Hi <<First Name>>,
This month, I wanted to share some books about rethinking work. These books are mainly about entrepreneurship, but they’re useful even if you don’t own your own business yet. In them, you’ll see new ways of working with people, how the leaders of the company may or may not be thinking, and consider how you can generate income outside of your job. Author Isaac Asimov called outside income the key to his freedom at his academic job.
Maverick by Ricardo Semler
I found this book from the Basecamp team. It’s a curious business book, and despite being written decades ago, it’s still incredibly relevant today. The author, Ricardo Semler, talks about his experiences operating and leading Semco. The company goes through all sorts of changes and difficulties, and Semler writes about how his team navigated through all of them. It’s a refreshing take in the culture of hustle and overwork that we’ve grown desensitized to.
On stress: It took us almost a decade to learn that our stress was internally generated, the result of an immature organization and infantile goals.
On limits: Before I could reorganize Semco, I had to reorganize myself. Long hours were the first issue I tackled. They were one of the biggest symptoms of time sickness, a disease that afflicts far too many executives. So I set 7 P.M. as the time I would leave the office, no matter what.
On delegation: Next, I resolved to delegate furiously, and to summon up the courage to throw unneeded papers away, so they wouldn't clutter my desk or thoughts. I would follow my intuition more and listen less to experts.
On luck: When asked the reason for their success, entrepreneurs are fond of saying, “A lot of hard work." Sounds good, doesn't it? It plays well at home, too, to families who have been ignored for years. But if great entrepreneurs were to answer the question honestly, most would probably list such factors as a finely tuned sense of timing, the ability to recognize opportunity, friends in the right places, an occasional moral lapse, and luck. May Horatio Alger forgive me, but hard work by itself is not enough.
On planning: As for our actual spending plans, we would eventually develop two budgets: a five-year plan and a six-month report.
On rules: Only then did we say aloud what we had been thinking: that we were trading written rules for common sense.
On rules 2: Sounds sensible, right? And it works fine for an army or a prison system. But not, I believe, for a business. And certainly not for a business that wants people to think, innovate, and act as human beings whenever possible. All those rules cause employees to forget that a company needs to be creative and adaptive to survive. Rules slow it down.
On adaptation: The desire for rules and the need for innovation are, I believe, incompatible. (Remember, Order or Progress.) Rules freeze companies inside a glacier; innovation lets them ride sleighs over it.
The E Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber
I first came across this book in Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Workweek, but it was my friend who ran a barbershop who put it back on my radar. I really wish I read it years ago, when I was first starting Wonder Shuttle. It unpacks the difficulties of starting a business, and the shift in mindset that entrepreneurs need to make in order to execute differently from a freelancer or a craftsperson. Michael Gerber observes that most people are used to working in the business — mainly on executing tasks — that they don’t spend the time and focus to work on the business. And make no mistake, it takes intense time and focus for people who aren’t naturally used to this (like me!). This is a great fundamental book on business, with a completely opposite perspective on rules and process than the previous book. It’s good to balance both.
On customers: To The Technician, the customer is always a problem. Because the customer never seems to want what The Technician has to offer at the price at which he offers it.
To The Entrepreneur, however, the customer is always an opportunity. Because The Entrepreneur knows that within the customer is a continuing parade of changing wants begging to be satisfied. All The Entrepreneur has to do is find out what those wants are and what they will be in the future.
On systems: “How can I create a business whose results are systems-dependent rather than people-dependent? Systems-dependent rather than expert-dependent.”
On ordinary people: “There's another reason for this rule—what I call the Rule of Ordinary People—that says the blessing of ordinary people is that they make your job more difficult.
The typical owner of a small business prefers highly ' skilled people because he believes they make his job " easier—he can simply leave the work to them.”
On order: “A business that looks orderly says to your people that you know what you're doing.
A business that looks orderly says that while the world may not work, some things can.
A business that looks orderly says to your customer that he can trust in the result delivered and assures your people that they can trust in their future with you.”
On business validation and addressable market: “Does the business I have in mind alleviate a frustration experienced by a large enough group of consumers to make it worth my while?”
On value proposition: What's your product? What feeling will your customer walk away with? Peace of mind? Order? Power? Love? What is he really buying when he buys from you? The truth is, nobody's interested in the commodity.
Small Giants by Bo Burlingham
Succeeding at business doesn’t mean you have to be the biggest. Rather, you can be the best. This premise is what Bo Burlingham unpacks, along with real-life examples. It’s a great alternative path to the mythical unicorns and narwhals we see in the news. I really enjoyed this book in the early stages of my business, and I found going through it again really valuable.
On inadequacy: Like many entrepreneurs who feel driven to grow their companies, he suffered from a major disability, namely, his own blindness to what he had accomplished. He was haunted by a sense of inadequacy, of not measuring up. He would compare himself with the most famous entrepreneurs in the world and wonder what they had that he lacked.
On mistakes: Business is business, and mistakes happen no matter how great a company you have, as Danny Meyer is well aware. "If someone finds a small screw in their risotto, they're going to tell everybody they know," he once observed to Gourmet magazine. "I can't change that. But what I can do is make sure that when they tell the story they go on to say, 'But do you know how the restaurant handled that?'"
On skill: Enlightened hospitality, on the other hand, is an emotional skill involving the ability to make customers feel that you're on their side.
On values: In the end, they agreed that it came from their commitment to five core values: caring for each other; caring for guests; caring for the community; caring for suppliers; and caring for investors and profitability—in descending order of importance.
On focus: They argued that, to be really successful, a company had to focus on providing one of three types of value to its customers: the best price, the best product, or the best overall solution. Each type of value called for a completely different kind of organization, culture, and mind-set, so you would inevitably get in trouble if you tried to excel at more than one.
Last month, I wrote about the power of skimming through a fraction of a book and applying one lesson from it. For example, Curtis Jackson (i.e., recording artist 50 Cent) read The 48 Laws of Power, but mainly remembers and applies one of the laws. He attributes making millions to it. Similarly, filmmaker Joss Whedon didn’t even finish Getting Things Done, but he remembered the idea of “next actions,” and has applied it to his work since.
I call this method the 10% Read, and I also wrote about how I try to grasp a book’s best ideas in 20 minutes. I use this method to decide if the book is worth reading in full (a lot of times it’s not!), but also to expose myself to more new ideas. If you’ve bought a book and have been meaning to read, commit to skipping an episode of TV and skimming the book instead. You may be surprised at what you get out of it.
I hope that some of these passages unlock the hidden doors of your mind. Maybe some will serve as catalysts for change. And remember, they’re signposts. It’s up to you whether you want to apply them or not. Reply to this and let me know which quotes or books resonate with you, what you think of the newsletter, and if there’s anything I can support you with.
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