Given how often management theories change and evolve, there are very few “classic” management books. High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove qualifies as one. For those who are unfamiliar with Andrew (Andy) Grove, he was one of the founders of Intel Corporation, became its CEO in 1987, and served as Chairman of the Board from 1997-2005. He was an instrumental figure in many of Intel’s business strategies, particularly the decision to change Intel’s focus from memory chips to microprocessors. In other words, Andy Grove is synonymous with Intel. Even today, a lot of the business practices, strategies, and culture of Intel are a reflection of his philosophies of building and running a successful company.
When I’m adding books to my reading list, I do my best to keep track of where the initial recommendation came from. It helps me to prioritize my reading list. There are sources I rely on that will move a book up my reading list, and certain sources that will advance a book to the top of it. For my latest read, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, I didn’t have a recommendation source written down. It’s not that book wasn’t recommended. It’s that it was recommended by nearly every source that I use. They all gave it good reviews, especially if you were starting up or running your own business. Needless to say, I fit that description, so I decided I should prioritize the book for my 2016 reading list.
A couple of years back, I watched the History Channel series “The Men Who Built America“. I was blown away by the vision, foresight and determination of the people portrayed – Rockefeller, Carnegie, JP Morgan, Edison, and Ford. Looking back, it was impressive to see how they saw a vision of the future and made it a reality.
Well, I believe there are two such people in our generation who people will look back upon in the same way – Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. When you listen to them speak, their vision of the future is impressive. What’s more impressive is that they aren’t just talking about it. They are doing things that are enabling them to create and achieve their vision. I’m not talking about creating the next social network or iPhone app. They are working on items like space travel to enable colonization of other planets, artificial intelligence to improve human capability, sustainable energy to preserve our planet, and more mundane things like building better cars and improving media.
I’ll admit that I’ve been a long-time admirer of Southwest’s business model. As I’ve written in the past, they are a model of operational efficiency. I’ve always experienced top notch customer service, both on the ground and in the air, when I’ve flown with them. Their fares are always competitive, and often the lowest on the routes they fly. I’ve been impressed with Southwest as both an observer of their operations and as a passenger on their planes.
I got my first exposure to them through a case study I read in the mid-nineties while in business school at UCLA. The case study exposed and dissected their operational efficiencies. Shortly thereafter, as I began traveling regularly for business, I got to experience the flight experience first hand. I would watch with interest how quickly they would turn planes when they landed. I would notice how the little things they did allowed them to best the competition – things such as open seating, flying 737’s exclusively, handling their own reservations, and flying to the smaller airports in a city. I’ve always been interested in learning more about how the company was run.
A couple of years back while reading The Startup Playbook, one of the interviews in the book mentioned Nuts by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg. It was presented as a way to learn how Southwest has used culture to build a great company and to deliver outstanding service. Given my desire to learn more about Southwest’s business practices. I added it to my reading list. It took some time, but it finally reached the top.
One of my favorite books from last year was The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. It was one of my favorite types of business books, a third party account that chronicled the building of Amazon. In the comments to my book review, one of my favorite bloggers, Rohan (author of the blog A Learning a Day), mentioned In the Plex – How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy. Since the book fit my theme of a biography/story-based business book and came recommended from a trusted source, I decided to let it jump the queue in my 2015 reading list.
In my earlier startup lesson posts, I wrote about team diversity and team chemistry. In this startup lesson, I am going to focus on another important team concept for startups – roles. Assigning roles can be uncomfortable, especially during the early stages of a startup. However, it’s important to make sure people know and understand what’s expected of them, as well as who is in charge. While it would appear this lesson applies only to startups with multiple founders, it is just as important for those with a single founder. As a lone founder, it’s absolutely critical that roles are defined as the company and team grows.
As part of running my own company, I’m always looking for ways to improve various pieces of the business and my performance in it. Since one of the most important parts of any business is the sales process, I am constantly on the lookout for resources that will help me to understand the process better and to identify ways to improve it. Amazon must know it too, because their recommendation engine suggested the following to me – Same Side Selling: A Radical Approach to Break Through Sales Barriers by Jack Quarles and Ian Altman. Even though I’m not in love with the Amazon recommendation engine, I went ahead and picked it up.
I am on a quest to continuously improve my understanding of software development, particularly as it applies to agile development practices. I started it by reading one of the classics on software development, The Mythical Man Month, which I found very informative. While good, I wanted something that would help me understand the concepts behind agile software development. I read a couple of books on creating user stories a few months ago, but I still felt like I was missing critical pieces to the puzzle. Then I read User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product by Jeff Patton.
One of the startup blogs that I follow is written by Sean Murphy, who does sales and business development consulting for startups. A recent post he wrote contained a great passage in response to an article by Morgan Housel titled “I’m Just Now Realizing How Stupid We Are”.
Sean Murphy highlights one of Housel’s lessons learned:
I’ve learned that people’s expectations grow faster than their wealth. The country is richer than it’s ever been. I don’t think it’s as happy as it’s ever been.
and relates it to a startup:
Too many entrepreneurs think that wealth will solve their problems or make up for other shortcomings. I have watched a lot of people get wealthy, very few were improved by it. If they were unhappy or held back by bad habits wealth enabled them to engage in worse behavior and only pointed out the need for personal transformation.
It got me thinking as to why people become entrepreneurs.
I’m not going to claim to be an expert on lean startup methodology. However, I’ve seen a lot of misconceptions about what a lean startup is and how to run one.
I recently saw a post that summarized some of the most important concepts around the lean startup. It was put together by Jeff Bussgang, a general partner at the VC firm Flybridge Capital, for a panel on product-market fit and customer acquisition. It’s a presentation/panel I would have loved to have seen in person. I’m sure there was a lot more substance to the talk than what comes through in the slides.