Saturday, August 20, 2011

Start Something That Matters

Posted by Kurt

This quick little book is a guide for socially conscious entrepreneurship for the Twitter generation, and there is no piece of that description that appeals to me as a reader. The Amazon Vine program offered me a free copy, though, and I decided to accept it because (1) I’m a big fan of The Amazing Race, on which Mycoskie appeared, and (2) my dad loves the TOMS shoes movement.

Personally, I haven’t been enthusiastic about the TOMS idea. I don’t really care for the aesthetics of the shoes, and I thought that, except for volunteers who participate in shoe drops, the charitable side of the company lets rich people feel good without actually having to touch poor people, which presents certain problems. Plus, I have been given my share of cheesy business books with vaguely inspirational quotes and a hollow you-can-do-it self-reliance message. So when I selected the book, I expected it to be a vaguely unpleasant experience that I could endure before loaning out my copy to people who fit what I saw as the intended demographic.

My expectations were completely wrong. I loved this book more than anything I’ve read in a long time.

Mycoskie writes from the heart here, filling pages with a shameless optimism based on real experience. He shares many examples from TOMS and other businesses that he’s started, both positive and negative, and not the kind of “My greatest fault is that I just care too much about this job” negative that an applicant makes up during a job interview - there are some real mistakes here that Mycoskie owns as a powerful example of humble leadership. A reader will get a sense, not only of what it’s like to work for TOMS, but what it can be like to start (or restart) any organization with a story to tell. 

And when Mycoskie insists that simplicity is a key value of any organization, he practices what he preaches. These chapters are streamlined, with just enough examples to make each point, and plenty of engaging text boxes and photographs, showing that simple doesn’t mean boring, and visually exciting doesn’t mean shallow. A reader can easily skim through the entire book in one sitting without really noting the passage of time.

The youthful exuberance of the book does not detract from the professionalism of the message. Mycoskie hits, again and again, the idea that helping the world can be profitable, with plenty of quotes and examples from business leaders and entrepreneurs. He is not a wide-eyed college freshman but a battle-tested visionary, and he extends his invitations in ways that even the most hard-hearted cynics can be inspired (I include myself here, as it has been many months since I’ve been inspired on a fundamental level, and lately I have served more from inertia than an actual belief that I can change anything in the world). This book can not only give you advice on how to start a story-based organization (from core value suggestions to practical links to web sites that provide free resources), it can inspire you to take the next step and actually do it.

I want to buy a copy of this book for every college freshman in the country. I want it to be an informal textbook in every business school. I want it to become a viral phenomenon that melts hearts and sharpens minds and changes the world. And I feel completely humbled to be given the opportunity to read it before it hits the stores. Please read this book.

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