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For almost thirty years, I have made a living telling people about business books that are important. There are nearly 11,000 business books published each year, so this job requires me to make quick judgments based on those years of experience. Because of the number of books that cross my desk, I really gravitate to shorter books. So it is extraordinary for me to read—no, devour—a 700+ page book cover to cover. The book is The Quest; Energy, Security, and the remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin, and it is a masterpiece.
Ten years ago, the author wrote a book called The Prize, a Pulitzer Prize winner that told the history of oil. In The Quest, he uses a wider lens to capture the larger energy picture: oil as well as coal, nuclear, and natural gas used to generate electricity, drive our cars and heat our homes. This book takes the reader through the early part of the 20th century when gas was cheap, through the creation of OPEC and the oil embargo of the ‘70s, and then into this century with the Gulf war and the nightmare of the Japanese nuclear disaster. He also digs into the other sources of energy—solar, wind, biofuels—which aren’t exactly new, but being revalued by investors and consumers alike.
Yergin has a real talent for explaining complicated issues with great story telling. For example, his two-page explanation of the evolution of climate change becoming a cultural divider and a universal concern is read-out-loud brilliant and easy to understand. From the Caspian Sea to China, Africa to Hugo Chavez and Venezuela’s oil production, Yergin shows us the interconnectivity of the world, giving it life and context. This book will help you to understand some of the complex issues regarding energy that we will need to deal with globally, and will keep you thoroughly entertained along the way.
Business is not just a creation; it is a creative process. Jonathan Fields recognizes this, and has written a book addressing a key part of that process—uncertainty. Having left the six-figure income he made as a lawyer to work as a personal trainer and open a yoga center in New York City (the day before 9/11, no less), it is a topic he knows something about.
And he knows that life without the unknown is life without innovation. If we were sure of everything we did before we did it, we would have never discovered fire or invented the wheel. Ambiguity has unseen opportunity, uncertainty is rife with potential. As the author notes:
The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas, and creations.
But we all fear the unknown, and when it comes down to your life’s work, it can be downright terrifying. That’s not going to go away, but you can frame it differently. Writing of “The Myth of the Fearless Creator,” Fields notes that prolific creators learn to experience fear as attention and motivation, like a mountain climber on a precipice. He tells the story of how Sebastian Junger, the author of Perfect Storm and maker of the film Restrepo, learned to deal with this fear. Junger explains:
I start feeling it and then I … just unhook from it. … I was a climber for tree companies and I’m scared of heights, but I never got over my fear of heights. I just figured out how to not think about it. It was really simple.
Uncertainty will help you become more comfortable living amidst the mystery, embracing the unknown so that you can exploit it’s potential. As Fields poignantly remarks, “Genius always starts with a question, not an answer.”
Entrepreneurship. Starting your own business. Running your own company. These words and phrases are ripe with potential, optimism, freedom. They mean realizing your dream, saying no to the corporate grind, being your own boss, setting your own value.
But of course it is far more complicated than that. Once you get your business off the ground, once your business becomes a success, it’s entirely possible that your little business, much like a child, will have developed a mind and personality of it’s own. And, as a result, you really aren’t going to have a lot of freedom, and you’ll be too tired for a lot of optimism, and identifying more potential will also mean more work.
Unless, of course, you have a plan—a plan that can help you establish and sustain a “big enough company,” big enough by your standards and no one else’s. Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams, owners of In Good Company, a community for women business owners, have authored a new book to show you how to develop such a plan.
The Big Enough Company follows the bifurcated advice the authors give on how to create a company that fits:
It is not enough for your business to be a means of fulfilling your personal motivations. Your business needs a purpose of its own in order to last in the marketplace.
The first half of the book is absolutely stuffed with real-world examples and case studies of entrepreneurs who followed their own authentic vision for the creation of their company. In the second part they get more prescriptive, concentrating more specifically on the decision-making and networking needed to help you keep your company doing the right things the right way.
The Big Enough Company tackles a timely topic while offering a fresh voice that defends the choice to create a company that is specific to your needs and values, and the right to say no to the chorus of “grow! expand! merge! sell!”
Each startup is begun with a leap of faith; no entrepreneurs know for certain who their customers are, or how they will act. Planning and developing a company based on uncertainty is a difficult skill to be sure, but one that can be learned. In his new book, The Lean Startup, Eric Ries asserts:
Startup success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.
The book digs deep into the process and shows how entrepreneurs need to have more than a big idea, a business plan, some research and funding. They need to have a sort of purposeful flexibility, where reactions can be addressed in small increments, minute by minute. These pivots and shifts continuously test the vision of the idea, and when prepared, entrepreneurs can shape the business into the right model rather than continuing to, as Ries describes it, “achieve failure.”
Ries lays out a type of process management that many might not have considered. After all, any idea can seem really good until the world tells you it’s not as good as you thought. Ries elaborates:
Entrepreneurship is a kind of management. No, you didn’t read that wrong. We have wildly divergent associations with these two words, entrepreneurship and management. Lately, it seems that one is cool, innovative, and exciting and the other is dull, serious, and bland. It is time to look past these preconceptions.
This is a critical book for those itching to quit their jobs and start their dream business, and just as important for those who have been an entrepreneur for years. With Lean Startup as your guide, not only will your failure rate decrease, you’ll discover things about your ideas and about business that you never did before, because you’ll be open to that discovery and prepared to act instead of wondering why the results aren’t what you planned.