Insights on the Xerox Story From Bill Gates’s Favorite Business Book

When he met Warren Buffet in 1991, Bill Gates asked what his favorite book was. The legendary investor replied that it was Business Adventures, a collection of twelve business articles written by John Brooks for the New Yorker and originally published in 1969 [1]. Buffet lent his copy to Gates, who promptly read it, and recently declared in The Wall Street Journal that it was also his favorite business book.

The article alone has shot the book, which was previously out-of-print, up to number seven on the Amazon Kindle list (at the time of this printing) after Brooks’s son found a publisher to quickly release an ebook version. Who doesn’t want to glean business insights from a book praised by the two most wealthy men in the world?

Gates gives special praise to an article on Xerox, calling it one that “everyone in the tech industry should study”. Having read it, I found so many similarities between the company’s humble beginnings and disruption of the copier / office products industry as the tech startups of today. So without further ado, here are some of the timeless lessons learned from “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox”, part of Business Adventures by John Brooks. Continue reading…


How Startup Ideas Can Be Modeled Like Chemical Reactions

I’m sometimes envious of people who studied subjects in college that correspond to their actual careers. Finance majors who become bankers. Computer Science majors who become software engineers. Must be nice to actually *use* the knowledge you spent four or more years studying. As a guy with two biology degrees, a career in marketing and (non biotech), startups is a fairly orthogonal direction.

However, I have discovered a few ideas from my academic studies that come in handy when thinking about startups. One of them is how a chemical reaction is a great model for a startup idea. But let’s first take a step back.

The Four Key Points Needed to Discuss a Startup Idea

I was recently in a conversation with a coworker about some of her startup ideas. She had one idea around revitalizing musicals that, while not her main startup idea, got me thinking about the best way intelligently discuss these types of ideas. [1] It boils down to four major questions / answers. Continue reading…

How You Write 190k Words in 6 Months (While Pregnant!)

A couple years ago, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and wrote down a little over 50k words in the month of November that sort of resembled a fantasy novel. I’ve always enjoyed reading fantasy novels as a kid and it was fun (but very challenging) to write one, especially in just one month. It took a lot of discipline to find the time and energy to consistently get in the words.

So when I heard that my friend Julia Dickinson had finished a 190,000 word manuscript of her epic fantasy novel, the Evenarian, I had to talk to her about it.

The Evenarian

The book focuses on a young mage named Turo who learns of a powerful figure named the Evenarian who has been fortold in prophecy to bring the downfall of magic and bring ruin to the world. Turo joins up with a mysterious wanderer named Josh and a band of unlikely heroes to find and defeat the Evenarian. More on the story on their Kickstarter page. Continue reading…

17 Essential Best Practices for Making Things Happen

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After reading through Sarah’s little rules of working life, which I thought was pretty useful stuff, I decided to think through some of my own rules, or as I’m calling them, “Best Practices for Making Things Happen”.

The idea is that these are all maxims that I live and work by, that I’ve learned over time and that I believe have made me more effective in accomplishing meaningful things.

The list is neither complete nor fully elucidated, but that’s totally in line with BP #2 and #7. =)

Would love to hear what you think: questions, feedback, etc.

Jason’s 17 Essential Best Practices for Making Things Happen

  1. Keep the promises you make to yourself. I learned this one from Stephen Covey – we make little promises to ourselves all the time (“I’m going to stop working on weekends.” or “I’ll definitely get a workout in tonight.”) These promises are in fact more important to keep than the ones you make to your customers, your boss or your family. Because private victories come before public ones.
  2. If you’ve got a good idea, try to take some kind of action on it right away. Too often good ideas slip away, either due to momentum (it was exciting at the moment, but less so now) or just through forgetfulness. So when you have a good idea, send an email to a potential collaborator, sketch out some designs, or at the very least, make an Evernote note for the idea. Continue reading…

These 3 Federal Government Jobs Might Actually Just Change Everything

presidential innovation fellows

Round 1 + Round 2 Presidential Innovation Fellows

What does it mean to be an artist? It means to be creative, to take risks, and hopefully, change everything. The Beatles. The Piano Guys. Frida Khalo. Kyle LambertDa Vinci. Karen X Cheng.

A typical government bureaucrat is NOT an artist. A bureaucrat follows the rules, isn’t very skilled at what he or she does, and never accomplishes anything particularly remarkable.

But not every government employee is a bureaucrat.

As a Presidential Innovation Fellow, I’ve met some amazing people in Federal Government (not just the other fellows, but career government people) who do creative, difficult, and meaningful work. And yes, I would call them artists.

Right now, there is an amazing opportunity to do some really innovative work within “USG” and show that the word “government artist” is not an oxymoron. If you really care about making federal government more tech-savvy and innovative, then I dare you to put your money where your mouth is.

And if you can stay flexible and creative in the face of red-tape jungle of the federal government, and bust your butt in the service of something greater, then you just might change everything.

The 3 Roles

  • Presidential Innovation Fellowship Director - We need someone who is going to lead the Presidential Innovation Fellowship. The program has done very well with its first two rounds but needs a visionary who can turn an emerging and promising program into a powerhouse within government. They need to be able to articulate their vision, create buy-in within government agencies, and select & incubate good projects. They need to also be a leader for the fellows – helping unite groups of diverse talent. Ideally they have experience in government, in startups, and with managing fellowship programs (tall order, I know, but ).
  • GovX Program Director – There has also been a program created that will work side-by-side with the Presidential Innovation Fellowship that needs a leader. This role will require more sales, marketing, and business development chops since it is newer and thus less defined / known. Note that the specialized experience sought after is: “using efficient and cost-effective approaches to integrate technology into the workplace and improve program effectiveness; developing strategies using new technology to enhance decision making; utilizing analytical methods to gauge the impact of technological change on an organization; utilizing technology to improve work processes; identifying the concept of minimally viable product, and the steps needed to develop plans and/or processes to meet organizational goals. “
  • Communication Specialist – We also need a marketing, communications and PR specialist who’s going to work with the fellows, the PIF + GovX directors, and the communications teams at various federal agencies. As a fellow, I saw first hand how much great work was happening with this program, but it was difficult to figure out who could really help us get the word out about our efforts. Additionally, these programs are in major need of brand strategy and marketing collateral, and this person would lead the creation of those assets. This person would report to the head of the Office of Comm / Marketing but would work side-by-side with the other two people.


How long will these jobs be open?

Unfortunately, the timing is very tight. I encourage you to apply ASAP if you are interested. The Communication job will stop accepting new candidates at 11:59pm Eastern on Wednesday December 4th, 2013.

The PIF and GovX director roles end not much later, Tuesday, December 10th and Wednesday the 11th (also 11:59pm Eastern)

Is there anything special I should do with my resume?

Great question! I would advise you to really flesh out your resume.

The way government jobs are evaluated require them to map the requirements of the job against things that they can find on your resume. So while you might be used to the one-page resume for industry, it is not unheard of to have 15 page resumes in government. Not saying you have to make yours that long, but consider expanding on the work you’ve done in your career and find way to map those to the job requirements.

What’s the deal with GSA?

Some people are confused about why a program called “The Presidential Innovation Fellowship” is sitting in something called US General Services Administration.

Well, GSA is basically the institutional home for the program. Fellows work very closely with the White House’s Office of Science Technology and Policy, but the White House itself is not the ideal place to be hosting a rotating group of professionals who get deployed across government. But GSA can. Just to be clear, this is the norm for government. The White House Fellowship and Presidential Management Fellowship, which are separate from the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, are hosted at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).