Tag Archives: motivation

Book review: The 100 Dollar Startup

The 100 Dollar Startup – Chris Gillebeaupicture_book_100dollar

This is an interesting book about micro-entrepreneurship, based on organic growth and patience instead of venture capital and IPOs. It describes the reality of a new group of entrepreneurs, many of whom started by surprise and coincidence. It is also about finding a sustainable size and not focussing blindly on growth.

Gillebeau writes with humour and self-depreciation, illustrating many points through examples of his own successes and failures. His account of joyful exhiliration from a 1.63$ sale is contagious. The significance of the first sale is repeated again and again in the book.

Many passages in the book are strong and authentic, with real-life examples and insights from breakthrough and adversity. However, some parts of the book feel more like recipes, where a certain method or tool is getting all the attention. The introduction to the book is peppered with adversity towards all forms of employment, which feels unbalanced. Maybe the American work situation is more hostile than my European experience? I have had a couple of good managers over the years and many warm and generous colleagues…

The book was a gift to my wife, who is now in a career switch, but I took the opportunity to read it and I like the message alot. The thinking is valuable both as an independent entrepreneur, but also for an “intrapreneur”, starting something new inside an existing organization: Start small, grow organically and always, always keep in mind what customer value you deliver.

It is similar in my job, where we started a product development department from scratch two years ago. Get started, try something and get feedback from (internal) customers and adapt. I will get a copy of the book for my team.

Book and Idea Review – Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg

There is something elusive with the word habit. We all know Bad Habits, but I have never heard of Good Habits. Only descriptions of virtue or discipline or willpower or character.
Aristotle is supposed to have said: “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” (At least according to the Lean trainers I met this summer.)picture_habits

Duhigg gives an entertaining overview of what we know about habits, scientifically and from experiences. He describes the neurological point of view as well as the social and legal aspects of our “auto-pilot”. He shares stories about people with neurological damages which gives surprising, insightful and sometimes tragic consequences in everyday life. Duhigg explores the bad habits of drinking and gambling, even though it is not clear to me that these are habits in the same sense of the word as a habit to have cereals with yoghurt instead of milk.

He points at the strength of habits to help us do good and looks at ways to create habits that lead us in the right direction. It is also really interesting to see that moral decision-making is a finite resource, and that most people have really bad judgement at the end of a stressful day. (Yet another reason for not having political negotiations to go on deep into the night.) If the auto-pilot is not tuned for good behaviour, we are bound for trouble.
Is this character?
Or the result of having character to practice the “right thing to do” into an automatic behaviour?

I look at my own behaviour and clearly see areas where I could do better, if I just had enough energy at the right moment. I would (if I could) snack less at the office and drink less coffee. And by looking at the neurological background for the reward system, I could develop more positive habits. It is in a sense exerting energy beforehand to build the good habit, and earn the reward later, when the auto-pilot helps me to grab a bottle of water instead of a Coke. Despite the neurophysiological explanations, the book does not really help me to get there.

An other interesting aspect of habits is the connection to personal responsibility and individual freedom. However, this is a weak part of the story, probably due to the very American context of the book, set in a litigous society and with ill-fitting cultural bias for “Freedom”.

The book did shed a sliver of light onto what Science knows about why we do what we do, which is one of life’s greatest mysteries.
The quest for understanding continues…

Drive – Book and Idea Review


Motivation – what do we really know about the drive to do things?
Why do I write this? Why do you read this blog?
Is it to please your boss/earn brownie points/get higher salary or out of fear?

I do not think so. I think curiosity and the joy of exploring the slightly unknown are far superior explanations for why we do most of what we do. In his book “Drive”, Dan Pink explores what we know about work-related motivation, and how far away most company/school reward systems are from the reality of today. In his own words “There is a mismatch between what Science knows and what Business does”.

Since the TED presentation a couple of years ago, I wanted to read more from Pink, and now I finally got the book to dig deeper into the sea of positive forces that is just waiting to be explored. Most of the elements I recognize from my own experiences, but it helps to use the words to describe these semi-subconscious forces.

I have always felt oddly de-motivated when being sent on a training course, for instance, but eagerly energized whenever I get to choose myself. In the same way, great satisfaction has come from strenous efforts of learning Chinese, trying to master a new magic illusion or plowing away in electromagnetic field theory. I also feel energized and alive when working on wind-turbine technology and establishing the first sprouts of a permaculture food forest in our suburbian backyard. Pink distils these three Dimensions of Drive into: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

In the past two years, I have been trying to establish an environment of trust and autonomy in my department. I strive to challenge-and-grow the engineers, to encourage their pursuit of mastery. However, the purpose is maybe slightly muddled in a corporate setting. We have China-for-China nationalism mixed with a technical support need and profitability concerns. I say that we focus on Railway and Wind, but in reality we work just as much on Diesel engines and steel mills.

There is a lot of convincing evidence that these factors drive us to perform better, but I have the feeling that the social aspects of work are equally important. Maybe this is stronger in Europe and in China than in Pink’s American setting? I guess that the culture of individualism reduces the value of the group. My hypothesis is that the group value of inclusion will come back, as I believe it is a fundamental part of being human. We are social animals and the energy that comes out of belonging to a clan or a team is magnificent. I wonder if there has been any research on this drive? (If you could point out some reference in this direction, please leave a message!)

What is very clear is that my own manager allows me to thrive with a great deal of independence, challenging tasks that stretch my capabilities and I sincerely feel that we are building something really important. I have autonomy, (building) mastery and purpose. I am a lucky man.