Not every book for entrepreneurs is going to help you with your startup
According to Google, there are approximately 130 million unique books in the world.
“The year 2010 had more than 2.7 million “non-traditional” titles published, including “self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books.” Also, hundreds of thousands of English Language books are published each year outside the U.S.”
As you can see, there are tons of books. Tons of books on personal growth. On software development. On parenting. Books on being an entrepreneur. Is the course of wisdom to read as many books as possible? Should you devote yourself to constant reading, believing that this will make you successful? I in no way want to discourage you from reading. Reading is essential to gaining more knowledge. But there can be a danger to all this literary input. What is that danger?
Not every book contains truth. Some books are based upon opinion. And some books were written with the sole goal of making money, not providing true and helpful information. You must learn to distinguish between a book that contains truthful, beneficial information, and one that doesn’t. How can you do this? How can you tell if a book is going to provide you with the help you need in your startup?
Anyone can make a claim. And it can be very tempting to believe a claim is true. Especially if that claim appeals to something that we want to believe. Claims like, “How to get a 6-pack in 6 days.” “How to sell your startup idea for $1 million.” “How I made $10,000 my 1st-month blogging.” Many times these types of articles do very well. Why? Because people want to believe all these claims. They want to believe they can have a 6-pack in 6 days. They want to believe that without the vigorous, intense work, they can sell an idea for $1 million. They want to believe they can start a blog, and one month later have $10,000. But these articles and books, if not based on a lie, are based on one example of someone succeeding. Why is that a problem? Because one example is not adequate to prove a strategy or principal as worthy of imitation. Why not?
Many have achieved success. Some have had huge successes, others smaller. The paths that each takes to succeed vary in different ways. Not every example will fit your situation. However, principles are applicable across all businesses and industries. Books that are filled with examples show how principles were applied in various situations. This allows you to better discover how a principle can be applied to your specific business or startup. And that’s what you need. You need to learn how to apply principles, not follow in the footsteps of someone whose example doesn’t apply to you.
If a book can’t back up it’s claims with many examples, then it’s a book of theories. If you look at some of the de-facto standard backs in various industries, they are filled to the brim with examples. Books like…
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy
- Lean Startup by Eric Reis
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven G. Blank
- Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A Moore
These books are all filled with examples. Ogilvy on Advertising, in the first half of the book alone, contains over 120 actual advertisement examples and explains why they were successful or why they were not. That kind of factual evidence empowers you with the tools you need to be successful in advertising. In it though, he makes some very non-conventional claims. For example,
From Ogilvy on Advertising
”When you use a photograph of a woman, men ignore your advertisement,”
“What is a good advertisement? An advertisement which pleases you because of its style, or an advertisement which sells the most? They are seldom the same. Go through a magazine and pick out the advertisements you like best. You will probably pick those with beautiful illustrations or clever copy. You forget to ask yourself whether your favorite advertisements would make you want to buy the product”
“‘If you and your competitors all make excellent products, don’t try to imply that your product is better. Just say what’s good about your product — and do a clearer, more honest, more informative job of saying it.
These statements go against the grain, but he lists his research and examples to help you understand why these statements are true. And when you see real-world applications, you understand that what he is saying is true.
Those four books above are standards for a reason. Anyone can learn from the principles they teach because they’re backed by so many actual, real-world examples.
I’d like to preface this by saying that I’m not against new books. New books can be packed with valuable information. So by all means, if you stumble across a great new book, that’s awesome. However, there is something special about a book that has passed the test of time. Why?
Humans have not changed. We may dress differently. Use different technologies. Have different types of businesses. Speak different languages. But humans themselves have not changed. We’ve been eating for thousands of years. We’ve been laughing for thousands of years. Things that concern us now, like health, income, beauty, have always concerned us. So when a book that was written in the ’50s still applies to today, you know you’ve found something golden.
For example, take the book Crossing the Chasm. The main illustration of the book is, how taking over a market should be executed like the battle of D-Day. Why has this passed the test of time?
Today, tomorrow, and 20 years from now, the way to conquer something large when your small, stays the same: Conquer a small area that will give you a strategic advantage to infiltrate something larger. It’s a strategy that’s been used for years in warfare, and business. It doesn’t matter if you’re a tech startup or a restaurant. The principle always applies.
A quote you’ll see in multiple articles of mine is taken from Crossing the Chasm. In it he says…
”What allows the fledgling enterprise to win over pragmatist customers in advance of broader market acceptance, is focusing an overabundance of support into a confined market niche.” — Crossing the Chasm
The principle above applies to whatever business you’re pursuing. No matter the nature of your startup, finding a niche is crucial. The book was written in 1991. It’s been revised, but the principles have not been changed. The examples might be different, reflecting more current companies. But the core message remains. That shows the power of the content of this book.
Those who speak the truth, recognize the truth. They also recognize those who talk big with little results. David Ogilvy says…
“There have always been noisy lunatics on the fringes of the advertising business. Their stock-in-trade includes ethnic humor, eccentric art direction, contempt for research, and their self-proclaimed genius. They are seldom found out, because they gravitate to the kind of clients who, bamboozled by their rhetoric, do not hold them responsible for sales results” — Ogilvy On Advertising
You have to be careful. Some of these self-proclaimed geniuses write books. One way to ensure that the books you’re reading are legit is by looking at the books that the standards reference.
- Crossing the Chasm and The Four Steps To The Epiphany were mentioned in Lean Startup.
- Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples and Scientific Advertising by Claude C. Hopkins are two other standard advertising books recommended in the book Ogilvy On Advertising.
All these books are standards, and they’re all mentioned within the standards. That’s one way that you can ensure that a book is going to be truly beneficial. If other standards mention it, it’s good.
What is more beneficial than reading as many books as you can, is to read the great books multiple times. Books can be applied in so many different scenarios. Throughout the life of your startup, various principles of the books you read will apply at different times. By continuing to read those books you’ll see how they apply to your current situation.
Are you in the process of your 1st pivot? Eric Reis’ own experience of IMVU’s first pivot will help you.
Are you trying to decide whether to pivot or preserve in your current course? Chapter 8 of Lean Startup, Pivot (or Persevere) will help you.
Are you still in the “idea” phase? Chapter 3 entitled “Learn” can help you. Or the section Think Big, Start Small in Chapter 4 can help you see what Zappos did to validate their idea.
There are so many examples and lessons in these books that you can keep going back over and over again, and learn new things.
“It’s what we think we know that keeps us from learning.”
Don’t think that you can read a book one time and retain all its wisdom. No, you need to go back to it. Allow it to be a reference that you consider when making decisions. The more you read the books, the better you’ll be able to apply them.
There are many books out there. Millions of them. Be selective. Your time is limited. Reading a book in itself does not mean an improved mindset. Make sure the books you’re reading are the right ones. Do your research. Don’t believe that any and every book is going to help you. There are examples of large groups of people following the advice of a book, and having disastrous consequences. But there are examples of people reading the right books and that being the ticket to their success. So read the right books. Your chances of success will increase greatly.