Category: Business Book Reviews

Business Book Review: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonWhen Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson came out shortly after his death, plenty of folks snapped it up very quickly.  I was a bit intimidated by its size, but I finally cracked it open last summer.

What I found was surprisingly not a fawning portrait of Apple’s visionary leader but instead a history of the tech industry wrapped in an honest, not-always-flattering biography.

It’s a great read for anyone interested in business, as it looks at what Apple — and Jobs — did differently than their competitors.  Here are two major philosophical debates presented in the book.

Diversification vs. Single-Minded Focus

Apple operates at its best when it focuses on making a single product awesome.  That’s how we got the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad — not to mention the last several renditions of desktops and laptops.  When Jobs set his mind to something, whether it was developing the perfect glass for his stores or finding the brightest shade of white, he went at it with all his energy until it was exactly what he wanted.

The pros to this are clear, but the con is that if you’re focusing on only one thing, you’re not focusing on others.  It’s what’s called the opportunity cost in economics, and it’s something Apple pays for from time to time.  But it’s also how they reap awards — like having enough cash on hand to buy Amazon or build a space station.

What It Means For Your Business: Finding the right balance between these two can make or break your business.  You want to focus on doing what you do best, but you also don’t want to miss out on related opportunities that fit your target market and at which you could excel.  Setting up periodic, regular reviews to analyze and adjust as necessary is your best bet for striking that balance.

Licensing vs. Exclusivity

The biggest fork in the road between Apple and Microsoft came when Apple decided they would not license their technology to other PC builders.  This allowed them to keep control of the quality of their brand — but it lost them a huge market share to Microsoft, as evidenced by the fact that you’ll still find PCs in most office buildings today.  Apple began reclaiming some of the market in the mid-2000s, but they’ve obviously got a long way to go.

That being said, you won’t find a more loyal customer base than Mac users, and practically everyone owns at least one Apple product these days, whether it’s a low-end iPod Shuffle or a top-of-the-line iMac.  PC users in general use PCs because that’s what they’ve been presented.  It’ll be interesting to see in the next decade where things end up, especially as tablets cannibalize traditional computers.

What It Means For Your Business: For most businesses, this relates to a case of quality vs. availability, and once again it’s all about balance.  Finding that sweet spot where you can provide the best product or service to the largest market without sacrificing the quality is what you’re aiming for.  That might mean taking on fewer clients or producing fewer units until you can sustain your growth by expanding your resources.  Again, setting up regular reviews is a great way to keep on top of your business’s needs and capabilities as it grows.

What to Take from Steve Jobs (the Biography)

Apple Apple Steve Jobs by Elizabeth Ditty

I was truly fascinated by this book — both because of the journey Jobs took from college drop-out to worshipped tech leader and because of what we can learn about business from how he and others ran theirs.

It’s not the rambling fanboy letter I’d feared it would be (which I say despite being an obvious Apple fan).  It’s an honest account of one man’s huge effect on both the tech industry and our day-to-day lives — and that’s no exaggeration.  If you read it, you’ll see what I mean — and if you have read it, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments!


Business Book Review: THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK by Timothy Ferriss

Seeing as how I have a vested interest in starting and running my own business, I’ve read a fair number of business-themed books over the years. It can be hard to pick out the ones that have the ideas that speak to you when staring at a bookshelf (or an Amazon page), so periodically I’ll bring you a review of a business book I’ve read. And we’re going to start with The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss.

Discovering Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek

I first came across Tim Ferriss — the man, the idea, the guru — a couple of years after I started working a job in the “real world.” His ideas ran pretty contrary to everything I was seeing in corporate America — the endless, pointless meetings; the insistence on working set hours in the office; the disorganized, unclear email communication. As an early member of Generation Y, I loved his ideas and tried to incorporate them as well as I could into my own work day.

Unfortunately, when you’re working with people who have never heard of Tim Ferriss nor his ideas and you don’t have enough history with a company (or being a part of the workforce in general) to have much (if any) clout, you can get a certain reputation for being hard to work with pretty fast. To be perfectly honest, it’s a reputation I’m still trying to live down at my corporate day job. But the flipside is I’ve had a lot of positive feedback employing those same principles as a freelancer.

The Gist of the 4-Hour Workweek

There’s a lot to take from Tim Ferriss’ guide to “escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich,” but here’s a quick summary. The book is divided into 4 basic steps: Definition, Elimination, Automation and Liberation. But the gist of his book can also be divided into Dreaming Big, Productivity, and Life Design Strategy.

Dreaming Big

Tampa Sunset

I sure wouldn’t complain about relaxing to this view every evening.

In a nutshell, Mr. Ferriss details how to identify your dream life, how to make it a concrete concept by running actual numbers, and how to address the risks associated with going for your dream. A big part of this concept is defining wealth as relative instead of absolute. Instead of asking, “How much money would I need to feel wealthy?” you ask, “What experiences or possessions would make me feel wealthy? You can check out his Dreamline worksheets and calculators online to give you the basic idea of how he turns an unattainable dream into a concrete — and possible — concept.


Mr. Ferriss’ strategies range from simple (email/time management, the 80/20 principle, effectiveness and efficiency, employing Parkinson’s Law, Getting-Stuff-Done strategies, low-information diets, etc.) to more complex (outsourcing tasks, delegation, automation).

These are the principles I loved, but also the principles that got me into a bit of trouble. Part of this is in the design, and part of this is in how I implemented them as a young, inexperienced professional. He addresses these pitfalls, but Mr. Ferriss isn’t exactly known for being the ultimate sweetheart either — which is OK because he’s Tim Ferriss. Just something to keep in mind as you start to introduce some of these strategies into your life, especially in the corporate world.

Life Design Strategy

In the Automation and Liberation steps, Mr. Ferriss details multiple ways in which you might leave (or lessen your time spent in) the corporate world while earning the money you need to live the life you want. These include real-life examples of both his start-up ventures (both successes and failures) as well as those of other entrepreneurs. In short, it’s about how to maximize your time while spending less of it to achieve your goals — whether that’s going into consulting, writing books, or creating and selling products.

The Hype of the 4-Hour Workweek

So, does the book live up to the hype or down to the backlash? Neither. There’s a lot of great information in there, but I don’t think there’s anyone in the world who believes Tim Ferriss actually only works four hours a week. The key is that he does, perhaps, spend four hours a week doing tasks he doesn’t particularly like so he can spend the other hours on the things he likes or loves. And that’s a pretty good life balance if you ask me.

This was one of the first business books I read, and it’s one that has stuck with me and that I continue to refer to six years down the road. You may not be able to (or want to) put all of it into action in your life, but I think you’re guaranteed to get some good and practical information out of it no matter what your life goals. Check out the 4-Hour Blog to get an idea of his tone and style if you’re unsure, but I have no qualms recommending it to anyone interested in strategies to work and live better.