Own a business to help people, not just make money

Anything You Want is a book by Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby. Derek shares how he created a muli-million dollar company (supposedly he sold it for $22 million) as well as his philosophy around why you should start a business and how he ran a company. It sounds like he’s a pretty unique individual and some of his ideas are pretty thought provoking.

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Derek insists you should focus your business on what adds value to the customer. When he started CD Baby, he was really just looking for a way to sell his music without a distributor. He ended up creating a website and setting up a merchant Visa account. (This was in 1997, pre Paypal and pre lots of web tools.) A friend asked him if he could sell his CD too. Before he knew it, he had a warehouse of CDs from independent musicians and an online business. His goal wasn’t to make money selling their CDs (although he did) — his goal was to enable musicians to reach an audience.

When thinking about your “business plan”, he recommended pushing yourself. Ask what you’d do if you only had $1,000. If you wanted ten times as many customers. If all your first assumptions were wrong. If you had to do it without a website. If you wanted to franchise it. He recommends examining your life that way too. Plan your life for the next couple of years. Then think, “Now you’re living in New York City, obsessed with success. Go!” Or “Now you’re a free spirit, backpacking around Thailand, Go!” And keep imagining …

He also has some really unique views on running a company. It’s hard to tell if his tactics worked really well or if he’s just not telling us about the daily trials; he very successfully ran a very large distribution business and he doesn’t talk much about the logistics. His uniqueness comes through in things like hiring friends of current employees without an interview process and putting the friend in charge of making sure they are trained and successful. He also worked hard to empower people. When he made a decision, he made sure to explain why so that someone else could make the decision next time. It’s also worth pointing out that he didn’t seem very interested in running a business and was very hands off. His idea of success was a business that ran itself (which seems like a great business goal!) and eventually he realized he wasn’t very interested in running it at all. He put the company in a charitable remainder trust and sold it. Now he lives off the trust and the remainder will go to music education when he dies.

The book Anything You Want is a really short read if you want to give it a try. It took me about an hour on the airplane to read and I enjoyed it.

Would you like your favorite author in a new genre?


Last month my book group read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling. Although I wouldn’t call her my favorite author, I loved the Harry Potter series – I started reading the first one on an airplane ride home and actually sat at the airport to finish the book before I drove home. I was really curious what she’d be like writing in a different genre. I was particularly impressed that the book did well before anyone knew she wrote it.

I confirmed for myself that the genre matters to me. The Cuckoo’s Calling was a good mystery. It was full of details that kept you guessing until the very end but in the end I didn’t find the story fascinating. I actually found the descriptions of London, the city, the locales and the different types of societies much more entertaining than the plot. I’d say J.K. Rowling has both been looking at real estate and getting glimpses into other lives like the rich and famous and models.

I missed the book group discussion but heard that half the group loved the book and half hated it … that makes for some good discussion!

So what do you think, would you like your favorite author in any genre?

How to find Amazon Prime eligible Kindle books: A direct link

If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can check out a book a month on your Kindle without paying anything extra. The problem is it’s really hard to search for which Kindle books are part of the program.

Here’s a link to an Amazon search result that will show you all the Prime eligible books:

Amazon Prime Kindle Books

You can also get to this page by going to Amazon, searching in books and checking the “Prime  Eligible” box but half the time the box doesn’t show up for me and I can’t click it, so I just bookmarked the link.

Now I just wish you could check out more than one a month …

Disclaimer: my affiliate code is in the link above so I will get a referral fee if you buy a book using that link.

You have to take care of the individuals as well as the process

I read an awesome book last month, Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Connor Grennan that made me realize that in addition to saving the world and solving big problems that affect millions of people, we also need to make sure everyone has a champion.

Little Princes is about this guy who decides to quit work and travel around the world. In order to look less like he’s on a boondoggle, he decides to stop in Nepal and volunteer at an orphanage. While there he falls in love with the kids and makes a personal commitment to several of them. He also discovers that many are not really orphans but rather children whose families are trying to save them from being recruited as soldiers.

When he finds out that 7 of the kids he promised to help have gone missing, he starts a nonprofit, raises money and goes back to find those 7 kids. He sees hundreds of needy children, but he hunts for those 7 kids. (He also opens an orphanage and does a ton of great things along the way.)

I struggled with that for a while – his ability to continue hunting for 7 kids while tons of others could have used his help. He passes hundreds of kids who need his help and focuses on finding those 7. At some point, I think I would have given up and gone to work fixing the political system that caused the problem. Trying to fix it for just 7 kids would have felt pointless. Then I realized that I fight every day for the 2 kids in my house. I help hundreds of kids indirectly through my work but I am a champion for the individual kids that live in my house. And they have not just me but their dad and a huge extended family of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

So everybody needs someone who is fighting for them as an individual. And all of us need to fight for the individuals we believe in as well as the causes.

So what does this mean? I think we need to focus more on relationships, not just causes. In the open source world, we do this a lot through events and blogging. We do it when we say we’re a “meritocracy” and each individual earns their role. We value the individual and form tight bonds that aren’t dissolved when someone changes roles or gets hired or fired. The individual is more important than the role. The project is made up of individuals.

I think there are also opportunities for a different kind of mentorship. A much more accountable, visible mentorship.

34 science fiction books for the non-scifi reader

 

I asked on Twitter and Facebook and it started a lively debate. Add your thoughts below!

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Here were the most recommended and discussed books:

  1. Ender’s Game is a classic that has probably been read by almost all scifi fans. Jan NieuwenhuizenFilip HanikJon Lotz and Debbie Moynihan all recommended it. As Debbie pointed out, it will be a movie this year too and will likely be read by a much wider audience.  The government is recruiting children to be part of their army. They are trained together and play mock battles. The main character, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, is a child genius who struggles growing up in a school for soldiers – growing up with a bunch of other kids can be lonely.
  2. Iain Bank’s books were highly recommend and they were by far the most discussed books. Debate was around which of the books was the best to start with: The Player of GamesUse of Weapons or Consider PhlebasSean KernerEmmanuele BassiRoss BurtonLuis Villa and Hubert Figuière all participated in the discussion. I think my book group should thank Havoc Pennington though. He said  “as long as storming knows it’s likely to be the most revolting thing anyone’s ever read” made me rethink Iain Bank as a book club recommendation. I did add his books to my own wishlist though.
  3. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi was recommended by Laura Dragan and Emmanuele Bassi. This military sci fi book is really about humanity. The 75 year old protagonist signs up for the military in exchange for a new, young and enhanced body. Scalzi is often compared to Heinlein – I love both their books.
  4. Neuromancer was recommended by Emiliano Figueroa and kbedell. I really like William Gibson but I find the way his players plug into and travel through cyberspace a bit confusing at times. (Although I totally want to try it!) I don’t think I’d recommend them to people who don’t read much scifi but maybe I’m underestimating their readability.
  5. Debbie Moynihan and Rikki Endsley recommended Ready Player One. I haven’t read it but it sounds like it’s about a future where most people spend their time escaping in virtual reality playing games – including a game that’s supposed to contain the winning lottery ticket. It’s extremely well rated on Amazon.
  6. Mary Beth recommended Wool Omnibus and full heartedly agree. I read the whole series in a row and was thinking the whole time it would be a great book for those not used to reading scifi to experience some of it. The Wool Omnibus. The first part of  Wool is free for Kindle right now. (Be warned though, you will be hooked and have to buy the rest of them.)
  7. Ross Burton and Luis Villa both liked Ken MacLeod’s Fall Revolution series but warned it is not easy reading.

And here are all the other great recommendations, many classics with a few lesser know but (at least for the ones I’ve read) great books:

  1. Dune was recommended by Frederic Crozat.
  2. Suzy Millett Bullett recommended The Prisoner of Cell 25. (And I discovered I’d bought this book two months ago and haven’t read it yet. I bumped it up!)
  3. Debbie Moynihan recommended James Patterson’s The Angel Experiment as an easy read for those not used to sci fi. (And I didn’t realize it had turned into a series. Adding more to my wishlist.)
  4. Emiliano Figueroa recommended The Songs of Distant Earth.
  5. Mike Olson recommended short stories like Time ConsideredAye, and Gomorrah, and We in Some Power’s Employ.
  6. Rikki Endsley recommended The Handmaid’s Tale. I thought this one would be a great one for my book club. I even thought about pretending I hadn’t read it.
  7. Paul Christofanelli recommended Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter.
  8. Michael Schulz recommended the classic The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think humorous science fiction can often be bizarre to non scifi readers.
  9. Brian King recommended A Scanner Darkly.
  10. Flowers for Algernon was suggested by Neil Levine. I agree it’s an awesome book. My book club has had a streak of lost their memory, lost who they are type books though. Plus I’ve read it.
  11. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson was suggested by Perry Ismangil.
  12. I Am Legend was suggested by Neil Levine.
  13. Sean Kerner suggested Asimov’s Foundation. I’ve been thinking about rereading that series. As soon as I get through the rest of these great books that I haven’t read yet.
  14. Neil Levine suggested The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. It’s similar to Old Man’s War but instead of old people getting young bodies to fight aliens, young people go fight aliens and Earth ages without them.
  15. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson was suggested by furicle. I remember really enjoying reading this series but I can’t say I remember many specifics at all.
  16. furicle also suggested Armor by John Steakley.
  17. andreasn1 sugggested The Other Side Of The Sky (And he’s talking about the one by Arthur C. Clarke not the The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir by the woman from Kabul. I think.)
  18. as well as I, Robot. The book where Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics were developed. There was also a movie made with Will Smith.
  19. Emmanuele Bassi suggested Accelerando
  20. and Robopocalypse.
  21. Ross Burton suggested The Night Sessions.
  22. Luis Villa suggested Wiliam Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. I really enjoyed this one. It made me think of branding in a completely different light.
  23. Luis Villa also suggested John Varley’s Steel Beach.
  24. Federico Mena Quinte suggested a different John Varley book, The Persistence of Vision. (It looks like you may have to hit the library or the used bookstore to find this one.)
  25. as well as Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. (What an awesome name for a book!)
  26. Deb Nicholson suggested Eifelheim by Michael Flynn
  27. as well as Connie Willis’s books on time travel To Say Nothing of the Dog (funny, according to Deb) and Doomsday Book (darker).

What would you add to the list?

Which ones would be best for people not used to reading science fiction?

Book Review: The FastDiet, Not my kind of book

While the diet and the ideas behind The FastDiet are pretty intriguing, the book doesn’t add a lot of value.

I was expecting something like Good Calories, Bad Calories. Something with a bit of research and data behind it. Instead you get a brief overview of the diet with a few pointers to studies, a few quotes from doctors at longevity institutes and then lots of advice for how to eat 500-600 calories on the fasting days. Not worth the $9.67 I paid for it.

I also checked out their website which has a brief overview of the diet, but no pointers to any studies.

The diet in summary:

  • Eat normally 5 days a week.
  • “Fast” on two non consecutive days. “Fasting” means eating 500-600 calories preferably in 2 meals spaced widely apart.

Their theory is two fold:

  • Your body evolved under situations that required “fasting” and during those times it spent its energy on repairing itself. So fasting will cause your cells to regenerate, decreasing all sorts of bad things like high cholesterol, cancer and signs of aging.
  • You’ll eat less, so you’ll lose weight. They quoted a study that said people eat more the day following a “fasting” day, but it was less than 125% more, not double what they would have eaten normally.

In addition to the proposed health benefits of the diet, they advocate that it’s much easier to follow than most other diets like low calorie or low carb. I do agree with them on that. I think it’s easier not to eat for two days a week than it is to count calories every day but they did not have any studies to support that.

Most of the evidence in the book was the authors’ own experiences, quotes from a few doctors at longevity institutes, pointers to a few studies and a bunch of letters with anecdotal evidence.

The diet is an interesting idea, but the book doesn’t do much more than explain the diet and the authors’ theories.

Book Review: The Starfish and the Spider & Open source software organizations and money

The Starfish and the Spider compares two types of organizational structures. Spider organizations have a central command structure, like a CEO. If you detach one of the spider’s legs from the head, the leg can no longer function. It is not autonomous. Starfish organizations have very distributed command structures. Cut off a leg and it will continue to function and will even grow other legs and turn into its own starfish. Each type of organization has its benefits and drawbacks and each are useful at different times. One key to success is understanding what type of organization you are in, its strengths and weaknesses and when you might want to act more like the other type. Hybrids are also possible. For example, GE  under Jack Welsh transitioned from a spider to a spider/starfish. Traditional companies tend to be more like spider organizations and open source software projects tend to be more like starfish.

Some of the points in The Starfish and the Spider made me wonder whether money can change an open source project into a more traditionally organized and closed project. And if it has that potential, what we can do preserve the best of open source while introducing money.

As I discussed in “Would you do it again for free?“, I’m very curious about how open source organizations work and in particular how factors like motivations, companies and pay change them. I’ve theorized that pay can change an open source developer’s motivations. It’s not usually bad for the project (especially if the payment is in the form of salaries) unless the money goes away. If the money goes away, if for example the developer gets laid off, then I think the developer will quit working on the project but will switch projects, not quit working on open source software projects all together. (Assuming they were working on open source software before they got paid to do it.)

But what happens when money gets introduced suddenly into an open source project? I think it depends on how the money is used and how much its distribution changes how the project is run. In most cases, access to money has greatly helped open source software projects in a number of ways.

  1. Developers. There are a lot more developers working full time on projects like Linux and Firefox than there would be if no one was paid to work on them. And those developers contribute more than just work. They bring ideals and values to the project.
  2. Team building & communication. More resources means being able to bring more people together – and not to just hold the conference but to actually pay for people’s travel expenses if needed. GNOME, Apache and Mozilla all help pay for contributors travel to key events when needed.
  3. Infrastructure. Money can also provide for project infrastructure, hardware and hosting costs.
  4. Skills. Money can also be used to bring in resources that open source software projects have traditionally had a hard time recruiting or finding in their volunteer staff such as marketing and business development.

Given all the benefits that additional resources can bring a project, I think having access to money is definitely a good thing for open source software projects. (And I’ve spent a lot of time personally helping projects effectively raise and use money through efforts like fundraising for GNOME and serving on the Board of Directors for the Software Freedom Conservancy.)

I do think there are a few things to keep in mind though.

  1. Money often concentrates power. This is not so much an issue when the money is used for salaries, but more an issue of when resources for things are not accessible to all project members. Or the process for getting access is not communicated well. The Starfish and the Spider shares the example of how the Apache Indians were ultimately defeated. The Apaches were definitely a starfish organization. Tribes followed their leaders because they believed in them. If a leader was killed, people would continue to fight and a new leader would emerge. How were they defeated? By cows. The Americans gave the Apache leaders cows. Once they had cows, they controlled a valuable resource and became an authoritative leader and the power structure became hierarchical instead of flat. Once the organization was hierarchical, it was easier to control. So it’s important to make sure that control of resources reflects or supports the project structure.
  2. It’s hard to spend money. Many open source software projects, especially those with relatively small amounts of money, struggle with how to spend the money effectively and fairly. If you have $500 and a project with 10 people, how should you use it? You could reward everyone with a dinner at a conference, but most of them would probably rather you spent the money on the project. You could pay to fly someone to the next hackfest that would not ordinarily be able to afford to attend. With a little bit of money (I heard under $10,000), it is often hard to spend the money. It’s more work to figure out how to spend it and use it, than it’s typically worth. Especially if the project doesn’t have an organizational entity associated with it.
  3. Most financial transactions require an authorized person. In most countries, signing a deal with another organization requires someone to sign the deal. So to enter into any kind of business relationship whether as a client or a partner or a provider, an organization must have someone with authority to sign for the organization. And for tax and liability reasons, you need an organization to collect money and sign agreements. It’s possible to give that authority to someone in a way that’s consistent with the values of a starfish organization, but it requires some thought.

Money can do a lot of good for open source software projects but some thought needs to be given to using it in a way that will do long term good.

What I’ve been reading

I haven’t written a book review in a long time so I thought I’d just share what I’ve been reading lately.

  • Mark Coggins leads the technical evangelist team at Mozilla and as he’s someone I work with on a daily basis, I was curious about his books. I have to admit, I started with The Adventure of the Black Bishop because it was short but it was good enough to lead me to VULTURE CAPITAL which I enjoyed very much.
  • Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere by Will Richardson. While I really like my kids’ schools and teachers, I feel more and more like school isn’t the best way for all kids to learn. The focus is still very much on teacher directed learning, everyone learning the same thing and being able to recite it back. When that’s your alphabet and numbers, it feels very appropriate. When it’s US capitals or Canadian provinces, it doesn’t feel like the best way to learn that info. Will Richardson does a good job of explaining why and how schools could evolve but he doesn’t have the answer.
  • Fatal Exchange by Russell Blake. I’m an Amazon Prime member and so I can check out a book a month but I never see many of the “free” books that I’m interested in. This one was pretty good. It was a bit far fetched but complex enough, action packed enough and well written enough to be a good read. Gruesomely violent though.
  • Thirteenth Child (Frontier Magic) series by Patricia Wrede. This is the wild west meets magic. It’s an alternate reality where magic animals (and magic wielding humans) exist and society is busy exploring the wild west of what we call the United States set in a technology age where trains and horses are used for transportation. The series was much more entertaining than I would have thought.
  • Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin. I listened to this book. It’s been in my queue for a long time as something I “should” read. I was pleasantly surprised that it felt really relevant. I had a conversation with David Ascher shortly afterwards about changing the way things are done by creating a new group and I was pretty excited to tell him that Seth Godin agreed with him! I may need to buy the print version so I can take some good notes.

And then I’m working on these:

  • The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. Since my team is working on the long tail of apps for the Firefox Marketplace, I thought I should listen to the book about what the long tail really is. If I’m going to make it through it, I think I may have to buy the print edition. So far it’s been very focused on the economics of the supplier offering a long tail and I’m much more interested in the long tail from the individual creator’s point of view.
  • Escape Velocity by Geoffrey Moore. We’ve been using Geoffrey More’s Horizon model to describe projects at Mozilla. I’m finding it full of very thought provoking ideas. For example, “participating in low-power category, such as desktop computers, wire-line phone services, or e-mail, is an exercise in playing on the margins”. If you are in a low power category, life is just going to be hard. You need to create a new category if you want to deliver innovation. There’s even insights on staffing such as “organizations tend to leave the same people in place for the life of a line of business, which is often not good either for the business or the people”. And he goes on to talk about how different types of leaders and manager are required depending on the stage a project is in. More to come …

What do you recommend I read next?

How to check out free books on your Amazon Kindle

If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can check out one free book a month. However, Amazon doesn’t make it really easy for you to figure out which books are eligible to be checked out from the Owners’ Lending Library.

To see the list of books you can check out, search for “prime eligible” in Amazon Kindle Books.

If you find one you like, add it to your wishlist. Then on your Kindle, you can browse your wishlist and check it out.

Here’s a direct link to that search that you can use from your computer:

Amazon Prime Kindle Books

 

Book Review: Drive by Dan Pink

I really enjoyed Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink. I quote Dan Pink in just about every talk I give ever since I read his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.

In Drive he talks about rewards as motivation and how they apply to the work place with some pretty startling results. It turns out that really big bonuses actually make us perform worse. People focus so much on the bonus that they get really nervous and do worse.

He also talks about the things that make us perform better like:

  • autonomy (self-direction and being engaged),
  • mastery (getting better at something) and
  • purpose.

He uses open source software projects of examples of how that works.

For an entertaining 10 minute version of the book check out this video:

(I wish I could do presentations like that. I am now working on that!)

Thanks to Barbara Hueppe for the pointer to the video. She passed it on as an excellent example of what motivates communities like Mozilla’s community.