Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell

Whenever people find great success and become millonaires like Bill Gates, legendary musicans like the Beatles or shape the future of the world like J. Robert Oppenheimer the story told is one of the person’s great hardships, impeccable skills and inherent intelligence, making us being fascinated of these people’s skills and success. What Gladwell analyses however, is whether these fairytales of success and self-made millionaires are really true, in that they did it all by themselfes.

What Gladwell presents is a convincing account on how circumstances, luck and legacy factor into the success of individuals. Without the right time, place, access to resources, opportunity and family background, these successes would not have happened.

Gladwell’s analyses the circumstances of each respective background and discribes, that without advantages, may those be unlimited access to computers in a time when those were rare, opportunities to play live to an audience 8 hours a day, having personal connections to people of influence, or simply being born in the right year or month.

He states that via 10.000 hours of training, his “10.000 hour rule”, one can master pretty much anything. Therefor, the earlier you start learning a specific skill, the younger you are at the time of it’s mastery. Without unlimited access to then rare and expensive computers, Bill Gates wouldn’t have been able to become profficient at programming at a young age and without plaing 8 hours a day for months on end in Hamburg, the Beatles wouldn’t have become the legends they are today.

Therefor, no mastery without the necessary training and circumstances.
Gladwell, as with most his other books, makes an intriguing case, that fairytales of solely self-made success are just that, fairytales. I found this book quick and easy to read and interesting throuout. Recommended, if you are interested in the content.

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Shoe Dog is the much talked about memoir of Nike founder Phil Knight. In all honesty, until I read rave reviews of this book, it wasn’t even on my radar. I know the brand Nike (of course), but never cared much about the companies’ history or founder.
Still, I must say I am glad I picked it up.

Knight starts his tale with a journey around the globe and his first meeting with the Japanese company Onitsuka, who’s Tiger shoes Knight started to sell in the US before there ever were any Nike. While Knight describes his companies journey until it’s first public offering in 1980, this book doesn’t tell the story of Nike, but the story of Phil Knight.
It is a story of Knight’s struggling for identity and meaning, his need to make his father proud, to leave his mark on this world, of companionship, first love and the tragic death of his eldest son.
At times, it reads like a thriller, with Knight struggling to keep the company afloat and him fighting a federal investigation. Other times it’s like a romance novel, as when tells of his first meeting of his future wife.
But first and foremost, Knight is a philosophe, in search for meaning.

What I found the most remarkable, is Knight’s ability, to create a rag-tag motley crew of co-workers and confidants, based on their individual merit, skills and personality and less so on their formal education and agreeableness. Without his band of brothers, his company wouldn’t have become what it is today, as his skill to amass capable people and giving them the room to become the best they can be, via his hands-off approach to leadership, is the real secret to Nike’s success.

His memoir is simply stunning. The way he presents the events of his past and describes the people he met on his journey, are masterfully coloured. I hope, one day he writes a second book. Wholeheartedly recommended.

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.