Peter Thiel – Zero to One

Why did I choose to read the book?

Thiel via his serial entrepreneurship, creating Paypal and investing in Facebook early has become a venture capital celebrity of silicon valley, a VC rock star so to speak. With him being an interesting personality as well, I always wondered what he thought like and what his methods and presumptions to business are.

What is it about?

Thiel presents a lot of unconventional wisdom, amassed during his years of activity in entrepreneurship and venture capital investment and in this book describes how, in his opinion, a lot of common beliefs, are false assumptions.

The eponymous Zero to One describes the following

Go from zero to one by doing new things, as in innovate and distinguish by creating new products and technologies. Focus on people and usage, not on competition.

Do not go from one to N by copying things that work already, as in copy something which already exists and streamline or globalise it.

According to Thiel, innovation will always lead to grater success, than sheer coping or streamlining.

How did I like the book?

Let’s start with an analogy which I really liked and believe to be true:

ZERO TO ONE every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them. – Peter Thiel

Thiel proves himself to be quite insightful in a lot of areas. Especially his thoughts on competition and the need to focus on the new, not the path well trodden, to escape said competition and become a monopoly were very interesting. Other insight, e.g. the need for long-term planning, even in start-ups or the need for entrepreneurs to start in small markets before diversifying or scaling to neighbouring markets were great insight as well. Overall, this book represents Thiel’s opinions, experiences and best-practices for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as well as other interested parties, while not being very academic, the book supports questioning conventional belief (which I wholly support) and provides a lot of high quality food for further thought.

Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson – ReWork

Why did I choose to read the book?

Amazon really wanted me to read this book. For quite some time, their recommendation engine kept bugging me to read it. The cover was nice (don’t judge a book by it’s cover, I know…), the premise was interesting enough and the price was alright, so I thought, what the hell.

What is it about?

Written by the founders of 37Signals, a small US company, selling team collaboration and customer relationship solutions, this book covers lessons learned and best practices by the founders. The authors explain how doing less is sometimes more, how iteration of a product or service is the way to go, how staying lean can help flexibility or that focus on growth can hurt a product. Mostly though, this book is about focus. Focus on what you can do and what you yourself need or would need, if you were your own customer. Focus on yourself and your product, not competition. Be proud of what you do and the things you don’t do. Don’t bend yourself over backwards, to add silly features, so you can serve every possible customer. Don’t be that restaurant that tries to serve everyone via a gigantic menu, but focus on a few dishes and do them remarkably well.

How did I like the book?

While the book’ focus is on start-ups and small businesses, the ideas presented, can just as well be used on everything else as well. I for my part, will use some ideas, to better serve internal customers. My favourite part, was a passage about “sometimes good enough is just that, good enough”. Often times, there is no need for a fancy and most likely expensive solution, as with some good ideas and a little spit here and there, small solutions to big problems might just do the trick, until you need to or have the time to get around to implementing the fancy one. While the books content is highly subjective and is by no means academic, the ideas presented are great none the less. It doesn’t revolutionize, but the way it summarizes and often questions conventional belief, make for a good and quick read.

Eliyahu M. Goldratt – The Goal

Why did I choose to read the book?

After being heavily referenced in the business novel The Phoenix Project, which I read before, I bumped it up my reading queue.

What is it about?

A business book, detailing the trials and tribulations of a production plant manager, fighting to keep his plant from closure. With help of one of his old college professors, he starts to change processes of his plant to reach the plants eponymous goal – to make money, by increasing throughput, cash-flow and reducing inventory. The book also details Goldratt’s Theory of Constrains, in which production capacity of a plant is governed by it’s constraints or bottlenecks. To maximise utilization of said bottlenecks (e.g. by decreasing production of excess inventory and focusing on products for order / direct sales) and producing with constraints in mind, flow (and throughput) can be increased.

How did I like the book?

It was a very enlightening read. The Theory of Constrains, just as detailed in The Phoenix Project, can be transferred to other processes and uses outside production environments. Knowing your constraints and bottlenecks, should greatly help maximising a departments throughput or output as a whole. Also, like with the phoenix project, the story is quite entertaining, even though the protagonist is in some parts unlikeable (at least to me) and there is a side-story about the protagonists marriage problems, which I felt to be badly written and distracting.

Gene Kim – The Phoenix Project

Why did I choose to read the book?

I really liked the description of this book. It is marketed as a business novel, of which, as far as I can tell, there are but a handful available.

What is it about?

It’s a novel about the newly appointed Head of IT trying and fixing IT processes in his department. By streamlining processes, via treating IT similar to  a manufacturing line and implementing new concepts, saves the company and it’s most important project, the titular Project Phoenix.

How did I like the book?

This is not a classic business book as it does not share the same inner-monologue style, inherent of most business books I have read, but has it’s themes and concepts woven into a story (and makes it a novel I think…), which – to my surprise – is exiting and very fun to read. And I cannot express what a joyous read it was, it may even become my favourite so far. It’s content was easily accessible, incredibly smart and I found the story astoundingly exiting, almost like a good thriller. The concepts and ideas presented were great and even if these were meant to be implemented in IT context, it may just as well be used in other business contexts and departments, if only in part. The only thing I didn’t like, it referenced and in some parts spoiled a similar business novel “The Goal”, which, much to my dismay, I haven’t read yet, but at the same time bumped it up my reading list, so much so, that it will be my next read. Overall, amazing book. Hope the authors will do something similar in the future, as it will be a day one buy for me.

Martin Ford – Rise of the robots

Why did I choose to read the book?

This book has been the winner of the 2015 Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award and I wanted to know what the fuss is all about. Also, the books subtitle “Technology and the threat of a jobless future” sounded interesting enough to warrant a read.

What is it about?

Ford shows with this book, how technological advances, specifically those in software and robotics, will render a lot of jobs, currently considered safe (paralegal, nurse, truck driver…) obsolete. He starts with an historical analysis, how automation has changed the world and availability of jobs, then introduces technologies which are partially available today and are expected to upend whole industries.

How did I like the book?

I really like the book. I like the way it has been written and I really like the theme and content. Also, I find this book scary, terrifying even. At the same time, a lot of the content should be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, a lot of jobs are even today subject to automation, but I doubt all of the impending changes described will come to pass as predicted. Still, the realistic descriptions on what jobs will likely be automated, on how politics and the whole economic system is not far off an paradigm shift is simply terrifying and too realistic and close to home. Everyone interested in the possible ramifications on oneself, one’s family and job should certainly take a look.

Michael Lewis – Moneyball

Why did I choose to read the book?

First off, I know next to nothing about baseball. I played some in High-School, during my time in the US, but aside from some basic understanding of it’s rules, I know next to nothing. Why then did I choose to read this book? To my understanding, this book is not solely about baseball and I felt it outside my comfort zone, which made me bump it up my reading list, as I hate missing out on great stuff and knowledge simply because its outside my comfort zone.

What is it about?

The book provides an inside look on how the Oakland Athletics (short: Oakland As), a relatively poor US baseball club achieved success, while being one of the least funded clubs in pro baseball at the time. It describes how it’s general manager and former pro baseball player Billy Beane together with his assistant Paul DePodesta, used statistics and market inefficiencies to assemble the best possible team he could afford with what little money he had, making his club’s ratio of money spent vs. games won by far the highest in pro baseball at the time.

How did I like the book?

I liked the story of an underdog rising to prominence via outsmarting the competition. I also liked the authors approach of telling his findings in little personal stories of people involved. Most of the book and stories were very interesting, especially all parts covering the personal stories of Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta and how they proceeded in their endeavour. As stated at the very beginning, I know next to nothing about baseball. Which brings us to what I did not like about this book, it is written with a certain type of reader in mind: baseball fans. While most stories are interesting, the name dropping, baseball stats and insider intel presented mean nothing to me. Often times, names were dropped where I had the feeling, the author expects you to know who this person is and be in awe, which….I don’t and I’m not….. Had I been a baseball nut, I probably would have liked the book better, as it stands it was okay. Overall, when the book was about how David used his cunning to fool and outsmart Goliath, I loved it and it inspired me to question conventional wisdom and to search for inefficiencies to exploit. Whenever it was about baseball players, their stats and play styles, I was bored.