Anything You Want – Derek Sivers

Anything You Want [LINK] – Derek Sivers

An eccentric founder shares his story of starting a business and the unconventional lessons he learned along the way. Derek Sivers founded CD Baby, grew it to $4 million in monthly sales, and then abruptly sold it. He implemented his own business strategy: no consultants, never took outside money, allowed employees to decide their salary and time off, encouraged customers to vote on new features, and everything else you’d never find in a Business Strategy 101 textbook.

Sivers has come to be known as somewhat of an obscure individual. Trained as a musician, he never set out to be running his own company. “’Revolution’ is a term that people use only when you’re successful. Before that, you’re just a quirky person who does things differently.” He was interested in alternative music and struggled to find musicians who couldn’t benefit from economies of scale and mass marketing. So he started CD Baby, a marketplace and promotional site for independent artists.

When you create your own business, you are creating a small universe where you control all the laws. If you don’t enjoy performing a specific task, hire someone else that does. For Sivers, his focus was on customers, but to treat customers well, employees must be given autonomy, flexibility and rewards.

The best section of this book is about Sivers decision making process. When encountering a decision, you have two options: It’s either a “HELL YEAH!” or “no.” There is no middle. I’ve used this decision tree to answer questions about career aspirations, large purchases, and anything that requires vast amounts of cognition. If you aren’t committed to the “HELL YEAH!” then it’s a “no.”

We all want different things, but Sivers is most interested in our motivations: “How do you grade yourself?” For some people, it’s how much money they make. For others, it’s how much money they give. For some, it’s how many people’s lives they can influence for the better. And for others, it’s how deeply they can influence just a few people’s lives. For Derek, it’s how many useful things he can create.

No matter what goal you set for yourself, there will be people telling you you’re wrong and won’t succeed. Contrary to what most would think, this is a result of a healthy, high-functioning society. If you set goals like you don’t need money, people will be happier for you. When a business is solely aligned to money, people sense the desperation and trickery.

“You can’t just live someone else’s expectation of traditional business. You have to do whatever you love the most, or you’ll lose interest in the whole thing.” Even if it’s unconventional, pay attention to what excites you, do what you enjoy most, and you’ll be on your way to anything you want.

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The Dip – Seth Godin

The Dip [LINK] – Seth Godin

Advice is relative. Ironically, that’s the best piece of advice I’ve been given.

Quitters never win and winners never quit. This may be true for your favorite sports comeback story, but real winners quit all the time; that’s how they win. You find out what you’re good at, where you should invest your time, and where you should never go again. I love reading, but it wasn’t always that way. I once took a reading comprehension test. It said I read at the equivalent of a fifth grader. Having never read much in high school or college, I decided from 2015 onward I would read 50+ books a year. You don’t do that by staying in the fifth grade. You go through The Dip.

It’s a metaphorical trough that trips people up. When the times are tough, the tough get going. Now that’s a proverb relevant to The Dip. Quit the bad, or stick with the good, and develop the willingness to do either. As Godin notes, “The problem is that only a tiny portion of the audience is looking for the brand-new thing. Most people are waiting for the tested, the authenticated, and the proven.” They are stuck in The Dip.

Being well rounded is not the key to success. The marketplace rewards those at the top. #1 often benefits 10x that of #10, and 100x that of #100. This is explained by Zipf’s law: Given a large sample of [words] used, the frequency of any [word] is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Winner’s win big because society rewards them most. The difference between #1 and #3 is not 2.

We’re often myopic about others accomplishments. They come from either giving up or nevergiving up. We think the new artist is a one hit wonder even though it’s their third album. We forget that Michael Burry, famous for shorting the housing industry, first quit his medical practice to later make millions investing. Strategic quitting is the key to many large organizations. Take Amazon for example, where Jeff Bezos preaches about his failures. He fails early and often, focusing on what Amazon can optimize and control. For most, it’s easier to be mediocre than confront the reality that you’re not that good at something, or that what you’ve done is a failure.

The point of The Dip is not that you should quit, it’s that The Dip is a long, hard, frustrating and difficult place to be, so one must have the stamina, passion and willpower to persevere. “The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.”

This book reminded me of another great pocket book on mediocracy/expertise, It’s Now How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be, by Paul Arden.

Poke the Box – Seth Godin

Poke the Box [LINK] – Seth Godin

From inside the flap: Poke the Box is a manifesto about producing something that’s scarce, and thus valuable. It demands that you stop waiting for a road map and start drawing one instead. You know how to do this, you’ve done it before, but along the way, someone talked you out of it.

Seth Godin asks, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” A simple and insightful question that is surprising difficult to answer. We are often asked what we do, seldom do we respond that we start stuff. Blindly accepting results is the loss of power. Most new ideas come from solving a problem, not optimizing a current solution – those are for the organization focused on perfection. Large-scale organizations are designed for efficiency and consistency, not joy.

As humans, we are wired to avoid risk because we fear failure more than success. Humans are loss averse, and instead of doing something for the first time, we focus on looking over the report one last time. Don’t be afraid to stand up and stand out. In Australia they call this thetall poppy syndrome. As Godin explains, “Twice as much polishing isn’t twice as good.” If you want to ship it (delivering your piece of work), you must stop procrastinating. Sure, you won’t write a 20,000 word novel by tomorrow, but how about drafting the first page today?

Ideas are cheap – shipping is expensive. Get out in the world. Experience new places, pick a new hobby, work on that idea you have. No one said it’s going to be successful, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. Catching a flaming chainsaw with one hand looks great, but how do you learn to catch if you never try to throw? Juggling is about throwing, not catching. Poke the box, maybe something new will come out.

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth. Not going all the way, and not starting” – Siddhartha Gautama