You may laugh, but in large part I chose my home because it's just walking distance from a Barnes & Noble book store. Anytime I get the urge, I can walk down and buy a few books. As a voracious reader, I get the urge quite often.

To me, books and articles are an entrepreneur's secret weapon. I can't imagine how you could have an extremely successful business without reading.

Although I haven't met them personally, I've studied under Fred Smith at Fedex, Dave Thomas at Wendy's International, and Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank at Home Depot.

Mimic successes

Whenever you spot a brilliant strategy, steal it.

Where successful entrepreneurs have had heartache and failures, don't do that stuff.

Let's be honest: it's ridiculously easy to start a business. It's all been done before. You're fulfilling a customer's needs, you're capturing an opportunity. From year to year, decade to decade, only the technology changes. You can learn from the greats, so I do.

If in doubt, copy what Jack Welch did at GE.

My company feeds off the Marine Corps culture, in which you're doing a good job as long as you're not getting berated. Our office is like that, we don't have to pat people on the back everyday.

But The Great Game of Business, by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham, gave me the idea to use sales-type incentives not only for our sales team but also for our movers. To delight our customers, we need to move them from one location to another with zero damage, so we instituted an incentive for our movers: when you complete 15 moves in a row damage-free, you get a $200 bonus. Since our guys can do 15 moves in two weeks, they can get an extra $200 every two weeks. Now we are tracking this system in our new Salesforce implementation, so our team members can keep score; Marines love to keep score.

With Marine Corps experience, you would think I'd be very good at systems. Nope. I'm more of a creative type. If you look at my desk, it's a mess. I'm much more of a shoot-from-the-hip guy, but the Marine Corps taught me the value of proper planning. Sometimes you just have to do the root canal work--stuff you don't want to do, but you have to do.

So lately I've been reading less about corporate strategies and more about personal productivity. I get obsessed about what's holding me back, and about removing those chains.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

Recently I read about the idea of typing "EOM" (end of message) at the end of your email, so that the recipient knows when she or he can stop reading. For example, you could put this at the end of an email subject header, to let the person know they don't have to actually open the email. I shared this idea with Tom, my sales manager, and I was happy when he started including "EOM" in emails to me. If I can shave seconds off redundant tasks, I'll accomplish more each day.

I read in Business Insider how Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, is a proponent of first principles reasoning. First principles is like a physics way of looking at the world; you boil things down to fundamental truths. So you might ask, what are we sure is true? Then you reason up from there. According to Musk, most people are lazy and reason by analogy, which means they think: this is like something else that was done, or it's like what other people are doing.

For example, Musk says most people think: batteries are really expensive. Musk's team identified the raw materials cost of everything that goes into a battery, and recognized that you could make a cheaper battery if you used a different approach to combining these materials.

I've never met Musk, but he taught me to break things down until they get really simple to understand and implement.

Sometimes this drives my team a little crazy. To book more jobs, I tell them, pick up the phone more often. (Instead of letting it go to voice-mail because you are busy doing something.) We want to overcomplicate things. Many challenges are simple when you break them down to the base level.

The bottom line is if you can buy advice from billionaires for $10 or $20, that's the best money you could possibly spend.

Your turn: What's the best lesson you have read lately?

Published on: Jan 20, 2015
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