Ferriss discusses automation and mandatory ignorance/isolation, Pagliarini offers some concrete actions that everyone can take to improve their personal and financial lives. Since he’s not as extreme as Ferriss, I think this book will find a broader appeal.
I found the book full of inspirational stories from entrepreneurs and others who have escaped the rat race. Pagliarini shares a lot of tips on how to free up more time, leverage your talents, and squeeze more productivity from each day. He gets a little preachy toward the end, but it’s hard not to after 200 pages of rah-rah motivational, take charge of your life prose. Even if you take away just one positive idea from the book, it’s well worth the read.
Every minute that goes by is one you’ll never get back. Are you doing what you want to be doing?
And if you read nothing else, read page 183. :-)
The main premise of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions is that while economists like to think that people behave rationally, we don’t, and Ariely’s book is full of examples and studies to prove it.
I thought it was a pretty interesting read, especially as someone who considers himself rational and analytical.
In one chapter, Ariely describes the power of relativity. If we make a million dollars a year but all our neighbors make two million, we still feel poor.
Shoppers selecting a $20 book will probably drive a couple miles to another book store if the same book is on sale for $10. But put them at Best Buy shopping for a $1000 TV, and the same customer is unlikely to drive a couple miles to Walmart to get the same TV for $990.
In the first example, they’ve already shown their time and mileage is worth $10. Why should it be any different for a bigger purchase? $10 is still $10.
Another interesting chapters was on the power of placebos. During a couple studies, patients underwent fake surgeries and reported the same health improvements as patients who received the real procedures. I guess the results turned out the same, but what hospitals were doing these fake surgeries?!
There was a similar section about the price of medicine, and how an inexpensive Advil might be ineffective on a headache, but a fancy and expensive designer drug with the same ibuprofen ingredient works wonders.
Ariely made an interesting connection here about health care reform. Since the cost of treatment clearly plays a role in how a patient feels, what will happen if it becomes “free” or available at reduced cost?
All Marketers Are Liars
This title comes with a clever bit of irony from Godin, a master marketer himself. He goes on to explain that “All Marketers are Storytellers” would have been a more accurate title, but far less marketable.
The book shares some interesting examples of good and bad marketing. In politics, Godin argues that John Kerry lost the 2004 election because of his failure to tell a consistent story, despite running against a president with the lowest approval ratings of any winning incumbent. When a strong marketer (like Obama) should have won easily, Kerry failed.
He goes on to talk about the marketing success of SUVs in the 1990s and early 2000s. Car companies told a story about ruggedness, safety, and independence that struck a chord with millions of customers who suddenly found their minivans obsolete.
Here is Godin’s checklist for successful marketers:
- Your marketing must tell a consistent story. That means having product, price, placement, and promotion all aligned.
- Your marketing must resonate with a certain worldview of your customers.
- If your product or service is unique and the message powerful, customers will naturally tell others about it. Godin calls this idea a Purple Cow, which is the subject of another of his books.
It’s pretty short (under 200 pages), and worthwhile if you’re in a marketing or sales role.
Delivering Happiness is part autobiography, part Zappos company history, and part human psychology study. Author Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) writes in down-to-earth prose with a dry sense of humor that makes his incredible story pretty fun to read.
He doesn’t come across as the rah-rah, rally-the-troops, vocal leader or figure-head, larger-than-life style CEO you might expect to set a 10-year goal of a billion dollars in sales. In the middle of the dot.com crash.rat
For me, the most interesting parts of the book were the sections Hsieh wrote about his life leading up to Zappos, and about Zappos’s struggle for survival its the early years. Hsieh talks at length about his early entrepreneurial ventures, from worm farmer, to button-maker, to restaurateur.
He’s obviously an incredibly smart and talented person, but with trademark modesty just glosses over various details that might be construed as bragging: “I applied to Brown, UC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Princeton, Cornell, Yale, and Harvard. I got into all of them,” he writes as if this were typical. You didn’t?
After Harvard, Hsieh got a job at Oracle, but quickly became bored. With a friend, he started a company called LinkExchange, which Microsoft bought 3 years later for $265 million. Hsieh was 24.
With his newfound millions, Hsieh started his own venture capital firm in San Francisco. One of the companies the firm invested in was Zappos.com, which had the preposterous idea of selling shoes over the Internet. Those who’ve taken the Zappos tour in Henderson, NV, will have already learned that catalog shoe sales were a $2 billion business at the time, so the Zappos founders were onto something, and maybe not as crazy as everyone thought.
Ultimately Hsieh came on board the Zappos team as CEO and helped fuel their crazy growth and even crazier culture. I feel like I’m pretty close to Zappos and have a good relationship with the company having worked with them as an affiliate for several years. I’ve read a lot about them, visited their headquarters, and sold a ton of shoes for them.
What I didn’t realize was how close the company came to bankruptcy early on. At one point they were within a couple weeks of running out of cash and going under. Pretty stressful stuff.
Some people describe Zappos’ culture as cult-ish, and there’s certainly some truth to that. But whatever. You can’t knock it because it’s clearly working great. Employees love it, customers love it, and investors loved it. Win-win-win. Well some investors didn’t love it, but they made a great return so it was probably ok. This was one reason for last year’s sale to Amazon.
Why is culture so important at Zappos? Because culture = brand, and every other element of a successful company’s business can and eventually will be copied.
Zag is author Marty Neumeier’s “whiteboard overview” of branding and marketing.
I didn’t know what “whiteboard overview” meant, but I was pleased to discover it meant a short book with extra-large font and lots of pictures. Neumeier argues that a company’s biggest competitor isn’t their rival from across town, but rather the enormous amount of clutter in the marketplace.
The only way to stand out when everyone else is zigging is to zag.
If Seth Godin’s Purple Cow is the textbook on “radical differentiation,” Zag is the executive summary.
For me, these were some of the key takeaways:
- “Hit ’em where they ain’t.” Find new markets, or “white space,” to carve out a niche in a saturated environment.
- “Find a parade and get in front of it.” Take advantage of trends.
- “Be the only _____.” Do what no one else does.
I thought it was a very cool read and got some valuable ideas for the biz.
Words That Work
In his book Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear, author Frank Luntz discusses the most effective language for marketers, business leaders, and politicians.
Still, there are plenty of examples of how simply re-wording certain phrases can produce dramatically different levels of interest, support, and buy-in. Where this is most funny is when the end result is the same, but the words make us feel better about it.
According to Luntz’s polls, support for “energy exploration” is much higher than “drilling for oil.” Also, a small percentage of the population would “deny” emergency room care for illegal immigrants, but a significantly larger percentage would “not give” care. A majority of America opposes “privatizing” social security, but politicians can gain support when they talk about “personalizing” it instead.
The takeaway is that subtle changes in language make a big difference in how a message is understood. Same choices, different phrasing, and different result. Interesting stuff.
For sales and marketing people, here’s the list of words Luntz says have widespread appeal in 21st century America:
- Can-Do Spirit
- Renew / Revitalize / Rejuvenate / Restore / Rekindle / Reinvent
- Efficient / Efficiency
- The Right To ______
- Customer-Centered / Patient-Centered
- Investment (vs. talking about cost, price, spend)
- Casual Elegance
- Peace of Mind
- All-American (vs. overt patriotism)
- Financial Security
- A Balanced Approach
- A Culture Of _______
Gary Vaynerchuk sensed there was a huge business opportunity in wine, learned everything he could about it, shared that knowledge and passion about wine with the world in a home-made video-blog (Wine Library TV).
It became a huge viral hit, which turned him into something of a social media celebrity (over 850,000 twitter followers), which led to speaking engagements (I saw him at Affiliate Summit last year), which led to his lucrative book deal (7 figures for 10 books), which led to Crush It! Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion.
It’s a short book, easy to read, and his voice really comes through the pages. In fact, he reveals it is actually him talking, not writing; he dictated the whole thing.
There’s a fair share of the standard motivational “life’s too short to work a job you don’t love” stuff, but the book actually does contain some pretty practical advice on how to do what he did.
Which leads to my question: is that what I want to do?
There is no doubt Gary is an extremely hard worker, having basically built his entire empire with his own sweat equity. (For full disclosure, his family’s liquor and wine store was already a successful business, but he definitely catapulted it to the next level.)
He’ll still reply to literally every twitter message he gets, even though he’ll soon have over a million followers. He’s crazy, but he loves it, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Crush It! is the anti-4-Hour-Workweek.
Take my shoe site for example. Although I’m really excited about the business itself, I’ll never be known as the in-your-face passionate shoe guy.
And I’m OK with that.
I’m not after fame and fortune and speaking engagements and book deals. All that sounds like a lot of extra stress, when I think I can be happy and comfortable and successful without it.
But if you want to be the next twitter-lebrity, there’s probably no better guidebook. Spoiler alert: Want to know Gary’s “best marketing strategy ever?”
Care. It was a brilliant one-word chapter.
The Rational Optimist
If you’ve grown tired of the steady drumbeat of fear and pessimism that dominates our media and politics, Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves is the book for you. Ridley argues that humans are better off today than at any point in history, and that despite all the naysayers, the evidence points to advancing prosperity tomorrow.
The Rational Optimist takes a long look at human history that I found pretty in-depth and pretty academic.
Being a history nerd I thought it was interesting but it might be a little drawn out for others. Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal would definitely be a helpful prerequisite. Ridley’s basic theory is that free trade and open communication creates a “collective intelligence” that leads to an exponential increase in ideas, technology, and living standards.
The best government he argues, is one that regulates capital markets, but remains largely uninvolved in markets of goods and services. Politicians should promote commerce by minimizing red tape, eliminating protective tariffs, investing in infrastructure, and then getting out of the way.
The gloom and doom bandwagon has been a popular one for centuries. Each generation is armed with a new disaster-de-jour and the sensationalist media is happy to indulge it’s spokespeople. Ridley tackles famine, disease, overpopulation, global warming, and other problems — doing his best to debunk each one.
The Rational Optimist is an interesting read and a welcome change of pace from all the negativity. At least one academic has a well thought-out positive outlook on the future! We can’t know what the next centuries bring, but we can learn from what’s worked and not worked in our past.
In many ways, Jim Kukral’s book Attention! This Book Will Make You Money: How to Use Attention-Getting Online Marketing To Increase Your Revenue is like Zag or Purple Cow — you’ve got to be different to get noticed.
Attention! is written mostly in short 2-3 page chapters, which makes the pages fly by. It’s packed with case studies of people and companies going out on a limb and finding success. By daring to try something different and maybe a little dangerous, their stories went viral and got them tons of cheap publicity.
That’s when I thought the book was at its best, when it was providing these concrete examples of what other entrepreneurs have done — and there are lots.
Because of this writing style, there’s not much flow or progression to keep it all together. It’s more like a stream of examples and ideas, but that worked out fine for my short attention span.
Attention! focuses on the online world of affiliate marketing, social media, and web video, but offers practical applications of good marketing for offline businesses too.
It made me think about what kind of marketing efforts I could put in place to gain some positive word-of-mouth.
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
The world was a different place in 1993, when The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing was published. But if these laws are really “immutable,” I figured they should stand the test of time and still be relevant in the web 2.0 era. Some of the examples (a lot of the examples) are pretty dated but there are some good lessons in here for business owners and marketing professionals.
The authors Al Ries and Jack Trout are/were considered some the world’s most famous marketing strategists. Their other publications include Marketing Warfare, Positioning, and the similarly titled The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.
In the Laws of Marketing, they lay out the proven “laws” of the marketing world, and advise companies to “violate them at [their] own risk!”
The laws are presented succinctly (the entire book is only 130 pages), and backed up with real-world examples. Unfortunately for me, most of those examples are from the 1970s and 1980s, so I wasn’t too familiar with them. There is a lot of discussion of Coke/Pepsi, GM, IBM — big companies that found success by obeying the laws, and met with failure by breaking them.
One interesting example they cite is when car manufacturers put out ads proclaiming their quality. These ads are pointless, they say, since no company stands for poor quality. When people buy a new car, regardless of the brand, they expect it to be of high quality — otherwise they wouldn’t buy it.
Ries and Trout believe that perception is reality; if the public believes your cars are crap, no amount of advertising can change their mind. Changes in perception can take years, and best achieved through word-of-mouth and personal experience. Tough to do if no one is buying your cars.
Let me save you the trouble and list the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing here:
- The Law of Leadership: It’s better to be first than to be better. Think Coca Cola, Gatorade, Neil Armstrong, Tylenol, Band-Aid, Hertz, Kleenex, etc. The first-mover advantage is alive and well.
- The Law of the Category: If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in. The example given is Charles Scwhab — not just another broker, but the first discount broker.
- The Law of the Mind: It’s better to be first in the mind than to be first in the marketplace. In a seeming contradiction to Law #1, the authors admit a “fast follower” with a bigger marketing budget can overcome the first-mover advantage.
- The Law of Perception: Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions. In America, Toyota and Honda are viewed roughly as equals, and sell a similar number of cars. In Japan, Toyota outsells Honda 4 to 1 (at least in 1993). The reason? In Japan, even though they make fine cars, Honda is viewed primarily as a motorcycle company. Would you buy a car from Harley-Davidson?
- The Law of Focus: The most powerful concept in marketing is owning a word in the prospect’s mind. FedEx owns “overnight”, Crest “cavities”, and Volvo “safety”.
- The Law of Exclusivity: Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind. If McDonald’s owns “fast”, Burger King can’t chase it — their marketing dollars are better spent on “have it your way” or “flame-broiled.”
- The Law of the Ladder: The strategy to use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder. Famously, Avis is #2 so they “try harder.”
- The Law of Duality: In the long run, every market becomes a two-horse race. The authors cite examples like Energizer and Duracell, Coke and Pepsi, McDonalds and Burger King, but I’m skeptical about this one. I think we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of options available to consumers. Call it the long tail, markets of one, or micro-niches, I think this is the most-dated of their examples.
- The Law of the Opposite: If you’re shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader. Scope famously attacked Listerine’s bad taste by branding itself the good-tasting mouthwash.
- The Law of Division: Over time, a category will divide into two or more categories. Here is where they acknowledge the emergence of niche markets. The auto industry that started with one high-volume Model T has evolved into one with a car for every lifestyle, in every size, function, and price range.
- The Law of Perspective: Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time.
- The Law of Line Extension: There’s an irresistible pressure to extend the equity of the brand. For every Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, a little bit of the original dies.
- The Law of Sacrifice: You have to give up something in order to get something. Basically you can’t be everything to everyone, so stop trying.
- The Law of Attributes: For every attribute, there is an opposite, effective attribute. Since Coke had been around for 100 years, Pepsi successfully invented the “Pepsi Generation” to attract a younger demographic.
- The Law of Candor: When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive. One example cited is Listerine: “The taste you hate twice a day.”
- The Law of Singularity: In each situation, only one move will produce substantial results. This chapter was kind of confusing. I took it to be an argument for consistency in your message… but only if it is the right message. There was a lot of warfare metaphors; I think it went over my head.
- The Law of Unpredictability: Unless you write your competitors’ plans, you can’t predict the future. Another confusing chapter about how company’s short-term financial pressures screw up their long-term marketing strategy.
- The Law of Success: Success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance to failure. Early success doesn’t guarantee longevity in the marketplace. A rant against complacency.
- The Law of Failure: Failure is to be expected and accepted. Not every new idea will be a hit, but many corporate cultures discourage innovation by singling out risk-takers. As a result, the company plays it safe in a changing market and loses.
- The Law of Hype: The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press. With few exceptions, if the media loves a new product, it rarely lives up to the hype. The Chevy Volt comes to mind; it seems like we’ve been reading about it for years, yet the numbers aren’t impressive.
- The Law of Acceleration: Successful programs are not built on fads, they’re built on trends. Ride a trend for sustained long-term growth.
- The Law of Resources: Without adequate funding an idea won’t get off the ground. This was much more relevant in 1993. Today, viral marketing and social media offer viable, low-cost alternatives to expensive mass media advertising.
The 4-Hour Body
I recently powered through Tim Ferriss’ latest opus, The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman. At 500+ pages, it’s a pretty serious endeavor, but moves along quickly by mixing up the storytelling and the science.
The book recounts Ferriss’ 10-year mission to “hack” the human body to find what combination of diet, exercise, and supplements yielded the greatest results in the least amount of time. Like The 4-Hour Work Week (his previous best-seller) challenged our workaholic culture, The 4-Hour Body challenges the conventional wisdom on how to optimize your time in the gym and trick your system into producing the results you want.
In that sense, the book has great appeal. If there’s a way to work smarter, not harder, I’m all for it. If there’s a better way to get in shape than toiling for hours at the gym, let’s hear it.
Here are some of the simplest takeaways:
- Take a cold shower to increase your metabolism for the day. Or, if that’s too much, just chug two glasses of ice water first thing in the morning.
- Don’t do traditional “cardio” — 30 minutes on the treadmill, stairclimber, stationary bike, etc. Instead do sprint intervals to improve your aerobic threshold.
- Don’t waste time with sit-ups.
- To gain strength, lift heavier weight for fewer reps. Train to the point of failure to promote muscle gains.
- Do 1-2 minutes light calisthenics before meals.
- Men: don’t keep your cell phone in your pocket if you want to have babies.
- Avoid bread, rice, pasta, and cereal except right after a workout.
- Donate blood to save lives and reduce excess iron in your system.
It’s an entertaining read. There’s a section about how much of our sleep-time is wasted. Apparently, in a typical night’s sleep, only a couple hour’s worth are the super-restorative REM sleep. If you deprive your body of sleep long enough, it can be trained to enter REM-mode almost instantly.
That means that just 6 20-minute naps evenly spaced throughout the day can provide the same energizing value as a traditional 8-hour night. One famous user of this method was Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress, the software that runs this site.
If you’re ambitious, there are specific and detailed training routines to:
- Add 100 lbs to your bench press max in 6 months.
- Hold your breath for 3 minutes or more.
- Run a 50k race in 12 weeks of training.
- How to add 34 lbs of muscle in a month.
- How to lose 20 lbs in a month (no exercise required).
Some parts are pretty academic. After all, there’s a lot of biochemistry going on. Still,The 4-Hour Body introduces us to the world of elite athletes and coaches, and explores their unconventional yet incredibly successful methods. Since it jumps around from topic-to-topic so much, there’s no time to get bored.
There’s even a section about how to hit for more power (generate more bat speed) by focusing on a couple mid-swing arm angles. We’ll see if works come softball season.
Author Drew Eric Whitman was a keynote speaker at January’s Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas (which I did not attend), so I thought it would be worthwhile to check out his book, Ca$hvertising: How to Use More Than 100 Secrets of Ad-Agency Psychology to Make Big Money Selling Anything to Anyone.
If the conference organizers found his message to be pertinent, I probably would too, I reasoned.
Cashvertising reminds us that advertising is a pragmatic science; it’s purpose is to sell, not to be clever or creative or funny. Whitman provides tons of examples of good ads and dozens of how-to tutorials. Everything is backed up by both practical and academic research.
Some parts were very interesting, particularly the parts about appealing to customer’s deep-seated psychological needs and wants, and how to squeeze the most effectiveness out of the smallest ad.
Rework, by 37signals co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, is a series of short essays on business minimalism and how to run a lean, effective, and profitable company.
Since the chapters are only a page or two long, it goes really quick and there is useful insight throughout. Among them: embrace simplicity, question growth for growth’s sake, and stop business planning.
The authors argue that the constant pressure to add features, add employees, and add structure is counterproductive. Small and lean means fast and agile. You can’t be everything to everyone, but if you can still be valuable to customers, that’s good enough.
It’s similar in theme to one of my favorite quotes: “Perfection is the enemy of good enough.” I liked the writing style and the content, and got some good takeaways.
Some people might find the tone a little arrogant at times, but the authors have earned the right to speak with some authority on the subject. With just a skeleton crew of employees, 37signals builds software that is used by millions of people (most notably the project management/collaboration tool basecamp) and makes tons of money.
The Thank You Economy
Social media has given customers their voice back, Gary Vaynerchuk explains in The Thank You Economy. If you read his last book, Crush It!, you might recall his perfectly succinct chapter on the “best marketing strategy ever”:
That was it, a one-word chapter. The Thank You Economy is basically the sequel to that chapter or at least an expansion of it. Specifically Vaynerchuk discusses how this is a great opportunity for companies large and small to build lasting and valuable relationships with their customers.
- Why companies need to care about their customers (to survive and thrive)
- Who should do the caring (everyone, not just customer service)
- Where to care (in person and online)
- When to care (always and immediately)
- How to care (be genuine)
The Go Giver
If you like business books, it’s definitely a worthwhile read. The Go-Giver does an excellent job of explaining that which we intrinsically know, but don’t often think about. The big “Trade Secret?” Giving.
It seems counter-intuitive, but every great company achieved success by giving customers tremendous value. For Ford, it was affordable and reliable personal transportation. For Amazon, it was a convenient and easy way to shop from home. For Apple, it was 10,000 songs in your pocket.
When you focus on creating value, the money follows. These companies aren’t hurting for profit. Consider RetailMeNot, the greatest affiliate success story in history. They compile coupon information from thousands of online stores, give it away to customers for free, and happen to be insanely profitable.
Lots of good stuff:
“Ultimately, the world treats you more or less the way you expect to be treated.”
The Five Laws of Stratospheric Success:
- The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment. It’s not about losing money or even having the lowest prices. Louis Vuitton can sell $1000 handbags because their customers get even more value from owning them.
- The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them. How can you scale your value?
- The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other people’s interests first.
- The Law of Authenticity: The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.
- The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving. Because there are two parties to every transaction.
So, what can you give?
Start Something That Matters
TOMS, Shoes for a Better Tomorrow, is a remarkable brand. Everyone knows TOMS and everyone loves TOMS. If you’re not familiar with their story, they give a pair of shoes away for every pair they sell.
Did you know they’ve only been around since 2006? It’s hard to believe, but I think illustrates the strength of a powerful story.
As a charity, TOMS is terribly inefficient. Other organizations help far more people for far less money. But that’s the beauty of TOMS — it’s not a charity.
It’s a for-profit company with a do-good story.
And it’s a good reminder that economic growth has lifted more people out of poverty than every charity, welfare program and NGO combined. Non-profits have their place, but the profit-seeking companies typically generate more innovative solutions to the problems of the worlds poor (as argued in Capitalism at the Crossroads).
The book is a quick and interesting read, especially if you’re interested in how TOMS got started. It’s inspirational in that it makes you wonder what other businesses the “one-for-one” model could be applied to.
The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class
Bryn and I listened to The Top 10 Distinctions Between Millionaires and the Middle Class during our drive home from Seattle. It only took about 2 hours to hear the audiobook version so you could probably knock out the paper version in under an hour. It would be worth your time.
- The poor seek to survive.
- The middle class seek comfort.
- The rich seek freedom.
It’s not a how-to book or a get-rich-quick manual. Success is a journey, the author explains.
And since you probably don’t want to read the book, here are the 10 Distinctions. How many of these apply to you?
- Millionaires Think Long-Term. The poor think day to day or week to week. The middle class think month to month. The rich think year to year or even decade to decade.
- Millionaires Think Ideas. The poor and middle class are consumed by things and other people.
- Millionaires Embrace Change. The poor and middle class are threatened by change.
- Millionaires Take Calculated Risks. When evaluating an opportunity, ask yourself three questions. What’s the best thing that could happen? What’s the worst thing that could happen? What’s the most likely thing to happen? If you can live with the worst thing, and the most likely thing if positive, maybe it’s a risk worth taking.
- Millionaires Continue Learning. School may end, but education never stops.
- Millionaires Work for Profits. The poor and middle class work for wages, while someone else profits.
- Millionaires are Generous. See The Go-Giver above.
- Millionaires Develop Multiple Income Streams. The poor and middle class rely on just one or two, and they’re usually trading hours for dollars.
- Millionaires Think Net Worth. The poor and middle class think paychecks.
- Millionaires Ask Empowering Questions. Think “How can I realistically double my income?” vs. “How can I get a raise at work?” “What would make my life more meaningful?” vs. “What is the meaning of life?”
The Art of Non-Conformity
The Art of Non-Conformity is something of a manifesto for those caught up in thinking there’s got to be an alternative to a 30-40 year “career”, a 30-year mortgage, and 2-4 weeks of vacation a year.
I like to buy into this stuff. Maybe it’s a generational thing.
Author Chris Guillebeau profiles his own story, from volunteering 4 years in Africa to wasting tens of thousands of dollars on a graduate school education (from UW!). He talks about his successes and challenges as a virtual business owner, a “travel hacker” and a writer.
His goal is to visit every country on Earth before he’s 35, and I’m confident he’ll make it happen.
The message has hit home for a lot of readers, which led to Chris creating the World Domination Summit, an annual meeting of the minds in Portland. I thought it might be interesting to attend, but then found out it sold out in a matter of minutes.
As you might expect, the book has a lot of feel-good fluff, but I still found some nice tidbits.
On life planning:
“It’s kind of like planning a wedding, but more important. There’s nothing wrong with planning for a big, meaningful day; I just think it’s even better to plan for a big, meaningful life.”
This is something Bryn and I talk about a lot. There’s so much focus on this one event (weddings, graduations, promotions, babies, buying a house etc), that not much attention is paid to what happens next.
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.” –Elbert Hubbard
I’ve made plenty. Thankfully most are not life-threatening. If it doesn’t work, go back and try something else.
“I’d like to live as a poor man, with lots of money.” –Pablo Picasso
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take there you there.” –Alice in Wonderland
Sounds familiar… the challenge is figuring out where you want to go in a world filled with exciting choices.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
So all-in-all, it’s a good read and I’d put it in the inspirational / aspirational category. Unfortunately it’s a little light on the “how-to” but I think that’s the point; some things you’ve got to figure out for yourself.
Getting Things Done
This book by David Allen is considered some of the leading and definitive literature on productivity.
For some readers, it’s really a life-changing experience. The book has spawned a whole GTD subculture. For reals.
First, it should be known there is a lot of good stuff in here. For dealing with your inbox for example, email or otherwise, you should apply 1 of only 4 actions: Do it, Delegate it, Defer it, or Drop it.
Allen also talks about how to make more effective to-do lists, which is good for me since I’m a to-do list junkie.
The focus is always on “what’s the next action?”
For example, my task may be to write a new blog post, but that’s not really the next action. First I’ll have to come up with an idea, do some research, and maybe do some outlining.
By identifying the next action, it helps break down complex projects into easier-to-manage chunks.
Another worthwhile section is the idea that your brain can only hold so much information at a time, but a system for retaining more “beyond capacity” is important. He talks about using a deferral filing system to get things out of sight and out of mind until it comes time to work on it.
One nugget from the end:
There are only two problems in life:
1. You know what you want, and you don’t know how to get it.
2. You don’t know what you want.
Indeed. Getting Things Done is for people with Problem #1, who want to de-clutter their minds and workspaces.
Marketing Outrageously is a good marketing book by Jon Spoelstra. He keynoted Affiliate Summit West this year, and since I missed the show, I thought I would check out his book.
Spoelstra spent most of his career in professional sports, which made the stories more interesting to read. He was GM of the Trail Blazers and then President of the New Jersey Nets, before moving on to manage a portfolio of several minor league baseball teams.
Marketing Outrageously is about attention-getting tactics that deliver strong return on investment numbers. A mass-market TV ad may increase consumer awareness, but it might not do much to help your bottom line.
What’s It Gonna Take?
Spoelstra recommends asking yourself and your team 2 questions.
The first is “what’s it gonna take?” In many cases, he argues, we ask ourselves the wrong questions that set sights too low or focus on the wrong objectives. Instead, we should ask bigger picture questions, like “what’s it gonna take to be the best-run company in our industry?”
It’s “how can I increase sales?” vs. “What’s it gonna take to be a million dollar company this year?”
What Have I Done Today?
The second question is, “What have I done to make money for my company today?” Seems simple enough but even in a one-person company it can be tough to answer sometimes.
Because the book is ROI-focused, it centers a lot on direct-response and newspaper ads, where you can more easily attribute sales to a particular marketing effort.
Among the winners in direct mail was AOL. They blanketed the country with their free trial CDs and came to dominate their larger and better-funded ISP competitors.
Southwest is cited for their “Bags Fly Free” campaign. What was standard operating procedure became a major point of differentiation when their competitors started charging for checked luggage.
Even Samuel Adams beer is credited for marketing outrageously, in part for their semi-historical name.
Good stuff, and a pertinent reminder that unless you’re GM or Coca-Cola, all advertising should have to deliver measurable return on investment.
Great by Choice
Just about everything Jim Collins puts out is required reading for business students, and Great by Choice is no exception. The central question of his latest work is, “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”
In the end, only seven companies made the cut. Among them: Microsoft, Southwest Airlines, and Progressive Insurance. The performance cutoff was 2002, which was kind of frustrating not to have more up-to-date data. It took a almost 10 years to compile all the research, but I guess the idea is that the concepts should be timeless.
Great by Choice dispels some common myths that successful businesses take more risks, rely more heavily on innovation, and even have a greater dependence on luck.
Great leaders, Collins argues, balance their ambitions with “fanatic” discipline, “empirical” creativity, and “productive” paranoia. There are some interesting case studies, including Bill Gates and a number of mountain climbing stories with strong parallels to the business world.
And since uncertainty is pretty much the only certainty these days, I think the findings are applicable beyond Corporate America as well.
Plus, you can’t go wrong with a book that quotes Eminem to introduce a chapter on how great companies generate a superior “return on luck”:
“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it? Or just let it slip?”
The Ultimate Question
The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth is about the importance of creating a positive customer experience. (duh)
The Ultimate Question is: “How likely would you be to recommend Company XYZ to a friend or colleague?”
Of all the questions on various company and customer satisfaction survey, researches have found the “would recommend” question to have to strongest correlation with long-term growth and profitability.
The book introduces the idea of the Net Promoter Score, which is essentially the percentage of very happy customers (promoters) minus the percentage of unhappy customers (detractors). Companies with high Net Promoter Scores can spend far less on advertising than their competition, because the customers serve as a powerful word-of-mouth salesforce.
Among the companies with a high NPS:
The rest of the book is heavy on survey mechanics and how to accurately measure these numbers. It’s somewhat light on how to actually achieve them, though that will vary business to business.
There are some interesting case studies, and those are the best parts.
The $100 Startup
With the subtitle “Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future,” how could you not like it?
It’s a great reminder that there’s an inner entrepreneur in all of us, and that there is a viable alternative to working for someone else your whole life.
One thing I liked about The $100 Startup was the focus on small companies. It’s far less likely you’ll score venture capital and build the next Google or Facebook, but it’s totally feasible to earn a decent living on your own without having to rely on anyone else for a paycheck.
The people featured in the book were just normal people, who took that one extra step to put themselves out there and start selling something. And after that there’s no turning back.
Just like Chris Guillebeau’s other book, The Art of Non-Conformity, it’s definitely a worthwhile read.
For an even bigger dose of inspiration, Bryn and I registered for the author’s World Domination Summit in July. Not entirely sure what to expect, but it looks really cool and the feedback for this event has been unanimously positive so we’re pretty excited for it!
In many ways, The Side Hustle Show was my $100 Startup.
The Lean Startup
The Lean Startup has been making some waves lately so I thought I would check it out. Author Eric Ries shares his wisdom and expertise about smart and effective ways to achieve business growth.
On the one hand, The Lean Startup focuses on the early stages of new ventures, whether they’re true startups, non-profits, or even new divisions of large corporations. One major premise is that of the Minimum Viable Product.
Ries explains that your MVP is probably something you’d be embarrassed to go to market with. It will be buggy and lacking features. But people will buy it anyway.
And on a small scale, you can respond to customer feedback quickly and iterate new and improved versions. In many cases, the time, income, and education gained from launching early and testing with real customers results in greater long-term value than killing months or years building the “perfect product.”
Because the perfect product is a myth. And the longer you wait to launch, the farther you may be walking down the wrong path. Figure out the mistakes early on and tweak and pivot as necessary.
The book borrows heavily from Toyota’s lean manufacturing model, and applies it to software and other industries.
In fact, there’s quite a bit of discussion about the scientific method and applying it to business. Create a hypothesis about your market or product and test it. And again and again.
Ries talks about empirical ways to measure your success and growth, rather than chasing “vanity” metrics. If a million people use your product for free but no one pays, is it a success?
In reading The Lean Startup, I felt like it was aimed more toward entrepreneurs with big-scale aspirations (as opposed to those with “lifestyle business” aspirations — like those featured in The $100 Startup). Still, an interesting read and a worthwhile one too.
Jump Start Your Business Brain
Jump Start Your Business Brain was recommended by Chris Guillebeau, and like his own books, it didn’t disappoint.
I knew I was going to like the book from the very beginning, when author Doug Hall compares startups to gambling. Measured generously, only 10-25% of new ventures succeed. In contrast, you have a 47% chance of winning at roulette.
Jump Start Your Business Brain is all about improving your odds.
The first half of the book is the strongest. There, Hall introduces the 3 Laws of Marketing Physics:
- Overt Benefit – What’s in it for the customer?
- Real Reason to Believe – Why should the customer believe you’ll deliver on your promise?
- Dramatic Difference – What sets you apart from the current solution and competition?
There are tons of examples given but let’s look at ShoeSniper instead (there are also a lot of DIY exercises):
- Overt Benefit – Save money on new shoes.
- Real Reason to Believe – We’ve been doing this for years and have helped thousands of customers just like you.
- Dramatic Difference – The only comparison engine to integrate coupon codes in the pricing.
The second part of the book is about “Capitalist Creativity” and how best to generate new ideas within organizations. This part wasn’t as interesting to me (skimmed a lot of it) but did have its moments.
For instance, one not-entirely-scientific study found that caffeine boosted idea-stimulation by 40%! Maybe I should start drinking more coffee!
What’s cool about the book is that the marketing claims are backed up by statistical data from 4000 new products and services. It helps lend credibility and an air of scholarly authority to content material that is more often just seen as intuitive or subjective.
Author Tal Ben-Shahar is a Harvard pyschology professor and his class on positive psychology has become the school’s most popular course.
Fill you days with activities you find meaningful.
That’s about it.
It could be your work, it could be writing the great American novel, it could be walking the dog, skiing, blogging, or maybe even watching TV. Pretty much anything you find fulfilling.
As a country, we are 10x more depressed than we were 50 years ago. And the average age of diagnosis is 14, down from 29 in the 1960s.
Is our modern life that much more depressing, or are we simply more aggressive about diagnosing depression (and prescribing medication to feed the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry)?
We are trained from an early age to defer happiness. Study hard so you can get into a good school, so you can get a good job, so you can get a promotion, etc. No pain, no gain, right? Only the gain is no guarantee of happiness.
Work to tip the balance of “have to-dos” vs. “want to-dos” in favor of the want to-dos. One study cited found that mothers did not particularly enjoy the time they spent taking care of their children. Possibly because it was positioned in their mind as a “have to do” that was competing with “want to do” activities.
Our propensity toward happiness is partially genetic, partially based on our surroundings (people in free societies w/ food and shelter are understandably happier than those starving and homeless under oppressive regimes), and partially based on what we do.
As explored in the Geography of Bliss (a much more entertaining read), people are capable of happiness and misery in every area of the globe. All else being equal, it’s what you do with your time that really makes a difference.
“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.” — Anne Frank
“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” — Abraham Lincoln
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci
What books have inspired your entrepreneurial education?