Just Start (Book Review/Notes)

Book Review:  Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future by Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer

“Nothing changes unless you act”

Great place to start reading in 2014, especially those who may be paralyzed by starting (probably includes all of us). We plan too much, strategize too much, and at the same time, this planning and thoughtfulness can provide a false sense of comfort. We’ve been trained to analyze each project fully before committing.

Trying to guess the future based on the past typically turns out to be a poor way to make prospective decisions. If we were starting a computer company 3 years ago, we may have looked at the Dell model and assumed specific growth assumptions and copied some of their features. We would have missed the tablet, the future, and what lies ahead.

This book challenges the reader not to overly focus on prediction reasoning (pattern of thinking and acting based on the assumption that the future is going to behave in a way similar to the present). The future world is not knowable, and because of that we need to also apply “creaction”. This made-up word combines creation and action. As explained in the book:

“The future may or may not be like the past, but you don’t have to spend a lot of time wondering how it will play out if you plan to shape (i.e., create) it.”

“If you can’t predict the future—and increasingly you can’t— action trumps everything.”

“Action always leads to evidence.”

A really important part of the book is that it suggests you “bring others along” in your project. The idea of getting buy-in early by showing evidence is powerful. Simply suggesting a new venture or project based on analysis is the traditional way of making proposals. However, if you can get some early evidence that the assumed benefits and the vision of the venture can be successful, you can achieve much stronger commitments.

“Serial entrepreneurs told Saras Sarasvathy that they believed that the growth of their potential enterprise was limited only by the number of collaborators they could attract, not by how much money they could raise.”

The type of action is also important. The book describes this as taking “smart steps”.

“…the action you take based on the resources you have at hand and never involves more than you can afford to lose, that is, your acceptable loss. Having taken the step, you pause to reflect on what you have learned.”

This is all about not risking too much too soon. This gives you the ability to gather evidence before taking further risks or as the book describes…

“Process of act, learn, build, so you can Act again.”

Of course, you have to know what you want to create before you even take a small smart step. The book has a very good review of passion vs. desire and the role that perseverance plays.

“…the starting point is: what do you want to create?”

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard . . . is what makes it great.”

“In the worst of all possible worlds, you are going to fail quickly and cheaply as a result of using Creaction. That is not a bad thing.”

I found the discussion on how to handle problems really insightful:

“Problems are good news (almost always). Really. Try this: accept the situation to the point of embracing it. Take as a given that it won’t ever change and turn it into an asset. What can you do with the “fact” that it won’t ever change?”

That can be really hard to do and does not come naturally. This is somewhere where your collaborators can be helpful. Have them suggest ways to make the problem an asset. This can change your thinking. I would guess that most successful entrepreneurs are able to make many of their problems into assets. This is something I am going to focus on more in 2014, through practice.

Attached are my full notes from the book. This is a great book for those trying to launch something new this year.  This isn’t specific to starting a business, it speaks to launching any project, any resolution, or anything you fear starting, this is a great start.