Find a problem (and solve it)
7 more books that illustrate a thing I've come to believe. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
During "low power mode" I shared one of the most-popular articles I've written here, which suggests that the greatest entrepreneurship book of all time is actually The Great Escape, which is a book that has nothing at all to do with starting a business.
Instead, it's the inspiring but tragic story of a massive breakout by Allied airmen from a Luftwaffe prison camp during World War II. (Later made more famous by the movie of the same name.)
The response to this argument (yet again!) reminded me that I have another list to share, which is basically my runner-up series of non-business books that I also think are great inspirational entrepreneurship stories.
Behind the scenes: I was originally going to share this Friday and then invite your own submissions for others in the comments: which I'll still welcome.
But then, the newsletter that was originally going to run today wasn't ready, so I switched the order.
(I suppose I'm telling you that part because I had a great conversation I'll be sharing here shortly with a colleague who recommended Austin Kleon's 2014 book, Show Your Work. It seemed thematic.)
Also, how's this for a well-read group? (Images on, please).
Anyway, enough prologue. A while back, pre-pandemic, I gave a guest lecture in an MBA class at Johns Hopkins University incorporating my Great Escape theory, and it sparked a very interesting discussion.
That led to me think about how many other great and inspiring books fall into the same category: incredible stories about entrepreneurship that have little or nothing to do with business.
My rationale is that at its core, entrepreneurship isn't so much about business as it is about pursuing opportunity. Instead, entrepreneurship is a management style focused on the relentless "pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled."
In other words: Find a problem, formulate a uniquely effective way to solve it, and execute.
in no particular order, here are seven more examples:
1. Between a Rock and a Hard Place (2004)
Aron Ralston's account of how he became trapped under a boulder in a remote canyon while climbing in a remote area of Utah. As he had not told anyone where he was going, Ralston knew nobody would be looking for him.
Problem: Escape from a slow, certain death using only the meager contents of Ralston's rucksack.
Solution: After five days, convinced he had no other options, Ralston broke the bones in his arm and used a dull, two-inch knife to amputate it. His 2004 book was made into a 2010 movie starring James Franco.
2. Hardball: How Politics Is Played Told by One Who Knows the Game (1988)
Somewhat forgotten but for the author's eponymous television show, this 1998 book "is like a modern version of Machiavelli's The Prince, only much more richly illustrated," according to the official Amazon review.
Problem: How do you get things done in Washington?
Solution: It all starts with the very first chapter in the book: "It's Not Who You Know; It's Who You Get to Know." In other words, acquire resources (contacts) without regard to who you're connected to at the start.
3. The Aeneid
Pretty much the granddaddy of Western literature, Virgil's epic poem tells two long stories: The journey of Aeneas from Troy to found Rome, and the war between the Greeks and the Trojans.
Problem: The one we're focusing on here is the most famous: How can the Greeks conquer Troy?
Solution: Sneak a bunch of Greek soldiers into Troy by hiding them in a giant wooden horse, convincing the Trojans to bring the horse into their city, breaking out of the horse, and slaughtering everyone.
4. The Man Who Never Was (1954)
Another wartime one. In 1943, the Germans knew the Allies would invade Europe. They just didn't know where or when. The book was written by Ewen Montagu, a lawyer and wartime naval intelligence officer who came up with a bizarre solution.
Problem: Deceive the Axis powers into thinking Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily, would take place elsewhere.
Solution: Obtain a dead body, preferably of a drowning victim, convince his family to release his body without knowing what would become of it, handcuff a briefcase filled with fake war plans to his arm, and launch it from a submarine. The body washed up on the Spanish coast, and the Germans were fooled into believing he was a courier whose plane had crashed.
5. Moneyball (2003)
Michael Lewis wrote this book about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who put together one of the best teams in professional baseball despite a budget less than one-third of the league-leading New York Yankees.
Problem: With limited financial resources, draft the best players in baseball.
Solution: Employ a different, fact-based way of evaluating and judging players. Revolutionize baseball, win 20 games in a row.
6. All the President's Men (1974)
Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post penned this account of their investigative reporting on the Watergate scandal. (Full disclosure: I worked for Woodward from 2005 to 2007.)
Problem: Despite massive White House pressure, investigate one of the biggest political scandals in American history.
Solution: Assemble the best available version of the truth by following the money and leveraging every possible source—including waiters, security guards, secretaries and, famously, the deputy director of the FBI.
7. One Day, All Children (2003)
Wendy Kopp wrote this first-person account of how she turned her Princeton senior thesis into the nonprofit education giant, Teach for America.
Problem: Provide every child in America with the opportunity to attain an excellent education.
Solution: Beg, borrow, cajole, and do everything but steal to scrounge resources and put together TFA, which now places more than 8,000 young teachers a year in some of the nation's most disadvantaged schools.
What other books did I miss? Which ones on this list do you think are kind of a stretch? Let me know in the comments below.
7 other things worth knowing today
One-way flights out of Russia were selling out fast on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin ordered the immediate call-up of 300,000 reservists. Also 2 US military veterans have been freed by Russia, three months after they were captured in Ukraine, thanks to a prisoner exchange brokered by Saudi Arabia, a family representative told Reuters on Wednesday. (Yahoo Finance, Daily Mail)
Nearly every single Alaskan got a financial windfall amounting to more than $3,000 Tuesday, the day the state began distributing payments from Alaska’s investment fund that has been seeded with money from the state’s oil riches, the highest amounts ever. (Fortune)
New York's attorney general sued former president Donald Trump, his children, and his company for allegedly habitually misleading banks and others about the value of prized assets like golf courses, hotels and his Mar-a-Lago estate, calling it: “The art of the steal.” (AP)
Since I wrote about this when he ran: A military contractor known as “Fat Leonard," who cut off his ankle bracelet and fled after pleading guilty in a major $35 million U.S. Navy corruption scandal, was apprehended in Venezuela, authorities said Wednesday. He was apparently trying to move on to another country, which one might assume would have been his native Malaysia. Now he gets to spend time in jail in Caracas before coming back to the U.S. to do even more time. (NBC News)
Almost eight weeks after the drawing in one of the largest-ever Mega Millions jackpots, two people – who agreed to split the prize, if won – have come forward to claim the $1.34 billion prize, the Illinois Lottery said. The winning ticket was bought in late July at a Speedway gas station in Des Plaines, roughly a 20-mile drive northwest of downtown Chicago. (CNN)
An unusual request: “If you saved me and my sister on a cold, rainy night in Alaska 34 years ago, I would like to thank you.” (NYT)
Scientists have calculated how many ants are on Earth. The number is so big it’s ‘unimaginable.’ (But here goes: 20,000,000,000,000,000, which would mean 2.5 million ants per human being on the planet.) (WashPost)
Thanks for reading. Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster. I wrote about some of this before for Inc.com. See you in the comments!
I guess Fat Leonard was duped by Hollywood, as I was, into believing that Venezuela had no extradition treaty with the US. As this story illustrates, they do in fact have one and occasionally use it. He should have gone by boat to Africa; lots of non-extradition options there from which to fly to Russia, whereas there are actually none in Central or South America.
“Alive: the Story of the Andes Survivors” , Piers Paul Read