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Visual book notes: How to Read a Book

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(Click on the image for a larger version of the notes.)

Whenever I want to pick up more tips on how to read better, I turn to How to Read a Book. This is not some speed-reading manual that overpromises and underdelivers. It’s a thoughtful, practical guide to getting the most out of your reading: picking the right speed for a book, taking better notes, building a topical index of books and their relationships with each other… (Still working on that!) The book has plenty of tips for reading specific subjects, and even includes exercises to help you improve your skills.

If you already enjoy reading books, this is probably going to be a fantastic book for you. If you’re working on getting more books into your life, this might have some tips that will help you read more strategically.

How to Read a Book
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren
New York: Simon & Schuster 1972 Rev. ed.
ISBN: 0-671-21209-5

Visual book notes: The Start-up of You (Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha)

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(Click image for a larger version)

The Start-up of You is a book about networking and career planning using tips pulled from the startup world, sprinkled with hip jargon such as “pivot” and “volatility.” It’s a decent book for people who are new to connecting or cultivating their network and who also like reading about technology and entrepreneurship. If you’re a fan of The Lean Startup and similar entrepreneurship books, The Start-up of You is like seeing those ideas applied to other parts of life. It’s easy to read, and it flows well.

I liked examples such as the “interesting people fund” and the idea of having A-B-Z plans. There are good tips for asking your network better questions (p208), too. If you’ve read a lot of other networking or career growth books, though, you might not come across many new aha! moments here, but it’s a good startup-influenced view at managing your own career.

The Start-up of You
Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha
2012: Crown Business
ISBN: 978-0307888907
(E-book and audiobook also available. The Toronto Public Library carries this book.)

Are you a visual learner? Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes!

Event organizer or conference organizer? I’d love to help you help your attendees remember and share key points. Talk to me about sketchnoting your next event!

Visual book notes: 6 Secrets to Startup Success

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(Click on the image to see a larger version, which could be good for reading my teeny-tiny handwriting. If you need a text version instead of an image, leave a comment or e-mail me at [email protected].)

You know how I was looking for books about people-centered entrepreneurship? Checking the Amazon list of books on new enterprises led me to 6 Secrets for Startup Success by John Bradberry. Its main point is that entrepreneurs tend to fall in love with their ideas and end up ignoring reality. Bradberry points out six common failures associated with being too attached to your idea, and suggests ways to avoid those pitfalls. One of those ways is to focus on people instead of on your product or service idea. This is more of an overview book than a step-by-step guide with concrete tactics, but it’s a good wake-up call if you’re starting to get lost in your own dreams.

In addition to the chapter about focusing on people, I particularly liked the chapter on figuring out your math story. Bradberry points out that companies go through different stages and that your core question is different in each stage. In the first stage, the question is: “Do we have a concept that anyone (other than us) cares about?” After you successfully answer that question through prototypes and experiments, you can move on to the question, “Can we actually make money at this? How?” Validating your business model lets you move on to the next question, “Is this business scalable? How can we create significant value over time?” Many businesses struggle because they get all wrapped up in the third question before they’ve answered the first. It’s a good idea to keep those considerations in mind, of course, but it’s important to pay attention to the steps that will get you to that point instead of jumping ahead and pretending you’re a huge company.

What I’m learning from this book: Yes, it seems to make sense to focus on people and let them teach you what they want. (The Lean Startup makes this point as well.) There’s room in the world for wildly visionary companies, but it’s perfectly okay (and much less risky) to start by creating something people already want.

Whom this book is great for: Worried that you’re getting too wrapped up in your entrepreneurial vision? This book might help as a reality check. If you like answering questionnaires as a way of learning more about yourself, you’ll also want to check out the appendix, which has a long self-assessment for founder readiness.

You may also be interested in The Lean Startup (Eric Ries, 2011; see my visual book notes), which has lots of good ideas for testing your business and iterating your way towards success. The Lean Startup book will help translate the chapters on the pull of the market and startup agility into concrete terms.

6 Secrets to Startup Success: How to Turn Your Entrepreneurial Passion into a Thriving Business
John Bradberry
2011, AMACOM
ISBN: 978-0814416068

Buy this book: Amazon.com (Hardcover, Kindle), Amazon.ca
If you buy stuff through the links above, I get a small commission, yay! Commission-free links: Google Books, Toronto Public Library

Visual book notes: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

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Please feel free to share this! (Creative Commons Attribution Licence)

Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup book is popular, and for good reason. Ries shows people how to make the most of the Build-Measure-Learn loop whether they’re starting a snazzy technology company or creating an intrapreneurial venture within a corporation. Many people get hung up on the idea of launching with a big bang, but if you take this Lean Startup approach, you might learn a lot more by talking to actual customers and by experimenting with with your business. I particularly like the reminder to simulate technology with people first, as it can be tempting to procrastinate getting market feedback because your technology isn’t built yet. Do it by hand. Do it for one person at a time, if needed. There’s plenty to learn, and you don’t have to let development cycles slow you down.

Ries also emphasizes the importance of pivoting, which is what you do when you realize that your original business idea was off the mark. Pivoting is about listening to customers and growing into the business they want you to be, while taking advantage of the things you’ve learned in the past and the assets you’ve already built. Sometimes you should persevere instead of getting distracted by one or two stray opinions, but other times, you should listen to what people (and your experiments!) tell you.

Another key point in this book is that of accelerating this feedback loop. Get faster at building, measuring, and learning from the results. Orient your organization towards it. Practise relentless improvement until your build-measure-learn loop is fast and smooth. Then your company will be an incredible engine for learning!

Whom this book is great for: Starting a company? Read this book. You’ll get lots of tips from it, and you could save lots of time, money, and frustration along the way.

Interested in making things happen even within a large company? You might be able to use the build-measure-learn loop to make your day job even better, or to create scalable value outside your typical job responsibilities.

What I’m learning from this book: I’m using the concierge approach to help people with Quantified Awesome, because it’s fun building something that’s tailored to the way people work and what people want to measure. My goal is to get to the point where people are happy to pay $1-5 a month for tools to help them ask and answer questions about their life using data. I’m also going to work on using the build-measure-learn approach for entrepreneurship (a meta-experiment!), and using the minimum-viable-product approach to writing a book using LeanPub. Someday I might even use split-tests – or better yet, help businesses use them to set up experiments!

The Lean Startup
Eric Ries (2011: Crown Business)
ISBN: 978-0307887894
Buy this book: Amazon.com (Hardcover, Kindle) Amazon.ca
If you buy stuff through the links above, I get a small commission, yay! I’d tell you it’s a good book even without the commission, so here are some other links: Google Books, Toronto Public Library (book, e-book)

What do you think of this format? Do you want more detail? Less detail? More drawings? More hand-writing? More stick figures? What other books would you like me to visually summarize? I’m near one of the world’s biggest library systems, and I love learning from and sharing good books.

Sketchnotes: Small business network meetup with Kristina Chau at the Toronto Reference Library

Notes from the Small Business Network meetup with Kristina Chau

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

I attended the small business network meetup at the Toronto Reference Library. The librarian (Margaret Wigglesworth) explained that the Toronto Public Library started hosting these events after people requested more networking time in the business classes that the library organized. Each session was structured as a short talk and a networking discussion. There were twelve of us seated around a comfortably-sized table on the third floor of the reference library. Many were thinking about starting a business but hadn’t taken the plunge, although there was a high school senior who was the president of his school’s business club and made some money buying and selling phones through Craigslist and Kijiji.

Kristina Chau (notyouraverageparty.ca, @notyouravgparty) shared her experiences in getting started. After working hard for someone else’s company, she realized that she’d rather work on her own. She did some freelance work as an event planner. At 29, she started her own event planning company. She applied to the Toronto Business Development Centre for the Although her application was denied, she found the rigor of the application process to be very helpful. She eventually funded her own company through the services she offered.

Kristina shared examples of the evolution of her brand: the business card versions she went through, her current website, even the Starbucks cookie bag on which she and a friend had brainstormed the business. It looked like a lot of people were reassured by the idea that they didn’t have to get things right the first time around. Kristina also mentioned that getting her website together took a long time and a lot of investment, and people had many questions about that.

In the discussion, a few people shared that they had lots of ideas they wanted to work on, but they didn’t know where to start or what to focus on. If I can figure out these micro-experiments for entrepreneurship, maybe that’s something I can help people with.

I’ve read Work the Pond, the first book that Kristina recommended. It has a particularly good chapter on tag-team networking (see my linked notes), and is overall a good networking book. I’ll check out the other two books she mentioned and post my notes as well. In terms of books on entrepreneurship, Lean Startup is one of my current favourites, and I’m looking forward to trying the ideas.

I’m planning to attend the next meetup on March 13. Got any favourite small business events in Toronto? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

Notes from Quantified Self Toronto, October 27, 2010

Bits from the meetup: automated tracking of computer activity, CureTogether.com for aggregated health self-reporting of conditions and treatments, and the oddly popular desire for a statistical silver bullet that will crunch your data and tell you what’s potentially interesting about you, instead of you coming up with questions and designing proper experiments. This makes me think about t-tests and how you can do too many tests for significance (PDF). Intentional experiments may be slower, but I think they’re worth it.

Anyway, here are the notes!

I took these notes using Microsoft OneNote 2007 on a Lenovo X61T tablet. I then exported the graphics to the Gimp, did a little bit of editing, and uploaded them to Gallery2 on my blog. See my other sketch-related blog posts, or check out my other sketches in the gallery.