Successful businesses today must be technology-enabled and able to compete in a global marketplace. Older businesses must adapt or die. Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein explores what happens to businesses that don’t adapt and the impact upon the places and individuals that get left behind. An insightful case study of a medical technology company that is incentivised to move to the town, raises the question of whether or not technology can save the American Dream: “the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.”
Janesville: An American Story tells the story of what happens to an industrial town in the American heartland when its main factory shuts down. The account goes a long way to explaining systemic challenges that are leading to social, economic and political upheaval.
The evidence is irrefutable: the best way to help a baby learn to talk or develop any other cognitive skill is through live interaction with a human being. But what is the impact of technology on young children that are exposed to it? Can an app, an avatar or a 3D cartoon recreate or override human nature? If a child spends too much time being cyber-simulated than connecting with the real world, could it impair other important pre-academic skills such as empathy, social abilities and problem solving? What about a child who spends the bulk of their playtime with an interactive app, in which objects explode, appear, reappear, and don’t play by the rules of the physical world? How does looking at a tablet screen impact an infant’s eyesight?
Cyberpsychologist and author Mary Aiken explores these questions in her book The Cyber Effect. Though the answer to them is that we just don’t know, Aiken does provide fantastic insights into what we do know about child development and how technology could affect it. In the absence of any formal regulatory guidance on technology usage, she shares her own. If you’re interested in this subject, you might also appreciate my previous post Put that smartphone down! The science behind our addiction to technology.
Technological change is going on all around us, but what psychological impact is it having on us as the individuals that experience it? This is what Mary Aiken sets out to explore in her book The Cyber Effect. Aiken is one of the world’s leading experts in cyberpsychology – the study of the impact of emerging technologies on human behaviour. She is not anti-technology, but does speak with a cautionary tone, identifying potential complications associated with apparently addictive technologies like smartphones, and urges us to think about what might be done now to mitigate future potential damage before it is too late.
With an intervention [the internet] of this magnitude that had the potential to impact so many aspects of human beings on the deepest and most profound levels – from visual acuity, bonding, and childhood development to identity formation, intimacy and socialisation – I wondered what the blind spots or unforeseen outcomes might be. The unknown unknowns.
Ray Dalio’s book Principles is unlike any book you have ever likely read before. Beginning with a brief autobiography, he quickly moves on to identify his organically grown set of principles (fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behaviour that gets you what you want) for building a successful life and business. As the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of largest hedge funds in the world with approximately $160 billion of Assets Under Management, Dalio’s ideas are worth listening to. Although Bridgewater itself has been criticised by some for being cult-like (its culture built on the foundations of Radical Truth and Radical Transparency), that Dalio began the company in his two bedroom apartment in New York in 1975, makes him not just one of the world’s greatest investors but also one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and leadership visionaries.
I can thank my experience with cancer for my new reading habits. Determined to understand my illness and what was going on inside my body, I consumed every medical paper I could get my hands on. An objective appreciation for my cancer helped me deal with it better, make much more informed decisions as part of my treatment process, and live with the aftermath. Serious illness is as much a head-game as it is a physical experience, so I transitioned from reading medical texts to books about psychology, then on to books about the world around me in general. Six months of chemotherapy and rehabilitation means you a lot of time on your hands. In 2016 I became a reading machine!
If reading could help me better understand and deal with illness, then could it help me better understand and deal with life? The answer to this question was a resounding yes. Knowledge leads to wisdom, the Return On Investment (the price of books) and the compound interest (on accumulated wisdom) is exponential. Reading gives you a compelling competitive advantage in life! Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s business partner at Berkshire Hathaway, sums it up best:
In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads [he’s purported to spend 80% of his day reading] – and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, chronicles the author’s time as an inmate in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The early chapters do not make for easy reading but the book opens up into one of the deepest and most eloquent explorations of the meaning of human existence and man’s search for such meaning. This book is essential reading for anybody interested in the psychology of suffering, mental health, personal growth, and how to lead a happy life.
Striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary motivational force in man… This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can only be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning.
The words coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, though there are in fact important discernible differences. The late Sir John Whitmore, the founder of the coaching movement in the UK, explains what these differences are in his book Coaching for Performance, widely considered to be the industry gold standard for performance based coaching.
In 2004, one of the greatest war machines of all time, the US military, was struggling to beat back Al Queda in Iraq (AQI). Whilst the allied forces had huge advantage in numbers, equipment and training, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, General Stanley McChrystal, realised that conventional military tactics and command structures were failing. Team of Teams: New Rules for Engagement in a Complex World gives McChrystal’s account of how he and his colleagues discarded a century of conventional wisdom to create a faster, flatter and more flexible organisation that ultimately proved successful in defeating AQI.
But Team of Teams isn’t only a military book, it’s packed full of lessons about strategy for businesses as well. If you are a seasoned business executive struggling to come to terms with new ways of working, or a startup entrepreneur scaling a business, whilst at the same time grappling with how to keep a startup culture alive, then you should give it a read.
In a landmark study undertaken between 1984 and 2004, Wharton Professor Philip Tetlock showed that the average expert’s ability to predict the future was only slightly better than a layperson using random guesswork. His latest project, which began in 2011, has since shown that there are some people with real, demonstrable foresight. These are often ordinary people who have an extraordinary ability to predict the future with a degree of accuracy significantly greater than the average. In his book Superforecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction, co-authored with Dan Gardner, Tetlock identifies how you can improve your ability to predict the future and become a superforecaster.
Howard Marks is one of Wall Street’s wisest investors. He co-Chairs Oaktree Capital Management which has approximately $100 billion in Assets Under Management. He’s also the author of The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor. With eloquence and deep insight, his book delivers a masterclass in the philosophy and psychology of investing that is relevant to anybody interested in investing, or who is just pondering where their pension might end up! I’ve summarised two of my favorite ‘most important things’ identified in the book including here, the thinking of Marks and Nassim Taleb on the role of luck and randomness in life and business, and in another post the importance of second level thinking, a key skill for any contrarian investor.
Howard Marks is the Chairman and cofounder of Oaktree Capital Management and author of The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor. According to the book’s sleeve, he is renowned for his insightful assessments of market opportunity and risk. He is sought out by the world’s leading investors, and his client memos brim with astute commentary and time tested fundamental philosophy. On a more personal note he’s one of my investing heroes. A value investor at heart, his broad thinking and eloquent expression is pertinent to anyone with investment and business interests both professional and personal. In The Most Important Thing he lays out, over 20 chapters, the building blocks to successful investing. All are equally important and essential “guideposts” that together create a “solid wall” that keep investors focused on the most important things for successful portfolio management.
I’ve summarised two of my favorite ‘most important things’. In this post, the importance of second level thinking, a key skill for any contrarian investor and in another post, Howard Marks (and Nassim Taleb) on the role of luck and randomness in life and business.
Paul Kalanithi, M.D., was a neurosurgeon and writer. He graduated from Stanford University in 2000 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Human Biology. He earned an M.Phil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school. In 2007, Paul graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for residency training in Neurological Surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. In 2013 he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, though continued to work, completing his neurosurgery residency in 2014. He also authored the book When Breath Becomes Air, which detailed his journey through treatment and eventually his death in March 2015. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their daughter Cady.
Although I’d heard of this book before, I first stumbled across it in a charity shop about one month after I’d finished 5 months of chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. I cried my way through much of the book, but I had to read about Paul’s journey and his exploration of life and death. Continue reading
Robert Coram, author of Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, describes John Boyd as “first, last and always a fighter pilot – a loud talking, cigar-smoking, bigger-than-life fighter pilot”. But also as more than that: “he was that rarest of creatures – a thinking fighter pilot.” Boyd is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest military strategists, despite the fact that it’s unlikely you have ever heard of him. Over his career he bought the Air Force its Aerial Attack Study, invented Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory and was the father of the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. He brought strategic thinking to the armed forces more generally, and now to business: he created a decision making framework called the OODA loop, his Patterns of Conflict brief provided the strategic basis for the US military’s 100 hour victory in the first Gulf War and still underpins US Marine Corps fighting doctrine to this day.
John Boyd was an endearing eccentric and strategic genius who is brought wonderfully to life by author Robert Coram in his meticulously researched book. Coram demonstrates what one man, surrounded by a few devoted and loyal Acolytes, can do to change the world. Maneuverability, as it relates to military (and business) strategy, we learn is key. Continue reading
Thinking Fast and Slow is a book about biases of intuition. It’s ideas are so potent that they won it’s author Danuel Kahnemann a Nobel in economics. Kahneman identifies that the human brain works very well most of the time and our judgments are sound. However, it is prone to engage in a number of fallacies and systematic errors that lead to flawed opinions and adverse decision making, otherwise known as cognitive biases. We assume certain things automatically without having thought them through carefully. Kahneman calls these assumptions heuristics and, for entrepreneurs, they can be deadly. An awareness of them is the first step to countering them.
Phil ‘Shoe Dog’ Knight is the founder, former CEO and now Executive Chairman of Nike. In Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike he tells his story of taking the business from humble origins, through an IPO in 1980 and onto its current $30 billion market capitalisation. To put that in perspective, if you had invested $1,000 at IPO without reinvesting dividends, your investment would be worth $729,575 today, that’s a Compound Annual Growth Rate of just over 20.7% (according to Investopedia and based on December 2015 share price).
Knight tells the story of how, what is still widely regarded to be one of the most innovative companies in the world, started and grew out of the back of a van in the early 1970s. A Stanford graduate, avid reader of the Classics and books about military strategy, and a natural introvert, he captures a wonderful story about what he calls his Crazy Idea and the determination and grit it takes to become successful beyond what he’d ever imagined. He also includes some wonderful accounts of the hustle and sometimes downright dirty tactics that it can take to overcome the odds: “you are remembered for the rules you break” is his mantra throughout the book. I’ve captured the best of the rest of his entrepreneurial wisdom in the quotes from the book below.
Yuval Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind charts our origins from hunter gatherers 2.5 million years ago on to the rise of Homo Sapiens 200,000 years ago. He takes the reader through the Cognitive Revolution 70,000 years ago, the Agrarian Revolution 10,000 years ago, into the Scientific Revolution in the 1500s, the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s and on to the present. Harari covers a lot of ground that includes a deep dive into capitalism: “an economic-led system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit”. He explores how something that began as a theory about how the early economy of the modern age functioned, has grown into much more than an economic doctrine. His standpoint serves as a thought-provoking baseline for anyone that works to build and grow businesses. Continue reading
On 13th February 2015 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. At the beginning of August this year my treatment was complete. After nearly two years of grappling with a life-threatening illness, whilst at the same time hanging on to the bones of a business that I had set up just eighteen months before diagnosis, it is time to embrace the new normal. This is my story about cancer and entrepreneurshit. Continue reading
What does it take to be a great mentor? Talking at the launch of the Forward Partners mentor network event I shared my thoughts about mentoring entrepreneurs (Forward Partners are a leading London-based early-stage venture capital firm). I talked about the importance of listening and understanding, before giving advice, and suggested some questions that mentors can ask to helpfully open up a mentor conversation.
I started with a quote from Sal Virani’s recently released book Mentor Impact. Based on over 200 mentor interviews and extensive personal experience of working with accelerator programmes across Europe, he launches the book with a quote from one of the best mentors he interviewed (also a founder who had been through an accelerator programme). That person’s advice to other mentors: Continue reading
Disillusioned with the corporate world and mesmerised by a whole season living in my campervan in the French Alps, I decided it was time for another change. In September 2013 I resigned from Deloitte Consulting and set up my own business as an entrepreneur coach. After five months spent climbing and skiing consequential lines, my rationale was simple: entrepreneurship was going to push me hard and I might end up penniless, but I’d learn a lot and it couldn’t kill me. On that basis, and with some ideas about how I’d grow my business in mind, the decision was made. Just 18 months into my entrepreneurial journey I was told I had Stage 3 colorectal cancer. That most definitely could kill me and I was petrified.
I don’t want to use my illness to define me but it hit at a very specific time in my life. Given the craziness of the experience, it feels like a missed opportunity not to share it and raise awareness. I didn’t keep a diary, so this is an opportunity for memories and personal reflection. I have also recorded a Podcast with Jerry Colonna and the gang at Reboot, a coaching company that helps people to deal with the internal ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
This is my story of being an entrepreneur with cancer.
The startup world loves a buzzword and now we have a new one. Whilst I understand the sentiment behind it, I’m not sure it’s particularly helpful. Posts by Caterina Fake and Adam Draper about the Cockroach caught my positive attention, but on reflection I’m perplexed. A Cockroach is supposedly the name given to startup that makes it through current economic challenges. The origin of the term lies within a Paul Graham post written in October 2008. about why to start a startup in a bad economy. Since then we’ve moved on to the Unicorn phenomenon. Mark Suster has written about why he Fucking Hates Unicorns. I’ll follow up by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the Cockroach. Continue reading
If you picked up the June edition of Wired magazine you’ll have found an excellent article entitled “41 lessons from Uber’s success”. Commentators include Clayton Christensen and Richard Branson, but it’s the point made by Josh Elman from Greylock Partners that really hits home. Reflecting on Uber, his advice is to: “Do one thing really well – then figure out what the second leap is”.
Josh notes that, historically, the most successful companies do this. He cites Facebook’s beginnings as a private social network at colleges, before the company realised that the news feed could help propel the site into a massive multi-billion-user, multi-billion-dollar company. Uber, he says, was the same thing: Continue reading
Sam Altman is the President of Y-Combinator, an American seed fund with investments in over 840 companies including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, Reddit, Zenefits, Instacart and Weebly. Sam sent a Tweet out the other week expressing the view that consultants get paid the most money whilst delivering the least value. Sam is of course entitled to his perspective but I’m not comfortable with it. Continue reading
An inspiring idea and early validation of your business model are just the start of the entrepreneurial journey. When it comes to scaling, there are a thousand and one things that you could do, but you must focus on the one hundred and one things that you can actually do with limited available cash, resources and time. In Tren Griffin’s blog A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Steve Jobs about Business, he references one of my favourite quotes from the great man, and a second that I’ve not heard before.
Startup Boards can be a contentious subject. Do you even need a Board in the early stages? When the time comes to introduce more effective governance arrangements, how do you go about attracting the right Board members and developing a high-performance Board culture? There’s no magic wand that you can wave at your governance challenges, and you will find lots of different answers to the same governance questions.
Here’s my list of 10 articles on the subject of startup Boards that I’d really recommend reading. Continue reading
I picked up my copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey the other day. I remembered that one of Covey’s principles was to begin with the end in mind and I’ve been doing some detailed thinking recently about what my own end is, so to speak. It struck me that there’s some useful lessons in the book about how to grow a business in 2015.
Covey says that beginning with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice. First a mental creation, then a physical creation. He uses the example of building a house: “you create it in every detail before you ever hammer the first nail in place” he says. Continue reading
Any startup that has successfully raised follow on funding (angel and beyond) is going to find itself with external investors to keep happy and to do this effectively requires some form of governance structure to be put in place. Achieving this is not actually that complicated but if you’ve never set up a startup Board before, or put any kind of governance structure in place, then it probably feels like a daunting task. Continue reading
I ran a business planning workshop the other month with a group of early-stage businesses, all high flying brands with six figure revenues. I asked the group a simple question: “who here identifies, understands and manages risk within their business?” I was met with laughter. The answer was of course, no one. Startups and early-stage businesses don’t really do risk management. But managing risk within a business is essential because, as the saying goes, “shit happens”.
Here are a few common themes that I have observed about the consideration of risk in startups and early-stage businesses. Continue reading
This post also appears on Medium.
The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, was first published in 2011 and has since become the bible for startup entrepreneurs around the world. But recently I’ve read a good number of articles that question The Lean Startup. Criticising the lean startup approach is misled though. Why? Because that is all it is, an approach, albeit a very good one. The Lean Startup is not a prescribed formula that guarantees business success. Sadly, “management is complicated”, something that Eric Ries makes very clear in this video where he discusses how the principles and processes explained in The Lean Startup can be used to gain competitive advantage. Continue reading
Did you manage to make it to the acclaimed ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London? Bowie is an incredible talent, combining undeniable song writing ability with outstanding creative flair. He is a true innovator, whose fame has real momentum through constant reinvention. Whilst the days of the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane may be over, Bowie is arguably as well known now as he has ever been.
Whilst exploring the exhibition my mind turned to thinking about what business might be able to learn from him. In a world where pop stars increasingly come and go, David Bowie’s (talent based) fame has endured. This post takes a look at why, and what lessons business can learn. Continue reading
Sir Dave Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling and principal for Team Sky, understands what real strategy is, how to formulate it and how to execute it. His strategic approach has helped British riders achieve a record haul of Olympic medals at three successive Olympic Games, produced a World Champion in Mark Cavendish and two successive Tour de France winners in Sir Bradley Wiggins and now Chris Froome. Continue reading