Book review: The personal MBA

One of my latest habits is to look for recommendations from high-profile tech influencers, and this came after reading an intriguing post by Seth Godin. Even though the post is from 2006, I thought “why not giving it a shot?” and, boy, I was really pleased with my choice.

The Personal MBA is a condensed business lesson you will not regret: I particularly enjoyed the chapter around accounting and financials, as it helped me understand a few more technical terms and get a high-level overview of the matter. As you might have guessed, the book is not about software, and rightly so; at the same time I would encourage anyone passionate about building products and amazing audiences to give it a shot, as the books sums up a lot of interesting concepts for people who intend to run a business or launch a product.

I am always biased towards the business side of things (I often, maybe too often, find myself asking “how did we improve it for customers?” rather than “is it covered by unit tests?”) so this was a very interesting read for me, but if you don’t give a damn about the product / business this is not going to be something you’d enjoy. However, I would encourage you to venture to the other side, as I believe it helps us being better professionals — code is the medium, not the goal.

Some interesting quotes from the book:

Whoever best describes the problem is the one most likely to solve it.

Frederick Winslow Taylor, the pioneer of “scientific management” techniques that now form the foundation of modern management training, used a stopwatch to shave a few seconds off the average time a workman took to load iron ingots into a train car. That should give you a good idea of the underlying mind-set of most business school management programs.

top executives consistently have the highest rates of divorce and family relationship issues.

all successful businesses sell some combination of money, status, power, love, knowledge, protection, pleasure, and excitement.

The best way to observe what your potential competitors are doing is to become a customer. Buy as much as you can of what they offer.

I can’t give you a surefire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time. —HERBERT BAYARD SWOPE, PULITZER PRIZE–WINNING JOURNALIST

Being Remarkable is the best way to attract Attention. In the classic marketing book Purple Cow, Seth Godin uses a wonderful metaphor to illustrate this principle. A field full of brown cows is boring. A purple cow violates the viewer’s expectations, which naturally attracts Attention and interest.

Most drivers don’t buy expensive off-road-capable vehicles because they actually drive off the road. They buy them because off-road capability makes them feel adventurous and bold, capable of meeting any driving challenge. Most women don’t buy a $20 tube of lipstick for its color alone. They buy it because they believe it will make them more beautiful and desirable. Most college students don’t pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to Harvard or Stanford or Yale just to sit in a class. They go (or, rather, their parents send them) because they believe they’ll be perceived as sophisticated, intelligent, and powerful after they graduate.

The product that will not sell without advertising will not sell profitably with advertising.

In every negotiation, the power lies with the party that is able and willing to walk away from a bad deal.

In Green to Gold, Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston describe several ways of making it easier to internalize the results of large decisions. The “newspaper rule” and “grandchild rule” are effective ways of personalizing the results of your decisions. The “newspaper rule” is a simulation of the following: assume your decision was publicized on the front page of tomorrow’s New York Times, and your parents and/or significant other read it. What would they think? Imagining the personal consequences of your decisions in this way is a much more accurate way to evaluate the impact of short-term decisions. The “grandchild rule” is a way of evaluating decisions with long-term consequences. Imagine that, thirty or forty years from now, your grandchild gives you feedback on the results of your decision. Will they laud you for your wisdom or reprimand you for your stupidity?

Add an element of Scarcity to your offer, and you’ll encourage people to buy now instead of “later.”

If you’re having difficulties making a Decision, Steve Pavlina, the author of Personal Development for Smart People, recommends using this question as the tiebreaker: “Out of the available options, which experience do I want to have?”

Asking yourself good questions helps you discover good answers. Make it a Habit to consistently ask yourself good questions, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to overcome the challenges you face.

Negative Deadlines—The deadlines for work become more important than the quality of the work being done.

Doing something is not always the best course of action. Consider doing nothing instead.


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