Category Archives: Books

Most recommended books on entrepreneurial podcasts

I used to be a voracious consumer of podcasts for entrepreneurs (and took notes on many of them) and still try to listen to them as time allows. I also love reading business books and am always looking for recommendations. These books are the most recommended ones on the podcasts that I listen to.

(contains affiliate links)

antifragileAntifragile
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/4/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 5/9/13
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15

built_to_sell

Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You

  • Tropical MBA 11/30/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 6/20/13
crossing_the_chasm

Crossing the Chasm

  • Tom Byers (STVP) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 1/18/06
  • Aaron Levie (Box) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 1/19/11
  • Drew Houston (Dropbox) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 5/13/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/11/13
getting_things_done

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

  • Smart Passive Income 8/2/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/28/13
  • Tropical MBA 8/29/13
  • Smart Passive Income 6/28/14
good_to_great

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t

  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/28/13
  • Kyle Forster (Big Switch Networks) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 4/22/15
hatching_twitterHatching Twitter
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 12/3/13
  • Tropical MBA 12/5/13
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 7/1/14

how_to_win_friends

How to Win Friends and Influence People

    • Smart Passive Income 3/17/14
    • Tropical MBA 2/12/15

mastering_the_rockefeller_habits
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 2/7/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 3/14/13

orbiting_the_giant_hairball

Orbiting the Giant Hairball

  • Frank Ricks (LRK Architecture) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 11/16/05
  • Stephanie Keller-Bottom (Nokia) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 4/26/06

the_hard_thing_about_hard_things

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 7/8/14
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15

the_lean_startup

The Lean Startup

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 12/3/13
  • Jessica Mah (inDinero) – Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders 11/30/11

the_millionaire_fastlane

The Millionaire Fastlane: Crack the Code to Wealth and Live Rich for a Lifetime.

  • The Foolish Adventure 10/20/11
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/27/12

the_one_thing

The One Thing

  • Tropical MBA 6/12/14
  • Tropical MBA 11/27/14

the_ultimate_sales_machine

The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies

  •  Lifestyle Business Podcast 8/9/12
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15

traction

Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers

  •  Startups for the Rest of Us 8/26/14
  • Tropical MBA 9/11/14
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15
  • Tropical MBA 3/19/15

work_the_system

Work the System

  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/6/12
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 4/25/13
  • Lifestyle Business Podcast 12/20/13
  • Tropical MBA 2/12/15
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15

zero_to_one

Zero to One

  • Startups for the Rest of Us 11/18/14
  • Startups for the Rest of Us 3/16/15

Learn by Doing

Learn by DoingWhile people learn different things in different ways, business is one activity that I firmly believe is best learned while engaging in the activity. In fact I feel that most people learn more in one year on the job than they do in multiple years of school as so many facets and nuances of business really cannot be taught in books or a classroom setting with fictional stakes. The rubber meets the road when working with real people (who have real families), real clients, a real balance sheet, and a real income statement.

It is with that in mind that I picked Learn by Doing as the title of my latest (10th!) collection of notes from Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders lectures.

The book contains a wealth of insight from startup founders and business owners such as Ben Horowitz (Andreessen Horowitz), John Collison (Stripe), and Joshua Reeves (ZenPayroll). While it is free do not let that influence your thoughts on the value. These lectures have provided me tons of inspiration as well as great career advice. I urge you to give it a read and then follow up by listening to any lectures that strike you for even more insight.

Best of luck.

The End of Jobs

The End of JobsWhen I first heard about Taylor Pearson’s new book, The End of Jobs, I was worried that he had written the book that I have been researching. What I found was instead a practical book that outlines how the employment equation is changing, gives examples of people that are at the front of the wave of change, and provides a framework to adapt to the new job paradigm.

Two books that The End of Jobs reminded me of are Escape from Cubicle Nation and The $100 Startup. One of the people interviewed in The End of Jobs was Dan Norris who recently released a book titled The 7-Day Startup. This book is a good supplement to those but with more of a focus on the digital nomad aspect of the new world of business.

The overarching point the book makes is that now, more than ever before, you have the ability to design the lifestyle you want and that entrepreneurship is the avenue to do that. Increasingly it will be the only avenue to do that due to advances in technology and a changing business landscape.

I like his definition of entrepreneurship and a job:

“Entrepreneurship is connecting, creating, and inventing systems–be they businesses, people, ideas, or processes.

A job is the act of following the operating system someone else created.”

He goes on to lay out many of the skills (sales and marketing among them) needed to succeed in the world without jobs that he is envisioning.

There is a particular argument that Taylor laid out that struct me as very insightful if it turns out to be true. He said:

“We aren’t going through a global recession–we’re transitioning between two distinct economic periods.”

I really cannot say that theory is true or not but I am in absolute agreement that we all should prepare as if it is. I have seen a lot of the examples he has laid out with my own eyes as I think most people have. Jobs are less secure and entrepreneurial skills will help you survive.

If I had one complaint about the book is that I think some of his arguments seemed to jump from point to point and could have been fleshed out a bit more (while I’m a big fan of Warren Buffett I was lost about how value investing tied in) or benefited from better examples. In particular the example involving Morgan Stanley and IBM and a bond sale felt a bit tenuous. However he quickly bounced back with a wonderful thought exercise about your local community out of which I readily understood that: entrepreneurship > knowledge > capital.

One other quirk, and I don’t know if this is due to his subjects choosing to be anonymous or the writing style, but I would have liked to hear more detail about the people and their businesses that he used as examples.

One reason this book was particularly interesting to me, and might not necessarily be a factor for others, is that I feel like I know Taylor and many of the people featured in the book due to having listened to each episode of the Tropical MBA podcast over the past five years.

Even without that background I think many people yearning for more freedom or dreaming of making the jump from job to entrepreneur will enjoy the The End of Jobs. It is a quick and inspirational read.

The ONE Thing

(This is one of a series of posts about productivity books and the lessons I took from them. The series is: Getting Things Done, A Sense of Urgency, and The ONE Thing.)

The ONE ThingExtraordinary.

If there is one word to use to describe The ONE Thing it is that. The book’s premise is to figure out the one thing you can do that will make everything else easier or unnecessary and focus on that. The premise is simple enough but learning how to apply it, and then actually doing so, is a powerful change in the way you use your time.

(The other reason “extraordinary” is the one word is that the author uses it 115 times in the book. You can tell he is a true believer in what he preaches.)

I am in the middle of trying to start a business. It seems as if there is a never ending lists of things that need to be done. Often it feels like I am treading water and not making any progress. For a while now I have asked myself the question, “What is one thing I can do today to push the business forward?” After reading the book I realized the better question is, “What is the best thing I can do today to push the business forward?”

While I had expected the book’s message of concentrating on one, important thing, I was surprised at the emphasis on thinking big. In retrospect they should go hand in hand but often the big things are not achieved because they have not been broken down into smaller, actionable steps.

At the largest scale the steps are:

One passion -> one skill -> one person -> one life

And they all come back to the book’s central question:

“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

Productivity in all situations

Everybody has the same number of hours in a day but some people seem to get so much more done than others. Obviously circumstances play a big part of that. A childless man in his 20s (the stereotypical startup guy or digital nomad) obviously has more hours to work with than a single mother of two.

I have heard many people say that when they have children they actually achieve more because they learned to focus on the really, really important things in their limited hours.

“When you want the absolute best chance to succeed at anything you want, your approach should always be the same. Go Small.”

Defer the busy work. Find the thing that matters most and concentrate your efforts on that.

When you let your inbox dictate your day, your calendar dictate your week, and have a to do list that would not be finished in months then likely you feel overwhelmed and that the success you strive for it out of reach.

That describe the demands on many of us but success does not come from busy work nor is success correlated with time or effort. Keller does a great job laying out that the results you are striving to achieve can be traced back to smaller, specific actions.

Passion

Throughout many conversations I have found that defining what you are passionate about is easier for some people than others. When I ask people I often get a response of “uhh…” followed by the generic responses of “my family” or “my job”. I then try to rephrase the question to, “if you had no other responsibilities what would you spend your day doing?”

Not every passion is something that you can build a business or career around. Nor do they have to be. Simply being able to indulge them is often enough to bring happiness into your life. If a business or career is your goal then Keller lays out a path to which to achieve it.

When you are passionate about something you spend more time on it which leads to developing skills. It is those skills that are what you will be able to build a business or career around.

Lies

This might be my favorite chapter of the book as it covers some of my biggest criticisms about the business world as it is practiced (by companies more than five years old). I will not go into those in depth here (you can find some of my rants elsewhere on the site).

One big lie that he covers, and perhaps the one most relevant to the topic, is that everything is equal. Most workers feel that all tasks need to be done and rank them by importance. Not all tasks need to be done. Importance cannot be defined by arbitrary things such as oldest item in inbox or even by anybody but you.

Breaking free from that lie allows you to truly focus on moving forward.

Big Ideas

While thinking big is an amazing exercise, and he encourages you to take your goal and make it larger so if you fall short you still achieve a lot, it can be hard to figure out how to get from where you stand today to where you want to be.

Keller presents a series of four practices you should explore:

  1. Go Small.
  2. Go Extreme.
  3. Say no.
  4. Don’t get trapped in the “check off” game.

Reading the book will provide you more color on those but all are powerful concepts to utilize on your quest to achieve big things.

Multitasking

Keller makes a case that multitasking, instead of getting two things done, results in getting nothing done.

“People can actually do two or more things at once, such as walk and talk, or chew gum and read a map; but, like computers, what we can’t do is focus on two things at once.”

When you are switching back and forth from task to task or project to project you are not finishing anything that is a priority (which I define as things that generate value to you or your business).

Indeed, if you finish one project prior to starting the next, the first project will be creating value while you work on the second. If you are multitasking then you are getting no value from either.

Keller also makes an interesting point in the book that the word priority has been sapped of its meaning be people talking about “priorities”. It is a word that should not be pluralized. The definition of priority means that it should be the ONE Thing and that everything else takes a back seat.

Willpower

“Willpower is so important that using it effectively should be a high priority.”

The insight that I took from this section of the book is that willpower is a finite resource that must be recharged. One simply cannot ALWAYS be in control of their willpower. A long day of meetings, fires, and difficult decisions wears you and your willpower down thus making it easier for you to decide to skip the gym that night.

He goes into how your blood sugar level and the foods you eat contribute to your willpower.

“If you want to get the most out of your day, do your most important work–your ONE Thing–early, before your willpower is drawn down.”

Work-life balance

When you are focusing on doing one thing other things you view as priorities are going to suffer. It will be a constant balancing act. It is important to realize and accept that if have any hope of achieving the success you strive for.

“Time waits for no one.”

In order to make sure that you are doing your One Thing as well as not letting your family, job, or anything else important to you fall through the cracks Keller recommends time blocking which involves blocking out time on your calendar in advance. Switch tasks when your calendar tells you it is time. This way you will be constantly focused on whatever your one thing for that block of time is.

Other insights

There are many more insights in the book on topics such as happiness, responsibility, goals, fear, and success. All of them end up tying back to the book’s suggestion to focus on doing One Thing in order to get extraordinary results.

We Can All Change the World

We Can All Change the WorldChanging the world is something that should be a goal for all but not all set out to do it. It sounds like the dreams of a college student that people either politely nod at or not so politely scoff at. But it is something that is attainable for all of us.

The world can be changed at a personal, local, national, or global level. The thing about change is that it begets more change and thus ripples of it spread near and far. You can build a business, start a charity, be a big brother or sister, or smile to somebody at the grocery store. All can make at least one person’s day a bit better.

We Can All Change the World is the ninth volume of my notes on Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series. You can download it here for free. Hopefully it will inspire you to listen to the talks that have inspired me so much.

Do What Makes Your Soul Sing

Do What Makes Your Soul SingSometimes we all need to be reminded to pursue our passions both personally and professionally. Doing what you love was the theme I picked out for my latest collection of notes from the inspirational lecture series “Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders“. Read advice from 24 different lectures including leaders such as Tim Draper (DFJ), Stephen Cohen (Palantir), Tim O’Reilly (O’Reilly), and Nassim Taleb (Author).

You can download Do What Makes Your Soul Sing for free here.

Productivity Books: Getting Things Done

(This is one of a series of posts about productivity books and the lessons I took from them. The series is: Getting Things Done, A Sense of Urgency, and The ONE Thing.)

Getting Things DoneBeing productive doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice. A to do list doesn’t mean you can’t be spontaneous.

It is possible to be effectively doing while you are delightfully being, in your ordinary workaday world.

Getting Things Done lays out an effective system for managing your work and all of the tasks and emails that entails.

The Problem

Mental to do lists occupy brain space that could be used in more creative or productive fashions.

The clutter of mental to do lists creates stress. There is even stress in trying not to forget something. And often your mind only reminds you about something the next time you come across it at which point you likely put it off again.

It is a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on.

The System

Stop storing task lists in your mind.

Find a place to write down each and every thing you need to do (from high level stuff at work down to needing new batteries for the flashlight) in one place. That place could be a notepad, a spreadsheet, or task management software such as Asana. Commit to that one place.

Once you have a collection of tasks then you need to go through them and organize them. For each task:

  1. Ask yourself if it is actionable.
  2. If it is not actionable then either trash it or file it away for later reference.
  3. If it is actionable then do it if it takes less than two minutes.
  4. Otherwise either delegate it or defer it by creating an entry on your calendar for it.

Do It, Delegate It, or Defer It.

Never return an item back into your inbox.

(For Asana I consider the “New Tasks” section the collection place and anything that is deferred is marked for Today, Upcoming, or Later with a date set for tasks needing to be completed on a certain date rather than by a certain date.)

Projects

Breakdown larger projects into small steps as a project isn’t actionable in and of itself. The individual steps are actionable. Keep all of the supporting reference material for the project somewhere other than the to do list. Ideally keep it out of sight so it will be out of mind except when you’re working on the actionable steps.

When planning projects first ask yourself what the purpose of the project is. Doing so will define what the criteria for success is, allow you to focus resources, and provides motivation.

Next brainstorm all of the steps needed to complete the project. Organize the steps. Begin work on the actionable steps or assign resources to them.

Email

The Getting Things Done system works great for email and is probably the quickest way to get to inbox zero short of dragging all of your email into the trash. The book recommends creating a folder specifically for emails you have deferred as well as a second folder for emails you’ve delegated to others and are awaiting confirmation of the outcome on.

My inbox has actually been the largest benefactor of this system as I, like most of the working world, receive most of my business communication via email. Turning those emails into tasks or calendar items gets them out of my inbox and eliminates the feeling of being overwhelmed I used to have every morning when I would open Outlook.

I would, and have, recommend this book to pretty much anybody as freeing the mind from remembering tasks allows one focus on the larger projects that move businesses forward. It also allows one to enjoy their free time more knowing that there is nothing for them to forget as they’ve already written it down.

Business Books: Zero to One

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel was a quick read and a worthwhile one for any entrepreneur. I also think it would be a good read for any investors. At times while reading the book I found I was learning as much about an investing philosophy as about building a business.

Innovation

Zero to OneTo innovate you need look at the past, question ideas, rethink business. Secrets of nature (undiscovered aspects of the physical world) and secrets about people (things they don’t know about themselves or hide) are what great businesses are built on. Look for those where no one else is looking.

The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.

When you have your idea you need to focus on it as long as you think it will be valuable long term. Long term thinking is important for all aspects of your business.

Your product should not be an undifferentiated commodity. It is very difficult to create a monopoly around a commodity. If you are creating a product exactly like or very similar to an existing product your product should be ten times better than what is currently available.

Once you have a product that creates value you need to start capturing that value. Creating a company is the next step.

Startups

Startups operate on the principle that you need to work with other people to get stuff done, but you also need to stay small enough so that you actually can.

The most crucial decision you’ll make for your startup is who to found it with. You should start your company with people that you already know otherwise you’re rolling the dice on whether it will be a good fit. Thiel does not believe that you can fix a startup that is messed up at its foundation.

Monopolies

Your startup should start with a small market. Niche down until you are in a market that is small enough that you are able to dominate it. Large markets are very competitive.

The perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors.

Every business should aim to be a monopoly. Companies fail because they can’t escape the competition. Monopolies result in profits for the creator. Competition results in no profits for anybody.

Every monopoly is unique, but they usually share some combination of the following characteristics: proprietary technology, network effects, economies of scale, and branding.

Become a monopoly in your small market first before expanding into adjacent markets. And when you do expand avoid competition as much as possible.

You will not have a successful company if you have a great product with no distribution channel. Even if you have a commodity product sales and distribution can create a monopoly. Sales is hard work and finding a great distribution channel is important.

The Future

Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better—to go from 0 to 1. The essential first step is to think for yourself. Only by seeing our world anew, as fresh and strange as it was to the ancients who saw it first, can we both re-create it and preserve it for the future.

Innovation is the Only Way Out

Innovation is the Only Way OutTo round out the year I’m happy to announce the release of Innovation is the Only Way Out which is the seventh volume of notes on Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders. It contains advice from 23 lectures including talks by Phil Libin (Evernote), Brad Feld (Foundry Group), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Daniel Elk (Spotify), and Drew Houston (Dropbox).

Innovation is the only sustainable competitive advantage any company can have. – David Friedberg (The Climate Corporation)

Happy New Year! May 2015 be a great year for you and your business.

Productivity Books: A Sense of Urgency

(This is one of a series of posts about productivity books and the lessons I took from them. The series is: Getting Things Done, A Sense of Urgency, and The ONE Thing.)

A Sense of UrgencyI bought A Sense of Urgency in India in 2008 and finished it on my flight home. It didn’t cover the day to day productivity tips that a lot of other books have covered so well. Instead it looks at being productive on a team or organization wide scale by aligning efforts behind the initiatives that will push the business forward.

It wasn’t just the turbulence that kept my head nodding up and down.

Recognizing many of the issues laid out in the book inside of my company I immediately set out to invoke change. However, even with the tips in this book, it can be an uphill battle but it is definitely a battle worth fighting.

Activity is not urgency

Activity is not even progress. You can be complacent and perpetuate the status quo by engaging in busy work such as unproductive meetings, needless PowerPoints, and endless emails rather than searching for new opportunities.

True urgency is driven by a deep determination to win, not anxiety about losing.

To finish the projects that will really move your business forward be sure you accomplish one important thing every day.

Urgency refers to things that are critically important

If an action or event is not central to success or survival then it is not critically important and thus not urgent.

Complacency comes from success whether that be real or perceived. False urgency comes from failure. Real urgency comes from leadership.

False urgency is much more common than real urgency and it is what leads to the frenetic activity of meetings, presentations, and projects that don’t lead to progress but rather lead to burnout. False urgency is about activity rather than productivity.

Urgency is not stressful

Deadlines are stressful. Urgency isn’t about a timeline but rather about being alert and focusing your efforts on areas of importance.

Actually urgency can lead to less stress as a person with a high sense of urgency will look for ways to shed the tasks and busy work that aren’t critical to success. When one is working on an important initiative a meeting to set a meeting (those happen way too often) is something that should be shunned. (Reading the meeting minutes will take mere minutes.)

Red flags

  • Meetings which end with only more meetings being scheduled or task forces created.
  • Consultants (if it is truly urgent then management would stop what they are doing and lead the effort themselves).
  • Calendar slippage (where through a combination of coordinating calendars and task forces you find yourselves months down the road without any progress being made).
  • Departmental battles (often waged passive aggressively) instead of aligning towards a solution and working towards it by placing a priority on that project over the “important” daily tasks of the department.
  • Discussions that look inward (intracompany) rather than externally (markets, new technology, and competitors).

Creating true urgency

The strategy outlined for creating a true sense of urgency involves winning over both the hearts and minds of the people in the organization. Facts alone do not lead to determination.

The four tactics are:

  1. Bring the Outside In
    • Bring in outside data, views, and people which will help identify the company’s place in the market as well as opportunities or hazards that should be acted upon.
  2. Behave with Urgency Every Day
    • Demonstrate your own sense of urgency in meetings, emails, and interactions while, at the same time, not not appearing content, anxious, or angry.
  3. Find Opportunity in Crises
    • A crisis internally can be an opportunity to break away from systems that aren’t working and implementing new ones. An external crisis can be an opportunity to increase market share or expand into new markets.
  4. Deal with the NoNos
    • NoNos are people who will not only question any new initiative but will often actively work against it. They cannot be ignored and must be dealt with by distraction, social pressure, or termination.

Setting yourself up for success

Clean Desk

Clearing your plate is one of the most important things you can do to set yourself up to tackle truly urgent projects.

Clutter undermines true urgency. Fatigue undermines true urgency.

Clearing your calendar, inbox zero, and other methods of controlling demands on your time will clear the mental clutter that creates anxiety and leads to false urgency.

Sustaining urgency

Urgency is not sustainable in and of itself. It needs to be created over and over again and ideally before it has fallen. Short-term successes can lead to complacency which can be fatal for a large project that spans many months or years. At that point revisiting the four tactics outlined above would be wise.

Conclusion

Remember, words are not the test. Action is the test.

While the author has found few companies where it is the case, urgency should be ingrained in your company’s culture. Behaviours that create false urgency should not be engaged in. Long term views are needed and managers should use whatever tools they can to overcome the complacency that comes from short term successes.

A Sense of Urgency is a great read and will help you deal with the big issues that your company will face as the speed of business continues to increase.