For someone who loves books and dislikes naming favourites, it’s tough to quickly make a list of only 10 must-read books. There are so many valuable books an entrepreneur can learn from that this list is only a starting point, rather than “the Top-10”. But, then, one of the most important things an entrepreneur can do is to overcome his or her own resistance at some of the most inconvenient times. So here goes!
- Good to Great (Jim Collins) – this book delves into some fundamental strengths that entrepreneurs need to seed into their business fairly early. Interestingly some of the companies listed in the book may no longer be called great (a weakness with most management books quoting specific examples), but I believe the principles stand the test of time.
- The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell) – some small things do become big. Every entrepreneur and start-up would love to know how and why; Gladwell’s book offers a different perspective – from epidemics to better governance. Much learning for the start-up and the small business owner.
- Losing My Virginity & Screw It, Let’s Do It (Richard Branson) – one autobiography is usually enough for most people – trust Richard Branson to not fit into that mould. I’ll count them as one. As an entrepreneur who went from selling records to creating one of the most diverse brands covering airlines to telephone services, Branson will certainly have something for everyone. The books offer a view into his struggles as much as his successes.
- The High Performance Entrepreneur: Golden Rules for Success in Today’s World (Subroto Bagchi) – if for nothing else, read it for the first chapter: “How Do I Know if I Am Ready”. Of course, once you’ve gone through that chapter, it is remarkably easy to go through the rest of the book, which offers guidance from Bagchi’s own deep experience as an entrepreneurial manager and as an entrepreneur.
- Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid (C. K. Prahlad) – who says you have to have millions in the bank and service only rich customers to be a successful entrepreneur? I must admit I came very late to this book, and am yet to complete it, but it is an excellent reference source for case studies of innovative and very large businesses being grown in markets that are typically treated as poor or low value, environments that many Indian entrepreneurs can relate to.
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Chip Heath, Dan Heath) – Inspired by the Tipping Point, the Heath brothers describe what it takes to get your ideas across, and make a lasting impact. A must for entrepreneurs looking for funding, to hire great people and keep them motivated, and to capture lasting customer relationships.
- It Happened in India: The Story of Pantaloons, Big Bazaar, Central and the Great Indian Consumer (Kishore Biyani) – there are too few books about or by Indian entrepreneurs, so this is one growth story in desi style that many start-ups would be able to relate to. It is not as polished as most other entrepreneurial autobiographies, but valuable nevertheless.
- The New Business Road Test: What Entrepreneurs And Executives Should Do Before Writing A Business Plan (John Mullins) – an someone who turned from corporate life to academics and further to being involved with entrepreneurs, Mullins provides a great framework to help the entrepreneur filter and refine his concept of the “next big thing” into a real business.
- Venture Capital Funding: A Practical Guide to Raising Finance (Stephen Bloomfield) – while written from a UK and European perspective, it is a valuable reference for anyone looking for external funding. A practical guide to the whys and the wherefores, the jargon and the structures of venture funding written for an entrepreneur.
- And last but not the least – pick your favourite philosopher or guide. No matter whether we are overtly spiritual or completely agnostic, there are times, many times in an entrepreneur’s life, when we need to step beyond the intellectual construct of business, look beyond plans and strategies, and next year’s targets. Depending on how you are feeling and what you need at that particular time, this book (or these books) can be versatile in offering you guidance for your next steps, direction to correct your course, or simply a platform to stabilise yourself.
The thing about lists is that even if you find one item on the list that makes a substantial difference to you, the list has been useful. Among the above, I believe you will find more than one that will create such an impact. Happy reading!
[Column written for The Economic Times, 13 November 2009]
Cisco’s John Chambers is calling the current economic scenario “the biggest opportunity of our lifetime”, and asking managers to shift from a centralised approach to a more collaborative one. Of course, Cisco as a company has much to gain from the growth of collaborative network organisational models, but he does have a point.
But will it be simple to make that shift? After decades, maybe centuries, of command-and-control behaviour training from kindergarten, it will take more than a few months for people to learn how to collaborate. Remember the management adage: “Lead, be led or get out of the way”? May be time to question even that. I’m not suggesting that there is no further need for leaders, but Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership (or even a more evolved form) needs to be adopted, for true collaboration to happen rather than a push / shove / cut & chop. Many current management models have to be thrown out and new ones implemented, and even old ones re-discovered. While we may not realise it (or may not want to see it), many of the current management models are quite feudal in nature.
What’s more – and I might be out on a limb here – we may even have to de-construct our whole economic model which is built on the principle of “scaling up and consolidation”, in favor of fragmentation and individualisation.
A very very good documentary to watch in the current times is “The Corporation”, other than digging into the host of other literature that is available.
Why do entrepreneurs start companies? Why do individuals form organisations?
An obvious reason is that they cannot do everything themselves. Another is that they don’t have all the resources / skills that are needed to grow the business. If they work well, teams can certainly achieve more than individuals alone.
However, another compelling reason comes to mind for creating an organisation – the concept of immortality.
All living beings are susceptible to the phenomenon of “death” at some point of time or the other, and immortalise themselves through producing the next generation through reproduction.
Just as reproduction is a way to immortalise the genetic code of the species in our next generation, organisational development is a way to immortalise the “genetic code” containing ideas, principles and philosophies.
However, this can only happen if the leader / founder / entrepreneur faces the Big Reality: “I am mortal”. Once he or she faces that fact, there are two choices for him / her – the organisation / business can die with him or her, or there can be another generation to carry on the genetic code.
Mortality is the root / route to immortality. If one is truly wedded to the principles of the organisation, one will create the framework and the environment for the next leadership to emerge, and will nurture the next generation to the leadership position.
The route / root to Immortal is “I M Mortal”!
A couple of great resources come to mind, both from Jim Collins and his co-authors: “Built to Last” and “From Good to Great”. (A great concept from the latter book is that of “Level 5 Leadership” which is well worth a read.)