Book Reviews: Small Giants + Nudge

I’ve spent more time on planes than usual lately, which means I’ve actually had time to read something more than my inbox, feed reader and streaming-sources-of-distraction. Two recent reads worth mentioning for this audience are:

This book did nice job of articulating a number of the lessons I’ve taken away from my experiences working for everything from ginormous public companies (AT&T) to successful family-run ones (Patagonia) to my current role as parallel founder/funder of multiple early-stage web software startups. A few themes worth mentioning include:
All successful businesses face enormous pressures to grow, and they come from everywhere – customers, employees, investors, suppliers – you name it. [T]hose forces will make the choice for you if you let them, in which case you will lose the opportunity to chart your own course
  • This applies especially to start-ups seeking capital and establishing their DNA around cost control and revenue-seeking. Taking too much capital too early is often toxic to the enterprise in a way that many first-time founders have a hard time seeing.
“[T]he entrepreneur is like an artist, only business is his means of expression… It’s amazing. Somebody goes into a garage, has nothing but an idea, and out of the garage comes a company, a living company.”
  • This captures why I love my job as well as anything I’ve ever read. Building companies is the most exciting and complex creative outlet I’ve ever found, and I’ve deliberately geared my work life to stay as close as possible to the earliest and most creative phases of new venture formation because it’s just plain fun.
This one was less fun, but still a worthwhile read – especially for anyone with an interest in public policy and how it shapes individual behavior. There’s lots of familiar material in here to anyone who’s read the core texts in organizational behavior or behavioral psychology, but the packaging and message add an interesting layer of ideas. Two ideas that stuck with me were:
  • “Libertarian Paternalism” – this terrible-sounding name is what the authors call their brand of social enginering, and (for me) it’s a convincingly better way to frame up public policy choices. The focus is on providing options (vs. mandates), and framing the option selection in such a way as to maximize the social benefit while minimizing the cost to both the individual and the state. Lots of good examples here around personal savings, health, etc.
  • “Choice Architect” – this is what the authors call any individual or organization that controls what options are made available and how they’re presented to the chooser. We are all choice architects in different areas of our life, and seeing our work through that lens (whether as a parent or an operator of a commercial website) is a helpful frame of reference.
I’m always looking for book ideas for my next flight, so if you have a new one you think I’d enjoy, please leave your suggestion in the comments.