How many business books have you read in the past year? 1? 5? 25? 0?
If you answered zero, you’re probably in better shape than most. Why? Because in many cases, business books are worse than useless.
Believe me, I would know. When I founded, ran, and sold my own business, I read every business book I could get my hands on. And now that I’m a professor of entrepreneurship at Princeton, I have to read tons more.
So why do I say worse than useless? Because most business books (not all of them) actually contain a lot of messages that cause great harm to the entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners who read them. And embedded within these messages are some of the greatest lies society tells entrepreneurs about what it takes to succeed.
They usually go something like this:
For example, there’s a certain notorious venture capitalist whose passions include building a libertarian utopia on a man-made island and infusing himself with the blood of the young to ward off death. He wrote a business book in which he repeatedly claimed that the only companies worth founding are those that create something that no one has ever thought of before.
That’s a pretty high bar, huh?
Then there’s the one by a certain cigar-chomping guru who says if you don’t put your pursuit of success above everything else in your life, you’re destined for utter failure and the shame and rejection that comes with it.
I even heard that a certain famous business book author publicly told an admirer that if he didn’t quit his day job to commit himself fully to making his business idea happen he wasn’t a true entrepreneur.
What this guy left out was that his father left him a seven figure business to build upon in the early days of his own career.
The list goes on.
Here’s the real formula for successful entrepreneurship: Make people so happy that they’ll be willing to part with money for what you’ve got.
It’s a lesson I’ve learned at every step of my career—from when I ran a publicly traded company to when I started my own business, which I went on to sell for $110 million. Whatever the success I may have had, none of it was a result of coming up with never-before-conceived-of ideas or risking everything I owned and cherished.
As I became more and more interested in entrepreneurship as a scholar and professor, I eventually got access to the archives of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart.
Despite how some people perceive Walmart today, most would agree that Walton was a great entrepreneur. Maybe even the greatest of all time. And what I found when I went through his papers astounded even me.
Nothing about Sam Walton fit the modern myth of entrepreneurship.
For years, he ran a franchise that someone else had started and used that as the basis for his own venture. He was far from the first person to come up with the idea of a discount store. And he made changes cautiously and incrementally.
And he’s just one example.
Far too many business books and business gurus are hurting us. They point new business owners in the wrong direction. They cause talented would-be entrepreneurs to burn out and fail. And they’re encouraging the types of risky behaviors that led to the financial meltdown of 2008.
Nevertheless, it’s easy to see why so many people get caught up in the fanfare. I certainly did at one point in my career. These books tell us that if we hustle hard enough we can all find investors and own seven figure businesses. Just be sure to live your best life and wake up at 4:30am everyday to run 10 miles!
Ideas like these are illusions, which is why I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. To beat back the harm caused by business books, I decided to…well, er, write a business book.
I know, I know...but hear me out.
I simply could not stand another second of seeing the young people I work with accept such awful advice just because it’s between two covers with the name of a publisher stamped on the front.
So I pulled together everything I learned—from my own career, from my research and interviews, from the good lessons I have run across in books, and brought them all together in one place.
I couldn’t have been more pleased than when McGraw Hill decided to publish my book, Building on Bedrock, based on their belief that it finally provides the roadmap that talented entrepreneurs can use to build successful businesses without risking everything.
I went out of my way to make this book different. My cover design isn’t fancy. I don’t use profanity-laden exaggerations to get my point across.
This book exists for a sole purpose: To provide you with a detailed recipe for doing exactly what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. It is full of practical, back-to-the-basics exercises to help you kick off your career as a business owner without sacrificing everything else.
In fact, it was even nominated within Fast Company's 7 Best Business Books Of 2018 (OK, that was a little shameless self promotion :))
I am a successful entrepreneur who researches and teaches entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, at Princeton University. My two bestselling books on entrepreneurship, “Building on Bedrock: What Sam Walton, Walt Disney, and Other Great Self-Made Entrepreneurs Can Teach Us About Building Valuable Companies” (2018) and “Startup Leadership” (2014) focus on what it really takes to succeed as an entrepreneur and the leadership skills required to grow a company. Prior to joining the Princeton faculty, I was founder and CEO of iSuppli, which sold to IHS in 2010 for more than $100 million.