More Surprisingly Interesting Topics
Following on from the article Surprisingly Interesting Topics, here are four more areas that are both fascinating and informative. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
A staple of the first year commerce degree, business law might not sound like the most interesting area. However, the introductory course is fantastic, focusing mainly on the rights of the consumer, the responsibilities of a company, and the most famous cases in legal history.
Everyone should be familiar with the Trade Practices Act, because it affects every purchase we make. By understanding when you’re liable (and when someone else is liable), you can avoid disaster. The law might be intimidating, but it shouldn’t be a mystery.
The famous cases are interesting – setting the scene for a century of decisions. I still remember Donoghue v Stevenson (someone got sick after their ginger beer was found to contain a snail) and Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Co. (when does a money-back guarantee become legally binding?).
If you have the chance to study this as a breadth subject, I’d highly recommend it. You might save yourself some serious headaches in the future.
Minimum Viable Product
Good ideas don’t become large businesses overnight.
In fact, it usually goes
Average Idea – Testing – Revision – Testing – Revision – Happy Customers – Scale Up
This process is captivating. There’s a whole genre of books written about how testing a new idea can remove most of the risk of starting a new business, enabling almost anyone to try and build something cool.
Instead of sinking $100k into a new business, why not try a $500 experiment, and build a tiny version of what you plan to sell? You’d learn so much from your customers, and might discover a flaw or a larger opportunity.
This can feel scary, but it shouldn’t. Less is at risk, and if approaching 10 customers is too scary, then approaching 10,000 won’t be any easier.
The classic book is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, which sets out the theory and mentality behind testing a Minimum Viable Product.
Value Proposition Design by Alexander Osterwalder is the best book I’ve encountered on designing and evaluating tiny market tests, and is a joy to read.
The Four Hour Work Week is also excellent, and talks about the process of starting a new online business without ever risking too much.
Running a company is one of the hardest jobs you can do, like constantly fighting a war on three fronts.
David Anstee once told me:
“In your first year, an entrepreneur makes 1,000 decisions which, if wrong, will sink the business. That’s three a day.”
Leadership is the art of making good decisions and keeping people happy in the long run. It involves skills like forecasting, sales, public speaking, chasing some opportunities and letting others pass you by.
There’s something wonderful about learning how the greatest business leaders think about their work.
To understand how they approached tough decisions, navigated uncertainty and turned startups into hugely successful companies.
The best book on being a CEO is The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz (the billionaire venture capitalist).
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight is fantastic, outlining the first few decades of Nike, and Titan by Ron Chernow explores how John D Rockefeller Snr became the world’s richest man through Standard Oil.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel (founder of PayPal and first investor in Facebook) is a fantastic place to start, it’s short, controversial and very well written.
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek is brilliant, full of real life examples of how people can pull together to do incredible things, a great one to download as an audiobook.
Pick a company you like, or a leader you admire, and see how they carry themselves. By understanding their thought process, you can ask yourself “What would they do in my position?”
Learning about great political leaders makes my stomach drop. We all intuitively understand “Oh yeah, that person was some sort of famous politician”, but to then learn the details of what they did despite incredible adversity can give you goosebumps.
The first time this happened to me was at the Winston Churchill museum in London, connected to the bunkers his cabinet used during WWII. I vaguely knew about his speeches, but had no idea about his history.
Churchill had been in politics, quit, and was then dragged back in during the war.
What we tend to forget in history is that Britain thought they would lose, which reframes Churchill rallying a nation together amidst such uncertainty.
In Australia, I’d heard of Paul Keating, but never truly understood why he was so influential.
The book Keating is based on a series of candid interviews with Kerry O’Brien, and covers his rise to power, his influence as Australia’s greatest treasurer, and eventually his time as Prime Minister.
It was this time as treasurer that set him up for success – decades of experience that refined his decision making.
Keating had such conviction, he knew what Australia needed and made sure it got done, even at the eventual expense of his popularity.
Paul Keating is the reason why you have superannuation, fought for the rights of Native Australians, floated the dollar, started APEC, removed trade barriers, and improved the tax system.
He’s also incredible to watch, YouTube is full of clips from him tearing rivals apart during Parliament.
In the future, we’ll look at Barack Obama in the same way, and wonder how he wasn’t recognised at the time as the best president of the modern era (although current comparisons are certainly highlighting his strengths).
Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau will also become good examples, and history will probably look fondly at Bill Clinton too.
I highly recommend looking at leaders from your own country, especially during your lifespan. It will make sense of news stories you vaguely remember from your childhood, and give you a greater appreciation for the people and decisions that shaped your culture.