Vinod Kurup

Hospitalist/programmer in search of the meaning of life

Growing a Business

I read this book in 2005, but never posted this review. So here it is…

Growing a Business by Paul Hawken

This is an honest and practical guide to running a business. I don’t remember where I first heard about this book. Maybe Lars?

It was written in 1987. Hawken talks about building a business. It’s often portrayed as a heroic or glamorous endeavor, but really it’s not. It’s a lot of hard work, but also a lot of common sense. He spends a chapter talking about a quality that you need to be successful in your own business. He calls it Tradeskill.

It’s like intuition, for business. He says its something you can’t acquire easily, except perhaps in childhood. People that were drawn into business activities at a young age have it. Those that weren’t, don’t. And no amount of book-smarts can make up for the lack of Tradeskill. If you’re not comfortable haggling in a flea market, you should think twice about going into business. Instead, he recommends dipping your feet in the water, without starting a business yourself. Take a part time job in a business that you’re interested in and try to take on as many roles as possible in that business.

Another theme in his book is the wisdom of growing slowly. Having too much money while starting a business is worse than no having enough. It’s something I read a lot now (Arsdigita, Paul Graham, 37Signals), but it’s interesting to see it written way back when as well.

Things I learned from this book

It’s probably not for me

Starting your own business is not for everyone. It takes a temperament that isn’t easily learned. I don’t think I have Tradeskill. I’m not going to let that stop me from learning about business, but I’m going to be a little more thorough in my planning and preparation if I ever do it.

The 5-15 report is a good idea

He mentions something called a 5-15 report. it’s a report that every employee in a company should have to write every week. It should take less than 15 minutes to write and less than 5 minutes to read. Part I is a progress report for the week, Part II is a report on the morale of the department and Part III is one idea to make the company better. I like the idea of a weekly low-commitment progress report.

Overstaffing is the root of all evil

A major problem of big business is over-staffing. Once an employee learns that their work is redundant, or requires little effort, they realize their job is expendable and that they must spend all their time preserving their job - through hijacking credit, office politics, etc. The basic result is that people hoard information. Information that, if freely disseminated, would allow the company to function better. If I have useful information that other employees don’t have, then I am valuable. Understaffed companies (start-ups) work in the opposite way. I have enough work as it is, so I’m happy to share information with you, because perhaps it will allow you to help me out with my workload. The company becomes more efficient. I see this effect of over-staffing where I work (although I didn’t recognize it as such until reading this book)

random quotes / concepts from the book

Flat management/employee structures are good. Trust the people you work with and give them wide latitude.

Problems are opportunities - dive into them.

“A good business has interesting problems. A bad business has boring ones.” (p. 39)

Have a partner. You shouldn’t ever think of going it alone.

“Being in business is not about making money. It is a way to become who you are.” (p. 19)