The Personal MBA

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I once dabbled with the idea of getting an MBA. After a life avoiding any work in a business, I wanted to start one of my own and knew zero about it. Like many folks, I thought a heavy-duty school program would cure my ignorance and inexperience. But an official MBA degree can easily cost $100,000. I figured out I would learn more spending $500 in self-education. So I devoted $200 for books and the other $300 actually starting a small mail-order business (the fee went for an ad). In two years I learned more about how business really worked than any MBA graduate I had met. No matter what they tell you, an MBA is not essential for landing or handling a good business job. The chief “skill” you’ll come away by your degree is a diploma, and a network of indebted friends in business. The latter is actually useful.

There is another option to an overpriced degree, which is the self-education path outlined above. Pursue your own Personal MBA in tandem with actual experience doing some kind of business. Josh Kaufman has put together an excellent and very hefty reading list which forms the core of his PMBA course. It is downloadable as a free PDF. The recommended readings are wide, deep, holistic, and very good. You could purchase all of these easily available books for $500, and if you combine study of them with actually trying stuff, you’ll be far ahead in the business game.

If you go this route, you need to supplement your self-education with a network of live humans engaged in business (the only part of a certified MBA you’ll miss).

Kaufman has recently updated his annotated recommended reading list. No PDF yet, but his website is chock full of the new material.

-- KK  

[This post was originally part of Cool Tool's Five Good eBooks. ]

The Personal MBA: Mastering Business Through Self-Education
By Josh Kaufman
2005, 33 pages
Free PDF
Available from ChangeThis

Josh Kaufman’s website

Sample Excerpts:

The Personal MBA is not:

A credential. If you read these books, you won’t have corporate recruiters beating down your door, and you won’t have a pretty certificate to hang on your wall when you’re done. You will, however, have an understanding of business that’s comparable to completing a traditional business school curriculum, along with the pleasures of not having to mortgage your life for that understanding. You do not need a certificate to be able to understand, use, and hold an intelligent conversation about advanced business topics. (Employers do, however, respond well to portfolios. If you build a portfolio of notes to capture what you learn through the Personal MBA, you’ll have a tangible asset to prove your hard work and dedication during the interview process.)

A stand-alone venture. You can’t learn about business solely from books (or sitting in a classroom); you have to be willing to go out and learn by doing. Whether you’re working full-time for a company or building your own business, a great deal of your knowledge will develop as a direct result of your day-to-day work experiences, which provide the necessary context for understanding what you read. Reading books is not enough; application of what you read is essential.




 

RankForest

RankForest has many more features, and friendlier interface. Unfortunately, you can track only one book for free. And you don’t get historical info; you have to register a book to track it. For more books, and more features you need to pay a monthly subscription, beginning at $3/month and up. Other goodies in the paid version include the option to add other online bookstore rankings, like Barnes and Noble, complex graphing options such as racing two books, alerts, and so on.

 

RankForest
Free to track one title
$3/month+ for more than one title



 

TitleZ

TitleZ is a new free site (for now), It’s been in beta for years. You can track many books for free, and get some handsome graphs of their ranking. The good thing is that TitleZ will instantly give you the back history of a book’s ranking back to 2004. The downside of TitleZ is that you can’t export the data, or do much else.

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A TitleZ track of my 1994 book, above. Below is a comparison chart of my two books in print.

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TitleZ
Free as long as it’s in beta



TitleZ * RankForest

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Amazon sales ranks have become a surrogate for measuring actual sales online. When Amazon says a book ranks 2,000 it means it is the 2,000 besting selling book that hour; it doesn’t tell you how many were sold. In fact often a few copies sold can move a book’s rank, depending on time of day, week, or the rest of the world of books. (Use this chart to make a rough correlation between rank and copies sold if you really need to know.) Nonetheless, because these ranks are public (unlike bookstore sales) and easy to grab, they have become a great way for anyone to monitor how a book is selling. In the past it might take 6 months before sales of books were reported. Now authors and publishers with new books will check hourly to see if their rankings have been improved by a radio interview, or book review.

But you don’t need to be the author or publisher to have an interest in how a book is selling. Trendspotters long ago discovered that books are good canaries of ideas, and that monitoring clusters of books gives you a zeitgeist reading, very similar to Google’s Hot Trends, which monitors search terms over time. Also keep in mind you can track other things on Amazon besides books: CDs, games, software. You just need Amazon’s ID for each item.

While you can just check the Amazon page to see what a product’s ranking is, what you really want is something that constantly tracks an item and compiles the data into graphs, charts, and spreadsheets. There are several websites that do this. I previously recommended JungleScan, the original Amazon tracker, for a free way to track Amazon rankings. The site was abandoned last year (although its owner says he will revive up “someday.”)

TitleZ

TitleZ is a new free site (for now), It’s been in beta for years. You can track many books for free, and get some handsome graphs of their ranking. The good thing is that TitleZ will instantly give you the back history of a book’s ranking back to 2004. The downside of TitleZ is that you can’t export the data, or do much else.

outofcontrol_above_sm.jpg

A TitleZ track of my 1994 book, above. Below is a comparison chart of my two books in print.

chart_below_sm.jpg
 

-- KK  

TitleZ
Free as long as it’s in beta

There are other trackers out there, some catering to publishers, but these two are the best for non-publisher types.



Micro-Loans Online

This year the father of micro-finance and founder of the Grameen Bank won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in inventing and promoting micro-loans in the developing world. A micro-loan is as little as a few hundred dollars invested into a one-person business with minimal qualifications. That tiny borrowed amount can launch a vegetable stand, repair shop, or bicycle taxi — a living in other words. As each micro-loan is repaid (and most are), the effects of that small goodness are amplified and leveraged by being loaned out and invested again and again. Micro-loans are the world’s only perpetual motion machines.

Previously I’ve recommended the micro-finance cool tools of Trickle Up, Opportunity International, and my favorite, Heifer International, as three ways to leverage small amounts of money for maximum global good. (Micro-finance programs are not a panacea. For a critique start with this article in Forbes.)

The news now is that it is there are many other outfits that offer individuals (like us) ways to leverage as little as fifty dollars via micro-finance programs online. Unleashing compounding good is only a few clicks away. Make a loan, or outright grant, using your credit card, or even PayPal.

Grameen Foundation
Inspried by the original Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Minimum contribution, $100. One of their projects is Village Phone — cell phones that women buy on loans and then can rent to others for income. “The Village Phone program in Uganda, the first of GF’s efforts to replicate the pay phone program outside Bangladesh, continued exceeding expectations in 2005. More than 3,500 microfinance clients have bought and now operate a Village Phone as “Village Phone operators.” Besides the boost to operators’ incomes, the program is creating a national telecommunications network. Of Uganda’s 56 districts, 53 now have at least one Village Phone operator. Often, Village Phone is the first local telephone that villagers have. Having a quick means to communicate has contributed to higher levels of productivity, savings, and safety for entire communities.”
http://www.grameenfoundation.org/get_involved/

Namaste Direct
This is one of the most direct person-to-person micro-lending programs. When you give to Namaste Direct, you are informed of the person who receives your loan, how they used the money, and their progress. ND can also arrange a visit to the lendee — this will turn your loan into a life-changing experience for you as well. But because of this directness the giving area is limited — currently to Mexico and Guatemala. No minimum contribution.
http://namaste-direct.org/

FINCA Village Banking
FINCA makes loans directly to the poorest villages. They aim their lending to 10-50 neighbors who come together to form a village banking group, and who in turn decide who should get what and how much. FINCA specializes in small loan amounts ($25-$500) for the very poorest. The minimum contribution to their program is $25. While a few hundred dollars is powerful, with only $5,000 you can start a whole village bank for micro-loans, thereby compounding the power of micro-finance to an entire small community.
http://www.villagebanking.org/donate-vbsponsor.htm

Unitus
Minimum contribution, $100. Since they accept PayPal, I found this program really easy to contribute to. (Get with it, others!) Unitus, like Accion below, funds other local micro-finance programs, rather than direct loans to individuals. “Unitus seeks to identify highest-potential emerging MFIs (Micro-Finance Institutions) and help them to achieve exponential growth.”
http://www.unitus.com

Accion
Accion is an umbrella institution providing technical assistant to local micro-lending institutions. Minimum contribution, $35.”ACCION is leading the effort to make micro-lending financially self-sustaining. Micro-lending programs have the potential to cover their own costs. The interest each borrower pays helps to finance the cost of lending to another. In most poverty alleviation efforts, every person helped brings the program closer to its financial limits. Successful micro-lending programs, on the other hand, generate more resources with each individual they help. As a result, well-managed micro-lending programs generate more income than they spend. Once they become economically viable financial institutions, they have the ability to access a virtually unlimited source of lending capital – the billions of dollars invested in the world’s financial markets. Several of ACCION’s partners have already made the transition from nonprofit, charity-dependent organizations to banks or other regulated financial institutions.”
https://www.accion.org

My suspicion is that over time the inherent self-sustaining qualities of micro-lending will mean it won’t need charitable support to keep expanding. But the idea is still in its infancy; billions of people are still out of its reach. That means that every dollar given today will not only cascade its blessings on many others, but funding micro-lending now will also greatly accelerate the time when anyone in the world will have access to a small loan.

God bless us all, everyone.

-- KK  



Modest Needs

Has someone ever helped you get you out of a hard place with an act of kindness? If so, you should consider passing that gift onto someone else. You can dispense a few $10 bills from your ATM to the homeless in your area; or you can employ this amazing website which does something similar with greater effectiveness.

Modest Needs, a minuscule non-profit, grants modest (under $200) one-time cash gifts to those who require just a little help to get them through a tough time. A need, if honored, is granted within 72 hours, with no strings attached. Modest Needs does this with commendable efficiency via the web (it’s not hard to be broke and still get online), heart-warming sympathy (every request is read by a volunteer), and impressive reach (220 requests granted this year, or 7% of the million dollars sought for). Modest Needs’ entire finances are completely transparent on their website. Since their inception they have spent $0 on fundraising and $0 on advertising. They are astoundingly thrifty (total annual cost to run this charitable operation: $24,000). The rest of the small change they collect goes to those to whom small change can make a big difference. They accept contributions from folks like you. It runs fast all year, not just at Christmas.

The founder Keith Taylor began Modest Needs by giving 10% of his $350 a month earnings as a way to return a no-strings kindness paid to him when he most needed it. He told me, “Those who need help can always ask for it at Modest Needs, absolutely for free. How much money we raise matters less – to me, anyway – than simply providing a vehicle for human kindness.”

It’s quite brilliant. Release a few bucks from your PayPal account. Return a random kindness. Maximize a small gift.

-- KK  



High Tech Start Up

You have a brilliant idea. But for a high tech company to make that idea real is an incredibly complex machine to launch. What you really want is someone who has done this before, someone who can tell you how the bankers really make their money, what dilution means, how to quit your current job ethically, and what you should expect at each stage of “capital development.” What you need is John Nesheim, the guru of high tech startups. He’s been involved with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs for decades and has seen everything. Despite being an engineer, he correctly places great emphasis on the emotional costs (to you) at every stage. This book is the best; it doesn’t hide the nasty side, and it is explicit in an engineer’s way about what you have to do. It’s worth its weight in stocks.

-- KK  

High Tech Start Up
The Complete Handbook for Creating Successful New High Tech Companies
John L. Nesheim
2000, 342 pages
$44

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

The entrepreneur must realize that the process of raising venture capital never ends. From the first to the last of the fourteen stages of the venture capital formation process.. the CEO is continuously occupied with problems of how to raise the needed capital. Experienced start-up staff members of both successful and unsuccessful companies said the same thing: “You never have enough money, things always take twice as long to do as you think, and there is never enough time to stop raising capital while you focus on running the company.”

*

Founder CEOs seldom last as employees for more than three years. This is universally lamented by all parties, including the VCs. We will discuss the reasons and cures later in this book. Silicon Valley psychologists report that few founders make it to the IPO without personal emotional trauma.

*

Get in touch with yourself. That was repeated by many of the people we spoke with. Decide what motivates you: joy of work, love of wealth, the satisfaction of getting further than anyone expected, and so on. And decide what failure means to you, as a person, as a company leader.




The Case Against Patents

I’m convinced by Don Lancaster’s (and others’) arguments that patents makes no sense for a small-time inventor or technical genius. Patents guarantee you nothing but the right to fight for your idea. Fighting takes a full apparatus, lots of time, negotiating assets, lawyer fees, and emotional surplus. The same results from fighting (ineffectually 99% of the time) can be had by moving fast and staying nimble. Patents are a corporate game and should be avoided by anyone trying to work outside of that framework. Here’s a lot of encouragement and support from a master non-patent inventor.

-- KK  

Case Against Patents (PDF)
via Don Lancaster



The Future of Ideas

This is the book most often recommended to me in the past year. It is very important because Lessig articulates the central reason the web has succeeded – its root as a commons – and proceeds to dissect the problems threatening this commons, and suggests remedies and laws that would protect and nourish it. It is brilliant work, long overdue.

-- KK  

The Future of Ideas: the Fate of the Commons in a Connected World
Lawrence Lessig
2001, 352 pages, Random House
$11

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

As I will argue, in the digital world, all the stuff protected by copyright law is in one sense the same: It all depends fundamentally upon a rich and diverse public domain. Free content, in other words, is crucial to building and supporting new content. The free content among the “wired” is just a particular example of a more general point.

*

This is a hard fact for lawyers to understand (protected as they are by exclusionary rules such as the bar exam), but most of production in our society occurs without any guarantee of government protection. Starbucks didn’t get a government monopoly before it risked a great deal of capital to open coffee shops around the world. All it was assured was that people would have to pay for the coffee they sold; the idea of a high-quality coffee shop was free for others to take. Similarly, chip fabricators around the world invest billions in chip production plants, with no assurance from the government that another competitor won’t open a competing plant right next door.

*

Commons may be rare. They may evoke tragedies. They may be hard to sustain. And at times, they certainly may interfere with the efficient use of important resources.

But commons also produce something of value. They are a resource for decentralized innovation. They create the opportunity for individuals to draw upon resources without connections, permission, or access granted by others. They are environments that commit themselves to being open. Individuals and corporations draw upon the value created by this openness. They transform that value into other value, which they then consume privately.

*

Contrast this with computer networks. The most striking feature of the early history of the Internet is the repeated assertion by those at its founding that they simply didn’t know what the network would be used for. Here they were building this large-scale computer network, with a large number of resources devoted to it, but none of them had a clear idea of the uses to which this network would be put. Many in the 1980s believed the Internet would be a fair substitute for telephones (they of course were wrong); none had any idea of the potential for many-to-many publishing that the World Wide Web would produce.

Where we have little understanding about how a resource will be used, we have more reason to keep that resource in the commons.

*

To the extent you view Napster as nothing more than a device for facilitating the theft of content, there is little usefulness in the new mode of distribution. But the extraordinary feature of Napster was not so much the ability to steal content as it is the range of content that Napster makes available. The important fact is not that a user can get Madonna’s latest songs for free; it is that one can find a recording of new Orleans jazz drummer Jason Marsalis’s band playing “There’s a Thing Called Rhythm.”

*

But in light of the emerging technologies for sharing, even the spectrum sold as property would be subject to an important qualification: Other users would be free to “share” that spectrum if they followed a “listen first” protocol – the technology would listen to see whether a certain chunk of the spectrum were being used at a particular time, and if it weren’t, it would be free for the taking.

I recognize that idea is jarring – that “my property” would be free for the taking just because I was not using it. But do you recognize why the idea is jarring? The assumption that fuels the dissonance about property “free for the taking” is that the taken property is exhaustible. I may not be using my car at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you should have the right to take it since your use of my care will, to some degree, deplete the property I have. Cars are exhaustible resources. Spectrum is not. When I use a bit of spectrum at a particular moment in time, that spectrum is just as good after I’m finished as it was before. My use in no way exhausts the resource. And more important, when spectrum is not used, its value as a resource is not saved. Unused spectrum, like an empty seat on an airplane, is a resource that is lost forever.

And pollution is precisely the way we should think about old uses of spectrum: large and stupid towers billow overly powerful broadcasts into the ether, making it impossible for smaller, quieter, more efficient uses of spectrum to flourish. Why should these smokestack technologies get protection, when the steel mills did not? Why not force them to improve their technology – to reduce the pollution they spew forth into the ether – so that others could innovate in yet unimagined ways?




Powering Virtuous Circles

There’s no shortage of opportunities to support important causes. Lots of charities are local and community based. Some are more internationally and future-oriented such as Amnesty International, EFF, Long Now Foundation, World Vision, the ACLU, and Oxfam to name just a few. Everyone can add their favorite.

But let’s say you were interested in a “tool” to leverage the least amount of money into the largest measurable effect over time. For that I’d like to recommend a type of giving that multiplies itself. Over the years, these are the criteria I’ve adopted for this challenge:

1) The help is aimed at the lowest, those with the least, where small makes a huge difference.
2) The gift expands itself, gaining amplitude with each cycle.
3) The range is global.

Think of it as enabling philanthropy: take a minimum of money and aim it at the precise point where it can do the maximum good, multiplied by many generations. Maximum good is measured simply: when you enable someone to enable someone else. That is a virtuous circle.

I’ve found the following three do-good organizations to meet these criteria: Heifer International, Opportunity International, Trickle Up. They fund the neediest in the world. They are highly-evolved programs that produce amazing results. And one tangential result is that when we give to these three, we feel optimistic.

-- KK