Tag Archives: Entrepreneur

Against the Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson

Summary

  1. Dyson wants to tell his story to inspire other inventors and to share his unorthodox business philosophy – no gimmicks, simply a better product. “The best kind of business is one where you can sell a product at a high price with a good margin, and in enormous volumes. For that you have to develop a product that works better and looks better than existing ones. That type of investment is long term, high risk, and not very British.”

 

Key Takeaways

  1. Dyson was in debt and it took years and thousands of failures but he eventually had his breakthrough with the Dyson Dual Cyclone. He never lost faith but it took years even after that to convince others he had something revolutionary
  2. On Mentors
    1. Some of Dyson’s heroes include Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Buckminster Fuller, and Jeremy Fry (his mentor).
    2. There was in Brunel, a level of conditioning. His father had been an engineer of almost equally gargantuan vision, building the first tunnel under the Thames and planning one under the Channel, too. For Isambard there was that doubled-edged Oedipal desire both to impress and to outdo his father. It is what the literary critic Harold Bloom calls the Anxiety of Influence, and the need for a figure to be ‘slain’ was paramount in the creation of originality – and genius. My father was dead, and his achievement, anyway, was as a classicist. External figures had to count for a father. It is why a man called Jeremy Fry became so important to me, and Sir Hugh Casson, and Anthony Hunt. But they had to be overcome before I could move forward. If I was to push further there had to be new fathers. There had to be Buckminster Fuller, and Brunel.
    3. Jeremy Fry
      1. He was a man who was not interested in experts. He meets me, he thinks to himself, ‘here is a bright kid, let’s employ him.’ And he does. He risks little with the possibility of gaining much. It is exactly what I now do at Dyson Appliances – take on unformed graduates to throw youthful ideas around until they have given all they can and are ready to move onto new things. The attitude to employment extended to Fry’s thinking in everything, including engineering. Like Brunel, he did not, when an idea came to him, sit down and process it through pages of calculations; he didn’t argue it through with anyone; he just went out and built it.
      2. The root principle was to do things your way. It didn’t matter how other people did it. It didn’t matter if it could be done better. The Ballbarrow was not the only way to make a wheelbarrow that didn’t get stuck in mud – but it was a way. The trick is not to keep looking over your shoulder at others, or to worry, even as you begin a project, that it is not going to be the best possible example of its kind. As long as it works, and it is exciting, people will follow you
      3. There were times when he was wrong. In business you will be wrong, by and large, 50% of the time. The trick is to recognize when you have gone wrong and correct the damage – not to worry, at the moment of making the decision, whether it is the right one
      4. Jeremy later took me to France and had me designing first a pedalo, and then a pair of “Jesus floats” which could enable his daughter to walk on water. As a novice designer, as a novice anything I suppose, you are like a sponge looking to soak up mentors and models, and in Fry I had an ocean of experience to absorb. Like Brunel, he operated empirically. He had no regard for experts from other fields (always teaching himself whatever he needed to know as he went along) and he was an engineer interested in building things that derived not only excellence from their design, but elegance as well.
  3. Entrepreneurial and Business Principles
    1. Anyone can become an expert in anything in six months
    2. Now, with a hindsight that proves I was right, those faults of mine seem less criminal. And perhaps that is the nature of “vision”: when all has come right, the kind of man who persisted despite constant ridicule from the controlling forces will be said to have possessed vision. In my case and for all inventors, “vision” might equally read as “stubbornness”. This fastidiousness of mine was to prove my strength in the long-term
    3. Don’t overanalyze! Just go out and build it. With enthusiasm and intelligence, anything is possible. The root principle is to do things your way
    4. Never underestimate the role of beauty in design
    5. Selling the Sea Track was quite easy because I really believed in what I was pushing. You find out what your man wants, and when he comes to you he is buying it as soon as he starts talking, before you even start to sell. It is not about the right adjectives, or shouting your mouth off. It is about discovering a need and satisfying it. Not creating a need, by the way, as many of your cynical marketing men would have it. I have seen many of our own salesmen (I should say ex-salesmen) trying to sell things in meetings, showing the buyer things he couldn’t possibly be interested in, making him feel like a sucker, and cocking everything up. Without exception, the best agents were the ones who, quite irrespective of their business or financial sense, saw the boat for what it was, and loved it for it. While the temptation (and board pressure) was to hire established boat distributors, who knew the market and would order vast numbers, I was determined to choose people who were mad keen on it. They were the only ones who would be able to overcome all the obstacles and difficulties of selling an entirely new concept, and make a real business out of it. Best of all, I decided not to sign up any agent unless he would undertake to buy one boat ever year. Having twigged that we were wasting a lot of time signing up distributors who never ordered a thing, I realized that not only would it be infinitely easier for our agents to sell if they had a model to demonstrate, rather than just a brochure and a standard patter, but that if they had bought it already, then they would be doubly determined to sell it. Of course, I sold the concept to the agents as being entirely about demonstrability, but in fact it was far more to do with motivation. That, and the fact that with all the publicity we were getting and the hundreds of enquiries from potential distributors all over the world, I realized that we could make good business just from opening up new markets. Anytime we were short of sales, in fact, we would simply set about looking for new markets.
    6. The British obsession with the quantum leap holds back our country. We always want to create something new out of nothing, and without research, and without long, hard hours of effort. But there is no such thing as a quantum leap. There is only dogged persistence – and in the end you make it look like a quantum leap. Just ask the Japanese
    7. Working and aligning with first principles – “It is a law of physics – don’t ask me why, I don’t make these laws – that when a particle with mass makes its first turn around a curved wall its speed is multiplied three times. You can see it happening when the ball is spun in a roulette wheel, or better still when you shoot a ball in a pinball machine and it accelerates around the corner. Now, the reason that the cyclone is cone shaped is that when you reduce the diameter around which your object is travelling it will accelerate again, by about 50%. In this way the cyclone in the vacuum cleaner, for example, accelerates the dust particles from 20MPH to 600MPH and then to 924MPH, or about 324,000RPM. You need to think of the whole caboodle, dust and air, as being like a long sausage. As it enters the top of the cyclone it is being pushed round and round the walls until it comes to the bottom. The dust and rubbish, which has this great weight, is not enjoying the journey, adjust as when you drive your car hard at a bend it wants to keep on going straight and you have to exert pressure on the steering wheel to keep the car on the road. The air, which has no mass, doesn’t have this problem, and rather than straining at the walls, which would ultimately blow the whole thing up, it can get to the center of the cyclone, and take the easiest possible exit. So, at the top of the cyclone, in the middle is a chimney. The air happily escapes out of the whole; the particles cannot. Thus, the only thing that can get out is pure air, so no expelled dust, and no smells. Like so many industrialists, the particle has an insurmountable sheep mentality
    8. You have to take the Edisonian approach: test, and test, and test until it works best. I made hundreds of cyclones in the early years, and then thousands of them. Testing all the different styles, I found that the important thing was the entry point that it should enter peripherally, and at a pure tangent. I tried it with one entry and with two entries, I even made one with 140 entries, just in case it was better, but you only ever got one flow of air. Slow, slow, slow. These things cannot be hurried. When you develop a prototype you have to change only one thing at a time. If you are really going to improve things, and that is what inventing is all about, then you are going to have to be patient, very patient.
    9. Innovation requires builders, not bean counters. You need them, just not in the top spot. However, the British instead go with spending millions with big advertising or PR consultancy to persuade the public they were better than everyone else, and were in some way new and exciting. It never occurred to them to invest the money in the research and development of something genuinely, and tangibly, new and exciting. That, I am afraid, is the only way to achieve long-term growth, wealth, and stability. Slow, boring and initially expensive it may be, but the cataclysmic boom and bust of the years that followed were the price we paid for excitement.
    10. The best looks come out of following the engineering
    11. Design / Invention Philosophy
      1. No one ever had an idea staring at a drawing board – Francis Bacon always got his ideas from walking in the country-side and observing nature, rather than sitting in his study. SO get out and look at things, and when an idea comes, grab it, write it down, and play with it until it works. Don’t sit and expect ideas to come.
      2. Every day products sell
      3. New technology – the thing about truly new technology is that it makes your invention patentable. And then no one can copy it.
    12. One of the most crucial business lessons of my life: to stint on investment in the early stages, to try to sell a half-finished product, is to doom from the start any project you embark on.
    13. My big mistake had been presenting the same craft to each customer and telling them, ‘this can be adapted to suit your needs.’ If someone wanted a diving boat I would explain that it could be fitted with compressors, heaters and a very slow diesel engine. If an oil company wanted a crew bus, I would tell them that suitable seating and a faster engine could be fitted. To the military I said I would bulletproof the sides and engine. To constructors in search of a bridging tug I said, special buffers? High power engine? No problem.’ I convinced not a single one of them. People do not want all-purpose; they want high-tech specificity. So, out with the universal modular craft. In with, ‘I have just the boat for you, my dear sir: a purpose-built diving boat/bridging tug/assault craft/etc….’ For each function Deirdre designed a brochure, and they began to sell. And it all seemed so obvious: you simply cannot mix your messages when selling something new. A consumer can barely handle one great new idea, let alone two, or even several. Why tell them this thing was universally adaptable when universality mattered to the individual consumer not a whit? It was for the same reason that when I put the Dual Cyclone on the market I kept more or less stumm about its potential as a dry-cleaning tool. How could I expect the public to believe this was not only the best vacuum cleaner ever made, but also something completely different? And so, with a quite respectable product to present, I set off around the world to start selling it properly. It was time spent away from designing, but it was to teach me, above all else, that only by trying to sell the thing you have made yourself, by dealing with consumers’ problems and the product’s failings as they arise, can you really come to understand what you have done, to bond with your invention and to improve it. Conversely, of course, only the man who has brought the thing into the world can presume to foist it on others, and demand a heavy price, with all his heart
    14. I enjoyed selling to the military because they were never interested in cost, only what the thing did, and how well it did it. A fantastic situation for a young engineer or designer to be in
    15. One of the strains of this book is about control. If you have the intimate knowledge of a product that comes with dreaming it up and then designing it, I have been trying to say, then you will be the better able to sell it and then, reciprocally, to go back to it and improve it. From there you are in the best possible position to convince others of its greatness and to inspire others to give their very best efforts to developing it, and to remain true to it, and to see it through all the way to its optimum point. Total fruition, if you like
    16. Only way to make any real money is to offer the public something entirely new, that has style value, as well as substance, and which they cannot get anywhere else
    17. When salesmen and accountants become king, all risk goes out the window, and with it, all experimentation, trial and error, innovation, difference, and beauty
    18. Don’t trust in experts, hire smart, unformed youth who can throw ideas around and give all they can until they want something new
    19. Dyson’s desire for simplicity and his moral code led him to never bribing or taking bribes which greatly helped him in the long-term although the immediate benefits could have been great
    20. The establishment of a client base by word of mouth is what gives a product integrity and longevity
    21. Sidney Jacob could see the negotiations only from his point of view, and had no inkling that I, like any businessman, needed to be motivated into doing the deal too. That combination of charm and steel is very nasty indeed to encounter. It leaves you feeling utterly shafted and unwilling to do a deal. So I didn’t.
    22. In dealing with Japan and the importance of dogged, incremental progress over a very long time frame – “But they retain those key elements in their psyche that made them such ideal partners for someone like me, and a product like mine. They are not inventive, in the way that we, the British, like to think that we are. They do not bumble along in the hope of making it big when some bright new idea dawns on the horizon. They believe in progress by stages, in the interactive development that I have described as Edisonian, the persistent trial and error that allows them to wake up one morning, after many, many mornings, with a world-beating product…And all their success is born out of a theory of gradual development that is the very antithesis of the British obsession with the quantum leap. The Japanese always took the opposite view in that they never put any faith in individualists, and lived an anti-brilliance culture. And that was healthy. They know full well that quantum leaps are very rare, but that constant development will result, in the end, in a better product. And that is the mindset I share with them. I am not a quantum leaper. I produced something only after gradual and iterative development.”
    23. Always respect the creatives. I am constantly amazed at the way businessmen seem quite happy to treat designers in this way, an approach they would never take with, say, accountants or lawyers. They seem to perceive design as some sort of amateur indulgence, a superfluous frippery in which everyone can chuck in their opinions and to the hell with the designer.
    24. Out of town lawyers hardly ever win their case in America
    25. The importance of a unified team – “This was not a collection of underlings with me bossing them about, by any means. We were a band on a mission to design a vacuum cleaner that could challenge the world, and it was bloody exciting.
    26. Has always depended on raw, young graduates to bring in new blood and fresh eyes
    27. Manufacturing is about making things people want, which work well, and look good
    28. Dyson End of Life Recovery (The Recyclone) – “It seemed terrible, after all that had gone into each one, that they should just be thrown on a landfill when they die, and so it occurred to me that we should offer to take back all our vacuum cleaners at the end of their lives, and recover whatever is recoverable. And then it occurred to me that everything should be recoverable. And so we did, and it is. All you have to do when your Dyson dies – which should not happen for a very, very long time – is to call the hotline number on the handle and we will send round the undertakers free of charge
    29. After the soon to be launched DC-03, 04, and 05, there will be other and different products. But they will not be ‘copycat’ products – that is no principle by which to work. We are in the business of developing new technology and new products, and of recruiting bright young graduates to help us do exactly that, so nothing will come out that is not both innovatively designed and conceived around a brand new invention. It is an ambitious attitude for us to take, and is bound to slow down our growth, but though it is slower, it will send our roots deeper than the quick development of a huge portfolio of old technology that we have merely redesigned. And it will be much more satisfying for body and soul.
    30. Short-termism is such a national illness that it could be called short-termitis. And yet nobody does anything about it. That, if anything, is the recurring theme of this book. Let us please invest in R&D for future profit. And let us reduce our spending on advertising, so as to refocus on business, and make it into something product-oriented, and R&D driven
    31. Debt, you see, is a terrible thing for a small company. It fosters a bizarre reverse psychology that comes from the darkest depths of the human psyche and makes you even more inclined to overspend. The reason for this, is that when you have no money and are in debt you start thinking about all the things you could do if you had money, and that sets you to dreaming up all sorts of schemes and projects, which lead you into further debt as you try to realize them. When you have money, on the other hand, you tend to be more careful, largely because the occasion does not arise where you sit around desperately trying to think of ways of making money. You just get on with your life without thinking up hair-brained schemes you couldn’t possibly carry out. Thus, without an overdraft you are not only freed of the interest burden, but your mind is freed to think more clearly and you can negotiate more effectively with both suppliers and customers, because they can see that you are not stretched financially and desperate to make a deal.
    32. What we were attempting to offer was a panacea to all your gardening troubles. But, rather as had happened with the Sea Truck, consumers were simply not able to grasp so many improvements in one fell swoop. And the thing was too universal, too all-purpose. Had we begun it as, say, a greenhouse watering system, with a single timesaving benefit, thus appealing to a specific need, it would have bedded down nicely into the real market. We could then have gradually introduced the other ideas and made a real success of it
    33. As you suffer each rejection, you learn a little bit about your product, and what people want from it, and why – and you can sometimes justify your profitless ploddings that way, too
    34. In America, with a population 5x bigger than in Britain, each niche is 5x bigger, and since each person has about twice the spending power of someone in Britain, that niche is in real terms 10x bigger than it would be here, and the risk is thus reduced 10x
    35. The thing about inventing is that it is a continual and continuous process, and it is fluid. Inventions generate further inventions. In fact, that is where most inventions come from. They very rarely come out of nothing. So while it was the Dual Cyclone that was the basis of my first vacuum cleaner, as I went on to develop it over the next 12 years, and, crucially, in the nine months before bringing out the DC-01 (as it was to be called), dozens of other innovations were generated along the way.
    36. It was easier for us, as designers working apart from salesmen, to exclude the ‘bells and whistles’ because we were simply designing our won ideal product without worrying about marketing demands. When it came to talking to retailers, however, they always wanted to know where the height adjuster was. We would explain to them that we had designed a free-floating cleaner head that automatically adjusted to the pile of the carpet, or indeed to a stone or wood floor, but, for simple sales guff, I suppose the DC-01 appeared underequipped
    37. It is received wisdom in the appliance market that brand is important. But I knew that myth could be exploded. Brand is only important when two products are identical; it is not important if one of the products has better technology or a better design than the other. Hoover had traded on their name for too long, which was easy as long as all the products were the same – theirs was identical to the Panasonic or the Electrolux so why not buy it? That band dependence was quite simply shattered when the Dyson came along, because it gave the consumer, for the first time since men wore top hats in town and rode horses to work, the choice of something better. And suddenly the customer had something other than brand name to look at. We even went so far as to make our own brand name not very clear, which emphasized the point. If you are selling cornflakes or cola then branding is all important – it ought to mean nothing when you are selling technology.
    38. We also scooted to number one so silently because our profile was raised more by editorial coverage than by paid-for advertising. Apart from being cheaper, this is much more effective, because it carries more of the weight of objective truth than a bought space. But in terms of visibility it is less popularizing, while being more efficient in selling to those to whom it is exposed, because those prospectively in the market will be drawn to it. It is also out of your control – you cannot make journalists write about you, and I have never tried. And, when they have, I have never sought to influence what they write and have never asked to see their copy before publication. They take me, or the products, as we are, and I have to hope they like us. It is one of the virtues of having such a strange-looking product, however, that journalists are more likely to take an interest in it. Something genuinely different has a humanity, even a humor value, that another clone model from Miele or Panasonic will never have. A journalist’s job, particularly in the area of design and technology – but also in the field of business – is to find things that are going to be exciting in the future and then get there first, or as early as possible. They also seem to be unerringly good at it. And one story can generate a groundswell of editorial coverage that gives you the kind of accreditation that advertising never can. Advertising can only take you so far, you see, until the consumer realizes he is being sold something.
    39. And the fact is that they are not creative at all. They are doing the very worst thing you can do, which is to sit there staring at a drawing board trying to come up with an idea out of nowhere. You need dialogue to create. Of all the creative jobs I have encountered it is advertising people who make the most song and dance about creativity. And, you know, they are not creative at all. When I think of the real creation that my designers are involved in, and compare it with these “creatives” who are earning so much more to just sit around in the Groucho Club and be generally useless, it makes me vomit. I can’t go on supporting an industry like that, I’m afraid
    40. Why don’t we tell people how the machine dry-cleans, how it climbs stairs, how it has automatic hose action? The answer is twofold – you can’t sell more than one message at a time, or you lose the belief of the consumer, and we had to establish, beyond all question, that our machine overcame a problem that all other systems suffered from.
    41. Who is it that gets neglected? The inventor, that’s who. The designer, the engineer, the chemist, the brewer, the boffin. The people obsessed by the product; who willingly accept that the sizzle is important, but who get their kicks trying to make an even better steak. Car companies used to be run by people who loved cars. They knew how to make cars themselves, and were always trying to make them better. Retail companies used to be run by people who loved shops, and a hundred and something years ago, George Safford Parker was nutty about fountain pens. As business got bigger and more complex, these obsessive, impractical, product-driven enthusiasts couldn’t cope. They had to be helped by money men and lawyers and marketing persons with advertising agents. From that moment, the status of the maker in this country has been in decline. And the rise and rise of marketing persons, through no fault of their own, has done nothing to help…it might even be, I think, that the erosion of our manufacturing sector, and the rise and rise of our service sector, is in part connected with the de-coupling of making things from marketing things. In other words: if you make something, sell it yourself. And so we did. And absolutely nothing went bang. Except, of course, everyone else’s market slice
    42. Although there is usually a single great development at the core of any revolutionary design or invention, I am a great believer in the autogeneration of inventions out of each other, a kind of asexual reproduction of the product gene, if you like. It is usually when you actually come to design the product that some of the most interesting things happen. The thing that really excited everyone about the DC-02 for example and got it so much press attention, even after that of the Dual Cyclone had been pretty exhaustively covered, was its ability to sit on stairs, and even to climb them.
  4. Business and Design Philosophy
    1. As often as I am asked about my design philosophy, I am cross-examined as to how I run my business. People see the numerical and financial success of the product and want to know how it was done. It is never enough to say that it is down to the qualitative difference of the vacuum cleaner, and to be fair, there may well be more to it than that. But a business philosophy is a difficult thing to distill out of the daily workings of a company, because you never really know how you do it, you just do it. It’s like asking a horse how it walks. I thought, perhaps, if I tried to explain everything we do that other companies probably do not do, then people might be able to work out the philosophy for themselves:
      1. Everyone who starts work at Dyson makes a vacuum cleaner on their first day – the idea is that everyone understands the whole product, even though they may only be working on a small part of it
      2. A holistic design approach to design – open offices plans so everyone can communicate easily and feels part of the same team, graphics and engineering people are in the geographical center of the office and that reflects the centrality of design and engineering to the whole operation, no department boundaries, freedom of movement and of expression is total
      3. Engineering and design are not viewed as separate. Designers are involved in testing as engineers are in conceptual ideas
      4. Everyone is empowered to be creative and knowledgeable
      5. No memos – ever. Dialogue is the founding principle for progress. Talk to people, they listen. Monologue only leads to monomania. Memos are also tacky, soulless, and get lost. I would rather people did less, if it means doing what they do properly, and a memo, though quicker than a conversation, is far more likely to lead to a misunderstanding.
      6. No one wears suits and ties – every company needs an image. The smaller and less established you are, the more important the image becomes. I do not want my employees thinking like businessmen
      7. A cafe, not a canteen – create a social atmosphere at work where employees find it easy to get to know each other
      8. Encourage employees to be different, on principle – very few people can be brilliant. Those who are, rarely do anything worthwhile. And they are over-valued. You are just as likely to solve a problem by being unconventional and determined as by being brilliant. And if you can’t be unconventional, be obtuse. Be deliberately obtuse, because there are 5 billion people out there thinking in train tracks, and thinking what they have been taught to think.
      9. Don’t relinquish responsibility once the sale is made – it may sound like an expensive service for us to run, but real service, like real innovation, is what people want more than anything, and people are so delighted when they discover that we will immediately send them a new machine that their call of complaint becomes a call of gratitude
      10. Employ graduates straight from university – it’s easier to teach fresh graduates a different way of doing things and enable them to challenge established beliefs, than to retrain someone with ‘experience’
      11. Meet the staff as equals, because they are – clinics where staff can ask senior management anything and also have a suggestion box for those who are more introverted and make sure those letters are always answered personally. Feedback from the floor, when it concerns production, usually centers around the quality of components fed to the line by subcontractors. It is a crucial melting pot of ideas, that enables us to share with the assembly staff our management expertise and efforts with the subcontractors, at the same time as they describe the end results of our efforts. So useful is this proving, that we have arranged, in future, for subcontractors to attend the meetings. Hope they can take it
      12. The final assembly is done entirely by hand – allows for flexibility to lengthen or shorten the line when we need to, to add or remove people, or to add new liens at a moments’ notice, chance the assembly method, change the design of the product. It does mean that we rely more than others on the skill of our assembly staff but it allows us that “can do” attitude to change that is anathema to British manufacturing otherwise
      13. We pay our staff well – pay very well and on top of it, on a weekly basis, that is subject to full attendance, as a reward for reliable and loyal staff, pay a flat premium
      14. Japanese influences – we are always trying to improve our product, take any complaint very seriously, and solve the problem. Customer feedback is our way of foretelling and directing our future, and we spare no expense in acting on that feedback. We are fascinated, to the point of obsession, with the product. It is this that allows us to maintain ownership of our product, and without it we do not have a business.
      15. Dealing with suppliers – there are 4 straightforward requirements that we have of our suppliers: that they should provide (a) what we order, (b) at the time stipulated, (c) in the correct quantity, (d) to the quality stipulated. I wish.
  5. The Ballbarrow
    1. The wheelbarrow market was a very attractive one to me at that time. It seemed relatively unambitious market, where I would not be competing against any multinational giants as you do in, say, electricals. A kinder, gentler market altogether, or so I though. Furthermore, the fact that no one had contributed anything faintly new to it in 10,000 years (rather as the vacuum cleaner went unchanged over 100), meant that anything new, with major design improvements and innovations, would have enormous impact.
    2. The spirit of the thing, you see, was in the ball and the dumper shape – anything else would be gliding the lily. This principle is a crucial one. Just as the spirit of the Sea Track was in the flat hull, and the spirit of the Dual Cyclone is in the cyclone, so there was a simplicity about the Ballbarrow that displayed its newness and superiority and shouted its usefulness. To attempt other gimmicks might lead to a customer believing it was just the same old thing with something added. So, off came the dump facility and a twisty handle, a swift redesign, and we were ready to launch
    3. It was an interesting lesson in psychology, teaching me that the entrenched professional is always going to resist far longer than the private consumer. Many of the advantages, you see, were simply not perceived by the builder as advantages at all, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, and all the things that would make it so popular with gardeners were utterly irrelevant to him.
    4. It always seems to be journalists that are first to see the potential of a new invention, which is odd when you consider that they are not, in their nature, particularly commercially minded people. It is also the very best way of convincing the public. One decent editorial counts for a thousand advertisements. People are far more likely to believe someone who has tested something for themselves – and it is assumed that a journalist has done that. From that point on, and throughout my struggles to launch the Dual Cyclone, I made editorial comment the basis of all my thinking about publicity. As with the Dual Cyclone, so with the Ballbarrow: the establishment of a client base by word of mouth is what gives a product longevity and integrity, a sort of wise man building his house on the rock principle
    5. The Waterolla was a garden roller that instead of being a large metal drum full of concrete, was a large plastic drum full of nothing which could be filled up with water. It is the perfect example of making a product too good. Once one person got it, the whole neighborhood could easily use it and never bought another.
  1. It is in our engineers that we should place our greatest faith for the present, in that they determine the way our future will be
  2. Was a great runner when he was young and he trained differently than everyone else – he used the sand dunes in his home country to train and build his endurance. “In so many ways it taught me the most significant lessons in all my youth. I was learning about the physical and psychological strength that keeps you competitive. I was learning about obstinacy. I was learning how to overcome nerves, and as I grew more and more neurotic about being caught from behind, I trained harder to stay in front. It is a horribly labored analogy – and it is flavored with the fickle seasoning of hindsight – but to this day it is the fear of failure, more than anything else, which makes me keep working at success.” This later helped me build the confidence and the stupidity to start doing things differently not only in sports, but in academics and in business

 

What I got out of it

  1. Really fun and well written book with some timeless business and entrepreneurial lessons –

Pride in Performance by Les Schwab

Summary
  1. The autobiography of Les Schwab, founder of the Les Schwab supermarket tire store – his background, philosophy and views on life and business
Key Takeaways
  1. “I encourage you to share profits with your employees. I encourage you in every way possible to build people. If you do share, do it openly and honestly, and don’t get jealous if they start to make some money…that’s the whole idea. If you make people under you successful, what happens to you? Aren’t you also then successful? But if you think of yourself first, it just won’t work, and there’s no use attempting it. What nicer thing can you do with your life than to help young people build their lives into successful people, not just in money, but in all ways. The older I get the more proud I am of the profit sharing programs and other programs that I have created, or have helped to create. The best way to make it succeed is to share with people, to help people be successful people.”
    1. Started with over 50% of the profits going to the manager and each store operates as its own, separate business and the store employees share only in the profits of the store they work in
    2. Understood human nature, how to build trust and reciprocity with profit sharing program
    3. Also established a mandatory retirement trust with 15% of one’s earnings going into it
    4. Honesty clause – steal from the company and you lose everything you’ve saved in your trust
    5. Being generous pays off more than you’ll ever need – unselfish for selfish reasons!
      1. “I didn’t care about the money or who owned what, I just wanted to be successful”
      2. It is quite simple. Greed destroys
    6. Ardently believed that store managers and in-store employees were more important to the success of the company than the executives and paid them accordingly
  2. “Pride in performance. Pride in accomplishments well done. But never confused pride with ego. Pride commits us to do the job better. Ego tricks us into believing we can do no wrong. Concentrate on being the best each day, one day at a time, putting the customer first, and treating employees with respect. These are the traits that create pride in performance. These are the traits that will keep us humble.”
  3. Core tenets
    1. Be honest with ourselves
    2. Be hones with the people you work with. Be honest with your customer
    3. Be humble
    4. Have a desire to learn
    5. Tell the truth and have an open mind
    6. Be a man of action. Make some mistakes as this is the only way to learn
  4. Les had a tough family upbringing with little money, a drunk father and hard jobs (allowed him to see what the “bottom of the pyramid’s” world looks like
    1. Learned to work with people, to organize and promote, the power of recognition, importance of hiring, never taking advantage of customers or employees, and the power of centralized production as a newspaper circulation manager. He later implemented every one of this into Les Schwab Tires
  5. Learned early on to never get in over his head with debt
    1. Growing too quickly is often a huge mistake people make. Slow down and organically grow into your sales
  6. Importance of owning rather than leasing property (like Costco today)
    1. Time to buy a lot is when it is vacant
    2. Always wanted a 5 year lease with a 5 year option and the option to buy at the end of the lease
  7. “We always keep the customer happy in the best way possible”
  8. Importance of every day low pricing for everyone (Costco)
  9. Velocity – had odd tires to deliver to customers immediately. He didn’t make a profit necessarily but he always made a customer
  10. Fix flat tires for free for ladies. Even when made illegal, he continued to do it. No obvious, immediate profit but great goodwill and engendered loyalty – “we drove our competitors nuts”
  11. Decided to turn warehouse into the showroom (Costco)
  12. Complacency = death
  13. So important to have deep fluency and to think for oneself
  14. Most of his business dealings were simple handshake contracts
  15. Had a vengeance for the big tire companies as they mistreated him poorly early on – importance of dealing fairly with every constituent
  16. Life is hard for the man who thinks he can take shortcuts
  17. “Success in my mind comes from having a successful business, one that is a good place to work, one that offers opportunity for people and one that you can be proud to own or be associated with. Success in life is being a good husband, a good father and you end up being a second father to hundreds of other men and women.”
  18. I like to persuade people to do it my way. I don’t like to run the show myself. I like to work through people, and, unless you let them have almost the full power to make the final decision, you have a weak person working for you
  19. Once he was a bit older, he took 3 months off per year and always came back with fresh ideas on how to run a better business
  20. Set up policies for new stores which would help them get established by having old store help offset part of the costs of opening a new store
  21. Didn’t want to be known for being the cheap tire salesman or the most expensive. Wanted to be somewhere in the middle but hist customer service had to beat everyone
  22. Don’t be a “poor George” – a businessman who is not confident enough in his product or service, lowers the price at the customer’s request to the point that if he continued pricing this way, would eventually go out of business
  23. Holding grudges hurts you more than anyone else
  24. Whatever you do must be done with gusto and with volume
  25. People aren’t natural born leaders. Leadership is learned and I can’t explain fully how it is learned
  26. The decision making should always be made at the lowest possible level
  27. One thing that drives people is need – need to belong, to feel appreciated, to win, to grow. Find out what your employees need
  28. I’ve always wanted to be the best tire dealer, not necessarily the largest tire dealer
  29. The general customer tends not to fully understand tires so of course they’re going to buy from someone they trust
What I got out of it
  1. Growing people at the bottom of the business should be priority #1 for every company, open and honest communication is vital, establish profit sharing, keep decision-making at the bottom, total trust for everyone, don’t become a “poor George”

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams

Summary

  1. Adams is the comic behind the Dilbert series and this book is his story about how he stumbled his way to success amid many failures. Goals are for losers, your brain isn’t magic – you can program it, most important metric to track is your personal energy, every skill you acquire doubles your chances of success, success is happiness + freedom, conquer shyness by being a huge phony (in a good way), fitness is the lever that moves the world, simplicity transforms the ordinary into the amazing
Key Takeaways
  1. When it comes to any big question, humility is the only way to handle it
  2. 6 filters for truth (how to filter out the bullshit) – personal experience, experience of people you know, experts, scientific studies, common sense, pattern recognition
    1. Look for truth by getting at least 2 of the filters in agreement
  3. Consistency is the closest thing we can get to truth
  4. Writing good comics requires stripping a situation of all noise until only the true but absurd core is left
  5. Adams invites failure into his life whenever he can and extracts as much value from it as possible. View failure as a tool, not an outcome
  6. Energy is good. Following your passion is bullshit – people tend to be passionate about things they’re already good at. Never hear about passionate people who failed
  7. The market rewards execution, not good ideas 
  8. Seek opportunities in which you have an advantage 
  9. Timing is often the biggest component of success – makes sense to try many things because timing is so hard to predict
  10. There are very few, if any, useful things which can come from management
  11. Looking for a better job should be a continual process
  12. Systems over goals – Instead of having goals, have a system. Goals lead to an uneasy state and temporary satisfaction but a system is a long term, sustainable life style
  13. A proven, sustainable system which utilizes your talents will beat passion in the long term
  14. Aim to create something which is easy to scale which utilizes your competitive edge and makes it easier for luck to find you
  15. If you want success, figure out the price and pay it
  16. 3 levels of generosity – selfish, stupid and a burden to others. Best to be selfish as this will more than likely lead to success and giving more than you consume and forces you to take the long term view on things
  17. Aim to pick up a room whenever you enter it – have infectious energy
  18. Influence works best when the person you’re trying to influence has no objection to the given change
  19. Organize and base your life upon your personal energy. Search to fill your life with things and activities which fill you with energy. Some selfish things in life are enlightened as they make you a better person and more fun to be around
  20. Match your task to your mental state
  21. There are optimizers and simplifiers – choose which is appropriate for you, the task and your energy
  22. Be aware of how a tidy vs messy home and workspace affect you
  23. Do flash searches (1 minute research) for topics to intimidate you and you’ll often find it’s simpler than you might think
  24. Set your priorities by what will add the most to your personal energy. Priorities are things you need to get right so things you love can thrive 
  25. Positive attitude very important. Be conscious of the media you consume and aim to have as much of it as possible be feel good stuff
  26. Perception of reality most likely flawed so change perception to what makes you happy and that works. Reality is overrated
  27. Quality sometimes not a good predicting success (computers). However, customers still demanded the product although it would be a while until the product was of a high quality
  28. Your product or service doesn’t need to be loved by all, but a small subset must be very enthusiastic about it
  29. What people do is much more honest than what they say
  30. Determine if you are a “practicer” or need novelty in order to keep enthused
  31. For your resume, imagine that you got $100 for each word you removed and see how it looks after. Simplicity beats accuracy every time
  32. Being good at a couple different skills is often better than being great at one (unless you’re world class)
  33. Everything you learn becomes a shortcut to learning everything else
  34. Knowledge formula – the more you know, the more you can know
  35. Finding your “blind spots” is extremely important. see the world as math (probabilities) as opposed to magic. This will help you be more positive and build new skills
  36. If you see something that impresses you, it it is your duty to speak up and complement the person
  37. People’s perception of their own potential is often very lacking 
  38. Never be blind to the psychology in a situation 
  39. Quality is not an independent force – it must be compared to something 
  40. Make learning a psychology a top priority and a lifelong goal
  41. Reason is often the smallest driver of our decisions – consider incentives and psychology over reason 
  42. Business writing is all about getting to the point and leaving out the noise
  43. Being a good conversationalist is about asking good questions – name, where from, where live, family, work, hobbies, travel
  44. Determine whether the person or people you are talking to are ‘thing’ people or ‘people’ people – like to hear of events or things vs hearing about other people
  45. Persuasive phrases – because, would you mind, I’m not interested, I don’t do that, I have a rule, I just wanted to clarify, is there anything you can do for me?, thank you, this is just between you and me, decisiveness, energy is contagious, insane people usually have their way (can fake insanity by bringing emotions into it which won’t bend to reason), proper voice technique (speak how you think a confident person would speak, low voice, no “umms”)
  46. Always look for patterns
  47. Affirmations – Writing, thinking, speaking the outcome you want to achieve many times per day
  48. Step 1 to happiness is getting control of your schedule; where you’re heading more important than where you currently are; reduce daily decisions to routine
  49. As humans have limited willpower, you want to routinize as much as possible, especially diet and exercise. An attractive alternative makes willpower much less important
  50. Make healthy foods as convenient as possible for you in order to save willpower and make it easier on yourself
  51. Fail forward – if you’re going to fail, make sure you learn a lot out of it
  52. Optimists make it easier for luck to find them
  53. Don’t think of your body as magic. Understand that the right inputs (diet, exercise, thoughts, etc) lead to better outputs 
What I got out of it
  1. An unexpectedly good book – Adams is honest, rational, witty and gives a lot of great advice from diet/exercise to affirmations to what it takes to be successful. One of my favorite books of the year

Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

Summary
  1. Elon is a man on a mission – to save mankind and colonize other planets. His vision, determination, guts are truly inspiring. He might offend others and create some enemies but I think on a mission like his it is hard to avoid and worth it
Key Takeaways
  1. Ashlee was turned down initially by Musk but kept pestering him and eventually he agreed to help with the book
  2. Leaves very little time to decompress, works from LA and SF every week, employees oddly loyal due to his vision and drive although he berated them, gulfs down food, big presence,
  3. His driving mission for everything is increasing the collective consciousness and enlightenment
  4. Musk had a pretty rough childhood in South Africa – father did some sort of psychological abuse
  5. Was an awkward kid in many ways. Could enter a trance mode when he was thinking or reading. Was often bullied by kids at school
  6. After selling zip2 (google maps and yelp combo), he started x.com which would eventually become PayPal. His role is a bit controversial as his combative style pissed off a lot of people but he clearly was one of the cofounders. There was a coup where he was replaced by thiel as CEO
  7. Musk has superhuman energy, endurance and curiosity. He pushes himself and his people beyond their limits and often caused rifts with his employee
  8. The falcon 1 finally launched on March 2006 but ended up crashing. It took 3 nerve racking failures before a success. This last launch was the last one thy could afford
  9. Martin Eberhard founded Tesla and helped it get off its feet
  10. Managerial style is to get people to own their commitments. “I need the impossible done by Friday. Can you do it?”
  11. Brought in Fisker to help with the model S design but soon after Fisker released his own hybrid. Musk sued but ended up losing. Then turned to Apple’s Tony Fidel and Franz Von Hofhausen
  12. Tesla was able to wow many large auto manufacturers like Daimler and GM and secured some money. They also got a loan from the government
  13. After the successful launch of the Model S, Tesla was soon back on the brink of bankruptcy but went ahead with expanding their charging power grid
  14. Musk took people from every corner of the company and put them in sales. At the same time, due to money issues, he made a handshake deal with Larry page for Google to buy Tesla. However, the new salesmen did a great job and sold a lot of cars
  15. Musk is doing incredible things due to his vision and determination
What I got out of it
  1. Elon is a truly inspiring guy – pushing me to want to do and accomplish more

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Summary
  1. A very motivated man who had an uncanny ability to produce world-changing products. He was able to see into the future, know what customers wanted when they didn’t, build hype around the product launches and more. A genius on many fronts who also struggled relating to people at times and had a somewhat estranged family situation
Key Takeaways
  1. Jobs was adopted by a nice but uneducated family. Father loved to build electrical things and cars
  2. Woz and Steve met because of their love of pranks and of electronics
  3. Went to Reed but soon dropped out. He spent some time in India to further study Zen Buddhism and other approaches to enlightenment.
  4. Woz created the first personal computer in June 1975 – Apple 1
  5. When he was 23 he impregnated Brennan but wouldn’t own up to it for many years. “He was an enlightened being who was cruel”Jobs let Xerox invest in Apple if they showed him their newest inventions. They agreed and showed him the graphical user interface and this would change the industry forever
  6. Jobs was eventually outvoted and became a non executive chairman of Apple and eventually left to start Next. It was mildly successful and when it was bought by Apple, Steve was part of the package
  7. Jobs fanatical diets reflected one of his core beliefs – asceticism leads to greater feelings later on. Things often lead to their opposites
  8. Only wanted things around him that he could admire (furniture, appliances, etc)
  9. Toy Story was an incredible success and soon after Pixar went public after Jobs had invested over $60m
  10. Jobs was fanatical about controlling the whole process. Software and hardware should be inextricably linked and with the new retail stores, he could control the buying process as well
  11. Jobs was not very forthcoming about his health to the public or even his board
  12. The iPad and multi touch technology actually came before the iPhone and had to be retrofitted
  13. The attention to detail of every aspect of the design and process is beautiful and inspiring
  14. Jobs was reluctant to let third parties design apps but then relented
  15. After many ups and downs with his health, jobs died on October 5, 2011
What I got out of it
  1. Jobs was a maniac for detail and wanted to control the entire process, every input. He was often harsh and his reality distortion people frustrated and alienated a lot of people but he accomplished more than nearly anyone in this field

Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove

Summary

  1. This book is about the impact of changing rules. How to find your way through uncharted territories and how to recognize/act on a 10x strategic inflection point
Key Takeaways
  1. Strategic inflection point – a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. Every strategic inflection point is characterized by a 10x change and each 10x change leads to a strategic inflection point
    1. A bit of a misnomer as it is not a single point, rather a long, tortuous strugle
  2. Understanding the nature of strategic inflections points and what to do about them will help you safeguard your company’s well being
  3. Action after review – immediately review your decisions/actions and learn from them. What could you have done differently, better, earlier, etc.
  4. Middle manager tend to be the first people in the business to realize that the rules of the game are changing
  5. Everybody needs to expose themselves to the winds of change – expose selves to customers,
  6. Six forces affecting a business – competitors, suppliers, customers, potential customers, substitutes, the force of complementors
  7. Transitions in business have no party, no celebration, they are subtle, gradual changes
  8. Difficult/impossible to know “right” steps to take in these situations, judgement and instinct are all you have
  9. As an industry becomes more competitive, companies are forced to retreat to their strongholds and specialize in order to become world class in whatever segment they end up occupying
  10. By learning from the painful experiences of others, we can improve our ability to recognize a strategic inflection point that’s about to affect us. And that’s half the battle
  11. Whether a company is a winner or a loser depends a large part on its degree of adaptability
  12. No surefire way to determine what is a signal or simply noise
    1. Is your key competitor about to change?
    2. Is your key complementor about to change?
    3. Do people seem to be “losing it” around you?
  13. Cassandras – early warning system
  14. Avoid the trap of the first version – can’t judge the significance of strategic inflection points by the quality of the first version
  15. Broad and intensive debate the most important tool to draw out strategic inflection points
  16. Fear, fear of speaking out, voicing your opinion, debating bosses, etc., may be the most detrimental culture within a company
  17. How management reacts emotionally to a crisis is one of the best tellers for how the company will deal with strategic inflection points
  18. Inertia of success – senior people in a company have gotten where they are due to some characteristics but some of these characteristics may hold them back and cause them to fail during a strategic inflection point
  19. Takes a strong person to admit the magnitude of the problem you are struggling with
  20. Strategic dissonance – saying one thing and doing another
  21. Must form a mental image of what the company will look like when you “get to the other side” – clear, crisp so you can communicate it to others. Must also define what the company will not be
  22. For anybody, but especially mangers, how you spend your time has enormous symbolic value
  23. The most effective way to transform a company is through a series of incremental changes that are consistent with a clearly articulated end result
  24. Your tendency will almost always be to wait too long to take action. Being an early movers entails risks but the rewards often outweigh the risks
  25. Take one major task on at a time – doing one thing well requires all your focus and energy
  26. Only the paranoid survive – people are always chasing you so commit to one direction and run as fast as you can
  27. The greatest danger is standing still
  28. Almost impossible to over communicate or oversimplify – especially with large groups. Don’t worry, you’re not repeating yourself, your reinforcing the strategic message
  29. You can’t change a company without changing its management
  30. Avoid random motion
  31. Improvement almost always only comes through small, consistent steps with clarity and conviction
  32. Looking back is tempting but terribly counterproductive
 
 

What I got out of it

  1. Interesting and telling story of Andy Grove and Intel – the battles they went through, how many times they could have gone out of business or missed a major trend. Really good lessons for anybody in the business world