Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
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The Search by John Battelle (Review)

Posted by Al Doan under Book Reviews


Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
“Arguably, there is no greater act of creativity than the formation of a good question,” – pg 27

The Search
How Google and it’s rivals rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture.
-John Battelle

The Search by John Battelle
So this was an interesting pick (it was on the top of the stack) for my first read in this endeavor, primarily because it isn’t necessarily a ‘business book’ in the traditional sense, so I had to approach it a bit differently, but it still proved rather insightful, and an enjoyable read for a techie like me.

The Search goes over the tale of how the search industry came about, starting with Archie and Gopher then Yahoo and GoTo and finally the arrival of Google. The point of particular mention here is that Google wasn’t the first, second, third, or even fiftieth search company, it came along relatively late in the game to fill a hole from a different angle, which subsequently is the niche it both created then dominated. Dominated to the extent that Battelle suggests that “Google is more than just another company. As far as the Internet ecosystem is concerned, Google is the weather.” (Pg 183)

So like I was saying, reading the non-business book left me without the luxury of bold, italicized, and highlighted points of emphasis for business lessons that the book is trying to teach. So it made for a good opportunity for me to pull out the pen and go after my own lessons that could be had in the story. I’ll go ahead with a quick sampling of what I found.

There is always a need for the entrepreneur

AltaVista, created by Monier while working for DEC (an large and now defunct computer company, if you don’t remember the good ole days) which had a good approach to search, grew to be widely accepted, but was never recognized for the opportunity it was by its behemoth of a parent company.

“Possibly most instructive [of the attempts at search], AltaVista was the product of a company that was an extraordinary success in its original business but ultimately failed because of hidebound management unwilling to drive by anything other than the rearview mirror.” (pg 45)

(does this remind you of why you left middle management or started your own company? Maybe it’s just me) And eventually as DEC was going downhill, and AltaVista was gaining more and more traction, the opportunity was lost completely.

“Lang and Monier fought to protect Alta Vista from its flailing parent, but a mammal chained to a dinosaur more likely than not will get trampled.” (pg 50)

The lesson here for me is the existence of entrepreneurial opportunity. Often you can become discouraged or intimidated by big companies that supposedly dominate an industry, but the big companies aren’t designed to be able to fill every nook and cranny of an industry. There will always be opportunity for a little guy to come in and provide a more custom insightful solution to an existing problem, and often using a fraction of the resources. Big companies will mismanage the assets they have, or misalign the opportunity because they have shareholders to answer to and can rarely be visionary in the long term while keeping their sights focused on quarterly results.

Take for instance the recent recession drama we have experienced. Companies responded in one of two ways. Either they respond to their shareholders who demand they keep quarterly profits high and go into a wave of layoffs, crippling their alliances and internal advantages they’ve built up over the last decades, disregarding all thoughts of the company vision (how many mission statements were thrown out and replaced with “Stay in business” when the times got tough?) This is method A, which I saw most companies do, it’s the knee jerk reaction of survival mode, they were going to get through this recession, and that was as far as they could see.

The alternative to this (method B) is to use the recession as an opportunity. All of the sudden you can get great talent at a fraction of the cost, you can gain market share by sticking with advertising / marketing initiatives, etc. I saw a few companies do this, and the payoff to sticking to your guns is that they now have amazing talent in their groups, giving them a very specific advantage exiting the recession.

In the end the economy still moves, product still needs to be made, money still changes hands and it is the agile, strategic companies that come out with the advantage. These traits are found in the entrepreneur and small startups, because to double down in a recession is risky, and it’s the small guy that can take a risk that others aren’t willing to take.

The Tesla Lesson

Larry Page, at 12 years old, read the biography of Nikola Tesla (while I was reading Hardy Boys, he was reading about Tesla), an inventor who laid the foundation for technologies like wireless communication, X-ray , solar cells, and the modern power grid, but who still remains somewhat unknown “in particular when compared with Thomas Edison, a man Tesla worked for, fought with, and competed against for much of his career” (pg 66) Despite Tesla’s success, his inability to commercialize his success robbed him of fame, fortune, and seeing change happen in society because of his work. This is something that impacted Page throughout his career, and understandably so.

All the great ideas in the world don’t do anyone any good if you can’t get them into people’s hands. If you can’t distribute or capitalize on them, you have done a disservice to both yourself and the idea you are squandering. Don’t get caught up so much in the creating that you forget to make the creation mean something by scaling it and getting it out there. (also at fault here are perfectionists who think their product is never ready, cause “… well it’s just not there, a few more tweaks, just a few more days…”)


All in all it was a good read, though probably not one of my all time greatest business books at first glance. The story it conveys contains several business lessons just below the surface. The kind of lessons where, if you aren’t paying attention to them, you may miss them altogether.

4/5 stars, definitely worth checking out, if for nothing more than to understand the most significant (privacy and potential to alter our future) industry in the world.8B2S7TZKGBZS

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Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)

Amazon order should arrive today

Posted by Al Doan under Book Reviews


Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)

So I ordered every book off the Hard Knock MBA reading list two days ago, and for all the books (excluding the Coming out of the Ice, which I already owned) the price tag came to just over $250 big ones (little ones, but big to me).

My Amazon Order

My Amazon Order

So for the price of 1-2 average text books, I got 30+ of the best business books out there, not a bad deal.  The crazy thing is it could have been cheaper too!  I got as many books as I could in hardcover form because I plan on inscribing my own notes in the margins, referencing, and loaning these books out, I didn’t want paperback books that were going to fall apart after a few readings, so wherever the price was within a few bucks, I went for it.  Also, I bought a good chunk of these used, so that saved me a few bones as well.

Anyway, I’ve had enough reading to keep me busy thus far, but if you’re wanting to read along with me, push the order button, it’s go time.

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Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
Hard Knock MBA (Personal MBA)
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