Summer Reading List for Entrepreneurs–2015 Edition

Here is my summer reading list for entrepreneurs, 2015 edition. These six books cover a range of topics: sales and marketing, skills for innovation, cultivating expertise, giving and getting advice, pursuing mastery, and mapping the value chain for a new product.

Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares

Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares is a broad based assessment of what you can do to get traction with your startup. Dozens of entrepreneurs were interviewed and offered a wealth of practical tips (I am highlighted in the opening part of the chapter devoted do “Direct Sales” for the full interview see “Your First Dozen Enterprise Customers“). Their overall framework is the Bullseye Model which essentially says that only one or two strategies are going to be most effective for a given market and your stage of growth and customer adoption, it’s worth experimenting to find the most potent.

Why Read This Book: To get better at sales and revenue generation.

Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg

I was already a fan of Gerald Weinberg after reading his “Psychology of Computer Programming” in college and read “Secrets of Consulting” when it came out in 1986. It’s one of a handful of books that I bought several copies of to lend out because of how valuable I found it (Bionomics by Michael Rothschild and “Expect the Unexpected” by Roger von Oech are two others).  The list of laws, rules, and principles in the back is worth the price alone. Here are a few of my favorite:

  • We can do it—and this is how much it will cost. “The Orange Juice Test.”
  • If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking.  “The Rule of Three” and an early incarnation of the premortem model.
  • The best marketing tool is a satisfied client. “Sixth Law of Marketing”
  • People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you. “Third Law of Trust”
  • If they don’t like your work, don’t take their money. “Six Law of Pricing”
  • Price is not a thing, it’s a negotiated relationship. “Eighth Law of Pricing”
  • Set the price so you won’t regret it either way. “Principle of Least Regret”

Why Read This Book: To get better at problem discovery, diagnosis, and giving advice.

The Rise by Sarah Lewis

This is a book about people, some present day some historical, who have achieved mastery in a variety of fields from the arts and sciences to business and engineering. Sarah Lewis collects stories from current day explorers, athletes, artists, and business people and shares research on historical figures. I found reading “The Rise” inspirational and the biographical stories notable for their depiction of real setbacks and the grit required to approach mastery.

Why Read This Book: to understand what’s involved in developing expertise, that mastery is an asymptote you can approach but never reach.

Effectual Entrepreneurship by Saras Sarasvathy

This is the only textbook on the list. Effectual Entrepreneurship by Saras Sarasvathy is the most approachable of her writing–with the exception of “What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial“–on effectuation, her name for the approach to entrepreneurship she uncovered from interviews with several hundred expert entrepreneurs. She has a lot more detail in her “Effectuation” book and on Effectuation.Org but I would start with this book.

Why Read This Book: To understand a practical paradigm for entrepreneurship that values careful observation, relationships and improvisation.

Clayton Christensen Innovator’s DNA

The Innovator’s DNA by Clayton Christensen is the best book on a practical approach to entrepreneurial innovation that I have read. The book identifies five key skills to master for innovation.

  1. Associating: connecting disparate facts, observations, and stories to enable combinations of seemingly unrelated ideas in a new and unique way.
  2. Questioning: first understanding the world as it is, then exploring why, why not, and what if.
  3. Observing: being mindful in familiar situations and appreciative in novel situations.
  4. Networking is an absolute. By this they don’t mean hanging around with your buddies, it means taking serious conversation with people of diverse backgrounds, people with backgrounds different from your own, learning from their experience and learning from their expertise.
  5. Experimenting: taking risks to gain new perspectives. This can either involve trying new experiences, or carefully analyzing products, processes, and ideas, or testing your ideas with prototypes. Experimenting is not done in a lab setting, it’s about submerging yourself in a truly different environment and appreciating a different perspective on life.

We devoted a 5 episode webinar series to it in 2011:

  1. Webinar Replay: Innovator’s DNA Associating Skill
  2. Webinar Replay: Innovator’s DNA Questioning Skill
  3. Webinar Replay: Innovator’s DNA Observing Skill
  4. Webinar Replay: Innovator’s DNA Networking Skill
  5. Webinar Replay: Innovator’s DNA Experimenting Skill

Why Read This Book: Learn five key skills to master to entrepreneurial innovation.

Ron Adner’s Wide Lens

The Wide Lens by Ron Adner offers a value chain perspective on new product introduction. It recognizes that most products have related services and support offered by partners and that every company relies on suppliers who may also have to modify their offering or business model to support an innovative product. I find it a much more useful analytical framework than any of the Business Model Canvas charts because you can sketch the exact set of interrelationships between suppliers, partners, distributors, and your factory in the value chain to the customer.

Why Read This Book: Appreciate that every significant innovation requires upstream and downstream partners to co-innovate and adopt.

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