There’s a saying that readers and leaders. That basically means the more you know, the more you can apply your knowledge to help you spot trends, take advantage of opportunities, and recognize pitfalls ahead of time.
If you want to get ahead in life, you must first acknowledge that you don’t know everything and that you never will. Once you admit this, then you can freely learn from others who have the knowledge you need. Ideally, you want to find a mentor or someone who can help you in person, but since that’s not always possible, the next best step is to start reading books.
The most important book to read is Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich.” This book is the basis for nearly every self-improvement book on the market so you might as well learn from the one of the original and best-selling self-help books of all time.
Jon Fisher, who sold his startup to Oracle, wrote “Strategic Entrepreneurism,” which explains the smart way to start up a company. Instead of trying to compete against a larger, more established rival, Jon suggests you focus on creating a company that a bigger company would want to buy. That means finding a niche related to a big company that doesn’t compete directly against that bigger company.
This insures that you don’t futilely compete against a larger company and that you focus on the smaller, but lucrative market that big companies are ignoring. Now your company can grow in an ignored market until it gets big enough to make it an attractive acquisition target for a bigger company. Even if a bigger company doesn’t buy you out, designing your company from the start to be acquired by a big company insures that your company targets the right market from the beginning that has few rivals but lots of potential.
Another book to read is “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” If you’re interested in creating your own company, “The Innovator’s Dilemma” will show you how to do it successfully. The basic formula is this. First, forget about competing directly with a big company. If you try competing against a big company, you’re going to run out of money long before they will.
Instead of competing directly against a big company by copying their business model and trying to beat them at their own game, the real secret for innovative startups is to tackle a market that meets these criteria:
- It’s too small and unprofitable for a big company to worry about
- It offers the long-term potential to make the big company’s business model obsolete
- The new business model is actually worse than the big company’s business model, but appeals to a niche market
Think of Kodak protecting their film business. Nobody but other big companies could compete against Kodak in the film industry, but smaller companies could compete against Kodak with digital photography. Initially, digital photography was worse than film, but it gradually improved until it wiped out Kodak. It was inevitable that digital photography would improve, but Kodak was too slow to acknowledge this, and that’s how they got wiped out. Big companies never die because of competition from other big companies, but because they overlooked a small, niche market that suddenly grew and killed their own business model.
Think of Borders Books focusing on retail book sales while ignoring online book sales that Amazon initially tackled. Borders was so sure that retail book sales was where the money was that initially they even directed potential online customers to shop at Amazon instead.
In the beginning, Amazon’s online book sales were only a fraction of the sales of Borders, but as more people got online, online book sales soon dwarfed retail book sales until Borders Books had to close down.
“The Innovator’s Dilemma” will help you understand why big companies fail and how small startups can succeed by targeting niche markets that big companies are ignoring. If you’re thinking about starting a company, you can’t afford not to read “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”
Finally there’s “The Design of Everyday Things.” If you’re going to create a product of any kind such as software or a new gadget, you need to understand how people use objects. Engineers and tech-savvy people tend to focus on technical specifications crammed into a design that’s only understandable by themselves. The common solution to dealing with complex designs is to train the user through classes or user’s manuals.
That’s always a recipe for failure. The real solution is to design products so they’re intuitive to the user, provide constant feedback so the user feels in control, and simplifies the user’s life so the design of the product becomes almost invisible to the user. If the user has to focus on using a product, that product gets in the way of accomplishing a task that the user wants. The less an object gets in the way of the user, the happier the user will be with the object.
If you’re designing software or gadgets, you need to make your product easy to use. That might mean taking out features and only focusing on the most common ones. More technical features rarely equals happier customers because complexity rarely translates into ease of use. From an engineer’s point of view, more features might be desirable, but from the average user’s point of view, more features just get in the way of finding the handful of features they really want and need.
By reading these three books, you can create a knowledge foundation for success. Just acknowledge you don’t know everything, be willing to learn from others, and be wiling to fail. If you do these three things, your chances of success will be far greater than someone who avoids one or more of these criteria.