How reading books about porn stars can help your business

How-To-Make-Love_300I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs lately that don’t read books. When I try to recommend a book they say something like,”Oh. I don’t really read books.”

This baffles me.

I read everything. I read fiction books. I read comic books. I read history books.

Real life is dull at times. Why not read books? Or as I like to call them: time machines that contain all information that’s ever been documented or learned or portrayed in the history of the universe.

I like reading about things that are illegal or strange. I’m a fairly law-abiding citizen, so getting an inside view of something that’s illegal or out of the ordinary is interesting. I find reading about how drug cartels work (especially the economics) fascinating. And prostitution rings. And the mafia. And pirates. Yeah – pirates are awesome.

I’ve heard some people say that the only productive reading is history or non-fiction. They’re wrong.

So naturally, when I found out that Neil Strauss followed Jenna Jameson around to document what it was like being a porn star, it nearly blew my…mind.

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The #1 Reason My First Startup Failed

Me.

Well, to be more specific, my thought patterns. There are a variety of destructive psychological mistakes that continuously cause entrepreneurs to make poor decisions. These patterns are very well documented and talked about, but they continue to haunt entrepreneurs on a daily basis.

Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny. – Ancient Maxim

It’s actually quite impressive how good human beings are at convincing ourselves of things that aren’t true. The primary one that killed my first startup is confirmation bias.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman

Simply put, confirmation bias is your brain tricking you into somehow thinking that you’re special and that reality doesn’t apply to you. For example, some studies have shown that 21% of young people, when asked if they’d be rich when they were older responded with,”Yes, I’m going to win the lottery.”

If there’s a minuscule chance of winning the lottery, how can 21% of the people feel like it’s going to be them? It’s unrealistic.

Confirmation bias manifests itself commonly in entrepreneurship when founders are determining the viability of a new idea. The startup world has changed significantly with the advent of the lean startup movement where entrepreneurs are now developing hypotheses and testing them, but the experiments are often flawed.

Everyone wants to feel like their different – that they’re special. Entrepreneurs want to think that their idea is revolutionary and guarantees success because it was their idea.

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Why Your Lifestyle Design “Muse” Didn’t Work

I read the The 4-Hour Workweek at a major turning point in my life. I had just left the Army and Stephanie and I were taking a road trip from Alaska to Michigan where I was going to start my MBA program.

I still remember how excited I was. My last few years in the Army were particularly difficult and I was elated that it was over. I had wanted to throw myself into entrepreneurship for years and the time had finally come.

A few weeks before leaving, a friend of mine insisted that I read the Four Hour Workweek. The title sounded incredibly spammy, but I bought it anyway. I started reading the book as Stephanie so kindly offered to take the first driving shift on the second morning of our road trip.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(A beautiful lake that we stopped at to get out and stretch our legs. If I remember correctly, this was about a half-day before getting to Muncho lake in Canada.)

The next few hours flew by and before I knew it, I had consumed the entire book.

I was in love.

I felt like I had just read something that had been written personally for me. After years of living a life where nearly every aspect of my existence was dictated by the Army, I was incredibly susceptible to the concept of complete financial, geographic and time freedom. It was refreshing to see the way the book challenged deep-seated assumptions about the choices we have in how we live.

As an entrepreneur at heart, the part of the book that really spoke to me was about “Engineering a Muse” which is how I was supposed to fund this new and exciting lifestyle. For the next couple of years, getting my MBA and finding a profitable muse were my main goals in life.

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12 Elements of a Great Story

It’s a bit cliche to say that communication is important, but just like being able to sell, being able to tell a great story is an important skill for any entrepreneur. A friend recently recommended Storytelling in Organizations as a general storytelling overview.

The book starts off by demonstrating the importance of being able to tell a good story. Up to 28% of the United States GNP can be attributed to persuasion (think marketing, PR, consulting, financial services, etc.) and storytelling is a key form of persuasion.

“When we dream alone, it’s just a dream. But when we dream together, it is the beginning of a new reality.” – Brazilian proverb

The book lagged a bit longer than I would have liked discussing storytelling as means of communication. They discuss how people are better able to retain knowledge when gained through a story rather than through a list of bullet-points. They discuss how stories are best told orally in-person because of how much information is communicated non-verbally. Basically: a lot of this is common sense.

I did enjoy their discussion of how to use stories for better defining and communicating a company’s (or product’s) value through storyboarding. This is something that Airbnb has done exceptionally well.

To get to the actual nitty-gritty, these are the book’s main storytelling recommendations. Great stories…:

  1. start with what the audience cares about. (This isn’t always going to be the chronological beginning)
  2. should have punch. How do you give it punch? Make sure it has each of these six ingredients: wit, succinctness, emotional power, it’s funny, it’s clever, it’s moving.
  3. are told by someone who is clear with why they’re telling this story. What response are you trying to elicit?
  4. are told when the audience has everything they need to understand the story. (i.e. Don’t start using acronyms unless you’re 100% confident that the audience knows what they mean.)
  5. tell the story “from the perspective of a single protagonist.” Ideally first-person.
  6. should include some strangeness. Something that’s plausible – but strange.
  7. should have happened as recently as possible.
  8. should “embody the change idea as fully as possible.”
  9. should be expressed with feeling and passion.
  10. should answer the question, “So What?”
  11. should be practiced. Practice alone. Practice with friends. Practice with colleagues. Practice. Practice. Practice.
  12. manage the audience’s inner voice. Everyone has two voices. One that you use to communicate externally and one that you use to communicate to yourself internally (I’ve talked about this second voice before).

“My objective is to create a space for the little voice in the head to tell a new story, that is, to generate a new narrative based on the listener’s context and drawing on the listener’s intelligence.” – Storytelling in Organizations

All in all, the book had some good parts and some bad parts. If you refer back to these 12 points, you can save yourself the couple of hours reading the book.

 

Stop “Shoulding” Yourself

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

As motivated people, we’re used to telling ourselves, “I should do this” or “I should do that,” but this “shoulding” can be counter-productive too.

I’ve been reading a book called Feeling Good by David Burns where he discusses how your thoughts define your reality. This shouldn’t come as a mind-blowing insight to anyone, but what I like about the book is the practical approach he takes to helping people come over unhealthy thought processes.

I admit that I will sometimes “should” myself into an anxious state with thoughts like:

“I should be spending more time writing.”
“I should be spending more time talking to my employees and giving them feedback.”
“I should be attending more events.”
“I should be exercising more.”
“I should be eating better.”
…and on and on it goes.

In 2014 I want to take things a bit easier on Rob. I did conduct an introspective review of 2013 and have set some goals for 2014, but instead of “shoulding” myself every day, I’m going to try and focus a bit more on well-being. (Well – as much well-being as running a startup allows anyway.)

I challenge you to try and go a week, no – a DAY, replacing every “should” in your mind with “could.”

You’ll thank me later.

Great Interview with Chris Sacca

Chris Sacca recently did an interview on This Week in Startups that is absolutely incredible. I’ve watched some videos of Chris Sacca before (check out his Foundation interview with Kevin Rose if you haven’t seen it) and I’m always impressed by the way he thinks through problems.

He talks about his new fund, Lowercase Stampede, and its focus on the intersection between content and technology. I couldn’t agree more that this is going to be a really interesting space in the next few years. If what the New York Times did with Snowfall and what Fast Company has been doing with their Labs projects are any indication, we should be in for a treat.

Here’s part one of the video:

If anyone knows where to find the Lowercase Stampe thesis, it would be great to give it a read. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Back At It

Whew – that took a while.

The last few months I’ve been incredibly busy building Makers Academy and I finally start to feel like I can come up for air. One thing that I’ve sorely missed is writing on my blog. I’ve been doing a bit of writing, but it’s been on the Makers Academy Blog, Guest Posts or Medium.

It’s time to get back at it.

Starting today, I’ll slowly be merging some of the things I’ve been writing about back here – plus adding some new stuff.