A friend requested input on a summer reading list for a student entrepreneurship organization at a university. These students are bringing an idea to market.
This post is my way of sharing two things—first, the list of books and why to read them. Second, my perspective on reading. Let’s start with this perspective.
Those who know me best know I religiously read, watch videos, and listen to audiobooks & podcasts. I do this ALOT. Meet someone who has worked for or with me. They’ll have a document with recommendations regarding situations we addressed.
I have a dirty secret. I genuinely despise reading. Why read then? Experience has taught me how much time, and money, I save by learning from the lessons others have to teach. Ebooks from O’Reilly Learning, audiobooks from Audible, and courses from Pluralsight are my jam. I plow through ten (10) to twenty (20) hours of weekly content on my numerous two to three-hour-long walks.
Why read when it’s less-than-enjoyable? One word: capability.
I don’t read for the hell of it. I read for one of two reasons. The first is a need to solve a current problem. Second, a search for ways to better articulate the art of the possible.
My strengths are dreaming big and delivering even bigger. Delivery is the easier of the two. Turning dreams into reality is a challenge. Making good on my dreams is my driver.
#1 – Need To Solve A Current Problem
There is always an unfamiliar issue I need to deal with. My world is without much familiarity with many of my problems at hand. When I need help, my first step is an open-ended search for any content. I don’t judge just yet. I just collect. My experiences prove the time problem resolution is shorter when I spend research first. The time spent searching, reading, and listening to material covering potential approaches for the issue at hand.
Many people spend countless days and weeks attempting to summit similar problems. People do this by the sheer power of will or brute force. Depending on the problem scope, it takes hours and maybe a couple of days. I gain most of the knowledge within eight hours of consuming content.
After this comparably shorter time, I achieve two critical objectives. First, I understand the tradeoff decisions I’ll need to address. Second, I have a plan of action.
These other folks lose time re-learning lessons others have learned. My approach proved that most of my problems have been experienced and addressed by someone else. If my specific issue has not been addressed, a similar situation has. I base my resolution on either the same or a modified version of the approach used for a similar problem.
People who think their problems are 100% unique lie to themselves. Your mother is the only person who believes anything about you is 100% unique. The world proves otherwise.
#2 – Better Articulation for the Art of the Possible
The illusion that I’m solving a first-time problem was dissolved years ago after starting my first company. I thought we were doing was 100% unique. It took a couple of weeks to realize my perspective of the problem was special, not the problem itself. I was solving a common problem by a novel means.
It was a great effort, work, and re-work to articulate concepts. There were many deep and complex answers bouncing around in my mind. I could not get them on paper. I could not talk about them in ways that others could understand. This was when I discovered many of the books I recommend below.
Reluctantly, I read a few books and consumed content. Not as much as I should have. Only as much as I was willing to deal with. When I realized other people had words for the things I was talking about, I took their words and used them as my own. I realized how much more contagious my ideas became. The stress of figuring it out yourself largely disappeared.
All hair-brained ideas are inaugurated with deep internet searches from then on out. I document all concepts relative to my vision, then re-arrange my thoughts according to these concepts. There are at least two benefits of this approach. First, my opinions are explainable to the average person. Second, my ideas are enhanced by others’ ideas and lessons I have no experience with.
It’s is the standing on the giants that came before us outcome. I combined my thoughts with their thoughts to get way better ideas.
My Book Recommendations
The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win
This is the foundation for books like “Lean Startup.” It covers the situation where companies don’t get out of their office to meet customers to learn how to build products & services their customers want. Read this first before you read the “Lean StartUp.”
Measure What Matters
Talks about OKRs (Objective and Key Results) in detail. OKRs are a foundational approach to outlining objectives and measurable key results. Most companies spin because they don’t have clear marching orders, regardless of age. OKRs are a means to establish and communicate those marching orders clearly, and meaningfully. This book covers how Andy Grove implemented OKRs for Intel in its early stages. OKRs allowed Intel to focus on what matters. Google has also used OKRs to achieve extensive market results.
Good Strategy Bad Strategy
Strategy is an abused term. People use it to mean whatever they want it to mean in their context. Bad Strategy is not the lack of a strategy. Bad strategy is the lack of a good strategy. A good strategy is the ability to drive actions across a company. Early-stage companies fail because they have bad strategies. This book gives an explicit framework for thinking about strategy and building one. This is important to keep the company focused on the best direction. Richard’s approach is a straightforward means to tie vision to action. You can link specific activities that require funding to how these actions will resolve issues highlighted in companies’ diagnosed problems.
The Voltage Effect: How to Make Good Ideas Great and Great Ideas Scale
Economics John List studied why ideas that seemed promising early on failed to scale. He has identified traits regarding the assumptions of these ideas and how they are “expected to work at scale.” John points out the all-to-common and highly-flawed ways people fail to differentiate between learning what works at a small scale and how to make an idea that works at a small scale work at a big scale. This is a MUST READ for anyone who wants to understand if the positive outcomes of their customer experiments (laid out in “The Four Steps to an Epiphany”) have flawed assumptions for scaling.
Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value
Geared towards the tech companies, and most valuable for the companies create the software as a service. The Build Trap is when you keep shipping software for shipping-software-sake. It talks about the disconnect between effort and business outcome.
The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail
The Innovator’s Dilemma is a traditional piece that everyone starting a company should read. It covers why the “big folks” don’t stay on top forever. This book reminds me of two critical things. First, suppose your product/service is not looking to bring more people into an existing market that is not served at this point in time. In that case, you are competing against people who will always beat you because they have been optimized to fit the existing customers. Second, regardless of how good my idea is, it’s tough for a current firm to “steal it” and make it successful.