Over the past 12 months, I have had the chance to do more reading. Among all the titles I’ve flipped through, there have been two great books on unrelated topics that are actually about entrepreneurship. This is not uncommon as some of the best insights we get come from lateral thinking and learning.
I can think of two books that I read years ago that fit this category: “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success” by legendary UCLA college basketball coach John Wooden, and “Antifragile” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Both had a profound impact on how I think about and execute entrepreneurship.
I encourage myself—and you—to not take everything in a book as correct and applicable; but in great books, we can find a few insights that profoundly improve our understanding of the world and, in the context of this article, entrepreneurship.
The two titles I read recently that have impacted my thinking are “The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win” by Maria Konnikova, and “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know” by Adam Grant. I highly recommend both to all entrepreneurs looking to continue to improve their game.
The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win
Author Maria Konnikova is clearly a non-conformist in a positive manner; the pirate we talk about and cherish. She is determined to better understand the connection and role of skill and luck. How much of your success as an entrepreneur is related to randomness and luck, and how much to your skills and personal characteristics?
Guy Raz on his wildly successful podcast about entrepreneurs called “How I Built This” asks this question to every guest. While I generally enjoy the podcast and stories of entrepreneurs, I find this question annoying. But I will admit it is an important one to consider.
Maria does a brilliant job of framing this duality and then, incredibly, appropriately, and fearlessly, ventures into the world of professional poker to find out. When I say she jumps in, she jumps in! Maria does not just observe, she becomes a professional poker player. While the self-reflection can be meandering at times, don’t give up. There are incandescently brilliant parts where Maria comes to grip with this dichotomy and learns how to tame it.
I have heard people say that to be a great entrepreneur you have to never give up. What terrible advice! Almost the exact opposite is true.
To be a great entrepreneur, you have to know when to fold and when to pivot on an idea because it will never be completely true. That does not mean that grit and perseverance are not a critical component of success—they absolutely are—but they have to be done intelligently. Some things are beyond your control.
Just as a great poker player does not always win, great entrepreneurs don’t either. You have to play the long game and know when to fold in the short term at a minimum. Maria did a wonderful job of making this point very clear and how to move forward in a positive manner and not be frozen by the challenge.
I don’t think they ever even mention the word entrepreneurship in “The Biggest Bluff,” but to me, it was the best book of 2020 on the subject because of the reasons I mention above.
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
Even though we’re only two months into 2021, the bar is already incredibly high. From my standpoint, the book to beat is “Think Again” by Adam Grant. I really enjoyed his previous book, “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” which had already been on my recommended book list, but this new title is even better. Adam is a Wharton Professor with a Ph.D. in Psychology; not your traditional path for someone to comment so powerfully on entrepreneurship, but don’t be fooled.
The book starts out right away in the first chapter with a compelling and well-written case for iterating. While he does not mention it explicitly, that is the core of entrepreneurship. Every starting hypothesis we have is incomplete and almost assuredly wrong, so the essence of entrepreneurship is coming up with good hypotheses to start, and then intelligently and quickly iterating on them to make them better and better.
Adam integrates so many studies with data but also effectively interprets and questions the studies to arrive at reasoned conclusions. He is able to communicate his theses with examples and great storytelling techniques. He is truly a gifted writer and, while I have less direct evidence, educator as well.
While the focus is not on entrepreneurship, “Think Again” does give multiple entrepreneurship examples that make connecting the dots easier for our context. There is a lot of invaluable advice in the book about entrepreneurial leadership as well as the process (I especially like chapter 9 in this regard). While most books have what I consider lesser chapters or ones that I think are wrong or not particularly useful to the reader, I felt like “Think Again” was very strong to the end. It was so valuable that I intend to go back through and read it again, which I rarely do, and try to incorporate a lot into my teaching this spring.
Both “The Biggest Bluff” and “Think Again” will be added to my list of recommended books immediately and I highly recommend them to you as a way to continually improve your entrepreneurial mindset, skill set, and way of operating. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, often the best ideas come from looking around you as opposed to focusing straight ahead.