Mental Model Posts ‘Comparative Advantage’

The Story of Microsoft and the Three Men Who Made It

microsoft

Photo by Amit Chattopadhyay

The story of Microsoft, considering its creation spawned 3 of the 60 richest men in the world today, is an important one to understand.  Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Steve Ballmer have amassed incredible amounts of wealth from Microsoft.  This is the story of how.  Read More »

Three Mental Models Great Managers Use

Shangri-La

Photo by Dhilung Kirat

Organizations, left unattended, move toward disorder.  The realities of Parkinson’s Law – the idea that work expands to fill the amount of time allocated to complete it – have been well documented.  So, Parkinson’s Law helps to explain why organizations naturally evolve towards disorder, and ultimately poor performance.  Managers, of course, act to correct this.  An array of mental models assist managers in working against this natural disorder, but there are three primary mental models that produce the majority of the results:  Read More »

The Story of Les Schwab and His Pride in Performance

Schwab Close

Photo by ocad123

Business often comes down to a core set of principles.  And the story of Les Schwab is no exception.  Keeping things in their simplest form (Reductionism) is what allows us to arrive at a core set of principles, but this is often difficult to do. Reductionism is a key aspect of understanding anything.  If we apply this concept to business, it always comes down to people.  It really comes down to decisions, but decisions are made by people.  And what I love about the Les Schwab story is that he so clearly understood the importance of this.  He loved people.  And if you’re in business, it really helps to love people – no matter how weird, how exotic, how aloof, or how awkward.  Read More »

Is There an Ideal Team Size?

Teamwork

Photo by Stuck in Customs

People are always looking for ways to get things done better or faster.  Depending on the task, that can often mean putting together teams.  Of course, a team isn’t always the best way to accomplish something.  I mean, there’s obviously no need to create a team to do something an individual could do as well or better.  However, if a team makes sense, what is the ideal team size?

Unfortunately, there’s no consensus on what the ideal team size should be.  This is probably because there just simply isn’t one.  And that, of course, is fine.  But everyone seems to have an opinion on what’s best.

Steve Jobs liked to keep his teams to no more than 100 people so that he could remember names; Peter Drucker said teams work best, as a rule, if they have three or four members (and should normally not exceed five or six); Google likes to limit teams to a max of six people; 37Signals thinks three people is the optimal team size for a product release; Reid Hoffman (of LinkedIn) would likely refer to Dunbar’s Number to substantiate groups of up to 150.  And the list could go on…  Does this mean that teams are effective at any size between three and 150 members?  It’s more likely that this simply means teambuilding is a situational exercise, and nothing more.  Read More »

There’s No Best Age to Start a Business: The Story of Sam Walton and Wal-Mart

Walton

Photo by tsweden

After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1940, Sam Walton took a job with J.C. Penney.  He was 22 years old.  He spent five years with J.C. Penney learning the retail industry.  In 1945, Walton became an entrepreneur and bought a Ben Franklin variety store in Arkansas for $25,000.  He was 27 years old.  Walton spent five years growing his Ben Franklin store.  But in 1950, after Walton’s landlord refused to renew the five year lease he had on the Ben Franklin store location, Walton had no choice but to sell the franchise.  He sold it for a fair price, and then had to start all over again.  Walton was now 32, and it was at this age when he opened his first Walton’s Five and Dime (again in Arkansas).  But it wasn’t until he was 44 years old that he opened the first Wal-Mart.  It was a very gradual progression.  So, does age really matter when starting a business?  I doubt it.  There is no best age to start a business, no perfect time – none of that.  And Sam Walton is the perfect example of this.  Read More »

How to Build an Empire: The Story of Harvey Firestone and His Tires

Firestone Tire

Photo by Desert Bug

In 1926, Harvey Firestone sat down to write Men and Rubber: The Story of Business.  It outlines his philosophy on how to succeed in business, and to this day it’s still the best and most comprehensive story on how to build a business from nothing.

Firestone’s philosophy is quite simple.  It says that honesty is the fundamental principle of any business.  It says that a business must exist for a reason, and the single reason for the existence of any business must be that it supplies a human need or want.  “To make money” is not a good enough reason to be in business.  If fact, if all you want is money, Firestone advises you to get out of business as quickly as you can, and go work for someone else.  You are destined to fail otherwise.

Firestone was clear that a business must exist to supply a human need or want, and this philosophy can be further explained through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  The primary need for all humans is physiological, followed by safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.  Humans seek to satisfy needs in this order.  Firestone was supplying tires, or facilitating transportation.  Transportation, depending on its intended use, could fall under physiological needs (driving to the grocery store for food), safety needs (driving to the office for work), or love/belonging needs (driving to family).  Either way, Firestone was clearly satisfying human needs with his tires.

This logic applies today as well.  For example, Mark Zuckerberg’s reason for starting Facebook (“to meet girls”), while it hurts my heart, does provide for the love/belonging needs that all humans naturally have.

That’s the end of my Zuckerberg digression – now back to Firestone…   Read More »