Entrepreneur Book Club (Part 1)

Entrepreneurship can be a minefield without a map – even those with years of experience face uncertainty within each new venture.

Fortunately, startup founders and aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from those with experience to help smooth the road ahead. Today, we debut our Entrepreneur Book Club, which will feature two books every month that provide insights and guidance as a beacon for the entrepreneurial journey. 

In collaboration with Block Shelf, we will extract the most essential lessons from each book so that you can apply proven methodologies to your business.

In this post, we'll review Where Good Ideas Come From and Without Their Permission.


Where Good Ideas Come From

By Steven Johnson

This book discusses how the seven key patterns behind genuine innovation and breakthrough technologies, and traces them across time and disciplines. Find it on here.

1) Good ideas are built over time

“We have a natural tendency to romanticize breakthrough innovations, imagining momentous ideas transcending their surroundings. Good ideas are not conjured out of thin air; they are built out of a collection of existing parts, the composition of which expands (and, occasionally, contracts) over time.”

2) Break out of your routines

“In our work lives, in our creative pursuits, in the organizations that employ us, in the communities we inhabit – in all these different environments, we are surrounded by potential new configurations, new ways of breaking out of our standard routines. The trick is to figure out ways to explore the edges of possibility that surround you. This can be as simple as changing the physical environment you work in, or cultivating a specific kind of social network, or maintaining certain habits in the way you seek out and store information.”

3) Don’t isolate yourself

“Innovation involves a way of assembling a more eclectic collection of building block ideas, spare parts that can be reassembled into useful new configurations. The trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts. The trick is to get more parts on the table.”

4) Discuss your ideas with others

“The most productive tool for generating good ideas remains a circle of humans at a table, talking shop. The lab meeting creates an environment where new combinations can occur, where information can spill over from one project to another. When you work alone in an office, peering into a microscope, your ideas can get trapped in place, stuck in your own initial biases. The social flow of the group conversation turns that private solid state into a liquid network.”

5) Write every hunch down

“Most hunches never last long enough to turn into something useful, because they pass in and out of memory too quickly, precisely because they possess a certain murkiness. You get a feeling that there’s an interesting avenue to explore, a problem that might someday lead you to a solution, but then you get distracted by more pressing matters and the hunch disappears. So part of the secret of hunch cultivation is simple: write everything down.”

6) Don’t impose too much structure on your ideas

“Imposing too much order runs the risk of orphaning a promising hunch in a larger project that has died, and it makes it difficult for those ideas to mingle and breed when you revisit them. You need a system for capturing hunches, but not necessarily categorizing them, because categories can build barriers between disparate ideas, restrict them to their own conceptual islands.”

7) Your dreams can help cultivate ideas

“We know that during REM sleep acetylcholine-releasing cells in the brain stem fire indiscriminately, sending surges of electricity billowing out across the brain. Memories and associations are triggered in a chaotic, semirandom fashion, creating the hallucinatory quality of dreams. Most of those new neuronal connections are meaningless, but every now and then the dreaming brain stumbles across a valuable link.”

8) Take long walks or showers to clear your mind

“The history of innovation is replete with stories of good ideas that occurred to people while they were out on a stroll. A similar phenomenon occurs with long showers or soaks in a tub. The shower or stroll removes you from the task-based focus of modern life – paying bills, answering e-mail, helping kids with homework – and deposits you in a more associative state. Given enough time, your mind will often stumble across some old connection that it had long overlooked, and you experience that delightful feeling of private serendipity.”

9) Compress your learning period and receive input from a wide range of sources

“The problem with assimilating new ideas at the fringes of your daily routine is that the potential combinations are limited by the reach of your memory. If it takes you two weeks to finish a book, by the time you get to the next book, you’ve forgotten much of what was so interesting or provocative about the original one. You can immerse yourself in a single author’s perspective, but then it’s harder to create serendipitous collisions between the ideas of multiple authors. One way around this limitation is to carve out dedicated periods where you read a large and varied collection of books and essays in a condensed amount of time.”

10) Being wrong can lead to innovation

“The history of being spectacularly right has a shadow history lurking behind it a much longer history of being spectacularly wrong, again and again. A shockingly large number of transformative ideas in the annals of science can be attributed to contaminated laboratory environments. Innovative environments thrive on useful mistakes, and suffer when the demands of quality control overwhelm them.”

11) Don’t underestimate the power of collaborative innovation

“Collective invention is not some socialist fantasy; entrepreneurs like Edison were very much motivated by the possibility of financial rewards, and they tried to patent as much as they could. But the utility of building on other people’s ideas often outweighed the exclusivity of building something entirely from scratch. You could develop small ideas in a locked room, cut off from the hunches and insights of your competition. But if you wanted to make a major new incursion into the adjacent possible, you need company.”

12) Build a tangled bank

“Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent. The patterns are simple, but followed together, they make for a whole that is wider than the sum of its parts.”


Without Their Permission

By Alexis Ohanian

For aspiring entrepreneurs eager to embrace the future of the internet for fun, profit and the good of humankind. Find it here.

1) Execution is everything

“Ideas are worthless. Far too often, founders are so enamored of perfecting their ideas that they don’t want to tell people about them. And then when they launch, they’re suddenly put in the position of having to tell their idea to everyone who’ll listen. You need something to actually talk about – and test.”

2) Be compelling

“The Internet is fickle and ruthless. Attention spans are short, and there’s always a cute cat video just a click away. That means you’ve got to be compelling. And you’ve absolutely got to make something people actually want or they’ll never stick around, let alone come back.”

3) Identify genuine need

“Start with a real problem. The thing is, sometimes people don’t realize they have a problem. You’ve undoubtedly encountered products or services that have frustrated you. Keep a notepad handy and write down whatever is upsetting you. There’s a good chance you’ll find a business in those notes.”

4) Solve the hard problems

“Another starting point is to have an idea that very few people other than the founders can actually build. These technical feats provide a natural defense against competition: remember, every hard problem you solve drops a massive obstacle in front of anyone who’d want to replicate you. Certain problems haven’t been solved because none of the few people smart enough to do so have made it happen.”

5) Learn all about the industry you’re going into

“If you’re not willing to really understand the industry you’re aspiring to reinvent, don’t bother starting a startup. Having industry experience is not only invaluable for building a great product or service, it also shows investors the dedication a successful founder needs to have.”

6) Listen to early feedback

“Once you’re up and running, spread the word and start watching how users interact with what you’ve built. Listen to how they’re talking about it. This is key. Those first hundred or so people who are willing to take a chance on a product they’ve never heard of are golden. Treat them well and get to the root of whatever problem it is that you’re not currently solving for them.”

7) Give a damn

“Give a damn about everything you’re building. Take pride in the products you make, the service you provide, and the company you build. Give more damns than anyone else, because there aren’t a lot of things a startup has going for it, except that its founders and employees certainly care more than the competition. And that makes all the difference.”

8) Surprise and delight your customers

“Many of us interact with the Internet through beautifully designed hardware that is ultimately still robotic, no matter how shiny. A chance to surprise and delight someone by doing something a little exceptional goes a long way because it provides a smack of awesome humanity upside the head. “

9) Ignore your competition

“If you’re solving an interesting problem, or just having success, there will always be competition. Online, the marketplace of ideas is so fluid that new entrants can have tremendous success in a short period of time (and existing players can fall off just as fast). In any case, it doesn’t help you to be looking back at competitors because you’ll find yourself lulled into replicating and reacting instead of innovating and moving forward. “

10) Love your haters

“When we launched reddit, I made a note of the exceptionally bad feedback we got. I printed out all our most vitriolic and negative feedback and created a ‘wall of negative reinforcement’ beside my desk. I loved all the negative feedback. I wanted to know exactly whom I’d be working to prove wrong.”

11) Start with a strong team

“You cannot succeed with a broken team, so hire wisely and fire quickly. Those first team members, whether they join as founders or employees, have a tremendous impact on your company’s fate. One ideal quality in an employee can be best summed up as ‘Gives a damn.’”

12) Practice your pitch

“You’d better be able to explain your company in an engaging and understandable way within a few sentences. Speak sincerely, not like a salesman, and hack away at the words in your pitch until they are as few and as jargon-free as possible. Explain it to the executives like they’re five. “

13) Don’t dwell on the past

“Once you get press, make note of it and then get rid of it. I heard a football coach talk about this once in an interview. Feel good about the win for twenty-four hours, and then get your mind off it and think about next week. Same goes for losses, too. But I especially don’t want to dwell on past accomplishments. Complacency, especially in this industry, is toxic.