Posts in “Books”

May 10, 2015

On Mother’s Day

3,000 year old advice on honoring your mother, from The Instruction of Any, written in the Egyptian Eighteenth Dynasty:

Double the food your mother gave you,
Support her as she supported you;
She had a heavy load in you,
But she did not abandon you.
When you were born after your months,
She was yet yoked to you,
Her breast in your mouth for three years.
As you grew and your excrement disgusted,
She was not disgusted, saying: “What shall I do!”
When she sent you to school,
And you were taught to write,
She kept watching over you daily,
With bread and beer in her house.
When as a youth you take a wife,
And you are settled in your house,
Pay attention to your offspring,
Bring him up as did your mother.
Do not give her cause to blame you,
Lest she raise her hands to god,
And he hears her cries.

Lichtheim, M. (1973–). Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom (p. 141). Berkeley: University of California Press.

August 14, 2014

Read for Cash

Our “continuing education” program for employees can be summed up in one word: read.

Every year we pay our team to read business books. The financial incentive (15 cents / page) and requirements (the books are all pre-approved, the campaign lasts six weeks) lead people to read outside their normal interests and outside their normal job responsibilities.

In 2006 32 employees read 104 books; this year we had 151 participants read 485 books.

I encouraged everyone to contact the authors of the books they read simply to thank them for writing the book. 102 participants did, and two-thirds heard back from the author. (As quickly as within an hour, and most often with appreciation and a personal reply.)

To get paid, participants email a short review and star rating to the entire company. It can be as little as a sentence, but was often a thoughtful review with insights on how the lessons learned apply to our business. I read all 485 reports and was daily impressed with what a smart and interesting team I get to work with.

On a scale of 1 – Useless to 5 – Great Program, employees rated this year’s Read for Cash 4.5.

August 12, 2014

Almost Perfect

I read Almost Perfect, the story of WordPerfect Corporation, years ago, and have used the story of ‘the minor change that wasn’t worth testing before release’ many times.

“On Friday the 13th there were so many people trying to call us that our busy signals brought down the entire AT&T 800 system in the Mountain West. The phones in the Delta Airlines reservation center and the American Express customer service center, both in Salt Lake City, all went quiet. AT&T called around lunchtime to politely inquire how soon we could clear up our busy signals. Much to our embarrassment, we had no answer for them. We were in deep trouble.”

Now the whole book is online; you’ll find this story in Chapter 9.

 

August 7, 2014

Advice to my 21 year-old self

An intern invited me to coffee today and asked what advice I’d give my 21 year-old self.

The answer was easy: read more history and biography.

As the saying goes, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.”

The only shortcut I’ve found is to study other people’s experience, and that’s mostly written up in history and biography. You can’t read enough of it.

August 6, 2012

Venture Deals explains it all

Venture Deals, by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, is a highly useful, and highly readable, overview of how venture capital works, with lots of very-specific examples and descriptions.

This isn’t a high-concept book full of abstractions; it’s a detailed explanation of the people and vocabulary you’ll encounter in the VC world. And it’s more than definitions: it also explains the reasoning and motivations.

I have been building a startup for twenty years, have been involved in several acquisitions and funding events, and I learned a lot from this book. It got me thinking about my business in a new way. If you’re at all interested in raising money for a business, or even if you just want to understand how this important part of our economy works, I highly recommend it.

Nota bene: This isn’t any kind of coded message about Logos. It’s just a book I read and really liked.

June 16, 2009

On Writing Well

Phil Gons put me on to 50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice, a delightfully-testy attack on Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.

So I won’t be spending the month of April toasting 50 years of the overopinionated and underinformed little book… English syntax is a deep and interesting subject. It is much too important to be reduced to a bunch of trivial don’t-do-this prescriptions by a pair of idiosyncratic bumblers who can’t even tell when they’ve broken their own misbegotten rules.

Alas, The Elements march on unmolested. A testimony to the convenience of their form, the boldness of the assertions, and the continued strength of the brand.

In that spirit:

  1. Throw away your Elements.
  2. Purchase On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.

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