Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rules of Thumb

I often find that some of the most important information I need finds me after I need it.

Much of the work I do in these posts is to find information that I know to be credible and useful and pass it along with the hope that it reaches you before you need it.

Here is a must-read addition to that discussion: "Rules of Thumb" by Alan Webber. Mr. Webber was the cofounder of Fast Company Magazine.

First a note about Fast Company. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Fast Company Magazine 'Fast 50' award in 2004. It's one of the business honors I most cherish.

The Fast Company magazine that Mr. Webber cofounded was the coolest place on the planet to read about enterprise and entrepreneurship.

At the time, here is what they said about their Fast 50 winners: “The Fast 50 are the idea elite of business, individuals with the vision and personal commitment to propel their companies and industries into the future.”

What I will be forever proud of is that we won our Fast 50 award with a business of just 4 people. Highly dedicated friends, all of us passionate proponents of our cause. Dave, Mary, Dan and myself. From this core group we recycled many tens of millions of gallons of water and saved well over 10 million gallons of oil every year that used to be lost as wastewater. Dave and I were fortunate enough to be awarded 9 patents for our work. It was very heady, very fun times. However, we knew very little about promoting ourselves or telling the world about our work. Fast Company magazine found us. They understood what our little revolution was accomplishing and told the world about us.

Allen Webber's new book, "Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self" is a must-read for anyone approaching entrepreneurship or working in new and emerging enterprises. It will profoundly strengthen your will and resolve to persevere. It will shine a clear light on the pathways you need to navigate. Importantly, "Rules of Thumb" will bring you street-level wisdom about entrepreneurship that can only come from someone who has done it wisely themselves and learned the best and the worst from those of us who have worked in the field our entire lives.

"Rules of Thumb" is the best short course in entrepreneurship I have come across in decades of work as an entrepreneur.

I'll give you a few of the 'rules' in short form, then close out with one of my favorite quotes from the book.

- Learn to take "No" as a question.

- Failure isn't failing. Failure is failing to try.

- Simplicity is the new currency.

- Nothing happens until money changes hands.

- The difference between a crisis and an opportunity is when you learn about it.

All of these 'rules' and many more (52 in all) get discussed at length in "Rules of Thumb".

Among my favorite in the book is #38, 'If you want to think big, start small.' Mr. Webber is discussing Muhammad Yunus and the founding of the Grameen Bank, which has profoundly changed the world, and earned Mr. Yunus a Nobel Peace Prize along the way. Here's a quote from that section: "It started out, in other words, as a solution in a Petri dish, like so many other world-changing social projects. What it offers is an instructive model for crafting solutions that work, one that applies equally well to for-profit and not-for-profit entrepreneurs."

"Start small. Do what you can with something you care about so deeply that you simply can't not do it. Stay focused, close to the ground, rooted in everyday reality. Trust your instinct and your eyes: do what needs doing any way you can, whether the experts agree or not. Put practice ahead of theory, and results ahead of conventional wisdom."

"Start small. If it works, keep doing it. If it doesn't work, change what you're doing until you find something that does work. Start small, start with whatever is close at hand, start with something you care deeply about. But as Muhammad Yunnis [tells listeners], start."

Do you need any more permission than that? Are you waiting for more inspiration?

Among the pieces, some of the most valuable relate to raising money (#37 - 'All money is not created equal'). For anyone raising startup capital this piece is critically important.

When I read a business book, I call it a great success if I can take away one solid idea or truth I can put to work. In "Rules of Thumb", there is not a single weak piece in the entire book. Just remarkable.

Allan Webber has distilled a career working in entrepreneurship into a magnificent collection of hope and how-to.

I rarely recommend anything this enthusiastically, but "Rules of Thumb" is one of those rare gems in the world of entrepreneurship that you just need to read.

Allan Webber bio

Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus

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