Our little Lutheran book club is on hiatus this summer, and in order to distract myself from the fact that I’m not going to law school this fall and to bolster up my enthusiasm for my business, I’m reading a series of creative/entrepreneurial books this month. They’re all very good (with the possible exception of The Four-Hour Workweek, which I haven’t read yet).
The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau isn’t so much a “how to become a millionaire from nothing” book as it is a “let’s rethink the traditional business model of get a loan from a bank/get venture capitalists to invest in my Big Idea, lease an office and employees and ratchet up expenses.” Chris values the same things I value: time, flexibility, doing what you love, purposely staying small so you can be flexible and not have to answer to the bank or to investors. I picked up some new ideas here about creating better passive income streams, versus what I currently do: charge for my time invested.
Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is a must-read for anyone interested in a new, transparent, anti-bureaucratic way of doing business. Advice like “Don’t be a workaholic. Just use your time better” and “Embrace constraints” and “Meetings are toxic” and “Interruption is the enemy of productivity” had me nodding in agreement through the whole book. My favorite:
Hire great writers. If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off. That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.
These two guys run a multi-million dollar company with just sixteen employees–half of whom work from home all over the country/world. The other half are not required to show up at their Chicago headquarters unless they want to. Why? Because they get that geography, in today’s global/mobile world, is meaningless. That they’d be missing out on the very best hires if they only looked in Chicago. That getting together once or twice a year is valuable, but having endless meetings every stinkin’ day is not. That, my friends, is how you can run a multi-million dollar company with sixteen employees. You can get a lot done working from home sans meetings.
Quiet by Susan Cain. One of my friends said about this book, “I want to give this book to my entire family and all of my friends and tell them, ‘Read this, and you will understand who I am.’” I’m a classic introvert in the sense that I get energy from being alone and feel drained after being with people and I prefer deeper discussions with fewer people than small talk with many people, but I’m neither shy nor sensitive like many introverts. One thing I found fascinating was the discussion about leadership styles. It turns out I’m more of an extroverted leader, motivating people by energizing them with my vision, while Derek is more of an introverted leader, motivating people by listening to their ideas and empowering them to execute. Interesting, because he’s more extroverted than I am in general.
I also loved the section on working styles. She talks about the big shift in schools and corporate America for group-based learning, open classrooms, and open office spaces and how they encouraged more collaboration, but were deadly to introverts. (I know this is true: in 3rd and 4th grade, I went from straight A’s at a regular school to almost failing grades in the open classroom setting at Ralph M. Captain elementary school in Clayton, MO. In fifth grade, back in a closed-wall classroom, my grades went back up.) It also turns out, according to the research Cain presented, that collaboration doesn’t necessarily produce better results than individual thinking, and often it’s worse because people are both afraid to look stupid and are unduly influenced by their peers. Luckily for people who are easily distracted and think better alone, the tide is turning back. A sea of cubicles may be ugly, but at least there’s a modicum of privacy within so you can think, work, and check Facebook without your boss and colleagues looking over your shoulder.
The Four-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is also in my pile. For a long time I resisted reading it, because I’m old-school and think working hard is a virtue. But after reading The $100 Startup I decided it was worth it to delve deeper into developing passive forms of income, which is largely what this book is about.
Next time I check in here, it might be from my tropical island, where I will be pulling in $20,000 a week in passive revenue while I sit quietly, alone, in a meeting-free zone, running my company from afar.